This is my fourth Mother’s Day without my mom, and since my roommate’s girlfriend is visiting with her daughter, Mother’s Day has made its way into my home and it’s been an emotional weekend.
I wanted to repost (and edit) the blogs I wrote the week after my mom died because I think it explains a lot about why I volunteer and why I want to be a dad and why I am the way I am in general.
I added a few extra thoughts at the end about how I feel in the present, but it’s just a short addendum. If you already read this in 2012, close the page and go call your mom instead.
I’m home for my mom’s funeral.
September 25, 2012
I’m also very OK and very at peace, but I wish everyone would just let me be OK and at peace.
Last week, I was having dinner with a friend when dad called. I didn’t answer because I usually don’t answer the phone when I’m out to dinner. A) That’s Rude. B) My hands are usually really nasty because I don’t know how to eat all classy and gentleman-like. But my sister called right after and I thought “Why am I being double-teamed right now?”
I stepped out of the restaurant and took the call on the sidewalk. My dad had taken my mom to the local hospital, and as soon as she got there, she was helicoptered to a better hospital 45 miles away Charlotte. My sister and her husband were already in the car making the 9 hour drive up to my parents’ house and I wasn’t sure if I should do the same. To say my mom and I had a strained relationship would be the understatement of the season. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other in nine months, and my last attempt at reconciliation was met with absolutely no response. Besides, nothing in me thought she would die and I’d never see her again, so I took a Wait-and-See approach. I wanted to wait for my sister to get back home and to call me and give me an honest assessment of the situation. I went to a rooftop party to keep my mind off the situation, went back home, and crawled into bed.
Around 5:00AM, my brother-in-law called and said my mom had slipped away. I couldn’t process that, so I stammered a few broken sentences, hung up the phone, and went back to sleep. When I woke up again, I let the reality sink in…and I didn’t feel much.
Mourning over a dead loved one comes in three parts: Sadness over the loss of the relationship, sadness over the ending of a person’s life and the things they didn’t get to do and the loose ends they never got to tie, and sadness over the people they touched who’ve lost a loved one. The first one is the hardest, and I have been mourning the loss of the relationship with my mother for 13 years now.
I have been depressed and upset and crying and angry and distraught off and on for more than a decade over this relationship. We haven’t spoken in 9 months. Our relationship ended for good over a month ago. I spent the week after my birthday going through every stage of grief. I cried out everything I had left in me. My relationship with my mother already ended and I’ve already been through that part of death. I didn’t have any hope left that we could reconcile because that hope was what had kept me hanging on since I came out in the first place, hoping that she would come around and realize that it’s not her fault, it’s not my choice, and there is nothing wrong with me and my gay life.
That is the part that made me sad. When it sunk in that she is really dead, those were the only tears I cried, because my mom touched so many people. She was such a rock and a confidant to everyone around her. She would give her last nickel to make sure you had 4 cents. She accepted you as you were and still helped you when you stumbled, but she just couldn’t get over having a gay son. Those are the tears I cried. I just wanted her to feel whole and at peace and I know she didn’t. I know she died feeling like she failed. She told me so many times growing up that I was the reason for everything she did, and in her eyes, she never got the reap the fruits of her labor. In her eyes, she messed up somewhere and was never able to bring me back to the path of righteousness. She never got to a place where she realized that I’m not a bad person just because I’m gay. The golden child she started out with turned into an evil gay atheist and nothing could make her see past that.
My mom and I were like peas and carrots growing up. I was her little shadow and I followed her around everywhere. I thought she was the funnest/funniest person ever and she spoiled me rotten. She treated me like an adult and let me speak around her friends (which is a big deal down here in the “Children should be seen and not heard” South). I hated seeing my mother sad for any reason. When I realized I was gay, I wanted to be straight for her. I tried so hard and prayed so long and wished so intensely all for her. I had my own personal problems with being gay and being bullied and all that, but I just hated seeing my mom sad. Nobody likes seeing their mom sad, and if you’re the reason why she’s sad, you want to do everything you can to change it.
Of course I couldn’t, but I still did my best to minimize the damage. I never talked about it, never brought it up around family members, never confirmed the rumors with extended family, all out of respect for her because I knew how ashamed she was that I was gay. I didn’t want to cause her any extra stress. I knew I couldn’t make her happy, but I didn’t want to make her any more sad than she had to be.
My tears were because I never had another chance to try to make her happy.
Back when I made the internal decision never to speak to her again, if my mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer or some other incurable illness, I would have faked it until the end. It’s a stupid idea–I recognize that–but I loved that woman so hard for so long and I just wanted to make her smile again, at me. I’ll never have another chance to make her smile and to give her peace. She has now run out of time to make peace with her baby boy and there’s nothing I can do about it. Those are the tears I cried and I cried them all before I got on the plane down here, months before.
I’m out of grief. I’m all grieved out. I had cycled through all of the stages before she died and you know what I have left? Happy memories. Memories from before my English teacher told my mom I was gay and changed our relationship forever. How she always laughed so loud and so hard it made her cough and cry. How her fingernail on her index finger was always longer than the rest of them, like a talon, and she would point and wave her finger all weird for no reason. How the bottoms of her feet were so ticklish and she would kick you in the mouth if you touched them. How she always bit her lips whenever she stirred cornbread batter. How I’d say something really inappropriate that she didn’t want to laugh at, so she’d just say ‘BOY!’ loudly to camouflage her giggles. How she had the ugliest hat in the world that she’d wear cutting grass, but she swore up and down that it was cute (I’m taking that hat). How she was always trying to lose ten pounds but also always baking cakes. How every time she picked me up from the airport, we would go to Waffle House on the way home, and Captain’s Galley for hushpuppies and baby flounder the next day. And then she would make cheese grits the morning after that to eat with the leftover fish. How she only wanted the best for me but just couldn’t let go of the notion that Her Best was the Only Best available.
Now it’s all over.
The funeral was today and I’m tired of everybody waiting for me to break. First of all, why does grief has to be a spectacle? Why are we expected to do it so publicly?
Let me explain to you how Every Black Funeral in my memory has gone. It’s a two-day thing, which is crazy, but it’s two days.
The first day is the wake or the viewing. I’m not sure if that’s the same thing, and if it isn’t, I’m not sure what a wake is. Basically, the body is in a casket at the funeral parlor and people come look at it (MORBID!!!) and cry and sit around and cry and shake hands with the family and cry and look at the body again and cry and go home. Sometimes there’s a dinner after.
The second day is the actual funeral. The body is up near the pulpit and everybody comes in before the funeral and sits down. I use the term “before” loosely, because Southern black people are forever late. After everyone is seated, a choir starts singing and the family processes in, usually in a big clumps separated by branch of the deceased’s family and how close in relation. They file in and then walk by the body again to look at it (STILL MORBID) and then sit in the front. This is the part in all those black people comedies where some lady is bawling and trying to climb in the casket and screaming “take me with you! oh lawd take me too!” That’s not a parody. That is a real thing that happens.
The choir sings some more. At least half an hour. Then a preacher says some things. Another half hour. Then members of the family make remarks. Depending on how old the deceased is, this can last anywhere from 15 minutes to another two hours. Then the preacher says something else. This is the part where the funeral turns into Sunday Church and he starts hollering and the keyboardist does that weird ‘BAAAHMM’ thing after every sentence. Then the choir sings some more, which could be short, except on the last refrain, somebody from the audience always starts it up again. Then the pallbearers close the casket and carry the body out. The family and everybody else follow and they drive to the cemetery.
At the cemetery there are more remarks, more words from the preacher, sometimes more casket-crying-hysterics, and then–FINALLY–it is all over.
Unless there’s a dinner at the church after and you drive back to have fried chicken and styrofoam cups filled with iced-diabetes.
Black funerals are exhausting and weirdly hilarious. My mom used to talk so much shit about them and I hate them too. But most importantly, my dad HATES big funerals.
October 4, 2012
My mom’s mom’s side of the family (keep up, because I’ll talk about my mom’s dad’s side later) knows how to throw a funeral. They know how to do everything black churches do because they are black church people. I’m not knocking any of it–just making a distinction. Black church people do things bigger than everybody else, especially in the South. My mom and I never officially belonged to that church (because my mom believed in “church on Saturdays” and “don’t eat shellfish” and all those crazy Seventh Day Adventist things) but sometimes I would go with my Grandma. I was definitely out of my element and I always felt like I wasn’t singing loud enough or shouting hard enough.
But I totally learned how to fake speaking in tongues and you could not tell me I wasn’t sanctified and holy in that moment.
One of my fears when I heard my mom died was that her mom’s church would bogart the funeral and run all over my dad. He’d be distressed and they would turn the whole thing into a traditional black funeral spectacle that none of us–me, my sister, my father, or my mom–wanted. The last time I was visiting, my parents and I actually went to a black funeral. Afterward, we had dinner at a seafood restaurant and talked about how unnecessary and extra all the dramatics were. I really didn’t want to sit through that for my own mother’s funeral.
I was afraid for no reason though because my dad was not having it. He told everybody we were having a short graveside service–no wake, no church funeral–and that was that. The funeral director asked him exactly what he wanted. “Do you want there to be a song?“
“Nope. Once somebody starts singing, they don’t know when to stop and somebody picks it up at the end and it keeps going until somebody is shouting and falling out on the floor.”
Funeral director scratched that off. “Do you want anyone to give remarks?“
“Nope. Somebody says something, then everybody says something, and we don’t need to spend two hours listening to people talk about how they picked blackberries with Dianne when they were two years old.”
Funeral director scratched that off. Paused. And said, “Oh y’all having a whitefuneral!”
I guess if that’s what you want to call it.
At the last minute, my dad changed his mind and decided to hold a viewing of the body the day before because my mom’s family was annoyed there wouldn’t be a service (and they wouldn’t get their show). Everybody would get to see my mom all dressed up in her white suit with her hair done and go home happy, or whatever emotion they were looking to get out of viewing a dead body.
I had no desire to see it but everybody was really hellbent on making me. For what? Why do I want to see my mom dead in a box? I don’t get it. I don’t get the fascination. Is that supposed to be closure of some sort? Some kind of last goodbye? I know one thing, anybody who needs to see me up close and personal better do it while I’m alive, because I’m getting cremated immediately.
Viewing for the immediate family was at 3, then the funeral home was open to everyone else from 4 to 6, and then the immediate family was scheduled to return to the funeral home and receive the guests and let them pay their respects.
I didn’t want to do ANY of that. I was so over people asking me “How are you? Are you OK? She was a good woman, wasn’t she?” Over and over and over. So many people crying in my face and looking at me like a psychopath because I refused to view the body. My mom and I had a rocky relationship, but the last time I saw her face to face, she was SMILING. Cheesing hard too. I got this big toothy grin straight from my momma, and her whole face lit up when she smiled. That’s the last time I saw her, over a year ago. Let me keep that image if that’s what I want to do! I don’t want an image of her dead in a box anywhere in my consciousness. If I wanna remember my momma smiling, then let me do that and stop asking me if I want to come back later to pay my respects or if I wanna view privately. No I don’t. Leave me alone.
Gosh, I’m so messed up and heated, I’m changing verb tenses all up and through, but you know what I’m saying.
So the viewing happened, and the next day we had the graveside service. Some sweet ladies from my mom’s church (the old Saturday-going church) came by to set up a buffet for everyone at the house. There was a tent outside and some tables and chairs for folks to sit and chat with their food. I thought it was really cute. The weather was perfect and I was just trying to make it through the service so I could get back and visit with the family I never get to see.
We did the whole slow-riding-in-the-limo-with-lights-flashing to the grave site and everyone else was already there. At the few funerals I’ve been to, I’ve often wondered what the people sitting right in front were thinking. I just felt like everyone was staring at me waiting for something to happen while I sat listening to the two pastors read/say things I didn’t believe.
Then it was over and people wanted to cry on me and give me more hugs. The service was too short to get anybody all wrapped up in hysterics, so nobody fell out….except ONE LADY, who was laid up on the casket crying, boo-hooing about “Dianne what I’m gon do without you!” She was also the one at the house the day after Mom died, laid out on the floor crying, grabbing at my dad’s pantleg like a puppy that has to pee. She was also the one who, when asked “Are you Dianne’s daughter?” by one of the mourners, responded with “Yes” and I had to set her loopy ass straight right there at the cemetery.
That’s not the only time I had to get a smidge ratchet. My mom’s dad’s side of the family set me off as well.
My grandma never married my mom’s dad, who became a drunk and had a gaggle of kids by some other woman he married. Grandma married a different man and had two more kids. That’s the family my mom grew up with and those are the folks I recognize as my aunt and uncle and grandfather. I don’t have any memories of my mom’s bio-father and I only knew one aunt and uncle from that side. His wife, my step-grandma I guess, is sweet, and I met her a few times as as a child, but on the whole, I have no contact with that side of the family.
After the funeral, I was pretty delighted to see so many of my mom’s friends from my childhood coming back to pay their respects and tell me how big I was (and talk about my hair of course). I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, so those adults are who I remember most from being a little one, and it was so good to see them all again. I was talking to a group of my mom’s classmates (they were the last all-black graduating class in South Carolina and stayed really tight, even now) when this ancient old lady grabbed my arm and said, “Lemme borrow you for a minute.” I went along as she guided me away from the crowd so we could speak solo. She looked up at me and said, “You remember me?”
She coulda been Sojourner Truth for all I knew. “No ma’am, I can’t say that I do.“
She smiled. “Well that’s cause we ain’t never met.”
::side eye:: Already, I was peeved because some stranger is pulling me away from people I actually knew for some unknown reason. “Oh ok.“
“I’m your aunt, your grandaddy’s sister.” I thought about my grandfather and she didn’t look like any of them. His whole family is light-skinned with freckles and fairly tall, while she was more my color, and tiny. She must have seen my confusion, because then she mentioned my mom’s biological father was her brother, not the man I grew up with and considered Grandpa.
“Oh ok, it’s nice to meet you.” I wanted to excuse myself and go back to the folks I was talking to. The group was starting to break up and I hadn’t seen everyone I wanted to see. I wanted to exchange contact info and do the Christmas Card List thing that people do when they turn into adults. She had other plans. “Come on over here and lemme introduce you to your aunts and uncles.“
Introduce me. To my family. At my mom’s funeral. Are you kidding me. I went along, shook some hands, let some names go in one ear and out the other, but ain’t nobody got time fah dat. You had two and a half decades to meet me and get to know me. For half that time, I was living less that 15 miles from all of you, and you want to INTRODUCE yourselves at my mother’s funeral?? Why are you even there?! You clearly haven’t seen her in 30 years, if that. I was cordial. But I told them how it was.
“Thank you for coming and paying your respects, but you’ve had 20 years to come and be a part of my life, and I don’t think we can squeeze all that time into the 20 minutes after my mother’s funeral. So, if you will excuse me, I need to reconnect with some people whose names I actually know.”
And then I went back to the familiar faces in the crowd. Let me know if you would like for me to attend you next funeral, because clearly I know how to make it interesting.
After Mom’s Funeral
October 9, 2012
This last part is the hardest to write. My head needed time to put all my thoughts in order before I could express them logically.
My dad and I went through a lot of my mom’s files and papers to check for outstanding balances or other pressing business. I wanted to help out while I was there so he wouldn’t be overwhelmed with tasks (and memories) all alone after I left. He asked if I knew my mom’s passwords (facebook, email, etc) and I told her she probably wrote them down somewhere, because that’s just how she was. We found her passwords in a recipe box and he had me check her email for anything important.
Nothing was in her inbox, so he went back to the living room.
After he left, something made me check her outbox, and there was an e-mail to me. She had sent it to my old e-mail address so I never saw it.
I wrote my mom this email before my birthday, around mid-August, explaining to her why I had stopped speaking to her the previous December, and she didn’t respond. I heard secondhand from my sister that she was pretty upset about it and we were basically at a stalemate: I wasn’t talking to her, and she wasn’t talking to me. I guess she had time to think, because a few weeks later, she wrote me an email…an “I’m sorry” type email, asking me to call her so she could hear my voice, offering to fly up to see me so we could talk in person.
I read the first paragraph and everything in me collapsed at once. She had written it on the Sunday before she died. She tried to reach out to me and fix our relationship, and I never responded. I couldn’t make it through the rest of the email. I managed to make it to the bathroom before I threw-up, but I couldn’t finish it. I forwarded it to myself to read one day in the future, but I can’t deal with it right now.
She tried to fix it. She realized I’m not a bad person and she tried to fix it. All the grief I didn’t go through when she died hit me all at once because we could have had a relationship. We could’ve fixed it–it could’ve been like old times. She didn’t die feeling like a failure for having a gay son. She died missing me and wondering why I didn’t email her back, and I can’t process it. This pain is worse than any kind of grief, because I know she was sad, and I could’ve made her happy, but I never got the chance to.
I pulled it together before my dad could realize anything was wrong, and I’m still trying to deal. We still don’t know exactly why she died. She had just had a physical–perfect health, perfect tests–and she went from healthy to dead in a couple of days. Her blood pressure bottomed out and never went back to normal. Everything in me thinks I did it because I broke her heart. I know intellecutally that’s not true, but I don’t know what to tell myself to make me believe it. I feel like I broke my mommy and couldn’t put her back together.
Now, everything sets me off. The most innocuous things will hit me strangely and I can’t stop crying. There are people I can’t talk to and places I can’t go. Foods I can’t eat and shows I can’t watch. I just wish I could do it all over again. I wish I would’ve left when my dad first called and then maybe I could’ve seen her one more time and she could’ve told me in person. We could’ve had our reunion and said ‘I love you’ and I wouldn’t feel so much guilt.
I’m sure she knew. I just wish I could’ve told her.
Today is Mother’s Day…4 years later
May 8, 2016
My roommate has been seeing a girl from the west coast for a few years now and she comes for a long weekend every couple of months or so. I knew she had a daughter, but I guess they’re getting really serious now because she brought her daughter on this visit. They’ve been here since Thursday, but today while I was making a shake I heard the little girl telling her mom “Happy Mother’s Day.”
I avoid this holiday every year. One of my good friends lost his mom not long after I did, so we’ve spent this holiday together, but on the whole, I block it out, turn off social media, stay away from television, etc. And now there’s Mother’s Day in my house so I have to get out.
I wanted to post these blogs again because Friday night I had a dream about my mom and then posted a picture of her on my personal Facebook page.
I got a lot of questions about our relationship, and in lieu of answering every message in my inbox, I have these blogs I wrote over the week after she died.
If my guilt and distress was a 10 back then, I’d say it’s dropped down to a 4 now. I still have moments, but they’re fewer and farther between. I still haven’t read that email, but it’s still starred in my inbox. I try to read it on my birthday and on hers, but I still can’t manage to get past the first paragraph. Maybe I never will. And maybe that’s OK too. Maybe all the resolution I need is just the knowledge that she did reach out.
Anyway, I don’t have anything else valuable to add. Everyone’s relationship with their parents is unique, as was my relationship with my mom. I can’t change the past, but she taught me a lot. When I’m volunteering with my kids – or if I have my own kids one day – it makes me smile when I realize something I’ve said came directly from her.
And nobody can beat my cornbread, thanks to her.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Maid is the best show on Netflix.
There’s no more realistic portrayal of single motherhood in poverty than this series.
I do a lot of stream-of-conscious thoughts about things I’ve seen and I call them Hot Takes. These are Hot Takes, but a little more in-depth than usual, with some personal reflections at the bottom.
1. C’mon Emmys! Everybody is doing their good good acting here. I used to sweep hair in my mama’s salon and I used to do electrical work on my daddy’s remodeling jobs, so I know the pressure of doing your best work with a parent around. So, props to Margaret Qualley for hanging in there with her mom, because Andie McDowell ain’t no slouch.
2. Lo-key was waiting on Anika Noni Rose to break into song, at least a lullaby or something.
3. You can call it prostitution or whatever you want, but you not finna put me in a house with this man and expect me to keep my draws on.
4. The shame of being poor is so complicated and layered. You know you need help. Your friend in a position to help you knows you need help. You also know that your friend knows. And yet, you pretend you do not need help! Your friend pretends that you do not need help, because they are ashamed that you need help and they want to avoid making you feel more ashamed about needing help.
It’s all an extension of this value we put on people based on how much money they make. Rich people are rich because they are good people and are being rewarded for being hard-working, good people. Poor people are poor because of some moral failure. Part of the reason the fight for higher minimum wages is so tough is this moral hierarchy of salaries. The person who bags groceries deserves to make enough money to live, but giving them a higher salary puts them closer to your salary, and you feel like you’re a better person than they are because you made choices (or had choices) that kept you from being in a position to bag groceries. You want to be able to look down on people who you feel made bad choices or don’t work hard enough.
So, it’s hard to ask for help. You don’t want your friend to look down on you like a person who made bad choices or doesn’t want to work hard enough. You pretend everything is fine so you can look like a good person.
5. The fact that Alex also has to parent her mother is a great addition. I think a lot of conversations about single mothers stop there, at providing for their child. A lot of people in poverty are there because of the lack of choices they had growing up, which is a reflection of the environment created by their parents. Young adults are sometimes caring for their parents too.
6. Also, I’ve been working out in my head how to word this and it’s always clunky, but here goes: I like that this story is about a white woman. One of the reasons why conversations about social safety nets and universal healthcare and access to housing only go so far is racism. There are too many White Americans who will cut off their nose to spite their face — they don’t want Black people to get “free stuff” so nobody ends up getting aid. The picture of the Welfare Mother as painted by (Mostly Conservative) White America is a Black woman in an inner city with multiple children by multiple men locked up by the state. It’s not an intelligent white girl running from a bad situation cleaning toilets to get by. I think Maid is an important piece of art about poverty because everyone can watch it devoid of race. Conservatives can “see themselves” and Liberals can see poverty divorced from having a conversation about what part race plays in the choices we have.
7. It’s a near-perfect limited series for me. I haven’t read any of Stephanie Land’s essays (the story is based on her), but now I’m going to. I can’t say anymore here without spoiling it, but it touched me very deeply and it’s taken me about a week to process it. I’m about to add some more personal observations, but there will be spoilers, so you can stop here if you haven’t watched it.
I watched this last week, but it’s taken me a long time to be able to process how it made me feel. Y’all, I was sobbing multiple times throughout the course of that series, because it was so accurate. I’ve been homeless and I’ve made bad decisions because of mental health struggles and I’ve worked in a domestic violence shelter just like that, and I was transported. The stories are told so well.
I’ve used pennies to pay for something off the dollar menu. I have budgeted every cent I had for the entire month to make sure I had enough money to ride the subway to work…but only to work. There was a bad patch years ago where I had been unexpectedly fired from a job and had trouble finding a new one. When I finally got an offer, I didn’t have any money for transportation to and from work until my first paycheck, so I walked home every day. Three hours, regardless of the weather. I had to walk home, because I had budgeted everything I had until my first paycheck. I’ve negotiated labor with a landlord. I had been living in an illegal basement apartment where the owner got caught and I had to leave with no money for First, Last, and Security. This old gay man on the UWS let me live there for reduced rent in exchange for errands, cooking, and cleaning.
When I saw Alex’s pocket of cash slowly depleting with each essential purchase, y’all. Y’all! I was sobbing. I check my bank accounts and credit card balances multiple times a day, every single day, to make sure I still have money. Before I buy anything at the grocery store or put my card down to pay a bill in a restaurant or make a purchase online, I check the account to make sure there’s money in it. Logically, I’ll know that I have more than enough money to last me for a few months, but I have to check, to make sure the money is there. Every single time! I mean, I don’t have any money now because my savings dried up during the pandemic, but even when I’m comfortable, I still feel very uncomfortable.
Not having enough money to live is embarrassing and soul crushing and you don’t want to talk about it, because you’re ashamed that you failed. But you need to talk about it, because you still have to live, and you need help. The way Maid captured that tightrope act is masterful storytelling.
Paula, Alex’s mother, adds an entirely new level that we don’t often see. I’ve never had to care for anyone other than myself, but in caring for myself I saw a lot of Paula. I’ve made a lot of bad decisions because my brain was too foggy to make the right ones. I once lost a job because I couldn’t get out of bed for two weeks. I knew I had to work and I knew what would happen if I didn’t go to work, but I couldn’t actually make myself get up and leave my room. I’ve put myself in so many abusive situations for some sense of stability. Sometimes I could see that where I was or what I was doing was unhealthy or dangerous, but I put it aside, because you gotta eat. That’s about as much detail as I’m ready to put online, but I’ve told myself “I’m fine!” a lot, when I was absolutely not fine.
And the shelter…
I’m still in a bad place because one of my girls from the shelter overdosed a few months ago. I can’t shake it and I want to find another way to help that’s further up the chain of command. When you work in a DV shelter (and I volunteered in one for a decade), you do see the same faces come back and forth. And then one day you don’t see them again and you wonder, “are they back in a bad situation or did they finally shake it?” But you can’t wonder too long, because there’s a new face. There’s always a new face.
When Alex is back with her ex and down an emotional void toward the end of the series, I had to take a break. I think I cried for like ten minutes. There are so many women I never saw again at some point, and I know that’s where they are — in a void, just going through the motions, trying to survive. They’re stuck there because we don’t have enough systems in place to pull them out. We have court systems that won’t help you leave an abusive situation until you have a black eye or a broken bone. No rewards for being smart enough and brave enough to see the physical abuse coming just beyond the horizon — you have to stay until you get hit, and then maybe there’ll be assistance for you.
It takes a special kind of person to do that work for decades, and it’s not me. I can’t go back to a DV shelter. I don’t have the inner strength necessary to do it and I don’t know how I feel about that. I’ve told myself that it’s okay to admit you’re not strong enough to help the way you want to help, but I grew up with guilt as part of my upbringing. I feel like I’m failing myself.
But it also makes me more determined to find a way to help further up the chain. The more steps removed you are from the day she leaves a bad situation, the more women you are dealing with who are absolutely ready to leave for good.
I want to be the person who can offer a job. Her boss wasn’t the best boss, but Alex was able to make money because there was someone there offering (very basic, mildly exploitative) employment for someone with no skills.
I want to be the person who can offer housing. When my mom married my dad, she didn’t sell her house, because she was proud of it. She was a single Black woman in the South who bought her own house, and when she moved in with my dad, she rented her house out to other single Black women who would’ve had trouble finding housing elsewhere. She accepted low income housing credits and she adjusted the rent based on what the woman could pay.
I want to be the person who can offer free legal services. If Alex had had a lawyer the first time she went to court, she wouldn’t have lost her daughter for a week. If she hadn’t had a lawyer the second time around, she wouldn’t have been able to take her daughter to college with her so she could make a new life for herself.
What I really want to do is go to med school to be an OBGYN so I can give my time to free clinics in underserved communities of color. There are no unwanted children in Maid, but in reality, that’s the number one predictor of poverty for women. Unwanted children keep women shackled to bad situations and oftentimes it’s the result of no access to reproductive services. Birth control, from preventative to reactive, needs to be free and available.
There are so many reasons Maid is a good show, but the realism is intense. There’s no part of it that I didn’t recognize in some way, either personally or through the stories of women I’d met in the DV shelter. Everyone who has ever been poor can relate. Every woman who has ever been in an abusive situation can relate. And everyone who has experienced neither should watch it for a glimpse into what those lives are like.
Everything is broken.
What are y’all doing to preserve joy? I’m very sad.
I was depressed after I moved to NYC. Years and years later I would finally get diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but back then I just looked for coping mechanisms to make me feel better. I didn’t want to do drugs, because they make you look old. I didn’t want to eat my feelings, because I’d already been chunky when I was younger and could vividly remember my babysitter calling me “husky” for the first time when I was in second grade. And I didn’t have any money — retail therapy wasn’t option.
So I volunteered. I learned during COVID lockdowns last year that I’m actually a nurturer, and taking care of people makes me feel better. When I was new to the city, I volunteered because it made me put my struggles into perspective: I hated my apartment on the top floor of an overpriced building in Bushwick where they were making crack in the basement, and I couldn’t find a job that paid me enough to eat more than bologna and cereal, but I did have a roof and I did have food and I did have my health. Volunteering also tapped into my desire to help people feel better, so it was a win-win. I started volunteering at a battered women’s shelter, which turned into babysitting for their kids when they had job interviews. Babysitting eventually became a full-blown youth program in the neighborhood complete with college prep, tutoring, and museum trips.
I met so many kids over the past decade who I think about all the time. One girl made me want to rip my hair out because she used to drag everybody around her unprompted, so I had to discipline her, but I also had to hold in the laughter each time because she was so smart and the reads were good. She works for the MTA now. There was a little gay boy who used to follow me around everywhere. The center was administered through a Catholic Church and he was just so fascinated by an openly queer man traipsing through the building like I owned the place. He’s currently at CUNY to be a teacher. One of my kids got into Penn. One is a manager at the Target where I shop.
One night years ago, maybe 8 years ago thinking back to the apartment I was living in at the time, I got a call around 3am. One of the women said a teenaged girl had walked in. She thought the girl had been sexually assaulted, but the police hadn’t been called yet because the girl was asking for me specifically. I got dressed and went, but I didn’t recognize her when I got there. I pretended to, but I had no idea who this girl was. June looked to be around 13, and she was disheveled, but she obviously wasn’t living on the street. Street kids never come in wearing a satin bonnet on their hair.
I was able to pull the backstory out of her. June and her mom had briefly stayed at the shelter a couple of years ago when they ran away from the home they shared with a man who was physically abusive. I guess June’s mother and boyfriend worked it out soon after, because she went back to him and I never saw the mom or June again, but I did remember her after I talked to her for awhile. She was good at math I think. Or science. It was a long time ago, but I remember being impressed with a class she was taking at her age.
Fast forward a couple of years, and mom’s boyfriend raped June, so she ran back to us. She said she felt safe at the shelter and she didn’t know where else to go. She didn’t want to run to the police because the boyfriend’s brother is a cop, but we talked her into it. What other choice did we have? The system is imperfect, but without reporting it, there was absolutely no way for her to protect herself from this man.
She ended up with CPS and I don’t know what happened after that. I dropped the ball. Her mom was on and off drugs, so I don’t know if she was on June’s side or the boyfriend’s side, but I would guess the boyfriend. We saw a lot of instances where the man would take an interest in the daughter, and the mother would blame the daughter for “enticing” him. But yeah, I totally lost track of her. She never came back to the center and I just let myself forget about it. We had so many kids come through with their mothers that we’d see for a week or two and then they were back to their lives. I don’t think you can keep them all in your spirit, because emotionally and mentally, it will wear you down and tear you apart.
A couple of days ago I was chatting with one of the kids I met back in the day, Alissa. We were giggling about memories we both had from when she used to come by for the afterschool program. Sometimes they find me on social media and it’s nice to see them doing well. Alissa has a kid and does nails not too far from the center. A lot of them live right in the same area, and they know each other because they went to the same schools or they’re related.
Alissa told me June died a few months ago of an overdose, probably fentanyl-laced heroin. She doesn’t know what happened with June’s rapist, but June was in foster care for a few years, aged out, and worked the streets selling sex for rent money, and then for drugs. Alissa and June had mutual friends from the neighborhood because they went to school together and she got those pieces of the story through the grapevine.
I don’t know how I feel. I’ve heard bad outcomes before. One of the kids I used to tutor in English was shot and killed a couple of years ago. A few have been in and out of jail. You try to focus on the wins and realize you can’t help everybody, but so so so many people failed June and I feel heavy inside. If her mother had had support to get off drugs, support that wasn’t immediately tied to imprisonment for possession, it’s possible she could’ve stood on her own two feet without a man, and she wouldn’t have had her daughter around an abusive boyfriend who would eventually rape her. If the foster system was equipped to provide guidance for young adults, June wouldn’t have been on her own when she turned 18 without resources. If we had better social safety nets in this country, she wouldn’t have been forced to do sex work to keep a roof over her head.
I don’t write about politics and current events as much as a I used to. For a few years, I was making a decent income breaking down the news of the day into my own words so other people could take an interest in what was going on in the country. I felt like I was helping people get involved — by giving my POV, they would be inspired to do something. I liked getting messages from readers about how I made them look at something differently or why they donated to a certain cause because of what I said. I was being helpful, and that’s the nurturing part of me. I could make the world a better place by staying informed and keeping others informed too.
And then I stopped believing that. I just did not want to write anymore after the 2016 election. It peeled back too many layers of the country and I didn’t think anything was actually fixable. The United States is rotten to the core. Everything is broken and nothing works. Human nature isn’t as intrinsically good as I’d hoped. You can’t teach empathy and you can’t help someone care about human suffering, so what was the point?
I do appreciate the people who have the moral foundation and mental fortitude to continue fighting the good fight, so I didn’t think it was responsible of me to put more negative energy out there. Better to be silent and let the fighters fight than to get on this soapbox and continually tell people how broken everything is.
I got diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few years ago, and after some false starts, I found the right pharmaceutical cocktail for me, and some of the negativity lifted. Everything isn’t terrible all the time. There is joy all around us. Even in times of darkness, the overall trajectory of humanity is still an upward trend in a positive direction. It’s hard out here though. June has me down a well and I’ve been at the bottom of it for a couple of days now. Why didn’t I check on her? She should be working at Target or doing nails or going to CUNY to be a teacher. She shouldn’t be dead. She asked for me specifically when she ran to the shelter for help, and then I just…released her to the system and into the world.
I don’t know y’all. I’m trying to focus on the wins and keep the positives in mind, but I’m tired. Some of y’all who have been reading this site for a long time wonder why I don’t write as much anymore, and I just don’t always have the energy to pay attention to the world the way I used to. There are just so many Junes and I don’t know what to do about it.
What are y’all doing to preserve joy? I’m very sad today.
Happy Birthday Mommy!
I baked a little something for you!
It’s been a YEAR and, to be honest, I’m not doing that well, so I just wanted to check in real quick and get some things off my spirit.
First of all, let’s get the most important stuff out of the way immediately:
Jackée is gonna be on Days of Our Lives!
Look out, Salem.. here I come. 😉 https://t.co/xMp0qGPG9C— Jackée Harry (@JackeeHarry) December 8, 2020
I don’t know who she’s gonna play or what the character will be like, but clearly I will be tuning in…because I’ve been watching that doggone show since birth because of you.
Also: Don’t actually go to her Twitter. You too High Holy Christian for all the mess she puts on the internet.
Anyway, yeah…this year has been rough. I got my dream job in March (yay!) but then I lost it a week later because the office closed due to the pandemic and I got let go — last hired, first fired. The first day on the job I actually cried on the way home because I’d been searching for that perfect career move for years and I thought I finally found it. So, that was a huge disappointment that knocked me on my butt for awhile.
Then Travis and I stopped speaking. I had been building up this resentment toward him and his boyfriend because all of the things we used to do, he was doing with his new boyfriend instead, and I didn’t have anybody to hang out with anymore. We were on lockdown so I couldn’t go anywhere. We’re best friends who live together, which was great until the boyfriend moved in and I didn’t have my best friend to spend quarantine with anymore. They’ve since broken up, but the cracks in our friendship are still there — I resent him for ignoring me and he resents me for not trying harder to accept his boyfriend. We’re fine now (great, actually) but it’s right under the surface if we get upset about something unrelated.
And our third roommate is…difficult. In the best of times he’s not the ideal roommate because he’s LOUD and oblivious to other people’s needs. He’s absolutely the type of person who should be living alone, but since the pandemic, it’s ten times worse because he’s an actor and a comedian who no longer has a stage to perform on, so his computer is his stage. All day every day is just the sound of his voice, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, hanging out with his friends videochatting, yelling and doing voices.
I wear headphones all day now and just count down the days until the lease is up because I can’t wait to get out of this apartment and away from him.
Speaking of away from him, I thought I found an outlet this summer. I met guy (we’ll call him John since other people can read this)…and we had chemistry! I don’t trust my feelings around men anymore. I’ve never developed deep feelings for a man who returned those feelings. It’s just a string of unrequited love, so if I feel a spark, I try to stamp it out to save myself another disappointment. But this was different because he pursued me. I let John make all the first moves to be sure I wasn’t building a fake relationship in my head like I usually do. He told me I was beautiful every day, he kissed me first, he came on to me first, he suggested we take a trip together, he suggested we move in together. I heard all the right things, so I let myself fall for this man. I was almost looking forward to the inevitable Winter COVID Lockdown because I could go hang out at his apartment and get away from mine. We were gonna cook and watch the snow. I was gonna spend a week or so at his apartment here and there to make sure we could live together in preparation for a move next year. He wanted to get two dogs.
Just before Halloween, John’s energy was off. I’d had a pumpkin carving party and our dynamic was different. He wasn’t paying much attention to me — which is fine because all of my friends are great and they all liked him — but the lack of affection was odd. So I brought it up a few days later and he said we should go back to being “just friends” because it bothered him that people thought we were, and asked him about whether we were, in a serious relationship. John had said from the beginning he didn’t want to be in a serious relationship, and I was totally fine with that. I told him he could date whoever he wanted, but he said he didn’t want to date anyone. I told him he could have sex with whoever he wanted, but he said he wasn’t interested in sex. He just wanted to make new friends and work on himself, but we had this great connection that he was really into. I was like, “okay…if that’s what you want…”, but I told him people would assume we were in a serious relationship if we kept acting like we were in front of everyone. He said he was fine with that — let them think what they want.
He wasn’t actually fine with that, so he decided we should pump the breaks.
And the next week John fucked my friend that I had introduced him to, the friend that he’d been sitting next to at my party instead of talking to me.
Here’s the thing Mommy…my self-esteem is shot and my abandonment issues are through the roof, and it goes back to that moment when you found out I liked other boys and our relationship changed forever. You were my best friend growing up. I felt awkward around the other kids, I felt awkward around my dad, I felt awkward around my cousins, but you made me feel normal. If I wanted to watch Days Our Lives and talk about the war in Kuwait, you let me. You took me everywhere and taught me so much about life. You told me I was the most important thing in the world to you. And then my teacher told you I was gay and you told me I was going to Hell. And you told me that regularly for the next ten years. I told you I was going to marry a man and have a happy family and you told me I was gonna get AIDS and die alone.
I let you make me feel bad about myself for years. Even after I moved all the way up the East Coast to NYC, I still felt like I had to respect you, even while you were tearing me down. When you would end every conversation wanting to pray with me for God to take away my homosexual demons, I let you, because you’re Mommy and I didn’t want to lose Mommy. When I finally got fed up and decided “this is the last time, this is the last conversation,” it was your birthday 9 years ago. I never told you why, but I picked that day because we had a fun conversation. I called you to wish you Happy Birthday and you gave me all the latest gossip on the family like you always did. We talked about random stuff, laughed a lot (your laugh is so ridiculous and I miss it more than anything), and then I jokingly asked you what I should buy you for your birthday — jokingly, because we both knew I had no money and I wouldn’t be getting you anything at all. You replied that you didn’t want anything; all you wanted was for me to give up my homosexual demons and come back to the Lord.
Mommy we had talked for an hour, a delightful conversation about everything, and in that last sentence, you threw me in the trash again. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had taken it since I was 12 years old and I just reached my limit. I kept the conversation light and made some kind of joke to get us back on track, but in my heart I knew I would never speak to you again until you made a turnaround. I wanted that to be the last conversation we had in case it was the last conversation we had, so that our last conversation would be full of good memories for you. I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, but I wanted you to be left with lightness and joy. I swallowed my feelings, told you I loved you, and hung up for the last time, because you died later that year.
And now I’m stuck. I still feel so much guilt for being fed up. I missed you then and I miss you now and I feel like if I hadn’t stopped speaking to you, you wouldn’t have died, and we could’ve eventually found our way back to each other. I keep letting people treat me badly because if I stand up for myself, they’ll go away and I’ll never see them again. If I stand up for myself, I’ll be alone, and I would rather be with someone and feel bad some of the time than be alone and feel bad all of the time because I don’t have that someone anymore.
I realized that about myself a few months ago, so that’s the first step. And I’ve tried to stand up for myself more as of late.
Last week, a friend (we’ll call him Brian) asked me out to dinner. I met Brian just before the pandemic and he’s such a sweetheart. We had an instant bond and I was looking forward to getting to know him, but COVID kinda put a halt to that. NYC bounced back this summer, and Brian lives in the neighborhood, so I invited him into our little bubble for a couple of parties and brunches. We already had some mutual friends, but he also took quickly to John and to Travis, so he was a good addition to my social circle.
At dinner, Brian told me that he had fucked John. I introduced the two of them. I invited them both to brunch and to parties. The week after John said we should just be friends, he was out to dinner with Brian and fucking afterward.
All of John’s flings are hot and all of the guys he would show me on social media that he liked, fucked, or planned to meet up with looked more like Brian than me. I was insecure about being involved with a guy who looks like John because gay NYC is vicious and I could imagine the whispers of “wow John is way too hot for that guy” because I’ve heard people I know say it about other couples. John knew this. John knew about all of the guys I was into who liked Travis — the taller, hotter best friend — instead of me. John knew about all the times I’d been out with my Friends Who Lift and how some random guy would make me feel like trash because I don’t look like them. He knew all of that and still fucked my hot friend the week after he broke up with me. All of the men in the city, all of the men right there in Hell’s Kitchen where he lives, all of the men who hit him up on Grindr, and he fucked the one that would obviously hurt me the most.
But I cut them both off! Obviously I’ll never speak to John again because that kind of betrayal — when someone knows your insecurities and disregards them anyway– is like a knife to the heart, but my first reaction when Brian told me what he did was to let it go, because this is gay NYC and most of them do have fewer boundaries and hangups around sex than I do. My boundaries aren’t invalid just because other people don’t share them and I did what I needed to do for my mental health. I don’t have to prioritize a relationship that’s damaging to my mental health. I don’t have to swallow my feelings to make someone else feel more comfortable with their personal failures or mistreatment of me.
So I’m proud of myself for standing my ground, but it’s still the holidays, and I’m still lonely. I miss John every day. I miss what we could have been doing this holiday season, all the winter plans we made. When I was younger, I’d assumed I’d have a family by now to make Christmas traditions with. Instead, I just watch the little family I’ve built in NYC — my circle of friends — latching on to their own families, and I just feel rudderless and a little rejected. Abandonment issues are complex.
This is a lot longer than I meant it be. I hadn’t planned to tell you about the “gay stuff” because I know it makes you uncomfortable. I still haven’t finished reading the email you wrote me, but I read a little more of it each year until I start crying again. I’ve gotten to the part where you’ve come to terms with my attraction to men, so I think you would be okay hearing about my relationship/friendship problems at this point.**
And if not, well here’s a cake to sweeten it up a little!
I do love to bake — thanks for passing that on to me — but I don’t decorate anything….thanks for passing that on to me too. I decided to bake a cake and actually try to decorate it for once, and the end result isn’t half bad! True, I did try to make a Red & Hunter Green Christmas themed cake and I guess my dye was the wrong kind so it’s a Pink & Pale Green Easter themed cake instead, but it tastes good. You would especially like it because it’s not super sweet and I used buttermilk instead of regular milk.
So Happy Birthday! I feel a little lighter after getting some of that off my chest. Maybe this will be a thing and I’ll bake you a little something every year and give you an update about how I’m doing. Next year’s update will be much better than this year’s, I’m sure of it.
If nothing else, I’ll be much better at cake decorating anyway.
Love you Mommy!
(**a note for y’all who don’t know: When my mom died, I went through her emails to compile some information for my dad and I found an email that she had written to me a few weeks before she died. She sent it to an address I no longer use so I didn’t get to read it before she died. The first line says “I’m sorry…” and it took me about 7 years to get farther than that. I still haven’t finished reading it because I know she died thinking I ignored her email and I’m not strong enough to handle it yet.)
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