Unmasked

Unmasked

It would be the understatement of the year to say the past two and a half months have been…let’s just say…different.

Seemingly overnight, the world was forced to adjust to a life in quarantine; staying indoors for the sake of saving themselves and the lives of others from a virus that attacks the body swiftly, quietly and violently.

Not only would it achieve the unthinkable in silencing the city that never sleeps, which has also lived through multiple terrorist bombings, a couple of blackouts and the residency of a certain tyrannical president who shall not be named (unless and until his inmate number is created). It has also made wearing face masks and gloves a mandated look beyond Michael Jackson tributes, and called BS on all those people who swore after watching countless shows and movies featuring zombies or dystopian themes that they were prepared for “the apocalypse.”

Turns out, they start pleading for haircuts and refuge from their children and/or in-laws the moment the leaves start forming on the trees.

But that’s neither here nor there.

The reason I’m writing about it, after pointedly avoiding the subject as a blog post for approximately ten weeks is for no other reason than to say this: “I’m glad it happened.”

Before perception goes way left, I’ll explain.

While I’m horrified by everything about this pandemic — the incalculable losses of life, work and income, the families torn apart by all of it, the egregious disparities that have arisen in the wake of the resulting economic and industry-busting disaster, and especially the lack of sympathy or compassion from the officials elected to protect the interests of all of the country’s citizens — this pausing of the world has been the most unusual blessing in disguise.

The world has forced us to stop and take stock of what’s important. Nature reset itself. Families, friends and lovers are reconnecting. People whose professions often go ignored and taken for granted — the healthcare workers, transportation workers, grocery store employees and others now deemed “essential,” and even educators who have had to find creative ways to do their jobs — are now being recognized as the heroes they are. There’s a wave of kindness and compassion from neighbors who want to make sure others are safe and have everything they need to get through this together.

For me, the coronavirus and the subsequent quarantine has been a bunch of things. In the beginning, it was the thing that took away my physical health and senses briefly, an event that I’d been excited about working on which would’ve been a proud moment in my career, my first real vacation in three years, my full-time job and the insurance that came with it and my sleep schedule.

What it’s become is the best thing that ever happened to me, because, for the first time in my life, I was riding completely solo (unlike when I fractured my ankle and my squad came all the way through since broken bones weren’t contagious and/or potentially fatal for others).

After the initial sadness of having to go through illness and carrying bags of groceries long distances “all by my lonesome,” I have to confess that right now…It. Feels. Glorious.

Not just for the obvious shallow reasons of not having anyone around blowing through the aforementioned groceries at a breakneck pace. I love my peeps, but I admit it’s kinda nice not having anyone pitching a fit because they need food, attention and direct sunlight. (Shoutout to the folks who used to shame me for being single and/or childless and are currently being driven slowly insane because they can’t escape their spouse or child. Sending thoughts and prayers.)

It’s because, like the earth, I’ve also taken time to recalibrate. Historically, I’d be embroiled in messy distractions that saved me from taking a hard look at — and accountability for — the string of disasters that formed my existence back in the day.

This time…I had time. Also: I’m in my mid forties and increasingly intolerant of nonsense. And since the universe can sometimes be as subtle as a sledgehammer, I was constantly being hit with reminders of the timeframe I needed to tackle because it’s currently dominating pop culture (and someone from it slid into my Facebook DMs).

So I ripped the bandaid off, and poked at the crippling fear of being my authentic self out of fear of rejection and abandonment, til it burst and oozed all over my resignation that not everyone who’s been a part of my story will make the next chapter (even, and especially, my biological mother). It then scabbed over the painful realization that I never set a goal in life because I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough to require one. I used shots of tequila as an antiseptic.

When I opened the new(ish) wound of the anniversary of my father’s death occurring during this time, I risked my phone and inbox being hit with a barrage of concerned messages akin to the moment I revealed I’d lost my sense of smell and taste.

Which brings me to the other healing (and less trauma-inducing) blessings. I’m healthy. I’ve watched some really great TV and movies. Read some outstanding books. Danced nights away thanks to DJ D-Nice, Club Quarantine and Verzuz. Had hours long (mostly vulnerable) conversations on the phone, and attended several birthdays, group chats and graduation parties through Zoom and Houseparty with my family and friends. Upped my culinary game to the point where I can’t bring myself to eat things like “Hot Pockets” again. Got my first article published, saw the special issue I worked on released with emotional results, and doing work I genuinely get joy out of with my (kinda) former employer. And even though the world seems unstable right now, I’ve never been steadier.

So when things seems hopeless — as we get inundated with news drenched in racism, hatred and division — I think of those things, and the fact that it wasn’t too long ago that I was jobless, homeless after leaving a man I feared for years, and suddenly thrust into the role of taking care of a parent who lost his memory…and then everything else. (That year was also a doozy!)

And I relish in the fact that the only mask I need to wear these days is covered in flowers.

Hopefully, these times have unmasked greatness for you as well.

Pull The Trigger

There is no greater buzz kill than returning to New York on Christmas Day.

This was my takeaway after leaving my family in Philadelphia, as they were preparing to host Christmas dinner. In the midst of the Cavalier/Warriors basketball game.  I knew then that I’d regret that decision. I was correct.

Heart already heavy from the realization that I’d spent less than 24 hours with them before heading back, the lateness of the train to Trenton, the loneliness of sitting and walking in silence for four hours, and the return to a city awash in people just trying to find their place in it, stole whatever joy I managed to muster in those brief moments filled with laughter, long tight hugs, deep conversations and an unexpectedly fun game involving a shit-ton of saran wrap.

It has taken me hours to place the source of my sadness: Everything feels unstable in my life right now.

On the surface, things look great. I’m in the most ideal job, home and relationship that I’ve ever been in throughout all of my forty-two years. And it scares me to death to think that it’s all too good to be true. But the last few weeks have me bracing for a future in which I’m about to find out how much I’m capable of handling on my own…again.

Which brings me to my parents. Because everything ultimately leads back to the people who made you.

There are days when I resented them. There are days I pitied them. There are days when I try to understand where their heads were at when they thought it was okay to leave me with strangers, neighbors and members of their families who turned out to be child molesters. There have been days where I’ve felt personally affronted when they’d get credit for my accomplishments in life, when neither had been in it full time since I was twelve. And there are days when I accept the fact that they had no idea what they were doing and – in the case of my father – eventually did the best he could, considering he didn’t have the most nurturing parents.

Last year after my father’s passing, I unexpectedly found myself digesting story after story about how involved my father was in the lives of so many people. Normally, that would cause a swelling of pride to know how beloved your dad was, and how many lives he touched and impacted. The thing is…he was being other people’s hero during the years I struggled to pay tuition, find a job that paid a livable wage and compensate for his absence with remarkably insecure and occasionally abusive partners after deeming myself unloveable (the thought you have when your parents are alive and well, but not involved in your life).

And while years of tough conversations in our later lives healed that wound enough to compel me to assume the role of his caregiver in his final years, the pain of the time and moments lost will never fully go away.

In my adult life, it has manifested itself into someone who is fiercely independent, but constantly seeking connection. Terrified of becoming her mother, no longer interested in becoming mother, but strangely aware that her ability to listen to and comprehend children would’ve made her a great mother. Someone who now knows that words unspoken lead to opportunities unrealized…for better or worse. Someone who somehow managed to take decades of trauma, fear, anger and resentment, and turn it into the fuel that keeps her going in her daily journeys to a place where she finds peace, love and acceptance in who she is…and who she isn’t.

Someone who is still struggling to understand what’s become of this world in the past year; where it seems everyone is reminding her of her parents, — in the sense that they willingly chose roles in which they have a responsibility to take care of people, but everything goes to shit because they’re too busy serving their own interests and enriching their own lives while those who need help suffer from neglect.

See what I did there?

This whole year has been a trigger of near catastrophic levels. As vocal as I’ve been over the past year and change to friends, family and the social media world, the words somehow escaped me to truly express how I feel about all this chaos.

To be reminded on a daily basis that there are people in power whose mission in life is to take away my power takes me to places only this blog and my therapist can pull me out of.

With that, I’m going into 2018 absolutely terrified, yet still acutely aware that I’ve done this before.

And I’m still here.

I have to believe there’s something good about that.

Even if it’s to testify that things can – and will – get better.

Also: If they haven’t already, your parents will fuck you up in some way, shape or form. I cannot stress the importance of having a fantastic support system, an openness to look into your self to clean and mend the wounds properly, and let go of the things you thought you knew so you can learn something new.

The past can be our anchor, or it can be our teacher.

We still have the power to choose which it will be.

Happy New Year.

 

Moving On

It is never easy leaving something or someone you truly love.

Oftentimes, it is unpleasant.

But the time will come when we’ll have to say goodbye to something or someone dear to us for whatever reasons that apply. It’s one of life’s inevitabilities…much like me wrecking a manicure seconds after walking out of the salon.

This week, I had that horrible task. Twice.

The first isn’t theoretically final, but symbolically it is; the apartment my roommate and I have shared for nearly a year is being reclaimed by its lovely owner and her family at the end of the month, so we needed to find a new place quickly. What stung the most was having to leave the beautiful neighborhood we’ve grown to adore, due to lack of affordable housing options. Never mind the fact that the apartment itself is a unicorn in terms of space and affordability. Both were ideal.

Alas, it was never truly ours…and so we had to face facts and move on.

Fortunately, we found an affordable gem in a decent neighborhood that suited all our needs, and wouldn’t force any major and/or uncomfortable adjustments.

The part I’m most grateful for, tho – aside from having a relatively painless search process in comparison to last year (woo hoo!) – is having my name on a legal document holding me responsible for the payment and upkeep of a place that I reside in…for the first time in SIX years.

While that concept seems scary AF, I’m elated, because circumstances over these last years haven’t supported this moment. A layoff in 2010 – followed by an unexpectedly lengthy stretch of un/underemployment mixed with drastic pay decreases throughout the years that followed – proved challenging. Signing a lease wasn’t only risky…it was impossible.

All this to say: As much as I’ve dreaded moves in the past, this one I look forward to, because it means I’ve finally reached the point where I can start over on my terms. It’s bittersweet, yet empowering, all at the same time.

The next goodbye is final and painful, because there’s still a great deal of love, and there was a tremendous emotional investment. The demise of a relationship always impacts me because the failure is personal and, at times, I’d like to think avoidable.

But that’s just wishful thinking.

Over the years, I’ve struggled and occasionally succeeded at being mindful of things in my past life that could – and have – segued into fatal relationship flaws: Let’s just say the list isn’t pretty. Or short. Let’s also say not living with my parents after twelve was the best thing that ever happened to me. Let’s also say that it’s because very early on, life played out more like a Lifetime Network movie written by Alice Walker.

Basically, I was a powder keg with a laundry list of issues ranging from trust, abandonment, intimacy, anger, jealousy, people-pleasing, self-esteem, selfishness and withdrawn (this one’s tough to shake).

Truth be told, I’ll always be a work in progress. But time, meditation, faith, introspection, healing, much-needed therapy and an outpouring of unconditional love and support from friends and family has allowed me to develop into a woman who is now open and optimistic about life, love and all its possibilities. I find joy in authentic relationships and experiences, and I’m quicker to listen to and embrace different perspectives. Most of all, I’ve learned to forgive, let go, and just let shit be.

Which brings us here.

If I’ve learned anything in these forty years and eight months of life, it is that as much as I love the idea of being in love, there’s much more to a relationship than that. It’s work, and sometimes I don’t want to do it, but I will if I know the end result is having someone to grow with, who has your back in times both good and bad and inspires you to do the same. Someone who takes interest in your interests, and includes you in theirs. Someone who relishes in your quirks, and can talk and listen for as long as it takes as you both learn something new and/or rediscover something not so new about each other (instead of using social media or discussing with an audience that doesn’t include either of you). Someone who understands that conflicts and anger should be addressed and resolved in minutes and (if really serious) hours…not days and weeks. Someone who has longterm plans and knows where you fit in them. Someone unafraid to take a leap of faith and land wherever your lives together may take you. Someone whose actions speak louder than their words.

For all our intents…we both failed spectacularly in making that happen. Twice.

And for what it’s worth, I wanted our relationship to work so badly, that I was willing to accept it as it was…even as it left me wanting more.

But it occurred to me that – much like the apartment hunting experience – I began the process desperate to compromise at the risk of losing a part of me. In the end, it took venturing out of my comfort zone on a road less traveled in order to find the place that feels like home, and nothing is lost except the expectations of how things should be.

Not only is that worth moving on to…it’s worth moving mountains for.

I’m scared and excited to find out what the future holds, but right now, I’m just gonna relish in the freedom of the present moment, and go wherever the day takes me.

Which, right about now…is the kitchen. I’m starving.