Sunday, September 16, 2012

What A F!cking Summer...

As we approach the official final day of Summer and the weather is starting to cool towards Fall, and the days are getting to be shorter even as the temperatures dip into a range when I don't feel like I would like to strip off the top layer of my skin to try and get just a little cooler (and on the best of days I look like Miss Whitney Houston on a crack binge when it the Sun starts to grill us Earthlings...anything above 73 degrees, and my head breaks into a full on deluge, and don't let me get started on the subway funk oven from June-September....walking down into the L train on 14th and 1st is like taking a flying leap into the Bog of Eternal Stench).

This Summer has been a whirlwind of life experiences, some of which have been amazing, and some of which have been entirely new and difficult, and, I discovered, that the lie I tell myself of being strong enough to handle whatever comes my way is a tall tell that I won't be telling myself anymore. From now on that statement will read: When something new and difficult or old and no longer serves comes along, first I have to not pretend, especially with myself, that I have the capacity to deal with it on my own---in the end I am the only person that CAN deal with the things that impact my life--but it no longer serves to say that something is going to be just fine and dandy when everything inside of me is screaming/crying/cussing/raging whilst also, at the same time, throwing a giant pity party...all wrapped up in some messed up male socialization crossed with a Minnesota upbringing where saying I love you is reserved for special holidays, everyone is expected to perfect or at least pretend to be in public, and anything spicier than ketchup is a sin.

There are many situations in my life that I can and do handle extremely well, and because I have intensely been working on my shit related to living with HIV (lord knows I have a long way to go still), when my doctor recommended that I start taking meds, I knew that it wasn't going to be easy and that I would probably have to deal with some emotionally hard days, but I also thought gosh golly, I it's been ten years, it's just a single pill a day, and you are as healthy as a horse, YOU GOT THIS! What I got was a month of ferocious side effects, spontaneous emotional and alcohol fueled break downs at the most awkward and unexpected times (a shout out to Natasha Johnson for being with me on one of those occasions), and finally having to face the final reality of what it means for most people that live with HIV to actually live with it, but it took me that many weeks to come to the realization that I was, indeed, falling apart on the inside, drinking way too much, and doing just about anything to actually face on this new part of my reality. I am still dealing with it, and some days I deal much better than others, but all those feelings of shame, issues with self-worth, and self-esteem came roaring back so fiercely that it has taken me months to beat those bitches back down. They still jump up and snap now and again, but at least now I am able to beat them back down in a few days instead of three months.  And, by writing and sharing about my experience, I have had other folks starting their journey reach out and share with me a piece of their lives and their strength, Each one has been welcome and a reminder that no one walks any road completely alone.

One of the most spectacular and unexpected events of this Summer happened on June 23rd when I showed up to eat cheesecake and celebrate the birthday of one Nico Le Chou along with his parents and our mutual friend JT.  I should have known that the night would be unexpected when upon meeting his mother and saying to her in French that I understand French and do not speak it well her response was, "It's because you are lazy, no?"

Now if I had been quicker on my feet that evening I would have said, "No, madame it's LACY not lazy." Instead, I shoved a piece of cheesecake in my mouth and thought of completely inappropriate Polish jokes in her direction.  After finishing the cheeesecake and my evil thoughts (and I have to admit that any maman that is that sassy upon meeting wins my instant lifetime devotion), I ranged out into the night with JT and Nico. My intention was only to go out for a drink or two and then head back home, but Nico and JT both used friend guilt to maximum effect,  and Nico got plenty of mileage out of the line: But it's my birthday! Well for anyone that is a Facebook friend, you know that night I gave Nico an innocent birthday kiss with lots of tongue and that turned out to be the beginning of something that has become something that I am willing to fight for tooth, nail, to hold on to....and anyone that gets in the way is going to make me take out my Vaseline and pass my hoops to one of my girls to hold while I prepare to put someone in the ground.

Nico is, very simply, a catalyst for my best self. When he is nearby, the gremlins that sometimes scream from inside my head or claw at my stomach, that read from a Satanic Gospel that was written for me based on lies this world told me when I was too young to not believe them and sometimes that I still hold on to even though I am no longer a child and the time for childish things has passed away, are quieted. They still speak, but when they do they no longer sound like the Metatron; they sound exactly like what they are: cold dead echoes of malevolent spirits most of which have haunted generations of my family because of race and poverty, abuse and struggle, colonization, capitalism, gender and sexual orientation--powerful spirits that are the source of the spiritual and often times mental and physical wounds that are manifested by the way this world treats those that are not the powerful of their generation.

These gremlins are the internal overseers that maintain the slavery that is at the core of how power and wealth are maintained and transferred from generation to generation. The enslaved can only be slaves if they agree to their bondage. Once, to enforce servitude, the enslaved needed the whip, the noose, and the burning cross, medical control over a woman's body, miscegenation laws and sodomy statutes enforced by daily violence in the lives of the controlled by those that felt entitled to own them. But the greatest triumph of slavery is that the external trappings of slavery are no longer necessary. We now are taught from the time we are born to enslave ourselves. We are taught that our lives and labor are not really our own despite what we believe, and so we know, without having to be taught by the daily presence of state sponsored fear and violence, to whom we owe our service, and for the 99% of us, even those that have inherited a history of struggle against slavery--whether it comes from a legacy of civil rights agitation or simply from having a single white mother that gave birth to mixed race children and without any language of justice but an understanding that she wanted more and better for her own children and  fought to give them the tools and opportunities with the scarce working poor resources she had to do so. My Mother did so and all the while, for most of my childhood and into my early teen years, still suffering physical violence from many of the men she had chosen to offer her servitude, and though she also passed on to my brother and I some of the wounds that were her legacy, for those wounds that she was conscious of as being passed down because her Mother was never given the opportunity to know better or make deeper cracks in the cycle, she was vehement in the battle she did against those things she never wanted her children to suffer only because she did so.

This Summer, as I began my HIV medicine and started my relationship with Nico, I came to a new appreciation and understanding of my Mom and a deeper gratefulness for the sacrifices she made out of instinct and a simple desire to lessen the suffering of her children in the ways that she knew that she could. I remember her telling me once upon a time that she would never be able to tell me how to survive being a black man in this world, but she could give me other strengths. The greatest gifts that she gave to me were that I never doubted that she loved me even when our lives were harshest in so many ways. And she truly believed that I could do absolutely anything that I wanted in this life--she believed it when I didn't because despite what my Mother said the rest of the world from TV to my fourth grade teacher told me otherwise...taught me that I would most likely be dead by 25 at the hands of another man of color or if I managed to graduate from high school and even more unlikely college, my opportunities were limited not by my desire and imagination but what the world and power would allow. And though I was blessed to have other folks in my world that also believed in what they saw in me, and held up a mirror to help me see past the shame, fear, anger, hurt, loneliness to catch a glimpse of a human being that was intelligent, caring, and worthy of being loved, it was and is my Mother that still, despite the HIV, despite the addiction issues, despite the poor choices that I have made in my life, has never once done anything but love me fiercely, shed some tears because of some of the roads that I have to walk, and keep on believing that I could break free of my chains---that I could find a way to freedom. Her sometimes quiet and most of the times loud and insistent assertion that I can do anything and am worthy of love has been reflected back to me by so many others as well that on most days, I actually believe it.

But I digress, I was writing about Nico. There is something about him and about how we are when we are together that calms my natural drama, pulls a Tangina on the internal poltergeists, and leaves me feeling held up in a way that is steadying, confident and calm. I am the raging storm in our relationship, the lightning and the random tornadoes and water spouts, when his exact and rational nature leads him to doubt himself or what he can achieve in a given situation, I am the creative force that cajoles and pushes him to step a bit into my rainbow world of so many more hues and shades than grey, black and white, and he is the one that when the storm threatens to break free and hurls me into its wildness and chaos is my standing stone. He is the first man that I have ever dated that shuts me down when I need to be shut down, lets me rage when it is best for me to rage, knows when I need his arms around me and knows when to let me walk away just a little bit to be me in the world.

Plus he is French, sexy, a gold metal Olympiad in the boudoir and well...he does arms reduction policy for the United Nations. Brilliant and saves the world from itself every day. Basically a walking aphrodisiac.  One day, when I write my tell all memoir, there will be at least one chapter in there about my French Diplomat when he sets the UN Declaration aside and takes off his suit and tie. Our children won't be allowed to read that chapter until they are in their late 40s. And the full color illustrations with bonus DVD will be missing from their copies.

And so I started dating this amazing human being and then a few weeks later, the Undersecretary General of the United Nations asked him to return to Togo, where he previously held a post for two years as Deputy Director of the Centre that is responsible for UN arms reduction work across the continent as the Interim Director of the Centre. When he called to tell me, I had just received my first hate mail in response to my writing, had just received some tough news at work, and was having some tough side effects from my meds. The news that he would be leaving three weeks from that day for two months in West Africa was exactly the last news that I wanted to hear. So, even though I wanted to kick and scream and throw a temper tantrum, and before the tears could escape my eyeballs, at which point if I try to talk I sound like a tranny Muppet on helium with a bad case of gonorrhea of the throat, I told him that it was out of the question for him not to take this opportunity and then I hung up the phone. As the day of his departure got closer, I began telling myself and him that it would be no problem, two months would be easy peasy, that I would miss him, but we would talk every day and thanks to Skype I would be able to see him and then he would be back home with me.

All that is great except for a few things: 1) Going from spending part of most of your days with the man you love and then have him leave and be absolutely unreachable for two months is not just tough it's locking a big girl that is trying desperately to lose weight in a room full of thin mints and putting them in a bullet proof glass box and making her stare at it while eating saltines. Every. Single. Day.  Now for those wild and crazy UN folks that are used to spending months on end away from their partners and spouses, they have the skill set and experience to handle the absence. I had Pinot Grigio. Tasty but it was the saltine to my thin mint. Unfortunately, the storm started raging and the gremlins showed up riding a cadre of Jabberwocky's, and it took me several weeks and some difficult moments to realize that Nico isn't my Dad, he is going to come back when he says he is going to come back, and that just because he isn't physically present he isn't absent. Can you say Daddy and Abandonment issues? (Did I mention I am starting therapy this week?).

2) It hasn't been easy peasy but I think it has been very good for us. I am now very clear about why I want to be with Nico and what value he adds to my life. It isn't a relationship of convenience or proximity (clearly not proximity), and it has demonstrated that we can get through hard moments together. Now most couples have a honeymoon period of six months before they really have to dig into the baggage...we had to start unpacking right after buying a lovely matching set of Samsonite. Didn't get to break it in even. And lemme tell you, if you can worth through some shit when you are 6,000 miles apart and can only interact through Skype, then that is something real.

3) Speaking of Skype....Togolese Internet fucking sucks. That's all I have to say about that.

In the end, Nico's pragmatism and my optimism seem to have formed an unholy union that, against the odds, is beautiful. I would not have chosen to start out our relationship with an immediate two month absence, but the Universe has a nasty habit of not going along with my plans.

I have not by any means dealt with these hard moments well at all times. There have been times when I let the gremlins run the show. There have been times when I should have realized that putting on a Sambo face and doing the shuck and jive only to lose it much more spectacularly later is counterproductive. This Summer has taught me that you can still be strong AND let folks know that you are going to need to lean on them and that if you pretend that all is well that they have full permission to respond with "Girl, please."

Caveat to that statement: There are times that folks have offered me fierce support that I needed whether I really wanted it or not at the moment, and I have appreciated that.There has been more than one loved one in my life come to me and call bullshit and have done so in a way that was both direct but also about growth and building.  Having said that, I have also had folks that don't know me but think that they do try to come at me and do it like they are Jesus himself. You come at me like you are Jesus, and there is a crucifixion on the horizon. I am all about accountability, though the Lord knows that its never fun when it comes around, but also if you aren't living my life but you think you can sit in judgment of it, and you haven't done the work to speak to me, then you need to take a look at some things about yourself. As someone wise told me once upon a time, ifin' you have a problem with me, you bring it to me with respect, if you don't, then it's not really my problem. I don't throw stones because I know my house is made out of glass. I built that mother and I have the nicks and cuts to prove it. You can keep your shaming, I have quite enough of my own. But if you show up with love and respect, then you will have my full attention. In this world, one of the ways folks love to exorcise and offload their own hurt is to focus on someone elses, I know, I've done it. But I have also survived it and I won't tolerate it from anyone ever again.

There have been some really amazing moments this Summer: Fire Island Black Out with my girls, time with Nico, invitations to speak at several universities this Fall, my work being turned into parts of two plays, one in West Virginia that premiers on World AIDS Day and another by a storyteller from the Midlands in Great Britain.  There have been some really tough moments that still need some resolution

The summer is not over and there is plenty of more work to do. I am grateful for all that has taken place. This Summer has been about learning to hurt without taking on the mantle of victim, to fight as a warrior and not a soldier, to cry without thinking you are weak, to fuck up and take it for what it is and not validation of gremlinspeak, to appreciate the truly tremendous community that I have, and to know that despite what I've inherited, despite what I had no choice but to suffer and accept as a child, that I am not a child any longer, the people and things and situations that hurt me then do not have the same power over me now unless I let them. Then I couldn't choose. I can choose now. I am choosing. I am 35, and it's time to continue growing up--and accepting the love that I also deserve and sharing it back out.

Thank God we never stop growing up.

1 comment:

  1. I often forget the fact your pen bloody chapter books for posts. I do love the dig at the Togoleas internet connections. It shouldn't surprise you that the pragmatism and optimism create symphony. It's an age old truth opposites attract. In life you need somebody who is going to balance you out and sometimes be your debbie downer.
    I still want my Mac and Cheese.
    Love Hutch


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