Black Girl: As Is

Writer. Creator. Shapeshifter.

IV.

I was at the gym tonight and a couple came in.  I was devastated.  I could no longer scream sang and do my rap hands.  You know rap hands.  They can be guns or birds or swerve on dem hoes. Sometimes they just point or chop the air. Rap Hands.  Anyway, it was the worst.  I'm typically the type of girl who doesn't care who's around.  If there's a brass horn or some bass, Imma get it.  But there's something about being surrounded by this type of whiteness. 

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III.

Today felt like The Cranberries.  I woke up with the sun on my face and cramps in my belly.  When I got up for my morning tinkle I became aware of my entire body. I was sore from top to bottom.  Especially bottom. I've been going to the gym, but let me be clear, I've been walking in the gym.  No running.  No squatting.  No jumping.  Walking.  Yesterday, I decided to kick it up a notch. 

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I.

Sundays have always been special.  When I was a kid, I'd get dressed in my finest bib and tucker and we'd spend all day at church.  I loved church.  The music, the community and most of all God.  God is like a good glass of bourbon.  Smooth and all consuming.  When I was at church I felt close to myself, close to my divinity.  I felt larger than life.  There were other feelings.  Fear. 

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Exposition.

Folks laugh at me when I tell them that long before 'self-care' was the new pink, I thought it was just something white girls did in movies. They'd be putting on face masks or jogging through their lovely neighborhoods or getting a massage and I'd be sitting on the red shag carpet eating pop tarts and hoping the sound I just heard wasn't danger outside the door. 

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A Peek Behind the Privacy Curtain: Volume Two

I am especially dizzy the following day. Not only do I have to hold the walls, I cannot really stand and maintain balance. T goes to grab the car from our Nancy, our transportation fairy. While she’s gone I attempt to take a shower and get ready for my appointment. My chest is tight and my breathing is still labored. I get in and I brace myself against the wall. I wake up a with wet hair and my limbs dangling like a colt. My head hurts, I’m seeing stars and I am cold.

I slink to my bed and I attempt to get dressed. I lie there trying to get myself together. I text T to let her know I’m going to need her help getting out of here. I wrap my arms around her neck and she pulls me down the stairs to the car. It’s intimate, vulnerable and pitiful. We’re stuck in traffic and running late. I call to let the office know that I’m going to be late. They tell me if it’s more than 15 minutes I’ll forfeit my appointment. I explain that I really need the appointment. I tell them about all my side effects and how I can’t even sit upright without getting nauseous. They don’t care.

This room is brimming with brown bodies in various states of misery. There is a woman holding a sign and leading a workshop on a new advancement in treating Diabetes. She is telling them how it will regulate sugar and perhaps prevent dialysis. She asks how many people are currently on dialysis. Most of the room raises their hands. Amputated limbs and immobility surround me. I am sitting in a wheelchair. I am angry. I am summoned to the desk. It feels very far away. The wheels of this chair are locked and I have no idea how to proceed. I attempt to stand and I stumble to the desk and fall on it.

T arrives and sits nearby and biting her nails. They call me in and the nurse that comes to get me has a super sunny disposition. He jokes with us and asks the basic questions. I’m so tapped out at this point; I have T answer for me. He takes my vitals. But I don’t have any. He tries again, no dice. He jokes, “You ARE alive, aren’t you?” I am not amused. He tries again. He is concerned. He leaves the room and comes back with graham crackers and OJ. He tells me to relax and he goes to get the doctor. She comes in and her face falls. She treated me in the hospital and she knows my personality and my disposition. She asks me what’s happened and when I tell her she looks sheepish. I need to be readmitted.

I wait three hours for the ambulette. In that time, I vomit constantly. I can’t get comfortable because my chest feels like it’s caving in. I am lightheaded and my vision is cloudy. The ambulette finally arrives and as they begin to wheel me out, I vomit once more for good measure.

Triage Nurse: How are you feeling?

Me: Not great.

TN: What brings you here?

I look at T. I can’t repeat myself again.

They wheel me down the hallway and wait for me to be taken into the ER. There are so many people the nurses can barely navigate between them. They wedge me on the side of the nurse’s station and come to ask me questions. They attempt to start an IV. My veins will not cooperate. They try an infant needle. My veins will not cooperate. The nurse tells me not to worry because she is the best at this. She is gentle but it’s super painful. They start me on fluids and they keep coming to do tests of my motor skills. I can tell I’m not excelling at them. I’d say I’m at about a C level. I am not a C student, so I try harder. I’m still not great.

I am freezing, shaking and my lips are turning blue. They admit me but inform that the average wait time for a bed at that point is 60 hours. In the meantime, they take me to the Observation Unit. It’s a large white room directly across from the nurse’s station. They tell me that TV is free in this room and assure me that I’m in good hands. I’m weak and labeled a fall risk. I’m supposed to ring for a nurse whenever I need to go to the bathroom but I’m not having it. I use the IV pole for balance and I slowly drag my weak ass to the bathroom. It’s miniscule, the trash is overflowing and my elbows touch the walls as I squat. It feels like 4am at a dive bar.

I slow drag to my bed and attempt to get some rest. A few seconds later they wheel in Gloria, a Latinx lady in her mid 40’s. Gloria is in for a vicious asthma attack. She’s very popular and there’s a lot of ruckus for 2am. I decide I like Gloria but I want her to hush. Her children will eventually leave and she will receive a multitude of phone calls that will keep us both awake for the hours to come. The nurses outside are cackling and fighting amongst each other anyway. There’s no chance either of us are getting more than a couple of winks.

They come in for our 5am stick and poke and turn on the overhead lights. Shortly after, they wheel in Jessica. Jessica is white, late 20’s or early 30’s and what the medical community calls ‘Morbidly Obese’. I hate this term because it makes her sound more like a circus animal than a human being. She walks with two canes and she’s clearly in agony. She’s been admitted for severe digestive issues and upon arrival hasn’t eaten in 12 days. She has a devastating energy and throughout the four days I remain in that room, she doesn’t receive a single visitor or a phone call.

The next day, Gloria is moved to another room. They take Jessica for testing and I’m alone once more. Enter the random hospital employee who bleaches the entire room. The fumes are overwhelming and to solve this problem he brings in an oxygen tank, which he turns on in the middle of the room. My eyes are burning, I’m coughing and I’m vaguely wondering what’s the point of bleaching the room when my urine sample has been sitting in the same windowsill for three days.

Jessica returns and seconds later, they wheel is Diana. Diana is in her early 60’s, Latinx and stoic. She stares at me from across the room. She doesn’t speak but I can tell she’s in pain. She looks confused and angry. I want to know her story. I quickly realize she doesn’t speak English. None of the on duty staff speaks Spanish. It’s heartbreaking. I stare back at her. I will someone to come for her. The next evening her daughter arrives and I explain that she needs to advocate. I tell her where to find the shower and who to ask for toiletries and that she hasn’t eaten. I learn that she has cancer and a blood clot in her arm. This is her third bout and she’s old hat at this. She barely grimaces through the pain. She looks grateful to me and her daughter explains that she stares at me because I look so young. For some reason, this makes me cry. I cry for all the mothers and grandmothers who carry their pain and ours. I cry, knowing she deserves better and she never stood a chance.

Jessica is taken back and forth for a series of tests. Her digestive track is rebelling and she still can’t consume anything. Unlike Gloria, she winces constantly. I will someone to come for her but my magic fails. She is alone. The nurses tell me that I’ve finally gotten a bed. I’m tired and I want to be worshipped and fed grapes.

While I’m waiting to be moved upstairs, Jessica’s doctor and her meek ass assistant come to tell her they haven’t found the cause of the blockage in her intestines and they’re sending her for more tests. 20 minutes later the assistant comes back and tells her she’s being discharged. She panics.

Jessica: What? How? I haven’t eaten in three weeks! You can’t.

MA Assistant: The doctor doesn’t think there is anything we can do.

Jessica: She just said there was another test. I’m not going. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m living in a hotel. What if I fall? What if I can’t get back? You can’t.

MA Assistant: I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.

My heart shatters.

I try to take a deep breath but its shallow and fragmented. I close my eyes and for a second, I’m a little girl again. I’m staring at the ceiling and I’m willing myself to heal her. I’m willing myself to absorb her pain. I’m willing myself to save her. She calls for her hospital advocate.

Jessica: (Right in front of the I don’t trust her. My doctor said she was doing more tests and now she’s telling me I’m being discharged. They can’t do this. I don’t like the hospital; I’m not trying to stay here. I don’t have anyone! I’m alone. I broke my back last year and I couldn’t work. I got behind on rent. I stayed on friend’s couches for a while. I don’t have any family. I can’t leave. How much are hotels near here? Where’s the nearest hotel? I can’t leave. I can’t eat. I can’t leave.

Advocate: Don’t worry. We won’t let you go. I’ll make sure.

The broken pieces of my heart shatter.

They’ve come for me. On my way out I close my eyes and send them as much love as I have in me. I’m taken upstairs to a lovely room and have visitors within five minutes. I struggle to stay awake and my voice quivers in a corner. I don’t want to let on how insane I feel. My visitors are men and men tend to panic when you peel back the curtain. After my visitors leave, I decide to take a shower and get a good nights sleep. On my way to the shower I notice that every step and every breath is a struggle. I decide not to mention this insanity to my doctors as long as I feel good in the morning.

In the morning, I learn that my roomies name is Eliza. We get very familiar very quickly because she uses the bathroom bedside and the privacy curtain is in over its head. She has to call the nurses to help her and each time she apologizes. Her voice clutches at her dignity and she tries to finish as quickly as possible. There’s a special kind of intimacy to this. I haven’t found the word in English.

I make my morning trip to the bathroom and it feels like hiking. By the time I reach the door, I feel faint. Perhaps, I should mention it. My Rheumatologist is waiting when I come out. She notices my struggle and expresses concern. My breakfast arrives and I’m hungry. I grab the fork and my hands start to tremble. I try to grab the eggs and I spill them all over my gown. I try again and I drop them on the plate. What the hell is happening to me? I call my nurse and ask her to get the doctor. It’s my doctor’s day off so they send some new dude. New Dude says that the tremors don’t make sense. My voice is shrunken and lodged in my throat, but since he doesn’t know me he can’t tell. He tells me they are going to keep me another day to do some tests.

They take me for ultrasounds and x-rays and they take lots of blood. They send a lady in with a sinister black case. She pulls out what appears to be a retractable wand. She tells me to relax and she sticks it up my nose. It crawls down my nose into my esophagus. There’s a flashlight attached and she climbs in after it. She’s down there poking around and I feel like she owes me money. She pulls out and tells me that my throat is inflamed by the acid fountain my medicine has created. That’s just for my information and has nothing to do with why I can’t eek out a sound. I shimmy and shake for the rest of the day and it alarms me that the overall sentiment is a general shrug.

I learn that Eliza has cancer and she too has a blood clot in her arm. It’s increasingly more difficult for her to move and she’s beginning to swell. Her appetite has waned and each time she moves her IV alarms until the nurses come to adjust it. Each time she shifts her remote falls to the floor. Each time her remote falls to floor I get up and retrieve it for her. There are so few comforts here. The privacy curtain has called it quits. The IV alarm will go off approximately every 12 minutes for the rest of the night. I’ve developed scabs in my ears from my headphones but physical pain trumps the pain of the psyche.

The following morning I’m scheduled for discharge. I’m still quaking but my insurance is only valid for two more days and they can’t seem to find the fault lines. I don’t sleep that night because Donald Trump has just instituted a travel ban and I’m seething. I am helpless and outraged and my skin is buzzing with wishes. But, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets and if wishes were horses than beggars would ride. I have not yet secured my own mask; I cannot help secure those around me. I plug in my headphones, wince and finish Luke Cage.

The sun is up and I’ve already been drained and drugged. The remote hits the ground and as I round the curtain, something feels off. Eliza’s skin is waxy and her eyes are lifeless. Her light is dim and I wonder if she’s in pain. The nurse comes in to check on her and notices that she doesn’t look right. I go back to my side of the curtain. She calls her name repeatedly. She asks her to say her name and asks if she knows where she is. There’s an exhalation. The nurse calls for backup. I go for a walk because I have to be able to make a lap before they will release me. When I return there is another nurse and a doctor with her. They keep asking her questions and she isn’t responding. I sit in a chair outside the room and I cry. My doctor comes for another check up, notices me and tells me I’m a good person for being concerned. She tells me that Eliza will be fine but I should stay one more night since my walking is still Wobbles McFarland.

I return to my bed. Another nurse comes in to check on Eliza and things quickly escalate. The sound of footsteps…many footsteps… Loud beeps and thuds…the curtain wafts towards me and my bed is pushed against the wall. The room is suddenly claustrophobic and I’m surrounded. It’s surreal. Before my brain can register what I’m seeing:

Clear!

Zap.

Clear!

Zap.

Eliza! Eliza can you hear me?

Clear!

Zap.

I’m holding my breath. There’s a nurse on my side of the curtain and we’re staring at each other. She’s holding her breath too.

Clear!

Zap.

Silence.

Beep.

Silence.

Beep.

Exhale.

The nurse and I are still staring at each other. Some of the feet exit the room. There is blood on the floor. One of my doctors come to my side of the curtain and asks me if I’m ok. The nurse hasn’t peeled her eyes away and she grabs my hand and we walk silently to the ‘family room’. This room has chairs lining the wall, a bookshelf and a window. I think it’s supposed to be a place to gather your wits but it looks like a waiting room for a principal’s office. The nurse tells me that it was her first code. I ask her if she’s ok. She tells me she’s supposed to be asking me that. I ask her again. She says it was intense. I ask her again. She says no. I tell her that I’m ok and that she can leave me. She looks at me tenderly and considers arguing. She doesn’t.

I call T and tell her what happened. I’m pragmatic at first but the lid falls off. I start to sob and I can’t get my words out. I cover my mouth and stuff the sorrow back in. I screw the lid on tighter and I may have heard a crack. Better not to think about it now. I text my best friend and tell her I need her. I berate her a bit and tell her all the things I’ve been holding on to. Sorrow seeps from the crack and the fault lines glow bright red. I’m coming undone. I’ve never learned self comfort though I excel in indulgence.

I return to the room and am immediately taken for more tests. A few minutes later my new roommate arrives. I had hoped I’d get a reprieve to process. No dice. Maude is in her late 70’s or early 80’s. She is very petite, frail and surrounded by family. Maude is to have surgery tomorrow and she’s in agonizing pain. I know this because she mewls and whimpers throughout the night. The sound of her pain is so stifling that it’s paralyzing. I stab the headphones into my ears and try to meditate. Tears are streaming and my chest is tight I stare at the ceiling and I’m willing myself to sleep. I’m willing Maude’s pain to subside. I’m willing Donald Trump’s heart to grow three sizes.

By morning, Maude’s mewls have become wails. There is no comfort. My nurse brings my discharge papers. I sign my release papers and breathe the freedom in. I smile at Maude’s daughters and I wish them luck. It’s snowing and I feel blessed. Over the next few weeks, I berate everyone about living his or her dreams. My gratitude has morphed into a megaphone. I’m on a soapbox for living. I take walks and post pictures of trees and sunsets. I will the trees to cool my anxiety and the sun to light my guilt on fire. I weigh anger against gratitude and I try to tip the scales. I weigh life against death and I try to tip to scales. I look up at the ceiling and I’m a little girl again willing myself to survive.

White Noise & Invisible Ink.

Deana Mena. Age 26. Blonde. Blue-eyed. Unremarkable. I think about her often. I wonder what her family was like and if she had a sense of humor. I wonder who her friends were and if she went to college. Mostly, I wonder what ran through her mind as she shot my father. I think it takes a special kind of pain to drive someone to switch weapons, mid murder. It takes a certain kind of madness to premeditate. Why the Kabuki makeup? Did she have a real knowledge of Japanese culture or did she see it in a movie? I wonder what ran through her mind when she sat outside my school and my mother’s doctor’s appointments. Did she think my mom was pretty? I used to think stalking was kind of romantic. I blame The Police. At the time, I thought her obsession with Usher’s ‘You make me’ would ruin it for me. So many phone calls, so many voicemails. But alas, that shit is catchy. I wonder what was going through her mind, the morning she made that last phone call?

On October 8, 1997, Deana Mena lured my father to her Oak Cliff, Texas apartment. She’d left numerous voicemails on his work phone. Never words only Usher on repeat.  She’d called his bosses repeatedly and told them that he was a drug addict and she’d suggested that they let him.  He’d had enough.  Forever the optimist, he thought he could reason with her.  She put six bullets in his head, face, torso and hand. I try not to think too hard about that hand wound. Try not to picture my father attempting to block his own death or plead for his life. She then dressed herself in Kabuki makeup, left a suicide note and shot herself.

Before that, it had been a day like any other. I got up, got dressed and impatiently waited for my ride to school. I was late. Punctuality mattered to me. I was 17 going on 40.  I didn’t want to fall behind. Black girls start from behind.  My dad was much more relaxed about those things. He had a routine. Coffee. Cigarette. Newspaper. Morning shit. They had to be simultaneous and they each gave him equal pleasure. After whining, coaxing and screaming (apparently, I’m cute when I’m mad), I finally got him to get going. I waited for him by the door and I swear he moved like he was treading molasses.  He sang the theme song to the Tom Joyner morning show and cleared his throat the entire ride to school.  He danced and jerked his shoulders to the music.  He smiled broadly and slapped the steering wheel on beat.  He knew it annoyed me. He loved to drive me mad. I’m told that when I was a baby he used to lightly smack me on the butt because he thought it was cute when I cried. He told me he loved me when he dropped me off. I did not return his sentiment. I slammed the door and stomped off in a huff. I was fuming. In a moment that I replay over in my mind all these years later, I told a friend that if he died that day I’d piss on his grave. I replay that moment, not because I meant it, not because I credit myself with intuition, but because it was perhaps the meanest thing I’d ever said aloud. It shocked me and it was exhilarating.

My dad never came home that night. More accurately, my dad never came home again. That moment when I slammed the door and stared at him with contempt would be the last moment I ever saw him alive. When I got home from rehearsal that night, my mother was pissed. He’d taken her car that day and he wasn’t home. As the hours ticked by, pissed morphed to worried. She called hospitals and police stations. We couldn’t yet file a missing persons report, so my mom reported her car stolen. My stomach hardened and I didn’t really sleep that night. Somehow, I knew I’d never see him again. I knew that my life would never be the same. In that moment, I held my breath and I don’t know that I’ve breathed deeply since.

I have no recollection of how I got to school that next day. I do recall that I had a choir concert that night and rehearsal for “God’s Country”, a docudrama my school was producing about white supremacists in which, by ironic twist, I played the defense attorney. Texas is God’s country, I suppose.  I was called out of choir practice to see the principal. I couldn’t tell you how it happened. I don’t know if someone came to get me or if I was called over the intercom.  I remember standing on the risers blending sound and suddenly I was in my choir director’s office.  It was as if I’d apparated. I had been waiting for this all day. It was as if I’d been walking around cloaked in shadow waiting for the discovery.

She must have sensed that something was wrong because she asked if I was ok. I asked her if she’d pray with me and she took my hands in hers.  I closed my eyes and time stood still. Those moments in her office were my last moments of wholeness.  I wonder if she knew she was witnessing a tiny death?  I wasn’t given any information, just told that someone was there to pick me up. I knew that it wouldn’t be my dad, though I did hope beyond reason. My brother’s maroon Ford Escort was parked out front. He was very calm, very collected. “She killed him, Dreezy. She shot him, then she shot herself.”

“Mom?” I asked. We laughed. It’s funny how humor locks hand with tragedy.  But I was only half-joking.  I didn’t know if Deana had gone over the edge or if my mom had.  I knew my mother had a gun, it was Texas, we all did.  In fact, she and I had gone to confront Deana a few weeks earlier and I watched as she put it in her bag.  The entire time we were at Deana’s house I stared at the bag like it was on a timer.  She’d goaded my mother by discussing my father’s bedroom antics.  She’d slung microagressions and ageist insults.  I knew that timer could go off at any minute.

We took the long way home and we rode mostly in silence. My brother and I have not always gotten along, but we’ve always understood each other.   I wondered what he was thinking. He knew Deana, they worked together and she’d babysat my nephew. We arrived to a house that felt completely empty.  I don’t remember who was there, I didn’t look at anyone. I didn’t hug my mother. I didn’t exhale. I walked straight back to my room to sing to my brand new baby niece. I remember telling her that I was sorry she’d never get to meet him. I was sorry that she’d never fall asleep on his chest. I was sorry she’d never get to wrap her little fingers around his pointer. I poured all my sorrow into my song ‘La Marseillaise’ because I just couldn’t cry. Why the French national anthem?  Because I’d just done a play about the French Revolution and it was on loop in my head for the greater part of a year.

When I could no longer hide in my room, I went and looked at my mother. I hadn’t really looked at her in a very long time. She was making phone call after phone call, saying, “Don’s dead. He was shot” No one expects those calls. No one can process that news. She’d sometimes have to repeat the sentence two or three times to the same person. It was too much. I asked to be driven back to school. I had a performance and a rehearsal and I couldn’t fall behind, especially now. My brother followed my lead and decided to go back to work. When I think back on this moment, I am ashamed that I abandoned my mother but I also consider this the first act of self-care I ever committed to. A black girl in the South learns to make concessions. She learns that there is a pecking order and she is always served least and last. I’d learned to bend myself around those around me, to cater to every whim. My mother used to say, “You’re a child, you don’t have any wants.”  In that moment, I wanted freedom and self-preservation, and for the first time, I took it.

I went back to school and went about my day. If I went through the motions maybe my life wouldn’t change. The weeks that followed were surreal. I took my SAT’s. I helped make funeral and travel arrangements. I helped communicate that they had put my dad’s face back together wrong and made him up in an unrealistic way. I helped and helped, and in that helpfulness, I lost my capacity to request any help of my own. I learned behavior that still plagues me. I learned to give of myself until I bottomed out. I was a basin filled with the waters of the world’s needs. I began sleeping with my mother. She hadn’t slept alone my entire life. I could feel her need. We clung to each other like ivy. But we were incapable of climbing. 

Following my father’s death, an article ran in the Dallas Morning News, headlined “Murder-suicide leaves two dead Police say woman shoots lover, self” The article described my father as a physically abusive monster, who took advantage of a sweet young girl. The man who wrote the piece, Stephen Power, detailed stories from neighbors who Deana had shown her bruises to. Phone calls to friends about my dad’s abusive behavior. I know what you’re thinking. Maybe it’s true. Maybe I have an idealized version of him. But, you’re wrong.

My father was many unsavory things over the years. He was negligent and selfish. He was at times a liar, a thief, and a crackhead. He smoked away my somewhat substantial inheritance within a year of my grandfather’s death. He once visited my grandmother in her retirement home and pried the rings from her fingers. He sold my first bicycle for crack, a few weeks after I learned to ride it. He once left me in a car while he went in and scored crack then insulted my intelligence when I went Judge Judy on that ass. I may have been seven, but I was no fool. He was also kind and charming. He was incredibly funny and loved to make people laugh. He would give you the shirt off his back and he looked at my mother like she was the moon. He also listened. He was the only person in my family that never tired of letting me prattle on. He looked at me when I spoke. He knew me. He liked me. He would wake me in the middle of the night to make gas station runs for Coke and Snickers bars. He took me to my first dance and on my first date and told me to never settle for anyone who didn’t treat me as well as he did. I had a very realistic view of who my father was.

This article pissed me off.  It was a one-sided glorification of a murderer. The dead don’t speak, but this man’s bias spoke volumes. The poor little white girl must have been bamboozled, tricked and beaten. What else would drive her to commit murder, if not to protect herself? Because poor little white girls never do vile things for no reason. Because poor little white girls are precious and they have value. My father’s legacy didn’t matter, because to Power, my father didn’t matter. He looked at the victims, he poked around a bit and he came to the conclusion that white men often come to when they see their women with a black man: She had clearly been corrupted and soiled. Even though her suicide note left instructions for her brothers to kick my dad’s ass if he survived. Even though she switched guns in the middle of murdering my father. Even though the ‘abuse’ happened after my father had moved out and was living with us. Even though she had stalked, harassed and threatened us, she deserved humanity.

What he didn’t do was dig. What he didn’t do was smell a rat and seek the scent. What he didn’t do was his fucking job. So, after a week of being “comforted” by students and faculty who felt guilty for not identifying the nonexistent “signs of abuse,” I called the Dallas Morning News. I demanded to speak to Mr. Power and I demanded a retraction. I requested a meeting to discuss the facts. After slinging the words “racist” and “skewed,” I got my meeting. I was able to easily dispute the testimonies based on the fact that every time she accused him of beating her, he was either at home with us or at work. I was 17 years old. I didn’t even need to leave my house to get the truth; I just needed to give a shit about what was being reported, about the people being reported about. .  My mother and I waited with bated breath for the retraction to be published.  But we never got a retraction.

Nearly a year later, op-ed columnist, Steve Blow, showed up at our door one sunny afternoon.  He said he wanted to get our side of the story.  Finally. He interviewed my mother and me and he was respectful and kind.  We had a nice rapport. He recommended that I go into journalism.  This was the first of many times some white person would compare me to Oprah because I could articulate my thoughts.  About a week later Steve’s article was published.  ‘Drug –Related Tragedies Not Just Kid Stuff’.  It was a bullshit fluff piece, cautioning against the dangers of getting involved with drugs. A fire raged in the pit of my stomach.  I pictured myself driving down to the paper and burning it down to the ground.  Instead I tucked that anger in a box, threw away my college applications and applied for community college so I could remain close to family.

This was the first of many times that I slathered my outrage in butter to make to it more palatable. To get shit done. This was how I was made. The gauntlet was dropped and I quickly picked it up. I would tell the truth. I would defend. I would protect. I would tuck myself up and put myself away. I would survive.

I had learned that you could live a good life, be charismatic, charming, and beloved and you could still be shot down like a rabid dog. You could still rot and your blood could soak through layers of fibers and tile and linoleum. You could be gentle and kind and “not see color” and they could still make you a monster, a brute. You could be a murderer and they’d play you a redemption song. Nothing is black and white and everyone is capable of anything.

After my father’s death, my mother became addicted pain meds. She checked out. Abandon ship. My brother battled addiction to anger and narcotics. I postponed college to stay with my mother and be closer to my niece and nephew. I made sure she didn’t burn the house down and I cleaned the sheets when she fell asleep in piles of food. I wanted to hang on to the family that I had, and I feared that without me everything would crumble. I tended to her. I tended to them. I reached for everything outside of myself so that I wouldn’t have to face myself. I wouldn’t have to face my grief.

This year will mark the 20th anniversary of my father’s death. I’ve never been sentimental about dates, but it’s odd knowing he’s been gone longer than I ever knew him. I’ve spent so much time trying to move forward, trying never to fall behind, that I forgot to stop and mourn the loss of not only my father, but my entire family unit. I thought I’d made peace with my father’s murder but I’d really substituted peace with subjugation. I’d made my life an ode to self-sacrifice, and I’d made a career of self-sabotage and imposter syndrome.

I’d thought that demanding a retraction would make a difference.  I’d thought that it would be atonement. Instead, it was an after school special with a word count.  Despite my fervor, despite my action, in the end it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that I was right.  It didn’t matter that I was articulate and it didn’t matter that I’d stood up for the underdog.  My father was still dead, my family was still punctured and I would never be fully whole. 

It took 20 years to realize that atonement was not the mission. Telling the story was.  Stephen Powers, Steve Blow and the Dallas Morning News do not own my father’s story. I do.  My father’s murder taught me to ask questions.  It taught me to demand the truth and to always own my story.   No one gets to decide that I’m a victim.  No one gets to determine my fate.    My story may not be perfect, it may not be the story I would have written for myself, but it will always be mine.

Me too.

The first time I was about six.  I was at church and I had been sitting on my pastor’s lap.  I had always liked him and I worshipped his daughter but I didn’t want to sit on his lap.  It made me uncomfortable but I’d already learned that my discomfort came second to the whims of the adults in my life.  My father came into the room and retrieved me.  He told me that I wasn’t to sit in any man’s lap, ever again.   The elation of my rescue was overshadowed by the shame I felt.  I didn’t know exactly what I’d done wrong but I could tell that he was upset and it was somehow my fault.  Note to self, no laps.

About a year later I was talking to some boy friends at church when I heard my name.  My mother looked pissed.  When I got home, I was in big trouble.  Apparently, I had been talking to them with my hands on my hips.  I hadn’t realized.  I also didn’t know why it mattered where my hands were when I talked.  I’d later hear that I was trying to be ‘sexy’ and grown.  I thought I was just trying to be heard by my friends, my mistake.

When I was nine or 10, I was walking home from school when a man rode alongside me on his bike.  He told me I was sexy and he asked where I was going.  My hackles were up, so I told him I was going to a friend’s house.  He told me I shouldn’t be walking alone and he asked if I wanted him to protect me.  I’d already gotten to my street, but I didn’t want him to know where I lived and I didn’t want him to know I’d be alone.  I kept walking.  I walked in the middle of the street and my eyes darted at every house, hoping to see someone sitting on their porch.  He kept talking and I tried to walk faster and faster.  He asked what street my friend lived on and I said ‘It’s just up the way, I got it, thanks for protecting me.’  He kept following.  He kept talking.  I’d long crossed the established boundaries my parents had set for walking near home, but I wasn’t sure what else I could do.  I started to pray.  I knew that if I walked much further, I’d be lost.  I saw a police car at the end of a block, so I turned toward the car and waved at the officers.  The man turned and biked away.  I didn’t tell the officers, but I stood next to the car waiting until I thought it would be safe to walk home.

The following year, I started middle school.  I was bussed to a safer, whiter part of town.  On the bus the boys tried to kiss me and put their hands between my legs. It was a long ride and a lot of boys. I told the bus driver and she told me to sit in the front behind her, but she was mean to me from that day forward. She was so mean that I had to tell my mother because she started to single me out and poke fun at me.  I was shy and soft spoken and she treated me like a whiny brat. My mother came and threatened her life.  She was nice after that.  I started dating a boy at school, but I didn’t want to do more than hold hands.  When I refused to kiss him, he spread a rumor that I had toxic breath.  He drew a crude picture of me and put it on my locker.  Other kids replicated this image and would leave it in my chairs in class, on my table at lunch and I’d see it drawn in some of the bathroom walls.

We moved the following year.  More boys hands on the bus.  We lived in an apartment complex and my favorite cousin had come to stay for the summer.  My parents worked during the day, so the two of us would walk around the complex and to the convenience store.  We made friends with some of the boys in the complex.  We weren’t discriminatory but there were no girls our age.  We invited the boys over for PB&J’s and Sinbad.  The one I liked was nerdy and freckled but he had a friend who was a little older and a lot more aggressive.  He cornered me in my bedroom and kissed me.  He bit my lip and wouldn’t let go.  He held me against the wall with his full body weight.  He pushed his pelvis into me and asked if I liked it.  When I said ‘NO’ he told me I was acting like a silly little girl and he thought I was woman.  I kissed him so he would relax.  It worked.  As he tried to pull me toward the bed, I told him I had to go to the bathroom and went back to join my cousin and my friend.  I stared at the television laughing boisterously, pretending it was the only thing on my mind.  He left and he told everyone I was a terrible kisser.

By the time I got to high school I was a pro at smiling and pretending.  I’d also put on a ton of weight and learned to hang my head low and not make eye contact.  It didn’t make a difference.  There was the boy who wanted help in Mr. Mancini’s Spanish class.  He was cute, he had dimples and he asked if I could help him.  He didn’t want anyone to know he was having trouble so he asked me to meet him under the stairs.  As I unzipped my backpack he put his hand under my shirt and my bra.  He told me I should be quiet so no one would hear me.  What would people think?  He kissed me and told me I was pretty.  Then he told me not to tell anyone and he walked away.  I stayed there for several minutes because I was worried people would see me and think I was a slut.  There was the boy who called me heavyweight fatty and barked at me.  He asked if he could copy my science homework and when I said NO he got all the other boys to bark at me too.  When we were alone he told me he was sorry and that he wasn’t really like that.  He put his hand on my ass.  I started letting him copy my homework.  There was the boy who I thought was my friend.  He’d walk me to class and we’d talk on the phone.  We mostly talked about books but he was really nice.  One day he saw me share a glance with a boy I liked and he asked me what was up.  When I told him we’d been talking, he slapped me.  He told me I was his.  I had no idea.

There was that time in Junior College when I was at a party with my friends. I went to lie down with a male friend I was super comfortable with.  We’d slept (just sleeping) together before.  We were close. We cuddled.  A few minutes later a mutual female friend came in.  She lay on the opposite side and joined the cuddle.  A few minutes later I felt the bed shift and I saw her hands moving up his body.  They started kissing and I felt a hand on my leg.  I set upright.  I jumped up, grabbed my shoes and exited.  He followed me asking if I was ok.  I told him I was.  I wasn’t.  There was that time I auditioned for Oleanna and my theatre professor and mentor called me into his office to tell me I’d given the best audition, but he couldn’t cast me because realistically the audience wouldn’t think I was sexy.  That one may not count, but it made me feel just as small as the rest of them.

There was the time my best friend slipped me Ecstasy and had sex with me.  There was the time my boyfriend decided to punish me for my “smart mouth” mid-coitus by choking me and pounding into me so hard I bled.  There was the time I told that guy to stop and he said to stop crying and let him finish.  Then when he did he held me close to him and told me it was going to be alright.  There was my first full body massage, given by a man I knew, who went from massaging my thighs to inserting his fingers inside me in 5 seconds.  There was my first professional spa massage years later, a gift from a friend.  While massaging my thighs, he asked me if I liked to cooked because he could tell I liked to eat.  He said he also liked to eat and I should cook for him sometime.  I remained silent.  He massaged my scalped and then grabbed a fist full of my hair and pulled.  He looked at me and asked me if it was ok.  I didn’t know what to say.  I told him it hurt.  I tensed and waited for the hour to be over.  He walked me to the front to wait for my friend who’d apparently fallen asleep during her massage.  The front desk clerk gave me a tiny envelope and told me it was for gratuity.  He was standing right next to her.  I tipped him and sat waiting for my friend.

There was the time my boss told me I needed to dress sexier at work.  I ignored him.  He told me if I took care of him, he’d take care of me.  I didn’t. He fired me and told everyone I was a thief. There was the time a friend cornered me in a bathroom and wouldn't let me out until I showed him my breasts.  There was the time a different man offered me $100 to show them to him at the bar. There were more times.  There will be more times. If you're still finding excuses to keep your eyes open and your mouth closed, maybe it's time.

A Peek Behind the Privacy Curtain: Volume One

I arrive in the Observation Unit and am startled by its brightness.  It’s a large white room directly across from the nurse’s station.  When I arrive I am alone and I am exceedingly grateful.  I know that it’s only a matter of time before I am confronted with some new horror.   They tell me that TV is free in this room and assure me that I’m in good hands.  I’m weak and labeled a fall risk.  I’m supposed to ring for a nurse whenever I need to go to the bathroom but I’m not having it.  I use the IV pole for balance and I slowly drag my weak ass to the bathroom.  It’s miniscule, the trash is overflowing and my elbows touch the walls as I squat.  It feels like 4am at a dive bar. I arrive in the Observation Unit and am startled by its brightness.  It’s a large white room directly across from the nurse’s station.  When I arrive I am alone and I am exceedingly grateful.  I know that it’s only a matter of time before I am confronted with some new horror.   They tell me that TV is free in this room and assure me that I’m in good hands.  I’m weak and labeled a fall risk.  I’m supposed to ring for a nurse whenever I need to go to the bathroom but I’m not having it.  I use the IV pole for balance and I slowly drag my weak ass to the bathroom.  It’s miniscule, the trash is overflowing and my elbows touch the walls as I squat.  It feels like 4am at a dive bar. 

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Interfaith

No one likes to go to the Emergency Room.  I don’t even think the doctors and nurses enjoy being there and they invested time, money and education to be there.   However, my recent experiences have given me a greater appreciation for zip codes.  We all know race and class are the gatekeepers of society, but it’s easy to forget that they are also the keepers of death.  You don’t forget, but you tuck it into the highest, dustiest file cabinet in your mind palace and you put a succulent on it and you save it for deep clean days.

I sit in the blue upholstered chair and I wonder who buys the furniture in these places.  Blood, fluids and thousands of asses come to mind.  Why do they EVER have upholstery?  I’ve had more than two experiences of being stained with someone else’s blood in my New York hospital career. And by career I mean, just trying to get some shit taken care of.  I digress. 

I sit in the chair of a thousand asses and I stare at the large oval desk.  It’s what Ikea calls ‘eco teak’ and Lowe’s calls ‘hickory’.  I can see the tops of nurses’ heads and backs of computer monitors.  I wait for my name to be called.  I look around and I’m horrified by the lack of privacy.  There are the obligatory privacy curtains, but they serve to simply delineate the spaces.  Each bed faces the center of the room, so everyone can see everyone.  It’s immediate entrance into a room of pain, moaning and screwed up faces.

There is one room with walls and no door, which directly faces me and houses a large snoring man.  To my right, more pain slivers, to my left the ambulance entrance and more occupied ass upholstered chairs.  There are no white people in this room.  Within five minutes, I hear my name.  I stand and a stern nurse looks at me, holds up her hand and says, I was just checking. …………………………  I sit. 

The slumbering man begins to stir and calls for the nurse in a small, weak voice. ‘Nurse’?  I should point out that eco teak station is approximately three feet in front of this room.  There are no less than twelve nurses present.  No one moves, no one answers, no one acknowledges.  He repeats himself.  ‘Nurse’?  ‘Nurse’?  His hoarse voices gets louder and more desperate.  Nothing.  It’s reminds me of when you call your friend's asshole cat and their ear turns in your direction but they make no indication that you’re alive or present in the room.  The man persists.  He starts to panic a bit as reaches his 9th ‘Nurse’?

A woman’s voice emerges from the ambulance den.

Woman: ‘Y’all answer him.  You hear that man calling you’.  

Infirmed Man: ‘Bitch, Fuck you’

Now Angry black woman:  ‘Motherfucker, fuck you.  I was trying to help your stupid ass.  I’ll beat the shit out of you’

The woman emerges, limping with a cane, she brandishes the cane like a bat and begins limping toward the infirmed man’s room.  NO ONE INTERVENES.  A hospital orderly walks by and slides a blue privacy screen in front of the door and keeps walking.  The woman is standing directly in front of the screen, screaming at the man.

Angry Black Woman: “I’ll beat the fuck out of you.  You don’t know who you’re dealing with.  I’m gonna kill you”

The woman continues to stand in front of the door menacing – as menacing as you can be when you’re limping on a cane – and finally limps back to her seat.   I wonder what she’s in for and as she screams ‘I just need my damn insulin shot’, I get my answer. 

My name is called.  I stand up and am immediately confronted with a hand. 

‘I was just checking’ says Nurse Sternface. 

EMTS bring in a man on a gurney.  I can’t see him but I feel very sorry for him.

EMT: Turn over.

Broken Man:  I can’t.

EMT:  Why not?

Broken Man:  I don’t know!

EMT: Turn over!

Broken Man:  I CAN’T!

EMT:  Why can’t you turn over?

This goes around and around like who’s on first.  I can’t help but wonder why they think the man should be able to turn over and how hard it would be for them to just turn him over.

Two hours later, I’m escorted to a gurney, told to change into a gown and strapped to a heart monitor.  The woman to my left, a Puerto Rican girl in her late twenties, has been vomiting and clutching her stomach.  I know she’s Puerto Rican because she’s also on the phone talking to a friend of hers about how in Texas everyone thought she was white.  No one knew what a Puerto Rican was and they had the nerve to think it was Mexican.  Her young son, approximately 10, is sitting quietly by her side.  He gets her water, checks in with the doctor, and rubs her head.  He’s a good boy.  An hour later, a doctor approaches her side and asks the boy to go get her water.  He then tells her she’s pregnant.

PW Girl:   ‘Can y’all take care of that?’ 

Doctor:  No.  You’ll have to make an appointment with a doctor or clinic

PW Girl: Damn

She calls her friend.

PW Girl:  Girl, I’m pregnant.  I’m trying to be fine this summer.  I ain’t trying to be pregnant.  He must got some damn super sperm.  You heard about T.I and Tiny?  If they can’t make it work, I don’t even know.

At this point her son has come back and picked up the context clues.  He asks if he can tell his dad. 

PW Girl:  He ain’t your father.  Fuck him.  Until he give us some money he’s dead.  Fuck him and his white bitch.

To my right is a man who’s come in for intense pain in his legs and feet.  Even with his cane he can barely walk.  About 45 min after PW Girl finds out she’s preggo, I hear a doctor at the nurse’s station asking where his last patient for the night is.  He screws up his face and walks toward the man.  He asks him what’s the trouble.  The man starts to tell him how much pain he’s in when he walks. 

Cane Man:  It hurts so much. I can barely make it three steps. It’s so painful

No Bedside Manner:  You have diabetes.  Have you heard of Neuropathy?

Cane Man:  I know I have diabetes. I know about the neuropathy, but it’s so bad. It’s never been this bad.  How am I supposed to walk?

No BM:  I don’t know.  It’s a cause of this disease. You have to try and keep your sugar down.

Cane Man:  I’m keeping my sugar down.  I’m doing all the things.  It hurts.

No BM:  This is what happens.  I’ll have them give you something for the pain.

Then he just walks away.  They bring him a pill for the pain.  No prescription for the future.  No plan.  They discharge him.

Enter a man wheeling himself down the aisles in a wheelchair screaming ‘I want drugs’.  No one seems surprised to see him or bothered that he’s there.

Enter a man singing and dancing shaking a cup of change.  No one seems surprised to see him or bothered that he’s there.

Enter Broken Man face down on the gurney, legs hanging off, shoes half on.   The orderly pushing the gurney manages to knock into every single corner.  Each time Broken Man groans.  It’s horrific.

I finally see a doctor.  She has a sweet face and gentle bedside manner. 

I give her a summary of my medical history and tell her why I’m there.  I’m taken for an x-ray and asked for a urine sample.  The urine sample sits on the back of my gurney for several hours.  No one retrieves it.  I don’t know who my nurse is.  I don’t know if I have a nurse.  I don’t know if they know I’m still here.

A woman sits across from me on a gurney wearing a hospital gown and Timberlands.   She says she doesn’t trust these folks.  She has to go to the restroom so she gives me her purse and T her phone.  She’s been admitted for chest pain.  She was visiting for Christmas and didn’t want to ruin the holiday by complaining.  She always does all the cooking and she always plays Santa.  Ain’t that just the way with black women? You’ll literally kill yourself not to disappoint and you’re lucky if anyone notices.  She’s eventually moved to the bed next to mine and told that she’ll be admitted.  Her x-ray showed some abnormalities. 

It’s now 1am.   The doctor comes to tell me that my tests look ok and that I have protein in my urine.  I know that, because I’ve told HER that.  She then tells me what happens to the body when your kidneys leak protein.  I know that, because I’ve told HER that.  She tells me that my condition is complex and that I should go to a ‘good’ hospital- one with a name.  She suggests I get compression stockings and tells me to stop taking my diuretic because it is dehydrating. 

I fight back tears –not because I want to be admitted to the seventh circle of hell- but I’m frustrated. Hella frustrated. Salty. Big mad. Irked.   I’ve been here for seven hours and this is my day off.  I have to close the restaurant tomorrow. I’m still carrying 40lbs of fluid on my body.  I still can not walk a city block.  I still have to sleep sitting up.  I can not bend my legs.    I remove the pads from the EKG. I remove the gown and change into my human clothes.  As always, I struggle getting the snow boots on.  It's not snowing but these are the only shoes that fit.  I stare at the IV and I want to rip it out.  I just want to go home.  I wait. I wait so long that I actually start removing the tape and I ask T to find me a bandaid and a cotton swab.  On her knight's quest she spots the doctor reading about Carrie Fisher on Facebook.  This visit will cost me $350.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fissure.

Slow, edging , lying in wait

Thin, sharp shot out of nothingness

Rooted in remembrance

Crack.

Grief comes to chisel

Incisions require a steady hand

Moondust.

I knew that I would be moved.  I knew that I would be utterly beguiled.  I knew that I would sob buckets.  I did not know that it would awaken parts of my soul like a sleeping bear.  Did not know that it would crawl into my cave and start chipping away at the ice. I did not know that I’d be ground into dust.

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Invisible Ink

“How are you feeling?”…a question I’ve heard no less than 982 times thisyear.   Each time a wince and each time a lie of omission. Each day, I stack myself brick by brick and forge a presentable foundation. Presentable enough so that others might feel comfortable coming in to take a seat at my table.  The home is lush but not lavish and the party is engaging enough that you forget you have seen the host in….20…30…Where’d she go?

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Black Girl Rant: An Open Letter to the Colorblind Collective

Yes. I’m fucking angry. You’d be angry too. What makes me angry? The lies.  The enormous lie, that anything is possible.  Not everything is possible.  It is not possible to erase the past. The past has a pulse and it beats right through the heart of this motherfucker. It is palpable.  It is DAILY. And, it is not going away. Sure, its possible to pretend.  It is not possible to be colorblind.

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An actor who works.

I am technically, not a working actor, I am an actor who works.  I babysit.  I bartend.  I plan events. I wait tables. I administrate.  I work.  On Monday, I took a trip to the Upper East Side to ‘assist’ a dinner party for eight.  When I say Upper East Side, I mean Park Avenue.  That real shit.  That, whole different life experience shit. Class shift shit.  My first trip was to Fairway to pick up Romaine.  Real Produce, check. Efficiency, check.  Quality and Convenience, check.  This is how the ‘other half’ lives.  One day when I’m a “working” actor, I’ll have people I can send to get the Romaine.  I will send those people to Fairway.

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