Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Back

The phone rings while I'm somewhere between sleeping and waking; I'm not asleep enough to sleep through the ring, but I am asleep enough to be confused by it.

I reach for it blindly in the dark, mumbling a hello into my pillow. 

"You know what I was thinking?"

His voice is so clear and so crisp he could be in my bedroom and not in another city. I recognize it immediately, but I'm still a bit thrown by it not being who I expected it to be.

"When we first met, we'd stay up for hours talking. Til the sun came up. But not even when we first met. We were always that way. Why don't we do that anymore?"
"Because up until a couple months ago we weren't speaking?"
"True."
"Besides," I say, finally flipping myself over so I'm not face down in my pillow, "that was back when we thought there would be an us."
"I fucked that up, didn't I?"
"Mmhmm."
"I do miss it though. The way it was in the beginning."

And isn't this the way it always goes? The beginning is all laughs and long talks, unfolding the layers of each other gently. Deep, suffocating gulps of one another, each conversation new and exciting and intoxicating, sunrise be damned. The beginning is when you talk constantly. When you flirt shamelessly. When you listen. 

And then comes everything else.

"You could have that again. Just gotta find someone new. Start a new beginning."
"Is that what you've been doing?"
"I'm not answering that."

This too is par for the course; slick questions smothered in slow, simmering jealousy that's bubbling over the edge, knowing good and well he's the one who left the pot unattended.

"How was last week?"
"It was-" and for a split second I think about lying. I think about slipping into the comfort of my armor and being the girl I was in the beginning. All joking and aloof, a thing he couldn't put his hands on, but he couldn't help but try. But, I'm tired. I just don't have it in me.
"It was awful," I admit on a hard exhale, listening to it cool the temperature of our conversation.
"Tell me about it."
"Nawl, Im good."
"No, you're not. Tell me about it. Open open open."

I can't help but laugh at this too one of our long standing jokes; him standing outside my emotions asking me to open up like the lady in the holiday Marshall's commercial.

I tell him. I tell him everything. Everything that has happened, everything I've done, every good and stupid thing, every heartbreak, sizable or small. I tell him. And, as usual, he listens in his patient, attentive way. He makes me laugh when he should. He shuts up when he should. He knows what to say.

I kinda hate him. 

"Was that so bad?" He asks once I've stopped rambling neurotically.
"Yes."
"Brat."
"So?!" We laugh, the tension easing a bit.
"I miss that laugh."
"My laugh is obnoxious."
"Well, yeah. But it's genuine."
"Sure."
"I miss talking to you all night."
"Mmhmm."
"I miss you."

He tells me this, partly because it's true, and partly because he knows how "I miss you" undoes me. And that's what he's aiming for. What he's always been aiming for if we're honest; me being undone.

And isn't this too part of the oft repeated cycle? I have a knack for finding men incapable of missing me until I'm gone, and only comfortable with saying so once I've detached in an effort to get me to check back in. I've done this so many times that I know how it goes.

"You only miss me because I'm gone."
"Isn't that generally how missing works?"
"Not if you're smarter with someone than you were with me."
"Touché."

The irony here of course is that now that I can clearly see this thing I do, this cycle I repeat, this person I choose, I cannot FOR THE LIFE OF ME figure out how to stop doing it.

"Let's stay up."
"I've gotta work in the morning. And you do too."
"Stay up with me. Talk to me. I can't talk to anyone else the way I can with you."
"If it was that valuable, why'd you ruin it?"
"Because I'm stupid."
"Well, on that we can agree."
"Asshole."
"Meh. I've been called worse by better."
"Quit being so stubborn."

I knew we'd get here, just as sure as I know the sky is blue and whiskey is awesome. I knew it when we randomly ran into each other after months of not speaking. I knew it when he smiled at me and kissed the top of my head goodbye. I knew it when the texts became more frequent, more probing, more insistent. I knew it when I dug in my heels and refused to let him in, that he'd just as stubbornly refuse to retreat.

And here we are.

"Let's stay up all night."
"You had months when you coulda been, shoulda been up talking to me. And you fucked it up."
"I know. Let me make it up to you."
"No. You shouldn't have fucked it up to begin with."
"You can't write people off the first time they fuck up, La."
"Oh, yes I can," I say indignantly. But underneath it, I flinch. It's a criticism I've gotten acquainted with, but haven't really done anything about.

"Let me at least tell you about Pops' surgery."
"Wow, that's emotionally manipulative as hell."
"I'm a desperate man."
"How is he?"
"Stubborn."
"Sounds familiar."

I can hear him nestle deeper into the covers of his bed in his city, and he dives into a rundown of his father, a big teddy bear of a man, being, well, a man. Somewhere around him flirting with the nurse while high on pain meds I laugh, and after that I'm as good as gone.

We don't notice the hours pass, but somewhere around 4:30 we both notice the time.

"Jesus, it's late."
"Or early."
"I gotta at least catch a nap."
"We did it."
"Did what?"
"Stayed up all night."
"We'll both regret it in the morning."
"I doubt that."

We lapse into silence for the first time in hours, sleepiness and guardedness overtaking us. 

"Thank you," he says to me gently, and I know why he's really thanking me but I'm too nice to say.
"No problem."
"I also miss falling asleep next to you."
"Of course you do. You're a man and I was usually half naked."
"I ain't gone lie, that helped," he laughs. "But mostly I miss you throwing your leg up on me. Falling asleep midsentence. Pulling you back in when you got too far away."

Kinda like he's trying to do with this conversation. 

"I'm gonna go to sleep."
"Ok. I'll call you in the morning and make sure up."
"That's not necessary."
"I wasn't asking. I was telling." And once again he's all swagger and self assuredness and I hate that it's attractive on him. 
"Goodnight."
"Night, La."

I put my dying phone on the charger and roll over to the other side of the bed with a sigh.

My life is full of men who want to fix things they didn't ever have to break. 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sister Circle

(It’s likely no coincidence I was finally inspired- after sitting on it for months- to complete this on today, my favorite Libra’s birthday.)

 

I was once one of those girls. You know the ones. The ones who proudly proclaimed that they had no female friends. That girls “didn’t like” them. That I preferred the friendship of men, that it was inherently- and thus was I by virtue of possessing it- superior.

Oh, how young and dumb I was.

Don’t get me wrong; there is still no small ratio of important positions in my life occupied by men. I adore men, in innocent and not-so-innocent ways. But the fact that I was ever foolish enough to think I could exist without the women in my life makes me cringe. 

I cannot imagine who I’d be, where I’d be, if not for these women who love me, even when I am my most unlovable. Who lift me up and call me to the carpet. Who protect me and encourage me. Who selflessly wrap me in bountiful prayers and encouragement and real talk. 

My male friends love me. And they are wonderful humans. But they do not cradle my head gently in their laps when I have a migraine. They do not bring me food when I can’t get out of bed for days at a time. They do not, cannot know what I feel when I am heartbroken, and they don't pick up a corner of that pain to tuck into the course of their own day so that I don’t have to ache alone. They do not know the communion of sharing our favorite wine and trading sex tips or war stories or chastising bad choices without judgment. They cannot see me, stripped and unvarnished in the depths of my ugliest self and fiercely, lovingly demand I stand up and be beautiful.

These women, my women, my village of magnificent creatures and ferociously beautiful sisters, gird me up on all sides. They stand in my stead when my own strength fails me. They are my safe place, where I go to be my most genuine me and the shelter that protects that tender truth. They inspire me. And they open their lives to me in ways that I did not once deserve, all young and stupid and somehow thinking sisterhood was inconsequential.

Over the last few years we have been through the best and worst that life has to throw at us. We have relocated and fallen in love and gotten married and had babies and lost babies and gotten fired and gotten promoted and had our hearts broken and lost parents and gotten divorced. We’ve bought houses and we’ve travelled and had great sex and taken risks and been changed in awesome and awful ways. Through it all we have remained intact, growing and evolving all while managing to stay a unit. We have laughed and cried and screamed and sat in silence with each other through it all. We are better for it. We are wiser for it. We are stronger for it. We are made whole. 

I am a whole hearted believer in love letters. This one- my favorites, my village, my sisters, my loves- is for you. 


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Growing Pains

(For Robyn. For me. And for You.)

We've been dream sold about what it means to grow.

All the self-help tomes and personal journey movies would have you think that growth is a thing that happens when you go to a beautiful place and watch a gorgeous sunset, the vastness of the earth’s marvels humbling you, making you feel small, putting your problems in perspective. Or when you hit some milestone birthday. Or when you fall for someone that makes the very edges of your soul dance. There’s a couple tears, sure, but they're silent, glamorous tears cried on lush sheets or in a circle of sister friends.

But here's the real talk of it: growth hurts. It hurts you down to your bones. It makes you weary, and unlike much of the other things in the world that make you weary, it follows you home to your refuge to invade your solitude. It rearranges everything it touches. You're on that beach looking at that sunset because you're scattering the ashes of someone you love. You found someone who makes your soul dance because you once felt the excruciating loss of someone who sang a song your heart will never sing again. And the crying isn’t elegant, restrained crying among your friends; no, your friends are busy trying to keep their own lives strung together with old bubble gum and tape and your tears are big, ugly sobs that reduce you to a trembling mess on a dirty floor in your apartment that becomes another thing to berate yourself about failing at even as you cry yourself dehydrated. 

Growth is good. More importantly, it's inevitable if you're doing this life thing right. But growth is not Eat, Pray, Love. It's not exotic getaways and existential questions and yoga. Growth is unwinding the tangled weaves of the tapestry of your childhood. Sometimes growth is therapy and the right dosage of meds that ease your depression or anxiety. Growth is every minute you swallow like a dry pill, willing yourself not to call someone you're trying to let go of. Growth is pain. It's uncomfortable. It's a bright, blinding light on the darkest places of yourself that you may very well have to stand in alone. Growth is losing people, places and things that once brought you comfort, love, security. It's stepping forward 99 times and nothing being beneath you and still stepping forward a 100th time despite all evidence pointing towards the fact that you're a dumbass for doing so. 

I don't believe in dream selling, so I'll tell you what I know; growing is fucking painful. And not in a this-is-uncomfortable-for-me kinda way. It's a long lasting, backbreaking, soul crushing, rolling-around-in-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night-asking-God-why-He'd-have-you-endure-such-a-thing feeling. It feels unbearable for long stretches of time. 

Except you will bear it. Because your pain, while real and valid and intense, is not unique. Because other people are bearing it along with you. Because other people have bared it before you. That’s what we should be telling each other.

Here's the other thing no one tells you; one day you will lay on the bleached sands of a beach and marvel at a sun seemingly sinking into clear water that will cast so many colors across the sky you won’t know the names for them all. And it won't mean anything. Not because it’s not beautiful, but because you won't need it to. You’ll be free to just appreciate a sunset, a birthday, a love for just what it is; not a deeper message from the cosmos for you to decipher. It’s just a sign that growth is happening anyway, all around you, with or without your permission. Just as it always has.

Someone who once bared this all shared this with me. I hope you have someone to do the same. And if you don't, now you have me.

 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Year of Bad Decisions

I was giving her my usual even tempered, objective advice. And I could tell she didn’t want to hear a single word of it by how intently she was focusing on guzzling her mimosa.

“I mean, I know you’re right,” she tells me, clearly exasperated. “But it doesn’t feel right. I mean, it just doesn’t-“
“It’s not what you wanna do.”
“It is NOT what I wanna do.”
“But that doesn’t make it right.”
“But should I care more about right than I do about what I want?”
“Theoretically.”
“Theoretically. I am not living a theory, La.”

She exhales hard, and it’s my turn to focus on my drink. She and I have these conversations often, her wanting to lean in to her tempestuous nature, and me encouraging her to temper it. Because she tends to fuck things up.

A lot.

“Don’t you ever get tired of it?” She asks me without a hint of accusation or resentment in her voice.
“What?”
“Being so…together. Controlled. Knowing what to say. Doing the right thing. Being objective. Dealing in logic. Don’t you ever get tired of it?”

It’s my turn to exhale hard and wonder how she knew that I have been having this very conversation with myself.

“Yes,” I reply hesitantly, not sure where she’s going with it. “Yeah, I do. Sometimes.”
“So, why do it?”
“Because I believe it’s the best way to conduct myself.”
“Bullshit. Because it’s the best way you know to control yourself.” I shift uncomfortably in my seat. “Listen, I love this about you. I envy it. Because I can’t operate that way. And we both know the results of that,” she says, alluding back to the latest mess she’s made in her life that brought us to this conversation. 
“But don’t you want to just do things? Rather than plotting and planning and organizing and executing. Just feel things sometimes? Rather than think things? Do you ever just feel?”
“Of course I feel things-“
“No, I know you feel things. You’re human. What I mean is, do you ever just give yourself over to what you feel without intellectualizing it to death? What’s the last thing you surrendered to?”

I don’t have an answer for that, and she knows it. She lets the silence linger, sitting back in her chair with a smug smirk as I continue to fidget.

“To be fair,” I counter, “your life isn’t exactly a shining testament to the wonders of feeling.”
“That was a low blow, you bitch.”
“But, true though.”
“Ain’t the point.”
“Making decisions based on facts rather than feelings just makes more sense to me. Feelings change. Facts don’t.”
“That’s true. But then when do you get to feel, La?”
“I feel stuff!”
“No, you don’t. You allow about as much feeling as you think you can handle. And then it’s all about logic.”
“I don’t understand your point.”
“You is a stubborn bitch.”

This is all true, of course. I used to feel a great deal. All the time. All the feelings. And I could barely function. Logic, objectivity, even temperedness became a safe haven for me; a way to for me to communicate clearly and effectively, a means by which to get what I needed. And ultimately, with or without my permission, another way for me to control myself.

But the point is, nobody asked this bitch all that.

“So, what would you have me do?” I ask, half joking and half serious. “Show up at a man’s place of business on a date with another man to unnerve him?”

She side eyes me, but is silent, since she did this very thing to a chef she was dating last month, and followed that little stunt with an argument in the middle of the street.

“I am not saying be petty, though it wouldn’t kill you to be petty for once in your overly goddamn noble life. Although, for the record, that shit felt GREAT.”
“That kinda shit doesn’t feel great to me.”
“How the fuck would you know? You refuse to feel out loud.”

I suppose that too is true. I am prone to feeling only as much as I can rationalize as appropriate. Which, objectively, is stupid.

“You are so goddamn good all the time. Don’t you get tired of it? Don’t you get tired of being reasonable and appropriate all the time?”
“Of course I do. Just not enough to shred a $2,500 bag and ship it to a man’s office,” an offense she is also guilty of.
“HA! That was a good one.”
“You are completely monkeyfuck crazy.”
“Perhaps. But I will tell you this; everyone in my life knows how I feel about them. What I’d do for them. Who I am. Can you say the same?”

I turn my attention back to my drink.

“I’ll make you a deal,” she says to me, her eyes dancing mischievously. “You’re turning 30 this year. You need to do something different. And you have been kinda hinting around this for the last year anyway. But you may as well go big or go home.”
“Okay…”
“Here’s the deal; for the next year, I want you to make terrible fucking decisions. Awful. Do whatever you want. Whether it makes sense or doesn’t. Do stuff without thinking or plotting or analyzing. Just do stuff. Worry about it later. Feel some stuff. Don’t think stuff. Just let go. Surrender to something or someone.”
“I don’t do surrender particularly well.”
“I know. That’s why you’re gonna do it. Just make some bad decisions. For a year. And see where you end up. Because I will bet you a spa day it won’t be so bad.”
“What’s in this for me?”
“Um… the awesome shit that comes with not doing the right thing.”
“Bitch…”
“So, for this year you are making horrible decisions, I will make better decisions. I will think things through. I will control my emotions and my actions. I will be all good and noble and objective like you.”
“You’ll never make it.”
“I will if you help me.”
“I don’t need your help making bad decisions. I’ve made it this for without a criminal record.”
“You know, I don’t think you need my help. Because I think deep down underneath it all, you are perfectly capable of making bad decisions and enjoying them. I think you are tired of being so good and in control all the time. And I think really deep down, beneath all the good and the cool and the detachedness, you’re a beautiful little mess.”
“You’re crazy.”
“You’re controlling.”

We regard each other for a while, sizing the other up and not saying anything, but knowing we both need a bit more of the other in us.

“Okay,” I tell her uneasily. “Ok. You gotta deal.”
“Seriously?”
“Seriously.”
“A whole year?”
“A whole year.”
“Well, in that case,” she says, raising her glass, “here’s to The Year of Bad Decisions.”
“Good decisions for you.”
“Yeah, but we’re gonna focus on the fun part right now. Raise your glass, bitch.”

To the year of bad decisions.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dirty 30

I was 25 before I finally admitted how fucking miserable I was. How the years of just surviving, of barely making it, of scraping by, had made me weary down to my bones. How badly the heartbreak had made me equal parts hard and fragile.

The admission itself was hard. It felt like a spectacular failure; a mess of my own making from making bad choices and not practicing self-care. But there I was; 25 and miserable, miles from the people I loved, far from where I wanted to be, heartbroken and tired and working a job I hated that did not stretch me. I was single by choice, leery of letting anyone in, committed to remaining warm and detached. I can’t remember who was in the picture at the time, who I’d compartmentalized into a specific role- lover, companion, arm piece- whether that was the part they wanted to play or not. I do remember random crying fits, long stretches of insomnia, weight gain and hair loss, the pallor of my skin as though the misery had become a second skin I could not peel away.

I don’t remember when I decided I could not live this way anymore. I don’t even know that it was a conscious finite decision, or if it was just the realization that at 25 I was too young to resign myself to a life weighed down by unhappiness, that having to will myself out of bed in the morning, and needing to tuck myself into it immediately after exhaustedly trudging through every day, was not the way I wanted to live. Not if I wanted to actually live.

The last five years have been heavy lifting. It has been slicing open old wounds to drain the poison I trapped beneath the surface in my haste to appear whole. It’s rebreaking my bones along the fractures healed haphazardly so that I may set them correctly. It’s been cleaning and clearing. It’s been the reappearance of old apparitions I ran from rather than faced and expelled. And the introduction of new spaces for my soul to feel safe in. It’s been a breaking down and building.

This year on my birthday, unlike last year, I woke up happy. Contentment and gratitude flooded my body like the sunshine through my gigantic windows. I prayed a prayer of gratitude. I wrote my annual list of things I am grateful for. I got up and sang and danced to Stevie Wonder. I spent the day surrounded by people who love me, drinking whiskey and having good convo, and doing other things I won’t immortalize in print. And that night while I laid in bed, spinning slightly from the liquor, I thought about how far I’ve come.

I have cried. I have fought. I have been disappointed and I have been loved. I have moved. I’ve been weakened. I have persevered. I’ve been broken and I’ve been buoyed. I’ve been cold and I’ve been crazy.  I have laughed and I have fucked and I have made love and I have hurt people and I have smiled, and been resentful and been overwhelmed by pride and anger and gratefulness. I have changed. I have gotten all that I prayed for.

I have lived. 

Make no mistake about it, I am not whole. I am not healed. I am not where I want to be or whom I want to be when I get there. But I am further than I ever thought I’d get. And I know how to get there. And I know that I will get there. And I’m willing to do the work.

Bring on the dirty 30.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Take the Box

It all goes in the box.

The particular cadence of my name on his tongue. All the years of inside jokes and the steady stream of laughter. The signature curvature of his smile. The music we once traded across the distance. The way he likes his eggs.

It all goes in the box.

The comfortable tangle of my legs around his and his fingers and lips marking large swaths of territory across my bare skin. The dive of his voice after 2am or too many Makers Marks or both. The hours of people watching. And the beer he likes. The songs I've sung. The desire to take up years long study of the majesty of his skin. Pages of prose I wrote because I couldn't say. The hours of dreaming about what a life with him could have been. The messages laced with innuendo. The feelings sheathed in words less intense. The small things I let myself hope in the wee, small hours of the morning. 
The hope at all, really.

That all goes in.

This is where I excel; the leaving. The packing away of the remnants of monuments I did not build to lovers I did not keep. I am good at this. I am efficient at the clean up; clearing the space without scorching the earth. That took me years to learn. I am fluent in the languages of walking away; the ways you can bring ending with kindness and grace if they are so earned. I know when I need to leave, be it because I'm ready to go, because I want to flee, or because I am not welcome. It's an instinct; I've already started to protectively withdraw into myself long before my head catches up to what's happening. I am adept at packing neat boxes of memories and storing them in the attic of my mind, way back in the back behind all the other things I actually need. I let go. I am good at this.

The way he watches me when he thinks I'm not looking. The winding conversations shared in quiet confessionals when we were both brave enough to shed our armor. The weight of his body on mine, the exquisite tug of my hair wrapped tight like a rein across his palms. The places we could go. The tears we couldn't hold on to. The Butterflies. 

It all goes in the box.

I can do this. I am good at this. I know when I have to go. When I've reached my limit. When it's not gonna work. When I am not wanted. I am good at leaving.

But I don't want to be good at it anymore. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

M-ssing


Something is missing.

This is my last thought before I go to sleep. It hangs over the bed, turning the air around it crisp and cool. I toss and turn underneath it all night.

Something is missing.

This is my first thought when I wake up in the morning. My eyelashes have barely left their perch atop my cheeks before the thought rises over the horizon of my brain, sending signals to my limbs to look for this something. My feet hit the carpet and I push the thought away, stumbling to the bathroom, brushing my teeth and splashing my face with water. I have too much to do today.

It stays with me. This thought, this feeling. It feels like a muscle memory, like when you forget to put your watch on in the morning and spend all day looking at the empty spot where your watch should be. I can't put my finger on it, but I feel vaguely unsettled all day, productive but removed, my mind pinging and taking inventory; did I forget to do something? Did I take out food for dinner? Run all my errands? Did I drop the ball on a project at work? Did I lose something?

The day is brutal. I stagger home long after the sun has gone down, exhausted and heavy. After I lock the door behind me, I stand in the middle of my living room looking around and hoping something will catch my eye that will tell me why I feel so unsettled. I come up with nothing. I decide the only thing that can fix this is wine.

I open the fridge, the frigid air settling over my face, and inside is the answer so clear I can't believe I didn't see it before.

His beer is in my fridge. His cereal in my cabinet. His towel on the rod in my bathroom. There’s red, heart shaped balloons kissing the ceiling in my living room. His scent still on my sheets. Instinctively I touch my lips- the last place he touched me- and his taste is long gone. I look down at my hands, having spent days lazily intertwined with his, now empty.

I close the fridge. I leave a trail of clothes from the kitchen to the bedroom, lifting the covers and tucking myself underneath them in one smooth motion. I settle in, the scent of us commingled settling around me like a hug. I inhale deeply, knowing I should get up and change them but not having it in me to do it just yet.
Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll clean this up.

Tonight I settle into a restless sleep, my body refusing to even roll over to the other side of the bed closest to the window.

Something is missing, I think before exhaustion finally overtakes me.

As always, it's him.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Refuge

As a child, I attended an exclusive private school in a tony suburb of my hometown. There wasn’t much about it I loved. I was one of the single digit population of brown people in a lily white sea of affluence I was entirely unfamiliar with. And a clumsy brown girl with unruly curls, (too black for the black kids trying desperately to be less black and therefore less threatening, not well off enough to for color to not be an issue) there weren’t many places of refuge.

The silver lining was the days my grandma's sky blue Bonneville would inch down the carpool driveway, knowing that her being there meant I'd get to hang out with her until it was time for my daddy to pick me up for his visitation weekend.

We'd sing (or more accurately she'd sing and I'd giggle), her voice full and lovely with just a twinge of smokiness from the cigarettes she smoked. There was a silly song about a bee. And one about a bunny. She'd buy me a coke and weather my insistent questions with patience and humor.

I don't remember when or why she stopped, but I do remember missing her, even as it felt like a betrayal to my mama, to my maternal grandmother, to admit it.

I was in college before I really came to understand what a force my grandma was. A whip smart, steel eyed touchstone that raised five kids after her husband died too young while still managing to build a successful, meaningful career. She is lovely and crass, a combination we both share, and profoundly generous; a trait she has leaned into and I have built fortresses around after the jagged edges of life necessitated it.

My grandma has been retired for all the years I've been alive and the running joke became a kind of game of “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” On the rare occasion I came home from school, I was never sure I'd see her, as she spent the vast majority of her time on a plane to somewhere, more than likely to a casino not in the city where we lived. She spent almost thirty years the way you hope you get to spend retirement; traveling and indulging her whims, from gambling her money to painting her nails bright pink. When people shared tales of their aging grandparents- the ebbing sharpness, their losing their ability to see and hear and drive and live alone, eventually moved into a basement bedroom or shuffled off to some nondescript building named after a tree- it was foreign to me. At 86, my grandma was still driving, still traveling all over the country, still going to watch her beloved baseball team, still smoking and drinking Coors Lite, and stubbornly wiggling her jeweled, poppy pink fingers in the face of anyone who asked her when she would slow down.

And then suddenly she wasn't.

I spent my birthday with her this year, by her bedside in a hospital, after she had a stroke. I sat there for hours, watching her swing from consciousness to slumber, repeating the things she couldn't remember she said to me the last time she was awake, but smiling every time she recognized my face.

We talked about nothing. I pretended not to be alarmed at how much weight she'd lost when the nurse came in to change her. I waited patiently while my brilliant grandma struggled to search her muddy brain for basic words. I smiled thinly through the ice sliver of anxiety in my stomach at this familiar scene. I'd been here before and I said to myself what I wasn't brave enough to say to anyone else; I could be about to lose her.

May brought a new job and a move back home, and a vow that I would not make the same mistake with her as I did my maternal grandmother before her.

I go see her as often as I can. I spend hours talking to her and laughing at her, fussing at her stubborn refusal to do the exercises her physical therapist gave her to do. We watch TV. And I wait patiently as her mind spins and whirs, as she plods through sentences she once would have skated over with aplomb. I listen intently to every random recollection, my heart heavy with the responsibility of possibly being the keeper of her memories if her long term memory goes hazy and less sharp around the edges the way her short term memory has. I spent a couple hundred dollars to get her great seats to go to her first baseball game in years. I travelled with her for Thanksgiving to spend with our family, watching her intently even as I mingled, coming when she called and hustling when she needed something.

But it kills me. It kills me. To watch my razor sharp, educator of a grandma struggle for words. To listen patiently as she repeats herself, or call her back repeatedly because she doesn't remember she called me an hour ago. It kills me to watch her wry humor turned inwards on herself. It's awful the way her freedom has been taken from her, suddenly and without warning. Mere months ago, while she might not have been running marathons she was certainly still getting around. It kills me to watch her struggle to take even a couple steps, aided by a walker she can't stand. I hate to hear her apologize or thank me profusely when I have to help her to the bathroom or get dressed, as though she is a burden. It kills me to watch her slip away.

But still I come. I come sit with her and I call and make sure she knows that I love her and that she is more joy than she will ever be a burden, and I tell her she will be ok, and I will be ok and we will all be ok. I tell her how beautiful she is because she is still so lovely, and that I love her, wholly, deeply, as all-consumingly as I did as an awkward little brown girl for whom she was a daily refuge.

And I pray. I pray that she stays healthy and as well as she can be. I selfishly pray that I have many more years with her so she can see me indulge the wanderlust I inherited from her and fall in love the way she was with my grandfather and so she can sing the bunny song to my kids.

She gave me my first prayer rosary way back when, and taught me what saints to pray to and if I was as smart then as life has made me now, I would have guarded it, and her, far more fiercely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Keep it 100

I am intoxicated by the real talk. Drunk on the luscious sweetness of being wanted wholly, unabashedly, out loud. Of the ferocity of my craving being match at every turn. I feel dizzy by the things laid bare, remembering what it means to be forthright, frank, how much I've missed it. The not needing to guess where I stand. Not having to resort to decoding inference and weigh actions in relation to silence. Not having to devote any time to wondering and waiting, freed to devote myself wholly to wanting. 
I am reveling in being desired, each declaration, clear, to-the-point, a stake in the emotional landscape he's determined to claim. I like it. It's refreshing. There is peace in knowing. 

But am I ready? To keep up this breakneck pace. To match this energy at every ebb and flow. To let go. To give myself over to something I was unprepared for. When my thoughts, my heart, were elsewhere. 

I like it, but do I WANT it?

"I'm coming to get you, La. Believe that shit."

I do. But am I ready to be got?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ruination

The phone rings right around my second swipe of red lipstick. I assume it’s either someone finalizing tonight’s plans or the only person who calls me at this time of night that I actually answer for.
It is neither.
I stand a few feet away watching the phone light up on the charger. The me on the display looks back at me, a picture from months and months ago of me wrapped up in his arms, my hair blowing and a smile stretching as wide as my face. His face is nuzzled in my neck and hair, his smile sliced by the strands.
That smile used to undo me.
I watch the phone light up over and over. Twice. Three times. A few more times after that. I knew this was going to happen. I knew there was no way I was going to be able to come to this city where he resides and he not reach out to me. I knew it even before I ran into his homeboy in the airport- too tired and on my way to drunk from the whiskey on the plane- to remember to ask him not to tell him I was here. The text message chime goes off not too long after the last call is disconnected.
“You’re in my city?”
I don’t wanna do this.

We down the shots his homeboy just poured us, discarding our glasses and heading back out to the open space that has been cleared to make a dance floor. We snake around each other, leaning in to hear the other talking over the music. We laugh and dance, my body tingling from the shots and his touch. We’re easy, moving like we’re connected, and at one point I throw my arms around his neck, kissing him as gently as a drunk person can, and tell him, “I’m glad we’re here.”

 “You already know the answer to this.”
“You came and didn’t tell me?”
“I didn’t think I needed to check in.”
“Yeah, you were never good at that.”
“Neither were you. Clearly. But aight.”

I put the phone down and head back towards the bathroom as it begins to light up and chime in rapid succession, pages and pages of angry texts flooding my inbox. He’s angry. I’m putting on my eyeliner.

An old school R. Kelly song shuffles on, and he spins me around deftly, his entire front pressed against my entire back without space for even air to pass between us. We dance like we’re in high school, all slow grinding and groping, his hands all over me. He’s saying slick shit in my ear, and with each comment that is more outrageous than the last, I meet him with the same dare; “Do it,” I tell him. “Or shut the fuck up.”

My phone has finally stopped singing the symphony of the disgruntled and I glance over the messages I’ve gotten. All the CAPS lock. And exclamation points. Accusations and victimizations. I sigh, heavy and resigned. This shit was over months ago. I don’t wanna do this.

I fish a thong out of my suitcase to wear under my dress with one hand, and type lazily with my other.

“We’re not doing this.”
“Don’t you think we need to talk about this?”
“We coulda talked about this months ago. You showed your ass. So, your opportunity to talk to me is over.”
“We need to resolve this.”
“It’s been resolved.”
“Why are you being so cold?”
At that I laugh, loud and long, tickled down to my red toes that this is a problem for him.
“This is what you wanted.”

He turns me back around to him, hooking his arms around my waist and settling his cheek on top of my hair. We sway to the music, probably drunkenly off beat but not caring.
“Hey, did I tell you I was going outta town next week?” I tell him no, figuring it’s one of many business trips to somewhere that he takes often.
“Where are you off to?”
“Mexico.” This gives me pause a bit. Mexico doesn’t sound like a business trip.
“Mexico?” I parrot back.
“Yeah. Mexico. With Carey.”
I rock back on my heels away from him, look at him like I just watched him grow two heads.
“You’re going to Mexico. With… your ex-girlfriend?”
“Yeah. I didn’t think it would be a problem.”
“Thinking is clearly not your strong suit, then.”

“Can we meet somewhere?"
“We’re not doing this.”
“I just wanna talk this out.”
“There’s nothing to talk about.”
“Don’t be like this.”
“This is what you wanted.”
“You know, I know where you’re going tonight. I could just show up and make you talk to me.”
“I think I have more than proven I am willing to and capable of showing my whole and entire ass in public, so try me if you want to.”
“It shouldn’t be like this.”
“No, it shouldn’t.”

I push through the double doors that lead out to the backyard and he is close on my heels.
“What’s the problem, La?”
“What’s the problem?! I can’t tell if you really don’t think it’s a problem, or if you’re hoping that if you act as though it’s not a problem, I will be convinced.”
“It really isn’t that big a deal.”
“You’re going on vacation with the ex you thought you’d marry and it’s not a big deal? That shit doesn’t deserve discussion of some sort?”
“I mean, you know what this is, La. This trip doesn’t mean anything.”
“Nigga, you must think I’m stupid.”
“I never said that. But we never said we were cutting off other people.”
My mouth falls open,and for once in my overly articulate life I am actually speechless. I didn’t think it needed to be said to this friend who’s gotten to know me and watched me date other people for five years that I expected that while we’re dating, he isn’t going on a Mexican rendezvous with his ex. I try to rack my drunken brain for when and if over the last few months, I have in some way given the impression that this type of thing would be okay with me. And I realize that by assuming that he knew me- that the stretch of months we’d spent together meant the same thing to him as they did to me- was my mistake.
“You know what, you do think I’m stupid. But that’s my fault. Because I have been acting that way. We 'bout to get that shit right right now, though.”
“La, you know what this is.”
“Obviously you and I have very different ideas about what “this” is.”
“Obviously.”
“I expect that the person that I’m dating not be going on vacation with their ex.”
“But we never said we were exclusive though.”
“You’re absolutely right. And that’s my fault for not being clear about my expectations. But this is not okay with me.”
“I don’t want to be bound by all the titles and the bullshit.”
“So all the benefits and none of the responsibility. That’s a change from that shit you were dream selling.”
“Yo, why are you being such a bitch about this?”
I absolutely fucking lose it.

“Please just meet me somewhere so we can talk.”
“No.”
“Why are you being like this?!”
“This is what you asked for.”
Eventually I agree to meet him outside my hotel, so we can settle this once in for all and I can go on about my plans for the evening a few pounds lighter. I promise myself that this won’t turn into a shit show like it did last time.

“La, you are fucking trippin’.”
“You think so? Cuz this is me on about 6. You ever call me a bitch again and I will spend the rest of the time between then and when they carry your ass to the hospital on 15.”
“Why are you so mad?”
“Would you let me do it? If it were the other way around, would you be okay with me doing it? If I told you that I was going on a trip, say with the friend that you’re so intimidated by, would it be okay with you?”
“I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
“That’s because you refuse to be wrong. And you know you’re wrong as fuck.”
“I didn’t expect you to be such a girl about this.”
“You know what, fuck you and this argument.” I turn to walk back into the house and gather my things to head home. It’s his turn to lose it.

“Hi.”
“You have five minutes.”
“You think we can have this whole conversation in five minutes?”
“This isn’t a conversation. I have nothing left to say. You wanted to talk. You have five minutes to do that.”
He looks at me long and hard and sighs. He starts, his confidence obviously thrown. He says all the things someone says when they knows they have broken something they can’t piece back together but their pride won’t let them not try.

“Don’t fucking walk away from me,” he says as he grabs my arm.
“If you don’t let me go, it will be the very last thing you do with that hand.” He turns me loose and we stand there almost snarling at each other, toe-to-toe, neither of us willing to back down.
“I shoulda known better.”
“Excuse me?”
“I shoulda known better than to try to be with someone as fucking broken as you.” I stand there in heartbroken shock as the friend I’ve known for years, who’s been around through trials and triumphs and deaths and promotions and heartbreaks, runs down all my flaws, all my heartbreaks, all the things we ever discussed in hushed confidence that I thought I was sharing with someone who unconditionally had my back.
He pauses his rant only long enough to take a deep breath, and a detached calm settles over me.
“Are you done?”

“I’m really sorry, La.”
“No, you aren’t. I’m just glad you finally got to say what you felt about me.”
“That isn’t how I felt- how I feel- about you. I was just angry and drunk-“
“And that’s how I know you spoke your heart. But it’s cool. I am uninterested in being with someone who is with me as though it’s a favor to me.”
“La, we go so far back-“
“And that’s why this is such a shame.”

“You really are an asshole.”
“Yes. I can be. But that wasn’t my question. My question was; ARE YOU DONE?!”
“Yeah, I’m done.”
“Good. Me too.”
“You know, I liked you more when you weren’t so emotional.”
“Oh, you mean you liked me better when I didn’t give a fuck? That? THAT I can do.”
I turn and walk away, back through the house where people pretend to have not just been watching our heavyweight bout in the back. A friend volunteers to take me home. As I slide into his passenger seat, I am taken aback by the fact that even though I am riding in the same car I came in, I am leaving with nothing I came with.

“I think we can fix this.”
We don’t need to fix shit. Because we didn’t break it.”
“What are you saying, La?”
“I’m saying you ruined this. And don’t you ever fucking forget it. Your time’s up.”
Before he can say another word, I step into the street, hailing a cab at the busy intersection and sliding in to make my way to my next destination. I don’t know if he’s still standing there watching me, or if he’s accepted his defeat and headed back to wherever he came from, because I have no real use for looking back.