At some point over the past 2 or 3 years, people started reading my blog for news and views on current events, but some of y’all have been reading my ramblings on the Internet for over a decade, all the way back to FreeOpenDiary. I’ve always kept a diary or journal of some kind on the Internet, but slowly I moved away from that and more toward ranting about politics and current events. This is a post for journaling purposes and people who know me, so the rest of y’all can skip it. I just want to throw some things out there about my sister so I’ll have them to read over in the future.
I didn’t write a blog about it because I was in too much shock, but my older sister (and only sibling) passed away a little over a week ago.
I don’t remember how old I was when I realized Leslie and I had different moms. Her mom died when she was 2 or 3 and I didn’t come along for another decade and some change, so it was just her and my dad for a long time. After I was born though, she took me everywhere, including trips to see her mom’s family about an hour away. I grew up calling her mom’s mom Grandma Dukes. I had my mom’s mom, my dad’s mom, and then an extra grandma and I didn’t really think anything of it. I finally put it together at some point and asked her about it on the way home from visiting them. She said Grandma Dukes was her mom’s mom. I said since we didn’t have the same mom should I still call her grandma Grandma Dukes. She said yes.
I hadn’t seen anyone from Leslie’s mom’s side of the family since my sister’s wedding about twenty years ago. At the viewing, a group of people came in and I looked at one of the women and thought “that looks like Deaky.” I couldn’t immediately remember who Deaky was or what made me think that was her name, but it was. Deaky is one of my sister’s first cousins and she looked exactly the same as the last time I’d seen her. Blood doesn’t make you family and it felt great to see them all again.
These are some of the songs she taught me on piano or that we used to sing together cleaning the house or riding in the car.
Whitney Houston “All The Man”
Whitney Houston “Look Into Your Heart”
Debbie Gibson “Electric Youth”
Wilson Phillips “Hold On”
They Might Be Giants “Birdhouse In Your Soul”
Mariah Carey “Emotions”
Ini Kamoze “Here Comes The Hotstepper”
Dona Nobis Pacem
Guns N Roses “November Rain”
Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle “A Whole New World”
Extreme “More Than Words”
Janet Jackson “Again”
Faith Hill “Piece Of My Heart”
I only got mad enough at my sister to completely stop speaking to her once. I don’t even remember what the fight was about because I was too little, but whether I was being an obnoxious little brother or she was picking at me is irrelevant. All that matters is, she was chasing me around the house and then I finally made it to my room and locked the door. She banged on it for awhile like she was trynna beat the damn thing off the hinges, but then she stopped and went away. So of course, I was patting myself on the back for winning whatever it was we were fighting about. A few minutes later, she was back at the door but she wasn’t banging. She had gotten a wire coathanger and stuck it in the hole in the doorknob. She popped the lock and barged into my room and I started screaming bloody murder. How dare she break into my room when I locked the door! I was safe! Y’all I don’t think I spoke to her for the rest of the summer. I was hot about that for years.
This is more about my brother-in-law, but it bears mentioning here. After I came out to Leslie I told her not to tell anyone, not even her husband Andre. My 14-year-old brain wasn’t really hip to the fact that most husbands & wives share everything, so I thought it was a reasonable request. I called her and asked for money for something – I have no idea what it was – but she said OK. After we were done talking, she gave the phone to my brother-in-law so we could chat for a bit and I remember this conversation like it was yesterday.
BIL: Your sister says you need some money.
BIL: For what? You need bail money?
Me: Hahah no…
BIL: You got some lil girl in trouble and you need to take her to the clinic?
Me: HAHAHAHA OF COURSE NOT OMG!!
BIL: Well she coulda had short hair and you coulda been confused in the moment!
I realized she had told him I was gay and I didn’t get upset at all. That was the first time any male had reacted to me being gay with humor and nonchalance and I knew she really had picked a good one.
I used to eavesdrop on her phone conversations. The first time I heard her cuss on the phone I wanted to run and tell mom & dad…but I didn’t do that…because I was eavesdropping and woulda got my ass beat.
Before my parents got married, they kept two households about 10 minutes away from each other. I lived with my mom in one and my sister lived with our dad in the other. At my mom’s house, the mailbox was right at the corner of the driveway, and usually my mom or dad would drive up to it and whoever was in the passenger seat would open the box and get the mail before going into the driveway. Leslie decided she could do that too.
I don’t remember if she was home from college for the summer or if she had graduated, but she had been tasked with picking me up from Karate that day because my dad was out of town and my mom was working late. She decided she too could get the mail in the way in, so she drove up next to the box, I opened it, got the mail, and as she drove off, she must’ve turned the wheel because the mailbox went SKRRRRRRPPPP down the side of the station wagon. So she panicked and started backing up. SKRRRRRRRRPPPP some more. I’m sitting in the passenger seat like
Finally she pulled forward and just let the box scrape alllll the way down the passenger side of the wagon. And then she probably went inside to write her last will & testament because our father was going to kill her.
I don’t remember what her punishment was but it was probably nothing. My sister totaled two cars (one with me in it) so hitting the mailbox was a very minor infraction by comparison.
My parents always pushed me to play with the kids from school in the summertime while I was thankful for summer because it meant I didn’t have to see the kids from school. Sometimes they would send me over to a neighbor’s house so I could play outside. I used to hide a book in my pocket and spend all day reading in the woods instead until my mom called the neighbor once to check up and make sure I got there. I got the asswhoopin of my life when they found me sitting by a tree in the backyard.
Anyway, I hated playing with them because they always called me names. One particular afternoon everyone was picking teams for stickball and of course I was going to be picked last because I was chubby and gay. Tasha Cloud (and yes I did just use her whole name, I don’t even care) said “I don’t want that faggot on my team” but she was stuck with me anyway. When it was my turn to bat, she wrestled it away from me, hit me in the side, and kicked some dirt at me when I fell on the ground. I cried, of course, got laughed it, ran into the neighbor’s house and wrote a poem in my Trapper Keeper called “Stupid Tasha” (I was only 7, so give me a break). I told Miss Cotton I didn’t feel well and she let me watch movies all afternoon.
That night I was crying about it to my sister who was home from college and she told me those ragamuffins don’t matter. I don’t remember the conversation word for word (other than “ragamuffins”) but she said she got bullied and picked on by the same kind of ignorant kids and my bullies had older siblings and cousins who picked on her too. Now she was in college and they were on their third child by two baby daddies, so who really won in the end? I never cried again when one of those ingrates called me a faggot.
My sister hated flying. It might have been extreme enough to classify as a phobia. Whenever she visited the parents in SC, she’d drive 11 hours from southwest Florida for the trip instead of flying. I wanted to surprise my dad for his birthday earlier this year and I thought it would be fun if my sister and I showed up at the same time. She worked it out with his wife and we bought flights to arrive in Charlotte around the same time so she could pick us up from the airport. She went back and forth on whether to actually get on the plane or not, but in the end she did it because she wanted to spend as much time as she could with me and dad, and an 11-hour ride both ways would cut into that vacation time.
When my dad saw us standing curbside, shocked isn’t even the word. I don’t think I’d ever seen him so happy and when we asked him why he was so surprised he was like, “well [pointing at her] you don’t fly and [pointing to me] you don’t visit!” It ended up being the best trip home I’ve ever had. His wife threw a huge bash for his birthday with a big turnout. I got to see extended family I hadn’t seen in years. My dad and I reconnected again. My sister was her giggly self on cloud nine the whole trip. We had a ball and if she had to go, I’m glad those are the last memories I have with her.
And now excuse me while I go listen to some more Whitney for awhile.
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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