Today I thought about how beautifully soft you were. You spoke softly, your language was peaceful, you were so gentle. Today that's how I remembered you. I love you. I do.
T: When I was a little girl I didn't like the color pink.
Me: Me either.
T: Maybe because pink is the color of self love and maybe I didn't like myself when I was a little girl. I love pink now.
Me: Me too.
Yeah. (Inside smile) Me too.
Right now I am thinking about the conversation that my uncle Therman and I had while on my way to work over a year ago. We talked about legacies and what we will pass on to our children, to the children of the world, to the world after we leave. We discussed the relevance of leaving our thoughts and ideas.
It is easy for one to take the attitude, "Who me? The world doesn't need my two cents." Yes, your cents too. For me, it was Anne Frank's two cents that shed the best light on what she and many Jews experienced during their persecution. As a seventh grader, reading her words, I hid in the basement with her. I heard the footsteps she heard. Cried when she cried. I believe that all of us have a story to tell a particular way to a particular people. Now, we may not know who our audience is, for some of us, the audience may not even be born yet. But that's not our job to worry about that. Our charge, I believe, is to put the work out there. Take the pictures, tell the stories, write the poems, build the houses, sew the clothes, find the cure. Each one of us is charged, as Noah was, to build the boat. Whatever your boat.
Telling your story, as you know if you know me, is something I am passionate about. As Therman and I discussed, we, black Americans especially, come from a people who kept quiet about such things as domestic violence and sexual abuse, even a lot of the racial prejudice experienced wasn't verbally expressed. I do understand that the silence could have been the best way they felt to protect themselves and their families. But we can use our voices now to help someone going through what we went through. We can use our voices now to gift the world with our view of the elephant. I invite you now to push beyond how insignificant you think you are or your story is. I invite you to get so busy living your life and taking in your story, so busy building the boat you were charged to build, that when others cross your path you have headspace enouch, decency enough to see that she is building her boat. She is just leaving her legacy. Acknowledge her for it. Appreciate the courage it takes to fully live a life. You fully living your own leaves you little desire and time to judge others. In fact, consider that every judgment of someone else is you physically taking a plank of wood off a boat they are building. Imaginge the time and energy it takes to literally do that. And at no benefit to you. No benefit to the world.
I think about people who have produced popular movies and written popular books and the many many people who came along later just to criticize the work. The critiques are often very well written and thought out and so I wonder why the critic just doesn't spend time creating his or her own art. But then that is my judgment, I guess, on them.
A few months ago I was listening to a friend and super hero of a poet, Nyasha Khalfani read a poem she wrote about us caring for other human beings, being concerned about something outside of ourelves. In the poem, and I wish I had it in front of me, she said, when a woman comes up to you and needs..."have the decency to stop the world." "The decency to stop the world." I love that line so much. It inspires me to care enough about another man's, another woman's journey to give more than I take. Whether or not I am going where he or she is going on their path. "The decency to stop the world."
As a child I wanted to grow up and be the writer who would write the book that would change the world one day. Change the world? Please, at this point in my life I just wanna let it out. Finally. Honestly. My own stories. My own life. Breathe in and out with no lingering stories there nagging to get out. And right now, they are nagging. Memories, stories, self-conversations popping up at unsuitable times. But are the times ever really unsuitable? They come, I feel, when they are ready to be handled with care, written about, sketched out, set free. My stories are my most consistant company at night. Nudging me, and that's putting it politely, telling me "Let me out next. Me. Ok? Me next."
Life is what it is. We are dealt the cards we're dealt and expectantly play the best hand we can play. I have humbly learned that I am not the accretion of my stories. I am not my bank statements or career choices, height or maritial status. Not my gender or shoe size or gynecological appointments, kept or not. I am not completed by the words I have used to describe myself. Woman, lover, mother, daughter, writer, sister, friend, dot dot dot. I am infinite possibilities and have decided to embrace all of who I am, and who I am not. I embrace all of my experiences, understanding that I needed them to form me into who I am today. Wouldn't take nothin' for my journey now. My experiences are, each of them, the pleasant ones and those that still hurt too much to mention, plainly the corners of my shaping.
I, right now, abdicate my position of right and fautless, knowing that it never existed, accepting that it doesn't matter anyway. I also release, right here in this memoir, my stories. Ok, some of them. I am now of the understanding that what has happened in my life and my stories about what has happened in my life are separate. The drama has always come with me trying to make them the same. They are not. What happened is what happened. I created my stories from my own background and sensitivities and ran with them. Called enough people to validate my point of view and there you have it. Me, the self appointed victim of my life, choosing to pay more attention to the ebb than the flow.
I accept that as I created that position, I am powerful enough to create a new reality. I heretofore create a space and possibility of a life of me achieving my goals, loving myself fully and accepting others as I love and accept myself. I create right now, a journey of success and lessons learned and love given and received. These are my words, wishes, prayers, to God's ear. My story that I share with you.
There is no place to begin to tell your story, you know? Only a place you choose to start. Because later you find places to begin before that moment and you try to go back. And then it happens again. There are places even before that. I am thankful for those places. Those before and before places that allow me the reasons I need to justify my procrastination.
Too many reasons to hold on to stories. But they are lies. Every voice in my head that tells me that I am not good enough. Every whisper that shouts and threatens to tell the world (what the world already knows) that I am a human being. Perfect in all my imperfections. Beautiful in my ugly. Lives are to be lived. Stories to be told. In tracing the steps to tell my story I find myself laughing out loud, at me. It's a funny thing, me revisiting journals. There is always this urge to edit and pretend that I was always this...wise...woman (lol). I wasn't. Who was? Am I even now?
I am honoring myself for the courage to read my journals from forever ago and love the young, silly girl. Sure, I would love to retype them and when he said...and called me a...I looked at him square in the face and said...! Grabbed my bag and walked out and slammed the door! But I didn't. I cried. Hoped he would stay.
One of my favorite parts of The Wisdom Course at Landmark Education was the section on how as adults we are still triggered by things that happened to us as children. Yes, as children when we didn't know how to use or have the tools we needed to properly defend ourselves. So we grow up (physically anyway) and similar things happen and while the adult incidences feel like and seem like isolated incidences, they are only adult versions of what happened to us as children.
I remember once when I was at John Muir Elementary in Long Beach, I don't remember exactly what grade, but I believe it was third. Yes, third because I wasn't on the big playground with the tether balls yet. I was in the cafeteria eating my lunch. That day I was eating alone. Why was I was eating alone? I usually ate with my best friend, Tara and a group of other chatty girls practicing cheers too loud. My name is Robin, yeah! I am a virgo, yeah... But that day I was eating alone.
I sat between two older students who were probably in the fifth or sixth grade. I don't remember why, but for some reason, neither of them wanted me to sit next to them. They didn't know me so I was probably the one designated cootie carrier of the day. The boy, whoever he was, was very big. He was tv sitcom schoolyard bully big. Probably what The Gouch from Different Strokes looked like had we ever got to see him. He had really dark skin and wore his hair in a black fluffy afro. He made some negative remark about me and told his friend, a girl who was also big and dark and wore her hair in short pig tails. Why do I remember short pig tails? Whatever he said to her, she immediately agreed to and didn't want me to sit next to her either. Children! As it was, I was sitting between them. Duh!
He told me to scoot over. And I did. I was a nervous child. Nervous and smart enough to not get into a fight if I didn't have to. Still, not bold enough to defend my boundaries. So, I scooted as much as I could without touching the girl who seemed to be equally grossed out by me and my apparant cooties. "Ugh! I don't want you sittin' by me either. Scoot over!" So I did. Voice! Oh voice! Where are you? Again I scooted as much as I could. The scoot over game went on until the cafeteria coach walked by and heard them taunting me.
I ate my lunch. Silently. Got up. Threw my trash in the appropriate dumpster and went to the playground. The small one without the tether balls. Where I was safe and people wanted me around and I didn't have the cooties.
All these years I held onto that story. I don't think I've ever mentioned it. As an adult I'm triggered by people trying to push me around. Maybe that's where it came from. I don't know, but I don't like it. I don't like it happening to me or to anyone. Thankfully I have grown to use my voice. A voice big and powerful enough to call the foul when I see, feel, hear it.
When we are willing and ready to do the work we can connect our current pains to a pain before the moment we are in. A moment we didn't deal with or haven't healed from. I connect many of my relationship issues from me not taking the time to heal from an incident at only four years old. Sure, I thought I took the time. But for a long time my idea of healing was to just say "God's got it" and then sweep it under the rug. But we have a bigger responsibility to our pain, to ourselves, to our lives than that. But, to our credit, we are doing what we know how to do. A lot of times in church that's all we are taught. To just "let go and let God." And for many in pain that statement falls like a slogan no different from Nike's "Just do it." Or telling a drug addict to "Just say no." Or a rapist that "No means no." Yes, all of those statements are true but they mean nothing without the proper tools to handle real life situations.
I was in therapy a year ago. Don't be surprised or judgemental about me having a therapist. You probably need one too. I knew it was time for me to do something. I kept repeating patterns in my life that kept getting me the same undesired result. Now, is therapy a subsitute for my spiritual pracitice? Not at all. God is my all. I wake up every morning in prayer and live my day inside of it. Just like I drink tea, take herbs or medicine when I'm ill knowing that those remedies aren't a subsitute for God. Therapy is my gift from God as much as is the $5.99 God blesses me with to buy Tylonol (I know! $5.99 for headache medicine!) Perhaps I sound like I'm going on a bit too much about therapy, but it's an issue, at least within the black community, that is still a little taboo. What does it mean about us? What does it say about our faith in God? What will people think? But we are dealing with some serious issues. Issues of our own and issues we inherited from great grandparents. And we are walking around like it's no big deal. Walking around with all this stuff stuffed under the rug. We are ticking bombs with pretty faces and good jobs and other people's lives in our hands, waiting for the next trigger to explode and be done with it all.
We wonder why our relationships don't work? And when I say relationships here, I mean relationships of all types. Romantic, work, friendships... all of them. We have sores we haven't dealt with and we bring them into our relationships expecting (at least on some level) for our partners to fix or be more responsibile for them then they are capable of being. As for me, I had issues I wasn't communicating to anyone but my journals. And even then that was the politically correct polite watered down pretty version. I wasn't intenionally keeping many of them secret but it was almost like I had a magic disappearing cloak I could/would put my pain under, say a prayer, wiggle my nose Bewitched style and then VOILA! Pain be gone! It was my "disconnect to pain" my therapist called it. At some point as a child I developed it and it did help me, but now that I am an adult fully capable of connecting to and feeling it. I can. I am. Now, is therapy the answer to everything. No, but it's helping me right now.
Helping me? Yes, helping me. Helping me heal. Helping me feel. Helping me write. Helping me feel and move on. I don't have to babysit old pains. No, I didn't need therapy for that lesson. But I am growing to a place where I don't pick up old pains to hurt myself even more. That's the work of prayer. A lot of prayer. Because of prayer, faith, God (always only God), because I am talking talking talking, letting go of shame, talking, feeling, I am letting go of something I held on to for too many years.
I know it's time for me to see someone again. I had a dream night before last that I was in jail. And as I have never been to jail before, it looked and felt all Oz and Scared Straight enough to me. Tami from Basketball Wives was in with me and we were buddied up and she was showing me the ropes. The jail ropes. Don't eat over there. She stare you down, you stare her down right back. He gon try to hit it, watch yo back. Occasionally she would flip her lip and go ape on someone who, in my opinion, didn't deserve it. Afraid will never describe how I felt. If ever I longed for a V8 or Calgon take me away, or if the earth could actually swallow me up, oh to be Enoch and just be not anymore. If there was anything I was certain of, it was that I would not survive that place. And it was only a dream; but who knows from dreams when you are dreaming?
I woke up the next morning in thank Jesus shout that it was a dream. But my dream, as my dreams are, was only a visual description of my mental world. The fear that I felt when I was in jail is how I feel when my mind sells me out for someplace better. That's what it feels like. Like we were cool and then all of a sudden things seem to shift right before me. Transformers. The tears fall, the sadness ensues and lately I keep having these episodes where I can't seem to do the simplest things. I was in therapy for about a year last year up until October. And I'm tired of talking about crazy about last night episodes and sadness clouds that loom so I contacted another therapist. We meet next Wednesday morning.
I know it's time for me to see someone again because I have seriously gone off on myself and too many folks in the last two weeks for super nothing stuff. I'm afraid of talking to my friends because of some random blow up that might come out of my mouth. Because that's how it happens. I could be casually talking, texting, Facebooking ('cause that's a verb) and out of the blue I will just go IN, Son! Then I make it worse by being super apologetic as if that helps. Then I'm all embarrassed and wish I could just "I want to go home I want to go home I want to go home" the whole thing away.
Years ago I met with an herb "doctor" who examined my eyes and told me I have a chemical imbalance. I've heard of that but I don't know what that means. His lame response was "Well, you know what a chemical is right?" Me: Umm, right. "And you know what imbalance means right?" Me (thinking): That you're an idiot. So I never saw him or anyone who called themselves an herb doctor again.
But back then I wasn't "trippin'" as much as I am now so I just put the whole thing in the whateverrrrr basket and moved on. Plus, there was no Internet back then so I couldn't just Google ('cause that's a verb too) chemical imbalance and like I said, it just wasn't serious enough for me to go to the library about. And no, I didn't have health insurance back then either. Judge yourself.
Alas, March 2012 and it is that serious now. Wednesday night I was driving home and had this...this...I don't know, this heavy so heavy I was afraid to go home. Before I go on here, to my family and close friends who may read this, I get that this is not where or how you would want to find out about this, but think about me and how much I don't want to have this conversation with you and answer questions I can't even answer for myself. Anyway I was driving home and felt...afraid. Of? Being with myself I guess. So I drove to the hospital. I've never done that before. It was almost 10:30 and what was I gonna say? Um, I feel...um...sad and um I was like wondering...The closer I got to the hospital the more anxiety I felt. But I could feel a voice telling me to just keep driving to the hospital. So I did. When I got there I was scared to pull into the parking lot because I couldn't figure out how much the parking would be. I was adding and subtracting and carrying ones and it was crazy because I had enough on me to cover the parking. I knew that the whole parking money thing was silly and that at the bottom of it was that I just didn't want to go in. So I didn't. I drove home and on the way home for some reason couldn't figure out how to change lanes. So I drove like 20mph almost the whole way. I could feel myself, my real self, outside of the me breaking down telling me to get it together. Yes I made it home and then, as if I needed to break down further, I couldn't figure out how to unlock my friggin' car. By the time I got inside I was so wiped out. But the cloud. The cloud was still there. Now, I don't have episodes on that scale everyday, but everyday it's something. Even if it's just the tears from nowhere.
But today was pretty cool. There were tears, but tears are regular now. But it was a good day. Not posting or responding or like ing anything on Facebook. Not texting or calling or just saying hi today. Although I did go to a birthday party today and thankfully it was just two blocks from where I live. I enjoyed myself and got through it without being too weird (I think). That's the other thing, I over judge myself. All the time. For now I am just happy to be home and making soup for my son and doing laundry and writing this whatever this is and watching television with my son, who is one of the few folks in my life I have not gone bezerko on. And with all this Trayvon going on that I have justifiable anxiety about, I am happy to be here with him on this Saturday night watching a marathon of the silliest show ever that is actually called "Ridiculousness." And nothing is better than this right now.
Something is always happening. A couple of years ago I was in Chicago visiting my cousin and her family. Her three year old daughter was dancing in the middle of the floor late one night and she kept sing this song she made up earlier that day. "Roller coaster, roller coaster! Up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down! Roller coaster, roller coaster!"
I know that ride.
Stories have to come out
Otherwise they fill up until stink
Rottenness of bad memories
Cooked over and over like leftover rice
I tell my stories to save my life
Until telling scrapes metal of my gut
I keep telling
In secret journals and blocked and published blogs
In poems and stories
Tell my stories with paint and photos
Tell my stories with tongue
With pussy with ashy knuckles and dirty knees
In the shower
I keep talking myself out of some stories
Telling myself that too much time has gone by
To be important
But stories are not avocados
They do not get stale and disolve
They live and grow into something
When they have outlived their purpose
They must be buried properly
Walked away from
Stories will not be ignored
I must tell cursed and hallelujah stories
To save my life
Maybe my stories will save your life too
And then you will tell yours
And save a life again
My life, my stories are like shoe laces. Twisting. Knotting up. Wrapping into pretty bows. Twisting. Knotting again. Complicated. Simple. Letting go. On this journey of mine called life, called womanhood, called artistry, newly added called menopause and bipolar 2 and everything else going on, there are emotional ups and downs. I don't know all of the triggers; but I'm learning some along the way: stress, diet, daily experiences that bring up memories from painful, embarrasing, uncomfortable parts of my past I thought I was over. This journey is Revolution (yes, the roller coaster at Six Flags). There are smooth even spots where I am brick enough to handle the trials and blessings on my platter. Then, and sometimes by surprise but often not, the tracks jerk right or left and the sun is in my face or water is all over me from who knows where? Somebody's coke, an irresponsibly placed pond, you get it. From zero to sixty I am cotton candy. Pickled.
On my high days, and high is becoming just as dangerous and scary as low, I am discovering, I am the life of the party. I am all over the place. Talking crazy fast, buzzing around everwhere, laughing... What's scary is that on even days I'm like this too so it's hard to tell from the outside whether I'm sky rocketing or just feeling good. But I know. I know because of the out of control feeling I have throughout it. I'm on the outside of the party my evil way too happy twin is throwing. The coffee, I think is responsible for the new off the chart highs. When I "gave up" sugar (and I use the phrase gave up so loosely I shouldn't even use it) I "replaced" sweets with coffee. I was never really a coffee drinker. And no, I couldn't use the organic coffee with fake sugar from Trader Joes, nooooooo, I had to go full out and get the good Mobil gas station French vanilla. Always a large too. Always. Anyway after the crazy talking too fast highs there is always a crash that follows. Uuuuugggg, the crash. When none of the fun folks from the day before are around. Just me. Me. I get invited to this party. Thanks.
I read an article by Bassey Ipki (awesome poet doing phenomenal work speaking out on her experience living with Bipolar 2 disorder) and she said something I now use when I'm feeling...low. "Allow yourself morning." How powerful is that? Because morning feels so far away and almost impossible when I'm going through it. Morning? Are you kidding? The next breath is a bitch. But I do, I allow myself morning. No matter the thoughts, I breathe and know (or at least search for the knowing) that the low is temporary, no matter how scary. It gets tiring sometimes, checking in with where my mood is every minute of the day. "Uncle. Goddammit. Uncle." Bassey Ipki.
Right now I am sitting on the floor of my new for now place. I will move again. It’s what I do. I move. I’m a runner. I don’t call myself a runner. An ex, several exes ago called me that. I never liked that label and perhaps there is something to be said about why it always irritated me when he said it. Maybe it’s true.
It’s time I write my story. Not in my blog, not in a poem, not in notes and texts I send to friends, but in a book, this one. A for real book. That’s what my mother says when she asks if I’m writing and I respond, “Yeah, I’m blogging like every day.” She says, “No, I mean in a for real book.” The book is not what scares me. It’s the for real part. I’m free writing. Really I’m procrastinating. I am holding secrets that would be better out of me than in and I am afraid of you. Your judgment. Bear with me.
I have fibroids and as I mentioned was diagnosed earlier this month as bipolar 2. Not a surprise to me. I have battled with anxiety and depression on some level all of my adult life. The out of control ups are a new addition to my head but whatever, the more the…wait…what? My therapist said that many women diagnosed as bipolar who also have fibroids are women who have held secrets, especially as children. That energy creates form and manifests into something. Makes sense to me. I kept my share. More on that later.
My earliest vivid memory goes back to when I was three years old and I was at the top of the cement stairs of the apartment where I lived with my parents in Long Beach, California on Orange Ave. There was a quick moment when no one was watching and I opened the screen door. I guess they assumed I was too short to reach. Well, I wasn’t. I escaped. I went outside and got on my tricycle. My plan was simple. I was just gonna ride my bike down the stairs super fast and that would be fun, then I would bring the bike up the stairs and be back inside before anyone knew I was gone. What? I opened the door. Got on my bike and tumbled all the way down the cement steps. There were boys walking by, I remember, who laughed, until my father informed them that my falling wasn’t funny. He had his own way of informing. Oddly, or not, I don’t remember most of the fall, just those first few steps. Just the laughing boys. Just my father’s broken face.
That’s my first memory. And I wonder why my ex called me a runner. I’ve always been running. Sometimes away from someone/something, sometimes to. Always moving. Even in elementary I was usually one of the fastest runners in my classes. In elementary
(I’m with a friend in Malibu now. She is visiting her grandson who is in a detention camp. I am sitting in the car. The birds, I think, are speaking to me.)
In elementary I used to run to and away from at the same time. My life, I knew, was different than the picture I saw before me. I was not going to get married and live in the same house and work at the same job and drive the same car and same the same same. I was going to see the world. Even if I had to see the whole world through stories I created myself. I was always going to be a writer (and a lawyer, painter, model, actress.) But always a writer. Writing was how I ran away. Writing was how I ran to. I had a notebook that I wrote my stories in called My Famous stories. Because I was going to be a writer and famous and stories and…get it? I changed my world every day in that notebook. Allllll the boys liked me in my stories. I wasn’t tall and skinny with long shiny pressed braids in eight ponytails. Seriously, I looked like a taranchula.
(Four young boys from the camp are walking by carrying trash or laundry or cakes with knives- I don’t know- and I said a prayer for them that they find some peace with whatever they are running from or to. The prayer was after I wondered why they were so close to my car and was I going to be womannapped by some kids and end up on the evening news.)
So the book was called My Famous Stories by Robin R. Reed and then each story would have its own title but always followed by by Robin R. Reed. That’s my name.
I was born Robin Rachael Reed. Rachael is pronounced Rashelle but looks too much like it's pronounced Ray-Chel (cha like charity) and Robin Rachael Reed is so not cute. I remember having a conversation with my mother when I was in the sixth grade. I asked her why she spelled my middle name like that. And because the question was more an accusation I don't know if I even listened for a response. I remember explaining to her that I was going to be a famous writer and because of her people all over the whole wide world were going to think my name was Robin Ray-Chel Reed and that sounds stupid. My mother ruined my career, my life.
"But you're going to be so famous that when you go on TV to be interviewed then you will tell them how to say your name." By then I was crying real tears. I used to cry a lot. "But everyone won't be watching! And they don't interview writers on TV, they write about writers." She just didn't get it. It was het fault and she just kept driving along like she had done nothing. "Well if you don't like it, you can change it."
Then the heavens opened. I could change it. I didn't have to be cursed with my beloved fans thinking that I was Robin Ray-Chel. Then hey, why not go full out? Maybe I didn't even have to be Robin anymore. "So what was my name going to be if I was a boy?" Because I've always loved boy names on girls. "Robert, because I wanted your initials to be RRR." To this day I don't like that.
So I wasn't going to be Robert Reed but the next day, after a late midnights scribbling, I was Robyn Rochelle Reed. The next week I was Robynne Rachelle Reed. The week after that Robyn Rachelle Reed. Ms. Koss, my sixth grade teacher told me to pick one and Robyn Rachelle Reed stuck. Until I got a passport and the name on my birth certificate and passport had to match and I was back to Robin Rachael Reed and if anyone knows me at all today as a writer, they know me as Jaha Zainabu. Told you. I've always been running.
Not running just for kicks. From jump there were things to run from. Of course I didn't call it running then. I called it pretending. Pretending was my way of getting out of wherever I didn't wanna be. It was how I escaped arguments. My body, to this day, does this thing when I hear people fighting. Sometimes my parents would argue and I would poof away to my magic land. But be close enough to protect whoever needed saving. Oh yeah, I'm a protector. Somehow I manage to be a runner and protector (because I'm also a super hero. Shut up.)
From the time I was a young girl, even before I started school, before MY FAMOUS STORIES, I would sit outside and play pretend. Pretend I was a white girl with yellow hair like my doll. Pretend I was a dark chocolate grown up woman with pointy breasts and tippy toes like my doll. Pretend I was one of the kids on The Electric Company. I would sit on my porch with its chipped red paint and pretend, pretend, pretend.
Before my sister, Roshann was born, we moved from the brown apartments on Orange Avenue to a house on Cameron Street on the west side of Long Beach. I loved my front steps. Loved combing my dolls hair and pretending on those steps. My castle. I was the queen. I said who. I said when. I said what happened in my castle.
There was another castle, though, next door, throned by two other queens. I was four. They were sixteen and seventeen. Sisters. They were fass girls. That's what my grandmother called girls like them, "fass assded" girls. 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 sixteen 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.
There were fears, emotions, things to run away from. To put it mildly. I learned early how to brush real shit under proverbial rugs. Writing always made me feel safe. It was the one thing I could control. In my stories little girls don't suck dicks. They protect other little girls. They beat up bad guys. They fly, Robin, fly.
Thats how I found poetry. During workshops, travelling to various poetry events throughout the country, interviews and a few times at the bus stop the question has come up. "How did you become a poet?" It's phrased a few different ways. "Why would you become a poet?" "Seriously, a poet?" "That's cool. A poet? I write poetry too. Ever been on Def Poetry Jam?" My answer to why poetry usually begins the same, "the money of course." Then the laughter dies down and if they still wanna know I get serious.
Poetry is how I found my voice. It's how I knew what was garbled all in my head. Looking back I was like a free style rapper who could mellifluously flow all night but if you asked him a straight question sans mic and beat boxer you got bumpy three word answers. I used to keep a notebook with me all of the time and write whenever I could. I still do. Jotting down random stanzas on my phone, ipad, dollar store notebook, the leg of my jeans, whatever.
In high school I became addicted to black poetry. Nikki Giovanni was my favorite. Loved me some Nikki ok! I started morphing my thoughts into stanzas, haikus, quatrains, prose. My poetry was the other world where I could write all of society’s wrongs. I healed sick. I educated children. I told stories. I changed myself from skinny legs press and curl shy afraid girl to woman. Woman with a voice that mattered. Woman who could point finger and say "Hey, don't you rape that girl again! I see you!" Woman who saw others mistreated and knew I could make a difference.
I don't know why. Somehow I knew that my heart beat through poetry and my beating heart would reach other hearts. Hearts around the world. Hearts that needed help beating. I knew that when I couldn't wouldn't talk to another human being the words would always be there for me when I wanted to communicate in poetry. And they always were.
I graduated from high school and kept reading and loving poetry. Not just Nikki, but Sonia Sanchez, Shakespeare. I listened to everything as poetry. Sermons, lectures, Martin Luther King, Jr. tapes, my grandmother and any southern woman I could find and all their "quieter than a rat peein' on cotton" analogies they came up with. Poetry was everywhere I turned. I wrote poetry in college, at work, in bed.
Then I started going to open mic nights where ever I could find them. I started at a bookstore in Long Beach, California where maybe ten or twelve of us would "spit" on Tuesdays (or whenever it was.) I was in heaven, yo! Flowin' with the other raised black fisted twenty somethingers in the group. Shortly after that I "discovered" The World Stage in Leimert Park. You know, discovered like Columbus discovered. The World Stage became church for me. I would race to get to the open mic list on Wednesday nights before the list got full. I would recite my pieces and listen with the widest ears ever to the other "performers" then count down the breaths until the next Wednesday. Yes, it was that serious for me.
I got heavily involved in the poetry scene in Los Angeles and was a regular at all the spots. I would get coffee shops to let me present my one woman shows and they agreed. My one woman shows were me on stage (or where ever was the farthest away from the cappuccino machine) and recite and perform my poetry. Back then I memorized all my work. I don't now. Whatever. Judge yourself. In about 2000 I met up with Ryan Cross, a superbaaad upright bass player and we created a show called "Journey." I was on poetry and he was on bass. We were everything I saw in my dreams. And more. Our show was once a month in coffee houses we could book in Los Angeles. We also travelled to Oakland and other areas in Northern California. Then we went to New York and also to Washington. Folks dug it. We "Journey"ed together for about two years then made an album called guess what...yeah, Journey.
I was getting invited to perform in colleges, at birthday parties, graduation parties, black history shows, churches, schools, hotels, parks, festivals. I mean, back then it didn't really matter. I loved performing like nobody’s business. I was selling my poetry chapbooks and cds everywhere I went. Everywhere. My son was born in 97 and was right there with me. Oh the teas and cookies and cheeses and juices he tasted in greenrooms throughout Los Angeles.
Time passed and I still loved poetry but was less willing to go ev e ry where. Mostly just churches, colleges and events like black history, woman’s month and things like that. The "donations" got bigger so while I still sold my chapbooks and cds I was also able to go home with a check. I was so proud. I was doing what I loved doing. Don't get me wrong. It wasn’t all lovely. Most of it wasn't but what didn't kill me was a lesson I learned and I took the good times with me. The way I figured, if I was working at a "regular" job then I would have had some hard times there too and not be as fulfilled at the end of the day. Hey, I was making a difference.
The stages got bigger and smaller and bigger and bigger and smaller...and the money vacillated the same. But my heart was still true to word. The spoken word. The written word. The prose was it. I could go on forever about the gigs but the meat of what I'm saying here is that the answer to how I became a poet is simply that I said yes to the call.
These days I am working on saying yes to my happiness as well as the call for my life. Some of us were born feeling like we have to suffer or we aren't right with God. Like our happiness has to be the sacrifice. It doesn't. I've noticed that I seem very willing to fight for my safety but am willing to sacrifice my happiness. Somewhere I learned this. I think many young girls did. What's good about this learning is the unlearning. The conscious letting go of that behavior. The ding that goes off in my head when I whatever my happiness away for the sake of anyone, anything. It's the small voice in my head that repeats "I matter. My happiness is important."
I thought about a girl’s group that I used to belong to when I was a little girl growing up in church. The group was called Rosebuds and I don’t know if that’s a name that St. Mark made up or if that was actually an organized group that existed in other churches. My guess now is that it’s something someone at St. Mark made up. Anyway, the age range was from maybe seven to twelve years old. Miss Williams was our leader. I think. We met once a week in the back room of the church where we discussed various lessons that were specifically designed for girls. What stands out now is that each week we had to recite in unison the Rosebud motto which was “I’ll gladly try.” Miss Williams would ask a series of questions and together we would repeat the motto. “So if someone asks you to do something what do you say?” We took a deep breath and let it out “I’ll gladly try.” “Well what if you don’t feel like doing anything?” Another deep breath. “I’ll gladly try.”
Don’t get me wrong here, I think it’s great to teach a group of young girls to gladly try. I believe the purpose of having us repeat the motto was to enforce the idea of possibility into us. The problem, if it can be called a problem, is that there was no next level class for young ladies where we learned to check in with ourselves and see if the request being made honored who we were and whether or not we could with any degree of integrity fulfill the request. No, every request is not met with “I’ll gladly try.” Our motto that we raced to shout left no room for us to say “no.” Not only that, it left us, if I may speak for us, feeling that there was something sinfully wrong if we did. That teaching, with nothing to follow it, trained young girls to be good sheep who didn’t use our own minds or connect to the God power within us all.
I grew up that good girl. And it was odd to me as a little girl when Rev. Hunter would kiss me. I often felt his strawberry soda tasting tongue touch my tongue. Even slightly was too much. I shouldn’t know his favorite soda. But I did. And young, good girls who gladly try don’t put reverends on blast. Where was the class for that? In addition to "I'll gladly try!" was the other we loudly shouted, "God first! Others second! Self last!" So when I explained to my mother that I left that good job because I wasn't happy, she had no place to put that because she wasn't taught to put happiness anywhere. Neither were we.
I remember when you used to walk the little girl down the street to school because she was younger and your mother and her mother asked you to. The little girl, I don't remember her name, but you, precious you walked her to school and she was nasty and mean sometimes. She would sit on the corner to make you late for school and you were so patient with her. What a great heart. I love you for that. Thank you, Robin, for always being willing to carry a load bigger than your hands were designed to hold.
I was having a conversation with a friend recently, really I was complaining about someone else when my friend asked, "I ever tell you the story about the man on the bus?" I hadn't heard the story and she began to tell me. And it went a little something like this...
There was a man riding a crowded bus with his three small children. The man stared blankly out the window as his children made their way up and down the bus screaming and playing and distrubing the other passengers. The passengers were getting furious when finally someone asked the man why he was letting his children behave so badly on the bus. The man sadly looked up and said "I'm so sorry. We just left the hospital and I just found out that their mother just died. I don't know what I'm going to do or how I'm going to tell them." Hearing this, the passengers were less botherd by the children and were sympathetic with the man. They began to play with the children and offer them things to play with.
What the story is trying to tell us is that sometimes when we have just a small piece of someone else's perspective we can see a bothersome situation much differently. Today I am encouraged to know that I don't know the whole story, I only know my side of it. There is always some small piece missing, the presence of which would make the difference in the story.
I'm up this morning getting ready for the day. I was just thinking about my drive home from Bakersfield last night. There were a few major accidents that were really hard to just pass up without sending out some kind of prayer. One car was completely turned over and on fire. Another car was smashed against the middle wall like it was on a scene of a way too violent for kids movie. And then there was another I didn't know what was going on but the traffic was completely stopped for twenty minutes. And that's a long time. And then long is relative because what's twenty minutes when someone needs help?
So last night I was presented with opportunity after opportunity to take the focus off of myself and send out healing energy, love energy, peace energy to others. And by doing this of course, I shared in the energy I sent because really, what we send out to others is what we give to ourselves. Even the negative energy. Because after all, we are only all one, right?
Send good energy out today at least to yourself. And if you can't think of love to send to yourself, then send some to me. Or someone on the side of the road.
I'm bothered in the moment by as comment by Geraldo Rivera. He said Trayvon Martin's hoodie was as much to blame for his death as Zimmerman, the man who shot him. So, with that logic, is a woman's skirt as much to blame for her rape? I thought we were past that. We're not though.
So much senseless killing. I was a high school senior at Long Beach Poly and Trent Allen went to school in Compton. He was a well respected basketball player whose future looked bright. We never met face to face but he was a friend of my high school bestie and she introduced us one night on a three way call. Trent called me often and he was the first boy I ever liked liked whose face I had never seen.
He drove a z something something and one night he was out and another young man, black like Trent. Black like me. Shot him in the head and took his car. Just like that. His short promising life on this planet was over. Just like that. For a 280z something something xyz.
There were good times. Plenty of good times. In the sixth grade you were the best cursive writer in the whole class and Ms. Koss let you write on the board because your penmenship was so great. Remember? I do. I remember good times. I remember your laugh. That laugh that wanted more laughter. I love you. I do.
Why all the notes? Why all the praise now? Because I beat you up for so long. I'm sorry about that. But this isn't about my sorry. This is about my love for you. This is about acknowledging how awesome you were/are. This is to let you know that I remember.
I remember in the sixth grade when the other children teased Bridget about wearing fake ponytails to school and you saw her crying and sitting alone. You knew what it felt like to be teased. You sat with Bridget. Sat and talked and was quiet with her. How generous, Robin. Precious you.
Thank you for being a beautiful girl. I acknowledge your love and faith in God and the sweetness in which you prayed for others. For yourself. I remember. I do.
Thank you. Just thank you for being. Thank you Robin for living through days that were hard for you. Thank you for being kind in the face of their teasing. You didn't deserve it. You didn't. But thank you for holding your head up anyway.
I so love you.