“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about.”
A few weeks ago, I went to judge a Youth Poetry slam at the famous Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the Lower East Side of New York City. I'm always amazed at the thoughts of our young people and how powerful spoken word and story telling is. It's refreshing and inspiring to hear teenagers tell stories of life as an adolescent in 2014. It differs from mine a decade prior and for that alone, I'm intrigued and fascinated by how much has changed in our school system and in our young people's lives today when I was just a sixteen-year old girl the other day.
No older than 17, one young man started off his piece by saying, "I just want to say, it's comforting to know I'm not the only one going through the things I'm hearing from my fellow poets today. It makes me feel a little better." When I listen to poetry, I have a habit of closing my eyes and tuning everything out except the voice of the artist, to hear what someone else won't, to feel what the person next to me can't. His poem was dark. Disturbing. I wondered what a teenager like him had gone through and transported thoughts from my head to his, telling him it'll get better. I judged him on paper and inside, wished I didn't have to. Out of fear. Because I know what he's gone (or going) through. I've been the very words he spoke; the hurt he tried his best to convey and the things that helped him get through his days used to be aspirin and my mother's hidden prescription pills. I used to be well-acquainted with it all. He'd never know that though. I was just judging.
I did not know Karyn Washington, founder of For Brown Girls, personally or on the web. However, news of her death by suicide on Twitter last week saddened my spirit. I read her story and my mouth managed to form a smirk finding out she was the force behind #DarkSkinRedLip. I remembered hearing of the movement a few months ago, becoming one of those women who started to wear, and started to really feel confident, in red lipstick. I didn't know it was due in part to the twenty-two year old and subconsciously, I thanked her. I hoped she heard me. But I felt selfish making this about me when I wish someone heard her.
We think nothing of the tumblr quotes and song lyrics people post on Instagram, double tapping and scrolling on by. We think of how it pertains to us, ways in which we can relate, but never once thinking of the person who uploaded it. If we can't identify with it, we keep it moving. And to say that's fucked up, is an understatement. When was the last time you closed your eyes to really see what someone was going through, read between the cryptic lines to understand someone else's plight? Far too often we take those moments captured on Instagram and formulate conclusions that that person is doing well, but in all honesty, who's really going to post a picture of them in the struggle? Who is going to take a photo of the pain they feel inside and fancy it up with a filter or leave it as is and hope someone gets it? No one. Because the glamorous life is the target destination and if you can bypass a homeless man on the street or on the subway and not think twice of his journey, who is going to give a damn about your internal struggles and your heartbreak and your financial woes online?
I wish we didn't have to act like we have it all together. I wish I could've uploaded a picture of me in the welfare office just so someone could reach out and ask me if I needed help because the case workers in the social services building really didn't give a damn about me. To them, I'm probably another young Black woman with kids trying to take advantage of the system. Nevermind the fact that I legitimately needed help. To them, I'm just "trying to get over". I wanted people to know I needed help, but who would care in a world where everyone is out for self? Going through their own shit?
I wish I could show y'all pictures of how empty my fridge used to be and how I found myself eating franks and beans or white rice and ketchup as a child and giving my children the very same thing twenty-something years later. We preach real, real, real but would we really be supportive of the people who show us the bottom of their lives? How would we respond to photos of everyday hustling and the fight to make it to the next day? The real of the matter is, sometimes, a lot of us are not qualified to be under the category of "strong Black women." Stop holding us up on that pedestal to be perfect and to have it right.
On occasion, those Sunday morning prayers in the pews and well-wishes through the World Wide Web do not feel like they're doing much. Sometimes, I want to give up. And society won't mind I'm sure, because as a Black person I'm "destined" to fail anyway. Black men bash me on social media anyway. I'm the laughing stock of the internet, with memes being made of my kind every week. I can try to read self-help books and articles on loving yourself all I want, but in all honestly, sometimes I am not a strong Black woman. Often times, I can't "keep calm". I want to turn up and fuck shit up and act like a" mad Black woman" because I'm tired of dressing up the front. I'm everything but strong.
My dark skin is ostracized and ridiculed and fairer skin Black women are favored more. I am unattractive; Instagram likes told me so and magazines that get front priority and first dibs in Barnes & Noble confirmed it for me. I will not act like Lupita Nyong'o is the savior for little Black girls worldwide that will finally receive recognition and be praised for milk and dark-chocolate skin because see, sometimes, I still do not feel like a beautiful Black woman. People would rather bleach than be Black. I cry because of that.
These stigmas that African-American women are supposed to be all, do all and still have it all in order, have to go. We are humans. We don't always have to "win". Trying to "win" in society has made me lose myself and what folks have called losses, I saw as personal gains. Not everyone sees or knows that though. Everyone wants to see well-dressed, put together, composed Black women all the time. That is not alright. We have burdens we carry and crosses we bear on our backs too.
Can someone tell us it'll be okay? When we don't know what our next move is or when we don't know how we'll make ends meet? Can we be mothers who make mistakes too? Can we hear that?
Another birthday according to your calendar... and Facebook.
It's minutes after 7 and your phone rings, displaying an unfamiliar number.
These bill collectors are starting to call before the damn sun comes up, you mumble.
It's comforting, the voice on the other end. Familiarity. It always makes you feel good.
But you discern the tone of the call. It's too early for negative thoughts. You repeat affirmations in your head and remind yourself to properly set the mood for the day. You shun the thoughts and shudder at the possibility that this call would be different than any other.
In a matter of seconds, everything went from familiar to foreign. The words weren't new, yet they still rang as unfamiliar to my ears. I got it but I didn't get it.
I started thinking back to the last couple of phone conversations. They were all I'd have left now and thinking of my friend whose voice I'd no longer hear pained me at 7:30 in the morning.
You're out of state?!
Yeah, I'm on a bus now. I'm performing at a friend's showcase in D.C.
That's great! Sometimes you need to get away when you do so much.
The softness of a bed and the arms of my partner wrapped around my waist didn't keep me hostage, causing me to fight the urge to call out of work this day. It was two words that formed lumps in my throat and my vision to blur. I hate having to fight that urge of breaking down.
So I thought about her laugh and how it hurt her (literally) and how she managed to crack a joke here and there. She didn't want her condition to affect the mood of those around her.
You are not sick. Keep yourself healthy by laughing.
The emergency visits to the doctor and weekly trips to dialysis took quality time away from her Miracle – the baby that surprisingly made the trip from Heaven to Earth – but somehow, she managed to find time to plan birthday gatherings and drop off goodies for my children. Snacks and juice boxes and their favorite cereal, Fruit Loops. Always Fruit Loops. She'd come on weekends when our cabinets were barren and she'd never know how much of a God-send she was. I could hear the pain in her voice, in her bones, and all I wanted was for her to hear how sincere and appreciative I was for her in my life. She looked out for me and mine. How many people do that for you?
Is there anything you need?
Just some sleep baby girl. I'm so tired.
She said that all the time, her answer never changing.
And she finally fell asleep. Her body no longer suffering but what about the two girls she left behind? I thought about them as I walked to work, my tears camouflaged in the rain. I wonder if the smiles people gave were silent condolences. Maybe they just had a better morning than I did. Either way, I felt alone and no one understood me but the Universe.
She opened her soul and shared my sentiments.
There's something about crying in the rain.
There's something about walking with your eyes closed in the street to just let out the pain that you're still left to feel. You don't care about "keeping it together" anymore.
Death confuses me. I always end up with feelings of guilt that maybe I should've done more. Called one more time. Extended one more hand. Spared one more minute.
Death questions me.
There's something about crying in the rain.
Easily becoming consumed in the gloom and suddenly remembering the symbolism behind it all.
A couple of months ago, I got Kaevon ready for school, following the same morning routine of struggling to get him out of bed and dressed for his day. Everything ran according to plan until we got to his shoes; they didn't fit. Normally, I wouldn't freak out about this knowing that I have a growing toddler on my hands but I was adamant on getting them on because he only wore these sneakers once. I fought to get them on – trying on a thinner pair of socks, telling him to stand up and wiggle and squeeze his foot in, smacking my hands against the soles – nothing worked. I was going to get these sneakers on until Kae told me in his most aggravated voice, Mommy, stop. It doesn't fit.
I could've easily put on another pair of shoes, there were other options, but I was so set on these sneakers. My mind couldn't fathom the idea that after one wear, they'd no longer be of use so I did everything I could do to make it happen. And with all of the varying ways, I'd still fail.
A lot of us are like this.
We are so set in trying to make something work, not realizing or ignoring the truth of the matter, that some thing aren't meant to be. I don't know how many times I've heard friends say they need to switch up their persona/style in order to make their partner interested in them again or to save the relationship. You can't fight for something that was never yours, you can't save a relationship when the other party is set on leaving and you can't try to fix something that was meant to be broken. Stop forcing what doesn't fit.
I remember doing everything in my power to make my relationship work at one point, knowing that it was time for a break, knowing that my partner and I needed space, and disregarding the fact that distance is so necessary sometimes. We didn't break up right away but staying in a dysfunctional relationship is kind of like finally getting that shoe on – you won't get far because eventually the pain is going to be unbearable. And so, staying and playing pretend made everything worse. Suppress the emotions. Suck it up and deal. Smile and shuck and jive to his every need. Put him before you. I had options. I could've:
Honored my emotions.
Been open and receptive to other choices.
Smiled and dance to the beat of my own drum.
Put me before anyone else.
So simple and I made it hard on myself. I can't believe I considered myself loyal and a true "ride or die" for staying in and being tolerant to stupidity. I also couldn't understand how I wholeheartedly believed someone would change for me because I changed for them. I grew satisfied with complacency but when I wanted more and didn't get it, I begged my boyfriend to be someone he wasn't. Wake up. People aren't going to alter themselves for you, especially if they're fine with who they are. Another one of my Rules of Life? Life doesn't always place you on a two-way street.
Stop forcing relationships because an astrology compatibility test told you, you and homeboy were a 10 and made for one another (and because most of your girlfriends are committed & you're tired of being "the single one").
Why would you want someone to be with you and it isn't genuine? Says more about you than them.
Love is a force in itself. Let shit happen without your interruption.
A hundred and two titles to compensate for one degree.
I'm a health advocate for cervical cancer awareness where I also served on the community advisory board for a cervical cancer project in the South Bronx. I'm the creative director for my sorority's national performance team and an Editorial Assistant for a mentorship program. I volunteer for a children's arts program. I do community service faithfully. I try to blog as much as I can on here and I write for From A Wildflower. I work from 9-5. Oh, and I'm the mother of a four- and five- year old. That's the ultimate job in itself.
Someone asked me why was it and how was it that I do all of these things. The how is simpler than the why: Prioritize my time. The why, now? Because it's something I love to do and can do. The why, before? Because I am a woman who has never finished college and for years, I felt like a nobody who won't amount to anything because I didn't have a degree and a career doing what I love. I became so afraid of not leaving a lasting mark in this world that I took on a bunch of projects in order to feel like a someone.
"Someone." Whatever that means.
I thought that piece of paper was supposed to make me. I watched my friends on Facebook finish the life I left behind in 2007 and graduate with letters behind their name and move on to be professional women in the workforce and wives who became mommies. I told them underneath the pictures of graduation caps and customized Greek stoles, I was proud of them. I told them how proud their child would be knowing their parent(s) completed college and made a name for themselves. My boys can't say the same about theirs. I was not proud of myself and for a long time, I wallowed in shame.
I went home and wondered why did I put all of this pressure on myself to feel important. When did I feel the need to be everywhere at once and take on everyone's emergencies as my own? How did I become this critical of myself and why did I need a piece of paper for my children to look at me and be proud of who I was and what I've done? Wasn't me providing for them enough? No. I still felt like it wasn't enough. So I kept going and took on more and spent so much time away from home just to feel like that damn
I realized I put all of this on myself because I was so obsessed with time. Time would just pass me by and I'd look back at the vision boards that got tossed and realize nothing came to pass. I would look at the reminders in my phone and see that two years just came and went and the box on the side was still unchecked. I had to make it right. I needed to do this and I needed to do that. I had to feel like I was doing something because productivity made me feel like somebody. I didn't have to like what I was doing, just do it and build your résumé and have all this shit under your belt I told myself.
And I found out that I wasn't the only one with the time fixation. My friends were getting married because a Thought Catalog piece said you had to wed after 18 months of dating. Lord knows if they'll ever find someone who will deal with their bullshit again so take the chance, take what you can get and call yourself someone's wife. My girlfriends were having kids because some biological clock kept going off in their head and they just needed to hurry up and have a baby. To hell with building with someone to eventually start a family later on down the line. Forty was right around the corner and time was a tickin'.
We wake up and feel empty and incomplete because of what others are saying we should be doing at a certain time.
But really, who are they and why are we putting all of this weight on our own shoulders?
By twenty five, we should have at least two degrees. We need to be well on our way to marriage. By thirty, we should've stopped obsessing over House Hunters and became homeowners ourselves. We should have budding careers as writers and lawyers and teachers and must have at least one child . But fuck all that because whether we have one thing down on the list or nothing at all, shouldn't that still be okay because we're living how we want to? Dancing to the beat of our own drum? Taking our time and taking in the good things we have now?
Time is funny. On Sundays, we talk about how fast the time goes by and in the middle of the week, complain how slow the time is going. We are so wrapped up in the concept of time that we get lost in the art of comparison and start panicking. Melyssa Ford said something profound on an episode of Blood, Sweat & Heels when she mentioned, life isn't going to stop because we haven't figured it out. Time doesn't take into consideration or give a damn how fearful we are over becoming 25 and 30 and 40. Time ain't got the time and keeps it moving. Time doesn't diagnose us with anything, we do it ourselves. This month alone, I've seen twenty too many tweets on quarter-life crises. C'mon y'all. Breathe in and breathe out.
Love, love, LOVE her.
Stop rushing and take your time. Take in what's around you and bask in the now. There is nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself and thinking about the possibilities of grad school and starting families and traveling the world, but we plan so much for the future often forgetting that it isn't even promised to us. Our todays involve too much focus on topping yesterdays and planning tomorrows. But what about now?
You are someone pretty fucking dope and amazing right now.
Celebrate you, where you came from and where you are now.
You cannot undo yesterday and you can't rely on tomorrow. Just live, today.
"Some people are old at 18 and some are young at 90... time is a concept that humans create" – Yoko
I used to be that girl. You know, the one that use to side-eye the shorties who were a little too close for comfort to my boyfriend. My eyes spoke before my mouth and hands did. And while my eyes screamed, "that's mine", my mind wandered and I started to wonder what she had that I didn't. For starters, bigger breasts, fuller hips, straighter hair, lighter skin. I made him happy, but was there a chance, someone could make him happier? There was always room for improvement, no? That insecurity was shining bright like a got damn diamond and boy, did I hit the ground hard when one woman had the heart to tell me,
Honey, I don't want to be you. I don't want what you have or think is yours.
It pierced the softest part of my spirit, reinforcing the fact that I didn't have the tough skin I swore I did, and those words hurt more than the actual acts of face-to-face flirtation. She sounded sure in what she proclaimed. She – women – displayed this confidence that I loved and loathed at the same time, and here I was, looking for the competition instead of feeling secure in my role in my partner's life. He told me he loved me but looking back at it, I couldn't have believed him. I questioned things and people, most importantly, myself, too much. I didn't love me so how could he?
I lived life as if it were a continual contest. I lost... myself.
Last Monday morning, I received an email titled, Jealousy & Comparisons from withlovejia.com. The night before, I wrote this on Facebook:
Someone recently asked me were there any bloggers that I was envious of and wanted to be. I smiled because during that period of constant comparing, I'd read other people's work and feel shitty. Everything EnJ isn't as successful as those really good bodies of art. I was pretty sure the women behind those blogs caught the spirit every time they checked their stats and their mentions were full of retweets of their posts, people exclaiming how much they felt connected through the words.
I wanted that.
I'd type up posts similar to their style of writing. It felt wrong. I'd send links of my posts to the bloggers I admired like, See me! See me! Read my work and compliment me!Thatfelt weird. I wasn't staying true to who I was. I wasn't complimenting myself and patting myself on the back and telling myself to just write freely. I guess I was a Twitter Honey for the Blogosphere, throwing myself out there for attention and confirmation from strangers instead of God. I loved to write but who was I doing it for really?
I was telling stories without realizing how amazing my own journey was. I wrote without reflecting first. I guess I was so anxious to get the words onto the screen for others that I didn't connect with the words myself. But I eventually got it. And I fell in love with the words I typed as I did with the words in my journal that held my secrets and my insecurities and fantasies that'll never be and dreams that came true. Dammit, it took me a long time to be this raw and sincere with you all. Raw and sincere with myself.
So yes, way back when, I would've given you a shitload of a list of people I wanted to be. But ask me that today and the answer is nobody. I'm not jealous of anyone and I'm proud to be me. I don't want to keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians. I'm sorry, I'm not about that life. I want to stan out for Everything EnJ before any other blog and I want my writing to tell of my hardships and my heartbreaks and my healing like no other could.
I respect the go-getters and the visionaries and the Bought-It-To-Lifers. Go you! I have the utmost respect for anyone who goes out there and works hard for theirs and has the opportunity to check their childhood dream off a list. But I love the progress and appreciate the processI'mgoing through. If nothing else and if no one else believes it, I am a force to watch out for.
...and tell yourself that. Please.
Tell yourself it will get better and those long nights will be worth it and that heartache will have meant something. That those sacrifices took you a long way and the easy route would've been a cop out. And that the naysayers were truly motivators. Embrace your story. Every nasty part that you try to run from and hide. Every peak in your life that made you feel like you were on top of the world. It's apart of the blueprint, bending you into who you were created to be.
Don't be anyone else but you. I don't want to be anyone but Erica.
I've learned not to let comparison be the thief to my joy.