To Wait For a Lover

To wait for a lover to arrive is

to sit at a small, round café table with a decadent dessert there before me (pie, cake, or even pudding), and

to be hungry but unable

to take a bite….yet. It is

to not know what to do with my hands while I wait. It is

to wrinkle the napkin and unwrinkle it until it disintegrates and sticks

to my palms in a hundred damp pieces. It is

to want to photograph or smell or lick the dessert–to find some alternative way

to experience the sweetness I cannot yet devour.

To pass the time I sit on my fingers and wiggle them as I wait for you

to come.

The Way I Was Taught

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, Dr. MLK Jr says. A similar truth, I say, is that justice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere.

With the recent surge in attention towards violence perpetrated against Black citizens of the United States (arguably, the largest Civil Rights movement of history), I return to studying Black liberation literature, a study I regret ever neglecting (how many people died while I didn’t trouble myself to undo my White Supremacist education). I read bell hooks, Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandela, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Austin Channing Brown, and Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy waits on my shelf, as well as more bell hooks. I remember, as I read, how life-changing Malcolm X, Cornel West, W.E.B. Dubois were for me the first time I woke up from The Dream. The Dream is how Ta-Nehesi Coates labels the American empire, the racist mirage, the white-washed delusion that American citizens live in (Between the World and Me).

This conversation isn’t about me, but as I read his book, I reflect on the fact that I am one of them. I am one of those deluded American citizens. In The Dream, I was born at the top of the food chain, in the Capitol rather than in the districts (thank you, Hunger Games). Coates writes at length about this racist system, his words are eloquent, and he leaves no stone unturned in regards to the racist machine of my people, my country. I don’t have words to add to his about race. Read his books, they speak for themselves. Coates, whose prose overcomes me with sadness and gratitude (for the revelation of Truth) all at a time, speaks for my heart, even as he speaks from his own perspective (very different than mine), to his son.

I do, however, have reflections about my own experiences of classism and racism, that I share as a practice of introspection, stirred up in me by the works of literature in my hands.

As I grow up, there are “bad” parts of Little Rock. There are places where–spoken or unspoken–my people agree not to visit. There are places my people agree not to shop. There are communities my socialization intentionally blinds me to. During that time of my life, the adults imply that people there are not fully people. A man sleeping by a garbage can is invisible, and thus, less-than-human. People who drive cars that break down on the interstate (more broadly, people who ever need help) are unorganized, use their money frivolously, they’re the problem, they don’t work hard enough. They’re not human. They should have behaved differently to avoid those situations like we (humans) did.

As a child, I assume that in those grocery stores, people yammer like Ewoks, or they sneeze without covering their noses, or do some other heinous thing that makes them less human, less like me. My childish mind struggles to make sense of what I am taught, because my heart balks against the fault of logic in this curriculum of hierarchy. I need to witness them being less human than me in order to believe that they are. To me, it looks like a man with dark skin getting off his motorcycle at the gas station. Why, then, does my father lock the car doors when he sees him?

In college, separate from my family,financial circumstances force me to pursue housing in the “bad” areas of town. By this time I’ve had friends who call those areas home. I’ve driven through them, and I’ve noticed the differences, but I don’t see anything less human about an overturned garbage can, dented mail box, liquor store down the street, or broken-in windows. Looks to me like the people who live there are busy. Looks like they’re doing the best that they can.

I visit the grocery stores in the parts of town that I was socialized to ignore, to consider a blight on our city. I find people working hard. I find extremely helpful Sonic employees. I find adults working twice as hard as I’ve ever worked for half the pay check. There are friendly Kroger greeters, there are busy business owners, there are strung out homeless folks camping by dumpsters. There are people. Flesh and blood, fully human people.

I see it. It doesn’t match up. Then I read Ta-Nehesi Coates’ book; I read his vivid and thorough explanation of The Dream, I imagine him reading the words out loud to me, about me: “I saw mastery communicated to theirs [White children of White parents]”. I was socialized to be a master, but mastery never made any damn sense. The lie of superiority is handed to me, upon my arrival, along with the case for Black dehumanization. I am expected not to question it, to blindly accept belief in my superiority as a part of my White identity.

I am not made for it, though. God made me, and God made all humans. And humans are equally human. No one was made less than. Children are born knowing this, but the history hidden in our cells denies it. White mastery over Black bodies is woven into our bones, it is the foundation of the empire that my people built for themselves. And it is laced with our own destruction. The illusion of mastery destroys us, because it denies the humanity of others, which is connected to our own. Destroying Black bodies is destroying the sacred, communal vessel that humans–regardless of what they look like– share as spiritual beings.

I realize all of this because I am reading literature by Black Abolitionists. Their words of Truth and justice in my mind naturally destroy The Dream within me. They save me. Their voices give me the chance to undo the mirage of mastery that stole me away from Truth, that occupied my mind with lies at such a young age. The injustice in my mind doesn’t stand a chance before the justice of their words (gracious bearers of horrendous truths).

The ones from whom my people took everything pave the way for my full humanity.

Thank you. Thank you, Abolitionists. Thank you, Black thinkers. Black mothers, fathers, grannies, children. Thank you for surviving. Thank you for overcoming. Thank you for not burning my people to the ground like we deserve.  Thank you for setting me free. Thank you for living, for trying to live, and for trying to save your children, despite the oppression. You are mighty oaks, you are relentless, you will live to see a more just world. Thank you for writing. Thank you for your struggle. May you be blessed, may you be free.

 

Let the light in
Keep it shining
Let it break into the darkness
All the love dares us to see
We’ll all be free ~William Matthews

The Light After the Candle is Extinguished

The relationship that I left four months (plus about a week) ago, and events that happened since have truly helped me identify how my values play out in my life. I had read books and taken a quiz about core values, and I thought I was familiar with my own. The first major romantic relationship I had, the difficulties within it, and the subsequent fallout, all helped me see more tangibly the importance of my values, and how they manifest in my life. I also learned oh-so-much about love (but I know for certain there is infinitesimally more that I do not know about it).

The relationship lasted three and a half years in total, and we tried hard to build a life together for one and a half years of that. At least I speak for myself when I say that we tried hard; I like to assume the best, that he tried hard also. Life can jam-pack lessons into short periods of time. That year and a half was a whirlwind of new challenges, ones that I wasn’t ready to face.

The cohabitation hit like a bolt of lightning, and we tried to weld two lives into one with great fervor and hope, but it didn’t work. I can’t say why. Why couldn’t we establish a nourishing home base for both of us? Why couldn’t we find a healthy way to communicate our needs and priorities? Why did our relationship become strained and stuffy and reductive?

Those are treasure chests of information that I can’t yet unlock and absorb. I trust that time will give me the key, and the grace I need to receive the truth. I can, however, now say that I learned some things about myself, big and small.

I learned that I need a place to go to sleep alone at least a few nights out of the week, and I need that not to be taken personally by my partner. I need to know that my boundaries will be respected, and I need to respect the boundaries of my partner, and question my own motives thoroughly when I am inclined to do otherwise.

I learned that a person who triggers me cannot be my confidant, and that I cannot have a partner whose friends are racist. I cannot live with someone who does not practically and theoretically support the flourishing of all human beings, just as they are.

Looking back on the relationship, what irked and depleted me within it, I can identify needs that I have within intimate partnerships. I see now that I need a partner who can listen to and trust the things that I say–even when they have no frame of reference for the depths of my emotional labyrinth. I need this partner to choose me over my family. I need them to be loyal to what we are trying to build together, just as I need them to be wildly independent and committed to building their own selfhood (as I always must be too). I need sexual freedom, and I’d like a partner who knows and respects their needs as well, however out-of-the-box they may be.

Most importantly, I have learned that there are values that shape the practical decisions of my life, regarding which I am not willing to compromise. I have learned that I will create and sustain a life of purpose–because I am incomplete if I do not. I recognize now that the strongest force in me is my undying desire to make the world a better place for all–through those whose lives I can touch. I will choose to love people who are different than me, I will share my resources, my home, my self, and my heart with them, because I see that we aren’t that different, and I know how life can wear on you when others don’t rise up out of their own pain to offer you support.

Through this relationship I learned that love can overcome anything, but when the love is lost, little things become insurmountable. Over the past two years I learned the truth that you can choose a certain someone, really want them, love them with every cell in your bones, long for a life with them from the depths of your soul, and there is still no guarantee that it will work out.

My naivety had me convinced that if I chose someone, and put my all into the relationship, there would be success: a bright future together. I overestimated the power of my choice. I didn’t know that I could choose, I could want, I could pour out my soul, and the candle could go out anyway. I learned that my choice has no bearing on someone else’s. I learned that as powerful as I am, I don’t have power over anyone else, and at the end of the day, I don’t want that power anyway.

I couldn’t manifest what wasn’t meant to be. There can be love, and then that love can be gone. I remember the moment the candle’s wick was cold. Or maybe it was the moment that I realized there just wasn’t a candle anymore. I was standing in our kitchen, and suddenly I lived with a stranger. I looked inward and saw that I had become a stranger to myself. The relationship had led me away from my values, and in that compromise, my selfhood was banished from my own life.

The cold draft of that insight freckled my skin with goose pimples, and I sat down in a kitchen chair so I could think, and make plans to become reacquainted with myself, no matter the cost.

When I realized that the flame was blown out, I knew that more was lost than just a candle (my naivety, for one), but I also knew that some lights cannot be extinguished. Some lights burn low and steady, an unquenchable blaze, ready to fuel the life you are meant to live.

 

Lofty You

You, the home I want to leap towards.

I am a pigeon humbly exploring heights of my you-admiration,

which is on a level surpassing clouds, higher than

the building I would jump off of for you (Empire State, maybe, or that shiny one in

Dubai).

Words descend from your lips softly; I won’t interrupt

you, ever. It’s just that your voice is liquor. I mean,

smooth, intoxicating, I want to call you “home”; want to press you into my palm like

a gold coin that leaves a mark or like the mark I would make on the concrete if I did

jump, were I not afraid.  I do not fear

your liquorish words, I do not fear the fall. I fear

that your love may not catch me, or worse, I may take you

down with me. You, my home higher

than the Empire State.

of Lost Love (a trio)

The Decision

I don’t need to sleep skin-to-skin with anyone

else what I need is my skin exposed

against the sheets. What I need is time to

think my thoughts as I beat my heart and wonder:

when did it all go wrong? At what point did you

decide not to love me?

 

The Realization

When your beloved doesn’t love

you

anymore the rain is pouring, the

windshield wipers rush from side to side all

frantic-like and you can’t see through the torrents,

you can’t feel anything other than the

inundation of pain.

 

The Way Forward

I am on the interstate in a reliable car but the rain is so heavy–heavier than my tears–that all I can manage is to steer between the yellow line and the white line and hope that no one–nothing–crosses into my lane.

Love In & All Around Us

 

I sit and feel the rage — mine, and that which doesn’t belong to me –. the pain of

violence–words and actions–and I notice the yellow sunlight throw itself

against the leaves; complete trust in its’ trajectory.

 

My heart is big enough to swallow the world with every surgical mask, homeless man, and seething crowd in it. Like the feathers of a duck swallow the eggs

beneath her.

 

A duck with a red beak and brown feathers warms that nest of eggs and watches me

warily like she did last spring when

someone else walked by her sacred workplace and the crises on our lips

were not yet anticipated.

 

Crises bubble up, toxic tar ignored past expiration, a message

as blatant as nature’s rhythms:

we are dying

nature keeps living, keeps

 

thrumming her steady bass note:

love woven into the calloused bark,

cutting currents–like whiplashes–down the trunk, telling

us the story of ourselves.

Trauma

Trying to explain what my trauma is like, and how it affects me, feels like trying to explain why my heartbeats, or how two clouds overlap in the sky. It feels beyond me and also to close to me to see. It is something that I cannot articulate but will try all my life to put into words, because these words call me home to myself, and may just call someone else home to herself.

There is the afterglow of intercourse, the nourishment of conversation, the clinking of wine glasses, and the smooth texture of soft cheese. Then there is laughter from the gut, there is the satisfaction of a job well done, there is the exhaustion that comes after a long, full day.

There is all of that, but only until the wire is tripped. It’s unspeakably wonderful until

the damn wire is tripped and there I am inside of the worst memory I have only I’m not there

I’m still in the moment I was in when the wire tripped, but now the moment has the memory superimposed over it like words stamped across

a poster with a photo as the background. My reality becomes the background and

the memory is the words that traipse across, obscuring

any real view of the photograph itself.

The tripwire could be a word (mine or someone else’s), a thought, the recollection of a memory (perhaps brought on by a building, or driving down a certain street, or hearing a certain stringing of words on the radio). It could be the harmless lack of a response to a message I send, it could be a

breakup. Once it is tripped, I am stuck. There isn’t texture, there’s no glow inside, I’m not sure I even have a body. 

No one has seen me, no one ever will. I may never feel anything positive again, and I am utterly, truly alone. I am utterly at the memory’s mercy, anyone it says

that I am with no hopes of being

anyone–or anything–else, ever. Existence becomes static rather than dynamic because

I am triggered. Memory clouds my vision. Was there ever a clear photograph behind the words or has it always been these blocky, irritating words that obscure anything beautiful.

The words aren’t right. The essence of trauma eludes me, even now, as it has me wrapped inside its’ talons. Mercy is that every time I trip the wire is another chance

to put into words this ruthless phenomenon that I and so many others experience daily, weekly, maybe foreverly (I don’t know):

trauma. It is ours, though, and we carry it courageously forward.

a list of healing things

I’m healing myself, again. It might be

the hundredth time, I’m not sure. Anyway,

I’m keeping a list of what works:

(it’s an odd list, I’ll admit)

 

eating three meals a day–seated, not standing, with good manners and frequent pauses–

using colorful Sharpies to fill blank pages with swirls and triangles

squishy yoga poses that feel so good I want to take a picture of myself in them and send it to someone

water, remembering to drink it (and not just right before bed when it will keep me up all night on trips to the bathroom)

ignoring calls I don’t want to take (actually making the calls I need to, too)

writing letters to people I like and putting stickers on the outside of the envelope

knowing deep down (in my bones) that I am doing what I can to make the world a better place (and thus not feeling compelled to blast my opinion socially on the social medias about the latest injustice committed in the world. The peace that comes as a result of action: that’s enough to allow my silence.)

sex. The kind of sex that doesn’t mean I belong to someone. Actually, they taught me that if I had sex without handing a man the legally binding deed to my belonging (a document drawn up by the father at any woman’s birth, they said), I would be immediately dismembered. I would be irreversibly damaged. Barbarously maimed. Beamed up, Scotty. Something along those lines, they said, is what would have happened, they said, had I have had sex without a husband. They said, with a no-husband, it would have been horrendous, horribly. Suffice it to say that somehow sex is on the list of things that are healing me. (They couldn’t have been more wrong, could they?)

books, quiet indulgent hours with my nose close to the page

walks first thing in the morning to awaken my legs

telling trustworthy friends what I need to tell them, and staying quiet about the things I’m not yet ready to share

practicing the art of to listen to (another person)

listening, also, to the bluejays and insistent sparrows

baths

taking my medicine and talking to my therapist

meditating with my legs hung over the big black cushion that I bought several years ago, which was a time slightly after the time that I last healed myself.

 

you, me

You

me

your chest, mine

there making a new shape.

We were two

bodies, separate but

in the space where the shape forms–

where we form a new shape–

two spirits remain two spirits yet

two bodies form one.

In a moment tinged with ecstasy and

grief a new shape bursts into existence: a glowing bulb at the tip of

a match after it runs down the length of its’

jagged carton.

Your chest, mine

me

you.

 

 

Life in Pain

Living with chronic pain & health problems is a lot of things. Easy isn’t one of them. For a person who wants to give & give & give to the people around her, it can be difficult to communicate my own needs. It can be nearly impossible for me to hedge myself in rather than opening up to the needs of others. These are the things I need to say for my own healing, & because most days I can’t get the words out to my loved ones.

Living with chronic pain & health problems is being run over by a freight train before you get out of bed every morning. It is a thousand nights of crying & asking “why” under the steady stream of the shower head. It is being someone whose existence makes other people uncomfortable. It is being married to pain & suffering, wondering if they are your soul mate. It is 1,000 existential questions before breakfast and trying to predict how bad the day will be although the day itself offers only positives.

Living with chronic pain is walking down the hall knowing you might pass out & then accidentally spilling your tea into your lap because you were too busy thinking about the possibility of passing out to notice the mug there. It is having high hopes for an outing & finding yourself gritting your teeth & trying to get through it instead of enjoying what you had looked forward to.

It is learning to accept that you’re going to cry in front of your co-workers sometimes & doing your job well anyway.

It is forgiving your body 1,000 times & forgiving yourself for being unable to heal your body 1,000 times more. It is knowing what you need to do to improve your situation but being too paralyzed by the pain to follow through with it. It is listening to people make the same suggestions of things you’ve tried over & over because your unresolved pain makes them uncomfortable.

It’s being mad at yourself for being unable to give your best–or anything–in your work & relationships. It is millions of tiny sacrifices that you make in order to salvage enough energy to get you to the end of the day.

Living with chronic pain & unresolved health problems is hoping that every day will be better than the last.

I see those of you who suffer. In my suffering, I am united to you. We are one as a body of pain. Our stories overlap in this most difficult way & mysteriously it makes us more beautiful. One grueling moment at a time, our love for ourselves & each other overcomes this pain. How do I know? Because we are still here.