October 5, 2012 § 6 Comments
They say you can’t miss what you’ve never had, but I miss them. My twin is different. She says they’re like the other dead relatives our family talks about; glorious stories that stretch between melancholy and the otherwise ordinary things they romanticize. The first time we learned about the accident, we were five. In our classroom everyone had parents, a sibling or more, and a pet. One boy had his dog and his mom while my twin and I had our grandparents. Our mom and dad had gone to heaven. It was simple as that until the girl in the last row asked how, and I felt stupid for not knowing. That afternoon we learned they were driving to a gala held in honor of our father’s work when a drunken driver pinned their car to a concrete fence. We were six months old.
To this day, I can’t stand alcohol. But surprisingly, fell in love with a drunk and found myself trying to save him while fighting every instinct that implored me to run. The first day he hit me we cried for hours. Apparently my eyes lingered on some random man on campus. I don’t remember doing so but I must have been spaced out and staring into nothing. I’m known for that. I tried to explain but it fell on deaf ears behind the Grace D. Woodside building where he gave me twenty six lashes. He ‘wasn’t having it; won’t tolerate disrespect.’ Three months later after I pleaded with him to stop drinking, he framed my face with kisses then sank his teeth into my bottom lip until I could taste the blood he drew. It was a warning to never speak out of turn again, to know my place. That time he didn’t cry. He was resolute.
I don’t remember how many times after that I was hit. But the last time, I lost control of my bladder. He was pummeling my face for not being in the mood. It’s amazing that when you’re being beaten, you don’t feel sorry for yourself. There is just a need to prove your love, save for that afternoon. I just wanted to run. So I transferred from that school to a university out of state and vowed to never let a man hit me again.
The first thing I learned in therapy was that finding the right therapist is like dating and relationships. Not everyone is good for you. She was a well-meaning woman whose tone I found condescending. Although we didn’t connect, she was kind enough to refer me to someone else but by then I’d lost interest in opening my life to scrutiny.
After the spring of my first year as an adjunct, I headed back East to celebrate my twin’s engagement and realized that I missed being home. The following year I moved back and was for the first time content. Then I met him; a considerate soul with an open disposition. I got a glimpse of love and it was beautiful. Then he wanted to be married and I stopped showing up for dates, never apologetic, and said ill things until the relationship had more moments underground than on the rooftop. He left and I had a series of episodes with broken people who saw their reflection in me.
The day my sister got married, I felt I lost my best friend. Despite being over the moon, her happiness brought a tremendous amount of sadness. After the reception, I called every guy that I dated but either their number had changed, they were married, in a relationship, or didn’t remember who I was. How could she and I come from the same place but have such different lives?
By the time we were thirty, she had a two year old and was afraid to leave her with me. I had name for myself in academia but my personal life was spiraling out of control, and secretly ashamed of it but didn’t know how to stop. Until one guy discovered that I was cheating on him, got drunk, and once again I was being beaten to a pulp.
I still didn’t get it right with the second, third, or fourth therapist. But in our first session, Allison gave me permission to mourn their absence and the moments I would never have. Hers were different; covered the mental science with a spiritual aspect. Over time, I learned to forgive myself for being cruel, accepting abuse, and not trusting my inner voice. I asked him for forgiveness and had to forgive myself for not believing I was worthy of his love. I am learning to be accountable, to become the love I seek.
I have a kitchen garden, and a cat, a good career, and a twin, a niece and a brother-in-law. I have a therapist, family, support, and a series of firsts taking me on a journey to the better me.
September 20, 2011 § 5 Comments
“I was pregnant once, married twice, never viscerally in love, and I’m not sure what this is, but I like having you around.”
It was one of those brisk and perfect fall days with its burnt orange, rust brown, magnificent red splattered everywhere that caused things to unravel from the tongue.
“I fast on Fridays and watch the television on mute. Once every four months I cry, and regardless of how much a thing may hurt after that bout of tears, no more are shed. I bank them until the next ‘salt ceremony.’”
He didn’t hold my hand and pretend to genuinely commiserate or understand. We just walked in silence up the hill, through the Pathmark’s parking lot, across 125th and onto Berkeley to my apartment.
He made tea and baked an apple crumble pie. Who knew he could? It was a pleasant discovery but not the kind that made me want him around. I washed the teacups and admired him; brown V neck sweater, unbuckled dark blue True Religion, bare feet padding across the floor.
“I don’t usually allow men to roam free in my territory. And I’m not permitting you to because you’re special. I’m just down on my luck and could use some company, someone to spend the days with because the holidays can get lonely.”
The thud of soles ceased, then resumed, fading until it got lost somewhere between the bathroom and my office. Swept the kitchen, emptied the trash even though I could have asked him to, but felt the need to protect my space’s sovereignty. He was standing there when I returned.
“Your company is needed too.”
I stared at him, mortified by the hint of vulnerability. Awkward. And ignorant of what to do with my hands or myself. We hung there in all the rawness, until rescued by the obscenities filtering through the kitchen window from the street below. We smiled, then chuckled. It was our first for the day.
Several moons and many fall days later, we’re on a blow up bed in my office. Our makeshift sleeping quarters so that he won’t sleep in my room, won’t leave a litter of memories to dispose of in his wake. Just a simple quarantine, then allow them to expire right there, when it all blows to smithereens.
But his attention was lost on the fingers that mapped goose bumps around the perimeters of collarbone, areolas, hands, and legs.
And on that very brisk and perfect fall day with its burnt orange, rust brown, magnificent red splattered everywhere, things unraveled from his tongue.
“I was never married, have been in love thrice; got my heart broken all three times, but still believe in a lifetime of happiness, and having two children.”
Pink Floyd stopped crooning. U2 cued in; Where the streets have no names. Vertigo. His right hand snaked between my waist and the covers, curled and drew me closer to him. The other threw a bit of blanket across the slice of exposed skin upon my back. I felt compelled to tell him.
“I’m usually about the present; no children, marriage, or the happily ever after stuff… just a particular moment to behold and be held in. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe I could have a child, and one day take my family to Thailand or Benin, or Egypt.”
For a while we have been dancing in that room of pseudo dating. No defining words. Just weekends of hiking the Appalachian, sing-a-longs at Bruce Springsteen and Stephen Marley concerts, a trip to the doctor, swim trunks and an itsy bitsy polka dot bikini on a beach in Nevis, et cetera and et cetera. Always punctuated by the circling of our sharp edges. But on that brisk and perfect fall day with its burnt orange, rust brown, magnificent red splattered everywhere, things unraveled from the tongue.
“I’m happiest teaching my Math 310 and 420 classes. It was a miscarriage; she would’ve been ten years old. And even though she’s no longer the reason for a salt ceremony, I remember her every so often. The first time I had sex I was seventeen. Three months later my mom, grandma, and eldest sister packed broken scotch bonnet and wiri-wiri peppers into my vagina. The fact that I don’t hate them worries me. I have this recurring dream where I’m always scared and running from the faceless person chasing me. I think I’m rambling. Do you think I’m rambling?”
He was lost on an area in the ceiling, maybe thinking. Who knew? Until…
“My parents and siblings have happy marriages and children. But love has been so elusive. You know, I cheated on an ex who loved me to pieces and I strongly believe the three heartbreaks were my penance. Black Crowes’ She talks to Angels reminds me of you, and that fact should probably scare me, or at the very least raise some concern, but it doesn’t. Instead, I’m extremely happy. I know you’ve got a tremendous history of scars, greater than any woman I’ve dated. Not to say I don’t have my own. By the way, are we dating? I mean, if you’re comfortable with it, I’d like to give us shape, some sort of definition and get your permission to let the guards down. Give us a chance.”
I was afraid we were making a mess of it, yet, things unraveled from the tongue.
“You can’t ever try to fix me. And even though I’m still somewhat territorial, so don’t leave a shirt or toothbrush as yet, maybe later on, we don’t have to always be in the office, unless you want to. It’s sort of awkward to say, but you’re the safest space I’ve known for a while, So if we’re going to give us a try, it can’t be a surface street thing. It has to be life affirming, and visceral. Otherwise, I don’t want it.”
We agreed, but didn’t hold hands or look into each other’s eyes brimming with tears and kiss like the lead characters of romantic comedies do. We just aligned ourselves in a spoon on that brisk, perfect fall day with its burnt orange, rust brown, magnificent red splattered everywhere, and continued to unravel.
January 7, 2011 § 5 Comments
The day after is always hardest and spent in delay; everything postponed until after sunset. She eyes the old playbill, an invitation to Cynthia’s baby shower, and the neatly stacked leaves of her manuscript on the bedside table. “You need to get up,” She groaned. But her body doesn’t budge.
She focuses on the sweat pooling above her upper lip, and is annoyed by it. Fear of colliding with the things she hates in his wake, like her fingers dripping with the musk of her lady folds, and the memory of his hand forcing hers between them, keeps her palms at bay. Gently she rolls over, swipes her face against the pillow, and gazes at the industrialized ceiling.
She hears the muffled rings of the cellphone beneath the chaos of clothes and shoes strewn across the floor but refuses to answer it. Instead, shifts her attention to the sprays of crimson spilling across her bed like graffiti on whitewashed walls and welcomes it. Finally, the sun is setting. The Who’s Baba O’Riley replaces the ring. Whoever it was, had left a message.
Soon it’ll be nightfall and she’ll come alive like cherry blossoms and the other colorful things in the height of Spring. But her house phone rings and forces her out of bed. Each movement down the hall to the neon green receiver on the rotary phone is forced. Her sister’s three octaves too loud voice can be heard before it’s to her ears.
“Yes Dana?” She answers.
“Geez Ruth! Are you in bed already? Why didn’t you answer your cell?”
“Is mom alright?”
“Yes. Why didn’t you answer your cell?”
“Because I don’t want to be bothered.”
“I see. Did you get Cynthia’s invitation? And do you know Karensa is getting married?”
“Yes and no.”
“Well she is, to Paul Mentore. You remember him right? I think you guys dated back in grad school.”
“I wouldn’t call it that.”
“O really, What would you call it?”
“Dana, did you call for something?”
“Well I’ll be damned, do I have to have a reason to call? How about to chat with my sister?”
“I’m going back to bed. Love you.”
She unplugs the phone from the jack, looks outside the window at the East River, the Manhattan skyline beyond and The Empire State Building building bathed in orange, blue and white. The Knicks must have a game at home. Ships drift silently, save for the occasional horn, as the building lights flicker on.
She dumps the discarded clothes in the washing machine, returns the pair of shoes to the rack with its color coded counterparts, and enters the shower. Vigorously rubbing the loofah against her fingers, her neck and hands to chase the markings of his lips and teeth. The Jasmine body wash flushes her lungs. Tears and sudsy water slide down her body.
She feels the stinging of her inner thighs and knows he has left with a souvenir. Some men are known to take panties. He demands flesh and blood, like memory for indelible ink. She grabs a robe, scrambles two eggs, makes a pancake, lights a candle and eats before getting dressed.
She walks the dog, purchases Cymbidiums, a few used books, stops at a quaint café on Bedford Avenue for an overpriced tea and briefly ‘people watch.’ Her phone rings. It’s him. He isn’t due to call again, not until next month. She sends it to voicemail and heads back home.
She prepares amuse-bouche for 12, slips into a vintage LBD, drizzles a bit of Coco Mademoiselle beneath her earlobes, and gulps some wine before the guests arrive. They trickle in in pairs and groups. She waltzes in and out of the conversation; refilling glasses and changing the background music. He calls again. Irritated, she excuses herself to answer in the bedroom.
“This better be good!”
“Can we meet?”
“I’m up for partner, well, pending the outcome of this account and I…”
“Congrats. But I’m in the middle of my life.”
“You don’t understand. I need to see you.”
“I don’t do impromptu requests. And you know this!”
“Just shut up! I’ll see what I can do.”
She cuts the call, exhales, and returns to the party. The next three hours she forgets about him and the cell phone stuffed beneath her pillows. They discuss the future of publishing, independent films and documentaries.
After the last bundle of guests leave, she strips down to her underwear, powers up her notebook and checks on the articles for the next issue of the magazine. Even though she doesn’t like entertaining him the night before going into the office, she calls him. And as if waiting all night, he answers on the first ring.
Thirty minutes later he’s at the door.
“Thank you for seeing me on such impromptu notice.”
“Stop talking. You’re already infringing on my time. Get in the tub and don’t ever do this again.”
He fills it with water, undresses, submerges his body and battles the need to take a breath. She gazes at his fetal form and remembers the flutters of the life she once carried. The memory carries no warmth. She unplugs the tub and the water flushes like it did from her womb. She covers him in tarpaulin. He writhes, pushes, and registers a punch to her gut in the process. She sits on him. Birthing is painfully hard for both baby and mother.
She coaxes him to find the cervix, commands him to wait until it is fully dilated, then urges him to travel down the birth canal. They wrestle until she finally opens the tarpaulin. He’s out- wet and crying on the bathroom floor. Just like it happened when she was fourteen. She gently brings him to a breast and he suckles. She closes her eyes and thinks, a woman should not have to. Then gets up and heads for the bathroom door.
“Wait.” He begs, “What happened to the rest of infancy, and childhood, or adolescence and discovering my sexuality?”
With her hand on the knob and her back to him, she answers, “Not tonight. I’m exhausted and I have to work tomorrow.”
She stiffens in remembrance of her own pleas.
“Shut up!” was the screamed response. She offers the same.
“Mom, I won’t make partner if…”
“If you say ‘mom’ one more time, I’ll find someone else to do this with! Put on your clothes and leave.”
She hears the door click and runs to bolt it behind him, then slides down sobbing. The memories are a stampede. The thumping grows louder. She’s once again a little girl with unruly tendrils, bare feet and running with innocence. Then a tomboyish teenager with the glories of estrogen ruling her body. Chinua Achebe was right, things do fall apart. Especially on nights when daddy uncovers the nakedness of his little girl, even moreso when she becomes the host of her sibling-offspring.
She staggers against the onslaught of memories, lifts herself off the floor, and begins cleaning. Maybe she can scrub the filth away. She’d wanted an abortion but they said the womb is not a sepulcher so she carried the abominable thing. Its expanding life bleeding her own. A fraction desiccating with each passing month. Then finally the at birth adoption that came and went without a sense of loss. Just a vacuum where normalcy once resided.
It’s 3:00am and she’s done cleaning. A Matchbox 20 song with the same name plays, followed by Rives’ Ted Speech as she sets her alarm for 7:00am, pops a valium, and slips into her bed. She is a long way from getting it together. She knows this, and doesnt expect to ever get there. All she wants is a wholesome moment, or a few of them where she is somewhat okay. Just okay.
October 5, 2010 § 2 Comments
He hates mornings when the evidence of past lives and old moisture hang in the air. On those days, even if the sky is overcast, he knows he should be running outdoors. But as he turns onto 9th Street, instead of the freshness of wet grass, dog urine threatens to stifle him. “Too many damn dogs,” He lamented. He was never a dog person, and couldn’t imagine owning any animal other than his Canadian Sphinx, Luanne. If not for the coffee shops and restaurants, or Prospect Park, and the family oriented nature of the neighborhood, he might have reconsidered buying the brownstone. But he and Abidemi thought it would be a good place to plant roots.
These days, everything is a reminder of the life he wishes to forget. Sprinting faster, he zeroes in on the lactic acid build-up in his legs. Turning onto 10th street, then Prospect Park West and finally the park, he avoids the joggers’ course. They ran there. Instead, he maneuvers the tiny pathways within. Sometimes running across the green until he is back where he started, outside the park and wrapped in the dog piss that irritates him. He does this today, but makes a brief stop to get bagels and cream cheese before the throng of families and their dogs flock the area.
Back in the house, he tries to air the rooms then brews a pot of coffee. He couldn’t understand why Abby spent so much money on Blue Mountain and sometimes jokingly accused her of being a coffee elitist. To which she had replied, “I only love good things and that’s a compliment to you.” He still remembers that day; the mocking expression on her face, and the hint of Vertiver and Sandalwood lingering in the space between them. He had pulled her close and kissed her forehead.
Luanne purring against his leg breaks his concentration. He dispenses dried food into her bowl and reaches for a mug to pour his joe. Abby’s bright orange cup seizes him. He pushes past another bout of memories, grabs a plain white mug and his bagel, then heads to the garden level. It’s the only floor they had completely renovated. The first half served as Abby’s dance studio and the other, his office. Many times he sat at his desk and watched her through the glass doors that separated their space. Her body, lithe and beautiful.
Taking a bite of his bagel and two sips of his coffee, he wills his thoughts to gather in the present. “Power up your computer” he commands himself. These days he thinks out loud and has to encourage himself to do even the simplest things, too afraid he might forget how to function. Another bite of his bagel, and a few sips from the mug, he roves through his Gmail; sending messages to his partners at the firm, a few clients, his assistant, before stumbling upon a notification for an upcoming show by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. He considers cancelling his subscription then weighs it against purchasing a ticket, palms his face, sighs, then runs his hands through his hair. It resurrects the feel of her voice, her fingers where his hands are now.
She was always definite in her decision making. Something he had grown accustomed to and unknowingly took comfort in. So, on the day they sat at the edge of the bathtub and she said, “I’m keeping it,” he believed the finality of those words. They’d called family and friends to share the news. She craved Hummus and would sit in front of the television scooping spoonfuls of it into her mouth. Some days she was a burst of sunshine. Others, a hormonal tyrant. Together, they made waist beads for her expanding belly and an album of sonograms. He watched motherhood tattoo it’s marks on her derriere, she worried it would stretch to her abdomen. He kissed it when they made love. They named the baby Isoke, satisfying gift, and counted the time until her birth in days; months made it seem so far away.
Closer to the end of her second trimester, her mood plummeted. Whenever she wasn’t agitated, she was withdrawn. He thought it was the hormones and maybe the loud construction noises. So he spent less time fixing things and more of it attending to her. Until one day, with teary eyes she said, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”
“Do what?” He inquired.
“What do you mean you can’t do the pregnancy anymore?
“I’m always sad and I don’t think it’s normal.”
He wrapped his arms around her, and promised that they would get through it together.”
The next day she told him she made an appointment to see a therapist. He offered to join her but she insisted on going alone. Every Monday and Thursday for three weeks he watched her leave the house at the same time. On those days she was herself and they were fine. But on the others, she shut him out, and it frayed his nerves. Sometimes they fought.
“I know it’s hard on you but don’t you think it’s hard on me too?” He asked.
“What’s hard on you Brad? Being supportive to me?”
“No! Not that! Seeing you like this Abby and you won’t let me in!”
“Do you think I like being this way?!”
“I know you don’t. But there must be something I can do.” He offered softly.
“I told you already, you’re fine. It’s me! Why can’t I be like the happy pregnant women? ” She asked between tears.
“Abs, it’ll be over in 3 months.”
“I don’t think I can feel this way for that long. I’m an alien in my own body. It’s as if it doesn’t want me in it!”
“3 months is 90 days baby. We can do…”
“No Bradley! You can do it but I can’t anymore!” She interrupted him.
“What do you mean you can’t anymore?”
She paused, then said in a small voice, “I’m going crazy. I have to get it out of me.”
“What do you mean get it out! Abby have you lost your mind?! This is our baby you’re talking about.”
“I know but I’m afraid that one day I won’t just look at the knife, or I might really jump on the track.”
“Did you discuss this with the therapist?”
“I did, but the thoughts still come back. They always come back. I have to get this baby out of me.” She cried.
“Abby, there must be another option.” He pleaded.
In the months that followed the late term abortion, he watched her breasts leak onto the pillows, watched her place warm rags around them and amidst the love and sadness, an abhorrence took residence. She saw it too. And even though she was a seemingly better version of her pregnant self, many times he saw her standing at the door of the nursery buckled over and sobbing. They would do this for 4 months until she decided to move in with her parents. He almost begged her to stay so that they could lean on each other’s sadness. Instead, he drove her to the airport and promised to mail the things she could not carry.