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Flashback Friday: Letter to a version of me trying to thread a needle while sobbing at 31.
December 16, 2017
You are 31 and 16 and 2 right now and I am reaching through the years because I am also 31 and 16 and 2 and 35 and I have learned the way that triggers collapse all the years between your present self and the wounded girl you were and then what happens next is just a mess. And I thought that maybe one way to avoid the mess this time was to reach back to you as an older sister of sorts, since your 16 year old self would (rightly) see me as motherly, marking my truths too painful to trust.
I had to search to find your picture, knew I was being ripped form the present into your heart and for a moment could not remember which second hurt most or where I was when I realized I was actually in a time portal and not the present. And I remembered that I was at a dark oak table crying and trying to thread a needle at the same time. Because my friend is coming to pick up her daughter's birthday outfit in the next half hour and I've only just drug myself out of bed because I'd been crying and checking my phone for a message from the person I'll call Jamie who had just told me she couldn't see herself dating a single mother. She thought she could take it but she couldn't and she left you with the mess her truth made, that jumbled confusion of all your hurt girl selves, stumbling over each other reaching for someone to come and make it better.
Girl, you don't even know Jamie. I knew that would make you smile. You don't know Jamie, you didn't know Justine, and you were just getting to know Jennifer when the trio rolled through your life like a tornado sent to wreck your shit and force you to rebuild.
Hell, it needed to be wrecked. I hate to admit it but it did. You were stuck, you were about to lose your father, and you were about to move across the country to the coldest, grayest city you'd ever seen to take the worst job you'd ever had so that the two of those variable mixed together to create the only reason you would ever go home to live. And the trio helped hide the wreck for short periods of time, making Atlanta a bit more claustrophobic so that you wouldn't stay. Because if you'd stayed, you would have never left and if you'd never left you wouldn't have got to sit at the bedside of your big brother, rubbing his feet with lotion one last time before he died. But I'm giving you just one of many possible explanations for the reason things happen the way they do. I can tell you need a pattern. You and me both. But I think the lesson 31, 16, and 2 year old Ashas need to know is that there isn't a pattern to pain. At least not one in the way she needs for there to be. Maybe she needs to know that the only pattern worth noticing is that she is always alright. The hurt always recedes. The body/mind, though injured, are not broken. At least not in the permanent sense. But my hurt girl self wants to know the pattern to predict harm. She does not want to be wounded in the house of a friend, as Sonia says. She wants an eagle-sharp eye that spots harm miles away and she wants the dexterity, the reflexes, to avoid it. We have a baby dodger lodged in our spirit; she is the girl who needs to learn to fight.
That's esoteric. Here's what you need to know right now for the next few minutes of your life. Your friend is going to come to pick up her baby's outfit and she is going to wonder why you are crying. Don't be alarmed. She can not see all of us. Few people have second sight. She does not know that you are two and sixteen and 31 and so she's talking to the only one she knows. The girl running head first into her own destruction is scaring the shit out of her. It's like she asked about a week ago, "Why would you up and move some place where you don't know nobody and you're even further away from your family when you have a baby?" And you couldn't explain why Atlanta was beginning to feel like a box filled with styrofoam balls and you were losing all your breath. Jamie don't want you because you got a baby. Justine don't want you because grief made you mean. Jennifer don't want you because you wanted her to want you more than any one person should have to want a person to prove that she loved her. This all happened within a two-year span that began within the first half of 2013, a hell year. A 6. You've never been fond of the number 6. You should look that up. Oh, and I'm writing you from another hell year, which happens to be a 1 (actually 10). And you usually love getting to 10 when you add up the numbers on license plates, addresses, or years so it's actually surprising that your ten year is a hell year, but hell, there's no telling why anything is anything these days.
So anyway your girl doesn't see which you you are so stop feeling crazy just because she maybe suggested it actually was a little crazy to be freaking out over Jamie when you'd literally just gone out with her a couple weeks ago. And the more you talk, the worse you sound talkin bout 'but you don't know how she made me feel it was like fire coming from her hands it was like she filled me with exploding stardust and she didn't even touch me there.' The more you talk the more you look like a girl who just hasn't had enough good sex to know that moments like these are cheap as boxed wine and can be picked up in any grocery store in Atlanta, so why the hell are you moving to Baltimore?
But Jamie was just the punctuation to your rejection cycle, all the rejections you set up for yourself because you are the very best student with just a touch of adhd. Which means you will do the same thing over and over and over before you ask yourself about its efficacy. It's just that executive functioning is so boring and you'd rather play with your truths before you eat them so you use your imagination to feel your way through life and keep falling into the same trap over and over again.
It goes something like this. Attract a master rejector. Make the rejector angry. Make him/ her reject again. Then wait, hold your breath, and beg for the rejector to come and make it better because this is love and this is good and this is bliss. Repeat.
Mama said you were never the same after the first time she "tapped your little legs." You were two. And the way she tells the story, you know she felt guilty. But the way she smiles about it is the clue.
No. It's not cruelty, just like it wasn't cruelty when Granny put the picture of your late father's first "butt whoopin" in his baby book and laughed when she told the story.
The smile is the remembered path to reconciliation, the sweetness or goofiness they spent to win your favor again. It's the rush of self-absolution. You know you have injured a loved one and broken trust. You do a series of good things to make the injured smile. The smile is forgiveness for the bad thing. Since there are always more smiles than tears you are still a good person. Repeat.
You know the pattern too well. You hit your daughter this year for the first time in her life. She is three. You tap her hand and everything changes but she is not you so she does not freeze and instead commences to beating your ass until you hold her close and chant, "We don't hurt each other. We don't hurt each other," like a wish/ prayer that you hope will cover you the rest of your lives. For the most part, it has. You never hit her again. But you do hurt her in other bruising ways that I won't list because it is true what your mother and your grandmother know about themselves: they did make more smiles than they made tears. They are good people. They are human. And so are you.
But two year old Asha doesn't know this and she thinks the world is scary now and wants to know if this means the mother does not want her anymore because up until now love and wanting has been holding arms and sometimes firm voice but mostly laughing and hands that only hurt when they comb through tangled hair but the mother is always so sorry so this new pain, intentional, doesn't make any sense. When did her hands get dangerous whose hands are those dangling from the mother's wrist whose legs are these that sting the way they haven't stung before and is the mother my mother if she is also the dangerous one so to whom do I belong? Oh but wait. The mother's hands are open again and her palms are up and she is saying come here and I am hers and she is mine and what a relief because I was so afraid we weren't together anymore because we had been having so much fun.
I imagine that relief is the climax I keep chasing, the climax you are chasing, watching the phone for the rejector's open palms.
I know you don't see it that way. It's usually best seen in hindsight or with the help of a professional or even a discerning friend. Like Terrence, the friend who said to you the night before, "She's a loser! Next!"
You'll be happy to know that Terrence is still around dropping gems. Just the other night, he told me, "Girl, you just like doing this. Why you keep attracting people who will reject you? I wouldn't even be saying this if I hadn't witnessed it in person. Do you remember the night we went to Slice? (Asha 31, you remember this too) And all them fine ass Black men was staring at you like you hung the moon and who do you start kissing on the dance floor? That scraggly looking white boy wearing a Sean John tracksuit to the club, talkin bout 'I just wanted to experiment.' And I knew right then and there that you weren't ready to be loved by somebody who wants to love you."
But I didn't see it that night because I just wanted to cry about the boy, let's call him James since we are on a J roll, who said he could not date a single mother and took me right back to you. Right where I need to be right now anyway, because I didn't take the best care of you then and I have the resources now.
So here are some things I know that you don't know that will help us both stop coming here.
1. Even as you add to the rolodex of snapshot rejections, you will begin to notice the accepters, the ones who are in the background being their steady, stable, joy-gifting selves. Do you see how many arms are always open for you? Somewhere in the same picture of your two year old stinging legs is Daddy carrying you well after you could walk and Dwele trying to make it better with a joke. Everyone in this picture is consistent. Everyone in this picture is also surprising. Everyone in this picture has needed and given grace time and time again. This is still a good picture.
2. These are the accepters in your corner that you don't see: Mama. Dwele. Ahmed. Akeem. Peaches. Chanel. Terrence. Moya. Diana. Tia. The list is long and invisible, but I want you to know it's been pretty consistent and you've made additions and there have been subtractions too, which leads to
3. You aren't as sad about Jamie as you are about your father, the master accepter who had to cross to the other side. You have tried to fill the void with rejector after rejector, sometimes crawling over the non-rejector to reach a rejector so you can play the cycle game again. It is distracting, isn't it? And isn't that distraction less boring than staring at a gaping hole where your father used to be? I know how you feel. I am staring at the hole where Dwele stood. You won't believe me. I don't believe me sometimes, but I am. James even said it was a little weird that I was always talking about dead men. The first time he sat in my junky car, he said, "When are you going to throw out these old ass roses?" pointing to the one I'd saved from our brother's casket that sits in the window of my car so fragile that it will break into tiny pieces if I make a sudden stop and then it will feel like I'm losing Dwele again and maybe I will finally stop to let it wash over me, this toxic grief that tries to crawl out of my throat in screams when I am sleeping. I said, "It's from my brother's casket" because the first year after an accepter dies you want to make everybody feel as awkward as you feel hobbling around without the acceptance you had just months ago. So this is really about your missing limb just like my trigger is about mine. Let's just call a spade a spade and play cards.
4. Nobody can make you reject Asali. That's your real fear-- that in trying so hard to reject the rejector trope you become the rejector and raise a little victim rejectee who will be left to live out your cycle because you couldn't get it right. You are not Camille Billops, the Black woman artist who scared the shit out of you earlier this year when you read through her archives and saw that she'd put her daughter up for adoption at four years old so she could live the life she wanted with a new love. Before you read her papers, you didn't even know it was a possibility and if you are really honest with yourself, you have to admit that your relationship with your daughter is not exactly symbiotic and you are pulling most of the weight. But nobody can make you reject her. You dreamed her. You chose her. You choose her again and again. She has already saved your life with her lessons and demands and she will save you again and again. You should know that today, you are sure of that even as you are crying out of your two year old eyes. You know that the love of your life is not a stranger but this girl you dreamed up three years before she was born, the girl with the wild, sandy brown hair who giggled in the dream and told you that she fights and made you proud. She is here. She fights. Nobody takes from her what she wants. She wants you. No grief, no love interest, no depression will take you away because the maker sent a fighter for you to keep so she could train you to fight as you train her to love with her heart wide open and this is the symbiosis that no rejector can intercept. No, not even when she is sixteen.
5. You are loved. You are lovable. There is nothing you can do to make anyone love you more. There is nothing you can do to make anyone love you less. People love out of their capacity to love, which leads to
6. When someone is telling you he or she does not have the capacity to care for a child, you should be grateful for the warning. Because you, dear one, are the child who needs the most care. We are in the world to learn to take care of our inner-child selves as we give care to others. It's the whole "secure your own mask" thing on a soul-ish level. So you, dear one, are the only one who can make that child stop playing the rejection game. She doesn't need to court rejection to feel the thrill of love. She doesn't need to earn her bliss with pain. There's enough love. There is enough love for me. There is enough love for you. There is enough love for 16 yr old us. There is enough love for 2 year old us. There is enough love period. There always was.