11 Years: My Journey of Life Lessons Rooted In Love

I could tell you about how Sears and a slice from a pizza spot in Yonkers brought us together in 2004. He always said that he secretly knew food was the way to my heart. I could tell you about how on November 30th, I talked to him for three hours on a school night in the dark, under covers, and on the low in my mother’s house, inquiring about what were we. And I’ll never forget, “You know you my girl” and waking up in the morning with him still on the other line. We did that cheesy “You hang up,” “No, you hang up” thing and woke up to the sounds of someone we were falling for breathing on the other line as alarm clocks.

That was a big thing 11 years ago.

He stripped me of my skin before I even let him have me. I told him I loved him before the new year came in.

•   •   •

I could write about my freshmen year in college in 2005 and how I hung the only picture I had of him (taken by my best friend Janaé with the throwback disposable camera) on my dorm room wall and prayed God would bring us together after months apart. I still carry that photo in my wallet as a sign that things come back if it’s yours, wondering if I soak up the fading ink every time I rub my fingers across the affirmation.

“Rob will always luv you.”

Fabulous’ “Baby” was his ringtone. That song will come on once in a blue and our eyes will crash into each another’s every time. The first year is always something special…

•   •   •

Thanksgiving '15: 11 years

 

I could delve into 2006 when we chilled on building roof tops and drank beers before legal age, watching sunsets consume the city and prayed to get away. One day. Anywhere. Just together. 

He told me I would have his kids and I laughed in his face in denial. His certainty, of course, incarnated itself years later, but no one knew that we had lost a child that summer. We luxuriated in carnal desires like medicine, aspiring to heal in a broken moment that only time could repair.  We engaged in anything, everything just to get our minds off of it.

It was that part of dangerous love where blurred vision clouds sound judgement and the throbs of your heart light your path, sometimes, into darkness. I would’ve done whatever. He could’ve taken me wherever. He clutched my hands, I closed my eyes, and we danced to scratchy music emanating from flip phones underneath the sun on that roof. And we lived.

I would’ve jumped from that building if he could affirm he would be there to catch me at the bottom. But internal battles he fought within himself would bring him to his own low point and still, I leaped. I jumped from a fairytale and landed on reality.

•   •   •

I could write you a dissertation about 2007 when we were separated by life, but I still listed him as an emergency contact on forms. There was no one else I wanted to come to my rescue if I ever needed it except him. But even if he couldn’t save me, having him there–wherever I was–was all that mattered to me. Our spirits were yoked and we rekindled a fire during the coldest winter ever.

Conversations were in relation to handwritten notes he sent me, penned behind jail walls but never received. My mother took each one (it’s still unknown if she actually read each one), but I had him to tell me stories one-on-one, flesh to flesh, hearing him spit out caged thoughts in front of me; beside me; inside of me in lieu of fantasizing his voice in my head.

I felt like a woman.

I was still a girl.

•   •   •

I could tell you about 2008 when I got pregnant and breaking the news that we were going to be parents didn’t come as a surprise to him. He goes back to what he said in 2006.

“I knew before you did. I knew the day I met you.”

Our spirits entwined and created a life growing within the vulnerable veins of my being from the depths of his undeveloped soul. We felt so complete in our incompleteness.

•   •   •

February '09: 5 Years

I could go into depth about 2009, year number five, when KMHJ #1 was born and it was then that we understood we knew nothing about love. At 22 and 23-years-old, we acknowledged the reality that we were too young to have kids. We were both studying and scrutinizing ourselves and somehow, we thought a baby would be the answer to years of unanswered questions. But the loss we endured three years prior left an imprint on us that in all of our inexperienced glory, we would vow to be the best parents we could.

Our baby was made from love. Love we wanted for ourselves. Love we wanted for one another.

•   •   •

I could tell you about 2010 when another baby, KMHJ #2, made his way to the scene and that being one of the roughest years of our lives. Everything fell apart. Demons from years past became present again and we didn’t know where else we could turn. So we stayed together, resided with the demons and drifted apart. Fear was the uninvited guest that lived in our home.

It kept me in a headlock and shut my eyes to what was really happening. We weren’t living in a fantasy anymore–we were big people who decided to live with big decisions and didn’t know how to let go. Our struggle was in our anger. This fucked up logic of love flourished between us and somehow thought we could unearth strength by developing a high tolerance of BS. I pinned that ‘Strong Black Woman narrative on my back because I condoned things most women wouldn’t.

I learned about expectations, unresolved issues, and disappointments that year. 

I can tell you about 2011, 2012 and 2013–all extremely difficult years that are hard to revisit (so difficult, I ain’t talking about it), but prevalent to our growth today.

It was like a post I saw relative to Mercury Retrograde:

Mercury Retrograde asks for constant surrender:

of plans

assumptions

expectations

and old ways of 

seeing

thinking 

doing

being.

Let’s just say those three years were secretly in retrograde. We were so snug in our disfunction that we didn’t realize when it was our season of deliverance.

•   •   •

I could travel back to 2014, one whole decade in, when we decided to split and go our separate ways for personal reasons. And that time apart birthed much-needed conversations on co-parenting and moving on in love. 2014 was sitting down with kids and having to explain parents living in different places and holding on to love by a thread. They’re little people, but children know. They know when something’s wrong; when a house is divided and Mommy and Daddy are carrying around extra weight. When our minds are elsewhere and love is bordering on nonexistent.

It was 10 years in and realizing that we never really had a moment away from one another. and understanding space was crucial if we wanted to evolve. We cultivated a stifling space and suffocated one another.

It was impossible to grow. . .

The space we needed to nurture was within. It was time to invest in ourselves.

“She threw away all of her masks and put on her soul.”

•   •   •

Thanksgiving '15: 11 years

But I’ll tell you about 2015, 11 years in, when two people blossomed into who they were destined to be and became the best parents they could be. They loved one another fiercely because they finally learned to fully loved themselves.

We finally understood that love was everything people were afraid of: effort, transparency, vulnerability, forgiveness, selflessness, sacrifice.

I could tell you about the nights we’ve cried looking at reflections of ourselves in the other person’s face and realized that the Universe put us with together so we could face what we were running from–our past, our childhoods, our flaws, ourselves. I could tell you about the summer nights we drank until we passed out in each other’s arms and leg locked in the most comfortable positions in the morning. Or how we pass that Sears sometimes and talk about 2004 like it happened yesterday. The memories are still fresh and reliving some of those years are refreshing.

I can still taste the pizza. Pepperoni. I still hear the confidence in the timbre of his voice beginning in the pit of his belly when he confirmed what I already felt. You know you my girl.

You don’t ever forget the day you locked eyes with your person. Or the day you first kissed. The afternoon you made love. The exact night you were with child. The expression he makes when your son is entering the world. The feeling in his hand as he helps you deliver another baby. The tears that decorate his face when you lose what you both created. The change in his body, his being, when he realizes that you are his and the look in your eyes when you know in your heart, he is yours.

That is what 11 years of our life looks like. Today, we celebrate growth in love.

Happy Anniversary, papa. Thank you for being a breathing work of art.

When Pens Collide: Be Messy, Complicated & Afraid

I was in the midst of planning my chapters 10th anniversary celebration at my alma mater and the anxiety and stress that comes with putting together a banquet on a $0 budget garnered a high level of respect for event planners. It was supposed to be the finale of 2015, a year that tossed and turned me over in 100 ways, and I didn’t want to do anything else because I felt like I did too much. If I didnt feel like I was, my body warned me, Rob reminded me, the kids inconspicuously told me. But God had other plans and demanded I do one last thing–a usual request when I’m most weary and unorganized.

Tassika reached out to me with a vision, a dream that was bursting at the seams, forcing to be manifested and illustrated with physical bodies–womens bodies. Black women bodies. Black women writers bodies. Deriving from a moment with her best friend, Tass realized creatives were unaware of the impact of their work and thought something powerful could happen if the reader could speak to the writer through the writer’s own words.

When Pens Collide press release

It was a vague proposal with light details that were still in the works of being amplified, but the fervor that exuded through Tass fingertips radiated from Maryland to the Bronx. I would be introduced to Sharee of Dorm Room Television and in only a four week interval, When Pens Collide would come together. In pitching the idea to the writers I felt needed to be there, I underwent my own moment of darkness, thinking about how my words would be received amongst a crowd that probably never heard of me or how the sentences I stung together would be articulated from another writer. Low key, but high key, I wasn’t ready.

I dont revisit anything on this blog.

I write words and close doors and leave behind a piece of tragedy or triumph from my lifes timeline. I don’t ever go back. Because going back and rereading words means returning to pain for just two minutes without ever having to close my eyes. Words breathe. Words live. But that was the point of When Pens Collide–to bring stories to life, to sit in front of your words like a mirror that would cause you to cry, crack, or bring you comfort. When Pens Collide would make you feel more than anything else.

And we felt pain that wasnt ours entirely; writers have that ability. 

Sneak peek inside When Pens Collide

Tassika broke it down that WPC would “be a raw display of artistry.” I don’t think anyone expected the magnitude of the event, promoted as MTV’s Unplugged for writers–not even the participants or myself as one of the organizers. The breakdown of the event told a story between nine Black women and it was a journey of why we write (The Warmup), what comes with love (Love Language), the dark truths that should have been subdued, but spoken through weighted tears and lumps in the throat (OK, You Need Wine for This), experiencing those heavy moments with someone this time around (Recovery) and coming out with a fearlessness (Fear Nothing & No One) and understanding that these experiences account for something far greater than us (Woman, Life is the Lesson). We were woman from different walks of life with pen names that liven up break up ordeals, sexual assault episodes and frustrations with the Universe affairs.

Ashley was The Sunshine; Shefon, The Ballet; Tamika, The Altar; Lissa is The Journal; Roconia was fittingly The Revolution; Yetti served as the Glass of Red Wine; Tyece, The Grit; Sharee, The Stage; Tassika, The Catalyst; myself, the Curator of Souls.

We were sisters in our heads because of magic manifested on paper. 

Pens piled into one another and a deeper sisterhood between nine storytellers was cultivated. To be a part of When Pens Collide (as a reader, writer, or someone in the audience) was to witness every stereotype of women–Black women, Black women who write–thrown out and shattered. The tears that were left on an old wooden floor at The Draper Space, the courage that spilled out vocalizing someone elses thoughts, and the genuine love that was felt was because of the impact of our stories. We connected over words and experiences that many feel should have remained in the corners of our souls.

This perfectly summarizes When Pens Collide and 2015:

“You can be messy, complicated and afraid. SHOW UP ANYWAY.”

We came together on Saturday the 21st of November to hear the words we mustered up in our most messiest, complicated and fear-filled moments. We showed up and sisterhood showed out. We proved our best work is born when were at our most vulnerable and our pain and passion produces our greatest evolutions. When Pens Collide was a judgement-free zone, a safe space, a place where we would be stripped down to the bare bone to navigate back to him, to the 90’s, to high school, to that night. And coming out this time would be different because the reader, the homegirl in our head, would be there to hug us at the end of it. The event revealed the women that grew up on Maya, Zora, and Nikki and were on the path to having her own name etched in history. “Words are our most inexhaustible source or magic and When Pens Collide showcased that.

Thank you to everyone who participated and supported the vision (Special thank you to my Hermana, Ysanet, and good friend, Kendra, who trooped it all the way uptown from Brooklyn. Much obliged to you women).

Check out more reviews of When Pens Collide from Tass, Ashley, and Tamika + if you’re interested in bringing the event to your city, email any of the event planners!

February 25th…

Friday, October, 16, 2015 | 11:27 a.m.

I stood in line behind two women anxious for the opportunity to get the paper. I wasn’t entirely sure how I got here or why I decided it was time, but I fidgeted with my fingers in a way to mirror those sentiments. I kept staring at the sign: Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Death Certificates. It was a morning of tagging along with Rob to pick up a copy of his birth certificate and playing catch-up on all of the things that go unsaid at home. We laughed and exchanged stories on the hour-long commute into lower Manhattan just 90 minutes before; before I walked into that building and overheard cryptic conversations on wanting answers to so-and-so’s death. That’s all I heard:

I want answers.

I went into that building with giggles and a goal in mind–to get in and get out. But the Universe lets words whisper past our ears to stir memories and demons and unwarranted thoughts to wake our consciousness. I stood on line, sweaty palms and underarms, thinking about the results of this moment. I questioned if whether or not I would be able to get my hands on my father’s death certificate. I couldn’t prove anything. More so, I didn’t know much. A person I’ll never see ever again in life said “I want answers” loud enough for me to hear and God lead me to a line to find them.

What’s your father’s name?

I told her, uncertain in my response, but mentally revisiting a conversation with my mom on my 25th birthday about his name or a variation of it. I had to repeat his name a little louder, as if I had to be confident about it. Everything has been–what feels like–a secret regarding my dad, and my whispering of who he was, personified the confidentiality about it all.

I leaned into the glass and said it two notches higher, trying to swallow the barrage of tears I held in. I squirmed with my phone reciting his social security number found on Ancestry.com and Rob looked at me with a hope that things would work out.

Why are you requesting this death certificate?

“Answers” moved around restlessly in my head.

Um, genealogy purposes.

What’s your relationship to the deceased?

His daughter…I think. 

The woman questioned my knowledge and the apprehension of spitting facts out courtesy of a free online trial overwhelmed me.

I’m going based off what my mother told me. And what I found online. 

Do you know his parents name?

I don’t know anything.

That broke me. That was the wave that caved in on me and drowned everything, taking me back to 13 days prior where I accepted an award for my Afro-Latina identity and dedicated it to my father. A father I didn’t know, a man I never will. It took me back to feeling like this and questioning myself and trying to find a spot in a culture that may or may not accept me because I didn’t know much of anything about it. It was that night I found his name on the internet and looked at my mother differently and cried on a floor with a partner who could do nothing for me. It was that moment, in that building, wanting to crumble because I was back at square one–that place of self-examination and feeling empty because I just didn’t know.

I did leave that place knowing that in two weeks, I would have his official death certificate in my hands and would finally get some answers.

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015 | 2:58 p.m.

Usual weekday afternoon of picking up the boys and mentally prepping to sit down and go over the school day, do homework, check emails for the 20th time, etc. I arrive to mail from the DOH and my focus shifts to what’s in my hand.

I glance over it at high speeds and yet, catch every detail in the small letters before me. I go for the year of death and incoherently whisper, It doesn’t add up. I’ve been living in the same city with the man I’ve asked about for the last 22 years of my life.

Two boroughs away.

He passed the same year things started to go awry for me. He departed; boys came in. (Good ol’ ’01…)

On the same day of the hardest day of my life.

February 25th was there to haunt me again. Or bring me closure.

I will never write a more heartbreaking blog post than what I conjured up about February 25, 2014, but I am so grateful for what came out of that. A sigh of relief. Stories from others who’ve experienced the same. Encouragement from those who haven’t. Closure.

On February 25, 2001, I lost my dad. Yesterday, the Universe connected the last dot and I felt at peace. It took almost 30 years of questions and one overheard conversation in a building, for me to finally get an answer. February 25th; a day of loss and ironically, the birth of a new beginning. The ending of this only signifies the start of something bigger. Attempting to find family. Connecting more dots. Discovering more of who I am and who made me.

I’m ready to open that door…tears in my eyes and all.

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