Trumping America: P*ssy, Bad Hombres, Nasty Women, and “My African American” (living in hell, of course)

What the hell are we doing, America? How has it come to this?

Here’s my perspective:

Lyndon Johnson was President when I was born, though he was succeeded by Richard Nixon before my first birthday. I think we all know about Nixon’s impeachment and ignominious exit from the Presidency, which led to the Ford administration. Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 is the first I can actually remember well at all.

Ronald Reagan, Bush 41, Bill Clinton, Bush 43, and Barack Obama all followed. Those five men took me from pre-adolescence through the births of both of my children. The Clinton administration began the same year as my marriage. My 13-year-old son doesn’t remember a time when there wasn’t a black man and his family in the White House.

Clearly, with the 2016 election, things have changed.

I’ve seen a lot in 48 years of life, but I never anticipated seeing the traveling shit show that is Donald Trump. Perhaps that’s naive of me, especially considering how much sense he makes if you really look at the situation and context.

Barack Obama’s 2008 election and 2012 re-election were nothing short of historic. Make no mistake, I was on the floor crying tears of joy that our nation had finally elected a man based on his qualifications rather than the color of his skin. Having a black President of the United States was akin to fulfilling part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream and bringing to fruition the work of the Civil Rights Movement. It was the beginning of a new era — the dawn of a new day.

Or was it?

The racism brought to the surface by Obama’s eight years in office has been of epic proportions. It has permeated every aspect of this society. People have openly questioned everything that could potentially provide grounds for Obama’s disqualification as President, from his place of birth to the “non-American lifestyle” he grew up living. It seems that even the blood of a white mother and the strong influence of the white grandparents who helped raise him were not enough to remove the ever visible stain of blackness on this young, handsome, and confident man. How dare he be so well-educated and qualified?! He didn’t even have the decency to marry a white trophy wife! Our country had to endure 8 years of a beautiful, articulate, and strong black woman who was the equal of her husband in every way — and then we had to watch him actually respect her in public.

And what about those beautifully poised and well-behaved little black girls who we were forced to watch become amazing young women before our eyes? That’s enough to piss off anyone who has built their life measuring themselves and their success against the ignorance, poverty, and crime that black people supposedly represent. How dare this man flaunt his education, competence, and strong family values in the face of people who rely on black men to be thugs and criminals to be feared and shot down in the street like animals!

Obama fucked with the heads of a whole lot of white people who couldn’t figure out how to play the game once The Man was a brotha. He was scarier than a nigga in a hoodie: he was a nigga in a suit and tie, running the country and being the most powerful man in the world. Members of the GOP in Congress lost their minds and made it their mission to block Obama at every turn, even against their own best interests.

So, what did folks who were “sick of the games being played in Washington” come up with?

Donald Trump.

Why?

Because there is a whole segment of our society that sees “America” as one thing: white.

Now, there are other attributes that go along with that whiteness that are equally necessary and acceptable: male, straight, Christian (preferably Evangelical), cis-gender, and middle class. I can see why these folks feel that the country is being “taken away” from them. It’s a simple concept, actually; to those in the majority, anything that levels the playing field by giving rights to others outside of that majority feels like oppression. It’s a zero sum game: if something is “given to them” it must mean that it is “taken from us”. Simple, right?

Simple is right. This is simplistic thinking that isn’t worthy of adult reasoning, let alone the many well-educated folks who feel that way. To these folks, Trump is the perfect candidate.

Trump says what they want to hear, even if it means contradicting himself in the course of a single sentence. He was raised with a mindset of “superior people” and the need for them to get together to create more superior people (sound familiar, anyone who has read anything about the Third Reich…?). He espouses “traditional values”: women should stay at home to do the child rearing and cooking while men go out and earn money and provide. The perks of that for Trump have been numerous. How do you think he keeps finding new wives?

Trump champions himself as a man of the people, though one look at his life of privilege and wealth can show anyone with eyes and a brain that nothing could be farther from the truth. Trump supporters don’t care. As long as he shows himself to be aspirational, he’s their man. Maybe those dudes wearing the “Hilary is a Cunt” t-shirts can be rich and successful someday, with the hot ex-model wife to seal the deal.

The Republican Party shouldn’t be shocked by Trump’s primary wins and eventual nomination. Their pandering to the lowest levels of hatred in the far right fringes of their base is what created this monster. Their fear of being “out-righted” by some other segment of the party has led directly to the creation of the hateful uber-candidate that is Donald Trump. He is the good ol’ boy: the womanizing, racist, us vs. them, bully that represents so much of this country, in this so-called “post-racial” society.

Post-racial my ass.

It seems like we take 10 steps backward for every one we take forward. How else could we end up with this elitist overgrown toddler as a viable major party candidate?

So, where are we now?

We are deep in the heart of a movement. It’s not the revolution that Bernie Sanders represented. No, it’s far less positive than that.

We are in the middle of a revolt.

There are politicians running for election right now who claim that there is a “war on men”. There are men, AND women, dismissing Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” as boys-will-be-boys locker room talk — rather than the sexual harassment and assault that it really is. There are folks who are actively advocating for the building of a wall at our border with Mexico and vocally promoting the end of our country’s welcome of refugees from Syria. There are politicians, and their constituents, who are looking forward to getting back to the “good ol’ days”. You know the ones I mean: when women, so-called minorities, LGBTQ folks, and others had no rights. “Make America Great Again” may as well be called “turn back the clock on everything those folks called progress, because it makes me uncomfortable to have to acknowledge their humanity”.

Let me be clear. Turning back the clock on that progress could potentially strip me of my right to vote, my rights as a female citizen of color, and my right to be married to my white husband. All of those rights were given to me prior to my birth, either by Constitutional Amendment or Supreme Court decision. I believe those rights were always mine, endowed by my Creator with my other inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If folks from the right wing fringe have their way, the Constitution would be narrowly construed to include only what our founders wrote in the 18th century. I daresay we’ve made some progress in human rights since then. Perhaps we ought to take that into consideration. I don’t think I’d do well as an enslaved non-voter worth only 3/5 of the white man who owns me. I’m far too uppity.

What scares me is that folks are buying this tripe wholesale. There are folks who actually nod their heads in agreement with Trump’s description of partial birth abortion. Do they think women just merrily trot off to the clinic to kill their babies rather than buy nursery furniture? Are we so lacking in compassion and human decency as to not acknowledge some women make heartbreaking decisions regarding reproduction everyday? Do we only care about being “pro life” while women are pregnant, and then say to hell with it when these babies are born? And how do we justify that same pro life stance when we are screaming for blood in death penalty cases? Remember Trump’s full page ad in the NY Times calling for the execution of the Central Park 5? Even their exoneration won’t compel him to apologize or admit that he was wrong.

What of Trump’s main opponent, Hillary Clinton?

Mrs. Clinton is not without fault, to be sure. Truth be told, I didn’t vote for her in the primary because I was “feeling the Bern”. I voted early for her this past Friday, though. It wasn’t a choice betwen the lesser of two evils (actually the least of four evils, if you count Gary Johnson and Jill Stein). My vote for the former First Lady and Secretary of State was a vote for reason and experience over arrogance and entitlement. It was a vote for reasoned debate over mansplaining and “otherist” rhetoric. It was a vote for the articulate over the infantile.

It was a vote for the future, rather than a mandate to roll back over a century of human rights progress this country has made.

I’m sick of the lies and the bullshit, Donald. I’m sick of listening to you call Mexicans rapists and Mike Pence call you a pro life candidate. I’m sick of you interrupting a competant woman in a debate with your “I’m rubber, you’re glue” approach to civil discourse. I’m tired of the hot mic tapes, the pussy grabbing, the racist bile that drips from your mouth as you tell this African American woman that people like me are living in hell and getting shot just for leaving the house. Mr. Trump, I’m tired of you and all the hatred within this country that you represent.

You are the car accident I can’t stop watching happen.

I need to watch to remind myself what I have to lose if you are elected. I need to remember my beautiful children and the horror a Trump presidency would bring to their lives. I need to remember my friends and loved ones who are everything you and your supporters revile. I need to remember exactly why you are the only candidate I ever feared so much that I took my clothes off to protest against you and your whole political party.

If Hillary Clinton is “such a nasty woman” for being smarter, more articulate, and a skilled politician, then I am proud to join the ranks of nasty women everywhere who cannot wait for pussy to grab you back on November 8. I can’t wait to witness another historic moment in American history when a woman finally becomes President. I know you are too much of a child to concede, so I know her victory would mean your tantrum. Who cares? Like all little kids acting out in public, it’s best to ignore the behavior and walk away. You’d know that if you’d taken any interest in raising any of your 5 children.

On behalf of all the pussies, bad hombres, nasty women, and black folks living in hell, I say Trump you, Donald. We’re sick of getting Trumped. Pick up your marbles, and your supporters, and go away. This country cannot survive being run by a man who has bankrupted his own company so many times, and claims to respect women as he rates them as nasty and disgusting. Leave us alone to pick up the pieces of the mess you’ve created and go back to the business of becoming a whole country again. A Clinton presidency may not be the best answer, but yours would be the end of far too much.

Sick of Getting Trumped

I shared this as a Facebook status update earlier tonight, after watching the third Presidential debate.

Mr. Trump, the only hell I anticipate living in would be the years of your administration, should you actually (God forbid) win the election.

Here it is:

Okay. I’m done.

Donald, I’m a black woman who grew up in the ghetto. Let me school your dumb ass:
I’m not poor.
I’ve never been shot, let alone killed, walking down the street– and I lived in both Philadelphia and New York.
I have a bachelors degree from Oberlin and a masters degree from Juilliard. I graduated from both with A averages. My daddy didn’t get me in by writing a big fucking check. I earned my education and I am, unlike you, well-educated and articulate.
There ain’t a damn thing you can or will do for me or any other black person in this country. You don’t know us or what we need — and you don’t care.
You, the animal that died on your head, and your bullying privileged white supremacist ass need to take several seats. And staple your mouth shut.
To quote Stevie, we are amazed but not amused by all the things you say that you’ll do. But when it all comes down…
… YOU HAVEN’T DONE NOTHING!
<drops mic>

Love and Basketball 

I originally wrote this as a Facebook post on June 16, 2016. A recent comment on the thread  brought it back to my attention, so I decided to share it here:

Okay, I’m watching the NBA finals game 6. I don’t usually do that kind of thing, mostly because it reminds me of my dad. Dad was a pretty damn good baller in his day, having played high school ball in Philly against someone kinda famous (Wilt Chamberlain). When I was little, Dad took me to the playground where he would play a pickup game on Saturdays. To me, my Daddy was like a god.
He taught me the basics of the passing game until he decided I was too old a girl for basketball (I loved him, but he was a terrible sexist). We would watch games together, and we even went to a few 76ers games at the Spectrum. Basketball was a game of beauty and finesse, played by beautiful tall men in very small shorts. I was in love.
I saw the game at its best with the best tour guide. I saw some of the best players of all time: Dr. J, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and then some. The crazy showboating and foolishness that came later put me off the game for a while. Then a prodigy from Akron brought me back.
I was angry at first when I heard LeBron James was going straight to the NBA from high school. I thought it was important that a young black man get his education and make the league wait four years. It didn’t take me long to come around. He is truly the greatest I’ve seen in years (and yes, I’m including Michael Jordan).
Sunday is Fathers Day. It’s also my dad’s 77th birthday. I’m hoping for a game 7 on Sunday so I can watch and celebrate my dad. He would’ve loved tonight’s game. We would’ve cheered together, yelled at the refs together, and enjoyed LeBron and Kyrie together. Steph Curry looks a lot like my dad did back in his b-ball days. Some part of me cheers for him only for that reason. He reminds me of the days when my dad was like a god and I got to practice bounce passes with him on the porch.
I miss those days.
I miss you, Daddy. Love you.
(I’m so happy Cleveland went on to win it all, getting its first championship in over 50 years. That would have made Daddy smile, especially on his birthday.)

Everything She Says Means Everything

A few months ago, I was watching a local news broadcast when I saw a brief public interest segment about artist/photographer Spencer Tunick and a project he was going to be doing as an installation during the Republican National Convention.  He was calling for female volunteers to be photographed holding large round mirror disks.

Naked.

I’m not sure why I was interested in doing this.  Maybe I thought it would be a really cool thing to be a part of.  Maybe I enjoyed the idea of being in a piece of art, which is something I’ve done before.  Maybe I thought the experience of being photographed naked would help me deal with my body image issues and bring me to a deeper understanding of what being comfortable in my own skin really means.

Regardless of my reasons, I went to the website and followed the instructions to apply to be one of the 100 women Tunick would choose to photograph.  It was clear from the questions asked that he was seeking a diverse group of women: all colors, all races, all ages, etc.  I answered the questions and sent a (clothed, as requested) full body length photo of myself.  I clicked send.

I didn’t think about it again for weeks.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I got an email a couple of weeks ago saying that I was one of the 100 women picked to pose for this installation.  1800 women responded to the call for volunteers!  It was unbelievable that I had applied on a whim and been chosen.  My choice to do something so bold with such strong political overtones was a risky one.  I told my husband and my kids, and one or two friends, but I largely kept my participation in this event to myself.

I questioned my own motives for doing this many times.  What statement did I want my naked body to make to the Republicans coming to Cleveland for their convention?  What about the current political climate in this country would make me take off my clothes and show myself so completely?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

I did it for my daughter.  I wanted her to see me do something risky and courageous, and to be a part of a strong artistic statement.  I love her and I want the world to be a place where she is free to be completely herself, without apology.

I did it for my son.  I wanted him to see the strength and power of women and how that is a thing to celebrate, rather than a thing to fear.  I am raising him to respect all women, and that respect starts with me.

I did it for myself.  I am 48 years old, overweight, and I had a hysterectomy less than nine months ago.  I needed to show myself that I can be fearless and secure in my womanly body.  I needed to be surrounded by other women not afraid to be naked and letting their bodies tell the world their story.  Being there with all those women gave me the confidence to show myself as I am, without shame or fear of judgment.  Not only did I feel beautiful, but I looked at my sisters and saw their beauty as well.  I felt the ingrained jealousy and competition between us disappear, replaced by appreciation, respect, and admiration.

It was freedom I felt.  I was free of all the self-hatred imposed on me by the images of perfect women, whose beauty is unattainable.  I felt love for myself and a sisterly bond with the other women around me.  What a feeling!

My body is mine.  It is not a thing to be judged, prized, coveted, or taken.  It is beautiful as it is. I believe that I, like all humanity, am created in the image and likeness of God, and that creation is nothing to be ashamed of.  My naked body is a statement of freedom.  Showing it in this photo says to misogynists and chauvinists that I will not be bound by their ignorance and stupidity.  I have knowledge in my bones and wisdom in my curves.  This body has brought two lives into the world and nourished them with its food.  This body has provided comfort and shelter.  This body has felt pleasure and pain.  It is mine and mine alone, to use as I choose.  Keep your laws and your judgments off of it.

I did this to be part of something bigger than myself.  This piece of art shows my body as one among many.  In some of the shots, our faces are not visible, perhaps to show how we as women are invisible to this world in so many ways.  Our worth, our value, our contributions to the world are overlooked and taken for granted.  Standing there together, naked and holding mirrors that reflected the sun and sky, we could not be overlooked or ignored.  We were a force of nature, shown as nature intended.  Some people, men and women alike, may laugh or say nasty and negative things, but that is because they are afraid of what our statement means.  They are afraid to acknowledge that our worth as women doesn’t come from the outside.  It comes from within.

In short, they are afraid to look in the mirrors we held up.  They fear the ugliness of their own hearts and the ignorance of their own minds.  We are a living, breathing, naked reminder of the subjugation of anything that these small-minded bigots can’t understand.  They laugh and mock because they are cowards who are afraid to look at their own bias and privilege.  It would take an honesty they do not possess for them to be brave enough to look at 100 naked women holding mirrors and see the truth.

Mr. Trump and all the other Republicans that are coming to Cleveland as I write: please don’t think that we are just something you can ignore.  We are here.  Look at us.  See us.  Know that we are waiting for justice and peace in the world, for all humankind.  We are sick of war, racism, hatred, hunger, human trafficking, poverty, homophobia, gender bias, trans-phobia, and all the other sicknesses that keep us from truly being ourselves as we were meant to be.  We are watching as you turn back the clock with your fascist rhetoric, and undo all the progress this country has made.

We see you.  Have the balls to see us and look in the mirrors we’re holding up.  Have the guts to give us real answers and not the stream of consciousness bullshit you spew.  Think of us as your mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters rather than as 100 desperate and attention seeking free-loading pussies (as we were called by one of the comments I read about this project).  Treat us with the respect we deserve.  We bared all to tell you how we feel.

This piece is entitled “Everything She Says Means Everything,” which is the title of Tunick’s installation.  Our politicians need to bear that in mind and listen.  Ignoring, shaming, or abusing us will not shut us up.  So, maybe they should listen and learn from the wisdom of women.

 

Three Years Later

I wrote this the day after my dad died on this date in 2013. The grief is a lighter load today, but it is still just under the surface.

Grief is a journey, not a destination

It is a slow walk through deep fog and heavy cloud

Its fingers cracked and worn

They enter me and grab onto my heart

Crushing it

I cannot see my way to the other side

But onward I must go

I will walk and I will crawl

I will run and I will fall backward

Only knowing I’ve reached grief’s end

Once I’ve left its clutches far behind

And I can see a clear sky once more

Yet, I know I will never forget the fog

Or the pain I knew and wore like an old heavy coat

I will feel the weight

Pressing down and crushing my bones

But that old friend grief cannot crush my memories of you

Or the hope that I will be caught up in the air with you

And tell you once again that I love you

Grief, you will try to take me and you will fail

Grief, where is thy sting? Death, where is thy victory?

Saying Goodbye a Little at a Time

The artistic director of Oberlin Choristers, Jennifer Call, asked me to speak during the annual Showcase of Choirs concert this year.  The Showcase concert is one of the few times a year that all of the choirs are together in one performance.  It is a very special event, and this is the last one my daughter will sing in as a student.  My girl graduates high school in less than three months.

Mrs. Call asked me to talk about why I chose Choristers for my daughter, and what the Choristers experience meant to me as a professional musician.  This is what I said:

For Showcase of Choirs Concert 3/6/16

I have always loved music. Even though I chose to get my degrees in viola performance, singing was my first love. Until our family moved to Oberlin in 2008, we lived in NYC. I made my career as a performing and teaching musician, working with some of the most incredible artists of our time. Because of this, I had the chance to start my daughter on violin at age 4. She got to play concerts all over NYC, and she got really good. Even so, perhaps like her mama, my girl loved to sing even before I put a fiddle in her hands. 

Once we made our move, I looked for musical opportunities for both of our kids. I wanted them to have a high quality musical experience where they would learn to be technically proficient, artistically savvy, and – well – happy. It was Imani who brought Oberlin Choristers to my attention when she wanted to audition. 

It was serendipity. 

I was impressed from the very beginning. I first heard her group, at the time called Concert Choir, at the end of their day-long retreat. In just a few hours, these children were not just singing. They were making music. At the Songs for the Season concert a few months later, my husband and I were blown away. I was jazzed that my daughter was a part of this beautiful thing called Oberlin Choristers. I wanted to be a part of this magic, to help it grow and thrive. 

I’ve made volunteering for Choristers my personal mission. I’ve done everything from selling carnations, to raffling baskets, to singing with the parent choir and the Divas, to serving on the Board. I’ve even performed with the choirs on violin and viola, and taught music theory and ear training classes to help further improve the students’ musicianship. My title for a while has been permanent chaperone, for just about every concert for the last four years. I’ve come to know many of the kids and their families really well. 

Choristers has given Imani a chance to see the world. She’s gone on tour to Ireland, Chicago, Nashville and New Orleans, and France and Spain. Not only has she gotten to sing in these international venues, she’s also gotten to play violin with her colleagues – including onstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Choristers has given her the chance to use all of her musical skills. 

In April of 2013, my dad passed away suddenly. His funeral was in Philadelphia, the day before a concert with Canterra. Mrs. Call was understanding, but we knew she wanted Imani to be a part of the performance. I didn’t want Imani to miss it either. So we got in the car in Philadelphia early Sunday morning, and we drove the seven hour drive straight to the concert venue. 

The kids in Canterra knew where we’d been. They surrounded Imani and hugged her before she joined them in rehearsal. They were singing the song she’d sung the day before at her Granddaddy’s funeral – Goin’ Up Yonder. I sat and listened and wept. So, the same kids who had embraced my girl came over and held on to me too. Their compassion was amazing. 

Oberlin Choristers is not just a bunch of kids singing and a group of parents volunteering. It’s more than an extracurricular musical activity. Choristers is a family. These kids are our children and they are loved and nurtured above and beyond simply learning to sing. Like any family, there are disagreements and misunderstandings, but there is also love, loyalty, friendship, and fun.

This is my daughter’s seventh and final year in Choristers. My role as choir mom and permanent chaperone is drawing to a close. But even after my girl has graduated and gone on to college, Choristers will still be her family – and mine. I’m secretly hoping that my son will want to audition someday, just so that I don’t have to stop being a part of this beautiful, magical thing called Oberlin Choristers. I’m not ready to leave. No, not yet. 

The Child That Won’t

I originally wrote and shared this note on Facebook 7 years ago today.  A lot has changed, almost all for the better.  It is good to have this perspective on my son, especially in light of his most recent challenges. He was not quite 6 years old when I wrote this. He is now nearly 13 and standing at the threshold of manhood. My autistic child is quickly becoming an autistic man.
Can’t is not the word to accurately describe him

He can

He chooses not to and

Screams at the first sign of the derailment

Of his plans

The tantrums are huge

He is heavy

Dead weight

Flailing arms and legs

I try to see the situation from inside his mind

The questions:

Why can’t I?

Why do I have to do it your way?

My way is so much better than yours

Than the way of the world

My world makes sense to me

I can,

But only my way

Stop trying to make me see through your eyes

See through mine

From my point of view

All I see is the tantrum

The eyes of judgment surrounding me

Cutting me to the quick

Judging my baby to be

A brat

But I know he’s still my baby

I know him in his quiet moments

Not loud and awful as he is now

I know him tenderly

Intimately

I know his secret heart

And I love him

Secretly I think it’s all my fault

I number my “if only’s”

Like astronomers number the stars

If I didn’t eat that

If I tried harder

Worked with him

Stayed home, went out more

I drive myself insane

And nothing ever changes

Except my boy

He is the child that won’t

Disguised as the boy who can’t

He is the demon seed

He is the angel

He is the lover, the fighter

He is the best of me

The worst of me

He is my baby

I know his secret heart

And I love him

V-Day: the End of the Beginning

I have never been a fan of the way folks over romanticize Valentine’s Day.  The decorations go up in stores the day after Christmas, when some folks are actually still celebrating Christmas.  The cards are pink, sappy, and covered in hearts.  Everything is commercialized, even the “Galentine’s” Day culture for single women without sweethearts (I have often wondered why there isn’t a corresponding “Palentine’s” Day for single men, but whatever).  There doesn’t seem to be any understanding at all that the original name of what we celebrate on February 14 is Saint Valentine’s Day.  There’s a whole history that most folks neither know or understand, as there is with so many other holidays which have become Hallmark holidays.

For me, February 14, 1986 was the end of the beginning of a relationship.  That was the day I broke up with my boyfriend.

We had first met on October 28, 1981, on our first day of a strike delayed school year.  We were in eighth grade, and only 13 years old.  We were in the same class again in ninth grade.  I dated his best friend.  We hung out in the same group of friends.  I had played in the school orchestra with his brother since I was 11.

His name was John.  I thought he was weird, mostly because he stared at me all the time.

John left our school to go somewhere else for tenth grade.  His brother remained to finish his senior year, so I would see him from time to time.  He’d grown taller and his hair had gotten long.  Still, he seemed somehow attractive to me for no particularly good reason.  I had long ago been dumped by his friend (because he was gay), so there was no conflict of interest there.  I invited him to my 16th birthday party and he showed up.  Then he started to call me almost everyday.  The conversations were odd, but they all ended the same way: he would murmur quietly “I love you.”  The first few times he said it, I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

I’d heard him correctly.  One day, I called him on it.  I asked him to repeat what he’d said, and he did.  Then there was a long pause.  He was clearly waiting for me to say something, but I had no clue what to say.  I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about him.  Did I love him too?

I just didn’t have an answer to that question, especially since I knew that his family was moving away the day after his brother graduated.  There were only a few days for me to sort all this out.

Graduation came and I knew I would see him.  When the ceremony finished, John appeared seemingly out of nowhere and I broke down in tears.  I sobbed into his shirt as I grabbed his collar to pull him close.  I guess this was my answer to him.

I loved him too.

Over the next 20 months, we spoke on the phone practically every Friday night.  John would call me around 7:30 and we would talk for an hour or two.  He would always talk about himself and rarely ask about me.  He also wrote a lot of letters and occasionally came to visit me.  My parents didn’t care for John much, but they really hated the idea that I had a boyfriend.  He was never welcome to stay at our house and I was not allowed out with him often.  My parents didn’t trust anything with a penis anywhere near me.

About a year after my relationship with John began, I met someone who reminded me of him.  I walked into a room where I was going to be spending a week at a poetry conference, and there he was.  For a split second, I thought he was John.  I was wrong.

I couldn’t have been more wrong, actually.

By Halloween, I was dating them both.  My mom actually said it was a good idea because I was too young to be tied to one boy.  Oddly, my lack of monogamy only really bothered one person: John.  He wasn’t in Philadelphia anymore and I only saw him every three months.  I was lonely.  I wanted to go to my prom senior year and John didn’t want to go.  My other guy wanted to go, and he had a car to boot.  I was torn.  I was only 17.

Then John threw down the gauntlet.  I had to choose.  Now.

I don’t like ultimatums.  I made the choice, but I didn’t choose him.  I was sad about it, but I was determined to break up with him.  All I had to do was wait for him to call that Friday, February 7th.

He called and I could hear him crying.  He had just come from putting down the family dog.

Are you fucking kidding me?  I couldn’t break up with a man who had just lost his pet.  I may have been a self-centered teenaged girl, but I had a heart.  I would wait until the following week to tell him.

February 14th.  Valentine’s Day.

Yeah.  I suck.  He called and I broke up with him.  He argued.  He bargained.  He pleaded.  He cried.

I was surprised that I cried too.  Even though I had what some would later call “a spare” lined up, I was breaking up with someone I loved.  I felt a loss, even if no one else believed me.  It was hard to do, but I did it.

That was 30 years ago today.  John and I had a good laugh about it this morning.

Yes, that weird boy is now my husband of nearly 24 years.

How do I explain it?  He changed.  I changed.  We talked.  I dated more than my share of guys after finally breaking up with the idiot I dumped John for.  That relationship was sick, twisted, and violent, and I’m lucky to have survived it.  I’m even luckier that I gave John another chance.  Despite the level of cliché this phrase has achieved, I really don’t know where I’d be without John.  He may actually have saved me from my lesser self and brought me to a better understanding of what I was meant to be.

Isn’t that what a good relationship is supposed to do?  He supports me and I support him.  We love each other because of, NOT in spite of, who the other person is.  We are better together than we could have been individually.

For years after we got back together, I would be the one to buy the roses and dinner and chocolates.  It was my way of saying both thank you and I’m sorry.  In February of 1998, I gave him our first child as a Valentine’s Day present.  That day I asked him if I could stop apologizing for breaking up with him so many years before.  He most magnanimously let me off the hook.  We were even.

So, for me, Valentine’s Day is a day I remember the end of the beginning of my relationship with John.  Actually, it is a cause for celebration.  We weren’t ready for each other yet, and I needed to end it so we could go on with our lives and grow up a little.  The second time around was the charm.  Timing, as I’ve learned, is indeed everything.

Baby Girl

Yesterday was my daughter’s 18th birthday.

I need a moment for that to sink in.

I’ve often joked that she was the most planned for and wanted child in the world. For months before her conception, I stopped consuming caffeine, alcohol, red meat, and non-organic fruits and veggies. I read all sorts of articles about how to improve the odds for conception. I even bought my hubby some boxers to help keep the boys cool.

Believe it or not, I got pregnant on the first try. I was thrilled! Hubby was hoping it would take more, um, practice, so he was a little disappointed it happened so quickly.

I didn’t realize I was pregnant at first, though I should’ve figured it out; the eggs were a dead giveaway. Up until then, I hated eggs! Suddenly, I was eating nearly a dozen every few days.

One day, I decided to go buy a pregnancy test. I had a strong feeling and I was right. I was pregnant, but only just. Everyone I told was excited and happy, except my husband.

Was it shock? Uncommonly strong reticence? New England stoicism? What the hell?

Two things finally broke through his steely exterior. First, there was a tiny pair of baby socks that I’d purchased (“the baby’s feet will be tiny enough for these little socks…”). Then it was hearing the baby’s heartbeat for the very first time (through tears, he asked if he could hear it again). Our baby was finally real for him, as it had been for me through all seven weeks of non-stop wall-to-wall morning sickness. I threw up so much for so long, I lost 10 pounds in my first trimester. Oy vey.

Eventually, I got my feet back under me and my appetite back. My belly began to grow and I prepared to welcome the baby who would make us three. We didn’t know if our child would be a girl or a boy. We were just looking forward to being parents.

I was determined to work until the last possible moment, mostly because we needed the money. My body had other plans. The contractions started about two weeks before my due date. They lasted a few hours and then stopped. They felt like the descriptions I’d read of labor contractions and not the “false” Braxton Hicks ones. But before they could settle into any kind of pattern, they were gone…

… for three days.

They came back again the day before a prenatal visit with our midwives. Apparently, they were real contractions, and they were doing their job. My cervix was beginning to open and soften in preparation for the delivery of our little one. But when? It could be at any time, so I was told (not asked, told) to go home and stay home. I could do light housekeeping, but mostly I was to go lie down and sleep as much as I could. I was also told to “date” my husband because these would be our last carefree childless days for the next twenty years or so.

Then there were the “let’s get this labor started” suggestions: evening primrose oil, spicy food, sex (since I felt rather like livestock at that point, it wasn’t as good as it sounds), long walks… and castor oil. I took the castor oil at the suggestion of the midwives and it worked — but only for its originally intended purpose. At the end of the day, I was still pregnant, but with a clean digestive tract.

One night, I cooked up a big dinner, packed it up, and smuggled it into a movie theater where I met my hubby after work. We saw Titanic. I was hoping that all that water rushing around might help get things started. No such luck.

My due date arrived two days later. I had a prenatal visit scheduled.  It was a cold, damp day, the kind of cold that creeps into your bones.  I awoke feeling enormous and swollen.  I wanted to be relieved of my incubation duties.  I was sick to death of carrying what had begun to feel less like a baby and more like a bowling ball.  I waddled into the office with hubby, announcing that someone needed to get this baby out of me — or give me a knife so I could do it myself.  Pregnancy had clearly lost its appeal for me.

The exam showed that I was very close to being ready to deliver.  I was given two options: do nothing and have a baby by the end of the weekend (it was Thursday) or take castor oil — again — and have a baby sometime tomorrow evening.  Our midwife left the room so we could make a decision.

It was a no-brainer.

Hubby and I left and went our separate ways, he to work and I to the drugstore.  I had done this before, so I knew what to buy.  I made my purchase and then made my way home on the subway.  I dragged my belly up the long hill to our apartment building one last time.  I watched tv with our two cats.  My favorite shows were The Rosie O’Donnell Show and old reruns of Columbo.  I cleaned a few things around the house and made a few phone calls.  We had only just moved to this apartment 6 weeks before, so I had things to keep my mind and hands busy.  I folded the newly washed baby clothes and packed the last of our things to be ready for a quick trip out the door.  I ordered Mexican food for dinner.  Gone With The Wind was on tv and I watched it as I ate my spicy dinner and waited for hubby to come home from working late.

I was to take the peppermint emulsified castor oil, mixed with a shot of vodka, the first time I woke up after midnight.  It was about 1:30 in the morning.  I took it and went back to sleep.  All I could do now was wait and see.

I didn’t have to wait long.

I awoke at 5am in labor.  The midwife on call advised us to wait until the castor oil… worked.  The problem was I threw up soon after I woke up.  Not to worry, she said, the cocktail had been in my system long enough.  It would work.  In the meantime, I was to get into a lukewarm bath and have hubby spoon feed me peppermint tea with honey.

Obediently, we followed the directions.  Unfortunately, every time I was hit with a contraction, I hauled my enormous body out of the tub to sit on the toilet.  After doing that two or three times, I abandoned the bath.

I clearly remember the hardest contractions, and the relief I felt when they were over.  I went to lie down on our bed to rest when I was suddenly hit with the biggest and strongest urge to push I could’ve ever imagined.

I was still at home.  This wasn’t good.

We called again.  The midwife on call had changed and this one heard my voice while I was mid-push and told us to get to the birthing center.  NOW!

I don’t know how he did it, but hubby got me fully dressed in seconds.  He strapped on the suitcase and other accessories for our trip and ripped down the $20 bill taped to the back of the front door (I married the most prepared man in the world).  I waddled down the hall to the elevator and scared the living shit out of the guy who was already on it when the doors opened.

My water broke before we reached the ground floor.

Through a comedy of errors not to be believed, we finally caught a car.  The driver spoke practically no English, but he knew the key word: hospital.  We got in the car and off we went.

It was Friday morning.  During the morning rush.  We got caught in traffic.

We made our way off the highway and onto Riverside Drive.  Hubby was relying on the Lamaze training we’d received.  It was a simple mantra: you can’t push and blow at the same time.  Epic fail.  The urge to push was beyond my control.  This baby was coming on its own schedule, and that was NOW.  Right. Fucking. NOW.

The baby had crowned.  The top of its head was out already.  I made hubby tell the driver to stop.  The hospital was not an option now.  We pulled over at the intersection of Riverside Drive and 104th Street.

It was a cold, clear day with temps in the low 20s.  The sunshine was brilliant.  Halfway around the world, the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics were taking place.  Meanwhile, on the west side of Manhattan in the back of a 1997 Lincoln Town Car, a beautiful baby girl was born.  She was born quietly, delivered into the waiting hands of her Daddy.  He put her on my stomach and she looked right at me, straight into my soul.  I was immediately in love.

We were three.

Of course the story doesn’t end there.  There were firefighters and paramedics and an ambulance.  There was a petrified cab driver who got interviewed by Spanish Language news.  Apparently, our daughter’s birth was the talk of Santo Domingo that day…

There was poking and prodding by ER nurses before our midwife came to take us to our room upstairs at the birthing center.  There were all sorts of tests and nurses and all kinds of stuff.  The years have blurred the details of most of it, but they haven’t blurred the joy I felt when I looked into the face of the most beautiful child I’d ever seen.  She was perfect.

Today, 18 years later, I think she still is.  She’s not a 21 inch, 8 pound 7 ounce baby anymore.  Now she’s 5’11” of badass, ready to take on the world.  She is closer to having her own babies someday than she is to being one herself.  She is smart and talented beyond her years.  It’s hard to believe that I could possibly love her more today than I did the very first time I saw her.

But I do.

 

Losing the Race

For Black History Month, I’m reposting my most popular blog.

violamom2tellsall

I have struggled to write anything coherent in the last few days. I’ve started and choked on a few posts that never made it off the ground. I’ve become self-conscious as a writer and made the mistake so many writers, artists, entertainers, and performers make — I worried more about pleasing my audience than telling my truth.

Not today.

A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I found myself in an argument on Facebook with someone whose friendship I had recently been questioning. This person sent me a private message regarding a post I’d put up earlier in the day about the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland. Without thinking that someone might take my comment in any way other than what I actually said, I posted that his death hit me close to home because he was 12 and my son was almost 12. Apparently, that comment was a problem.

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