For the past nine days I have been drafting this letter to you. Truthfully at this point I don't know if it's a letter to you or more the new daily writing I eagerly release into. This idea was prompted the Sunday before last when I attended your graduation ceremony of the 2011 MFA Creative Writing program. I thought I was there to celebrate my two friends Gina Loring and Dasha Kelly who are two powerful warrior writers, poets, storytellers, performers, friends, spirits, women, beings. I am sure they made a great impression on you with their work, beauty, style. I sat there, maybe fifteen rows back with my Nikon focused, ready to take pictures of my friends as they walked across the stage. But as I sat I was more and more inspired speaker after speaker. I realized that the ceremony was as much about me as it was anyone there. I didn't expect that. Well, not to the degree that I was captured and inspired. Thank you.
One of the student speakers put a particular thought in my head. I wish I could remember his name. He was an older white haired gentleman with a good sense of humor and big stomach. I related to him. In his speech he talked about what he imagined the admittance board discussed as they read his letter requesting to be admitted into your fine program.
I thought about that. What would the board think about any letter I would write about myself? What would I write to a group of seven or so people to sum up why I should be chosen? Where would I begin? What would I leave out? Who would I ask to review my letter? Dasha? Gina? My son? My bill collectors? What would you be looking for? How long should it be? Is the abortion too much? Are the fibroids too yucky? That I call myself a feminist but feel the need to explain that everytime I say it, is that not smart enough for someone you would consider? That's my thing. Everybody has a thing and that's mine. Am I smart enough? Did that sound dumb or stupid? Geesh! I'm like a third grader in my mind. Always asking. Not out loud, but I'm always wondering. Even though I know that's crazy. Of course I'm smart enough.
Still I wonder what odd facts you would want to know about me. Someone you only know on paper for the amount of paragraphs you choose to puruse. Do you care that I cringe when I hear hateful words that intend for a group of people to be made small? Nigger, fag, wetbacks. You know the words and phrases. All of them. Would you want a list of my ex lovers? Some of them will not say the best things about me, but some of the most awful things will be true. Would you want to speak to my husband soon to be or some poets in my arts community? They will describe me in the most honorable ways. And that will be true too.
I am just freewriting here. In my socks and sweats halfway listening to some news show about something I should be more educated on than I am. I have never written a letter like this before. Never even thought about it. I have spent years in college but still don't have my B.A. Long Beach City College, some business school in the valley my mom thought was a good idea, a summer at Spelman, Grambling State University, Strayer University (an online school, my favorite. I work well in pajamas.) Then Everest College where I studied to be a nurse's assistant. None of this is impressing you I'm sure. Just thought you should know. Like I said, I don't have my B.A. Yet. I have been saying yet for a very long time.
I have lived most of my adult life as an artist. A storyteller mostly. A writer. A performer. I have told stoies on stages throughout this country. I have written seven books and published two. My favorite is a collection of short stories I haven't published yet called WOMEN IN THE VILLAGE GO 'ROUND AND 'ROUND about a young woman who goes off to college and has an assignment to create a story about where and how she grew up. She chose to interview several women in her "village." These women. These bold, ordinary women one at a time sat in the comfort and discomfort of their kitchens and back porches and poured out the never to be healed raw parts of their scars to Phoebe Sunday Morning Waters (Sunny). I hope you and the world will read my collection one day. I am feeling stuck with this collection. Don't know where to submit it. I am so protective of this baby and have held it close to my heart for too long. It's time, I know, to let these women fly. These women told me their stories while I lived in McDonough, Georgia. I was alone in my home and they took space in my head and would not stop talking. Whispering. Chatting. Scaring and soothing me as if finally they had a portal to escape and be heard. These women in the village of my head. Here is one of the stories from that collection. This one is called SUGAR'S BABY (in loving memory of Baby Mary):
Finally! Seem like I been waitin’ forever and a day just to tell my story. I got a story to tell too. I guess you say this better be a good one huh? Well, it ain nothin’ that’s what it is. Iss a story about my nothin’. I couldn’ ax for nothin’ better than nothin’ with every and all the things I been through.
This is a picture of my Mercy. She sure was one pretty one wasn’ she? I didn’ have a camera so I just drew a picture of her. It ain all the way right on because I’m not a professional artist or nothin’ like that, but you can still tell how preddy she was right? I know it. She was only three days when she went on and left. I had her right here in this house. Right here. My sister helped me deliver her. We were in my own room on my own bed. Buford was fightin’ overseas and couldn’ be here. But he was here. In his own quiet way. All my brothers and sisters came and waited in the livinroom for the baby to come. All of them, and me of course, and Mama. Daddy wasn’ here because it was Sunday and he had to preach night service. It wasn’ nothin’ that was ever gon keep him from night service. He didn’ even miss it the Sunday after he passed. He said the Lord told him he was gon take him away and to get the service together. So he wrote it down on a piece of paper and had my oldest living brother Theodore read it to the crowd while his body was layin’ right there.
I laid down on the bed after my water broke and Happy came in and took over. I juss did everything she say. She said push and I pushed. She said breathe and thass what I did too. I guess it took about ten hours, but after it was over I didn’ even remember the time. What time? I just held her in my arms rockin' back and forth. Rockin’ and singin’ to her. I knew she was gon be a girl because Happy been dreamin’ ‘bout spiders. Happy even knew what the girl was gon look like and what she had come here to do. New babies always come to see Happy. They always do. Happy even tole me what to name her. Mercy. I preddy much do whadever Happy tell me and it so happen that I like that name too. Mercy.
After Mercy came through, everybody came into the room with us and took turns holdin’ her and kissin' all over her. Everybody except for Rufus. Rufus didn’ touch babies. Ever since his own boy Booty passed on in his arms he stayed away from babies. It wasn’ his fault or nothin’ like that. The angels got ready for Booty to come home thass all. He came in the room though. Sat over in the corner wantin’ to smile. Rufus never did smile much either. He wanted to though. So there was Marvin, JuniorBoy, Theodore, Rufus, Happy, BabyGirl, Sister, Brother, Ruth, Amos, Paul, Simon, Ezra, Joseph and David. Esther, Nehemiah, and Leviticus had passed on by then. I was the baby.
I guess that was the happiest day of my whole life. Holdin’ Mercy in my arms all night. I didn’ even want to go to sleep. Happy told me to sleep when the baby was sleep so I could be well rested for her feedin’. I loved feedin’ my baby. Seem like she knew just how to do it. Even better than I did. Mercy would wrap her little biddy lips around my nipple and juss go at it. All the way till she was full all the way up. Seem like she would drink all the milk from one breast and move herself over to the next.
Happy tole me to go out Tuesday evening to get some fresh air. I didn’t want no fresh air, I just wanted to stay inside and kiss over Mercy. I did what she told me to do though. I went in the backyard and sat on the swing Amos had built. That was my dream place. I could stay out there all day and never know what time it was. I would swing on that swing and dream up some good ole dreams. That day I dreamed that Buford could be with us and see Mercy. He wasn’ gon be able to come until the end of the week. Seem like that was takin’ forever. I stopped daydreamin’ long enough to hear Mama and Daddy in my room singin’. They didn’ never sing together. They was barely in the same room together. Daddy was always in the backroom workin’ on his sermon for the next Sunday. Thass what babies do though. They bring folks together. After while I was tired of swingin’ and dreamin’ and I wanted to feed my baby.
I went in the house and Daddy walked out as I was comin’ in. He didn’ say nothin’. But then he barely did say nothin'. I picked up Mercy and there she was just as beautiful as ever. It just wasn’t no baby born in this world as beautiful as mines. Mama heard me say that one time and she tole me don’ never say that again ‘cause it was a disrespect to Baby Jesus. I guess so.
Happy tole me to go on and lay down and take a nap. I tole her I didn’ feel like takin’ no nap. I wanted to hold Mercy. Even if Mercy was sleepin' I just wanted to hold her and look at her while she slept. I could tell Happy didn’t want me to hold my own baby but she really couldn’t say nothin’. She was my baby, not hers. She and Mama left the room not sayin’ nothin' and I did what I wanted to do. I kinda started thinkin’ that maybe Happy was just a little bit jealous of me havin' my very own baby ‘cause she was the only one of us that didn’ never have one yet.
I held Mercy for a real long time and she never did cry or fidget or nothin'. She just laid there. After awhile Rufus walk in and just took Mercy right out of my arms. Didn’t say nothin’, just took her and held her. I didn’t say nothin’ ‘cause it ain like Rufus to even hold a baby. I started to think about all the miracles Mercy was bringin’ to the family already. Mama and Daddy singin' together. Bein’ in the same room. Rufus pickin' up and holdin’ a baby. He put his lips to her cheeks and started to cry. I did too. I guess he was rememberin' Booty.
It look like Happy was right after all about me layin’ down ‘cause I shol did get real real sleepy after that. I laid on down and took a nap. Guess I was even more tired than I thought I was because it was early the next mornin’ when I woke up. I didn’ see Mercy so I went to see who was huggin’ and kissin’ all over her. Seem like I couldn’ find nobody. Then I heard that old piano playin' in the livinroom and I couldn’ race in there fast enough? Didn’ nobody play that piano and make it sound like that except for Buford. I stood there watchin' and listenin' to him. There he really was. So handsome. He looked at me and tole me to come over and sit on the bench with him while he play.
“Where everybody at?” I don’ know why I axed him like he should know.
“They out back getting ready. You gotta go get ready too.”
“Get ready for what? I ain goin’ nowhere. Come on Baby I got to show you yo very own baby girl. She the most beautiful baby ever been born in the world except for Baby Jesus. Where she at?” Then I went in Mama and Daddy's room and there she was. Sleepin’ like a angel. Somebody had got her all dressed for me. She had on all white with a little bonnet. I picked her up like I always do but she felt…heavy. The kinda heavy that just a few days caint to do nobody. But what did I really know about babies? I kissed her and her skin felt like a doll skin. “She so soft. Buford, aint she just preddy?”
Buford looked at her but he didn’ wanna hold her. Then Rufus came in and took her from me again. “Mercy gon on, Sugar. Get dressed and come on out back with us.“
“Gon on? What you talkin’?” I knew. But I didn’ know. Because I didn’ want to know. Then I heard Mama and Daddy and all my livin’ brothers and sisters in the far end of the backyard singin’ and knew for sure. Mercy had her white dress on so I put my white dress on too. Buford had on his uniform and we walked out together. My Mercy didn’ have no shoes on so I didn’t put none on either.
“And we will all be together on that great gettin’ up mornin’…” They were all there finishin’ up the song. Daddy was holdin’ her over the hole about to pray. I didn’ wanna pray. I didn’ close my or nothin’ neither. I just looked at my Mercy one more time.
I created that story because my grandparent's first child was named Mary and like Mercy, she passed away three days after her birth. My grandmother was a young mother and was the youngest of sixteen children. On the day Mary passed my grandmother held her and carressed her not knowing she was only holding the shell of Mary. I remember she used to tell me about how she would never "cry or fidget or nothin'". That story all stuck with me and often I think about Mary. My aunt.
The two books published are THE SCIENCE OF CHOCOLATE MILK MAKING (poetry) and THE CORNERS OF MY SHAPING (poetry, musings, essays). Here is one of the essays from THE CORNERS OF MY SHAPING:
In 1973 my sunny days began and ended with me sitting impassively on my front steps. My castle. Not like many children today who seem to require expensive electronic gadgets to occupy themselves. I could caper around busying my inquisitive mind for hours on end on my steps counting perfectly the cars that went by. Ford, Ford, Toyota, Pinto. Pretending I was the exquisite Diahann Carroll giving an eloquent speech to my loyal fans, head held high and tilted, looking down beyond my pointed nose, hair curled and poofey and perfect like a high fashioned helmet, or pressed straight and pulled back tight in a bun.
Me, being a queen on my royal grounds where I first loved the smell of water tasting thirsty sidewalk on hot days and California cold nights. Where the smell of grass was my favorite fluffy lounge chair at Starbucks and chamomile tea. Though I did not drink tea in those days. And there was no Starbucks. Where there was my tree, just nine papa steps in front of my porch. Whose leaves and branches reached to God’s house and hung almost to the grass but were not strong enough to hold me. Yet assured me that I was strong enough to brook whatever should come my way. That I was okay. My front steps. I have blocked out, or it has been blocked out for me, some of the details of this story, but that part is clear, those were my steps. There were only three and that was perfect.
My mom, dad and I had recently moved from the green (or was it brown?) apartment building on Walnut in Central Long Beach commonly known as the east side, to the single family dwellings on the west side of town at 1367 Cameron. Right around the corner from both sets of my grandparents who lived on Taper Street across from each other. In the apartment on Walnut, before my sister Roshann was born, we lived on the second floor. The steps were ugly and concrete and cobblestone. There was a peek a boo space between each step and a black iron rod to hold onto as one traversed up and down.
But those steps were not mine. No. They belonged to everyone. And no one claimed them as their own. No one dreamed of having long brown hair and marrying a prince on those steps. Those steps were not my friends. I would not tell my secrets there. One day I was in the living room and the door was left open. I was finally, to the surprise of my parents, tall enough to open the screen door. A screen that barely held out flies. An easy unlock.
My tricycle was parked at the top of the steps and was blue and had white strips of plastic hanging from the handlebars to flitter in the wind as I rocketed by. I opened the door and I was on the top of the steps. I sat there wondering, visualizing myself gliding down on my tricycle. I fancied my plastic strips waving away in the wind. Like fire. A delightful way to spend an uneventful Sunday afternoon. The coast was clear and I went for it.
God is wonderful in what He allows us to forget. I don’t remember tumbling all the way down, but I must have. About five years later I fell and was in the intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital for two weeks with a fractured skull from another fall. Again, I remember falling, but not the hitting the ground part. God is wonderful. From the stairs I do remember landing and crying at the bottom step. I remember being hurt, but safe. Mostly I suppose I was disappointed. That was not what I had envisioned. There were three teenaged boys strolling by who thought without thinking that my tumbling was funny. My father, annoyed by their mocking and buffoonery and suddenly sobered from Schlitz Malt Liquor and Mary Jane, reminded them in his special way, that surely it was not.
My Cameron Street steps were not disappointing like those. They did not call out to me with the intent of temptation when I was momentarily unsupervised. They did not propose excitement on a peaceful Sunday and then produce danger. My new steps did not lie. I was only safe on those steps that were red and three and my own.
Next door on Cameron, west of us, in the green house where I do not recall a mommy or daddy (but there must have been at least a mommy) lived two girls whose names and faces I can never call to mind. I have not outgrown their voices however, raspy and bumptious, heavy for such thin girls as it occurs to me in my hindsight. They had cool sneakers and strong arms, cold fingers and could Double Dutch a full song. Indeed they were real. Though I have had lovers who wished they were not. I remember them to be about fifteen and sixteen. My mother remembers that too.
The oldest lead the ghetto bureaucracy. In short, she was the boss of us. Of her sister, who was taller with shorter hair, quiet with issues of her own brewing with no place to unfold. Of me, lucky and next door. Of what seemed like the neighborhood where each house appeared occupied with private business. After some time it was okay with my parents that I went in their backyard with them that shared the same fence as ours. Whose grass was the same green. That was the same size and also had pomegranate and lemon trees and a garage and no dog. We did not have a dog yet. But theirs was not mine.
They had a white tent behind the garage and a nephew who was a few years older than I and shy. There was also a big boy, a teenager or older in the tent. I do not remember his name. Almost his voice. Barely his hair that was short like big boys wore their hair. Faded blue jeans slightly too big and looked clean but were not. Was callow and slim but had burly black boy sad eyes that had been in trouble before with full lips and a half happy smile poked and held to one side. The oldest was the cagey heavy whisperer of the cabal. Something was up. I saw the fusee signals and heard the cacophony of voices in my head but crossed the line anyway.
I was four and they demanded I stop being a big baby and suck his dick. I remember that it had never been a dick before. Somehow I knew that boys had pee pees, but dicks were new. Perhaps pee pees grew into dicks, I must have thought. But my young Virgo analyzing and attention to the byplay was not going to postpone this. There was a dick in front of me and big girls I thought were my friends begging in their demanding voices to suck. But it was not peppermint or Bit o Honey, more like a Bomb Pop or Big Stick. But not from the ice cream truck with bells and whistles. It was not smooth and orange and sweet and inviting. It was Play-Do left open. Ashy and uncared for. I wanted my steps. This was my first dick and I wanted my steps that were safe and red and lead to my porch, where there was dust and loose gravel and chipped paint and no dicks. My porch had no dicks. But I was far away from my porch. Far from my lawn never perfectly manicured but mine. Just next door but miles from my father who would beat that dick up if he knew. Far from my mother who would spank their big girl butts if she knew that her daughter, who was sugar and spice and everything nice, was not sucking at all. Was gagging on flesh too big for her mouth, too hard for her jaws, too long for her throat. A dick. Even the name was not nice. If my father knew… If my mother knew… What if I was not everything nice anymore?
I did not like her yelling hand with dark brown rough knuckles on the back of my head touching too firmly my barrettes that were red and friendly like my porch. Did not like the bossy one moaning like it felt good to her. Her eyes half closed and head moving passionately in half circle then back again. The slow inhale hiss and ahh. Like I was doing it right. Then from nowhere there was liquid that was warm and salty and not my spit anymore. I ran out of the tent screaming. “He peed in my mouth! He peed in my mouth!” I ran as fast as I could to get past my porch, that was just a porch and not safe, into my bed, my for real castle.
Before I could get to the gate the shorthaired one caught me. I kicked and screamed but she carried me to the t shaped clothesline post that was strong and sturdy. Like maybe this was for more than sun drying skirts and blouses to be worn on Sundays. Maybe for other girls who had pee in their mouths and ran to get away.
She tied thick brown rope around my neck and tied the other end to the top of the post. She picked me up and held my body as it swung. Surely that was a station for girls who did not swallow pee. For girls who could not run faster than a fifteen year old and threatened to tell. This was a four year olds Calvary. She told me that I would not say anything because if I did she would tell my mother that it was all my idea and I was a nasty girl. Me?
My mother could not believe that I was a nasty bad girl. But what if she did? What if I was? She let me go with a shove that said all I needed to know. I was too scared to tell my mother, too scared to tell my father. That night when it was time for bath my mother noticed the rope burn around my neck. I lied to her about how I got it. Told her that I was playing some game and it didn’t even hurt. My mother, being a mother, wasn’t satisfied with the story. I couldn’t go in their backyard anymore. I couldn’t be with the girls at all. Fine with me.
I don’t remember the speech after the bath. Don’t remember what happened to the dick or the nephew. I vaguely recall the girls after that. I do remember that my steps were too close to theirs. They were not my steps anymore. There was a dick.
This is a story that took me a long time to write. I needed to be on the other side of it before I could put words to it. Today I know that I am not the victim of no one. No thing. Prayer and writing helped me heal and I pray that writing and reading helps someone else know that they are not alone and that truly there is healing. That there is another side.
In addition to my stories I have three cds featuring a collection of my poetry accompanied with music. The cds are: Journey, Unmasked, and the latest is Simple Like a Daisy. Perhaps I will share some poetry with you later on. Not now though. This is sounding more like my bio than what I really want you to know about me.
Sweet Antioch, I want you to know that I am a mother to an awesome teenager who has spent much of his life in the audiences, backstages and in green rooms of poetry and music events. He has been awesome at every stage. When he was seven years old he sat in the back seat of my car and stared out of the window and asked me where babies came from. "Is this a conversation about sex?" I asked. "No." He said. "Where do they come from before that?" I thought about my response for a moment and said, "People believe different things. I believe that babies are in heaven, choosing their parents, choosing the best situations to be of best service to the world." To which he responded, "Ok, I don't know if I believe that. But that is very interesting."
Around this same time in his life one summer he was up very late at night playing checkers online. I fell asleep and I felt him shake me and ask what year he would have had to be born in to be eighteen years old. I sprung awake realizing that he was online alone playing checkers and thought some checker "buddy" was chatting with him or something. But no, that wasn't the case at all. Earlier that day we were shopping and he wanted a video game that I refused to buy, mostly because it cost sixty or so dollars. Well, he saw a commercial for DeVry (which he pronounced DEV-Ree)and they advertised a course on making video games and also said that they offered online education. My brilliant, big eyed, Hershey skinned son went to the website and filled out some questionaire or appliciation and the age box kept coming up red because he was after all, only seven. He figured he would take the online video game couse. Online so that they wouldn't know his true age. He guessed the course would take ummmm, maybe a few hours, how hard could it be? And that his videos would look like any game he would play on his XBOX or whatever system he had at the time. Brilliant! I am honored that such an inquisitive seeker came through me. He is amazingly kindhearted and strong. Handsome and funny. The best blend of his father, me, God, his sister, step mother, cousins, grandparents and all who love him. And what do stories about my son have to do with me? Well, I am filled with them. Filled with stories and inspirations about his journey through life. Which is also my journey as I separate my heart from my body and let it live outside of me. Playing on playgrounds, on football fields, riding the bus, negotiating his way through life.
I want you to know my passion for writing and why I zone out during conversations and dinner. Movies and lectures. Strolls in the malls, beaches, in line at the Gas Company. Why I wake up at odd hours of the morning. There is always a character I am creating, a stanza I am rewriting. A paragraph I am deleting, a villain I am killing off or giving power to. I am constantly writing and rewriting. Always revisiting work to add color. To add sound and texture. Creative non fiction is my favorite lately but depending on the season it's fiction, poetry, freewriting in my journal or blog. Yes, I'm a blogger.
Once I asked my Godmother why artists and poets and storytellers go through so much in our lives. So much of...it. She quickly answered, "Because you will tell it." She was right. And the world is fed with our telling. Someone is healed or at least inspired to be. Hopefully. That's why I write. To heal. Even if just myself. To heal and to remember. To remember the smell of thoughts and joy. To recall the grainy texture of memories behind my teeth and the salt they leave at the roof of my mouth as they slide down my throat as I forget.
I want you to know about my passion for justice for all human beings on the planet. We are all connected. All of us. Black and white, gay and straight, democrat, republican. All of the labels and boxes we put ourselves and others in only seperate us from ourselves. But I could go on and on about this. I want you to know my relationship, my oneness with God. That I am constantly praying, constantly giving myself more to God's will and steadily increasing my circle of compassion so big that no one is left out. No one. That I am ever trying to see love in the gap where I see separation between me and any other human being.
I am trying to find a space in this letter to include my experiences at the hospice in Georgia where I was an intern. Because I feel they are important to know, that's why. There was death on almost a daily basis and I cleaned the bodies and prepared them for the families to see. For most of them I was the last person they saw, last person they talked to. Shared secrets with, said I love you to, cursed at, forgave. In my life, working at Sacred Journey was one of my greatest honors. You see, Antioch, my resume goes beyond writing and art but all of my experiences make me the writer I am. When I write about death and describe a spirit as it is leaving its body so well it is because I know what that looks like. It doesn't really matter to you that I worked at Michael's Arts and Crafts store in Georgia and knew that the old white man who was in my line buying yarn with tears hidden deep behind his eyes was missing his wife and despite the long line he just needed someone, anyone to recognize his pain. Needed someone to know that his wife as he kner her would never be knitting in her favorite big chair again. Even if that someone was me as the cashier at register three. "Are you ok?" Then he breathed and faintly smiled and answered, "I will be. Thank you. Thank you very much." You see, I may not have the credentials that your applicants have but dear Antioch, my characters come from the realist of places. I know the joy. The oneness with God. The sadness. The missing. I do.
Even now, as I draft this letter to you I am experiencing the missing. Missing my father who (or is it whom) you would have loved. I mean really, what a storyteller. He died almost three years ago. Except most black folks I know say passed on or crossed over or gone home or something like that when we are talking about people we love. I come from great storytellers and my father, I think, was the best. One of our last conversations was when he called me late one night (a lot less than sober). He would just start talking as soon as he heard my hello. "Verily, verily I say unto you." He started. "You there, honey?" He asked but it wasn't really a question. "I'm here." I answered, preparing myself for the journey of his story. When he started with "Verily, verily..." I knew I was in for a journey. He said that that's how Jesus started his stories to the deciples when He really wanted them to listen. As if when He didn't begin like that then it was okay if they only halfheartedly paid attention.
"I ever tell you the story about the shark?" I squeezed in my "no" as he began to tell the story. "Well the shark got a bad rep! A real bad one and Imma tell you how. See, you ain neeeeva gon walk 'cross no dark parkin' lot by yoself and look ova yo shoulda and it be a shark comin' after you. Neeeva! If you eva hear a noise in yo house and you go downstairs it ain neeeva gon be a shark goin' thu yo safe! Neeeva! See, a shark only be in the ocean. Thas all. People always sayin' 'Watch out for them sharks' but everybody know they only in one place. The ocean. If you don't go to the ocean then you ain neva gon git eaten by no shark. The whole thing about life though, is that you got to know yo ocean! See, if you a shopalochic, then you can't live by the mall 'cause thas yo ocean. If you a crackhead then you ain got no business livin' by no drug dealers 'cause thas yo ocean. You know what I'm sayin'? Thas the whoooole thing about life. Know yo damn ocean an don go near it. Do, you might run into some sharks and git eaten up." And that was our last phone conversation. And it replays in my head like so many of his stories. Seriously, storytelling is in my blood. I could use work on some technic and form because my longer stories are kind of jumpy and all over the place. Maybe that's where you can come in. Who knows. But I've got good bones. Really. And against my father's advice I have not done so well staying out of my ocean. There is an abyss in my head filled with characters who eagerly want out. Want their stories told. There are times when I should be doing and thinking about other things much more important but often I am crafting or dictating their prose. I have not been eaten up. My father would be glad to know that. Though there are times when I think I'm close.
I was going through my journals recently and found an entry where I felt particulary low and wrote about that moment as "The Spiral". That day was Friday, September 30, 2011. But that entry was not about that day, but the day before. My tender sore spot of the day before when I was in my room. With plants, lamp, freaking FOX news and no remote, lit (or is it lighted) candle, pictures of my son, my mother. Mirrors, my clothes, a bed, fan, pillows, sketchbooks, journals, poetry cds, me.
I got up that morning before with a sore back and went for a walk. I love walking. What it does for my body, my mind. I had been in so much pain during that time I hadn't had the desire to walk. Only sleep. As if I could sleep. Maybe four hours a night back then. My back was seriously aching and that pain went up into my neck most nights. It was like being nine months pregnant the way I slowly, painfully twisted and turned and tried to find a comfortable position in bed. The constant concern of my home health client putting more pressure on my back early the very next morning and for twelve hours that day sure didn't help. Especially Clara. Lifting her. Transferring her. Bending so so low changing her on the couch she slept on was awful and caused more stress and damage to my back than anything. More than she deserved from me for nine dollars an hour for sure. But then I guess I was the sucka. But it wasn't just Clara, I had other stresses. And I could certainly afford to lose a few pounds. So I made a recommitment to myself to walk at least an hour a day.
My body is shifting. Hormones, all that. Beginning peri menapause. My period stopped months back. I keep hearing that I'm too young for it to have stopped but I sure don't miss it. I know that's a lot of information, but whatever. It's my journal and I can cry if I want to (cry if I want to.)
Around 3:00 that evening real life came crashing down. It suddenly felt like I had been running for the past twenty years straight, then took a break to breathe at the top(ish) of the mountain. There I was, poor girl, bent over, sighing heavily with my hands on my knees and sweat dripping off of my Tyra Banks forehead and just as I cooled off...BAM! Hit with a tumbling rock. Hit with the stress of twenty years. Hit with the sudden acknowledgement of being tired from putting the positive spin on every hard time. Like it can't just be bad sometimes. Suddenly tired from always having the right words to say to everyone who called me with their bad days. You don't feel the bruises until you stop fighting you know.
Somewhere along my journey I made up or agreed to that if I admit to any pain then I was denying the power of God. I'm not. Sometimes I hurt and God is always there, living and breathing in me and those two facts are separate. And the same. And no, my "spirit man" is not wrestling with my "flesh man." Listening to that kind of religiosity makes my stomach hurt. But I don't say anything because letting the conversation dissappear is easier than the discussion.
I should have taken the nap when I felt the spiraling. It's a sinking kind of feeling. Like I'm on an elevator and I'd like to go to the third floor (see, I don't even have penthouse aspirations, just the freaking third floor) then some idiot gets on and pushes the button to the basement. But I don't say anything because riding it out is easier than the discussion. And the idiot elevator envador is not on the car anymore. It's just me. With plants and mirrors and lit or lighted candles and freaking FOX news and no remote.
The sinking was my cue to climb my sore back onto my air mattress and go to sleep. I medicate myself with hot showers and naps because pills are too tempting. I am afraid I could rationalize myself into something I won't be able to journal about later. I didn't take a nap. I didn't lie down because the day before was payday and I had running around to do and bills to pay. I was waiting for my check to pay back a loan from Lynette from the week before and put gas in my car and get Uraeus another jacket and jeans and the rest to go to my web designer because my yearly website renewal fee was due on the 28th and he keeps sending me reminder texts because he doesn't know that I didn't need that right them. And the sinking was serious. That's really what it felt like. Not drowning. Drowning is more dramatic. Drowning is a concious gasping for air. I didn't even know I wasn't breathing until later when Val told me to breathe.
Dear Antioch, if you feel the sinking and you can take a nap, don't do like I did. Take the nap. Forget your website that nobody visits anyway. If you lose it because you missed the renewal date then pay the extra money to get it back up later. Besides, you won't lose your domain name because nobody wants to be you anyway.
I waited for the mailperson. While waiting and sinking to the point I felt slightly queasy in my stomach, I opened my mail from three days ago. And what I go and do that for huh? One of the bills (because that's what mail means, bills, because who writes letters anymore?) one of the bills was from when I went to the emergency room this past Labor Day. I told you about that already didn't I? Yeah, that's when they discovered the stupid firoids. Anyway, here's the crazy breakdown of the charges and services:
Med/surg supplies $55.00
I guess the price of latex gloves and plastic cups to pee in have gone up.
I guess that's because I have such a rare blood type.
'Cause testing my urine is really hard, even though we did that shit in school and it was like nothing. But whatever.
Beside this amount, what's crazy about this is that the ultrasound was to check out my uterus but the fibroids were so big that they covered my uterus so the tech couldn't see it at all. Now, to me, I should get some kind of pass or don't pay or something like that. #getthefuckouttahere
Emergency room $1,540.00
Doctor's fee $636.00
For the grand total of $7,721.00
Oh yes they did. Dear President Obama...
And here's what's (sickeningly not) funny. I could have gone to a woman's free clinic in a few days and recieved the same service but because I had to leave work on a holiday (I guess they thought I was faking all the blood pouring out of my vagina and faking my stomach and back pains and really I wanted to ditch Clara and rush home and put on my new Gap stretch capris and swoop over to the Labor Day backyard BBQ and drink 40s with my homies) I had to get a note from the doctor saying that I actually went to the hospital that day. After being the employee who doesn't call in, shows up on time, dependable, team player, and all the other stuff you say about yourself in the interview to get the job, I needed a friggin' note. So, an hour and a half later when my relief arrived, for one day I left my nine dollars an hour job and got a $7,000.00 hospital bill. But hey, I got the note.
And true to my form, I went to my immediate emotional default and gave myself the "It's all good" speech that I have tucked safely in my bra in case I forget any part. I never forget though. And when I'm giving it to myself it's especially harsh and unabridged and accompanied with guilt power points.
* You can handle this!
* You've really got it easy.
* Think of your ancestors who were slaves who had to endure much much worse. So really this is like nothing!
* You are being a punk!
* Look at how blessed you are. It's like you don't even appreciate what you have if you complain (ABOUT ANYTHING)!
I'm trying, but I can't seem to put into words here a complete description of the emotional sinking. I know I keep using that word, but for now it's the best one I have. It's like, you ever drink just a little too much and the room spins? It's like that except the room isn't spinning. It's going down, but not as fast. There is also a sudden fatigue, the not feeling like dealing with one more thing, the desire to scream but why bother.
I called Val because the words were better outside of my head and I knew they would be safe with her.
"But. Noth. Ing. Hap. Pened!" I pushed out through the tears.
"Something did happen!" She shot back. Gently though. The way a friend/aunt/mentor/friend can do. Shot back the meat of what I needed to hear as if sandwiched between butter buscuits. "The stress of your life happened. It all catches up to you. It's like when you're lifting as much weight as you can lift and then you can't lift anymore and then it all comes crashing down on you."
And those are the words I was looking for. That is what I was looking for. To feel understood.
Sidetrack here. I have lived most of my adult life as an artist and then somehow thought having a jobjob would make things easier. It's not. Surely not more money. The jobs that I can get these days don't pay much and I certainly can't vary the pay per assignment. And the rent is still due and I am squeezing in time to shoot events for extra money.
I am not in the sinking vortex I was in that day. I made it through that. I wrote in my journal and posted in my blog and was very specific about things that are personal (beyond the level of personal I usually get) and embarrassing because I'm not the only one who gets affected by the overwhelm of real life. This is my outlet. I can put words to my feelings. I hope those words helped someone. Even if it helped for someone to know that they are not alone. I woke up the next morning in prayer for the woman or man who sits in an office who may feel the sinking and can't leave to take a nap or doesn't have medication or meditation or church or temple or a spiritual outlet or someone to call. I don't have the answers. But I do know what it feels like when the feelings bottled inside come out. When carrying another extra pound is too heavy. I have God, art, poetry, friends, family. I have my writing that I can share with you.
After I got off the phone with Val, I sent the text to my designer. "Hey, still waiting on the mail but it doesn't look like I'm going to make the renewal deposit today." I went back and forth via text with my son about his day. He couldn't play in the game because he forgot his football socks but he still had fun. Then turned off my phone. I breathed. On purpose. Watched Monk, Psyche, Law and Order. I laughed. On purpose. I prayed. I let God love me. I needed that. The writing and the space to let my words flow. Words are important. Feeling is important. Putting true words to true feelings are important. I spent too much of my childhood not doing that. Too much. Too much time feeling that happy was the only acceptable emotion.
I was a young girl but I remember the night my mother announced that she and my father were getting divorced. We were in the house on Cameron St. My sister, Roshann was sitting on the floor below me. I was laying on the couch with my head near hers and my mother was on her knees at the coffee table right in front of us. I remember it was night time.
I wasn't expressing my feelings much in those days. Purposely. If I felt tears coming I would fight them off with my contrived, inappropriate joy. Doing cheers was my method of choice. I don't even remember all of my mother's well prepared words.
My name is Robin, yeah. I am a virgo, yeah. Blah blah blah, yeah. Blah blah blah blah blahblah! Hey hey! 'Cause I shake the best, hey hey! "Your dad and I both love..." 'Cause I shake the best, hey hey! "...will always be your father..." My name is Robin and my favorite color is red... "nobody will ever replace..." I'm better than you 'cause you pee in the bed. Hey hey! "...although he won't be livng here..." 'Cause I shake the best, hey hey!
I knew what was going on but I didn't want to hear it or feel it and most of all I didn't want anyone to see me crying about it. So if I had to sit through it, I would not do so without my off beat soundtrack in the background (foreground really). While I don't need that little girl doing cheers during stressful times anymore, I do pull her out every now and then for fun. In traffic. Hey hey! A few times when I was late for work and had to "meet" with the supervisor. 'Cause I shake the best! Hey hey! Sometimes in church when clearly the minister is unprepared (or I just don't want to be there.) My name is Robin... The night I thought I was having a heartattack and had to spend a two days in the hospital. "Hello, Ms. Reed, I'm Dr...." Hey hey! "We're concerned about..." My name is Robin.
Well, I didn't intend for all of that to come out but that just goes to show me that this might be an interesting exercise for me to take on. To write a letter to you. You seven or so folks sitting around a table who don't know me at all. A letter from me, about me. I am encouraged to take it on. The letter, maybe not sending it. My guess is that I will discover more about myself than you may care to know.
While I have it on my mind I want to mention that in addition to the student speaker I mentioned earlier, I was also greatly affected by the main speaker. I don't remember his name either, Father Somebody. No disrespect. He talked about the work he has done in the community and I was thankful to God that he was inspired and carried through on helping the young men that he has helped in our community. One story he told was of a young man who had spent time and put in work in one local gang. The man was finally out of the gang and trying to do good work. Father was talking to him at the bottom of his steps one evening and asked him what he wanted out of life. He said the young man closed his eyes and thought hard and when he opened them he said simply, "To be a good father." He had a new wife and a new baby and wanted to be a better person for them. For himself. Not long after that conversation that young man was shot. While in the hospital his wife carefully placed photos of family and friends where he could see them even though technically brain dead. Loved ones came by to visit. Eventually though, the young man died. His organs were going to be donated and as the nurses were taking his body to another room for his organs to be removed one nurse looked at his body and noticed all of the tattoos and said to the other nurse, "Who would want this monster's heart?" The other nurse was angered by her comment and said "Shame on you. Didn't you see his wife, his son, his family and friends? How could you call him a monster?"
I watched the audience as Father told the story and there were tears on almost every row. As I wiped my own tears I was so happy to be sitting in that seat last Sunday morning. So honored to witness what was going on. Thank you. Thank you, Antioch for adding brightness to my day. I am a seeker of bright spots in my days. I hold on to them and appreciate them, relive the moments long after they have expired. I have spent much of my life carrying a sadness inside of me. A sadness I could never explain, or worse, justify. It has become much more pronounced in the last six or so years. As a child I remember once my sister asked me what was wrong. "I dunno. You know how sometimes you just be sad and you don't be knowin' why but you be sad anyway?" Those sad thoughts would land on me and not stay long but I rememer the landing. I am forty-two years old now and can better describe the sadness and predict its coming but no better at its prevention. My journals are filled with these sad brave characters. These over the top happy for no reason talking too fast super humans. But last Sunday, dear Antioch, in the hours I was there in my seat smelling flowers guest brought to graduates, watching happy tears fall and letting my own drop, listening to one encouraging word after another, there were no sad thoughts or happy people talking too fast in my head. No old southern women with freakishly smooth skin spooking me with their stories of dead babies and cracked out mothers and grown men turned to dust. Only my own voice, God's voice, the good witches of stories past daring me to at least write the letter. At least say thank you. At least say one day maybe.
Well, I just wanted to let you know how much your ceremony affected me and I'm sure all who were there. You folks keep up the good work over there and have a nice day.