Dear Love… Chapter Three

Hey Guys!

Today is Wednesday and you know what that means–it’s Dear Love Day! Let’s get to Chapter Three. You’ve met Grace and Kaya. Now, let’s round out our trio. Introducing Shahira…

Chapter Three: Dear Love, How Many Times Do We Try?

Dear Love:

I’ve never been one to give up easily, but a bitch needs answers. How long do you hang on? How do I know when you’re completely gone? You need to get better at announcing yourself. You didn’t tell me you were coming, and now I’m not sure if you’ve left. How many times do we get the password wrong before the account is locked? Love, are you still here? And if you’re not… should I go too?

“Sha, what’s taking you so long?” my husband yelled up the stairs at me. I swiped a brush dusted with translucent powder once more across my nose, sprayed some setting spray on my face and left my bedroom. My shoes were at the bottom of the steps with my impatient husband, and I was ready to go.

“Okay, okay,” I said, coming down. My husband smiled at me. Rich Davis is my other half and has been my world since high school. Twenty-three years with the same guy sounds crazy when I say it out loud, but I really can’t imagine my life without him. I smiled back.

“Well? Long as this took me, you better form some words into flowery, mushy compliments,” I said. Rich smirked.

“Come on, Sha. You know what you look like. Why I gotta say it all the time?”

“You don’t ‘gotta’ do nothing, Negro. But it would be nice if you did.”

“You already know how I feel,” Rich said, turning away. I slipped into my shoes and shut my eyes briefly. That line had become my husband’s go-to as of late and I was a little tired of it. Fifteen, twelve, ten, hell even five years ago—yes Shahira Davis knew exactly how her husband felt. About everything. Now, he was so closed up I was guessing at best. And guessing is the worst. I grabbed my shawl from the back of the couch and walked to the door, throwing it open. I went outside and headed to the car. I heard Rich locking the door behind us and following me. I opened the passenger door of my husband’s SUV and got inside. He got in a few moments later.

“How long do we have to be at this thing?” Rich asked me, starting the car. I turned and faced the window, looking out into the night.

“Not long,” I said back, suddenly feeling sad. Rich grunted in satisfaction and pulled into the street. I sighed, but he didn’t notice. He never notices.

I’d dragged my husband to a celebratory reception for the book release of an author in Kaya’s publishing house. As a senior editor and writer herself, Kaya loved seeing new books on the shelves, especially books she’d helped come to fruition. I’d wanted to come by myself, but when Gracie mentioned offhandedly that they never see Rich anymore, I figured I’d better bring him. When we got to the restaurant where the reception was being held, Rich headed straight for the bar and I searched the room for the girls. I saw Grace waving at me and headed over.

“Hey boo! You look good!” Kaya complimented me. Her copper skin was smooth and brightly enhanced by the orange tones in her flawless makeup. She was grinning and I could see how many drinks she’d already had in her umber eyes. I grinned back.

“Thank you, my baby,” I said. Grace leaned forward and hugged me. Her sandalwood scent always soothed me. I hugged her back, breathing deep.

“Sha, what’s wrong?” she asked me, pulling back to look into my eyes. I shook my head. Damn Gracie and her therapist superpowers.

“Later, I promise. Come say hi to Rich,” I said, pulling them with me to the bar. I got up next to my husband and tapped his shoulder. He turned, drink in hand, putting his phone away hurriedly. I frowned.

“Oh, hey ladies,” Rich spoke, smiling. He leaned over to hug Kaya and Grace. I stepped back to give them room, still wondering about the phone. Who had he been talking to?

“Richie, we missed you! Where the hell you been?” Kaya said. Rich laughed.

“Hard at work. Gotta keep this one in designer shoes, you know how it is,” he joked, pointing at me. I didn’t think it was that funny since although he did buy me shoes, he never cared enough these days to actually notice them. In fact, I’d only bought the last two pairs because making him yell about his credit card bill was the easiest way to talk to him. I signaled the bartender and he came over to us.

“Whiskey ginger,” I said, gesturing for me and Grace, who also didn’t have a drink. Moments later, I felt the cold crisp soda and the bite of the bourbon in the back of my throat and I felt better. I grabbed Kaya’s hand.

“Come on. Introduce me to this talented writer we’re celebrating. You coming, honey?” I said, speaking to my husband at the last. He shook his head.

“Do your thing. I’m good here,” he said. I scowled.

“You know, the point of asking you to do things with me, is to have you actually do them with me.”

“Shahira, don’t start—”

“I’ve already met the author, so why don’t you two go and Richie and I will stay here?” Grace interjected, interrupting what would have most likely been a pretty epic public argument. I sighed and walked away with Kaya. She introduced me to the author, I bought a signed book, and headed to the other bar in the room. Kaya and I sat down.

“Sha, what’s going on?” she asked me. I looked over at my husband, laughing and nodding at something Grace was saying. I sighed.

“He never talks to me anymore. Or notices me, or cares when I dress up, or bothers to eat a meal with me. He fucks me sporadically, but I feel like he only does it so that I don’t complain more than I already do. He’s been phoning into this marriage for a while now, but every time I ask what the problem is, he denies that there even is a problem. I don’t know what else to do, honestly.” I vomited my worry all over my best friend and then took a deep breath, and knocked back the rest of my drink. Kaya took my hand.

“Okay. So maybe it’s time to push harder. Ask him to see someone with you. I mean, if you want to push harder. Do you?” she asked me. I shrugged.

“I mean, I don’t know. What if the thrill is just gone? What if he doesn’t love me anymore? I—”

“Shahira, whatever the case is, you need to know so you can decide what to do,” Kaya said. I nodded and signaled for another drink.

“I have been the woman that Rich Davis loves for two thirds of my life. If Rich Davis doesn’t love me anymore, where does that leave me? Who in the hell am I? I mean, I know I’m still myself. I’m still Shahira Davis, HR guru and the baddest bitch. But still. I have never loved any one but Richard. And I never will. I knew that the day we got married. Where will my heart go… if it’s not with him?” I sighed and turned, heading back over to Rich and Gracie. Kaya followed, her hand on my shoulder, soothing me. I reached my husband and leaned into his side, kissing him.

“Miss me?” I said to him. Rich smirked.

“Come on, Sha. You know how I feel,” he said back, hugging me to him quickly, and then letting me go. I nodded and signaled to the bartender for another drink. I stole a glance behind me and saw Kaya whispering to Grace. I knew she was catching her up, and lunch tomorrow was going to be a doozy.

Rich and I didn’t talk on the way home. We didn’t talk when we got to the house. We just went to bed silent, like two strangers. Our norm these days.

Look Love, I don’t know what you’re trying to prove here, but I’m not about this life. I don’t want to give up, but how long should I keep trying? I know you’re still firmly with me. I’m sure of it. But did you leave my husband? And if you did leave him, where does that… leave me?

Sincerely, Shahira

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Dear Love…

Hi guys!

As promised, here is Chapter Two of my newest work. You’ve met Grace, now meet Kaya…

Chapter Two: Dear Love, Are Fat Girls On The List?

Dear Love:

As a girl with some extra pounds, I have a bone to pick with you. Why am I at the bottom of the totem pole? Fat girls get picked last in love, and in dodge ball and I don’t have time for this shit. I mean, should I even keep trying? I know everyone has their struggles, and lots of women meet frogs before princes, but I’m meeting ogres, and I’m tired. Do you even care about us at all? Are fat girls even on the list?

“Okay, I need to cut loose this weekend. Let’s do something. What’s there to do?” I asked my two best friends as we sat on benches across from the parade of food trucks where we’d just gotten lunch.

“You not hooking up with your dude?” Grace asked me, picking through her brisket fries with a fork. I sucked my teeth and sighed.

“What’s the sigh about? You dumped him, didn’t you?” Shahira asked me. My gaze moved back and forth to my two besties as I sat between them. I nodded.

“Kaya! I thought you liked him. What happened?” Grace said, incredulous. I sighed again.

“It was the pet names,” I said, taking a bite my of Croque Monsieur, “he was another one with the fucking pet names.” Grace and Shahira burst into laughter. I shook my head and blew out my breath. This shit had stopped being funny a long time ago.

“He called me ‘Thickness’ and ‘Chunky Butt’ a couple of times. I let that shit slide, cause you know, he was fine. But we were out a couple of nights ago, saw some friends of his, and his ass introduced me as his ‘Plus-Size Princess Kaya.’ I was so through. I mean, I’m fat. Everybody can see. I don’t need a fucking nickname that reminds you and me and everyone around us every five minutes. I left without giving him none, and then called him yesterday. Told him it wasn’t working out.”

“Did he really say that? What’s wrong with these dudes? Like, why is it so hard to be respectful?” Shahira said. I sighed yet again. I took another couple of bites and sat in silence, lamenting in my head. Being a fat, Black, woman in this dating world ain’t no crystal stair, and me and my size 24 are fed up, quite honestly. It seems like my fat is all these idiots can see, and I either get ignored, fetishized, or dicked down in secret.

“What did he say when you broke it off?” Grace asked me. I finished my sandwich and crumbled up the paper.

“He asked why, and when I told him, he said he didn’t think it was a big deal. And maybe it wouldn’t have been, if it wasn’t the tenth time I’d said something to him about it. So when I told him that, he said he was just being affectionate and that maybe I was too cold to handle affection. That maybe he was better off finding someone who could. I hung up after that,” I told them. Shahira rubbed my back.

“They always move to insulting you when they don’t get what they want. You know that. Don’t you dare internalize it,” she told me. I nodded. Grace finished her fries and wiped her hands with a wet wipe she dug out of the bottom of her purse. Then she leaned over, put her head on my shoulder.

“You’re great Kaya. And when you and the right guy find each other, you’ll know—and so will he,” she said, her voice quiet and calm, designed to soothe. And she was good at it too. Grace was a child therapist. She could wrangle in chaos with her voice in seconds. It worked. I was calm. My best friend had that effect on me. But I wasn’t entirely convinced of her words. Though God knows, I wanted to believe her.

The girls and I decided on happy hour after work on Friday to kick things off correctly. There was a little hole in the wall not far from our jobs that had amazing drink specials, and I left my desk 15 minutes early to make sure we had some seats at the bar. When I got there, it was filling up and I was so happy I got there when I did. I sat down on a bar stool and put my cardigan on the one next to me. I started to feel under the lip of the bar for a hook to hang my purse, but then pulled my hand back. This wasn’t even that kind of place. I laughed to myself and raised my hand to get the bartender’s attention. He came over to me, smiling.

‘What can I get you?” he said.

“Whiskey-Ginger, please,” I said back and dug in my purse. The bartender sat a chilled rocks glass full of amber liquid in front of me. I paid him, smiling.

“Thanks,” I said and picked up my glass. I took a long sip and closed my eyes, letting the whiskey warm me. I opened my purse again, searching for my phone to text Shahira and Gracie to bring cash. I didn’t find my phone in the purse and went to the next likely place: my boobs. I patted my bust feeling for my phone. I pulled it out, unlocked it and went to my messages, typing quickly.

“Damn girl, you can hold a lot in them thangs, can’t you?” a voice said from behind me. I turned. There was a guy standing there, wearing a dress shirt and slacks, smiling. He was so cute, I almost had a hard time believing such a crass thing had come out of his mouth. But here we were.

“Excuse me?” I said to him. He smiled wider.

“I said, you can hold a lot in them thangs. Don’t worry, boo, Daddy like them big like you,” he repeated and then added some more bullshit. I sighed. This is the shit I’m talking about. Why do these men think they can say anything they want to me?

“Very first comment about my titties and my weight? You couldn’t even manage a ‘Hello’ first?” I snapped at him, frowning. He stepped back, as if I had offended him.

“Well shit. I was just trying to brighten your day, girl. Lucky I even talked to your big ass,” he went on the attack, scowling at me.

“And she’s even luckier that the conversation is over now,” Grace said, walking up to us. She stared him down, and he sucked his teeth and walked away, mumbling under his breath. Grace slid onto the stool next to me and kissed my cheek.

“Hey Pud. Don’t say anything about that asshole. Just order another round and let’s get this Friday night started,” she told me. I sighed and turned, willing away the tears that had started burning the backs of my eyes.

“I just… if I were your size, Gracie, he’d never approach me like that. I would have at least gotten hello.”

“And not much else. An asshole is an asshole, Kaya,” Grace said to me. I nodded and blotted my eyes with a cocktail napkin. Grace smiled with satisfaction and held up her hand to get the bartender’s attention. I picked up my glass and knocked back the rest of the drink. I shook off the dickhead who’d just spoken to me and took a deep breath.

“Hey babies! I made it! And, I got cash. Gracie, please tell me you ordered me one of whatever you and that cute ass bartender just cooked up,” Shahira entered the bar loud and animated, in a cloud of perfume—her usual way. She walked up to us, hugging us from behind and kissing our cheeks.

“Hey boo. I’m so glad you’re here,” I said to her, handing her a glass from the three the bartender had just sat in front of us.

“Y’all ain’t that glad I’m here. You didn’t save a bitch a seat,” Shahira complained. I laughed.

“I only found two, Sha. You wanna sit? I’ll get up.”

“No babe. You’re the one that needs to relax. We came here to get you liquored up and over the Pet Name King, whatever his name was,” Shahira said, laughing back. She took a couple of healthy sips of her drink and I mimicked her, drinking my drink as well. I tasted whiskey, lemon, something slightly sweet, and then a burn at the back of my throat. It was delicious.

“Oh that is wonderful,” Grace said, drinking hers too. I nodded in agreement.

“It’s pretty damn good,” I said. The bartender made three more and slid then over to us. Grace raised her glass and gestured for us to do the same.

“To Kaya getting over the Pet Name King and getting back in the saddle!” she said and we all clinked glasses, laughing. I sipped my drink smiling, but inside I was still raw. This last go round had been rough, and I was starting to think it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe it was time to retire my saddle. I sighed, and went back to focusing on happy hour.

Love, I’m tired of hating from outside the club. I can hear the music, and everyone seems to be having a good time, but am I just fooling myself? Is it worth standing in this long ass line just to get turned away at the front? Am I even on the list?

Sincerely, Kaya 

Dear Love…

Hi guys!

Things have been discouraging to say the very least, but rather than get into all of that, let’s focus on creativity, the one thing not missing in my life. I’ve been trying to channel my sadness and pain into writing, and so far, things are working out okay for me (on that front, anyway). Heartbreak Alley was a great triumph for me, and I hope you guys will buy it and read it, if you haven’t (search my name on Amazon!) But back to why we’re here now.

I have three new characters–three beautiful black women–best friends, trying to navigate through love. I decided to post them chapter by chapter and let you immerse yourself in their world. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Grace Carson, Kaya Nelson, and Shahira Davis. I hope you like them–and I hope you take this journey with them. And with me.

Chapter One: Dear Love: Is It Hide, Or Seek?

Dear Love:

The rules keep changing, and your girl can’t keep up. I mean, I’m trying to learn your ways here, but no one seems to have definitive answers, and it’s hard keeping track of the conflicting information. The biggest mystery of all? Is it hide, or seek? Do I look for you, or do I let you find me? Inquiring minds want to know.

“Grace Carson,” I answered my professional cell and sat down in my office chair. I’d just finished my last session and wanted nothing more than to go home and wash this day completely off. But I tried to be available for anyone who needed me.

“Dr. Carson? This is Nicole Rawlings. I was wondering if you had a few minutes to talk? It’s about Raheem,” the voice on the other end said. I sighed. Nicole was the mother of one of my former patients. Six months ago she’d pulled her five-year old son from my care, convinced he wasn’t making enough progress with me. This was the third time she’d called me since.

“Mrs. Rawlings, I don’t know about this. I want to help—you and Raheem—but he has a competent therapist, who he sees regularly. You’re paying to express your concerns to him, not me. And I don’t want to step on any professional toes. You should be talking to Dr. Bailey,” I said to her. I pulled my glasses from my face, dropping them on the desk and running my hand over my tired eyes.

“He’s not in, and this is important. Can you please talk to me?” the mother begged, sounding panicked. I sighed again. I knew I should gently refuse and get her off the phone, but then I thought of her little boy. Raheem’s beautiful, smiling, chubby-cheeked face filled my mind and I shook my head. I’d do anything to help that wonderful boy. I missed seeing him. And despite what his mother may have thought, we had been making progress.

“Okay, Mrs. Rawlings. What’s worrying you?”

Thirty minutes later, I was off the phone and in the elevator, my office locked up tight. I hit the button for the parking garage and leaned against the wall, lost in thought. All of a sudden, the elevator stopped and the door opened. I looked up, surprised. There usually wasn’t anyone here as late as me.

“How you doing?” the stranger said politely and entered the elevator. I nodded in response and hit the button to close the doors. She leaned against the opposite wall, looking down at her shoes. As was my nature as a therapist, I studied her. The woman was about my height, with skin light to medium brown, but with a sparkle underneath, like topaz. Her fire engine red hair was caught up in a loose bun at the nape of a lovely neck and her shoulders were slumped, as if she’d had a long day too. Her head was down, but I could see her thick lashes and even thicker mouth, painted in a soft pink lipstick. I smiled. I had a feeling her eyes were beautiful. She suddenly shifted her weight to the other foot and I snapped out of my daydream, totally embarrassed that I might have been caught gawking. The elevator stopped and the doors opened. I hurried out, and to my car, my body warm with the thought of her soft, pink, mouth.

“So… why didn’t you speak to her?” my best friend Kaya Nelson asked the next day. We were sitting on benches in front of the building that housed both the publishing house where she worked and the staffing agency owned by Shahira Davis, our other best friend.

“It’s… I didn’t want to, okay?” I answered, embarrassed. Kaya laughed.

“And I thought I was skittish. Wait until Sha gets down here and I tell her how you got all scared and didn’t say hi to your dream girl.”

“I don’t even know enough about her to know if she’s my dream girl. You’re so dramatic, Kaya,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“Well you obviously dreamt about her; you described that red hair and those pink lips in so much detail, babe,” Kaya said, continuing to laugh.

“Who’s got red hair and pink lips?” Shahira interrupted, walking up. Kaya and I stood up. Now that she was here, the three of us could head to lunch. We started walking up the street to our favorite cafe.

“Gracie’s newest infatuation. Some woman she saw in the elevator last night,” Kaya replied. Shahira grinned.

“So, details. What’s her name? When are you going out? Did you get her number?”

“Well I—”

“She didn’t get anything, Sha. Not a damn thing. She just stared all lustily and didn’t even talk to her!” Kaya announced, cutting me off. Shahira frowned at me.

“Gracie. What happened? Why didn’t you talk to her?”

“Sha, I don’t know. I was tired, and I wasn’t thinking—and I just didn’t,” I said. We entered the cafe and sat ourselves at our usual table. The lunch crowd was thinning out—one of the perks of us always waiting so late to go. It was great that each of our jobs allowed us the flexibility to do so. A server glided over and sat down three menus and three glasses of water. We waited until he was gone to pick up the conversation.

“It’s not like she was giving me signals. She stared at her shoes the entire time. I don’t even know if she likes girls,” I continued, taking a sip of water.

“But that’s why you speak. So you can feel these things out,” Kaya insisted. I shook my head.

“Can we order? It’s over with. I didn’t speak to her, end of story.”

“What if you see her again?” Shahira asked. I shrugged.

“I won’t speak then either. I’m not doing anymore pursuing. I’m tired,” I said. Kaya and Shahira stared at me. I drank more water and refused to look at them.

“Aren’t you the one always telling me that I’ll never know what’s out there if I don’t look? That I’ll never find what I need unless I try? What happened to that?” Kaya demanded.

“I mean… maybe I was wrong. I don’t know everything, you know,” I said. Shahira sucked her teeth.

“How are you gonna give up like that?” she asked.

“I’m not giving up. If I see her again, and she firmly expresses an interest, I may respond. But if she doesn’t, then oh well. I decided to fall back, and let something come to me, for a change.”

“When has that ever been how your life worked, Gracie? You always just go get what you want,” Shahira said. I shrugged again.

“Well I’m changing my ways. I was talking to my mama about dating and she told me that my problem is I try too hard. I come on too strong. She said love works best when you let it find you.”

“Gracie, I love your mama, but are you sure? I mean, all the magazines say that the best way to find love is to seek it out, not hide and let it find you,” Kaya said.

“Well I’m going with my mama on this one. She says hide, not seek, so that’s what I’m doing. Now can we please order?” I picked up my menu and ended the conversation. Kaya and Shahira glanced at me, and then each other, but they wisely dropped the subject.

So you see Love, your girl is confused—and so are her girls. Do we seek or hide? Let you find us, or look for you? Jump right in, or hang back? Who’s right? My mama, or the magazines? Who knows? I guess I’ll see what happens. But I sure wish you could answer.

Sincerely, Grace

Tales of Hip-Hop and A Love Letter to Shawn

I was born into hip-hop.

In the impossibly hot summer of 1980, there I was, entering the world as a new era in music was creeping into its rightful place as a global juggernaut, though no one saw it that way then. And as it gained more and more views, and spins, and finally videos, my parents were right in the thick of it, 21 and 23 years old, parents of me and my older sister, rapping along to the best party music they’d ever heard and commiserating with these teenagers and young adults about what it meant to grow up as they had, doing what they did. 

All my peers have an older cousin, or sister that played them their first record with a DJ scratching and an MC hyping up his dexterity and rhythmic finger skill. Not me. It was my mom and dad. My dad was the first person to play me Shalamar, and the first person to play me Rakim. I knew who the Treacherous Three were because my mother’s love for Kool Moe Dee knew no bounds. I was born into hip-hop.

And having received a gift as amazing as that, I somehow knew I’d better hold on to it. So I did. I held on so tight that it was a part of me, ingrained in everything I did. My sister and I listened to hip-hop while we did everything, while we did anything. And we were always searching for something new to love–just the way our parents had taught us to. And so in 1995, with my Favorite Rappers list steadily growing, when I kind of had a crush on Tupac, cleaned my room to Tribe and De La, blasted The Roots with all the Philly pride I could muster, and thought Wu-Tang was the best thing since sliced bread, my sister brought me this tape of a guy named Jay-Z. Now, she’d gotten it from her boyfriend at the time, a low level dope boy who did nothing but blast music from his hoopty and move from corner to corner to avoid the police. But that’s neither here nor there. He was our hookup for music we didn’t hear on the radio or see on Yo MTV Raps. So we put the tape in… and my life changed.

Now I don’t say that lightly. I mean, I was living in a rap landscape that had Biggie prominently leading the Best Rapper category for a lot of people. I was obsessed with Rakim and Kool G Rap. We still played our Illmatic CD everyday and had heated debates about whether Snoop would beat the murder case that they gave him. Shit, there was a lot of music in my head. But something about Hov made me want to hear more of him. So, of course the first question I ask is “where’s his CD? Can we get it?” My sister’s answer, “he doesn’t have one yet. But we’ll get it when he does.” 

Fast forward to 1996. Reasonable Doubt came out just in time for my sister’s birthday, but she didn’t get it as she promised; her initial infatuation had cooled and her love and loyalty for Biggie had firmly reasserted itself. So I had to wait for my own birthday. And I did. And I spun Reasonable Doubt as soon as I could make it home from the store with it. And my record scratch/ light bulb/ a-ha/ moment blossomed into love. Hov was everything I already loved in a different way. He gave me Rakim, and KGR, and Kane vibes– but he was firmly himself. I mean, this man had wordplay for days, he could rhyme fast or slow, he was in perfect control of his pacing–and he told stories. Reasonable Doubt was a masterpiece. You could tell how honest it was. How determined it was. How sure it was. Hov knew he had a place–and you could hear it.

So, a stan was born. “Can’t Knock the Hustle” spun an insane number of times–because by then my mother was more receptive to rap if you threw in some R&B she could bop to–“Feelin It” was my favorite and I rapped Foxy’s verse on “Ain’t No Nigga” like I was standing in front of Hov myself. I couldn’t wait to see what Shawn Corey was going to do next. Volume One dropped and I begged my mom to get it for me. I jumped up and down for joy seeing that “Friend or Foe” had a sequel and I grinned at hearing Lenny S on the intro like he was an old friend. Hov was back, and my life was complete. Volume One had a couple of songs that made me scrunch my head in confusion, but I was already well aware of how album sales worked: you needed a catchy tune that the radio could play. So I let it slide. And it still hit me in the same place; the same honesty, determination, the same grit. Volume Two was propelled by an Annie sample and a movie soundtrack record and Hov was the big time. By then I was in college and the debates about his prowess as an MC flew across the spades table as we played game after game. This Hov was flashier to me, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. His content didn’t exactly change, but the way he presented it did–if that makes sense. And you couldn’t bring up his name without people mentioning Biggie, which also annoyed me to no end. I felt close to Hov. I felt like I knew him, like his music let me in. Biggie, as good and as raw as he was, never made me feel like that.

By the time Volume 3 and The Dynasty rolled into my life, Hov gave me another reason to love him: Beanie Sigel, who lived around the corner from where I grew up, and who I’d spent many a night hearing freestyles from in the schoolyard up the street, joined The Roc. And my heart melted. My ears tingled. Beans the Bully was a great compliment to Hov’s smoother, calmer style, and I wanted to hear everything I could. We got to the Blueprint, and I was firm in my love. 9/11 happened and the whole world changed, but Shawn Corey stayed the same. He was hitting every milestone and peak and I hadn’t seen anything quite like it. He was going to the mountaintop, and to my delight, with the addition of State Property, he was taking Philly with him. By then I didn’t love anyone in hip-hop, I didn’t love anyone in music, the way I loved Shawn Corey Carter. He reminded me of my dad in a lot of ways: reformed dope boy who just wants to make good and live good. I know that’s not a unique story in hip-hop, but the way Hov told it was, and that’s what connected with me. His cadence, his rhythm, his storytelling ability. He was confident in his ability to outshine anyone around him, to stand taller, to rap better. Shawn Corey knew what he could do, and he knew he could do better than anyone else. That was what I loved.

I stood firm by his side during the beef with Nas (even though I’d always loved Nas), and argued with my every breath that “Takeover” was better than “Ether” (it was).  The Blueprint 2 was supposed to be Hov’s Magnum Opus and I was worried from the first. That many tracks? But I couldn’t doubt my favorite artist so I got ready. And… it should have been one album. There were so many flashes of Hov being outstanding, but too many instances of sounding him nonchalant and unexcited. Nonetheless, my love was strong. And I forgave him. Because his brilliance was still there. His wordplay, his stories, his cadence, his confidence. Plus, he dropped the final bomb on the Nas beef on that album. We’re all still wondering if it’s Oochie Wally Wally or One Mic. 

Then, the world stops. Shawn Corey says he’s not going to rap anymore, and his next album will be his last.  And even though I’d known hip-hop before him, it didn’t feel like it, and I wondered what we would do, what I would do, without someone there who I thought was actively raising the bar. Now I don’t want you to think Hov was my only love. My love for the genre as a whole was all-encompassing and there were plenty of artists I spun besides him. But he was my North Star. He was who I focused myself with. Who brought me back to center. So I wondered where hip-hop would go without him, where my musical attraction would go next, and if there’d ever be anyone I loved as much as him (up until this point, the only one even coming close was Rakim). But Shawn seemed serious, and so I sucked it up and prepared to say goodbye. And The Black Album delivered. Every producer brought something unique. There were so many quotable bars, so much of Hov revealed. It was honest. It was determined. It was sure. Hov had a place–it was on top. And he knew it.

Hov’s “retirement” wasn’t easy for me by any means, but when he said he was coming back, I was nervous. Everything he’d done had been overwhelmingly good, and I was worried about his rush to come back, his need to be heard. And I was right to be. Kingdom Come wasn’t what anyone wanted or expected from my rap hero, and I found myself floundering, making excuses for Shawn, and trying to see the good. Years later, Kingdom Come doesn’t play nearly as terribly as it does upon first listen, and there are some things I LOVE about it, but as a comeback album, it was bad. Underwhelming, and unexciting, for the most part. And it probably has him and Bey’s worst collab. But, we move on. I tried to forgive Shawn, and eventually I did, but as much as I’d missed him while he was gone, I was still stung he’d come back like that. But just as easily, he found a way to make my heart sing again. And it was called American Gangster. This was Shawn Corey. A grown Shawn Corey. A versatile Shawn Corey. A linguistically savvy, arrogant as hell Shawn Corey who managed to step into himself and Frank Lucas simultaneously (Surviving droughts? I wish you well?) American Gangster was a masterpiece. And I was ready to follow wherever Hov led.  The Blueprint 3 wasn’t a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it, and I don’t give it the grief that most people do. But Hov was up and down at this point. Floundering a bit. I wasn’t used to it. 

Next thing I know, I’m watching the throne. And Kanye’s influence is heavy. Hov played the background and I guess I understood, but I hoped he’d never do it again. It just wasn’t… him. Not that the album didn’t have it’s moments. But I get it. Shawn was becoming a family man. And rap could wait. The fans could wait. And wait I did. When I heard about Magna Carta, Holy Grail I felt that familiar tingle, that nervous excitement. But would I get Kingdom Come Hov or American Gangster Hov? The answer was somewhere in the middle. MCHG plays much better now when you know what to avoid, but there are splashes of the reflective, open, honest Hov that I know and love. We’re all still waiting with bated breath to see if a full version of “Beach Is Better” appears and “Nickels and Dimes,” is a top ten Hov track and I don’t care what anyone says. I’m back in full swing though, and my love is still strong. It’s still you, Shawn Corey. It’s always been you.

4:44 was a tour de force for me, an exceptional album that was overshadowed by what Shawn and his wife revealed about their marriage, and life together. People really did my love a major disservice and made the entire narrative about infidelity when we got the most eloquent, expressive Hov we’d seen in years. The fucking disrespect. But not to worry. I heard it. I reveled in it. I play “Marcy Me” once a day STILL. I appreciated it. Shawn was so open on this album that people forgot how open he’d been on other ones. To them, his reveal was a level never before seen. But not to me. Because I remember “D’Evils,” “You Must Love Me,” “This Can’t Be Life,” “Soon You’ll Understand,” “Song Cry,” “Allure,” “Nickels and Dimes,” and all the rest. Shawn had been peeling back layers for YEARS–and he deserves credit for that. I am more than happy to give him that credit.

When all is said and done, that day in 1995 when my sister’s boyfriend walked into our house with that tape, changed my life. It changed my perspective. It changed my music. And I’m forever changed. Happily. I was born into hip-hop. It’s probably my greatest love. And Shawn Corey makes it better, brighter, sharper. So I’m still in love. I’m still in awe. Hov has a place–and it’s in my heart.

For Colored Fat Girls With Anxiety Because Depression Isn’t Enough

So… bedbugs.

Do you know after you treat for bedbugs and replace your furniture and throw away everything that ever meant something to you, that you still itch for awhile? Like, some sort of reflexive memory. Do you know that when you’re climbing an emotional mountain so big you don’t even have the strength to wash your hair that bedbugs will feel like someone is standing at the top of that mountain, throwing boulders down at you? Did you guys know that? I am exhausted and after today’s setback, I don’t know where I’m going to get the energy to pull myself up… again. I’m hot and sleepy and antsy and angsty and I wish I can wrap this part of my life up already and get to whatever’s coming next.

I am unsettled. And angry about it. I don’t know where I’m going; I only know I don’t want to be where I’ve been, nor do I want to be where I am now. Nearly three years in to this “new phase” that I walked into, eyes open, I am exhausted, lonely, sad and broke. Goddamn, I didn’t see this coming. I’m honestly almost too exhausted to keep going. I thought I saw a bedbug the other night and had a full blown panic attack, complete with tears and pacing and hand wringing, and shaking. I was an actual wreck for about three hours. This apartment has the worst circulation of any place I’ve ever lived and I think I’m going to sweat myself into a puddle. I don’t want to see anybody, and I don’t want to be seen. I force myself to show up to things every once in a while so people think I’m okay and they leave me alone the rest of the time. And before you ask, yes I’m in therapy… again.

It’s a crazy feeling, this rage I have simmering. This anger that bubbles. Because I’m the only one who ever feels it. My therapist told me to write down why I don’t feel like it’s okay to express it. Why I don’t think it’s okay to be angry. I think my anger scares me more than anything. I think I’m afraid of the fallout. I’m afraid of what the anger says about me, afraid that Angry Me… is me. Afraid that if I get angry I’ll stay that way. Afraid most of all, that my anger will make me mean. And as someone who’s had people be mean to them, that’s not who I want to be. But I am pretty mad. I’m mad that since I’ve been here, most of the people I interact with are people who only do so because of what I can do/ have done/ will do for them. I’m mad at being seen as a resource, as someone to be used. And I’m mad that some of these people think I’m too stupid to realize that that’s how they see me. That I don’t know why you keep me on your radar. I KNOW, YOU SONS OF BITCHES. I SEE YOU, AND I KNOW!!! And this fear of being mean is the only thing that keeps me from exploding on you.

Some days I feel like I’m cracking up. Like the pieces of me are falling away. I don’t wish this on anyone. And it’s hard sometimes to get the kind of support you need. I honestly don’t want scriptures quoted at me, and I don’t want to hear that “everyone has ups and downs.” That doesn’t help, and I wish you idiots would stop doing that shit. When I told Eric how I was doing, he asked me to come and stay with him. Clear my head. Ease my mind. When I told Ebony, she came to see me. Brought me a care package. Real, tangible, support. You know what I say to people when they tell me that they’re struggling? I say, “I’m sorry. Can I do anything?” Or, “here’s what I can do. Does this help?” Real, tangible, support. I don’t throw out platitudes about what everyone else is going through. Do you see the distinction? And if those platitudes are all you’ve got, then stop asking me how I’m doing. Because all your response shows me is that you don’t really want to know. Smh. Okay, so maybe I’m angry about this too.

I just… working through these things has been tiring. And the hits just keep on coming. Because all of this has made me question whether the Universe is telling me it was wrong to come home. Whether or not I should even be here. Which means more moving, more transition. And to where? Where am I going? What do I want to be doing? I haven’t been creative in months, I’m stumbling through and I don’t know what it means. Should I leave? I’m feeling more and more like I should. But once again, where do I go? I don’t want to go back to Maryland, but every other place I have friends is shaky. The friendships may not be developed enough to lean on them, like I lean on my Aunt Lil and my dad here, or like I leaned on Chinwe and Eb and Dana in Maryland. I don’t want to be a burden. I know how heavy burdens are. How heavy the feel. I mean, I could just branch out to somewhere completely new, but can I go it alone? I mean, do I want to go it alone? Which brings me to the next thing…

Alone. And lonely. No closer to meeting someone. That’s not even my main concern because right now I’m in shambles and truth be told as long as it’s been, I’m used to it. But I just… this is not who I thought I would be. And it’s not lost on me that my newest short story collection is all about heartbreak because I know it so fucking well. And every pure, lighthearted love story I try to write gets bogged down in dramatic minutiae because I don’t know love as well as I’d like to. As well as other people. Sigh. I guess we’re adding some jealousy to my anger. I guess I don’t know what to do. I guess I’m still working through it. I wish I knew where I belonged. Because it wasn’t Maryland. And it’s not here.

 

Thoughts on My Wakanda

Disclaimer: There might be some spoilers in this blog, so I apologize in advance. But this is not a movie review. I REPEAT: THIS IS NOT A MOVIE REVIEW.

I went to Wakanda. Twice. I’m going again as soon as possible. In case you missed it, although I don’t know how you could, Marvel’s Black Panther opened in theaters in all of it’s glory, and to rave reviews. If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s the story of T’Challa, Prince of a fictional African nation called Wakanda. The film centers on the death of his father, his ascension to the throne, and the discovery of a mistake in his father’s past that leads to a threat of his future. I’m not going to say anymore about the plot because… go see the damn movie, already. What are you waiting for? What’s wrong with you? Anyway… on to why we’re here. Let me tell you a little bit about Wakanda.

Wakanda, as stated, is a fictional nation. As written in the comic books, Wakanda is led and powered by it’s exclusive access to Vibranium, a metal that is the strongest metal on Earth. Vibranium is used to build Wakanda, to power Wakanda, to care for it’s citizens, and to defend it’s borders. Vibranium’s uses in modern technology have made Wakanda arguably the most advanced nation in the world. But part of it’s power lies in the secrecy.

Wakanda basically hides the vibranium, and all that it can do, from the rest of the world. They are seen as just another third-world country, just another poor African nation. They even use vibranium to shield themselves from the outside world. They don’t welcome outsiders, and they don’t offer aid–even though they have so much, and most around them have so little. They do not get involved in the affairs of the world, even though vibranium, and Wakandan technology, could solve a LOT of problems. And Wakanda’s lack of involvement in the world’s affairs–more specifically, issues of people of color, is a major plot point in the movie, and a major ideological battle between King T’Challa and others. And so of course, it’s being pulled apart and analyzed all over social media. Most people believe that Wakanda should do more, especially for people of color, that they should have been doing more, that the doors should have been open long ago, and that the vibranium should be used to solve as many problems as it can. Wakanda’s insulation doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. It presents as selfishness, and elitism. Most people were disappointed that Wakanda had basically watched the world suffer, and did nothing to help. In their defense, the Wakandans were afraid of being exploited, and that’s a valid fear, but vibranium makes for dangerous weapons, and a lot of people feel they can help and still protect themselves from the negative effects of letting the world in. And I found myself torn. So here we are.

I was born and raised in Philly. A little more than two years ago, after 12 years of living in suburban Maryland, I came home. And my life has gotten a lot more complicated. The reason I tell you this, is that when I watched the movie twice, and I read the tweets, and the reviews, and the blogs, I realized that I had created a Wakanda for myself. And that I had opened it to the world. And that I had been exploited. My life was T’Challa’s worst fear come true. Walk with me…

I have two older sisters and five younger brothers. But I am my mother’s middle child. I am also the most responsible of all my siblings. I am the most mature of them. I am the most compassionate of them. And in terms of traditional social assets, I am the most “successful” of them. I am the one who’s been to college. I am the one with a professional job, a defined career path, the one who has owned a house, and a car. In terms of relationships, they are all miles ahead of me. There are kids and partners galore while I’m contemplating a dog. But outside of that area, I am the most “successful.” And that has been a cross to bear. Being the “successful” child has a layer of pressure, a pressing weight on your heart and mind, and pockets. You’re never just asked to help. You’re EXPECTED to. There is a sheen of obligation in every request, a hint of guilt in every hand out. I have been home two years, and I am still wondering if it was a mistake. Because I came back here to be closer to my family. To connect more with them. And then the leaning started. And now I’m scared I’ll never stand straight again. I’m just so drained all the time. I wanted to be open. I wanted to give them the full benefit of everything I could do. Of everything I had. And I thought I was equipped enough to defend myself if it ever got to be too much. I didn’t want to be Wakanda. I wanted to help as much as I could, as often as I could. Paying the blessings forward was something I always believed in. And I had been blessed. So I felt like it was expected of me to give back. “To whom much is given, much is required,” right? I believed that. And they’re my family. So why not? Right? Yeah, well. The aftermath is… not what I expected.

I am tired. Drained. Almost empty. My creativity is forced, my weight gain is embarrassing, I’m isolating myself so I won’t be asked for anything. I’m starting over financially, and I’m rebuilding in so many ways. So when T’Challa is afraid of Wakanda being used up, I understood that. Because I am used up. And when they contemplated keeping the doors closed and letting the outside world sort out their own shit, I understood that too. Because I wish these people would sort out their own shit. When W’Kabi warned T’Challa that letting in refugees would bring their problems with them and then your environment would be as toxic as theirs, I understood that too. Because I’ve had them in my house, and supported them, and it changed my environment. That’s what I felt, what I feel, what I was afraid of. And no one sees the weight on you. They assume it’s light just because you’re carrying it. They don’t consider that it’s taking all the strength you have.

Boundaries are important. And they’re there for a reason. Letting other people cross them can be chaos. And I don’t want to speak like a victim blamer. I know what white supremacy does. What colonialism and terrorism and imperialism has done. But chaos is chaos. And at some point you have to ask yourself why it’s not okay to shield yourself from it. Even if the people involved have a connection with you. Is it ever okay to just save yourself? Because I’ve definitely gone into retreat mode to save myself. I have definitely had to close the door, after the fact. The outreach program is over. Not because I don’t care anymore, but because there’s literally nothing left for me to extend anymore.

So were centuries of ancestors and former kings right in insulating Wakanda? I don’t know. But I’ve been their worst fear come true, so I can’t really say that they’re wrong either.

Wakanda Forever! And Shameka… for right now. Sigh.

Eye Openers and Skirt Lifters

TW: Sexual Assault

If anyone had ever asked me if I’d ever been sexually assaulted, I would have said no. I know my mom has. My nieces have. I know they’ve been victimized by men, as women are every day, and I always breathed a small sigh of relief that I hadn’t experienced what they have. You see, I was reading sexual assault as rape and molestation. I was reading sexual assault as forced intercourse, and violence, roughness and crying for help. And all of those qualify. But I wasn’t reading the full story.

I didn’t see it as an unwanted attack on my person. As an ass slap when I’m walking by, or a grope when I’m dancing with you, or a kiss before I push you away. I didn’t see it as being touched when I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t see it as those things. There were levels. And I always thought that as long as I cussed you out after, and put you in your place, and told you I don’t roll like that, that I had protected myself sufficiently. I always thought that if you stopped when I said “no,” that I had prevented an actual sexual assault. But something happened that showed me that I was wrong.

I went to a party. I met a man. I danced with him. I was drunk. He was drunk. We ended up against a wall. Next thing I knew I was being kissed. And it was fine. But then I was being groped. And my skirt was being lifted. And that wasn’t fine. I pushed him away. I told him to stop, and he did. And then I took my drunk ass out of there before more happened. And I didn’t think about it. I mean, I pushed it completely away. I shrugged it off, and I went about my life. I didn’t see it as anything other than a guy getting too excited and acting out. I excused it. Because it was me. I honestly don’t know if I would have excused it so quickly had it been someone else. But it was me, and I thought I knew myself. And I let it go. In short, I made it okay.

But it wasn’t okay. It occurs to me lately (after some retrospection you don’t need to know about), that sexual assault covers a lot more than what I thought it did. That it was more than the blatant, sexual coercion. That it had happened to me. Of course, it’s not something I’m reconciling very well, hence me writing this. It’s making me anxious, edgy, fearful. I want to shrink and withdraw; I spent a whole day sick to my stomach. It skewed my perspective, and left me reeling. You don’t think of it as being taken advantage of. You just don’t. You write it off and think you’ve escaped unscathed because they listened to your “no.” But you’re not unscathed. And the fact that they listened to “no” doesn’t mean a fucking thing because they still felt entitled to touch you in the first place. And that’s wrong. It’s dead ass wrong. It crazy wrong. It’s made me sad, and angry with myself.

It just made me sad that I’ve babied men for so long. Like, I don’t even hold them to the same standard that I do my fucking self. EYE don’t touch anyone, in any way, without their consent. I have that as a rule. For MYSELF. And for this man I just wrote it off for him as “at least he stopped when I said no.” Like that bar was so low, I’m embarrassed. And then I thought of all the other things I do to prevent being touched. How I shrink in a crowd when a man is about to brush up against me. How I excuse myself far too often so they don’t share my space, so they don’t violate my space. How I meet the most ignorant, disgusting ones in the street but I still smile and speak when they speak to me because I’m afraid of what they’ll do if I’m not polite. If I reject them. How I hate being approached when I’m alone. How I stand with my back to the wall in certain places. How I shrink myself, protect myself; how I COWER on a day-to-day basis because you never know what men will do. How I’ve taken it for granted that they will take advantage of me at the first opportunity, and I’ve modified MY behavior because asking them to modify theirs will bring their anger. How I’ve been doing it for years, and how I did it that night. It’s… heavy to say the least. And I’m not okay with it.

I think about my nieces (I have nine of them now), my beautiful girls and I think of them shrinking. Not being who they really are. Cowering. And I’m angry. With myself. With men. With the world. I always have rose-colored glasses; I have a vacation home in Optimism. But it’s been dwindling, and it’s all I can do to hold on. Keep your hands to yourself. Teach your sons to keep their hands to themselves. Stop thinking you’re entitled to something because you like it. Or because it’s there. In the meantime, I’m learning to shoot. And I’m buying a stun gun. I hope none of you niggas have to learn the hard way. But I will teach you if necessary.