Thank You, Ex: For (1) Set of Ghost Hands

a Black person's hand reaches out holding white flower's on a postcard-like image with a stamp of a black and red butterfly and the words THANK YOU, EX! printed on it

Thank You, Ex is a series of essays about the good things we were gifted by exes and kept.

Author’s Note: This essay contains mentions of self-harm, sexual abuse, alcoholism

Thank you, ex, for your (1) set of ghost hands.

Before I went to spend a few days with my ex, I was forced to really sit down with the fact that all the ways I’d been sexually touched, or close to it, had been nonconsensual up until I met her. Logically, I knew this, but when you’re trying to survive them, you’re not tallying up the violences your body is carrying. Even though we’re not together anymore, the hands I’ve, blessedly, kept since we’ve broken up are no longer my ex-manager’s, my family members’ (living and dead), ex-coworkers’, and past customers’ anymore. They are hers.

It goes like this.

Before her, for the past decade, the hands that have held fast to me have been my ex-manager. He was tall, an ex-Marine, known for shooting squirrels and at one point, holding a box cutter to my throat asking if I wanted him to end it all for me, when I went to the back freezer to get oatmeal for a customer’s breakfast. He kissed me in front of my coworkers, customers, and God, and nothing changed. I was serving a customer behind the counter where we hand you your food, and he was standing behind me, his hand in my pocket massaging my thigh and creeping closer to in between my legs, and I stood shocked because there were the coworkers. There were the customers. There was God. All watching and nothing changed.

Those are not the only violent hands my body has carried, but up until her, they were the hands I’d felt the longest.

Before her hands even touched me there was this:

I love the idea that after seven months, the skin that the person has touched is no longer there, but I can never feel it. Trauma feels in my bones, you know? When I was in outpatient, my psychiatrist said, you know it hurts because we’re fixing it, right? We are pulling back something that healed wrong and we’re digging the stuff out of the bone and we’re making sure we heal it right this time. That’s why it hurts.

I could never get to my bone with my blades, and I knew I shouldn’t try, but that was the closest I could get to that seven months new skin feeling. Outside of my body, few people believed me. Here, in the places where I tried to heal myself from the hands and the other body parts that made me wrong, here, where I had to carry what those people had done to me, with a blade I chose, my body could try to be mine again. Violence was done to me, and so I thought, at least let me choose the violence that can be in retaliation to it.

When I met my ex, even after months of her telling me she liked me and me telling her I liked her back, I just assumed it was a bit we were doing. In high school, we did this all the time. That’s my wife. Are you coming to our wedding? Leave my wife alone. I knew they didn’t mean it back then, and I was just confused as to why they pretended. I assumed, that’s also how it is outside of the school. It was safer to assume that.

What convinced me that this wasn’t a bit we were doing was her hands. One of our friends was moving toward me, because, quite honestly, it is more often than not, funny to see me try to navigate being flirted with in real time — and her hand gently but firmly stopped her from moving too close. That’s when things finally clicked.

Most of what I remember from her hands, in the beginning, are holding mine at the con, gripping her fingertips before we were about to meet Javicia Leslie, and she was going to take my pictures for me, brushing against mine as she said “Let’s go through the pictures we took” while we waited for our friends outside a meet and greet, pulling my arm around her when we sat on the couch. Her hands locked behind my neck when she hugged me goodbye.

In between this and the next part is when I started to panic. When I sat up in panic attacks remembering that sure, virginity is a construct, but I wish mine and anything even close to the losing of it had been consensual. How all I had to look back on before losing my virginity consensually was violence and violence I never asked for, violence plenty of people would never believe me about, violences I couldn’t even name without reaching for a drink, a pill, a blade — anything to make the knowledge of it disappear. For two or three or five weeks, all I could see was my lack, and the fear that being found out would only give more room for pain and humiliation to move in.

When I was down there, what I remember are: her hands behind my neck when she hugged me meeting me at my hotel, us walking close but not too close when we walked around the park and how all I could think about were her hands (I loved her smile, but I couldn’t look at her too long without wanting to do something about it) and how I wanted to reach for them but I wasn’t sure if she was okay with that, if it was safe to do in a place where I could leave and she could not. Her hands reaching for mine in the back of the Uber, her head on my shoulder. Her hands grabbing for my dufflebag on our date, hands intertwined with mine as she led me from each exhibit in the aquarium, gripping my hand when we were seated too close to the dolphins and we got soaked. Her hands running through the buzz of my fade during our first kiss and after. After, when her hands circled the spot above my left hip that I haven’t been able to cut him out of. After, when her hands grabbed my butt, where that coworker pushed her pelvis in. After, when her hands interlocked with mine, and she kissed my knuckles, my finger tips. Her hands still holding mine, steady, even when I was far from it.

I don’t like to think about the endings, which is probably why I’m always haunted, always clinging to things that return even when I should pretend I do not see them (My mom told me, “When you see a ghost, do not talk to it.” I don’t talk, but they think my body does, especially when I glance at it.) But out of every ghost that pushes itself past a whisper into something more solid, something that hugs me from behind in the broad daylight of my room, something that sits on the edge of the bed and tells me, “[deadname], I raised you better than that”, these are the ghosts I want the most, that, at one point, wanted me too. How do you let go of a love like that?

Note: To be clear, my ex and I are over, and I know this. I just want to thank her for giving me something good, something other than bloody blades and boxcutters and hands too big for my too small too quiet too crazy to be believed. For teaching me that I am deserving of good, and that is what I should be moving toward.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

A. Tony Jerome

A.Tony is a black nonbinary artist out here to do good and to do gay. They are a 2015 Pink Door Fellow, 2016 Lambda Literary Emerging Writer Fellow, 2020-21 Afro Urban Arts Lit From the Black! Fellow, and have worked with Roots.Wounds.Words., Words Beats & Life, and Winter Tangerine among other places. You can find more of their work on their website and listen to them scream about poetry & other interests on Twitter.

A. has written 47 articles for us.


  1. This is beautiful. I love how you convey the nuance of past relationships, how something can be over but we can still be thankful for it, still be changed by it, still celebrate the gifts it gave us. <3

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!