It took me a while to learn to free. I hadn’t seen it done, though I had heard of it. And, usually, when I heard it described--how to actually do it--it was only explained: you just do it. Which didn’t help me much understand what it meant to free.
I practiced. Alone, mostly. I didn’t want to try to free in front of any one else, to risk exposure. I preferred to try to free at home or walking from school. I would take the back streets where there weren’t many people, the long way---just to practice. I felt it was easier to free when I was moving, so I always had someplace to go, and I always, always took the back streets. I didn’t get very good at freeing alone. Alone I had no place to resonate and I had no one to tell me if I could actually free.
I was at my cousins house on the East Side when I first saw people free. There was a block party and Tommy the Clown had come--so everyone on the East Side, it seemed to me, was there. The music was loud and everyone was moving, dancing and laughing. I walked to the back of the apartment complex where I saw my cousin and his friends in his car. I nodded to my cousin and he told me to come over.
“Come here little cousin.”
They opened the door and let me in the back seat. They rolled up the windows and didn’t say much of anything, just busied their fingers as my cousin put in a tape. It was synths and horns and snare drums. My cousin’s friend looked back at me and asked me, “do you free?” I didn’t know how to answer. I had practiced, but I didn’t know, yet, if I could actually free.
“Nah, not really,” I shook my head. Someone asked for a lighter, breaking the silence. I didn’t know if they expected me to free. I sat and waited. They let the tape play through a few tracks and no one said anything. They listened. All you could hear was breath, loud. I thought my own breathing was loud. I could hear myself think. I could feel myself watching and waiting and wondering: why were they silent? Can they hear me think? Do they want me to free?
My cousin spoke and filled the car as he exhaled, “you Black, you free”. He told me as if it were fact I knew and should know. I had to free, he was telling me, because I was Black. I had no choice, it was expected of me to free. But, I couldn’t free. I was caught with fear and hesitation. It wasn’t long but I could feel them waiting on me. They were ready for me to free and I shook my head.
The music filled the car. I could hear the bass. Free was flow. Free was connecting and searching and, when the time hit, landing. It was watching flight. They were responding to each other and challenging each other. One would free and another would free and everyone would free together. It was an ensemble. It was noise and it was style. It made me want to free. I told myself, I would free and I would free even If I couldn’t free. I couldn’t then and I can’t quite now tell anyone how to free. You know it when you see it. You do it and it sort of just happens. I wanted to free.