#30WomenProject: Meet Anya

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It always smelled like alcohol, latex gloves, and sickness here. I hated it. And the fact that I’d been there every week for the last six was enough to make a girl a little hypersensitive. The quiet of the hallways annoyed me, the squeak of the staff’s shoes made me anxious, and the beeping monitors had me on edge. 

I’d been sitting in the waiting area for over an hour and I was growing impatient. Why couldn’t I get these test done at my doctors office? What were they testing anyway? Why did it seem like everyone was staring at me? I wished my mom was there with me. She always knew how to keep me calm. My anxiety always kept me dialed up whether the situation called for it or not. 

“Ms. Smith, the doctor will see you now.”

Finally! I grabbed my bag and followed the nurse behind the steel doors. They slammed behind us, almost as if they were locking us in. The hallway in front of us seemed long, and every step I took seemed to take me further from the first door on the left. Calm down, Anya. Everything is going to be alright. 

“Are you feeling okay?” The nurse looked me up and down. I know I must have looked crazy. Sweat was dripping like I’d just ran a marathon. The makeup I put on this morning was sliding down my face. An entire hour in front of the mirror gone in 60 seconds. No, I wasn’t okay. I was scared for my life, literally. 

“Yes ma’am, I’m fine. Just a little warm.” She smiled, clearly aware that I was lying through my teeth. She touched my shoulder and told me everything would be fine. Then she told me to have a seat and that the doctor would be in shortly. Great, another wait.  My nerves were already shot and these prolonged waiting periods weren’t making it any easier. 

I pulled out my phone for a little entertainment, and just my luck - I had no service. Just as I was about to let a curse slip, I heard the door knob turn. 

Wow...

The doctor walked in and I swear I heard theme music. I felt a cool breeze as he closed the door behind him.  I’d never seen anything like him before. This man belonged in a magazine, on a pedestal, at my side.  He was tall, medium build, perfect teeth, prominent shoulders, and dreamy eyes. The kind of eyes you want to look into forever. I scanned his hands for a ring and didn’t see one. Jackpot. 

When he finally looked up from his clipboard, I instantly felt self conscious for having sweated all my Mac off. I had no idea whether I looked like a kitty kat or a cougar. I smiled anyway. He smiled back, way more friendly than professional. I guess I didn’t look too bad. We both giggled for no apparent reason. All of a sudden, the nurse walked in and interrupted whatever was happening between us. I could tell she was blocking by the look on her face. She stood tight faced at his side.  

“Ms. Smith, I am Dr. Kofi and you’ve met Kaylin I presume.” She wasn’t putting her hand on my shoulder, saying everything will be alright now. She was ready to get me out. Poor lil tink tink, he’s going to have to tell me I’m dying today for me to not shoot my shot. 

Yes, we’ve met.” I nodded her way and smiled, letting her know ‘I see you girl’.

“You’re here because we need to discuss your test results. You’ve been complaining about pain and shortness of breath. We ran several test over the last few weeks and haven’t been able to find anything out of the ordinary. My recommendation is that you see a specialist if the symptoms continue.”

I let out a deep sigh. It was bitter sweet, I wasn’t dying today but I also wouldn’t have any resolve. I definitely didn’t want any bad news, and I guess no news is good. 

“I know it can be frustrating to not get any answers, but at least it’s not bad news. I want you to continue to monitor your symptoms and schedule a physical with your primary physician for two weeks from today. He will be able to give you your referral, provided you need one.”

I nodded my head taking everything in. He extended his hand and we shook longer than Kaylin liked. She walked in between us with her rude ass. “Excuse me guys. Dr. Kofi, you have several patients waiting.” He lingered a bit, ignoring her obvious jealousy. 

“It was nice to meet you. Ms. Smith, right?”

“Yes, it's Ms., but you can call me Anya.” He chuckled while Kaylin rolled her eyes. 

“It was nice to meet you Anya. Best of luck to you.” I smiled and watched him exit the room, taking all of my air with him. Ol' girl was not happy. I wondered if they were dating. They couldn’t have been because he was picking up all my passes. If anything was happening between them, it must have been casual.

I grabbed my things and walked out feeling a lot more calm than I had been when I walked in. When I walked in to the hallway, Dr. Kofi was standing there looking like a superhero. He extended his hand. Damn, he really likes to shake hands. When our hands connected, he passed me a card and winked his eye. “Have a good day,” he said. 

I didn’t open my hand until I got to my car. I had suddenly become nervous, and I was hoping I didn’t sweat the card to pieces. He had given me his business card. “Well, I could have gotten this from the front desk.” When I turned it over I saw his personal contact, "okay, Dr. Kofi." I definitely couldn’t have gotten that at the desk. 

I didn’t want to seem pressed so I didn’t call him immediately. Instead, I waited a whole 24 hours. “Hello, may I speak to Dr. Kofi.” My Heart was beating out of my chest. Just my luck, he'd be married and cheating. I hadn’t had the best luck with dating, and I was supposed to be on a hiatus but this man was too fine to pass up. 

“Hello, Anya. Call me Quinton.” 

“How did you know it was me?” 

“I’ll never forget anything about you.” Ah hell, here we go with the game. “I am actually in between shifts now but I’ll have some time tomorrow, let’s do dinner.” Game or not, I ain’t saying no to that. “I’ll pick you up at 7:30, send me your address.” He had it all planned out and apparently he knew I wouldn’t say no. I hadn’t gotten a word in edge wise before we had an entire date setup. Meanwhile, I’m still stuck on him not forgetting anything about me. 

The next evening couldn’t have come quick enough. I was ready by 6:30. I had to make up things to do all day so as to not obsess over the date ahead. I flipped through channels while standing over the vent, careful not to wrinkle, crease, or sweat. 

At 7:26, I saw his lights in the driveway. I didn’t want to seem overly anxious so, I waited for him to knock on the door. And when he did, I didn’t move for thirty whole seconds. 

I opened the door to see him standing there in an impeccably tailored suit, a fresh haircut, a big smile on his face as he looked me up and down, and a dozen roses. “Hey Anya, you look beautiful.” He seemed to whisper my name, as if this moment was only meant for us and our ears. My body temperature rose and I was immediately glad I chose the black dress - no sweat stains. 

The date was like nothing I had ever experienced. He opened the door for me. He asked questions to get to know me on the way to the restaurant, then ordered for me when we got there. And it wasn’t in that creepy controlling way. He had listened to me and he knew what I liked. We could barely eat for talking though. We both had so many questions. 

He hadn’t had the best of luck with relationships either, but he was remaining hopefully because he knew what he wanted for his life. I sat there in awe that someone could be so much like me. 

Every date was better than the last and we never ran out of things to talk about. I was smitten, but I was nervous too. I had been experiencing more pain and the shortness of breath had returned. I didn’t tell him though, instead I made an appointment with my doctor like he’d advised a few weeks prior. I got the referral and once again I was being tested. I wanted to share it with him, but I didn’t want to scare him off. He’d ask me how I was feeling and I would always lie. I wanted to focus on the good. And something this good was totally unexpected and I wasn’t going to spoil it. 

The next few months consisted of me falling in love and hiding my pain. I finally received my results. Hearing them sent me into panic mode. Just my luck that I’m dying the moment I find someone worth a damn. I didn’t know how to tell Quinton. So, I didn't. 

I kept it to myself for as long as I could. Then one day, I collapsed on our way to dinner. He rushed me to the hospital, and they hooked me up to more tubes than I could count. 

“In your condition ma’am....” I immediately looked over to Quinton and saw the confusion on his face. The doctor told me that I needed to take it easy for a few days and allow my medication to get into my system. Apparently, I was acting too normal instead of giving my body a chance to catch up with where my mind wanted it to be.

I had acute heart failure at 33 years old. I wasn't ready to have this conversation with Quinton, but I no longer had a choice.

"Why didn't you tell me the truth about how you were feeling? You could have really damaged yourself further by keeping it to yourself. What if I hadn't been there when you collapsed?"

"Yes, I know but I wasn't ready for this to end."

"What do you mean?

"I know you wouldn't want to date some sick girl, no matter how cute I am."

"Yes, you are very cute and I knew that you were experiencing complications when I asked you out the first time. Nothing is going to keep me from enjoying you or your company. Besides, this isn't a death sentence. Your boyfriend is a doctor, remember?"

"Boyfriend?"

"Anya, have you learned nothing in these past few weeks? I go after what I want and I usually get it." We both laughed. "Seriously, I like where this is going and I refuse to let heart failure derail us especially when I feel confident that I have just what your heart needs."

Oh my....

xo Anya

#30WomenProject: Meet Celia

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 “Get up Celia.”

The words rang in my ears but I couldn’t move.  My body felt like it weighed a ton and I just didn’t have the ability to lift it. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes, I just assumed they were there. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t feel anything.

Celia, you have to get up.”

I was so tired. I don’t know how long I had been there, I just knew I wasn’t ready to leave. My brain sent the message to my eyelids to open. It was a struggle, but they finally obliged. The room was dark, and it was hot. The result of summers in the south and being in a house with no air conditioning. The heat clung to me and the sweat to my skin. I saw several bodies laid out around me, some on couches, others on the floor, and there was one figure standing. Whoever it was stood above us all. I couldn’t see the face, but their posture told me all I needed to know. I rolled my head up a little and saw the needle still hanging out of my arm. The rubber band lay next to me, dirty and soiled. A detail I hadn’t noticed before.

Celia!”

The figure moved from the frame of the doorway to just above my head. I felt their arms slide underneath my body. Their hands locked inside my armpits and pulled me from my oblivion on the floor. They cradled me into their arms and my head fell back as the high continued to hold my body hostage. The figure took big, hurried steps in the direction from which they came. The sunlight burned as it hit my face. I smelled flowers, a definite change from before.

The figure bounced me around as they fiddled for something. I heard a car. They opened the door and placed me inside. It must have been the backseat because I was able to lay down. The air conditioning was cold on my wet skin. I curled into a ball, fighting to find a place of warmth in the leather seats. The figure slid into the driver seat and the vehicle started to move.

Celia, why do you keep doing this to yourself? How in the world can you stand to be in this nasty ass hole in the wall? I’m taking you to the hospital?”

That was the last thing I remembered before my world went black. When I came to, I was surrounded by bright lights and beeping. Tubes ran from my body to God knows where, nurses were coming in and out checking numbers on the screens that lined my bed. I still felt heavy.

I lifted my hand. I needed water. My throat was so dry, I felt like I hadn’t drank anything in years. The figure was still there. I blinked a few times to bring my vision into focus. It was my sister, Lynn. When she saw my hand up and my eyes open, she made her way to my bedside. I tried to speak but the cotton in my mouth only allowed a whisper to escape. She grabbed the pitcher on the table beside me and poured me a cup of water. When the straw touched my lips and the first swig of water entered my mouth, it stung a little. The water was so cold in comparison to what was happening inside me.

After drinking the fifth cup of water, I waved my hand signaling that I’d had enough. “What happened?” I managed to finally say. “You tell me,” Lynn looked over at me from the window. “Why do you keep doing this to yourself, Celia? What are you escaping from? This is the third time I’ve found you in some crack house, high out of your mind. What are you going through that’s sending you back there over and over again. Tell me how to help you.”

I heard Lynn, but she was saying so much at once and the questions she asked were loaded. Do people ever really know what they’re escaping from? Aren’t we all running from something? “I am sorry for inconveniencing you.” My sister and I grew up thick as thieves. There was a time when she looked up to me. But, things changed as they often do.

You’re not inconveniencing me. I just want to understand why you keep doing this to yourself.” She walked over to me and placed her hand on my forehead. I turned away before the tear fell. “I can handle myself, Lynn.”

Oh sure, like you’ve been handling yourself this past week? You haven’t gone to work. Your boss called me and told me you had some outburst then disappeared and they hadn’t seen you in days. You’ve got to get it together. You can’t continue to live like this.”

I’m not afraid of dying. As a matter of fact, maybe the pain would stop.”

What pain?” Lynn yelled. The nurse walked in and told us that we had to keep it down. Lynn paced the floor. I watched her, almost envious. She had it easy. She wasn’t burdened by the past. She was able to be normal, untouched and unscathed. I could be neither.

Celia, whatever you’re going through - you’re going to have to either get help or get over it. This waddling in your own turmoil and allowing it to fester is only making matters worse. You aren’t the only one with problems. You’re just the only one of us who is stabbing yourself in the arm and passing out in disease ridden houses.”

She was always judging me and I hated it. I didn’t ask her to rescue me. The last I checked I was a grown ass woman, whatever I got myself into was mine to lay in. Who was she to come in looking down on me, I’m the big sister. I didn’t feel like the big sister though. I felt like the black sheep. And as I reflect on her questions, it was unclear to me when this weight began to cling to my shoulders.

As a kid, I was eccentric. Lynn, on the other hand, was normal. I was the darker, older sister with the different father and the kinkier hair. I was usually somewhere with my nose stuck in a book or my eyes looking toward the sky, dreaming. There were so many things that were different about Lynn and me, and our fathers were the core of it all.

My Dad didn’t make the cut, so I was the only of my mother’s children who didn’t share the same parents. When Robert came along, I was still stuck on my Dad - wanting him in my life. He had moved on, in another state, with another wife, and other kids. Meanwhile, I was here with my mom yet still unable to feel connected. When Robert and my mom started to have kids, I felt even more isolated. I tried to fit in. I attempted to build relationships with my siblings, and it worked for a while - until it didn’t. Until I could no longer ignore that I wasn’t like anyone else here. I didn’t look like them. I didn’t think like them. I didn’t dream like them. I just wasn’t them.

My inability to fit in at home affected my ability to fit in anywhere else. My foundation wasn’t solid, so I was unable to build fruitful relationships. I figured, if I can’t connect in my house how could I connect anywhere else? Then one day I met this girl who seemed to be suffering just as I was, she introduced me to the escape. She said once you’re gone, it doesn’t matter who is for you or against you - hell, you won’t be able to feel it anyway.

I jumped at the chance to not feel anything, especially the void, the incompleteness. So, I escaped. I stopped feeling, and in the process I stopped doing a lot of other things.

“You don’t understand and you won’t. I apologize for bringing you into my turmoil, but you can’t help me. You can drag me out of houses and admit me into hospitals but none of that will change the reality I face every day. The reality I’ve faced every day. A father who didn’t want me. A step father I didn’t want. And, a family where I didn’t belong. You can do a lot sis, but you can’t do this.”

xo Celia

#30WomenProject: Meet Gabby

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x derricks-noah | unsplash

It was about eight o’clock when I rolled up. I parked my car about two houses down from his, close enough for me to see him but far enough away so he couldn’t see me. There was another car in his driveway. One I hadn’t seen before. Most of the lights were off in the house, so I knew it couldn’t be one of his boys. 

I called his phone and it went straight to the voicemail. “Oh ok, that’s how we’re going to play this huh?” This dude must really think I’m stupid. My momma ain’t raised no fool. As a matter of fact, she told me to watch him. That he always looked like he was up to something. I usually dismissed her accusations, but after these last few weeks, I’m starting to think that she was on to something. I am so sick of these guys coming into my life thinking they can steal, kill, and destroy me and move on without consequence. 

Nah, he gon learn today. 

-

Karim and I had been dating for a little over a year. My homegirl, Terri, threw house parties like every other month. She called them soirees. Last January, she had a few new faces on the guest list and Karim was among them. When he and his friends entered, it seemed like the room just stopped and all eyes were on them. It looked like they were gliding through the room. I ain’t no groupie, so I looked the other way. I mean he was cute, but he wasn’t worth all that. 

Moments after they arrived, we found ourselves seated around the same table. Terri introduced everybody and when she got to me, his eyes seemed to linger a little too long. I still wasn’t really interested. Guys who are used to receiving that much attention are usually self-centered and I don’t need those type of friends. 

At some point, I wandered off, cocktail in hand. My back was to the party when I felt a hand on my elbow and caught a whiff of a scent that was sweet yet strong. “Hey pretty lady, how are you?” I turned around to see Karim standing there with all his teeth on display. I couldn’t help, but smile back. “I’m good. How about you?” I responded cooly. I had to admit, he was very nice looking. He reminded me of Michael B. Jordan. He was tall, a lot taller than me. Nice smooth caramel complexion. Full beard and wide shoulders. I looked away so as to not get caught up in the rapture.

He proceeded to go into all-out conversation mode, asking me where I’m from, how I know Terri, the places I've traveled, and if I was single. The questions came so quickly, I felt like he was the girl and I was the man. “Slow down.” He laughed and said, “Don’t take my aggressiveness the wrong way. My Father always told me that if I see something I want, I need to research it to make it mine.” Yea ok, your daddy probably a pimp too. 

I maintained my guard for about 3 or 4 weeks. But, he was very persistent. Then one day, I just felt comfortable. I don’t know what it was that gave me that feeling - maybe it was his consistency, his sincerity, or the attentiveness he’d shown me. The guy was good. He wined and dined me like no other. I didn’t have to lift a finger, open a door, or cook a meal. He did it all. I remember, so vividly, having come home from work and he’d take me upstairs and undress me. I’d walk into the bathroom and the water would be drawn, petals floating atop the water, wine on the side of the tub, and light music playing. My favorite music at that. 

You get that kind of treatment enough, of course you will fall head over heels. And, fall I did. My mom told me it was too good to be true. She told me to be careful, but I didn’t listen. I was too busy living my best life, or so I thought. 

As I think back on it, there were definitely red flags. Sure, he came with a lot of amenities, but he also had a lot of restrictions. On the nights we weren’t together, he wouldn’t answer the phone. When he was at my house his phone was never near him. And, I had only been to his house a handful of times in the year that we’d been together. He said it was because he wanted me to be comfortable. I wasn’t paranoid or anything. And, I definitely didn’t want to rock a perfectly fine boat. But, there is too much happening in the world for me to not at least be curious. 

So, I started asking questions. Oh boy, why did I do that? My questions were met with an attitude or total shut down. And when I say shutdown, I mean not speaking, not moving, and he might even get up and leave. I started to feel like I didn’t know who I was dating. I was already apprehensive to start dating again because of my last relationship. It was hard bouncing back from infidelity, and it seemed like I was bouncing right into another situation. I refused to let this one break me down like the other one did.

-

Since Karim didn’t answer the phone that was my cue to turn this stakeout up a notch. I got out of the car and walked up to his house. The yard looked completely different from the last time I’d been there. There were children’s toys in the yard. But, Karim didn’t have kids…at least I didn’t think he did. I peered inside the second car. There appeared to be a makeup bag on the front seat, and a pair of pumps in the back. 

By this time, I’m so mad tears have started to form in my eyes and I’m popping sweat. I walked up to the door and rang the bell. I hear the pitter patter of little feet on the other side of the door, and a small voice ask, “who is it?” I didn’t respond. Instead, I kept knocking. “It’s some woman.” I heard a female voice say. My face was so hot, my heart was pumping, and the tears had started to fall. This guy had an entire family. I raised my hand to knock on the door again when it opened.

“Hello, can I help you?” A beautiful woman, about my age stood before me. One child at her ankles and another growing inside her. I couldn’t hold it in any longer, I burst into tears. My shoulders rose and fell as I attempted to catch my breath. “Maam, are you okay? Karim, grab my phone. I think this lady’s having an anxiety attack.” Just as I was about to completely lose my shit, Karim appears in the door frame and he grabbed me. “Regina, what are you doing here?”

“That’s all you have to say for yourself?” I cried harder. “It’s not what you think. Calm down, girl.” I hauled off and punched him in the face. My arms went from my comfort to my windmill. I became a tornado of emotion and with every punch I landed, I told him exactly how hurt and betrayed I felt. I thought those licks would make me feel better, but they didn’t. When I finally stopped, I was tired but still defeated.

“Are you done yet?” Somehow he’d managed to push us outside the door and close it. The lady and her child hadn’t seen me or heard anything I’d said. I collapsed onto the lawn. “How could you do this to me?” He didn’t say anything at first. Almost as if he was trying to determine if he should. “What is it? Say what’s on your mind. Nothing could possibly hurt me at this point.” He took a deep breath. “None of this was my idea. I knew this wouldn’t end well.” I was totally confused. “Terri said you needed to be shown a good time. She said that you’d had a bad experience and you needed to see that good men still existed. I didn’t mean for it to go this far. I was only supposed to take you on a date and make you feel good for a month or two. But, I started to like you. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

I sat there, sprawled out across this man’s lawn as he told me how my best friend had conspired this plan to ‘make me feel better’. I was in total disbelief. One, why would he risk his family for me? What in the world did Terri offer him to make him say yes? Two, Terri knew how distraught I was after my last breakup - why would she think this was a good idea?

My mom told me I needed to watch him, but I guess I needed to watch Terri too. You can’t rush a person’s healing, especially if it means creating more wounds. I didn't think Karim could say anything to make me feel worse, but I was wrong. I never felt so humiliated in my life. It was enough that I was this man's side chick. To find out that my friend set it up was a total slap in the face. 

I got back to my car just as my phone was ringing. It was Terri. I sent her to voicemail. I don't have time for friends like that. Karim did take my mind off my hurt. He did restore hope, momentarily. But now what? Now, I'm stuck here picking up the pieces of a relationship and a friendship. Clearly this plan did more harm than good.

xo Gabby

#30WomenProject: Meet Lucy

x derek torsani | unsplash

x derek torsani | unsplash

I spent every Summer with my grandmother. As soon as school let out, Mom and Dad would be waiting for us with our bags already packed. My sister, Kari, and I would climb into the back of 'Big Blue', and prepare ourselves for the 8.5 hour trip down south.

Big blue was the family car, the one that mom and dad saved especially for trips to granny's. It was loud and rusted in some areas. Dad said it was our taste of humble pie, and we drove it every year so that our family would think that we were 'normal'. The one luxury that Big Blue had left was heat and air, outside of that, it was the poster child for struggle. The leather seats were covered in black tape, which was used to cover the rips and tears. The floor used to be burgundy, now it was doo doo brown. The cloth on the ceiling was hanging so low that it touched Dad's head while he was driving. And, there was no radio.

Mom and Dad used our travel time to discuss the rules of engagement while we were with grandma. We basically had to keep our mouths closed and not tell any of 'those' people our business. Kari and I couldn't share that we both went to private schools, that Mom owned a thriving law practice, and Dad's cleaning business had over 100 contracts. We had heard these rules so many times that we knew them by heart. I really didn't get the big deal. Being well off meant that we had the ability to give back, but for some reason Mom and Dad didn't want any parts of that. Instead, they'd rather put on this facade. And, any time I'd ask them what was the big deal, they quickly change the subject. One summer, I got tired of railroaded and decided to do some digging of my own.

It was the Summer of '91, and it was so hot. Grandma has us picking blueberries, shelling peas, and learning how to make preserves. We rarely sat still when we were with her. That was the difference about staying there versus being at home. At our house, Kari and I did our own thing. Rarely did we spend time with Mom or Dad. During the Summer, grandma made us sit and work with her. She told us family is for spending time together not avoiding. That was her rule, and of course we abided by it. In the beginning, we hated it. We were so used to fending for ourselves that spending time with each other seemed foreign. 

"Grandma, what was it like when Dad was growing up?" I was the inquisitive one. Kari usually sat silently and listened to the stories. I, on the other hand, wanted to take the lead on the types of stories we heard...especially since I was investigating. "Your Dad grew up doing some of the same things y'all are doing now. He did a lot more though. And, he hated it. I knew once he left here that it would hard to get him back. Shoot, I am surprised he lets y'all come down here every year." I didn't tell grandma that the main reason Dad 'lets' us come down is because this gives him and mom the freedom to get ahead in their businesses. He hated that we were here too, but it was for the greater good.

"Why doesn't he like the country? Seems fine to me." Kari looked over at me. I am sure she knew I was beginning to fish for information. I was never this interested in Dad's childhood. "Well, your Dad had some experiences growing up. The kids down at the school used to pick on him and call him poor. It's crazy, your Dad grew up in this same house y'all are spending your Summers in. He and his brother and sister were right here together, but you would have thought he grew up in the White House or something. He was so damn uppity. Oh my goodness, excuse my language." Kari and I giggled. We had never heard grandma curse before. 

"I told that boy that we were poor to some people's standard, but he would never be hungry or homeless. We had all we needed." Grandma paused for minute and shook her head. "I remember when your Daddy graduated from high school, he told me he was going to make something of himself and since 'we had all we needed' he wasn't going to give us nothing. That hurt my feelings. He said that like we didn't want more for ourselves and the family. We did. We just didn't have the means to do it. We used every single thing we had to pour back into our family. It may not be much, but we were never hungry and we still ain't homeless."

A tear rolled down grandma's cheek. "Ya'll done got me started. Grab that bucket of peas and bring it here."

That night, I waited until grandma was in bed and I called Dad. "Hello?" He picked up on the first ring. "Hey Dad, what are you up to?" He paused a little before he answered. "Nothing much. Your mom and I are getting ready for bed. Is everything alright? Where's your grandma?" I never called this late so, naturally he was worried. "Everybody's fine. I just wanted to talk to you." He let out a sigh as if those words gave him permission to relax. "What's up baby girl?" I took a deep breath. "Why do you dislike it so much down here? You couldn't have experienced anything that bad that has you hating your home" Dad sat in silence. "You still there?" More silence. "Dad?" Finally he spoke up. "I am sorry that I have given you all the impression that the country is this bad place where we can't be ourselves. I shouldn't have placed my feelings about it on you girls. Growing up wasn't fun for me. I was picked on a lot about the things I wore, the way I looked, and where I lived. I ended up taking it out on grandma." I gasped.

He was going to be honest instead of changing the subject. "I told your grandma that when I made it, I wasn't going to give the family anything and I've kept my promise. You're too young to understand." I jumped in. "Too young? Dad, come on now. Your feelings about where you grew up have nothing to do with how you're treating grandma. Please excuse me for being blunt, but you need to get over it. You only get one mother and you're upset when she's dedicated her entire life to making sure you were taken care." I am pretty sure he was stunned. I took that as my cue to keep going. "Grandma loves you and always have. And as little as you may have thought of your childhood, you were never hungry and you weren't homeless." I heard a click on the other end of the phone. I took the phone away from my ear and looked at it. "Did he really hang up on me?"

"He didn't hang up, I unplugged the phone." Grandma walked over from the hallway. "What are you doing up little girl?" I thought she was going to kill me, but instead, she walked over and gave me the biggest hug. "Thank you for speaking up for me, but you have to learn to stay out of grown folks business child." I looked down at the floor, not totally convinced that I had done anything wrong.

When I woke up the next morning, the house was filled with laughter. I could smell grits, eggs, bacon, and pancakes. I climbed out of bed and wandered into the kitchen. Grandma was at the sink making fresh squeezed orange juice. Kari was setting the table. "Well, look who finally decided to join the living." I turned my head toward the voice, and it was Daddy. "What are you doing here?" He walked over and gave me a hug. "Well after someone told me off then hung up in my face last night, I decided to jump on the road to see all this boldness in person." I looked over at grandma, who was wearing a smile as wide as the sun, and Kari, who looked a little confused.

"Sorry, Dad! I didn't mean to hang up on you." We both walked over to the table to have a seat. "Your grandmother has already explained everything. Thank you for calling. I had 8.5 hours to think on my way down here and I realized I've been holding grudges with the wrong person." Dad never admitted when he was wrong, ever. So, to hear him mere words away from saying 'I was wrong' was life-changing. 

Spending Summers with my grandmother taught me a lot about family. The most valuable lesson, by far, was to not make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings. My Dad had missed out on so many years with my grandmother, so many celebrations, all because he wanted to keep his success a secret. And, for what? His anger wasn't with my grandmother. His anger was with himself because he thought and believed the things those boys said to him all those years ago. And, instead of letting it go and patting himself on the back for his success, he'd rather place the blame of being poor on his mother. When in reality, no one was to blame - because, he was never hungry and he still ain't homeless.

Kari always picked on me for my intrusive nature, but sometimes the questions need to be asked so someone can have their breakthrough.

xo Lucy

#30WomenProject: Meet Keisha

x shalom mwenesi | unsplash

x shalom mwenesi | unsplash

Why were you so hard on us? You were like a drill sergeant, never biting your tongue about your feelings. You were so headstrong that people were either for you or against you. You were a tough pill to swallow, and those around you had to ‘have their shit together’ as you would say - at least mentally. Because you brought the pain, and nobody got a pass. Thing is though, it was always in love. We had to break through the layers to see that. For those people who couldn’t take the heat long enough....well, they just missed out. 

I remember the first time I ever saw you, well before we became friends. You radiated. There was something about your presence that just set the room on fire. You knew who you were and weren’t afraid to show your many layers, no matter what people thought. From perfect scores in the classroom to knowing every word to the latest songs on the radio, there was nothing off limits for you. And people could see that about you immediately. 

I was fortunate enough to know you closely. We became best friends. You told me your secrets and I told you mine. And you always had to give your two cents about my situations. In the beginning, I accepted your straightforward approach at face value. I took the words that seemed like punches straight to the gut and didn’t miss a beat. I’d gotten to know you and I knew you loved me just as much as I loved you. 

Our friendship was like no other. You were my wind. We had jokes that only we understood..songs that seemed to be written especially for us...pictures that captured moments that we’d reflect on forever and more memories than two people could handle. We were destined to cross paths. You pushed me in a way that I hadn’t experienced. And that’s saying a lot coming from someone like me whose foundation was rock solid. You, my friend, were the standard. You didn’t just dish it, you lived up to it and you expected us to as well. Man, I have chills writing this because I never thought I'd be writing this

One day, we fell out. It was just between us, outsiders had no clue but we knew and so did our relationship. You took a choice from me because, like always, you thought you knew what was best. Why’d you have to do that? As much as I loved you, as strong as our bond was, the removal of that choice dropped me to my knees. The only thing that could help us was time and God

But as life would have it...we didn’t have the time. However, God did give us several opportunities together to continue building our memory bank. It just wasn’t the same. The depth had changed. You shared your secrets, but I kept mine close. Out of fear. Fear of something else being taken from me. 

I had no idea that something would be you. 

When I received the call of your accident, time stopped. My heart was beating through my chest. My breathing shallow. Sweat poured down my face as I searched my surroundings for proof that the moment was real. Oh, how I wanted it to be a dream. I wanted to sit up in my bed, reach for my phone to call you and hear your voice on the other end. Why wasn’t it a dream? Why did it have to be real? 

Everything seemed insignificant. The disagreement, my feelings, my fears...all of it. None of what I held on to was worth it anymore. Mortality never seemed more real. Time never seemed so short. And, our friendship never felt so....distant.

My very best friend was gone. 

And, I was mad. 

Furious because you didn’t give me time to get over my feelings. You didn’t give me time to come to grips with how everything went down. You didn’t give me time to heal from it so we could grow from it. Now I’m left here, by myself with all of these emotions and all of these secrets. Now I’m left to heal on top of my healing. Why would you do this to me?

I had so much to tell you.

I’m in love. You know how we joked about that never happening, right? Jokes on me I guess? And he’s great, sis. Everything I didn’t know I needed. You’d like him. And he’d love you.

Damn. 

This is real huh?

xo Keisha

#30WomenProject: Meet Sheena

x samantha deja | unsplash

x samantha deja | unsplash

It baffles me how ones' inability to fight back can be perceived as a desire to continue. I didn't want to continue. I didn't even want it to start. But, what’s a 10 year old to do when as the stars fill the sky the demons enter her room? In the beginning, I didn’t understand. All I knew was it hurt and I was embarrassed.

See, mom had been trying to get transferred back to day shift, but the waitlist was long. No one wanted to work overnight. Working third shift meant disrupted sleeping patterns and having to trust someone with your children. A year ago, staying at home alone with Joseph wouldn't have alarmed me. But now, anytime my mother left the house I clung to her. The atmosphere was different when she wasn't there, and so were the people. I had lived in this house all of my life, and I'd never been scared until I turned 10.

For a long time, it was just me, mom, Shante, and Sabrina and we were thick as thieves. When I was five, my dad was in a horrible accident. He had been riding his motorcycle with a few of his friends. They’d been out all day. Long before my sisters and I were born, mom and dad had a pact. She agreed to not nag him about riding his bike as long as he agreed to be home before dark. And for twelve years, he kept his promise.

On September 25, 1990 he and his friends had gone on a long ride. The sun had begun to set when he remembered his promise. He signaled to the other bikers that he was turning off. The crew kept straight as he turned right. A mile down the road and an 18-wheeler crossed the center line. Dad was killed on impact. So many times I’ve wondered if he would still be alive had he kept straight. 

Mom took it hard. She blamed herself for several years. Then I guess something clicked that it was out of her control. And I think that’s where I developed the mindset that there are things that will be out of our control. So when Joseph started coming into my room at night......

After dad died, the family felt the void. Mom was left with 3 children, all under the age of 6. I was the oldest, Shante and Sabrina were 2 and 3 years behind me. I could tell that it was hard on mom. She was stuck between not wanting to do it alone and not appearing as if she was betraying Dad. About 3.5 years after being widowed, she opened herself up to dating. She always asked us what we thought, even though we were only 8, 6, and 5. When she was ready to get our feedback, she would invite them over for dinner. Mom would prepare a gourmet meal, with all the fixings and we'd all sit down to eat. At the end of the night, we would gather in the living and tell mom 'yes' or 'no'. We gave her two no's and one yes. It should have been three no's, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Joseph didn’t have any kids, but he sure knew how to win us over. He’d always come baring gifts and instead of taking just mom out - he’d always invite us. My mom took his attentiveness to us as a sign that Dad was still watching over us. That he and God were working on our behalf to send the love and support we needed. That made mom happy, and seeing her happy made us happy. 

Their relationship moved fast. Like real fast. We were all living under the same roof within 6 months. We missed Daddy and no one could ever replace him, but it was nice to have a father figure around again. The first year that we all lived together was great. Family dinners, movies, trips, and endless conversations. Things were going so well that we all relaxed our guards and allowed a stranger to enter our space in more ways than one.

Out of the three of us, Sabrina and Shante were sound sleepers. They usually went to sleep right at bed time and didn't wake until morning. I, on the other hand, tended to be restless. I used to sneak out of my room into the kitchen and fix myself a plate of cookies with a side of milk. One night, Joseph joined me. It was innocent at first. He pulled up a chair and asked me what I was doing up. I told him I couldn't sleep. He grabbed a couple of the cookies from the jar and started telling me stories about how things were when he was growing up.

"When I was your age, I lived in a great big house way out in the country. About three families lived with us. My parents, my three brothers, my uncle and his family, as well as my grandparents, right up until they died. I loved living in a house that was full of people because it was also filled with love. And we all did so much together. We trusted one another too. Do you trust me, Sheena?"

I smiled and nodded yes. Of course I did, this past year he'd been a blessing to my mom and my sisters. He was still a very strong yes in my eyes. What I didn't know is that question was a setup for so much more. It became a ritual. Joseph and I would meet in the kitchen for milk and cookies and he would tell me more stories about his childhood. The stories were interesting. I actually looked forward to hearing them, until the stories began to take a turn. 

"My auntie loved to kiss on all of us. She said that's what family does to show how they feel. I used to see her kiss my uncle and it looked like so much fun that I couldn't wait to be kissed like that. Then one day, when I was about your age, she kissed me. Just a little peck on the lips. There was a heat inside me that I had no idea existed. When I told my aunt what I felt, she told me that it was love. She also told to never be afraid to show how much I loved my family."

Once he said that last line, the room fell silent. I didn't know what to think about what he'd said. And, I definitely didn't know what to do next. As I tried to process it all in my little ten-year-old mind, he slowly made his way over to my side of the table. I hadn't even realized he was standing that close to me until he touched my hand. His hand on mine, in that moment, felt different. I jumped up and snatched my hand away. He told me that everything would be alright, that I could trust him.

"I think it's time for me to get back to bed. I will see you in the morning, Joseph. Goodnight!"

I got up from the table and scurried to my room. I closed the door behind me, got in the bed, and pulled the covers over my head. I talked to Dad until I fell asleep. I must have been tired because as soon as I closed my eyes, I began to dream. I remember seeing Daddy and walking toward him. He held his arms out for me and hugged me tightly. We stood there suspended in our embrace for what seemed like forever. Then out of nowhere, he spoke. I heard him so clearly that I jumped. "Sheena, Sheena..." I opened my eyes to realize it wasn't my dad calling me, it was Joseph. He had climbed into my bed and had been holding me up until I called my Dad's name. 

Before I could scream, he covered my mouth and told me that he wasn't going to hurt me. He said he was only going to show me how much he loved me. 

Every morning when mom came home, she'd check each of our rooms and kiss us on the forehead. When she came into my room the next morning, there was blood on my sheets. She shook me awake and asked me what happened. I told her everything. Her eyes grew wide as I shared that Joseph showed me how much he loved me. She stood up, but she didn't say anything for a while. She just walked back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Mom paced the floor so many times, I thought she was going to walk a hole in it. 

"Don't tell anybody else what you've told me. I will take care of everything."

But, she didn't take care of anything. Joseph continued showing me how much he loved me every night that my mom left for work. Her response to what I'd told her made me think that it was okay...that maybe what had happened was out of my control and perhaps hers too. I began to resent Joseph and anyone who liked him. I attempted to talk to mom again, but she would quickly change the subject or send me on an errand. My sisters were still very young and I didn't know if they would understand. I felt alone. I began to feel like the only person who truly loved me was gone. I wanted to talk to him...in person...about everything that was going on. I wanted to feel some relief. I want to regain my control. 

Since, I couldn't depend on my mom to stand up for me or Joseph to take care of me or my sisters to understand, I decided to take my life in my own hands.

To be continued....

xo Sheena

#30WomenProject: Meet Quinn

x calvin lupiya | unsplash  

x calvin lupiya | unsplash  

My heart said no, while the voices in my head said yes over and over again | Stuck in the dark alleyway between my morals and my friends | My hesitation being mocked like life through a comic's lens | But, I didn't want to do it

It didn't matter though, at least not in the grand scheme | Because all-in-all, don't we all just want to be in the in-scene | A crowd that somehow changed the way that I looked at me | And, although the thoughts were mine, they never came independently

Painful transitions from standing strong to barely standing on my own | All because I didn't see the strength in standing alone | How quickly do we forget all that we've been shown | When the glitter we see begins to feel like gold

I eagerly traded silent lunches for jokes I didn't understand | Knowingly sacrificed what I wanted for someone else's plan | I sold my soul for the price of saying that I can. | Now, I'm the one holding pressure over someone else's head.

xo Quinn

#30WomenProject: Meet Lisa

#30WomenProject: Meet Lisa

It took me nearly 35 years to say, ‘I love you girl’ to myself and mean it. I ain’t talking about the fake self-love that’s trendy. I mean the legit, I’m digging my flaws, I’m in love with my journey, there is no future ‘best life’, my best is today self-love. It’s still a work in progress, a self-project that never ends really.

#30WomenProject: Meet Nina

x terricks noah | unsplash

x terricks noah | unsplash

We looked forward to Dad coming home. He would always bring us something, dolls, candy, or whatever he could find I guess. My sisters and I used to sit by the door and wait for him to come in off the road. “I wish y’all would move away from that door,” mom would yell from the kitchen. Her mood always changed when it was time for him to come home, but we didn’t care. We were too preoccupied with anticipation. 

Dad was the lead singer in a band and they traveled for months at a time. He had performed all over Detroit and was making his way through the New York night life. His road stories were the best. Something was always happening around him. The last time he was home, he told us about a fan who jumped in front of a car just to get his autograph. 

My Dad was cool. He wore his hair real slick. It was jet black, the sides were close, and the top was combed back creating a little hump. Every one was wearing it, but Dad wore it best.  The night the incident happened, he was wearing a black suit that was tailored to his body. He was tall and thin like a model. He wore a purple shirt, and like always, the top three buttons were undone so you could see his chest. That detail always made me and my sisters giggle. 

After his set, the band was packing up and Dad went outside for a smoke. He heard a woman’s voice calling his name - he waved and continued to puff his cigarette. Apparently, she thought he was motioning her over. She ran into the road without looking and was nearly rolled over. Crazy thing is, she didn’t even care. She was so focused on making it to my Dad that she was willing to sacrifice it all. 

We looked at him in shock after he finished the story. We couldn’t believe that people could love him as much as we did, just because he could sing. He’d always end his stories with, “you know your Daddy is bad right, now who’s the man?” We’d all burst into laughter and fall deeper in love with the man who gave us life. 

The weekends while Dad was home were the best. He’d sing for us, tell us story after story, and he’d let us stay up late. We’d all pile onto the couch and watch old movies. Mom would eventually join us, but she never looked as excited as we did. Whatever was on her mind was never important enough for her to ruin our time with him. That’s what I loved about her, she let us love on our Dad in peace. 

I remember walking in the house one Tuesday after Dad had left and overhearing mom on the phone. “I am so sick of him coming in here pretending like everything is all good. All these women calling this house.” I couldn’t hear what the person on the other end was saying, but I assumed they were fueling the fire. “I just can’t take it anymore. He won’t even marry me after 13 years, talking about the marriage won’t look good for his music career. What the hell does that mean? I don’t know why I stay. I should take my girls and go.” Mom stopped talking as her sobs filled the dead air. 

Tears rolled down my eyes as I thought of not being able to see my dad. I ran to my room, vowing to never forgive her if she took us away from him. I was the oldest of my sisters, and even at the tender age of 13, I felt compelled to hold the family together. But what could I do? I decided I should talk to her and convince her to stay. So, later that night when my sisters had gone to bed I walked into her room. “Hey, mom can I talk to you before you go to sleep?” I peeked my head in and saw that she was getting dressed. “Sure baby, what’s on your mind?” I took a deep breath and just went for it. “I don’t know what’s going on between you and Dad but you can’t leave him.” I had hit a growth spurt that year so she and I were standing eye to eye. 

“Little girls shouldn’t tend to grown folks business.” She said as she turned and continued to get dressed. “It’s our Business too, especially if you’re planning to move and take us with you. We’re not leaving him.” My tone must have struck a nerve, I thought she was going to come across the bed on me. “Let me tell you something Ms. ‘it’s our business too’ there are some things that your young mind won’t understand. As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t even have to understand it at your age. So, just leave well enough alone and go to bed.” She pushed me toward the door and closed it behind me. 

I was angry with her, why couldn’t she just tell me what was going on. I am sure it wasn’t that deep. Dad was perfect, he could do no wrong in my eyes. 

Something happened though...

It started taking Dad a lot longer to come home. The longer it took, the angrier mom became and the more I resented her. When he finally did walk through the door, he looked so different. His once well groomed hair was now matted. The clothes that used to fit him so well were now tattered and worn. Dad smiled far less frequently and the stories stopped altogether. He set up camp on the couch and when my sisters and I would try to join him to watch a movie he’d say, maybe later. But, later never came. And I blamed mom. 

She had to have done something to turn him into this lifeless man that none of us recognized. Where was my Dad? Where was the charismatic man that I’d grown up with?  

By the time I was 15, Dad was home all the time. And with his presence came more discontentment. I had learned that his band had lost their deal. The crowds stopped coming. His manager said people were evolving and his music needed to evolve too or he’d be left behind. My dad didn’t want to evolve so this is where and how he was left. 

You’d think he and my mom would have gotten better since he was home now. Instead, they grew further apart. Dad became disgruntled, he didn’t want to find a regular job. He said he had too much talent for that. Not singing made him bitter, and not working made the house tense.

Over the course of two years, so much changed. Dad went from this figure we’d placed on a pedestal, high above error to a man who stopped believing in himself. And therefore, stopped believing in who he was to us. He tried to resurrect his career a couple of times, but to no avail. The more he was rejected, the more he distanced himself from us. He attached himself to our sofa like it was a part of him. He didn’t leave it to eat or bathe, and from the way it smelled, he barely left it to use the bathroom. 

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. And although, as the oldest, I should know what to do - I didn’t. I had no clue how to be a princess to a king who had dropped his crown. Nothing I tried worked. Reminiscing sent him into a tizzy, he wouldn’t budge for a hug, and movies or any kind of family activity was out of the question. 

A darkness fell over our family, and none of us knew what to do. 

It was a Wednesday in September, my sisters and I came in from school and the house was eerily silent. Dad wasn’t in his usual spot, and for a second there was a glimmer of hope between the three of us that he’d gotten back on his feet. That we were on the brink of change. 

Hope soon vanished when I heard a scream from the back. When we walked in the door, we all went in different directions. I headed into the kitchen to grab our snacks. My middle sister went into the dining room to start homework, and my baby sister ran to the bathroom. She’s the one who screamed. 

I ran toward her voice. When I rounded the corner, I saw her standing over something. She was now hysterical. I pushed the door open and I saw something I can never unsee. My Dad, my King, my rock lay unconscious on the floor. A needle lay in the fold of his arm and just above it was a tightly tied rubber band. His eyes were open and it felt like he was looking through me. 

I grabbed my sisters and ran out of the house. Mom was still at work and wouldn’t be home until 8. All I could think was I’m the oldest, I need to be there for my sisters - who were on either side of me balling. I called the police then called mom. “Dad’s gone, ma.” As soon as the words left my mouth, my mind finally realized what my eyes had seen, what my sisters had already processed, and what my mom would now have to swallow. 

He was gone...and this time he wasn’t coming back. 

xo Nina

#30WomenProject: Meet Corinne

x Jessica Felicia | unsplash

x Jessica Felicia | unsplash

Being Black and Female should come with an instruction manual. There are so many preconceived notions, and many of them go unchallenged. You have to be in the room to speak up for yourself. And, when you're in the room you have to be big and bold enough to speak up.

So, there's that.

From relationships to the workplace, we are placed in a box before we have a chance to show just how wide our arms reach. Now that I think about it, we don't need the instructions, others do. They need it to understand just how dynamic we are. I am pushing through the barriers others place before me, and it ain't easy. When I think I have it figured out, they throw something else at me.


 

"Corinne, can you meet me in my office please." When I heard my boss, Tom, on the other end of the phone, I knew the day was about to take a turn. I took a deep breath and pushed my seat away from my desk. I loved this time of year. The flowers were in bloom and I got to enjoy it through my office window. It was my peace during my 12-hour stints at my desk. My email notification dinged just as I got up. I'll check it when I get back. I walked the few steps separating my office from Tom's. 

"Come on in." Our HR manager was there and so was our regional vice president. This is worse than I thought. I grabbed a seat while trying to keep my face from showing my true feelings. "You're here because we need to discuss some things with you. Nothing bad, so no need to be alarmed." Tom spoke while the others looked at the papers on their laps. "Sure, how can I assist?" I replied while forcing a smile. 

"Kevin feels like you're targeting him. Obviously, we know this isn't true however, we wanted to bring it to your attention." I looked between Tom and the others, knowing this had to be a joke. "Targeting him for what, and in what way?" I asked confused. "He feels you're being tougher on him than the other staff members. He also expressed something about your tone when you're addressing him." By this time, there was no hiding my emotions. I am sure it was written all over my face. 

Kevin was a young white male who I'd just hired about six months ago. He was the only caucasian on the team, but why would that make me treat him any different. I spoke to him and managed him in the same manner as everyone else. There were no favorites on my team. We all played our parts to get the job done. 

"Corinne, please don't take this the wrong way." My regional vice president spoke for the first time since I'd walked in. "Your voice is deep and you're intimidating. You may not be purposely doing anything, but that alone would cause someone to think the worst." I know he didn't just say that. Think the worst of what? What is this man talking about and what the heck do they think me and my deep voice is going to do? "I don't even have conversations with Jerome by myself. Have you seen him?" He let out a hearty laugh, but I didn't get what was funny. Jerome was one of our managers in the field. Like me, he was black. He was also tall, about 6 feet and he had broad shoulders. But, why was Jerome relevant to our conversation?

Oh, I get it.

I looked over at our HR manager, she kept her eyes on her lap. "All we're saying," Tom broke the awkward silence. "is to be mindful." I was still confused. "So, one could assume that the intimidation is influenced by our blackness since you chose to use Jerome as a point of reference while discussing me and my employee?" Tom and the HR manager looked at each other with their eyes wide as silver dollars. "Pretty much." The vice president said nonchalantly. "No, no...that's not what we are implying at all. We wanted to speak with you today to make you aware of the conversation. Race has nothing to do with it." The HR manager finally spoke, fearful of a lawsuit I'm sure.

That's not how it went. Well, they said what they said but I.....

Instead of me calling a spade a spade, I sat back in horror as they told me, in so many words, that I had to behave differently because of who I was. That I needed to speak differently, less assertively, less forward because my voice was already deep. And as outraged as I was to be seated in the room with people audacious enough to say this to my face, I was silent. I wasn't big and I wasn't bold. Much worse, I was quiet. I absorbed their thoughts and opinions because I felt that speaking up would hold me back from climbing a ladder that I wasn't even sure I wanted to climb in the first place.

I walked out of that room livid. I was mad at them, but I was also mad at myself. I couldn't believe that after all I'd done for this company, they had reduced me to an intimidating black woman with a deep voice.  As if I didn't have other things to worry about, now this. I can't change who I am or how anyone perceives me. And I for damn sure aint changing my voice to make someone feel comfortable. All I can do is show up and the rest is on them.

But why didn't I speak up....

Ever since I started there, I've been told I was too.... This place reminded me of a bad relationship. Either I was too black, my hair too kinky, my mind too focused, and now my voice too deep. If I wasn’t careful, I’d start to believe those things. Then, I might start wanting to be something else, something different, something less - all to appease people who won't stop whether I'm here or not. 

You know, maybe we [The Black Female] do need an instruction manual for ourselves. We need something that teaches us how to sustain our authenticity despite other's response to it. As we continue to encounter people who won't understand us and who will think the worst of us, we need to preserve our realism. We also need something that encourages our confidence so that when we're in the room, we are big and we are bold.

If we keep changing ourselves for the comfort of others, who will comfort us? 

xo Corinne

#30WomenProject: Meet Alex

x kyle loftus | unsplash.com

x kyle loftus | unsplash.com

Jason’s name popped up on my screen for the third time in the last hour. You’d think he would’ve gotten the hint by now.  After he told me that he was a teacher, I lost interest. Sure, it’s a noble career but he ain’t making no money. And I refuse to pay every time I want to do something. He’s fine though, with his chocolate self. 

Focus, Alex! Remember the pact. 

My mom and dad were in love, and they’ve been that way since they were 16. It was the kind of love you see in movies or read about in books, but they didn’t have a happy ending. Not in my eyes anyway. They both worked at the factory in town, and even though their hard (and I mean hard) work paid off for me and my siblings, they had to watch ever penny like a hawk. That meant hand me down clothes, homemade gifts, prom dresses from the thrift store, and vacations that involved a water hose in our backyard. 

They loved us and they did the best they could, but we were poor and I didn’t want that for my life. After high school, I went to college on a full scholarship and became a doctor. I worked in the ER at Grady hospital and my salary was pretty significant. 

What would I look like dating a man who is practically living check-to-check?  Love is cool but it doesn’t pay the bills and it for damn sure doesn’t fly first class - on its own, anyway. 

So I made a pact with myself that I wouldn’t date anyone unless they made what I made. How could any man be the head of my household if I’m the one paying the bills? 

What do you do for a living has always been one of the first questions I've asked, and it’s usually met with discourse. But that’s not my problem. Relationships, especially marriage, require sacrifice and well, the sacrifice needs to make sense. 

My friends tell me I’m crazy...

from the balconies of their dysfunctional homes. I love them but they just don’t get it. I literally started at the bottom and I refuse to go back. 

I met Jason while out with my friends one night. My God, he was gorgeous. Tall, dark, and handsome just like I like them. Our eyes locked from across the room and I knew he’d come over. I didn’t move. My mom always taught me that it’s best to be pursued. And pursue, he did. Jason glided across the room so smoothly, it looked like he was walking on water. Heat rose to my cheeks and my chest as I anticipated what would happen next. 

His cologne tickled my nose. It was strong yet alluring. “I’m not psychic or anything but I can see us together.” His voice was deep and rustic like he grew up singing bass in the choir. I chuckled as he continued to describe our first date. He whispered in my ear and his words danced with the beat of the music as if our encounter was destiny. Goosebumps covered my arm and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. He grabbed my waist and pulled me close like we were the only ones in the room. We were focused on each other’s every move. 

We talked and danced until night turned to dawn. He gave me his number and we agreed to meet later that day. 

I was on a high while managing to keep myself grounded enough to ask him what I needed to know. He and I met at a Japanese restaurant for dinner and I dove right in. He proudly shared that he’d been a teacher for 10 years and that he loved it. I watched as his eyes lit up while he shared stories about his students. And as the light entered him, darkness covered me. I’m sure he could sense the change. As soon as the word teacher left his lips, my shoulders tensed up. 

Damn, why did he have to say that?

“Is something wrong?” He asked, leaning forward and grabbing my hands. I pulled away. All I could think about was the pact. I made up some excuse to skip out on dinner. I could see the hurt on his face, but at that moment I didn’t care. I walked out of there like my house was on fire. 

He called and texted and called some more, but I didn’t answer. I had made this agreement with myself long before I knew Jason existed. It was my promise to me, if I didn’t keep it who knows what other things I’d let slide. I wasn’t ready for that type of change in my life.  

So I continued to work and earn and stack...all by myself. And, every day that passed felt like seconds as I began to second guess whether any of it was worth it. I never answered Jason’s calls and eventually he stopped calling. I figured I’d never see him again and although I wasn’t 100% happy with that, I was content. 

One Saturday, about 3 months later I ran into Jason. He had a beautiful lady on his arm. When he saw me, though, he paused as if he’d seen a ghost. He told his friend to give him a moment and he glided toward me like he’d done all those months ago. She smiled then turned to walk toward a nearby aisle.

“Why’d you skip out on me like that?” I looked away not really sure my reasoning made sense anymore. “After all this time and you still can’t be honest?” He said stepping back into my line of vision. “I apologize. That was rude of me, but you were different than what I expected.” I said dropping my head and pretending to look for something in my purse. “Bull! I wasn’t a doctor like you so, you decided I wasn’t good enough. It’s cool, you can be honest. I’ve met women like you before. Women who have reached a level of success in their lives and then start seeing life through a singular lens.” He paused for a moment. “It’s unfortunate. I would have treated you well. I would have drawn you a bath after your long days at the hospital. I would have rubbed your feet while you ate the dinner I prepared for you. Hell, if you would have given me a chance I could have even shared that teaching is my way of giving back all that’s been given to me.” I stood there in shock as he told me who his family was. They happened to be one of the wealthiest families in Atlanta. When he finished he told me he felt sorry that I valued money more than love. Right before he walked away he said, “Love may not pay the bills but money can’t keep you warm at night.” 

Oh....

I watched as he grabbed the young lady’s hand and walked out of the store. I was left there with my face in my hands and my thoughts all over the place. I’d clearly taken my life from one extreme to the next, and for what?

I was never hungry as a child, never naked. I had everything I needed, especially love and stability.

I was so focused on what I didn’t have, that I neglected to see what I did. My blindness as a child was my Achilles as an adult.

xo Alex

#30WomenProject: Meet Kelly

x terricks noah | unsplash.com

x terricks noah | unsplash.com

I loved my mother like any child would love the person who gave them life. But, as I think back on it, our relationship was moreso out of nature versus nurture. See, I lived with my grandmother growing up. My mom was committed to only herself which meant I was dead weight.

Grandma was angry all the time. Not necessarily at me, but at the fact that I was there. She was a grandma, she had raised her children and she hadn't volunteered to start this rearing game all over again. I guess you could say this rearing game voluntold her. 

My mom wasn't there. Actually, her body was from time to time but never her mind. My mother drank alcohol like it was air to breathe. She woke up drunk and went to bed the same way. Actually, the bed went to her. She rarely made it into her room so, the bed became whatever was beneath her when she collapsed. 

Mom grew up the baby of five children. Something happened to her but she’d never say what. She’d only speak vaguely, “you ain’t seen what I’ve seen baby girl. Thank God for that.” I never found out what she meant. I could only assume that it was bad enough to make her want to escape. The only thing about escaping, at least in her case, was that there were no limits or restrictions on who she escaped from. And by default, I was included. 

There were times, though, when she was present, coherent even. Times when her eyes were clear and lifelike and she would walk past me in the hallway and our arms would touch. I swear I saw a smile. In those moments, I felt loved. The warmth of her skin against mine was confirmation that she loved me. You can't be warm and not love. She never said it though. Instead, she yelled....everything. Too many days to count, I watched her and my grandmother trade words that cut like jagged edges. 

It was because of her erratic behavior and her infatuation with the bottle that my grandmother reintroduced herself to rearing. I still remember the day she snatched me from my mother's grasp. My mom had been out all night and she'd left me home alone. I was about 8 at the time and I was used to being by myself. I don't know what made my grandmother stop by that morning, she said it was something in her spirit. I don't know about all that. All I know is that when she showed up, a cloud of smoke followed her. 

My grandmother pulled into the driveway just as my mother had. Their voices sounded like trains colliding. I went into my room and closed the door. I pulled the covers back on my bed, climbed in, and pulled them over my head. I just wanted to drown out the sound. It worked for a little while. That is, until the sound made its way into my room. "Get Up, Kelly! You're coming with me. Your drunk ass momma can't get her shit together." I watched in horror as grandma pulled open my drawers and pulled out my clothes. I didn't have a suitcase so she threw all my things in trash bags. 

“Tell her why her drunk ass momma can’t get herself together, Janice!” My mom yelled. “What the hell are you talking about girl? Ain’t nobody got time for that shit you talking.” Grandma moved faster to gather my things and get us to the door. “You’ve never listened to me. You didn’t listen then and you’re not listening now. And you wonder why I love this bottle - because it never lets me down. Ever.” My mom yelled.

I remember tears filling my eyes. Grandma pulled me to the front door, ignoring mom’s comment but clearly shaken by it. Mom pulled my arm. "Don't be a square like your grandma, baby. Be a star like your momma." I don't know why, but that made me cry harder. Before I could respond, my grandmother snatched me from my mom's tight grip. "Don't you listen to that drunk mumbo jumbo," grandma spat back. She dragged me out of the house and from that day forward, I stayed with her while my mom continued to be a star.

When I was 16, I had my first drink. It was disgusting, but it made me light up. I didn't feel small anymore. I felt like people could see me. And frankly, I was tired of being invisible. My mom didn't see me and my grandmother was too busy being angry with my mom to see me. Not much had changed over the years. Mom was still having a good time, being a star and grandma was still tight about having her golden years snatched away at the hands of her own daughter. I spent most of my time in my room - sneaking drinks from grandma's cabinet. I wanted to experience what my mother had. I wanted to escape in hopes that I’d find her on the other side. I thought, maybe if I drank too she’d see me.

I continued to drink for years. I never thought of it as a problem for me. I wasn't my mother. And, I wanted to prove that it was possible to have fun and be present for your family. That it was possible to be a star and do the right thing.

I lost control though.

I started to exhibit the same erratic behavior as my mother. I didn't want to listen to anybody. I felt like I had the answers and anyone who challenged me felt the wrath of my tongue, and my fists, if it came to that. I guess I was finally a star, but I wasn’t shining brightly nor was I the twinkle in anyone’s eye - I was on fire and I was burning everything around me. 

I didn't realize anything was wrong until it was impossible for me to deny it. I had become my mother. And that truth hurt more than anything. But, in the pain I realized that my mother wasn't trying to hurt me, she just didn't know how to help me or herself for that matter. Alcohol was her escape, it was her calm and her courage and once you’ve tasted that kind of freedom it’s hard to walk away. 

I never saw her on the other side. We never became close. She continued to drift away from me, like she was distancing herself from something that was in my eyes. What that thing was, I didn’t know.  

She died before I could find out.  

I spent so many years searching for the answers at the bottom of my own bottle. Never found it though. I only found more questions. Questions about my family and what my mother was running from. Questions about my grandmother and the anger she held on to. Questions about myself and how I ended up in the midst of all this chaos. 

I sought a counselor. It was too much for my mind to process and frankly, I didn’t have the skill to unpack the bags that had accumulated after years and years of traveling unseen. 

I am claiming my serenity now, though.

xo Kelly