Bones

I said “please just take my flesh”
because the memory is not enough
I have written poem after poem
about closed hands and open heart
wide mouth and skin wet

crush through to the bones
(she said wind would carry)
but I’m stuck on the words
I swear it’s not about her
it’s just about the words

my palms filthy with dishonesty
and my skin holds all of it
so I keep pushing
all I want is lift

when I think about her sex
skin tightens and hands clench
crush her to the bones
when I am low to the ground
and tied to her flesh
because she won’t look or lift.

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Rip Out (Then Touch)

I want to write the beautiful poems
but all I can think about is the wild way
you loved me from the gut
the violent way you cut me with your teeth
the words that got caught in forget
the nights I stayed up in your stories
the alcohol that split you from sweet to scary
(if I was the one you wanted to marry)
I feel sorry for the rest

loved you from my chest
never fell in because
you couldn’t hold my deep
every closer flipped around
and pushed us further
you are not a monster
you are beautiful and biting
desperate to find your way
kept saying you were ready
that I was pushing you away

but it was your hands that made fists
your heart that got swallowed
by your own flipping script
I swear you don’t burn on purpose
you want wet and water
but when you feel scared
all you spit is flame
chewed through my arm trying
to get me to believe you loved me
honey, I knew
(but your kinda love hurts)

breath got short
when I waited for you
promises tight like pneumonia
clutching my breath
(your teeth around my neck)
so now I fear
every crush
every kiss
every tattooed passionate potential
is just another you
with my eyes sunk deep in his skin
like two hearts that
rip out and then touch
rip out and then touch

like my lashes and your ink
are still connected
and anyone I meet
will be you in another face
your sweet salty arms
on another body
waiting to engulf me
fuck me confused
love me closely
push me away
and then say
I never even gave us a chance

you are beautiful and boyish
and learning how to be grown up
wanted to play house together
but never met me on the same street
so I keep my distance
from tattoos
and passion
and boys
who fuck like liars
like love me
like love me not
like last time
so for the time being
my legs and lips are closed.

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Chasing Tails

{Beyond The Honeymoon}

My childhood self was a hopeless romantic, as well as a Selective Mute. I was very shy and very sensitive. I think having the experience of being shut down when you try to speak, is one of the most traumatic things that can happen to a child. I think getting in the way of the space a child needs to say whatever they need to say is a type of abuse that holds the whole of a child like a suffocating blanket. I think blankets are supposed to comfort- not close. And I think the process of opening up is ongoing, much like the bleeding way we prick ourselves when we operate under the belief that we deserve to be closed and quiet. But I also think wounds teach us more than scars. So I follow and observe my own wounds like a blossoming flower. And I’m thankful for the petals that open themselves up to me.

It is in these openings, that I see the pieces of myself I’ve tried to discard along the way. I think this experience of feeling unable to speak, has paved the way for my writing ability. When you are not using your voice vocally, you tend to spend a lot of time observing and learning. So I developed an intense interest in people and the way they behave. I am mesmerized by them. I study them. And I study myself similarly. But I still have a lot of trauma around using my voice in certain situations. So it’s an ongoing process for me to speak and write my truth. It’s an open wound. A part of my spiritual map. And I write much better than I speak because of this residual trauma. But I am not sad about that. I take gifts in whatever form they come in. I would rather feel beautiful on paper than not feel beautiful at all.

I always felt deeply connected to the concept of romantic love. It seemed to be a part of  my biological make-up. I day dreamed about it. I used to wish I liked cartoons so I could identify with other kids. But they did nothing for me. My creativity was sparked by fantasies about love and partnership. When I started this blog, I said that I was about fullness. And now I see how much love includes fullness. So maybe it is the same thing. I am truly all about love. In every part of my body. From my curls to my toes. I taste it in my words and hear it in my thoughts. When I was growing up, I felt like I was cut off from romantic love. And I believe this is why my root chakra is underactive. I believe that part of my core is missing. Part of me is separate.

The way I’ve experienced desire and relationships has been chaotic. I’ve suffered deeply in relationships because I thought I had to abandon myself in order to get someone to love me. So I did. And when people would tell me they loved me, I had trouble believing them because they never had all of me. It never made sense to me.

                                                                     ***

The truth is that there is a lot of me. If I feel connected to someone, what I give of myself is full and how I love is very filling. People often interpret it as me wanting to move the relationship along faster- which is interesting because I actually like to take things slow. I am an emotional turtle. I don’t like to label things or make definitive statements about things until I am very sure. And that sureness takes a longer time for me than it does for most people. But since I feel things so deeply, people attach other meanings to it. It is as though feeling a certain amount, is supposed to equate to a certain amount of commitment. But that formula doesn’t make sense to me. My therapists have always said I have intimacy issues. But it’s a lot more complicated than that. I thought I had to scale myself down in order to hear I love you. I learned this early on when I would show my full self and it was misinterpreted. So I grew up thinking that love was something to reach for.

I thought romantic love was about the kind of passion that comes from desperate wanting. So I created and maintained dynamics that allowed people to chase me. I thought there needed to be a pedestal, so I made sure I was at the top of it. And when we would break up, I would turn the self-hate inside out. I would develop crushes on people I thought I wasn’t good enough for. And I would never tell them. I would create stories about why I didn’t measure up to them, so I could torture myself. So I could suffer. So I could feel what it was like to be on the other end. I wanted to suffer because suffering was familiar. Love was not. And I could chalk it up to not being ready to grow up; I could agree with the therapists- but in all honesty, they were wrong.

It took me a long time to understand this, but the main reason why I haven’t stayed in any relationship consistently for any long period is not because I’m afraid of intimacy. It’s because I embrace intimacy in a way that is much deeper than most people. As my wise friend said, my container for intimacy is large. I need a certain amount of vulnerability in my relationships, otherwise they don’t fill me up. They don’t sustain me. If I decide I want to know you, I want to know all of you. And it is exhausting if I can only know your parts. I start to feel disconnected, because I strive to show up as a whole self. A full self. I am always working to give you all of me. So I do tend to stop things that other people think are just starting. And this is because people tend to want to make a definitive decision about developing feelings, during a time that I am more interested in developing the connection we have, or seeing if that is even possible. While I am trying to figure out what’s what, my partners usually want to take it to another level. And like I said, I work slowly.

The type of intimacy I want to cultivate, takes time and I don’t believe a connection is enhanced by labeling it. I think having a title can be beautiful, as long as it doesn’t come out of some anxiety to be something.  So I am ready to do my relationships differently. Honestly. The difference between then and now is that I can no longer be in a relationship with someone just because they yearn for me and we have an initial spark. Their containers must also be big. And I know now that I need a certain amount of chemistry and it does not exist in pedestals or pining. There is no real intimacy in that.

Love does not chase. Love does not separate. Love is something that both people feel. They come together to share it, not complete it or half it, if they separate. Love breathes and it lets you breathe. So in the space of I like you or I love you, I don’t believe there is a bottom or a top. We are both equals, even if we don’t feel the same way or love the same way. We are still equals. There is no winner in chaser and chased. I made a career out of crushing on people I thought wouldn’t or couldn’t ever crush back. And now I know that my suffering was not about being unable to have crushes that crush back. It was about being attached to their parts. I set up a dynamic where I could chase after projections. I spent time operating in fantasies, rather than fullness.

Fantasies can be fun and beautiful, but if you spend more time in what if, than what is actually, you will end up normalizing what you believe you can’t have. So I chased after people I couldn’t fully see myself in, because I thought love was not an option for me. And that is really what is crushing about crushes.

                                                                            ***

I think lots of people experience push and pull dynamics when they’re first starting to get to know themselves and they desperately want to be in love. I think humans are made to love and be in love. But so many of us grow up in environments that are not conducive to healthy love, so we start to think that we are not worthy of any love. We start to think that love is something outside of us. We think it’s something we don’t have access to. So we learn to give up parts of ourselves in exchange for a taste of love. We believe our whole selves are too heavy to hold, so we present pieces instead of whole parts. And this experience of feeling locked out of love feels unnatural, so we try our hardest to find that feeling of love in loving other people. But we never do. Because you have to have love to give love. Otherwise, you will always feel disconnected. You will always feel hungry.

There is no love or sex that will sew the hole in ourselves. There is no way to receive love, when you are closed to yourself. And this belief that we’re unlovable, leads to leaving. We leave parts of ourselves behind when we try to connect with other people. We abandon ourselves because we are certain that this is the only way to get any kind of love; looking how we look, laughing how we laugh, and saying what we say. So a lot of us will end up in one long term relationship that is on and off or find ourselves in a string of short-term relationships where we always feel like something’s missing.

Sometimes it presents as boredom. Other times our partners complain that we pick at them too much. And in some cases, we keep finding ourselves with people who seem to enjoy fighting. Sometimes it happens so much, we question whether or not we like it too. The truth is that most people don’t actually enjoy arguing. But arguing feels intimate. There is a faux closeness that happens when people are engaged in an argument. In many cases, it’s the only time two people actually have each other’s attention. Outside of sex, it might be the only time that two people intentionally look into each other’s eyes for more than a moment. Some people feel like it’s the only time they get to see their loved one’s emotions. But I don’t believe it’s the only way. And while I know that people start arguments as a way to connect with others, I also know that in excess, it’s abuse. And in any event, it’s painful to both people because it doesn’t work well when it’s the only vehicle for intimacy in the relationship.

But we use arguing as a main form of communication because that is the only kind of communication we consistently saw in our families of origin. That is the only time any truth came out. Some people call it proof. But it is not actually love. It is a familiar cycle. So we often find ourselves in romantic relationships that replicate these dynamics.

                                                                 ***

I’ve always felt like I was chasing myself around in a circle. Looking for myself. Trying to match what I’ve created in my head with my heart. So more than anything, I want to study unrequited love. I think the thing we all have in common as humans, is this experience of always needing to teach people how to love us. We are sold the idea that people should inherently know, but they don’t. And we often suffer the hurt of feeling unseen or unloved by those who are important to us, because people don’t instinctively know what we need to feel loved and we’re socialized to believe they should. And we don’t usually know how to tell them because our socialization has taught us that we aren’t really supposed to have needs. We are taught that there is a range for normal and if our experience falls outside of that, we are told we’re being “needy” and therefore unreasonable. We think to ourselves, “I should do better” and if we don’t know how, then we think we don’t deserve to be loved.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as basic needs in relationships. What is basic to one, might be too little or too much for another. I don’t think that everyone’s needs look the same. I think we have to learn about ourselves in order to even know what we need. And I think it takes a lot of trust and vulnerability to communicate those needs to other people. We are led to believe that after a certain amount of months or years, a person should know and understand certain things about us. And I absolutely believe that if a person doesn’t understand a reasonable amount about who you are at your core after a period of several months, they probably never will. And that is nobody’s fault. But I also think that there are many cases in which a person understands that much about us, and it still isn’t enough. We are constantly growing new skin. We are constantly changing and our needs change too. So I think a big part of love and healthy relationships is about being open. We need to have an openness to rippling waves. We are not bodies of water that sit still. We are full of low and high tides. We are beautiful and wet and we fall over the sand that we cover when we are truly invested in seeing the fullness of each other.

                                                                             ***

My little-girl self  had trouble speaking because she couldn’t hold her entire spirit in her bare hands. I was so used to being covered. I looked to my own hands to cover my own face. But I kept slipping through. I didn’t fit. And that is the most beautiful lesson I never wanted to learn. As we grow into the people that we are, we become bombarded with familial and social norms. We don’t usually have much of an analysis about it as children but as adults, it becomes apparent how much it affects our self-esteem. We begin to develop an idea of who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to look like, and how we’re supposed to behave. We create an ideal self that feels very far away. And at some point we realize we are quite different from this fictional self, but we’re convinced we must keep up with her/them/him. If we don’t, we tell ourselves we aren’t trying hard enough. We say we deserve whatever bad things have happened in our lives. But I don’t believe in formulas that equate to pain.

I think the separation between who we think we should be and who we naturally are, is the hole. I think it’s the gap. I think it’s the thing that’s missing when we find ourselves frequently ending relationships because we got bored. I think it’s the reason we don’t get passed The Honeymoon Phase. And I think it’s the reason so many of us can keep going through that phase with new people or the same person- even when we know right away the relationship doesn’t have any sustainable potential. This is because the beginning stage is when we feel the most connected to being in love with ourselves. We love the way it feels to be adored because all of our lives we have longed to feel precious, to feel beautiful, or handsome, or brilliant or funny. And we are. But we spend so many years feeling cut off from love in so many forms, we start to believe romantic love is the only kind of real love there is. We start to believe it’s the most powerful. And falling in love is completely powerful. But I think we will continue to chase that feeling of falling in love in the beginning and continue to chase that rush with people who aren’t necessarily compatible with us, until we are able to sustain a love affair with ourselves.

                                                                           ***

I am more interested in the sum of all parts, than I am in anyone’s best features. We consist of so many pieces. There are parts of us we truly wish were different or gone all together. And there are parts of us we truly believe are amazing. That’s the thing that gets us out of bed every day. That’s what allows us to even desire love. It’s because we are love. And we see it in ourselves, even if it is only peaking through. When we learn about love and all that it can do, we think we have to be perfect to receive it. We think we have to sever certain parts to even get a glimpse of it. But I truly believe people come in whole pieces. I have spent lifetimes upon lifetimes trying to be pretty. Trying to sound smart. Trying not to look weird or make a joke that isn’t funny. I have been called ugly almost as much as I have been called beautiful. But the ugliness has stuck to me like a second skin. So I have tried to hide in my other skin for fear that the whole of me would peak out under my pretty. I swore there were parts of me that should be kept to myself. And I hugged them close like a blanket, the same way I was covered as a child- helpless and haunted by the parts I didn’t like.

Now I know that the more we feel separate from ourselves, the more we feel cut off from love. True intimacy happens in the fullness of who we are. It doesn’t exist in glimpses or snapshots. And we are certainly different people at different times. We do not always sound smart or look pretty or impress with our charm. We hesitate, we have bad days, and we say things that hit people wrong. But the trick is to keep talking and keep learning. Learn ourselves the way we learn people we admire. Learn ourselves the way we learn our crushes. Learn ourselves until we love ourselves the way we try to love other people. Fearlessly. Cautiously. Recklessly. However we feel drawn to love. So we can teach others how to love us the same way back. And as I am learning myself, I am coming full circle, except I am no longer chasing love. I am right here. I’ve been disconnected from seeing the beauty of my entire self. I’ve looked for beauty and newness in other people. But I am learning that I am newness and beauty. I am changing all the time. And I am committed to falling in love all the time. And staying in love with my whole myself.

*************************************************************

 

 

Exercise: Upgrading Your Beliefs

The purpose of this exercise is to challenge your limiting beliefs. I got this exercise from The Soulmate Experience– which I have just started reading. The idea is that beliefs that don’t serve us cause us to feel separate from other people. Limiting beliefs affect the kinds of people we attract and the quality of the relationships we have. So in an effort to enhance my connections, I have started editing the belief system in my head. The idea is not to alter your beliefs to something unrealistic, but to tweak them enough so they are helpful and true for you. The beliefs on the top are untouched, and the beliefs underneath are the “upgraded” versions I’m working on.

I don’t know how to be in a relationship.
I am learning how to be in a relationship with myself. That is the first step.

I do not have the right kind of beauty.
I see beauty in many kinds and many ways. I am sure there are other people who do too.

I don’t have enough going for me to be with the kinds of people I’m attracted to.
I have a lot going for me and I am working on the rest.

Posted in Beyond The Honeymoon | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Heaven Held

In her arms, words were quiet
no noise or fighting proof
the atmosphere was precious
it built bridges across breasts
and held space for pain from right to left

But she didn’t suffer
the last tear breathed heavy
sometimes stairs proved weighty
(she had asthma as a baby)
and chubby cheeks held smiles
as well as frowns
and falsehoods
and fears
over thirty years
of trying to find love in her own face
(mirrors split in half from her sadness)

In her arms, life started and stopped
choking heart didn’t spit up much
the space where stuff was stuck
held beatings and breathing that never touched
and across her skin some parts were uneven
some parts were scarred
and starved
but salvaged
and from them she promised to build
if not in this chapter, the one that follows

But she didn’t bleed
the last cut tore through her bravery
long walks shifted energy
(she got lost once as a girl)
and then she learned the books they gave
were really actually plays
so she tore them up with her old hair
and threw them out with her old self
(no noise or fighting proof)

All they found were curly cues
and hazel eyes
and skin left on for clarity
grown children cried
they thought she died
but there was just more room for me.

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Giving and Fitting

My aunt said my Uncle Bobby appeared and told her he was ok. She didn’t know if it was a dream or not but he came to her after he died, and only then was she able to move on with her life. My mom teared up when I told her the story. She isn’t related to him- he was my father’s brother. But her eyes got full. She cries whenever I bring him up. I honestly don’t remember much about him except that he was cool. Ya know, the cool uncle. He had charisma and he was great with kids. So charming. He knew how to manipulate language. They say he could talk his way out of anything. When I think of him, I think he must’ve been a sad clown. See, Uncle Bobby was an addict. His illness led to the illness that would eventually take his life. And although there is no discussion about it, I believe that his surviving siblings feel guilty. And truth be told, there has been a lot of addiction in my family. We just don’t talk about it. Black people don’t talk about addictions. Or mental illness. Or trauma. We are too strong for that. We lean on God for that.

When I asked my mom why she was crying, she said she thought Uncle Bobby and I were similar. She said if he was still alive, he’d probably be my ally. She said they gave up on him. He wasn’t like them, so he didn’t fit. And I think that is what this life is about: giving and fitting. I think of everything I do and every relationship I have as an exchange. If you give to me, I will give to you. We don’t need to give in the same way or at the same time. We just need to give the same effort. And if you can’t, I won’t say you have given up. I’ll say we didn’t fit. People don’t deteriorate when someone has “given up.” They deteriorate because they are not meant for this world. They are too big for this world. And it is too hard to fit. It is not because they are bad. It is because they are bigger.

                                                                      ***

Eventually, I began to question the family system that was based on patterns that weren’t healing. And I began to question the socially constructed God that came with it. This God who has human qualities. This God who loves you if ___________. I began to question the family who alienated me. The family who never made one comment directly to me, but instead started theoretical conversations about how gay people are going to hell. So I began to question the concept of heaven and hell and the good/bad binary that would ultimately decide our fate. See, I’m not all good or all bad. I don’t fit in either/ors. And I don’t believe in sins. I don’t believe in a conditional, hierarchical love. But I understand the logic. If you base your morals on a belief system that categorizes certain people or behaviors as inherently bad, then there is only one way to uphold the system. You’d have to agree to a dynamic where those people are always trying to catch up. Everybody would be fine if they followed the program. But the people on the outside would understand that they aren’t acceptable as is. And if you believed this set-up was healthy and functional, it would seep into your other relationships. You would look people in the eye and say, “I’ll love you if__________.” You would sit on a pedestal where they would have to look up at you. You’d feel secure in this because this life is hard. And it’s hard to feel worthy of any love. So you’d feel you found a loophole. Because the person you naturally are and the people you’re naturally inclined to love or fuck or connect with, are all on the right track. That would be the one thing you’d know that is good and true about you. And if somebody challenged you, you’d say they got it all wrong. You don’t think you’re better or more valuable. It’s just that God says __________. You’d say you love equally. You just don’t love what people do. But you cannot love people in parts.

You cannot tell a story to yourself about why you don’t love whole. You cannot really believe that your sex and love are more pure than anyone else’s. You cannot honestly think that the kind of love and sex you have makes you more valuable to God or Source or Spirit. We are all different. We all came here to learn. We all came here to heal. And if I believed in heaven, the way that you believe in heaven, I’d still disagree with you. I do not believe that there is a heaven that my love is too big to fit in. But if there is, I don’t want to go there. And I think that when you align yourself with a better-than belief, you are holding yourself back. You are not making good use of your time here. And you will always suffer in this life. If I am trying to love you in your entirety and you can only love the pieces of me you choose, then we can’t fit. I can’t fit into your image. I am too big. And trust, if you are only loving parts of me, I can’t love you back either. I can only love your parts. Probably the same pieces that love my pieces. So here we are: two whole people exchanging pieces and calling it love. Calling it truth. Truth is, I don’t believe I love anyone who doesn’t love me in whole. In total. I have hurt myself trying to love parts in whole. But the mirror is cracked. If you can’t see me, I can’t mirror you back. And I’m not so small. I will present myself in front of you, with scars and shakes and splits in my spirit. But I swear to you, my soul is whole. And it only gives to those who give back.

***

I know a lot about acting as-if. I know a lot about code-switching and camouflaging. This is the nature of having intersecting identities and contributing to your own erasure as a way to survive. This is what it looks like when you’re trying to catch up with the image of yourself. Because I have always lived in between the lines. When I came out to my mom, she said she always knew I was different. She said my dad did too. And I was in so many ways. As a child, I learned how to tie my shoes late, I couldn’t tell time, I kept confusing left from right. These are some of the things I told the psychologist when I was being diagnosed for learning disabilities. I was no expert, but at the age of 25 I knew my brain was different too. I knew in elementary school when I was getting 100’s on my spelling tests and barely passing math. I knew when I was getting hit in the head in gym class because I couldn’t gauge when the ball was close. I knew because my dad spent years trying to teach me how to ride a bike and I still can’t ride one properly. So the results were that I have Nonverbal Learning Disorder, Dyscalculia, and ADD tendencies. And although I always knew, I now had a way to name it. The psychologist found that my writing and reading comprehension skills were superior and my math skills were on a 7th grade level. In a way, I felt embarrassed. During the math portion of the testing, I began to get in over my head. I had seen the concepts before, but I had no recollection of how to execute them.

In another way, I felt validated for all the times people told me I wasn’t trying hard enough. I thought about all the progress reports I took home that said Melanie is not working up to her full potential. I thought about the never-ending homework assignments my dad created for me because he either thought I wasn’t trying or he thought he could teach (abuse) the disability out of me. I thought about the time I told my brother I wasn’t going to re-take my math requirement for a 3rd time and he yelled at me that I just had to do it. And I thought about all the sociology exams I’d passed without barely cracking open a textbook. I thought about my worth. I think my entire life flashed before me. This was my missing piece.

***

When you are learning disabled, and you don’t want people to find out, you learn to overcompensate. You learn to work with your strengths in ways most people don’t have access to. You excel at whatever you’re good at. Sometimes without trying. Having NLD is the equivalent of having a split in your brain. So I spent my childhood being highlighted for being way above and way below. I was never in the right place. And this discrepancy that took so long to explain, caused me to believe that I was stupid. And I carried that belief with me. So part of my survival technique includes dumbing myself down. It is hard to explain this kind of split, so if I present myself in a way that people identify as “average,” it is easier to blend in. It is easier to explain why I don’t understand things that other people find simple. It makes people feel more comfortable. And as an adult, I actively work out ways to shed this behavior. I actively commit to my own care before other people’s- instead of it being the other way around. I never fit in with the rest of my family. I felt as though I had a different brain and a different heart. And I still feel that way. I just don’t feel shame for it anymore.

***

The psychologist detailed my diagnosis along with an explanation of my learning discrepancies from age 5-25. I wrote the anecdotal parts and she was so impressed by my knowledge and articulation of my own disabilities, she asked me to come work for her. At 50 pages, her report was thorough. I knew that I would be given accommodations for the ADD and NLD. But she noted that my Dyscalculia was so severe that I should be exempt from math and science for my entire college career. When I returned to the school where I had the most credits and submitted my report, they rejected that suggestion. It is at a school’s discretion to do what they see fit with these reports. The only thing required by law is that they provide (what they consider to be) reasonable accommodations. So they provided me with double time and a private room. I used the learning disabilities tutor the school provided and attempted the math class I placed into (math 100) for the second time. But I was still getting 20’s or below. I failed every test. So I withdrew.

I never did attempt my science requirement, as they don’t offer accommodations for lab courses at that school. After I came in with my report, the school provided me with a counselor from the LD department. Someone who I assumed would help me with any questions I had. Someone who I thought might advocate for me, if need be. So when I met her, I told her my concerns. I told her that I had already attempted the math course with help, and I didn’t believe I had the ability to pass it. I asked if there was a possibility for a course equivalent. She said no. She made a remark that implied I spoke well. Then, without skipping a beat, she said she knew I could pass it. And that was that.

***

I know that being able to speak well and write well is a gift. Though not being able to do math has affected my life in ways I would never have dreamed. But to be clear, while I still hold some resentment about not being able to graduate from the school where I had the most credits, I do not regret it. I have learned more intellectually/emotionally/spiritually out of school, than I could’ve ever learned in school. There is something about being pushed out, that makes you find new ways to push in. So I push on. After trying my hand at 3 different schools on and off for 9 years, I stopped going at the age of 26. I wasn’t dropping out. I was taking care. It has taken a very long time for me to not get triggered when family members casually ask “you ever think about going back?”- as though it is/was uncomplicated. As though it was something that needed deciding. There was never any doubt. I spent the first 3 years doing different kinds of jobs and finding meaning in various creative projects. And then my panic attacks resurfaced in 2009. I stopped going outside. School was on hold again. But I will certainly be going back. I don’t have a date for anyone. I have a promise to myself. That is what matters.

Initially, this piece was going to be about what it’s like to live with a severe anxiety disorder or other mental illness that gets in the way of daily functioning. This piece was going to be about how embarrassing and painful it is to talk about a disability that isn’t recognized as one. It was going to be about what it’s like to vacillate between pretending you agree with that, and pretending it doesn’t exist in the first place. This was going to be about why I go long periods without dating and why I have historically been addicted to various types of abusive relationships because that’s what I felt I deserved. I was going to write about how being invisible in your blood family travels with you like an open wound. I was going to say that we are socialized to learn about love in our families of origin, so if they can’t see us, we think it is normal and acceptable to not be seen.

***

But this piece isn’t really about mirrors. It’s about systems. The educational system that churns out “C” students, instead of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each student. The system that recognizes you’re different in elementary school but pushes you through because that is easier. The system that is set up as though everybody learns the same way. The system that causes people to laugh when I say I’m math learning disabled, because even if they believe it’s a real thing, they know I don’t have it because I speak well. This piece is about the social systems that maintain the hierarchy that lends to the low self-esteem of entire groups of people. The systems that prevent marginalized people from having the resources, time, or ability to be present with themselves long enough to critically look at the larger oppressive system from all angles. So their analysis starts and ends with race, class, and racialized class and “we were born to struggle.” So your family system operates on abuse patterns as a way to honor your ancestors.

This piece is about making a silent agreement to never talk about your queerness, your spirituality, or your invisible disabilities because they lead you one step closer to not really being Black and one step closer to not really belonging in your family. And this is about the systems within our bodies. In a healthy body, you have “a fight or flight” response that gets triggered when you’re in real or perceived danger. But my fight or flight is always on. During the difficult times, it is more like my default than my sometimes. And much like the split in my brain, the adrenaline causes a split between my mind and my body. This is what dissociation looks like. It’s a way for my internal system to attempt to protect me. But it doesn’t feel safe to my physical self, so I panic. And the cycle reinforces itself.

***

This piece is about cycles within systems that are interconnected- inside of me and inside the world. And they are flawed. And I move through them with everything I have- in my body and in the world. This is not a piece about how my body, my family, or the world has given up on me. This is a piece about how systems taught me what I know about giving and fitting. I’ve survived in this life because of my words. No matter what, I’ve always had my words. And I talk a lot because my words are too big to fit. So I make unsaid agreements with everyone I connect with. We may grow in different directions. We may not stay connected for the entire duration of this life. But if you can give, I’ll give back. I have a place for you to fit. And we will use words, and touch, and truth to heal each other. We will rage and love, and learn together.

The world sometimes feels small when we can’t find our place in it. But the places where we find our power, the places where we meet together are so much bigger than that. Don’t be upset if you can’t fit into someone’s image. Know that it’s simply because you are bigger than that. And if you are still here; if you have survived, despite the alienation, the stares, the pain that brought you to your knees, know that it is no accident. Your path is not straight forward. It has bumps and thumps, and cracks in sidewalks, because you are so powerful. And this life was provided for you as a gift, so you could see how beautiful you are. Their mirrors may be foggy, but your core shines through. I promise you. If you can’t see it now, later you will. I give you these words so they will wrap around you and hold your truth. I promise there is room in this world for you to fit.

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The Color of Rage

When we attach colors to emotions, we usually associate anger with red and calmness with blue. But in my household growing up, anger was black. As an adult, I have written a lot about the confusion of being received as black and being rejected by black. I hated my blackness. I hated the features that stood in the way of being acceptably beautiful by the (mostly) white people in my community. I hated the parts of me that were different from my white friends. I hated that I couldn’t do anything about it. But being angry is fixable. If you work at it long enough, you learn to flip the switch. Turn your emotions outside in. You swallow everything that slides down your tongue. Catch the words like hot fire in your teeth, bite down, and inhale them back in. So I carried pain in the back of my mouth like a strep throat. And this pain ate a hole in me I didn’t know how to fill. So full, it split me open and broke my heart. I fell out of love with myself and now I’m trying to fall back in.

***

As a child, whenever I would get upset about something, my mother would tell me to calm down. She’d say getting angry wasn’t “good for me” and I understood and internalized this. Anger was bad. Anger was unlady-like. The only people who were allowed to get upset in our house, were my dad and my brother. Anger was black. Anger was a black male. My parents were separated when I was very little. I do not have many memories of what it was like when we all lived in the same house. I just remember patterns. I just remember who was allowed to do what. And I remember my father’s presence, even after they had joint custody. I remember his phone calls where he would lecture and yell at my mom, like they were still married. I remember her taking it, until she couldn’t anymore. I remember her hanging up and him calling right back. I remember being angry that she would even answer the phone. I would say things like “you’re not married to him anymore. You don’t have to take this.”

We had two separate families. My brother and I spent three days a week at each home. Sundays were alternated.

My brother’s rage developed like a disease. The peak hit around his late teens. I remember the out-of-control-anger that was often directed at me and a few punches, my mother may or may not know about. People with tempers were allowed to do whatever they wanted. Anger was to be expected, and was always accepted in masculinity and males. By the time I was in my late teens I remember asking my mother about my brother’s behavior, “why do you let him get away with this?” I remember saying “you are afraid of him.” Two separate homes. One pattern.

***

There is something to be said about non-verbal communication and eye-sight. You do not need to be told verbatim how to act or who to fear. My mother and I do not do femininity the same way. She doesn’t wear perfume or fake eye lashes like me. I never kept my hair as short as hers. Still, I’m proud to say I learned to stand up for myself from her. In most cases, she’s a force to be reckoned with. I learned how to use my voice from her. But norms and fear are nuanced. A bright kid learns more than she’s supposed to- whether she wants to or not. Kids learn early on to pick up markers, when they have to take care of themselves before they are ready to. So I also learned how to know when to shut up from my mom. Kids pay attention to what you do, more than what you say.

***

I write a lot about the weight of secrets. A little over a year ago, I became unable to carry the truth of my secrets. My back was achy and my arms were tired. I started writing the pain. And as I did, almost simultaneously, I began to lose actual body fat. There is certainly a correlation to the amount of walking I do, when my anxiety is on the verge of unmanageable. It would make sense that I lose weight. But when the weight of secrets tips the scales, I also go through periods where I don’t go outside much. And it seems I still lose weight, as I lose secrets. My shame is heavy. So I give a little back every year. It isn’t mine to keep.

***

During the past four months, I had two experiences with people where their actions made me very hurt and angry. I have historically turned my anger on myself, which results in self-deprecation, panic attacks, and isolation. But I know that I am growing at a really fast rate this year. I started spilling out. I turned my insides, inside out. And getting angry did not feel good. But letting it out, did. And I have continued to react and respond with my true emotions, whenever possible. I think it heals me. But it also scares me. I tried so hard for so long to not be angry. Ever. The only people who ever saw me get angry were my mother and my partners. Now, when I do get angry, I often have a panic attack. I don’t know how to be present in my body, when I am angry. I disconnect. My hands shake, and I feel guilty. Girls are not supposed to get angry. I am not supposed to be angry. But I know better. I am not for reinforcing patterns. I put my hands, feet, and whole body into them, and I break them.

Incidentally, it is very difficult for me to trust people- especially men and masculine people. This is based on a combination of societal norms and family patterns. It is largely due to the socialization I received in my family- not only as the girl, but as the girl who wasn’t smart and didn’t think she was pretty. And while I have more or less grown out of my attachment to the Male Gaze, I am still concerned about the Masculine Gaze. I vacillate between feeling like I am too feminine and therefore unrelatable and feeling like I am not feminine enough. Or not woman enough.

I understood early on that women have attitudes, but men get angry. And I have certainly performed my femininity like this in the bulk of my relationships. However, in thinking about writing this, it occurred to me that in my most serious relationship, I did not hesitate to express my anger with my masculine partner. I think that is an important piece because it was in my strongest connection, that I expressed my truest emotions- even when they weren’t well received. And I know that the dynamic between the men in my family set the stage for my relationship patterns. The most difficult family dynamics, repeat in our other intimate relationships until we resolve them.

***

I’m an empath. A gusher. A crier. I feel. I have spent my life trying not to cry or yell too much. Still, I cry a lot and yell internally because I’m afraid of my own feelings and my own voice. So I experience my feelings two times over. But a shift is happening. I am working through this and through them. I have written poem after poem, when I couldn’t say the words. I have hidden the words on my body, like fat. I am overwhelmed with feelings and overgrown with silence. And as I get older, I get smaller. And louder. I no longer swallow rage or choke on truth. I spit up and spit out. I am anxious, I am angry, I am all of the things they said I wasn’t supposed to be. But I am here, putting thought to paper and paper to heart. I hold my words next to my whole, so I can heal the hole in me. This is the crux of me. I am still here.

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Pockets

I.
Breath full and far
(but never felt)
your imaginary arms enclosed my faux body
body talked but you didn’t listen
(I am here)
trapped inside the kiss that never happened
I happen to want you
but you don’t notice me
I’m full of projections
I just want your attention
I couldn’t have made this up

II.
your lips are far away from me
I had sworn we had a connection
maybe I created you
and the real you is no good for me
chase kisses caught in fantasies
fantasies full of faux you
I swear to God I still want you
inside memories of eye contact
and shared glances
this lie is full of rough romances

III.
blood on my hands
I cut this crush in half
and it spilled all over me
then sewed itself back together
and attached itself to me like pockets
so I wear my feelings for her on my left and right side
surrounded by her
softened by her
saddened by this
(the crush that didn’t crush back)

IV.
my red hands stained the thread you left on our pockets
there is a tiny knot at the end of this
(I can never get those knots out, without using my teeth)
teeth bite down on fake memories
trying to spit out the rough parts
there is no romance left in this poem
just hard held hems and my hard heart
I swear I didn’t make this up.

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Why Darkness Attracts Light

I enjoy live poetry the way most people enjoy live music. I would imagine my receipt of it is similar to the way religious people experience a good sermon. It is deeply connective for me. Spiritual. When a poem moves me, I normally have to take a minute to pull myself together before I approach the poet. Sometimes I can’t pull myself together and I present myself in the only way I can. Transformed. Touched. Tangled in the truths we share. Sometimes they seem startled. Other times, they ask for a hug. They get it. We are one in the same.

In one of my more serious relationships, my partner called me one night offering what she thought was a great idea. She wanted me to go to an R & B concert. She ran down the list of artists and the only one I remember is John Legend. I think I zoned out during the introduction. I had already explained to her that I am different. We had extensive conversations about my anxiety and how it might very well affect our relationship. She seemed to understand. She took the initiative and found out everything she could about panic disorders. She even joined an online forum for partners of people with severe panic and anxiety. I let her know that I get overwhelmed easily. I need more space and alone time than most people. I don’t do well in crowds of new people. I’m just not like other people. She said she got it. She said we were gonna work on this together. She said she was committed to the work. But she didn’t get it.

I told her verbatim that it would take time and trust for me to attend an event such as a concert with someone. When she came up with this idea, all I could think was you don’t listen to me. You don’t get it. She didn’t get me. We were wrong for each other for a variety of reasons. But years later, I still sometimes wonder if we couldn’t match because she wasn’t dark. Darkness and light, is of course, a spectrum. And we all go through periods where we experience more darkness or radiate more light. We all have the capacity to get swallowed by darkness or reflect tons of light. But at our core, we tip the scales on either side. This is not about anyone being better or worse. It’s about being on different paths. At my core, I reflect light. But I’ve always been intrigued by darkness. I experience periods of deep darkness, uncertainty, and fear. My life gets interrupted by crying spells, severe depression, and agoraphobia. But I bounce back. Everything always evens out. Every time I go through a very dark period, I come out stronger, smarter, better prepared for the rest of my path. I don’t know how or why. I attribute it to my higher self. My spiritual self. The self I’m working towards.

***

It took me 31 years to understand why darkness attracts light and light holds onto dark. I never understood why I would “end up” in dysfunctional relationships and friendships as well. I initially understood it to be my attempt at resolving my relationship with my father. I would find myself with partners and friends who use similar tactics to get their point across when they’re hurt; sarcasm, passive aggressive “jokes,” humiliation, emotional black mail/intimidation. People who constantly remind you that life has been considerably harder for them than other people, but insist they aren’t victims. People who need to control other people, so they don’t feel out of control. People who never ask for what they need directly, because they don’t believe they’d ever get it and their whole identity is based on how well they’ve done in this life, even though things have been harder for them than everyone else. People who hate when you set boundaries around your own needs, because they don’t have the self esteem to do the same.

I always understood the connection. But I never understood why I couldn’t just leave these people alone. I never understood why I would see the red flags but still think the outcome would be different. It wasn’t until I stopped blaming myself, that I started to understand myself and my patterns.

***

There is no model for healthy queer relationships. Nowhere to go to learn that most problems in relationships and most people’s individual patterns are the result of unhealed childhood wounds. But they are. And we learn this as we go. And we take paths, based on what feels right for us. Some of us seek to find our light. While some of us prefer darkness. See, pure light seeks to see the light in everyone. So it makes sense that people who are full of light, often merry go ‘round with partners who are consumed by darkness. We’re able to see past that. Some people call it “potential.” We see things in people that no one else can see. We see things people can’t see in themselves. So we hold onto them. Keep them close to our hearts. It feels like the best thing we can do to heal ourselves. We do this with everyone we come in contact with- until we get too tired. We do this until we realize that we’ve invested so much time in other people- people who can’t see their own light- that we haven’t invested much in ourselves. We do this so much, we start to think we are dark too. That must be why we’re so attracted to these people, right?

But it isn’t. That’s why we break-up and get back together. That’s why they see us as nags. We’re always challenging them to do something they aren’t ready to do. We ask them to do things they may be unable to. Once we see the light in people, we are determined to draw it out. We think that if we can do this, it will be the equivalent of hitting the backspace button and re-doing the painful parts of our formative years. It never is though. We end up feeling like failures- as partners, as friends, as people.

***

It took me 31 years to understand it’s not my fault. And considering some people will never come to this realization, I’d say it was a short amount of time. You cannot change the actions, plans, or paths of other people. You can only set the boundaries on what you will and won’t tolerate. You cannot lift up the layers that prevent someone from being their best person- and you shouldn’t try. Relationships are mirrors. If you keep “ending up” in relationships or in the same relationship with a person who isn’t living their best life, you aren’t either. I don’t say this to put myself or anyone else down. I say this because the only way to interrupt patterns is to be honest about what they are. People with high self-esteem don’t date people with low self-esteem. It can’t work. We may be attracted to different kinds of people at different times in our lives. But darkness is only attractive to light for a short period. We see it as a challenge, particularly when major things are lacking- such as intellectual connectivity. Sexual, emotional, and energetic connectivity is huge. But when you don’t stimulate each other intellectually, you’re going to get bored.

So the challenge of “saving” someone fills the space. The “saver” gets an intellectual workout anyway, because it is hard work to psychoanalyze someone- whether you have knowledge in that area or not. It’s a project.  It blinds us to the things that the relationship is lacking. It’s a round-a-bout way of keeping a relationship together, when there isn’t much left of it. These projects aren’t usually intentional. But they work to keep the two people engaged nonetheless. When we repeatedly date people who aren’t seemingly right for us, it’s usually because on some level, we think this relationship is what we deserve. In an abusive context, this goes for the “abuser” and the abused or both “abusers.” Nobody is happy in an unhealthy relationship. And the passion that sparks when the juxtaposition of darkness and light ignites, never holds. There needs to be more in common, than save-er and save-y. And a healthy person gets bored of this on either end. Nobody really wants to care-take long term. And nobody wants their partner to take care of them in that way. It just reinforces what the save-y thought all along- that they’re not good enough or valuable enough. Nobody wants to feel that way in their relationship. Nobody wants to feel like they can’t do whatever it is their loved one wants them to. That’s why it never works. That’s why it’s so painful for both people. That’s why you wish you could settle on togetherness or being apart. But you just go back and fourth.

“My feel for you, boy…is decaying in front me…like the carrion of a murdered prey…and all I want…is to save you, honey…or the strength to walk away…”*

***

We are all works in progress. We are all on different paths. We are not better or worse than each other. But we are different. And a person who finds solace in total darkness, a person who feels best when their partner is as dark as them, will never be happy with someone who ultimately seeks light. And to be clear, I am not saying that someone who seeks darkness is wrong or bad. I am saying that I have never seen that path work well for anyone. When someone isn’t happy and accepts that as their fate, when they feel more secure in a relationship where they’re being taken care of, instead of being cared for, it means they’re not taking steps to uplift themselves. They’re not seeking light. They are more comfortable in a dark place. Of course people change and darkness can surely change to light. But in the meantime, don’t beat yourself up when you cannot reveal someone else’s light. That is not your job.

You change the world by changing yourself. If you’re spending all your time and energy trying to get someone to see something you think is true, turn the mirror around. You’re the one who needs to see something. See that you’re working on the wrong person. The only person you have the power to change is you. So let your light shine. And don’t worry about the darkness that sometimes seems intriguing. The person who will hold your interest, will be full of light. It is of no consequence whether they have previously been dark. We are all fluid. But light seeks light. When you let go of the control that was never yours, you will shine. You will shine so bright, that only another person who is full of light, will be able to mirror you. To match you. In love. In longevity. In light of what you thought you deserved in this life.

*Song lyric from “Carrion” by Fiona Apple.

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Sorry I returned Your Greeting (Re: Street Harassment)

If this had been a poem it would’ve said:
Feels like
Pulling my hair out
Screaming and nothing coming out
Being surrounded by people, while feeling truly alone in the claustrophobia of my own thoughts…

I wanted to write the pain. Write this through power and then take it back. But I can’t write the words, because they are yours. You own them. You said them. So I am giving them back. They belong to you. On you. They are about you– not me. I understand that no woman is immune to harassment: regardless of her perceived gender identity, race, or class. And no man is immune to subjugating a woman. So regardless of what you think we have in common, no matter how even you think the playing field is, know that you still scare me. Because you had and have power over me. And I have beaten myself up for the last 3 days because I don’t have whatever it is people have or develop when they feel overpowered, exhausted, defeated, done. I have choked on tears and then beat myself up some more for beating myself up. I have hated myself and then beat myself up for hating the wrong person. I hate being the person who is targeted for being beautiful or ugly or having the right or wrong beauty. I hate being the person who gets approached regardless of what I’m wearing or how good or bad I think I look on that particular day. Hate that I gave you the benefit of the doubt because you approached me respectfully and I stupidly thought you just wanted to walk me to the train. Hate that I know it’s not my fault but still carry your words in my skin. Wear them like a scar that won’t heal.

If this had been a poem, it would’ve read:
Feels like spiraling out of control
Because I can’t prevent this from happening again
Can’t even say the words without falling apart
Because they are gross and ugly and now I feel gross and ugly and…

So I have mostly kept this to myself. Told one friend and lost it. Told my therapist and all she could say was how painful it must be. Her face said she was sorry. So very sorry. I am too. Never wanted to write this. This was not supposed to be my next project, my next write. But I have had nightmares and crying spells and I need to release this poison, so I can return to my regular life. This is not about having no voice. My voice is loud and it connects to a heart that sometimes needs cover. So when I set out to write this, I said that it wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t say exactly what you said. Repeat it back verbatim and call you out by name. Said that I should be a voice for other people who hear the same words. But this is about dropping pounds and being free. You know what you said. I know what you mean. Looked you in the eye and asked if you had a mother or a sister. Asked if you would be ok with somebody saying to them, what you said to me. You stuttered and stammered, said you were trying to apologize. But no sorry will ensure my safety. You are guilty and now I am filthy. You go home and go on. I struggle with this. Write you an open letter about this. Because nothing anyone can say, will make me feel better about this. I am holding it in my hands and as I write, there are spaces between tears falling and self-blaming, that I feel a sense of resolve. I resolved to write this, even though I hate that I have to.

If this were a poem, it would continue on:
You are the one who is gross and ugly
Because all you care about is gross and ugly
I am not here to fulfill any of your gross and ugly fantasies
Not interested in what you think of my body
What you thought when you saw it
Told you how sick it made me feel
Asked why you would say that
Because I would never approach you and say something similar
You would never be stuck in a different borough
Waiting for a train, so you could cry your way home

You were the first one I ever questioned. The first I ever spoke to like a human, after being approached like I was not. First one I looked straight in the eye and showed my own eyes. First time I stood there for longer than a minute to make sure you understood how much this affects me. Because you never know what someone has been through or why they are who they are. You may think you are just one person. You may think you made a mistake. But when a person keeps hearing something for all of her adult life, she starts to wonder if it’s true. I don’t hold you responsible for the pain that I have spent years processing. But you are to blame for bringing it up.  Because I have to sit with it on my body- stained like ink on the skin of my face, the palms of my hands, the ends of my hair. And if it spilled onto my notebook it would read:

Don’t act surprised when I call you on your shit
Because I am afraid of you
But I am more afraid to be silent

I am sorry I returned your greeting. I normally wouldn’t. But I find it sad that I am told I shouldn’t return a greeting. Because if I do, what happens next is my fault. I hope you think about this, next time you start a greeting. Though I will go back to ignoring greetings. I will move on and move past. Maybe not today. But tears turn into truth, turn into progress, turn into power.

You did take my power. And now, I am taking it back.

 

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