Friday, February 24, 2012

Walls

Montego Bay, Jamaica
Wednesday February 15, 2012
3:58PM


As soon as I step off the plane, I am greeted with a welcome wall of heat. Walking through the quiet Montego Bay airport, I am mentally cataloguing all the similarities and differences between what I am accustom to and what I am experiencing. Everyone that deplaned with me meanders through the airport, seemingly shedding the break neck pace of America and getting on island time. I look around once we reach customs and we’re standing in line, watching everyone shifting nervously in line despite not being particularly guilty of anything. It is then that I first realize that I am surrounded almost entirely by white people. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t expect the exact opposite, but I suppose, in the middle of the winter and flying mid-week like most tourists do, I need to adjust my expectations. After relishing the satisfying clunk of the new stamp in my passport, I gather my bags and head to the lounge reserved for guests of the resort where I am staying.

It’s lovely. All soft lighting and comfortable chairs, gleaming wood and a full bar, everything you would hope to find greeting you after a long flight (well, not so much for me with a 2 hour flight, a 50 minute layover and then an 1 hour flight). When I walk in, the employees look up and smile at me but can’t hide the split second look of shock that cross their faces. I return their warm smiles and retreat to a corner to curl up with my Ki.ndle and read until the shuttle arrives to take me to the resort.

Instead though, I start to look around. Immediately, I’m struck by the stark racial divide at play here; the well-to-do white folks being catered to by brown people. I notice these things, though I'd like to believe I am evolved enough, post racial enough, indeed not racist enough to notice. But despite all my education and travels and knowledge, I am still a daughter of the deep south. Born of 1 of the most dirtily racist states in the confederacy. And no matter where I go, whether I like to admit it or not, I carry with me the history of every time I've been called a nigger. Every time I have been met with surprise at my aptitude because of my skin color. Every time I've been followed in a store or sneered at by a white man or called gal or overheard a child innocently asking why my skin was different. Whether I like it or not, I see things through the prism of descending from a lineage of strange fruit hanging from poplar trees. I cannot not see with these eyes.

It's important I note that this quiet discomfort wasn't prompted by any mistreatment or even a shared knowing look passed between me and my skin folk acknowledging "you know how they are." Rather, I have to admit there seems to be a kind and easy report between these fairer skin tourists and the employees here to welcome them; certainly they aren't getting together later for beers, but there is no condescension, no air of rudeness or privilege, no tangible evidence that anyone but me has noticed the clear racial delineation between those that have and those that have not. I can’t tell if everyone but me really is just blind to it, if the white folks are too privileged to notice, or if the black people are too worried about providing for themselves to care. Still, there exists a wall of sorts, between the smiling faces that greeted us, and the people patronizing the resort. It is invisible and certainly not barbed wired but it exists nonetheless.

I am not out and out uncomfortable with it all, but I notice. Just as I notice, with a painful twinge, the older black men shining the shoes of often white business men in the airport. As I notice when a porter, usually brown, is helping carry bags and is barely afforded a grateful glance.

I notice.

Once outside the airport and on the 90 minute trip to Ocho Rios, I am again unsettled by my surroundings. Without even trying, there seems to be a distinct demarcation between classes here, as well; there’s the multi-million dollar resorts on the beach front. There’s the large, looming houses on the mountain. And in between there is miles of shacks and bumpy roads and abandoned buildings. In between, it seems, is for Everyone Else.
We drive past a row of large, gated houses, not nearly as large as the homes built into the mountain side but still fairly sizeable, that seem a bit out of place next to the stretch of highway and among the random gas stations and small businesses that dot the roads. It doesn’t take me long to notice that these homes are not merely gated; rather they are confined by 8 foot cement walls and sealed with heavy, impenetrable iron gates. A quick glance at the houses nestled in the mountains reveals that these homes aren’t just built on the mountain for the panoramic views. Rather they are quite literally built into the mountainside, the jagged terrain providing a wall made from nature to augment even more imposing gates around their properties than those on the beach front.
When we finally reach our resort, the story is still much of the same, our beautiful, lush, multi-million dollar resort that just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation is walled from its surroundings by wrought iron and concrete, standing next to, quite literally, a building that appears to be gutted and is slowly decaying.
Where the hell is all this money going, if not to the people?
It seems that in Jamaica, as in America, as in so many other countries I have travelled to and read about, a profound chasm exists between the haves and the have nots and with it, a concerted effort to either keep those who have less out, or keep what you have acquired in. Or maybe every wall is just an attempt to block the blight that exists in our own backyards.

Friday, February 17, 2012

All

“I want it all. Everything. All of you. I will not accept anything less.”


The Great Houdini had a way of saying things that made me understand that, despite his jovial nature, he was not kidding. And right then, in that hotel room in New Orleans, he was very serious. His voice was quiet, as we were sharing our space with my family but there was no mistaking his solemnity of this desire. It wasn’t a demand, but a command, the latter of which I respond much better to. But despite not dangling the invisible ultimatum of a demand over my head, I had no doubt in my mind that he meant exactly what he said.

“I know you. You’re used to being one foot in and one foot out. I get that. I do. But I want everything. All. All of you.”

All is one of those words I had not then, and have not yet made peace with. All is totality, entirety, whole. And despite every romantic comedy touting the wondrous feeling of falling for someone, belonging to someone, I have never been particularly comfortable with it. I am honest enough to say my own issues play a significant role in this disquiet. But mostly, I don’t understand how you can exist if you have given yourself completely over to this person, this relationship, this love.

“You have all of me.”
“No. I have more of you than any man ever has. And still, only as much as you’re comfortable with.”

That was the truth. Had been my truth through every major relationship I’d ever been in. First Love? I knew we were doomed once I grew up and stopped looking for a savior. Gay Husband? Epically doomed from the start. Almost FiancĂ©? God, I loved him. Adored him. Respected him as a man and a human being. But we were young. And our circumstances were so extreme. And a part of me always knew this would not be the beginning of a lifetime.

And I am ashamed to admit, I found some comfort in that.

“I don’t really know how to do that.”
“I know. But we are going to figure it out. Because that’s what I want. Not part. Not half. Whole. All.”

He put his hands on either side of my face and kissed me, as was his way, pulling away and looking at me intently long enough for the racket around us to go silent for a moment. Then he kissed me again, and started talking to my godfather about chess.



That conversation stays with me. Every once in a while, something, someone, brings it back to the forefront of my memory. Someone wanting all. Me not feeling comfortable giving it, certain every step will take me deeper into a mudslide of heartbreak.

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself inching towards this metaphorical all, leery of it but tiptoeing closer, eyeing it watchfully. I haven’t again been there, but every once in a while I find someone who makes me feel like I could take a trip. Temporarily. Just to see what it’s like, how it’s changed in the years since I’ve last visited.

But then I remember the problem with all is that, ostensibly, there is none of you left for yourself. That giving all, being all to someone else, means there is a good chance you are sacrificing something of yourself. Hopefully it is something you can afford to lose and the tradeoff is worth it. But often, it is something you give to pay the price of admission. And there are no refunds.

I know I am supposed to be caught up in the whimsy of the all. But I just can’t bring myself to trust that all won’t fall down all around me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

That is All.

I laugh too loud. I curse more than a sailor. I can drink you under the table. And I will. I won’t always be comfortable talking about how I feel, but I will always cook for you and remember that random thing you said you wanted 9 months ago and get it for your birthday. I am not great at needing people, and it will likely be years before you meet my family. If my friends hate you, you will most likely have to go. I will unwittingly steamroll over you if you give me no pushback, and likely not feel bad for it. I am hard to get to know, and terribly uninterested in changing that. My life is full and I will not let you into it unless you make it impossible for me to not want you in it. You’ll need to carve out your own space. I cry at beautiful harmonies and shut down when I am angry because I have a Chernobyl temper. I say things wrong, and I will be frustrated when you don’t understand me. I will fight you if you ever put your hands on me and I will leave you if you lie. I yell at the TV and sing along with the radio. I will not listen to a word you say until I am ready to take your advice. I drive faster than the speed limit and will quickly get irritated with you if you tell me to slow down. I am incredibly smart, which you will sometimes forget because I am silly. I giggle at everything when I’m sleepy and babble when I’m nervous. Periodically I will experience a bad streak of insomnia, and I won’t expect you to stay up with me, but I will adore you if sometimes you do. There is a significant chance I will dance with you like I don’t have a daddy at home in the club, and I might proposition you in public. I am not interested in your judgments of my sexual proclivities, only your enjoyment of them. I will need gratuitous amounts of silence and a place I can be alone. I will make you look good in front of your boss. I will charm the hell out of your parents. I will take care of your family like my own. Your friends will adore me. There is a significant chance that should we not make it, they will still periodically ask you about me, no matter who you are currently dating, and a daring few might reach out to me every now and then to see if we might reconcile under the guise of “checking on me.” I will remember the beer your best friend drinks and I will cook and then leave the house when your boys come over to watch the game. I will sometimes watch you sleep and feel incredibly lucky. I will make a home in the crook of your arm I expect to occupy at most times I am by your side. I will unapologetically steal your clothes, and when you leave the room I will lay on your pillow because it will smell like you. I will stumble over saying “I love you” but I will say it, over and over, when I feel it, until it is a second language. We will have animals. And sometimes you will need to reach things on high shelves. Under this circumstance, a well-timed short joke is permissible, but not under many others. I will write thousands of pages of prose about you that you might never read. I will see the world with you.


I will love you. That is all.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The One Where my Mama Throws me Under the Bus my Ex is Driving

My mom adores me. I am her only child, and I am pretty awesome. None of this is up for debate.

But she never misses an opportunity to bowl me directly under a bus if she can help it.

Such an opportunity arose on Christmas Eve, when we travelled home for the holidays.

I touched down in Atlanta, where we headed straight to the hair salon, and to dinner with my godfather afterwards. He picked a great little Italian spot in Virginia Highlands that we’d not been to. The food was amazing. The service was impeccable and attentive. The company and conversation were excellent. By the time the chef came out to talk to our table, with promises to send out a special dish he’d just concocted for us because we hadn’t “eaten enough” (despite us all having an entire loaf of bread, a salad, huge plates of food and a ridiculous amount of wine and liquor), I figured this had to be the best first night home I’d ever had.

And then my mama saw fit to ruin it.