An Ode to Auntie Jeanie

What happens to a dream deferred? It hangs its dusty coat in a closet. The guest room closet in your meanest grandma’s house-it has a screen door and the furniture doesn’t fit. The dreams share the same space as the graduation gowns that smell like the food. The stuff they served at your party, the greasy fish filets your crooked uncle had to go out and buy because your mom and dad ran out of money at the last minute. Maybe because they bought you that watch they couldn’t afford, but had saved up for, and spent the money and spent the money again. In that closet, the dreams hang on wire hangers, beaten and defeated from having to share space with the other clothes, and the other droopy dreams and wedding dresses. Yellow, mildew-caked dresses that should have never been white. Thankfully now they are not. Time eventually makes everything honest. My dream’s coat hangs there. The one of being the pretty aunt who buys the gifts no one else will. I had it all planned out, fur coats, sugar daddy bought shoes, red lipstick. Old perfume mixed with the new. A little townhouse in Weston that no one is allowed to come to because it is too immaculate. 

And my family-they would never ever ask to live with me, because my place was just too regal. At some point that one nephew becomes too much for anyone to handle, and he gets kicked out. It happens in every family. Can’t come to my house, cause I have a man there. A big strong one who is actually someone else’s man and he makes me cry sometimes. A lot of the time. I still dream about the dream and see myself in my garden tub all alone, drowned in bubbles, with my hair up, looking at the fresh flowers all around me. I am reminded of the folly of desires.

The Strong Black Woman

Not even a week ago, I gave birth to my second baby. That felt weird to type, but I am growing through it. My labor started on a Friday. I was at home telling my husband, not husband (more on that later) I had a pain in my side that wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried. I was almost 29 weeks pregnant.

The most pregnant I have ever been.

I was sure the pain in my side was just gas until I went to the bathroom and confronted the bright red blood in my panties. 

When I saw it, I let out a little moan. Stori’s Dad yelled to me through the door, his voice penetrating the extremely loud fan we desperately needed to replace.

 “What is it, baby?” 

“I am bleeding.”

“What does that mean?”

“Nothing good.” My eyes were wet.

“I will grab some of your stuff.”

I followed him upstairs, and stared blankly at him as he stuffed a backpack full of my clothes, toiletries, and books.

My books.

I don’t know where this man came from, yall. He is pretty magical though. I was scared, or something like it. I wanted this baby to stay inside. So, so, badly. The pain, though intense, didn’t stop me from being present and visualizing a plump little version of myself born at full-term. This was something I had been practicing throughout the entire pregnancy. Day after day, I had to remind myself that it was totally possible to have her at full-term, and be in good health during the pregnancy. Up until now, that had been the case.

When I got to the hospital, I was able to talk through the pain, and explain what was happening. In most cases, this makes people think you aren’t to be taken seriously, especially if you are a Black woman.

Do the research.  

It didn’t take too long to get to a room, which was a blessing because I was in extreme agony. As soon as I got into the room, I was bombarded with the usual questions, while writhing all over the hospital bed. Stori’s Dad answered some of the questions for me so that I could focus on my breath. I was worried about my baby. After maybe ten minutes of being in the room, I kept hearing the nurse saying things about an emergency c-section. I was totally dumbfounded, because at no point did it seem as though there was clarity on what was happening to my body, so why were we talking about cutting it open? The swooshes on the monitor let me know that my baby was fine. That made me feel hopeful. I just wanted to know why I was bleeding like the pigs from Carrie, and when the blood was going to stop.

I remember feeling super optimistic, like there is no way this thing is as bad as it seems. No way at all. Thirty or so minutes pass by, and there is an ultrasound ordered. I am terrified, because I don’t want to be pressed on or poked into. I am just tired, and borderline frightened about what is happening to me, again.

Why on earth can’t I hold a baby inside my womb?

  This pregnancy was pretty easy, if I am being honest. My cervix was long. I wasn’t in pain. The specialist felt like I didn’t need a cerclage. All was well. I was going out on fun outings with Stori’s Dad, and our kids. We still made time and space to love on each other. I was dressing up most of the time, getting lots of sleep, and going into work when I wasn’t doing it from home. The absolute best part was that I still had the energy to pick Levi up from school, and do little activities with him that let him know he was still the main character in my life. I made sure that he felt special, or tried to anyway. 

The fact that I was actually in labor came as a huge shock to me. I almost didn’t believe it. No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t believe it at all. I was like, surely this is a fluke, and I am going home. 

And I did. 

After about three days on magnesium, pitocin, fentanyl, and whatever else. I pushed to go home, because my contractions had stopped, and I wasn’t in any pain. I had a little bleeding still, but mostly just spotting. No clots, or blood dripping intensely like before. I went home, hugged my kids, opened Amazon packages, and then I rested. 

By the next day, I was in the hospital again. 

This time, I was in active labor by the time I got to there. Stori’s Dad helped me get through my contractions in the registration line at the emergency room. It felt better for me to deal with the surges standing up, so that’s what I did. I stood up, held onto his arms and squeezed. By the time I got to labor and delivery, I was covered in blood, and sweating profusely. I was certain that she was coming, and so was the medical staff. When I rounded the nurses station, the woman who would deliver my daughter an hour later looked at me, and said, “We have another one.” She got up out of her chair, and came to the door of the room. “Don’t worry, baby. We are going to take care of you.” That she did.

 I was rolled to the bedside by an African woman. She asked me to stand. Next, she took my dress off and replaced it with a hospital gown. I was trembling by this time. I have no idea how my legs were strong enough to support my body, because I was so worn out. I was thirsty. When I asked for water, my request was gently denied. I just smiled and nodded, awaiting another surge that signaled the inevitable. My mind was racing. The blood pouring out of me was hotter than a West Indian grandmother’s morning tea. Stori’s Dad was trying to comfort me as best he could, but as more and more aunties filed into the room, it was hard for him to know where he should be. I wanted him next to me, but being in a room full of Black women getting ready to usher in a brand new Black woman must be a little scary. So he sat down near the back of the room. I was glad he did. Usually highly composed, Stori’s father was a visible ball of nerves, wiping sweat off his head every couple minutes, and pulling his wet Wu-Tang shirt away from his body. 

“Wow, she is really putting out a lot of blood. We have to get this baby out.”

I was glad that my baby was adamant about getting out that night. There was no time to walk me through the million things that could be wrong with her as a result of her being born so prematurely. It happened at Little Company of Mary, and as if the information wasn’t harsh enough, the conversation started with, “I’m sure you’ve already heard all this because you have a 25 weeker.” Super deflating. 

“Okay, Mama. You are getting ready to have this baby.” The doctor looked me right in the face. I nodded quickly. It was like being talked to by my mother. What else was I going to do? I was scared. The pain crushed me. I felt like everything on the inside of my body was going to just come through my pores. Or that I would just stop breathing, because of exhaustion. One of the women called Stori’s Dad over. He stood among them at the foot of the bed, and was promptly redirected to the head of it instead. He held my hand. There was so much noise. The doctor wordlessly stuck her hand inside my vagina. I winced, and grabbed onto the side of the bed with my free hand, instinctively clenching my knees together. An older woman standing next to Stori’s Dad screamed at me. “Hey! You can’t do that! You gotta keep your knees open if you want this baby to come out!”

I’m pretty sure I started crying. Stage fright mixed with getting crushed by a car pain. Plus, my auntie was yelling at me.

Sweat. Fear. Anticipation. Guilt. Defeat. Sadness. 

What a cocktail. 

“Okay. Her head is there. When we say push, you push.” There were about seven Black women surrounding my bed. Waiting for my baby. The NICU team was off to the side, ready with a warm bed. Stori’s Dad put his forehead on mine.

“Okay. One. Two. Three. PUSH!”

I bore down like I had to poop.

They yelled.

I put my knees together. Hands full of history went in between my knees, and said, “No! If you want this baby to be okay, you can’t do that. If you don’t get her out, I’ll have to cut you.” 

Stori’s Dad whispered straight into my ear so I could hear him over the women hollering at me. “Baby, come on please. Please.” He was crying. 

“OKAY, NOW! PUSHHHHHHHH! Don’t lift your butt up. Knees open. Let’s get her out this time. We need to make sure she’s alright.” 

My King’s gentle plea, mixed with me not wanting to look like a punk in front of the aunties made me flip through my mental Rolodex, and find an ancestor with plenty, plenty strength, probably my Grandmother. I visualized my little girl being out in the world with us, and I pushed with everything I had. I felt her little head burning the lips of my vagina, and I just kept pushing.

Stori came out screaming. The aunties screamed right along with her. She sounded so robust. A very good sign. Stori’s Dad told me I did well, and went over to look at her while the aunties got me cleaned up. The older one who yelled at me the loudest apologized to me. “Sorry for hollering, but we didn’t want to have to cut you.” I just patted her hand. I didn’t have the words to explain how her acknowledgment made me feel. When an old Black woman verbally apologizes to you, it’s a big deal. Centuries of pain have made us granite hard, but at the core-we are creators, full of love and nurturing. I could write a thesis on the game of peek-a-boo our softness plays. I will never forget that gesture. 

I tried to ignore my contractions, fully aware I had to give birth again. Dr. Allen pushed on my belly, and out slipped my placenta. She held it in her palm, and said, “Yep. It was coming off. It’s intact though.” My left side was beeping like the machines in the room. I tried to move a little, so my weight would be on the same side as the pain. Didn’t work. When nurse Elizabeth came, and started to clean me up, I asked for pain meds. She told me I had to eat first. The lilt of her accent comforted me like the perfect portion of cornmeal porridge. I could have reached out for her and slept on her chest. Instead, I rested and tried to block out the pain. Strangely enough, I wasn’t worried about Stori, because her daddy was with her. Next to mine, he is the absolute best. I was able to close my eyes, and listen to my tattered vessel.

In between my silent mediations, Elizabeth brought me juice, and asked questions to complete my admission process. Then, she let me know I would go to a post-partum room. There I would receive pain meds, and dinner. I’d be able to sleep, and start pumping milk for my daughter. Before going to the room, she asked if I had to pee, which I did.

Quite the experience.

It felt like my innards were going to come tumbling out, and that someone used a tuning fork in my vaginal canal. I didn’t see my little flower until the next morning. While I intended to see her that night, my exhaustion got the better of me. She was resplendent. God is so good. He had given me Levi, and now Stori. I was blessed beyond measure. It will forever escape me how people who have children do not believe in God, or understand the grace he extends by making us stewards of little souls. I suppose that is a subject for another writing. 

I had her on the 26th, and by the morning of the 28th, I was given my discharge paperwork. Stori’s Dad drove me home-my mother-in-law, and kids waiting. I was happy to be in my home, and sad to be away from the newest addition to my life. The emptiness was something I kept to myself, because I didn’t want anyone to feel like it wasn’t important to me to be with them. Of course I love everyone in my home-but my baby-my daughter was at the hospital in a plastic box, and that was hard, even though she was kicking butt.

The next day, I got up and took Levi to school. He was highly unenthused, since he had been allowed to stay home from school for one day while I was in the hospital. When his aide, Ms. Maddy came to the door to take him to class, I chirped up, and bid her a good morning. She said it back, and then said, “Congratulations, I heard you had the baby, and now you are here.

Wow, you are so strong.”

I replied, “I have to be.”

Then I drove away. In my head, I was punching the air like Cuba Gooding Jr.

I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. Referred. To. As. Strong.

I know what she meant, and I happen to LOVE Ms. Maddie. The thing is, I don’t get to choose whether or not I am strong. No matter what, I am Levi’s mother too. This means that unless I am physically unable, I will show up for him. I don’t know what’s so strong about that. Might I have a little bit of Black Superwoman Syndrome? Of course. My ancestors gave birth in unrelenting heat without fancy procedures to administer medications. They huffed, and puffed and bathed in their own sweat on dirt floors, and worked with the other women folk in order to bring forth their beautiful babies. Then they got back to work. The grit they possessed was out of this world. I suppose they passed it down to me, so here I am, showing up the best way I can. There are some days where I am not strong. When I leave Stori in the NICU, and her eyes-which are my mother’s bore a hole through me, I mentally berate myself all the way home, and watch the clock intently to figure out when I can get back to her. I do my best to be warm to my big babies, and my King, but there is a little piece of me who is missing right now. I am happy that I have a supportive partner who allows me to tell him the truth, and break down when I need to. My tribe has led me through this like Moses led the Egyptians. I am grateful for them, and their commitment to holding space for me. 

Signed,

A Sometimes Strong Black Woman

oh mr. sun

The calla lily groaned, and stretched in her pot as the water coursed through her arms. It had been a long week. There was no water. When the woman left in the daytime, the windows remained closed. The lily and all the other plants would just sit around with their tongues out until she got home and noticed they had turned grey. Today, she had time to care for them. The fresh air swirled across their leaves and coupled with the sun, nourished them greatly. She sang them little songs that made them smile. Her voice was pink with white clouds floating on the top.

The woman flitted about the house with much grace, unpacking things in the kitchen, slamming cabinets and scraping pots. One was full of sour rice grains. As she scraped the sides of the pot with a flat, white spoon, the rice that was now a putrid porridge began to giggle and strived to break free from the middle of the shiny pot. Thankfully, the woman was fast with her hands, and none of it hit the floor, only fell straight into a plastic bag and made a soft crinkling sound. She was chatting loudly with some other women on the phone. A baby could be heard cooing and making demands of its mother. The day was rather typical and common. Still.Clear. The woman always busied herself when she was alone in the apartment. Her nervousness made it impossible for her to sit in the place and not do something. Every speck of food or lint had to be taken care of. There could be no dirty dishes, and most things that caught her eye could benefit from improvement. The past had a rope tied around her left ankle, and on some days, a wicked voice whispered to her that she was just like her mother. It made the woman laugh though, for this was not true. Only a way for the darkness to try and corrode her mind. The small place she had lived in with her siblings was one of peace and love. The only bad thing in it was him. Because of this, she rarely invited suitors to her place. Their auras need not sully up the space and make it hard for her boy to breathe. He was what mattered to the woman. So she cleaned, and she cleaned, keeping things clear for him so his little mind could be at ease.

After the dishes were washed, and the smattering of things she went out and purchased were in their right places, she reclined on her settee, and found a show to watch. Everything was so depressing. News of another shooting plastered the screen no matter what channel she chose. What were we all going to do? Why were people like this? Why isn’t anyone doing anything to stop it? The world was becoming stranger and stranger to the woman, which is exactly why when she wasn’t with the boy, she mostly hunkered down, and thought deep, swirling thoughts that sometimes put her to sleep. Today, she didn’t feel tired, although she had painted the boy’s room, and went from one market to the next looking for the right mixture of things to decorate her home with. 

No, not today.

She settled on a show she watched almost every evening at bedtime, and picked up her phone to see who she might want to call halfway across the world. As she mindlessly went through the list of people in her phone, she began to feel a bit warm, so she kicked the blankets off her legs and changed positions. There was an air conditioning system in her home, but the idea of artificial air bothered her, so she didn’t use it unless totally necessary. She rolled her eyes and sighed, resentful that soon the air conditioning system would be making a loud droning noise that would eclipse that of the plants playing pat-a-cake with each other and splashing their toes in the water at the bottom of the flower pot. The hot wheels cars quietly racing each other in the next room would be drowned out.

Ah well. The woman reached under her pillow for the blockish remote control, and pressed the button at the top. The hard hum started up, and she turned her eyes to the screen, ignoring the brightness invading the room, and creep-ing towards the front door. As she listened to the show, she heard footsteps. “Must be the neighbor and his girlfriend again.”

When she heard the knock on the door, she just looked at it. No one ever came to her door unannounced. There hadn’t been any recent Amazon orders. No suitors would be interested in sending flowers. Who could this be? Her eyes were trained on the door, and maybe it was because she was nervous, she didn’t know, but the apartment didn’t seem to be cooling down. Another set of knocks. She got up from the couch and went to the door. Looking out the window wasn’t the best idea. Last time, the woman looked out the window after hearing a knock, she was met by her drunk neighbor. He was swaying like a reed, apparently drunk, and seeking sanctuary. The window was a bad idea right now, especially considering the light outside. 

The woman unlocked the top lock, puzzled by its warmth. Her brown became an empty chip bag. She hastily turned the knob.

And there she was. 

The sun.

“Ummmm, hello?” The woman was stunned, but very curious. It isn’t every day that the sun comes to your front door. 

“God wants you.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. He told me to come get you.”

“Any idea why?”

“No. I won’t spend too much time trying to convince you. Let’s go.”

The woman was bewildered. Was this some kind of joke? It had to be real because she was just about melting, standing in her doorway talking to this sun-person. Her eyelashes flipped backwards. It was excruciatingly hot.

“Why does it look like you’re wearing a costume?”

“Do you want to die? If I came down here in my natural form, you would be a puddle on the floor right now. So would everyone else in the vicinity. I had to cover myself. Besides, I don’t have to answer to you. You are keeping Him waiting.”

“Why would he send you and not one of the disciples? Or at least John the Baptist. Moses. Elijah. Noah. Anybody?”

The woman’s clothes began to stick to her.

She turned around, took at glance at her plants, and reached into the raffia basket next to the door for her sandals. The bottom lock clicked gently, and she followed the sun.

‘rona writings

I am in love with at least five of my friends.

The relationships I have with them are what I feel like romantic relationships should be like, but they aren’t. I am not sure why. I am guessing it is because of the expectations that those relationships hold, and the limitations that come about as a result of titles. Those have always been silly to me. At 36, I realize that my friends, even those that I may be highly attracted to-as is the case with one of my close to perfect work buddies-are better off as that. Even when he tells me that I look good without makeup and makes sure that my work plants don’t wither, I am not imagining him meeting my mother, or taking cheesy family photos. I love him in the moment for everything he is, and what he adds to my life. And to me that is enough. 

Which brings me to my point. I think that our platonic friendships tend to last and thrive with growing love, because we are usually not asking, what else???? We don’t feel unsatisfied with the people in these relationships. We are quicker to apologize, and more cognizant of the way we make them feel. At least I am. When I tell my friends I love them, I am not sitting back wondering if they love me too. I know they do. I can tell them my hopes and dreams, because the security of my household and theirs does not depend on the job I choose to take, or the amount of writing I am not doing. Platonic relationships feel more honest. More real. I am not trying to impress my friends. They didn’t meet my representative. They don’t have to deal with the bewilderment of finding out that I can be a little distant sometimes, and my matter-of-fact speech might present itself like apathy. Nor am I faced with the reality of finding out that I am bound to a stranger. We can just be ourselves with each other, which to me, is a common missing piece of relationships where people take on other names, and unwanted responsibilities. 

Not long ago, I was sitting at a table with my father and brother. I was explaining to my brother how I felt bamboozled by this guy I had been conversing with. My dad walked away to get a beer, and when he came back, I said,

“Daddy where is mine?”

He said, “Oh, honey if you want one, I will go get it.”

And he did. 

I looked at my brother, and said, “This is why I don’t have a man.”

He tilted his head and said, “ I am glad you know.”

It is true that my father spoils me. It is true I look at men funny when they say they don’t know how to make coffee, or they furrow their brows when I ask if they will tie my shoelaces. 

At this point, I am much more impressed with my work husband than the men who claim they are after my heart. My work man will traverse the outside of the sidewalk, and make sure I get to my car okay. He brings me snacks, and covers my meals when we go to the food truck.

Another one of my friends was like a superhero when my brother was killed. She came to my father’s house every single day. Braved my room there even though she knew she smelled like ganja and my dad was going to get on her case. My friend made sure that Levi had bacon. One day when she was calling to check on me and I didn’t answer, she dropped off some Twin Snakes and red wine to make sure I would be able to relax. And she got me a gift certificate to the spa. She calls me a hippie all the time, which is super funny, but I have been different for a long time now. I am cool with it. Finding others who appreciate it is a gift, though. I might love her mom more than I love her, but that’s a different story for another day. She is golden.

I don’t want to exhaust you all with how much I adore the folks in my tribe. I thank God for them every day. I am in love with them. To me, that doesn’t mean what it usually does. I am not talking about in the Disney sense. I mean in the sense like, I feel giddy around these people. I fall into their smiles,and their laughter walks on me. Their voices are my puzzle pieces.

I pray for my husband daily. I pray that he will honor me, and be good to Levi. When he shows up, I won’t be looking for him to make me whole, or fill in my gaps. He only needs to be able to say like seven phrases. 

Love on your homies. Especially now.

Things I Wish I Knew

Me at work. My baby Lena took this picture. We all got a trophy and I used the opportunity to be goofy.

Last week, two friends came to me full of angst regarding being able to do all the things that we as mothers have to do, while still having time for ourselves. My advice was, “Get some help. It’s 2020.” There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, and be an amazing mom at the same time. It is nearly impossible to cook nightly, fold all the clothes, keep a clean home, and look the way you want to, even if you don’t work. Definitely less realistic if you are trading eight hours a day for money. 

Here are some things I wish I knew before I became a mom:

It is okay to need/want help.

  • I remember folding about six loads of clothes one day and wanting to cry. I called my mom, and she urged me to “not kill myself.” She told me she had help when we were younger, and that there was nothing wrong with me hiring a person to do some of the household chores. I was stubborn, and also asking for help used to make me feel weak, so I did it alone. My self-concept, and self-esteem suffered greatly. I wore Harry Potter tee shirts for Levi’s first year of life. I wear wigs, and sometimes they would be so worn out and raggedy, that I would just try and remix them to make myself feel somewhat presentable. I felt bad about spending money on hair when I was wasn’t bringing any money in, even though my alopecia almost requires it. My ability to care for my child became my crown, and the pride I used to take in myself being a fun, bubbly person drifted away. Pretty much all I was was Levi’s mom. Which leads me to my next point…

You ARE the expert on your kid, but you are not the only one who can take care of him/her.

  • Now-as I type this, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite, because man, o man, did it take a lot for me to get to this point. This juncture I am at is a big deal, because it is rooted in some serious pain, and trust and revelation. I had to be forced into my current position, where I feel like while I am at work teaching my kids, or at home studying, or watching church, Levi is okay. He will eat without me, he will sleep without me, he will laugh without me. Despite the fact that I am his home. If you are a mom, and you are struggling with getting a job, or just getting out more, invest in yourself a little, and trust. There are people out there who do terrible things to children, but don’t allow that fear to trap you and cause you to become someone you aren’t. Fear kills. The kids are alright. I pray for my son several times a day. Trusting God has literally been my only hope for almost a year now. 

You are important too. So is your mate/partner/person.

  • One of my favorite people-mind you, I have never seen her in the flesh- is a woman named Kolbee. We started following each other on IG when I was a homemaker. She is a homemaker as well, and the mother of two beautiful girls. She cooks her man’s dinner, she cleans her home, she takes care of her kids, and she gets her nails DONE! Not just some wimpy manicure, so her cuticles don’t look like mine. Done. Long, sparkly, with beautiful polish. That’s her thing. She is naturally beautiful and effervescent, so it doesn’t take much for her to be on point, but sister gets those nails done. I am typing this and fighting the urge to go get mine done. Maybe Tuesday. I am going to make her hold me to it. From what I can tell, based on our DM conversations and her adorable stories, her and her man are in loveeeee! I haven’t asked her how they do this, maybe he is just the right person. Their two littles don’t stop them from kissing, watching football together, and being there for each other. For all the people going through the struggle that I once was, bear in mind that many marriages fail after a baby comes into the equation. Make time for each other. Seek to understand, not to be right. If you can make it past 18 months without talk of divorce, you are golden in my book. There are stats to support this. I kinda think it should be more like 36 months, especially if one parent stays at home.

Follow my girl Kolbee on IG. @thehomemakinghousewife

Get a job if you need one.

  • Levi was a preemie. Born at 25 weeks and one day. We had already decided I would be a stay at home mom for a year, before he jumped out of my uterus almost four months too soon, but that fact definitely changed things. One year turned into almost three, especially since the first time he went to school at 2 ½, he got the flu and ended up in the hospital. I cried about my situation at least once a week. Mostly when I was by myself. I felt like a failure, and that my life was at a stand still. Even though my heart was full each time the pediatrician said he was exceeding their expectations, there was a big question mark next to what I was doing for myself. I earned my Master’s degree online with a 4.0. I self-published my children’s book. That wasn’t enough. I couldn’t buy a candy bar without someone else’s money, and it made me incredibly sad. Sadness is an emotion I don’t allow myself to feel very easily. I knew I needed to get up every day, dress myself up, listen to music, and earn money for myself, and I didn’t do it. It cost me my relationship with myself. Did Levi need me? Absolutely? For almost three years? Maybe not. If I were to get pregnant in the near future, I would send the baby to a small, clean facility with loving people and cameras, and I would enjoy walking to food trucks. I would pump my breast milk in someone’s office. And I would love on my baby tremendously when I got home, like I do now. Nothing is better than his little face after a long day of teenagers.

Only you know what it takes to make you happy. And your happiness is just as important as everyone else’s.

My Harry Potter tee phase. Madly in love with my baby, hardly liked myself.

BLACK MAN LOVE LETTER


When I started working for New Earth, I noticed it. 

They were tall, and stunning. These men, deep, dark shades of brown. 

This is not to say I never noticed that my men were captivating. This is just to say these were different, and grabbed at my collar in a new way. I grew up with men who looked like this, but since my eyes had been somewhat closed to them for a while, everything from their nail beds to their earlobes railed against my vision. 

In my initial interview, I noticed the brother talking to me was attractive, but the way he was questioning me made me consider him a little pompous. The curve of his lips, and his basketball player walk escaped me until we actually started working together and he smiled with me as I got acquainted with other staff members. 

I don’t think I have ever seen faces like his, like all the others I met there. 

So majestic.

Low hair cuts, high top fades with militant locs of hair bunched together, reaching for the galaxies, dreadlocs, afros. Curly, and wavy, and ready to dance, and ready to fight. 

One by one, I started to notice them.

The way their voices sounded, and the way they made me feel.

The distinctness, the near harshness of what it means to be them, coming out of their throats. These voices don’t politely tap you on the shoulder and ask for you to listen. They grab your papers out of your hands, and put Acme anvils on your soles. Your soul. I don’t know what far-off land I had traveled out to where I stopped noticing their majesty, but I am so excited to be back. Now, I have the opportunity to be lost in them again. Getting lost is one of my favorite things to do. I’m blessed enough to be able to experience this daily. Talking to them and having the hardest time listening and not listening, because a beard is beating a bass drum as a mouth moves, and the things coming out of the mouth are so profound. The lips are thick and pouty, and maybe even a little dark because of ganja. These are the same lips that I have the ability to create. Eve gene. 

It has become a mission of mine to study them. Sometimes, I am not even trying. They walk by, or sit in a chair and I am transfixed. Sometimes I want to step into their skin to get an understanding of what it means to be that cool, and that untouchable. I don’t know if I would be able to handle the power that comes with being them. 

Or maybe the sadness, and awareness of a body constantly under attack, but this pen isn’t being used for disadvantages today. It is being used for the glory of being a black man. 

Even the youngest of them know they have a thing. 

My students speak to me with their beautiful selves, and when I jump over the hurdles of trauma and get them going, there are buckets of intelligence spilling over onto my shoes. I have a hard time not smiling at them even when I am upset at something they have done, because of their eyes. I see the little boys in there trying to climb out, clawing and crying and pouting. Along with the men they are getting ready to become. 

Their charm is a little scary. 

 Wow, Black men.

How do you do it?

You raise children. Yours and everyone else’s. 

You take them to school and you feed them. 

And you still make a way to adorn yourself in such a way that creates a forcefield between you and the others. When I see you now, you aren’t wearing your regular clothes. In my sight, you are dressed like a warrior, ready to do battle for us. Ready to hunt, ready to find the ripest, most juicy fruit for us to enjoy together while you tell stories to our children and pat them to bed so we can enjoy the stars together. It is hard to look without touching.

Perejil

The Parsley Massacre was a mass killing that took place in October of 1937 against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.
Rafael Trujillo would have his soldiers hold up a sprig of parsley in front of Haitian migrants and ask what it was. If pronounced incorrectly, the person was executed right where they stood.

Goose pimples and delicate silver chains

Lipstick stained spliff

Shiny toenails and curls from Elmina Castle and perejil

I like him.

Our fingers touch. Creation of Adam and Storm.

This is an unfamiliar dish

Barramundi,chlodnik, biltong

I don’t know how to do this. 

Like eating with chopsticks. 

Don’t judge. 

Easy things are hard for me.

I like him.

But I don’t feel the need to prove it like that.

This is uncharted territory

If you can control what you put in your mouth, 

You can control anything.

Been blood-filled free for about a year.

Perhaps that is where i harness the power to not kiss him 

Everytime he laughs, or when I watch him reach for things in

the dusty bookstore, and 

I realize I was robbed by not being a black man.

His voice unfolds me in the most gentle way.

I like him.

The power in his thighs makes me wonder. 

Saltwater crocodiles slam their jaws at 3,700 pounds 

Per square inch-lions at a thousand.

What about a man?

What about you? 

Let’s continue not to find out. 

This way, I can see you. 

OMG!

I lived in Santa Monica for close to one month. 

This is where I ran back to God. 

The first time we met, I was in college. 

We were briefly acquainted many years ago when I first started getting fever blisters and my brothers would pick on me mercilessly. Standing at my window looking outside at all the kids riding their bikes, able to laugh because their lips weren’t swollen, I would ask God to remove the blisters, and sometimes-most of the time-he would. 

I don’t remember the name of the Daytona Beach church where I first gave myself to Christ, but I do remember crying to my parents on the phone, and them audibly rolling their eyes at me. My father laughed. It was a short conversation. I was almost foaming at the mouth with gladness. The Holy Spirit overtook me. I am sure my makeup was a mess. I probably went to Picadilly after. I don’t remember for sure, but that was definitely me and Trinnette’s favorite after-praise spot. 

A new Zondervan Women’s Study Bible and a couple months later, my Jezebel spirit got back in the driver’s seat, and my life in Christ was undone. Just like that. Sin separates woman from God. That’s a scripture in my Bible. 

***************************************************************************

There I was, in a neat studio apartment, a ten minute walk from the beach mired in darkness. I had about ten or so items of clothing that I could actually fit into, and more than enough cash folded into my passport holder. My family made sure I didn’t come back to LA broke. Two weeks prior, my son had been forcibly taken from me by the State of Florida, by way of the State of California. You know how in the slave movies the slavemaster and his cronies would just bust into the cabins and grab a baby suckling off its mother’s breast? That’s kind of how it was, except the master was a kindly judge, and there was carpet on the floor instead of dirt. Also, I maintained my dignity, even looking back to silence and comfort my weeping family members and friends sitting behind me. I knew Levi was going back to California without me before we went to court. I couldn’t say it to anyone else. He did too. I couldn’t sleep that night, and each time I attempted to get out of bed, he followed me. He wouldn’t eat his muffin that morning, and tried to follow me out of the house. I am not sure if the private investigators saw that part. 

The first night in my new, temporary place, my friend Petra stayed the night with me, or at least part of it. We put my bag down, talked about the laundry facility, and watched Russian Doll. I woke up slightly afraid because I had no idea where I was. I didn’t remember that I had moved somewhere new. Life without Levi was terrible. I cried most mornings, usually as I prayed, but supernatural help was all around me. The right people called. The right people came. For days on end, the Lyft drivers I requested had Bible names. One day Malachi, the next day Judah. Judah and I had a long talk about Levi (This is starting to sound like the book of Exodus). I told him I wanted my next son’s name to be Simeon, because I liked that one the best of all Levi’s brothers. He said, “Judah means Praise.” He also said the lesser the amount of syllables, the more powerful the name. I was sold. I pray about him now, and I am even hoping that maybe I will have more than one son with a man of God’s own heart. A man like David, or Barack, or the ever popular Boaz. 

There is one moment in particular that really shines for me as the moment I knew I needed to careen head first into Jesus and not look back, not relent, not bow. It was about one in the morning. I woke up and I thought about Levi, my smart, strong, loving boy. My heart felt like it was going to crawl out of my chest and fly away. I was as stiff as a board on the bed, crying, wanting time to stop. I cried out to God. I screamed, “God! How could you do this to me? You took my babies, my little girls. You let them die. And you gave me Levi. You let him live, though he struggled. And now this. You let him be taken from me! God! What is this? Why don’t you just kill me? I can’t handle this! I can’t take it anymore. Just take me right now!” I rolled over on my side and I cried some more. More like howled. Spit was flying from my mouth. I flailed all over the bed. And then my rational voice kicked in. I was like, “Repent. Take it back this second. Auntie Jackie would be so ashamed of you. And what would happen if God listened to your foolishness? What would happen to Levi?” So I listened to that firm, still voice and I said, “God-I don’t mean it. Please don’t listen to me. I need to see my son again.” 

I am still here. 

I am still here because I have been preserved for such a time as this. The end of the end. 

My destiny is great, and it is still intact, because I listened to the right voice. And I gave God my yes. Am I still tried? Yes. Do I still cry? Yes. But each day with Jesus makes things much easier because we all know how the story ends. 

Dulcimina Grip

Mari stood in the kitchen wiping her hands on a soiled dish towel. It was littered with crumbs and debris from many days of cooking and mothering. Taking a moment to decompress and lean against the counter, she closed her eyes and took in the sounds of her children skipping around in the backyard. Their bare feet slapped the ground with joy. Four of them. All on her own. Wayne hadn’t been home in nine months. He left for work one day, briefcase in hand, and the last thing he said to her was, “Please no spaghetti tonight.” The women in the neighborhood waited a couple weeks before they came and started fishing around and asking questions. Mari was grateful. The shame was an elephant’s foot on her chest. She didn’t know what to say to them. She didn’t know what to say to herself. Seven years of marriage and partnership went up in smoke, and he didn’t even have the decency to explain what happened, or even send money for the children. Mari wasn’t sure what was more important, Wayne being there for the children, or making sure they had enough food to eat. Either way, he wasn’t interested, and she was growing wearier by the day. Sometimes, she cursed at the walls, or locked herself away in the bedroom while the babies peeked under the door, panting  while begging for her to come out and be with them. No one had a clue where he had gone. There were a couple guys he used to play cards with who came and asked about him after the first month, but they seemed to know no more than Mari. Whether or not they were being truthful was a mystery. 

She called her kids in to eat supper and after they had filled themselves with beans and ketchup, she sent them to their beds. The house was lit with candles, creating a warm, yet eerie sensation all around the house. She didn’t know how much longer they would be able to live there, but she felt good knowing even though the children were no longer able to have meat as a part of their meals, they were still blindingly happy in only the way children can be. As she crept into each room to make sure the children were okay before going downstairs, she saw the briefcase. It frightened her, but not more than it intrigued her. Should she touch it? Should she pretend she had never seen it? How could it be there in the house when he had left with it that day? She let her fingers, dry with the wear and tear of the wash bin, roll over the top of case, then her lips. Mari couldn’t remember the buckles being this shiny, or the leather feeling so supple, but maybe she never touched it very much. Yes, that’s how she would rationalize things. Without realizing what she was doing, she knelt down and released the buckles of the case. There he was, lying on a tufted pillow. His face, once creased with worry and exhaustion was now smooth and supple. Wayne, the father of her children had been turned into a miniature version of himself. Carefully, Mari took him up and walked him to the bedroom, placing him in the bed next to her before falling into a deep and restful sleep.

Look Who’s Talking

George scuttled along the floor with Yoli, tickling his ribs as he went. The gurgles of laughter seemed to pour right out of the little boy, coming from his tummy and making their way out through his big loopy curls.  It had been a long day at work, and all George wanted to do was see a genuine smile. Yoli always made him feel like the sacrifices he was making-the endless nights and days where he walked into morning meetings in a haze of exhaustion- were all worth it.

He nor Liza ever talk about what happened three years ago, when they lost their little girl. Jonas was six when they decided to have another baby. Eliza was worried about all the time he spent alone since they had just recently moved from Orlando to Port St. Lucie, and all his neighborhood buddies were left behind. George wasn’t sure he wanted another baby, but not going along with Eliza’s wishes seemed cruel to him. She was an excellent wife and mother. He wanted to make her happy, even if it meant adding more financial strain to their lives. When Eliza got pregnant with their daughter, she was overjoyed. All she ever talked about was combing her hair and making little dresses for her. The baby was a dream come true, someone else for her gentle heart to love.

George got the call one night while he was out at happy hour. By the time he got there, the doctors had formed an imposing circle around Eliza, and were already explaining what little chance of survival Grace (that was the name they gave her) had. Eliza went through the pains of labor to deliver a baby she ultimately knew wouldn’t make it. While she was going through the physical agony, George was fighting his own fight. Seeing her writhe and cry in pain was enough for him to want to disappear. His mouth was dry, and his belly was brimming with sadness. He watched the light disappear from his wife’s eyes as the tiny baby took her last labored breaths. The room became a dark hole. It was as if the baby left and took everyone with her. Eliza’s long hair covered her like a dark cloak as she turned around in the fragile hospital bed, shielding her eyes from the sight of the tiny husk.. She refused to let the nurses clean her up until the next day. In those moments, George felt terrible for not being overly excited about his baby, and even blamed himself for what happened.

That’s what made Yoli so special.

“I have to leave tonight. Jim left, and Katie is falling apart. You and the boys will have to do without me for a few days. She needs me. I can’t be worried about who hasn’t taken their vitamins while my sister is trying to figure out how to be a single mother.” George rubbed Eliza’s back, trying to calm her down. “Go ahead, honey. Just leave me the sitter’s number because I have a meeting tomorrow night.” Eliza gave George a perfunctory kiss on the lips and went to pack her things. He wasn’t terrified about taking care of his sons, but it was something he had never done alone. Jonas was easy. He enjoyed spending time alone, coloring or playing with his blocks.

Yoli was the one who commanded all the attention.   He wore flame at the crown of his head, drawing people in from all over. He was magnetic, spellbinding even.

George dropped Eliza off at the airport later that evening. The sitter stayed with the kids while he was away. Before hunkering down on the couch and contemplating his plans for the next few days, he went into each room and looked at his boys.

George didn’t remember falling asleep, but when he woke up, the sun’s rays were beaming into the den. He jumped up and took a shower, thinking it best he get ready for the day before waking Jonas and Yoli for school. He made a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs and raisin toast for them while his hair dripped all over the kitchen. He couldn’t bother with a styling routine today. He was in unfamiliar territory and wanted to do things right, so he wouldn’t face any criticism from Eliza once she returned. Sad or not, she knew how to find his shortcomings and shine floodlights on them.

After watching the children eat, he decided to just take the day off and stay home with Yoli. He hadn’t been off in months. George and Yoli walked Jonas to school. Once the dishes were clean, George thought they might head to the park for a little playground fun. He sat the boy down with a puzzle so he could pack the dishwasher. Thinking some tunes might speed things along, he put on a little music. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice came booming from the speakers. He swayed his body to the music as he swished the plates in the sudsy water. What happened next made filaments of heat flow through his fingers. Yoli came up next to him and put his hand on his father’s leg. He said, “I love when you play this song.” Not only was it a pretty hefty sentence for little Yoli who barely ever put more than two words together, but it wasn’t in his voice. It was the voice of a little girl.