Identity Heft

Identity Heft

Etymologically speaking, “a walk in the park” is supposedly an easy thing to do.

Therefore, it came as a complete surprise to me yesterday, when I could barely make my first lap around the nearby park before needing to retreat to the nearest bench in an attempt to shake off a sudden pain that hit me on the right side of my back.

Initially, my first thoughts turned to aging, as it tends to do these days because perimenopause is menacingly real and unsexy. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and understood that even though I walked out of my apartment with nothing but my keys and photo ID in case the cops need to identify my body…I was carrying something heavy.

The week started awful, with me learning as I sat in an airport on my way home from a bittersweet but much-needed getaway that one of my elder cousins lost both her daughter and grandson (who was a father of six) within days of each other at the same hospital in their hometown. Instantly, a wave of guilt rushed in because I’d lost touch with that portion of my family, and didn’t know how to respond…or if I should. Learning the circumstances of both deaths from another cousin only exacerbated the feeling.

My father had always been the family connector; the one who called and drove or flew to every state and family member, and this was his first cousin and her immediate family who had now suffered two devastating back-to-back losses I could never imagine. By contrast, I’ve lived and operated as an only child with limited family engagement for most of my life — gravitating only to specific family members I spent the most time with due to our proximity to each other in age and/or geographical location, and used Facebook to monitor the rest (hence how I learned of the tragedies). It’s moments like these that remind me just how isolated I’ve been to the point of being my own island, and it’s honestly something I’ve begun taking stock of as I grow older and less likely to have a family of my own.

So when I entered the park on that gorgeous sunny day, and saw multiple family gatherings taking place…it didn’t just remind me that I didn’t have a life filled with many of those moments and connections, it became clear to me just how defining those moments are in shaping the people we become.

I’ve always been in awe of and envied people who had solid family and community foundations that encouraged and motivated them to become highly functioning members of society. I get weepy when I watch movies like “In The Heights,” with its message of pride in family, community and cultural heritage. (Same with assorted Asian movies where the young protagonist grapples with coming of age and walking the fine line between self-actualization and preserving constrictive traditions for parental and elder approval.) I grew up in a Queens suburb where my predominantly Black and Caribbean neighbors were more interested in what you had for their own gain, than in collectively thriving as a community. As a child, I’d spend summers in Georgia being ridiculed for my New York accent, and often singled-out for my “big city” behavior. (Interestingly, I now slip into a twang when I touch down in the south, or am speaking to certain members of my family — something I’ve also done unconsciously when speaking to British and Hasidic clients in my past work life when, in retrospect, I wanted them to feel at ease.)

For the longest time, I’ve had trouble identifying and defining who I truly am and what I want in this life. Having no one around to help me figure it out only made me feel more aimless and alone. I often joke about being “raised by wolves,” because unlike my peers, I wasn’t taught how to cook traditional meals (or any – I wing it), how to drive, the importance of investing in things like stocks and real estate, or any particular set of life skills that might’ve made me more of a (human) force, and less of a person who happens to have a shit ton of life experiences that equate to zero tangible assets to show for any of them but a lot of interesting stories and billable hours in therapy. I’ve also never spent any of my formative years being schooled on my family heritage, being exposed to long-term healthy relationships or celebrating holidays like Kwanzaa and Juneteenth…and am only playing catchup on the significance of it all.

Which is why it surprised me that I’d become more protective of my Blackness — and the culture in general — in recent years, considering the bulk of my traumatic experiences came from my own people. That I’ve taken up advocating for people of color to take up spaces in the corporate world when I go mostly ignored by them in the real world unless I have something that benefits them is…something I’m working through. That, and being violently triggered when someone makes decisions on my behalf without my input and/or consent.

These thoughts are too heavy.

One of the many things I’ve learned in this life is that hurt people hurt people…until they do the work to become healed people. And there are gonna be days when it’s hard to not take shit personally, but I cannot and will not continue to let the actions of a few keep me from opening my heart to being and doing better for others and myself. Especially when the end result is authentic love, connection and peace. It’s a lesson I’ll be taking into consideration as I attempt to find the words to comfort grieving relatives and, eventually, find something more.

I’m still insecure when it comes to knowing my true purpose and direction in life (note: I know what it is, the imposter syndrome just hits different), but I’m confident that I’ve built enough of a foundation over the last few years with a circle who genuinely want the best for me and will quickly jump in to make sure I stay out of my own way. I’m blessed to have a support system that celebrates my wins, comfort me through my losses and give me strength on days when I falter and think I can’t make it. They remind me who I am when I tend to forget. Nothing fills me more than being able to do the same for them in return.

I guess, in a way, that does make me my father’s daughter. That’s a good place to start…

I’m rambling…but my back feels better now.

Tough Breaks

Tough Breaks

Injuries are as humbling as they are incredibly painful.

In a sick way, they’re the tangible versions of time, or the physical embodiment of ending a relationship of some sorts. (In this instance, your relationship with your body changes — in some ways irrevocably.)

It has been four weeks since I fractured my ankle roller skating, and — needless to say — I’ve had some time to think about this and many other things. Of some of the more profound revelations I’ve come to, my top takeaways are:

  1.  Optimism is cute, but realism is necessary in the long-term. When you actually hear the snap of your bone, chances are it’s worse than a sprain. Let the X-rays guide you to the promise land of true (and proper) healing.
  2. Speaking of things that are “cute” until it’s not…pretending to be old and crippled when you’re a kid (i.e., using the “big adult umbrellas with the handles” as fake canes, and/or borrowing an elder’s “equipment”) isn’t so much adorable as it is being an asshole who will eventually get theirs. Also, those umbrellas aren’t very sturdy numerous decades (and pounds) later. The more you know…
  3. Be the kind of person whose friends will voluntarily help you pack for a move, transfer stuff from one apartment to another using a granny cart, make grocery runs for you, drop off food, pills and orthopedic boots, periodically check on your vitals with calls and texts, and do your laundry and cook for you. I literally get by with a LOT of help from my friends. And I’m judging any and every one who wants to be in my life based on these people. Be advised.
  4. “Jane the Virgin” is the best thing to watch when you want to forget you’re relegated to laying motionless with your leg in the air and not getting any pleasure out of it. Real talk.
  5. Never underestimate the power of a pedicure. I had my first pedicure in months done just days before I’d end up with a mummified foot that practically screams “Nevermind the swollen, multicolored mess under these bandages…look at how cute my toes are!” Timing — and self-care — is everything.
  6. Mercury Retrograde is a very real, and very scary, thing. Just sayin’.
  7. When something in your life isn’t for you, the universe has a way of eliminating it…no matter how hard we try to convince ourselves we can make it work, or force ourselves to “just go with it until something better comes along.” Trust.
  8. The experience of moving around on crutches for several weeks will inevitably give you the arms of Angela Bassett, but the overall dexterity of a muppet. In other news: Atrophy is the fucking worst!
  9. I’ve lived through a lot of shit, but there are few images in my life as traumatic as having an Über driver cancel a ride on me, and speed away as I wave to him in the pouring rain while mouthing “I need help!” after one of my crutches loses a screw while I’m attempting to climb the three baby steps outside of my apartment building. That stings more than the rejection of a lover.
  10. People will remark on how positive you are, how you’re managing to take it all in stride and even find moments to laugh, and wonder why. And the answer is…you know it’s only temporary.

There’s always a running joke or meme about how we thought it’d be so great getting older, until we realize that we didn’t have to pay bills or taxes, and struggle day-to-day in unfulfilling jobs and relationships. Then the subject of our mortality becomes a little too real. At forty-two, I’ve already experienced the loss of loved ones; family, friends, classmates and more and more people who shaped my upbringing culturally, politically and in some cases spiritually.

I’m here to tell you, there ain’t a multivitamin or homeopathic cure that’ll keep you from fretting about getting older. Sure, we may embrace it differently at different stages, but we still dread the process. I attribute my fear to the effective advertising back in the day that warned of the dangers of osteoporosis. And Life-Alert. (We were all emotionally scarred by the lady who’d “fallen…and couldn’t get up.” Admit it.)

The moment my ankle snapped, something inside me did the same. At the time, I’d been burning both ends of the candle maintaining two gigs to pay the bills and having a pretty stressful Summer contemplating and processing all the changes the year had brought. I’d use my free time to escape to an outdoor concert or movie theater in hopes of forgetting how miserable and increasingly lonely I was feeling because I’d mapped out a completely different plan for myself, and it somehow had gone awry.

Then, an unfortunate twist in the realest sense reminded me  — no, demanded of me — to stop, take time to take stock and heal, and start over anew on a healthier path.  And I did.

It also forced me to be more vulnerable, and to cease the practice of being too proud to ask for help. I’ve always been independent by nature, so having to rely on others to do things for me has been a huge adjustment. One that I’m not always comfortable with. But the connections that have transpired over the past few weeks has been soul-filling in ways I didn’t know I needed. It’s a feeling that can’t be achieved by cool events, online dating or social media validation. Someone standing on a Trader Joe’s line — I repeat, a Trader Joe’s line! — for you, is worth a million “Hey stranger” texts from some dude who was never invested in you when you were dating, but suddenly thinks you’d be a cool person to chat up and/or hang out with.

And finally, it increased my awareness and respect for people whose physical struggles are not temporary, and reminded me of very intimate examples in my travels. As my right leg has shrunken, I was reminded of the days following my father’s leg amputation, and the hours I spent in his nursing home observing once-vibrant people who could no longer perform seemingly basic everyday functions like walk unaided or lift a utensil. As I amble awkwardly through my kitchen, burning myself with a pan because I was distracted by a falling crutch, I’m reminded that there are people with no limbs competing in high-performance sporting events, cutting hair, and doing some incredible things without so much as a scratch.

Of course I cannot, and will not, compare myself to those extraordinary people, but when I put that in perspective, it’s why I can’t help but smile and feel fortunate that in time, I will be back on my feet.

And honestly…I injured myself roller skating. I absolutely should laugh at myself!

In any case, it’s been a wild ride, and while I could sit here and lament all the quantifiable losses, I’m choosing instead to recognize that I’ve gained much, much more from this experience than even my best laid plans.

Also, I’ll be more careful with my words in the future. This definitely wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a break.