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Monday, June 29, 2015

On Choking.

The words are caught in my throat.

I choke on them, daily.

Nine people are gunned down by a relative child in the name of hate, most of them women, and I choke.

I don't know how to talk about this. I don't know what to say.

I read post after post in my social media feeds from friends and people I admire and I nod along, yes, yes, but my voice feels so feeble, so weak. This is not an existence, a way of life, I can ever fully understand. I don't want to overstep my bounds.

I click like. I click share. I know this is not enough. I am more educated than most in the sociological study of the intersectionality of race, gender, class, micro-aggressions, macro-aggressions and yet, yet it is not enough.

I choke again, all the unsaid, unknown words strangling me silently.

*****

Kiedis acts out again, against Tova, taking a reenactment of a movie he was probably too young to see (but that's the price you pay when you don't have the luxury of choosing who watches your child while you're at work) too far. There has been more, lately, the mounting stress of everything going wrong in our little trio's lives taking it's toll on his little body, and I am defeated with every yelp and wail that comes from his sister's lips.

I catch him starting again, yelling at her, pretending to throw punches, getting too close, and I grab him by the arm mid-swing.

Stop it! You can't act like this! People don't know you're playing, Kiedis. Not everyone is going to know you're doing a movie. This scares people, dude! And when people are scared they do stupid things and you could get hurt, do you understand? You keep this up and someone will hurt you because they're scared of you!

For half a millisecond, as I stare into my son's tear-brimmed green eyes, I see the brown eyes and darker skin of Brennan and Isaiah, boys just a little bit older than Kiedis, and in a flash I think I get it. There was that heartbreak of telling my child you are different and people are going to assume the worst from you because of it. Realizing that the amount of time for him where the police are his friends will be shorter than that of his peers -- the peers that look like him. It dawning on me that my work to raise a good child goes beyond the typical, easy things but goes into the you always say yes sir or ma'am to an officer if you're approached be still don't make sudden movements please don't lash out I know it's hard but baby they just aren't going to understand unless I'm there to tell them you're not a threat you're just overstimulated.

To teach my child to be submissive to a system that others him, because of the way he was born.

The only thing he may have going for him, someday, that may buy him an extra minute, an extra phone call, handcuffs instead of bullet wounds, is that he is white.

The thought constricts my airway and all I can do is hug him, hard, tight, because I am now afraid I am not enough to protect him and I realize, like so many others, one day he may just not come home because someone was more caught in their fear of the unknown and I have to keep marching on, raising him anyway, hoping for the best but always, always braced for the worst.

The words coagulate with the sobs and my lungs are on fire, unable to expel either.

*****

I sit down with my children to try and broach Charleston. I tell them that a man hurt people because their skin color was different, that he used a gun to hurt them, which is why Mommy doesn't like when we pretend to shoot each other or the pets or imaginary bad guys because in real life, it hurts people.

Tova tells me it makes her so sad. I ask her why as I cuddle her. She says it's because all of her friends at school have brown skin like Tiana and black hair like Jasmine and she wishes she did, too.

I am thrown completely out of my element. What different childhoods we have had.

I tell her she is beautiful and that we are all made differently so that we can learn to appreciate all different kinds of beauty, but here it is, another flash, stories I hear of the inevitable time where little brown girls feel less than because of the color of their skin and the texture of their hair.

Except my child, someday, will still benefit from her paleness. She will still be able to walk into any store and find make up and hair products catered to her preferences and desires. She will see women who look like her in advertisements, in movies -- and not just as the token friend. She will learn she is beautiful because society will tell her so, and will validate it readily and easily.

Everyone loves a redhead, after all.

*****

At the kids' summer school I meet up with a local blogging friend, whose son is in Tova's group. Her middle child and only daughter walks hand in hand with Tova, and is explaining to my girl that she won't be staying, as she's going to a vacation bible school.

Tova, as she does, questions this unfamiliar terminology. My friend's daughter explains it's like school about the Bible, but at church, and that you do fun things like summer camp too.

Church? What's church?

I watch the older girl's face cloud in confusion. Her family is a good Christian one -- I mean that sincerely. I have been shown nothing but grace and kindness from this family, as have my children. Jenny is one of the rare people I encounter regularly who when she says she is praying for me it brings me to tears because she means it, and I take it as a blessing that she would concentrate such energy for my benefit. Of course her daughter doesn't yet understand people like me, who don't believe per se, in anything in particular. Of course she wouldn't know that there are people who have never been to church. That's just how she was raised.

I lean over to Tova slightly.

Church is where people go to feel safe, to feel loved. 

She does her overdramatic head-nod and wide-eyed aaahhhhhhhh and then giggles her fake laugh, the one she knows makes other people squeal with delight. My friend's daughter still looks slightly confused, but they carry on anyway, just two girls walking hand-in-hand down a hallway.

I clear my throat, hoping to be able to speak around the words that have taken up residence on my vocal chords.

*****

I don't know how to explain to them that people are dying in the places they go to feel safe, or that those buildings are being burned down because of the people who feel safe there. I don't know how to explain the hatred and oppression behind a flag that flies just two houses down from ours, in both the front and the back yards. There are simultaneously all the words and none of them, right in the hollow of my neck and the back of my throat and twisted around my tongue.

In just a couple of short weeks, I'll be heading back to New York for BlogHer '15, and staying with three women with whom I have no business hanging out/sitting with, because they are out here, along with countless others I am so fortunate to know, respect, and even call friends, saying the things and doing the work and making a difference while I sit and wring my hands, mentally documenting everything in the way that I do. I hope, when there, to learn more, to understand more, to listen better, and to find the words to bear better witness, to help facilitate the change we all so desperately need.

Because these words, here, that I have managed to excise, they will never be enough.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Misery Business.

"You know he wants to marry you, right?" Kyle said with that little laugh-snort he does when he's being smug. I've grown accustomed to it, except in arguments, where it still infuriates me. It has a wide range of nuance in his bizarre way of emoting, and here it carried the inflection of slight disbelief laced with maybe wounded amazement.

Basically, I think he couldn't believe what he was seeing, but needed to acknowledge it.

And of course, I knew that. Matt and I had talked extensively about a future together. They were in the same room, after all, because Kyle wanted to meet Matt, since he was spending so much time at the house, around the kids. Kyle had known about Matt's presence for almost the entire duration of our now nearly-year-long relationship, which in itself was complex and kind of strange. Kyle had only recently figured out the seriousness of it, the depth at which Matt and I felt for one another, and as a father wanted to meet the man who was ingratiating himself into a similar role in our fractured family's life.

Maybe he thought I needed to hear it.

I blushed and bit my lip as I retreated to my bedroom to finish getting ready for work. Matt had left, hence Kyle's comment, and I was at a disquiet place. After all, when your soon-to-be-ex-husband meets your married boyfriend with a casual handshake and a how do you do like it's the most normal thing in the world, how do you react?

I may have gone through the motions of getting divorced before, but as we did not actually finalize it, I've never been divorced. I don't know how to handle a lot of these situations, and for better and worse, Kyle is still the person I have the most contact with, thanks to co-parenting. And our relationship did span nearly a decade -- our entire twenties -- and he is who knows me probably best in the world.

Kyle followed me and made jokes about how Matt was a typical Pisces, as he literally retreated into a shadow and watched as Kyle and I spoke about the kids' day as we do every day at trade off. Look at you, Sagittarius, I thought, look at how far you've come.

And a part of me beamed, because it went so smoothly, no one postured possessively or was passive aggressive. The two most important men in my life stood in the same room and were more than civil, something close to friendly despite their differences and general disapproval of the other's treatment of me. And Matt could see my dynamic with Kyle and Kyle could witness the seemingly undeniable connection between Matt and I and this, I thought at the time, is the beginning of The New American Family.

*****

"But are you holding your breath?" a friend asked, when I talked about not being able to breathe around it. It was two, maybe three days after I emailed Matt's wife to inform her of my presence, and I received the last messages I ever would from him -- a screenshot of her telling him to get out, to go to the bank and get money, and that she didn't know what to do. We discussed how long he needed to be prepared to be gone for -- a day or two versus nearly a week -- and then, silence.

A call to him later, after discovering my complete excommunication and blockage on social media, for an explanation, found him at home, having dinner.

His phone number was disconnected shortly thereafter.

I hear my friend's voice when I feel the pressure of my heart cracking again inside my ribcage, and I forcibly exhale. 

It's possible I've been holding my breath for my whole life, learning that when it comes to men and their relationships with me, I must hold it in at all times, because at any time it will come crashing down around me and I will suffocate among the debris. I, perhaps, have always been trying to stockpile oxygen in preparation of my inevitable demise at the hands of someone who was supposed to love me.

*****

There is an invisible rope that strings from the center of my heart and travels out, southward, into the ether that exists between him and me. I can feel it pulled taut most of the time, and I can feel it shift daily, as he travels northward to his workplace, tangentially passing me in the commute. Sometimes I still feel him around lunchtime, but sometimes it fades into a slack, not unlike a jump rope awaiting it's first twist into orbit. As he travels southward home again and I simultaneously travel west into the city for my employment I feel the tug at both ends as we circle around each other in the intricate dance of two people pretending they don't live in the same city anymore. Sometimes when I find myself traveling during the day and I inevitably end up close to where he is, the rope pulls so tight I think it might snap. My heart physically aches as the rope pulls and pulls and pulls me closer to where he is, to the other end of this rope that we braided together. Breathless, I have no choice but to ignore it, to continue on with pedestrian errands as if the pull wasn't being bored into my heart by that rope, the friction burn cauterizing a hole that will always be the place where he once existed. The rope twists and turns and pulls and burns and I am at its mercy.

I can't help but wonder if he feels it too, if it tugs at him the way it tugs at me, if it pulls at him with varying force throughout his day trying to guide him to its other beginning, the place where it ends, with me.

*****

I have watched others remove themselves from my circle of support. I have been told to not speak of my heartbreak because what did you expect and don't you remember what this felt like? Yes, of course I do. I have never not remembered, and I would say the biggest point of strife between Matt and I had been my regular reminders to him that he was being unfair to his wife and not allowing her the freedom to pursue her own happiness, through being honest with her about us, about how he told me he felt, not just about me, but about his life and his fledgling marriage. It's why I messaged her, when he alluded to her stating the possibility of her being pregnant, because having once been her, that was my uncrossable line. I had lived that specific story nearly seven years ago, and I could not allow it to repeat in the same manner, not at my hands.

So I have lost support, been faced with shame. I had wondered if as much would happen, but I still wasn't fully prepared for the sting, the loss on top of loss, of being reduced to a simplistic label instead of seen for the multi-dimensional human being that's usually so brightly apparent.

But I've been graced with others, people who tell me, honestly, to fuck the haters. People who have honored my internal annihilation with of course you're devastated, you have a big heart and it just broke clean in two and you always see the good in people, you always trust people mean what they say because that's how you are, how you've always been.  I hold on to these statements when I can't find my breath, when the anguish and the loss -- one friend likened it to missing limb syndrome, but to me it equates to the death of an intimate family member -- overwhelm me and I collapse into myself, when the screenshots and Google search results and the reports of his presence in the world sent in love and concern feel like ghost sightings, hauntings to remind me of what once existed that now just lingers in the still, quiet moments of my unexpected solitude.

The more I speak, the more I find that despite the surface appearance of the situation, people are kind, understanding, supportive. It doesn't change the pain, the betrayal, the heart-shattering loss ... but sometimes it makes it just the tiniest bit more bearable.

*****

I have lost seven pounds. It has not been intentional, it's just how my body has long reacted to stress, to anguish, to anxiety. It is a struggle to eat solid food and not vomit.

I was recently reminded of a poem written through the imagined voice of Frida Kahlo and it remarks on how heartbroken women work so hard to make themselves invisible in the wake of their emotional obliteration. This is not that.

I watch the curves and soft spots of my frame, the places he once held on to, pushed his fingerprints in to the gentle give of my yielding skin, become more rigid, more angular. I watch with an almost morbid fascination as my body morphs without my permission from a soft place to land into something harsher, sharper.

This is not a plea for invisibility. 

It is a fortification around my heart, my spirit. My bones are now my weapons, bringing harsh jabs and brutal stabs to anyone who dares to get too close, who dares to search for comfort in my curves. Whatever beauty I possess in the shift of my hip or the round of my shoulder will dissipate into a hardness, fostering an unapproachability to warn away anyone or anything that dares to even think to look my way. My curveless frame will serve as my exoskeletal armament, whereas my heart, when left in the same role, failed.

My external hardness will guard my inner emptiness until strength chooses to find me again, if ever.

*****

Strangest still, in all of this, has been Kyle's support. Sure, in his way, when he's not in the mood to hold my figurative hand I hear that familiar irritation in his voice, that lack of patience for me and my constant emotional over processing. Yet more often than not he is kind. He has let me cry on his shoulder, done small errands around the house to lessen the strain of the everyday as I sit stoic on my corner of the couch when I get home from work and the kids are asleep, entrenched in my feelings. He has cooked meals and left me the leftovers, or taken the four of us out, to make sure I'm eating. He answers my painful questions about us, about his perspective upon the situation as only someone who has made the same choices as he can give.

He has been a friend, a good one.

Maybe it's because we intimately know this road, albeit from different perspectives, different roles. Maybe he recognizes us in the actions and maneuvers of the two of them, how they ring hollowly and sadly familiar. Maybe he is able to see, now, more of what happened between him and I, which now, so obviously, was not reparable.

Or maybe, if I stretch out onto my farthest branch, he dislikes seeing me being hurt so badly, again, by another angle of the same story he began for me, as if I can't escape this story line that for once, I didn't write. That he still cares enough about my heart that to see it broken hurts him, especially in light of the how, and the why -- that maybe, maybe this is all an extension of our failure, and that had he made different choices, my heart would be closer to whole instead of shattered and scattered throughout everything, again.

But, that's probably a stretch.

Somewhere, I've seen a quote about that the same situation will keep presenting itself to you until you learn from it. Perhaps I had more to learn. Perhaps we both had more to learn. In a way, suffering this loss has felt like closing the last chapter of my marriage to Kyle, as our divorce officially begins it's legal journey just next week. Perhaps living this same story from different perspectives has finally allowed us to forgive each other our past sins and move forward in the crippled ways we have no choice but to accept.

*****

I glowered as he walked out through my front door into the pitch of the technically very early morning. I fought less than usual to hide my distress at his departure, knowing where he was returning to, and where that again put me. I was already in a foul mood, despite the unprecedented frequency with which I'd seen him that day, as plans had gone awry and an argument with Kyle left me feeling trapped within my own home, isolated from any semblance of a life beyond ex-wife and baby mama. I always hated when he left, but the unease in my mind made me feel like being alone would only be detrimental to my well being.

More than anything, I wanted him to stay with me.

He turned around and leaned back through the doorway, kissing me earnestly, then holding my face in his hands.

"It won't be like this much longer. I promise."

He tilted my face up, forcing me to meet his eyes as mine began to brim with tears I'd gotten worse about being able to hide. I both hated and loved when he did that, forcing me to let him see me, to let him in to the ugly moments I usually tried to hide from nearly everyone. A second might as well have been a lifetime as the blur of his bright blue-green eyes became the only thing remotely clear in my line of vision.

"I love you." It was forceful, but kind. Reassuring. A desperate plea for me to hear it, to let it in, to believe it, and him.

I had just begun to do just that. I told myself I would tell him the next time I saw him, how deeply I had finally let myself fall for him, how I had come to trust him and his words as if they were nearly holy. 

Because soon, he wouldn't be saying goodbye, not like this. He'd said so, himself.

Another kiss, gentle on my forehead, then a turn and a few paces out onto my porch, under the fluorescent light where he looked back, hands shoved in his jeans pockets, and winked, repeating those three words that from his mouth both filled me up and broke me apart every single time.

I returned them, choked out barely above a whisper, and watched him walk down the stoop stairs into the darkness of the street, then into the blackness of his car, and drive away.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Thing Of Which I May Not Speak.

As I learn to live with this latest heartbreak in my life, something that's compounded the loss is the realization, as I speak about it, that I never got to share the good parts, the high moments, of the past year. I worked so hard at keeping it quiet, to protect it -- to protect him, to protect us -- that a precious few people saw me rediscover happiness and love ... things I had thought has died inside of me a long time ago. I think it's been easy to assume that this involvement was flippant, or physical, but that wasn't the case at all. It had gravitas; it was as real as anything I've ever experienced, if not more so.

I wrote this post back at the beginning of December, about six months in, after a couple of real-life encounters began to crack the wall I'd built around my happiness and my heart. I thought I'd share it so maybe, just maybe, there'd be a slight bit more context for why I'm so ... devastated ... over something that seems, on the surface, like it shouldn't bear so much weight.


*****
{12/4/14}


The effects of standing in the cold rendered my fingers numb to the point of light tingling. Shoved deep into the pockets of my too-light jacket, I dropped my gaze to my feet, suddenly tongue tied as my ankles rolled in and out, a subtle heel-clicking to alleviate my discomfort yet inability to do anything but speak.

My friends looked at me expectantly, eyes slightly hopeful at seeing this small glimmer of the spark that escaped at a gentle, unsuspecting mention.

He looks like your type. I could introduce you.

It isn't that I didn't know the answer. I've known it for the better part of this year. It's rolled around my brain, my eyes reading it a thousand times over and my fingers typing it a thousand times more. My inner voice has mulled it over and rolled it around in lilts my vocal chords could never accomplish, mumbling it and shouting it all behind the pull of the nerves that ache from squinting in the dark too late each night.

I have never said it out loud.

I may have whispered it to myself in the stillness of my empty evenings, my lips trying to understand this new configuration, this previously foreign combination of syllables and phonics. And I'm fairly sure, in hushed tones, I have spoken parts of it separately as was necessary for whatever need lay at hand. But never have I spoken it wholly, with a full voice, for others to hear.

I looked up from my feet, sideways through too-long bangs creating a veil between the air, the parking lot streetlight, and my eyes. I stammered as the cold air hit my throat, interjecting filler between the first and the last, my lack of practice apparent as I tried to stifle any sign of emotion from escaping along with this utterance.

But for all my posturing, I failed.

This has been The Thing Of Which I May Not Speak, and I have knowingly acquiesced to that reality while understanding my own that if I may not speak of something, I will quickly lose my ability to speak of anything as compartmentalization has never been my strong suit. As well, I know myself well enough to understand that once I spoke it, once I released it into the world around me that my ability to draw it back in would be harder, near impossible. The longer it is held in, the more pressure would build. A leak in the dam to become an overflow, with nothing available to plug it back up again.

It happened again, the next day, and I stammered again, a different set of eyes expectant upon me, fingers poised for the research I myself had done what feels like forever ago. I knew what would be found there, if left unchecked, if not prefaced.

Still, I spoke. And my words, undone with their stifling, poured out and danced around the truth that my face couldn't hide any longer.

This is the happiest I've seen you in years.

The truth of that statement rang in my bones, stealing the breath that was betraying me.

I have a glimmer of light. Like all things in life, it is not necessarily easy or pure or without it's own special complexities and complications. But nonetheless, it is there, and has been, while I've stumbled through this darkness -- not necessarily towards it, but more assisting me on the journey, lighting the few steps ahead of me so that I may not stumble more than needed.

I think back to when I last felt this flicker, this hope, and the closest I can muster is when Tova was born, when I looked into the eyes of another face altogether and, in my way, begged for the opportunity to make this feeling last, or at least make it welcome to return.

It never quite did. Not without tremendous effort and choice and a certain kind of force that only the most wounded or most frightened can produce.

I wasn't sure I'd ever see it again, to be honest.

I have tried to be cautious, to try and not give in to my nature and see things that aren't there, to proceed with trepidation and care. With my silence has come denial, for to me if you cannot or will not speak it, it does not exist beyond the confines of your imagination, it is not a real, tangible thing but the work of dreams and bits of magic.

Yet the truth of it, the reality of it is breaking through for those who are looking for it to see, and with that I had a choice to make -- to continue my silence, to continue to shut it out and push it to arms' length ... or to let it in, ride this cascade of words and thoughts and emotions so painfully unfamiliar to me after all this time, and call a spade a spade.

*****
I spoke your name aloud for the first time.

And I refuse to regret it.