Monday, December 5, 2016

The Return of the Timeline 2008-2009

Breaking up is never easy. Perhaps that's why I avoid relationships these days. Losing love is so painful. But then again, I have a dog, and I realize the implications of that as it concerns my future happiness. All that to say, I returned to Memphis after spending almost a full year in England and Europe, and I got on with things after the required mourning period.

Despite a brief bout of dizziness brought on by the immensity of the American road and driving again, it wasn't long before I moved into an epic apartment with my best friend, slid back into teaching Intensive English to international students, and found a posse of summer fun friends to idle away the hours in the thick southern heat.

I also went to as many shows at the Hi-Tone that I could fit into my schedule: Lord T. and Eloise (to be covered in champagne), Jack Oblivion and the Tennessee Tearjerkers, Harlan T. Bobo, and everyone's favorite Memphis band: Snowglobe. It was the tail end of my golden age of Memphis music.

I rode my bike to the farmer's market on South Main, drank beers in the upper brothel rooms at Earnestine and Hazel's, and played trivia at The Young Avenue Deli. I walked everywhere, rarely left the "Parkways," as the midtowners put it, even explored, in detail, the ancient forest in Overton Park that some would destroy completely for more parking. I was what I always wanted to be, but I was still antsy....never content.

It was the first summer I didn't spend overseas in a few years, so I soaked it up. Whenever I found myself longing for the connection to the rest of the world, the glorious blend of cultures, I stepped out of myself while I taught at Intensive English and looked at each of my students, pictures of the world themselves, sharing in a common language. It felt like home.

I went camping with friends from the neighborhood and graduate school, spelunking and skinny dipping in the Cumberland Mountains. We ate pot brownies in a cave, and I drank bourbon from a flask and felt it warm with my heartbeat. Then I sat in the middle of the cave and giggled so much I couldn't stand up. In my dreams that night, everything was pink.
Homecoming 2008

I somehow lost a ton of weight from walking and cooking for myself, being too busy to eat or think. I managed to show up at my ten year high school reunion with a bangin bod, and I wore a dress I bought at Old Navy for five dollars with a pair of white Converse. I was underdressed, but still me, so it was fine. People don't tend to judge me as harshly as I assume that they do, as harshly as I judge myself.

What good is an epic apartment without epic parties? My best friend and I threw a party for her birthday, found out we had a knack for it, and threw a few more gorgeous get-togethers of like-minded individuals, recyclers, Obama voters, volunteers, gorgeous artists packed onto our 6x6 balcony like sardines. The cops came once because the volume of conversation exceeded what the neighbors could handle. It was a weekend, so they just told us to move the party inside.

The guy I was tryina hang out with at the time was giving me a little bit of a run around. That was my first mistake. Sometimes a girl has to learn the hard way that a guy is a butt. He had everyone guessing, our group of friends wandering what he was doing with three different girls, all smart enough to know better. And despite all the warnings that always come from people that mean well, I won, and I followed him all the way to a small town in Georgia to learn my lesson.

That, my friends, is how I found Georgia and began to dig in the earth again, digging and scratching, uncovering the next chapter, what it felt like to be physically strong as my mind began questioning things it never had before.

My return to Memphis was a good time, a whirlwind, but good. I kept a decent log of it starting here. Be warned, though. It begins as a day by day recovery from heartbreak. Just how it is.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Wolf

I've been feeling the claws of my wolf tugging at the skin around my heart the past few weeks. She whispers poetry to me as I sit with my legs crossed, my mind humming, words that get lost as the river rushes forward. She wants to speak, to scratch off the sweet facade of my quirky sarcasm, my humor. I'm a dream girl and she's a rabid wolf, but we inhabit the same house.

When we were young, we used to play in an enchanted forest, she and I, dirty hands, dirty knees, a mind racing, in love with everything. Boys chased us, admired us, and we felt no shame, and we loved all of them. We smiled up at the stars every night with hope, no pictures or expectations, just hope that life would always be this close, this immediate and real. 

"One day you'll have to let someone take care of you." He said it to me after church, knowing how I felt about him. The men in my life began to notice me, but shy away from me, to tell me everything, but never speak to me in public. At some point during my adolescence, my focus shifted to the male gaze and away from the wolf, my protector, and I have spent the majority of my life chasing it, like a rabid dog, desperate to be saved, and cared for, to be fed. The Male Gaze. 

As your teachers are attempting to tell you how to see the world around you and decide for yourself what you will do about it all, the rest of your immediate surroundings are drooling over the opportunity to tell you what you must do and how much it will cost. The first thing you learn, as a little girl, is that you must be what you are not, and you are never to be who you really are. "Be yourself" is an idiom that means little to nothing. How am I not myself? When I attempt to live the life I feel I am supposed to live. 

And the fairytale is that someone will save you from the drudgery of a life with no direction...leaving you one direction: attempt to attract and maintain the male gaze. And oh what an occupation it becomes. It consumes you. Look at me. See me. Admire me. 

I hear that I am beautiful but I cannot believe it this morning, staring into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror. The bones in my face are misplaced and misshapen. I am beginning to see lines. I am older than I was even three years ago. Rigid. I don't go out as often as I used to any more, but I got bills. I while away the hours at work or at home with my dog. I fear the city leaves me feeling trapped.

In so many ways I have become who I am today, who I always needed to be, after roaming the streets of Chicago in the frozen twilight. Yet I struggle to shake the shackles of male attention. How can I exist without it? I wonder. Everything I have ever been taught has projected an image of myself to me as a member of a nuclear family, casting everything I am and always have been as merely a fraction of the whole in holy matrimony. 

I gambled away my life on the idea that my worth could be broken down and placed in a box marked with someone else's name, and that his name would make me free. In my quest to prove that I am smarter than the average white woman, I have spent a lot of money and time just to be able to convince the male gaze that I am worth the attention, the seal of approval, not only because of this bangin bod, although that may matter way less than I fantasized, and I spent even more money and time to convince myself of my own capacity for impact. 

As a teenager I prayed to God, why did you make me this way if you wanted me to be silent? Why did you make me so loud? I wept, and I begged. I hunched my shoulders and hung my head. I curled up inside of myself until I found that validation...in someone else, and when it ended, I felt the weight of the world crashing down around me. This path of righteousness had led me to a crushing defeat, and I have been desperate to trust myself, much less anyone else, since that day.

How does a romantic recover what is lost when rejection means she herself has fallen short and will continue to struggle until she can prove herself worth it....the male gaze?

Don't be all yourself. There is nothing wrong with you, but maybe don't be yourself entirely right away. Don't put it all on the table. Like a hammer. If I had one...I would hammer in the morning just to piss off the neighbors. 

The girl, the me part of her was tired and sad and scared for a while. She was hungry, starving, screaming at people in traffic, at stop signs, "I am lost! I took the wrong road and now I'm lost! and it's no one's fault and it's everyone's fault, and it hurts like hell." 

And then she wasn't lost. One can only wander so long in the mucky mire of the darkest woods before she is discovered by her wolf half, for if she is half of anything, it is this beast. And then the beast begins to claw away, dragging her fingers through the layers upon layers of delusion, freshening the wounds so that they might heal properly. 

You are just now learning how to live, aren't you? The woman I work with, five years my senior, hypothesizes.  She drives me home on the horrible days so I don't have to ride my bike, and we chill. She is Puerto Rican, familiar with my neighborhood from the days when it was patrolled by rival gangs. I love the folklore, but even folklore is too safe. 

Retired gang bangers have shown me their battle scars in hopes that I might provide them the comfort they felt certain my respect in conversation truly communicated, bullet wounds. But my wounds are just the same. We fight the absence of choice, carry the rage of our mothers before us whose choices were fewer and voices were ignored or forgotten, we are all the same, the oppressed. But we are all completely different. 

I cannot imagine a world where I fear the pain of a bullet on a daily basis. I cannot imagine what it is like to be intelligent yet marginalized and stereotyped twice as much as even I am, that your sugar and spice must be extra sweet to cover up the chains of an earned collective rage. Black women have the right to be angrier than anyone else every day of their lives. I don't know a lot of things, but I do know that.

And I too own my anger, such as it is, close to my heart, where it is warm. I used to weep for my capacity to love. A burning energy in the pit of my stomach, wasted on my failure to matriculate.

But not failure. Oh no. There is so much use in the world for the love that compels me. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, and Gilead is my heart.

You can heal yourself. It is not easy, but it is within you. 

The wolf is in front now, and she roves, and hunts, and warms my feet at night. She doesn't want to bite, but nature compels her toward self preservation. Her language is truth.

I am thankful that we found each other again.