Thursday, December 11, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 5



Read parts 1-4, HERE.

There were two sides to my father: one I grew up with and the man he was before he died. My father seemed to be friends with everyone, when I was younger. We'd leave the house and every few steps he'd cross palms with another brother who "hadn't quite figured out life yet." 

Mr. Mills seemed to my father's favorite. We always stopped by Free Verse, no matter what we'd left the house for. Mills was a new widow, back then. He always looked tired, when he sat on his steps at sundown, and I always wondered whether he expected his wife to suddenly return home.

Mills had this philosophy: A bookstore needed to feel like home. This is why he chose a brownstone, for his venture. A place where the spirit felt at ease and wanted for nothing more than the word. He once was ecstatic about seeing bits of the underground and rare traditions thriving in one space. In no time he’d ordered rare, expensive coffee beans and sparkly machines for the cafe, previously an old bar, in the back.  He spent hours building a small black wooden platform by hand in which he’d hoped that poets and musicians would perform. The doors were heavy with a gorgeous gold and a frosted glass swirling in the middle. The empty spaces were filled with interesting vintage finds and the walls were painted a deep cerulean. A small crawl space under the stairs served as a storage and would later on serve as my homework nook. Shelves were a great hiding leeway, where I once kissed a neighborhood boy.  Mills offered up a space for their children to have reading hour and after-school programs. He convinced authors, who wouldn’t usually visit our neck of the woods, to speak about their texts and empower the avid readers of the community. Upon entrance you’d find him in his favorite v-neck sweaters, sitting at an old fashioned register. He was a handsome and sprawling man with a fro of curls and a whistle between his gap. Ladies would visit the paranormal and mystery sections of the store, knowing they only frequented Essence or Ebony, hoping they’d catch his eye. But Mills had already loved and lost and vowed to never love again.

Sometimes I felt that way, as young as I was. It was in that same bookstore I met Benjamin. I still wrote poems about him. I felt disgusted, when I did, but it was the only way I could pull the memories out for a while. When they'd return, I was back at it again. Benjamin was an older teenager as obsessed with Free Verse, as I was. He was slender and striking, collared shirts and khakis always adorning him. He'd come in and ask Mills for Richard Wright and James Baldwin books and then he'd spend hours slowly devouring pastry and Native Son simultaneously. I was twelve,when I finally had the courage to say hello.
I used to think that love was in the form of soft kisses, 
between hardcovers
and walks home,
paying for my daily $3.25
Chinese fried chicken and french fries,
walking past the lady's house with six cars,
and a fumble with my parent's latch-key

But I ain't stupid:
wanted no dance with consequence,
feared limbo,
bent far down enough to pick up my own keys,
excused his faux gentleman and went inside alone,
but then the letters started arriving,
after he was gone,
slipped in between report cards that
I hid between reference texts,
referring to me:
Dear Jai, 
You're filling out, I bet. Got thighs like your mama and wit like the wind. 
Remember the bookstore backyard? 
Stolen kisses, while Mills was too busy attending to customers
I was too lost in my lust, too lost in your lips
too lost in my pre-calculus exam while 
you still checked the back of books for multiplication tables
puts things into perspective, don't it?
I had to show you:
show you that love was more than fiddle and dry hump, 
talk and whisper.

Remember the book talks?
The things that boys forgot to tell you:
you're smart,
you're beautiful,
you're funny
I'm sorry I couldn't be that for you.
I'm sorry I hurt you.
I'm sorry about the sirens and police cars.
I'm sorry about the wrath of your father.
I met my father's other side after Benjamin. He demanded I stay home with my mother and wouldn't allow me to go to Free Verse or anywhere else without a chaperone. My father told no more stories about his old neighborhood, he spent his Saturdays out and wanted no one to ask him where he'd gone. I now know he didn't tell me, because he didn't want me to ask to come. He knew I was too forgiving, too naive to understand betrayal. He trusted this place, despite the hardships it'd placed on his family growing up and felt safe enough to send his daughter into its midsts. 
I heard my parents talking after the night it happened:
"I work with these boys! How could they?"
"Mentoring don't always change monsters, baby," my mother tried to soothe his pain. 
I listened from upstairs, I tried to ignore the soreness in between my legs, I wondered if Benjamin was in a cold cell, I pondered if he'd learned his lesson.
I was too young to understand the impact.
It wasn't until the moment I was kissing Malaki that it all begun to flood me again and I remembered why I'd spent the rest of high school and college cozied in texts and away from "monsters." I must've pulled away too quickly.
Malaki asked, "What's wrong?"
I stood up and brushed down my skirt, "I'm just not ready for this yet,"
"We can take our time Jai. I'm sorry if I rushed this."
"I kissed you. I started it. I'm sorry. I have to go."

(brownstone image via google images)



Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Twenty-Seven.



1.
Because sometimes it takes far too long to realize that you can't save everyone. It isn't until you're sitting alone, fathoming the peaceful of your house, and somber, that it dawns upon you that no one has returned the favor. 

2.
No one is perfect.
Too often I've heard my friends throw this word around like a Frisbee: He's perfect
He presents himself like a checklist.
Tailored suit: Check.
Church: Check.
Family man: Check.
Great Smile: Check.
Stable/Independent: Check, Check.
We're so quick to grab our mental pencils, that his flaws, hidden in the borderline misogynistic comments he makes and his long glance of other women, are lost.
On a Monday, I undressed after work, placed my earrings in the jewelry box, loosened the latch on my watch, twisted my weave into a bun, and made my way to the kitchen to open a bottle of Riesling. My symphony of a routine was interrupted by a phone call, from a mutual friend. 
Betrayal: Check
Another friend of his could be heard in the background crying. She'd just found out that her boyfriend was cheating on her. I pursed my lips; ready to convey advice I'd heard from several others. 
& then you find out that her boyfriend is the guy you've been dating. 
I waited for the anger to lurch from my chest. 
It never came.
It was then I realized that I'd grown numb to these sort of things.
3. 
Feel like your parents are contradictory when they bring up their 1 friend who got married at 49 and still had a child. The people around you speak in clich├ęs and anomalies that they genuinely feel are love.
"You're going find someone."
You envy your parents' union. They fell in love and they have yet to land.
4.
Decide if the doctor telling you that you have a slim chance of having children is a blessing or a curse.
You watch brown boys crucifixion across America and wonder if you want to bring a child into this world, anyway.
5.
Realize that you're a worker bee, confined to living your life on the weekends and at night.
Ask yourself what you're going to about it.
Don't be shocked when you respond: nothing. 
6.
Friendships are seasonal. The word "best" is attached to people who are easier identified as admirers or enemies and interchangeable. 
Your "best" friend tells someone who's expressed interest in you, but also someone she's interested in, that she had no clue he was into "heavy set women." 
She smiles at your accomplishments, but tells mutual friends that you think too much of yourself. 
You check yourself, pat yourself down, and wonder where this overt confidence she sees is dripping from.
You cannot find it.
You cannot find it in the job you helped her get. 
You cannot find it in her smile on the day you bought her a ticket for a convention she couldn't afford, at the time.
You cannot find it in the apartment you helped scour the city for.
You cannot find it in the crevices of your sofa, where she often releases her burdens. 
Keep looking.
7.
First dates feel like interviews and when they don't...you sometimes feel like you've found the real thing.
8.
All people on dating sites are socially awkward in one way or another, hence their need to greet others online.
You create many profiles; you realize you too are awkward.
You prefer the curve of a latte cup, quiet, and the nook of a bookstore, over sex.
9.
Perhaps you've never really made love.
10.
These days, how do you make it anyway? 
My parents were chefs; of the old school emotion we all seem to be searching for the origins of.
1 part: My dad left for college first. Most teenage boys are diverted by an abundance of women and so he suddenly stopped answering my mother's calls.
2 tbsp: My mother was heart broken, but she bounced back with someone who'd always wanted her attention.
3 cups: My father's realization that there was nothing like home, the girl from church, and her adoration.
1 quart: Apologies. Regret. Insistence. 
Cook: Forgiveness: The ability to talk through things worth fighting for.
They were sixteen when they met. They're in their fifties now. I've seen this play out several times, in their relationship. The intimacy, the silent treatment, the dissonance, the fighting fair, and the piecing it back together again. 
11.
I'm looking forward to having someone to fight fair with.
I'm looking forward to jigsaw puzzles in dining rooms, with our kids, and footsie under the table, realizing that our activity is a metaphor for our reoccurring affair. 
12.
I am intimidating. I can't wait to fall in love with someone more intimidating than I.
13.
I've never loved anyone who challenged me. I like a challenge. I need a challenge.
14. 
I’ve never been a stronger leader. I owe every ounce of my growth to those I’ve followed. My mentor is incessant. If I let too much time pass, he’ll berate me about my distance and make me promise to never let it happen again.
It always happens again, but he’s the most understanding human I’ve ever known. If this is what it takes to mentor someone, I've got so much to learn. 
15. 
Career can be an evolution. I work for the same agency, but I’m in a new position and it’s changed my perspective on education for the better. Often we’re caught trying to leave a situation, before trying everything we can to change it.
I’ll always try.
16.
My ex boyfriend calls when I'm at my happiest, every time.
Do I emit radar for idiots to wipe their feet on my welcome mat, again?
Perhaps I share too much on the social media they swear they don't stalk?
Hi, ex-boyfriend. I know you're reading this. Enjoy.
17.
I love my solitude.
This past year I’ve put up with an incessant roommate who had much growing up to do and friends who didn’t know the etiquette of calling, before they stopped by.
All of that had to come to a halt.
18.
I will never, not be broken. I am consistent mending, swiping the tips of my fingers against my arms and reminiscing touch. Sometimes you need to remind yourself, lest you fall in love with your work and other oddities and become numb to necessary affection. 
19.
I've adopted a sense of style.

I've always been suits and heels, but I fought it.

My mother was/is obsessed with The Limited, Banana Republic, New York and Company and stores alike. 

I'd hide inside the clothing racks and admire the blazers. My mother has always been corporate fly. I wanted to be just like her.

I bought my first suit at 13 and I've been addicted ever since. However, suits aren't the attire of high school and college. I struggled between my tomboy attire and the skimpy clothes 
from Forever 21 and H&M that seemed to be my generation's attire. 

I broke away from it the moment I got my first job. I've been suited up ever since. A workday hasn't gone by this year that I haven't received several compliments.
 20.
My father and I are bonding in ways I would've never expected us to. 

In the last year we went to a Nets Game, had business talks, monthly dinners, and went to homecoming together.

My dad watched in awe as I schooled him about gentrification, its impact on cultural businesses and the evolution branding and advertising needed to undergo in those neighborhoods.

It was the first time he'd ever tipped his hat to me. I think I kept that hat.

21.
 This year I started a new blog and abandoned it. 

I didn't mean to.
I had a whole business plan for it.

However, I was promoted to a huge position in my agency and I couldn't handle both at the same time. 

I could've chosen the blog. It was the perfect time to decide whether blogging/writing or education would be my path. I chose education, but I'm still here. I've just chosen to write, when I can. 

& ain't nothing wrong with that. 
22.
God and I have always had this awkward relationship.

He was brought into my life via my grandmothers pleas to come to church and the monthly Daily Bread she'd pass on to my mother, to pass on to me.

At the start of the New Year, I frequented church and made it one of my resolutions. I wanted to be a regular attendee. I'll be honest: I haven't been back in a while. However, despite this, I feel closer to God than I've ever been. The younger me dropped to her knees every time she was in trouble, hoping the guide that her ancestors depended on could get her out of her current predicament. 

But I see God everywhere now:
He's on the train, conversing with mad men who just want a place to sleep.
He's in the eyes of my students who want and need so much more than the present world can give them.
He's in the hopes of the people who hope that good citizenship and virtue will get them a first class ticket to heaven, a significant other, a few kids, and a roof.

God and I talk regularly. 
He said to give him a call, when you have the time. 
23.
Men and women can be friends.

My best friend and I met on a blind date. We weren't attracted to each other and became comrades, instead. 

Lately, after almost a decade has passed, we treat each other to dinner. We have long and heavy conversations about life, love and the tiring journey called the late twenties. 

It's been uncomfortable lately, knowing deep down that we're at an age where we should be doing this with someone we're "attracted" to. I've noticed that when it gets too late, the witching hour, we are quick to offer an exit.

I suggest:

So perhaps you should leave? I know you have...that...that thing in the morning.

He responds:

Yeah. You're right.

There's never really a thing. 

The thing is an invisible force that pushes people together, that don't really fit, because of desperation. 

We've spent less time together, lately. 

Retract.

Can men and women be friends? 
24.
As you evolve and come into your own, you will love yourself differently.

I dance in mirrors more often. I love my calves, they're chiseled like a mug. The gap in my smile sets me apart. There's sass in my bow-legged walk. I can rock an Afro or a sew-in and feel worthy, either way. 
25.
I will never, not be a tomboy. Sneakers will always reside in my closet, my skateboard will always be nearby, and I'll always be a little aggressive.

I apologize in advance to my future husband, for all the play fights he'll have to endure. 

26.
I want a lot of children. 

I want a tribe. Langston, Basquiat, Frida loving babies. 

Sometimes we want things we can't have. Will this be one of them?
27.

Kissing is always the most amazing part. 

If it isn't unexpected, it bores me. 

What has this year taught you?







Monday, November 17, 2014

Alive.



"But what if he doesn't call?" 

I asked my best friend this question after an amazing date, my doubting mind correlating it with the millions of horrible OKCupid outings I'd endured. I'd had men tell me that they thought I was shorter, slimmer, less intimidating or anything else that made them feel more secure. Like the infamous scene from "Just Wright"  where Queen Latifah finishes the sentences of her stereotypical first date, I know the game all too well. 

I'd watch carefully across the table at reactions. when certain conversations emerged:

Him: So what do you do for a living? 

Me: I'm a program director at a non-profit.

Him: Well not to sound creepy, but I read somewhere that you're a writer.

Me: I am. 

Him: Oh. That's awesome. Like your hobby, right?

Me: Actually, I write professionally. I've got a few freelance gigs.

Him: Wow. That's great. You know, there's a spoken word poet with your same nickname. She's pretty dope, perhaps I can take you to see her sometime. Writers totally dig that stuff.

Me: Yeah. That's actually me. I'm a slam champion and I perform every now and then, not as much as I used to.

Him: Whoa. You look so different, now. (I've lost a lot of weight.) Do you get paid for that?

Me: Yes. 

Or perhaps this scenario:

Him: Honestly, I thought you'd be a lot shorter.

Me: Really? What gave you that impression?

Him: Idk. I guess you don't really take pictures with anyone next to you. 

Me: Is my height going to be a problem?

Him: No. I mean, I don't think so. Would you be opposed to retiring the heels for someone you're with? 

Me: Sigh.

I'm used to intimidating men in some shape or form. Gone are the days where I'd try to pretend I was just a "teacher" or I did something concerning education. Gone are the days where I'd hide my writing life, until it was absolutely necessary to reveal. It's going to come out anyway. Why hide it? 

Word to Chimamanda: "Of course I am not worried about intimidating men. The type of man who will be intimidated by me is exactly the type of man I have no interest in."

I'd sat at tables and had great conversation with guys, had them in stitches, and even had a few tell me that I was awesome. So...where are they?

A few of these dates came full circle, when they did I asked why we never followed through. 

Often I heard:

"I wasn't ready for a woman like you, yet."

"You had a lot going on and I needed to get myself together before I could come at a girl like you." 

That may have very well been true, but I rarely give second chances.

Because of this reiterative experience, I became guarded. I thought about dates ending before they began. I figured out how to go out with a bang, keeping my pride and trudging their own. A master of words and intention, I placed hidden motives in the palms of men who beckoned attention. 

I scared the mess out of men who swore they knew how to commandeer me, before they got through the door.

However, once in a while, upon the whiff of good heart, I'd let one in. 

& every now and then, someone will surprise the mess out of you. 

Although I'm an advocate of taking experiences for lessons, I often forget to take my own. Sometimes, someone comes along just to crack something open, just to give a forgotten emotion life, just to prompt a smile once again. 

On the first date, I reached out to give him the church hug that I give all acquaintances: light pat, chin lightly on shoulder, pull away. He stood back flabbergasted. 

"This might be our first one on one, but we've known each other for a while. Hug me, for real this time."

It was awkward and long, but after a whole minute of him holding me tight and not letting me go, something in me collapsed into him and I allowed someone to really hug me, for the first time, in a long time. 

There was another moment, while watching the movie, in the theatre, that he put his arms around me. 

"I know it's been a while, since you've been snuggled up like this. Don't you miss it?"

I was getting ready to go off on him, assuming he was trying to poke fun at me being single. 

& then I thought about it...I did miss it. A lot.

& so I basked. 
I did not question.
I did not delve into assumed calculation.
I didn't stop him.

I'd become so accustomed to stopping. 

We, women, are creatures of defense with hurt engraved in our spine. Why do you think we're able to stand up so straight? Why do you think we're able to carry burdens like they're air? 

Our spines are filled with stories:

The story of a woman who is used to one word answers and definite, used to dealing with a man whose emotion is frequently absent.

The story of a woman who can't seem figure out if his best friend is just that or someone lingering until the right moment.

The story of a woman who smiles as though nothing is cracked and wounded, but has ongoing correctional surgery for her broken jaw.

The story of a woman who is successful and presents her accolades instead of her being, because someone told her that was her worth.

The story of a woman who knows the smell of salt and sweat, but knows nothing of her favorite flower.

The story of a woman whose intuition nags every time he walks in a room, unlike himself--the man she initiated with, but denies the change with a fury.

The story of a woman who knows the snuggle of good pajamas, a home cooked meal for one, and the sound of Law & Order, all too well.

The story of a woman who will never know children because forgotten STDs, karma, or refusing to convulse has gotten in the way. 

The story of a woman who rides the train, engaged with her text, but is still called a bitch for not giving an onlooker attention.

The story of a woman who changes his ringtone or name in her phone, because the memories are stifling. 

The story of a woman who has convinced herself that long distance is a testament of their trust, but weeps when he misses their Skype call.

The story of a woman who flicks through Tinder with a numbness, knowing she'll never follow through anyway. 

What's the point?

The story of a woman who has just been "ghosted"---no text, no call.

Are you still alive? You owe me that. 

The story of a woman who believes that kissing is more intimate than sex, so she gives her temple instead.

The story of women who know that repetition can leave you dazed, confused, and most importantly: Defeated.

To avoid this feeling...we cut off the ability to feel, we diminish our capacity to tolerate bullshit.

But what if...what if...

We're closing out the eventual, the inevitable, the one thing that will heal all...

I ask myself this now, before I dabble in sabotage. 

What if?

& suddenly something fractured inside of me.

Something flew open. It wasn't the valve reserved for my students, friends, or family...it was a place that's been closed for a while.

I felt a different kind of alive. As I walked away from the amazing first date, the fear started to take over me...

I asked my best friend again, "But what if he doesn't call?"

She snickered, "So...what if he doesn't call? Did you have a good time? Did he make you feel special?" 

I replied yes.

She spoke again, "Enjoy that. Forget the future, forget his intentions. Delve in the enjoyment. Use it as the prototype for what you want or don't want. Feel alive."

She was/is absolutely right. 

& if you're wondering...

He called...


Over and over and over again.