Putting Aside the Pretty

Last month, while my sister and brother-in-law were over, I became I’ll with what I thought was food poisoning. A few hours later after not being able to hold down water, my husband took me to the ER. I threw up right in the lobby which made me terrified for whatever was happening to me. I was given meds for pain and after a few hours and a CAT scan, was misdiagnosed with appendagiatis (not appendicitis) which can mimic those symptoms.

I have a need to understand what has been happening these last couple of months. Writing or talking it out with family/friends/therapist or praying or crying alone and distracting myself with good TV and books is usually gets me where I need to go. But this has felt like a ride I cannot get off.

I was told I could go home and take Ibuprofen. It would all be over in a few days. I was given water. After a couple sips, I was back to writhing in pain. When I asked how could I go home and not drink water, the doctor asked me “So you want to be admitted?” I said yes even though he clearly didn’t think my condition warranted it. He made mention of having seen over 40 patients that night and having 12 minutes left on his shift. He did however agree to let a doctor know who would want to evaluate me for admission before beginning their shift.

It was strange and sad and infuriating not having my pain taken seriously by him. After the next doctor came in, she correctly suspected it was my gallbladder which was confirmed by an ultrasound. However, she made sure to show me a picture of my uterus, telling me “I had to take a picture of it.” I was thinking for what and are you planning on showing someone? I told her I was aware of my fibroid situation and my embolization was actually originally planned for the next week. She said she believed I could have both surgeries in back to back weeks because they are “different organs.”

I don’t know who needs to read this but we are not a series of parts. My body or anyone else’s should not be treated or spoken about as if we are a game of Operation. Healing and rest are essential. Taking your time is vital.

The decision was made for me to remove my gallbladder. There was no chat about drainage of the infection or anything else. Through a morphine-induced haze, I asked about medical nonsurgical intervention and she waved it off. The next day I was in pre-op and the doctor came to see minutes before being wheeled back. The anxiety I felt was unparalleled. I thought she was there to explain what was going to happen and provide a bit of comfort as this would be my first major surgery.

Not so much. She started one of her sentences by saying “This may not be the right time” and launched into pressuring me into getting bariatric surgery. I was flat on my back, panicked about going under anesthesia and praying for peace of mind. I was flat on my back having to turn her down and defend my decision not to undergo bariatric surgery.

I was exhausted, angry and felt powerless. My trust was broken. I trusted her to see me as a person in a vulnerable position, not some kind of defective set of parts or an amorphous blob. The nurses could see me and treated me with kindness and respect. This is what still infuriates and haunts me. Even though the surgery went well. Even though the rooms were clean, food was fine and my love was by my side in recovery.

A couple times, two of the nurses would either not not give me my full dosage of pain meds or just Tylenol. Yes, I had stitches and painfully practiced walking down the hall and had to press a pillow to my stomach not to scream when I coughed or laugh.

But I made it home. A few days later, my beloved grandfather died. A week after that, a friend who brought my husband into my life, passed away unexpectedly. Grief is a wild animal, feral. I have no idea when it will creep up and in floods fond memories, what ifs and the gut punches that sent me sinking into the floor.

The optimist in me wants to look for the happy for every sad: the service was beautiful, I felt strong enough to write a poem for him, I got to reunite with my father’s side of the family, all of his grandchildren and great-grandchildren were there, at least my surgery was successful and we flew to and from Florida safely, I applied to be my city’s next Poet Laureate during my recovery, met virtually with my Rainbow Fund writing group, and when my car didn’t start this week, we had another to drive Hubby to the ER (he is ok) and he is healing through a particularly painful flare while at the end of a stomach virus.

Tomorrow, I am facilitating a full class entitled “Our Whole Black Selves” and I have the opportunity to write and discuss our joys, strengths and triumphs in a safe space with other Black people. I need this time. Part of me wants to crawl out of a deep soaking tub and into the comfiest bed to sleep for a week. It sounds great but being in community, writing and releasing is truly where I need to be.

I should add I did confront the surgeon at my post-op appointment. Her apology was more of an excuse as to why she said what she said and in the vain of “I’m sorry you felt that way” and congratulated herself on the gallbladder catch. I wanted her to hear me when I told her but if she couldn’t ever really see me, why did I think her ears would decide to open? I told her I hoped this would make her a better practitioner and that her larger patients already know they are big. We have mirrors and other people regularly pointing it out. I emphasized that I never asked her about weight loss—not even once. I also dealt with a back up for my primary who was rude and blamed the onset of my PCOS on obesity. I was 12 and not big in the slightest. His bedside manner was atrocious.

I am unsure outside of filling out the hospital’s survey and speaking to my real primary if there much to be done. My fatigue is real but so is my hope and will to open eyes.

I love myself enough to know when to enforce boundaries, advocate, embrace peace without shame and search for the joy.

We all need it.

I am craving it.

I love myself enough to acknowledge it’s healthy to mourn lost loved ones like my dear Papa Ze and Ms. Tina Zapata and allow myself to move through it all even when it’s ugly —especially when it’s ugly.

There is strength there, too.

In putting aside the pretty.

Honor

In the past month or so, I have been doing my best to honor what’s within me. I needed to engage in what was in front of me and quiet the urge that often comes to immediately write about it afterwards.

One of the best things that happened was spending time with my nephew. He spent the week with us and I got a chance to take him to his first poetry reading (and hear me read for the first time, too), cook us a meal and watch him help my husband build a bookcase. He also was in a camp to make art out of stained glass! After sixteen years of being his Auntie, I was witnessing how he was growing into a young man, an individual: his creativity, his interests, his potential and the magnitude of his focus. There is so much joy and beauty in recognizing this.

I also had my first in-person reading at a bookstore. Chop Suey Books made the experience delightful and their staff was so engaged and friendly. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting for a signing and a reading. I felt moved to read several pieces that I have never read publicly with a few who had never heard them. There is a sense of freedom in giving voice to the hard things. When I read those pieces out loud, shame couldn’t rise over the sound of my voice, over the sound of the truth.

I am eager to present my book outside of the state for the first time. I was accepted to the Gaithersburg Book Festival in May but I got sick right before and could not participate. I said there will be another opportunity and it came! I was accepted into the Louisville Book Festival in Kentucky. This fall I will have the chance to share She Lives Here at a conference founded by a Black woman and explore a city I never have before.

There was a time, especially years earlier, that I would feel guilty for resting. I have since learned that guilt equates to wasted energy. Working, writing, posting, keeping up with everyday life will always be more than enough. The energy is precious. I want to spend that precious commodity being in my life, showing up for my life and letting the awareness in when I am not doing those things. I have lost a member of family recently and a couple others were hospitalized. This is a reminder (though unfortunate) to allow the people, the activities and the work I value to occupy this energy. And to honor one of my highest values—my peace.

Ascension

Last night, I cooked spelt spaghetti listening and intermittently peering into the living room to catch scenes from Solange’s When I Get Home visual album. I love the scenes with Black cowboys, riding regally down Houston streets.

I cut that part of my evening short to virtually attend Brooklyn Public Library’s event #SAYHERNAME, A Public Reading of Audre Lorde’s Need: A Chorale For Black Woman Voices, hosted by Sheena Wilson and moderated by my storytelling sister from University of Alabama, Tuacaloosa, Dr. Jameka Hartley.

There are times where you should be speaking and there are times where you should just listen. Last night was a time to listen. It was not because Jameka and her fellow poets, Keya and Liseli read Ms. Lorde’s work beautifully.

It was because I needed to learn.

During Jameka’s introduction, she mentioned she was moved to do this after the tragic death of the young activist, Toyin Salau, earlier this year. Need was written in 1979 after the death of 12 Black women in four short months in the Boston area. Sadly, we know why this is still happening.

Black women are still invisible. Our pain is ignored. But when we speak up a little too loudly about our pain or organize coalitions, birth movements, we are a threat–to colonized mentality, to governments, to whatever “status quo” is deemed to be.

I found myself typing and then erasing in the chat “Black women are invisible and perceived to be a threat simultaneously. It is infuriating.”

I erased it because I just wanted to listen and for that night to be about these scholarly sisters honoring Audre. Another one of my storytelling sisters spoke up about the adversity she’s encountered in her quest to secure quality mental health resources. This led to a discussion that included solutions in the form of a “kitchen table”, a close knit group of people with whom you can be vulnerable, calling on an ancestor and “dating” therapists until you’ve found “the one.”

There was commentary from the one man in the room about his need to protect his own sister and other Black women. Recognition of the fight of queer women like Audre Lorde and the founders of the Black Lives Matter was discussed.

At the end of the night, powerful poetry was recited for us. It was the perfect closing. After logging off, my husband asked how I felt. He heard my rejoicing and saw my head nodding vigorously throughout it.

He knew how I felt. He knows I want to be in a real room with those people. He knows I now want to close the door behind me with a stack of books written by Black women and do my homework. I want to write and read and shift my perspective.

I want to ascend.

So last night started with a pot of boiling pasta, being awestruck at Black cowboys and transcendent music and ended with Ms. Lorde’s work setting something ablaze inside of me.

Liberation

I want to be paid the highest compliment.

She. Is. Free.

I would be, too.

Free to take all my clothes off

On my balcony

In the dark

Brown full flesh kissing night air

Free to fall in

And out of love

As many times as

My big juicy heart pleases

Free to swallow kiwis and mangoes

And cherries

Whole

Remnants dripping

Down my chin

Pulp lingering on lips

Free to

Laugh with eyes closed

And mouth wide open

Free

To get it wrong

And let it go

Someone said

Black women don’t fall down

Someone said

We’ve got to make the time then.

To fall down

Grow silent

Scream until

Throats ache

Cry without hiding tears

That splash and slide onto the chest

Messy with no smooth edges

Nothing gets laid down.

I say

Only then

Would that freedom

Be

True.

Only then

Would that freedom

Be real.

Only then

Would that freedom

Be me.

 

 

 

Reawakening

I wrote recently about resolutions, birthday resolutions specifically which got me thinking about whether I wanted to make New Year’s Resolutions this year. I only made one at the beginning of 2017. My husband and I resolved to go see more live music. Last September, we went to a phenomenal concert. Corinne Bailey Rae and Alabama Shakes at the Portsmouth Pavilion.

That night rocked our worlds inside out. I had only seen Corinne Bailey Rae once in Maryland (she opened for John Legend years ago) and I have the fondest memories of sitting on the grass, swaying and swinging along to her first album with my cousin Kim.

With those memories, I knew to expect greatness. However, this time there was a freedom in her performance. She owned the stage. Her figure could easily be described as wispy but I saw power as she sang and played her guitar, bringing me back to listening to countless hours of her first album, Like A Star, on replay, thinking “Trouble Sleeping”  was written for me and spellbound by the lyrics to “Enchantment”: “I’d tightrope walk with a blindfold on my eyes.”

Brittany Howard, front woman for Alabama Shakes, blew me away with her guitar solos, singular rock-gospel goddess voice that made me ashamed for not knowing all of the words to her songs.  After we left the concert, we vowed to have more nights like this, to make what felt like necessary room for nights like this.

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And a little over a year later, we have been to several shows, a couple whom we weren’t even familiar with and plan to see the legendary Ms. Jackson next month. But what stays with me is the night we saw two women, two beautiful Black women, one Southern, one British pour their light out and reawaken the childlike spirit in me that just needs to sing along until my throat dries up and dance until my legs fold beneath me.

Social Media Machine

As some of you may know, I only joined Facebook last September to engage in the private Facebook group for the School of Greatness Academy 8.0 class.  I also had no Instagram or Twitter at the time. I only had a long abandoned LinkedIn page.

I prided myself on not being part of a social media machine. I was satisfied to read, write, watch TV, go outside to experience the world without documenting it and catch up with friends and family via phone calls, text messages and emails.

I heard dramatic stories of social media drama and addiction. It seemed as if people were moving through the world with their heads cast downwards or upwards in a flattering angle.

I was never one for constantly wanting to be included in pictures. I took my fair share in the days before smartphones but it felt different–somehow more natural. Years ago, I was at a dinner with some friends and it seemed like we could barely enjoy the meal without constant picture taking. I respected everyone’s right to live and document their lives as they pleased so I was never overtly vocal about my discomfort. It was evident that I didn’t love it but I never wanted to ruin anyone’s fun. As I was driving home while they continued their impromptu photo shoot after dinner, I felt a sense of disconnect. Why was I so different?  Why did I even care?

The feelings passed as did the years. When I came to a crossroads last fall trying to decide if I was going to continue my graduate school education or get serious about my dedication to writing, I joined School of Greatness to learn more about goal-setting and pulled myself into a new world. It was apparent that I had been doing a little hiding, weirdly harboring a fear of judgment. I found, like with a lot of other things, you can strike a healthy balance. I slipped into the habit of  catching up with family and friends via scrolling, liking and commenting. It brought both a new sense of connection and disconnection. I experienced great joy seeing how members of both sides of my family and old friends had grown but it gave me a false sense of belief that I’ve really caught up. Unless I’ve had a conversation or seen you in the flesh, you may still seem two-dimensional to me. I have to take responsibility for my part in moving from the two into the three.

Although the realization of false connection rings true sometimes, I welcomed the wealth of opportunity and education that came with sharing my work, travel and the awe-inspiring events I’ve been able to attend. Before I started sharing myself and my work online, one of my greatest concerns was privacy. It still is because I have drawn a line about how much I want to share with the public, particularly with my marriage. I am a firm believer that some aspects of my life should be just for me (and my husband).

I have always been sensitive to the types of people I allow in my life. If someone is known for things like flirting with other people’s partners, lying, speaking to others in a patronizing manner or constantly talking about others for silly things like the kind of clothes they wear, I shut down immediately. Call it instinct, survival of the fittest, The Holy Spirit, intuition. It has served me well. I know they are people (just like me) who are carrying pain and insecurity within them and this is how they choose to relate to the world to avoid the healing work they have to do (Yes, I have watched more than my fair share of Iyanla: Fix My Life). I wish them well but from afar. I do not need to possibly sacrifice my mental health, my relationship and time to keep someone in my life for “their good moments.” I have learned that lesson.

On a positive note, opening myself up to all of those mediums of social media confirmed we are not alone more than ever for me. I see the struggle, the beauty, the triumph, the failures, the uplifting, the laughter, the teaching, the open gushing wounds of the hearts of millions of people. There is hiding and deception but the option not to do so is clear. There are connections and movements.  Even though I have wasted some time in the last year or so, there have been so many gains.. Maybe it’s because I knew the world before it, knew the world with it while I chose not to jump in or maybe it’s because I brought the wisdom of a grown woman to it.

There are no regrets. I have moved past fear to build this site and apply for a fellowship, share my work on these platforms and cheerlead for others on this journey along with me–the writers, the bloggers, the vegans, the wellness seekers, the psoriasis and PCOS warriors, small business owners, my fellow Greats who stepped out on faith to go after scary goals and other Black women who are often misrepresented as a monolith.

I will continue to embrace the mess of the world and carve out my own corner in it with all that is available to me. I will close with a haiku I wrote and posted a few months ago:

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Soul Cry

Inspired by Charlottesville:

When you woke up that day

You picked the best shoes to slide your feet in

So you could march

Put your outrage in motion

No one could accuse you

Of sitting idly by

You became an ally.

I only wish you didn’t become a martyr.

And to those beaten because of your hue

My heart cries and sings for you

Skin sweats and my arms

They want to hold you and ask you

Not to go back outside

To the “out there”

But then

I know I am asking you

To die slower

And let fear become your master,

A not so benevolent God.

And that cocoon

I want to wrap your

Pretty brown in

Doesn’t exist.

Does it?