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Chapter Eight – Battlefield of Perfectionism

There are times when I honestly feel the root of mental illness, depression, anxiety, etc. is the overwhelming need to be perfect. Perfection can mean different things to different people, and I will even go out on a limb and say that not all perfectionists crave perfection in every aspect of their lives (raises hand and looks around the room for validation). I have only really wanted to be perfect in those tasks and deeds at which I excelled at naturally. I wanted to be the best soccer player on the field, the smartest kid in the class, the best writer in college, and the best employee at my job. I managed to make it all the way to college feeling pretty perfect about my accomplishments, and had zero doubt in my mind that whatever I wanted in life was mine for the taking. I had never really failed before. I had never allowed myself to even entertain the idea of failing because I am a Harrell and Harrells don’t fail. We piss excellence, kick ass and take names, exude grace and confidence in everything we do. But we damn sure do not fail. Sounds ridiculous to me now, but these were the phrases used to govern my life and I never had a reason to believe otherwise. And then adulthood happened.

I dropped out of law school, moved to the other side of the country, and began working for the first time in my life. Ever. And it was horrible…but I always felt it would be temporary because I piss excellence and there was no way that I was going to stay in my rut for one day longer than necessary. This too would pass, etc. And even though I hated my job, I wanted to be the best at it to prepare myself for the day I would get the opportunity to take my perfection and apply it to something I was passionate about – something I truly loved so that I could become even *more* perfect that I was before. It was a brass ring that I chased year after year, job after job, city after city, but I was never ever ever happy. I blamed myself for my failures while holding those people who were doing *better* than myself up on a resentful pedestal, even if it was just a facade. I was jealous of their facade and the fact that they even had the ability to pretend that everything was perfect, because on an almost daily basis I just could not get my shit together enough to pretend I was as perfect as I longed to be professionally or personally.

The need, the almost obsession, to be at a certain level of your own imagination can be soul-crushing and immobilizing at the same time. The older you get and the more divorced from your dreams that you become, you make sacrifices and excuses for why you aren’t happy and even start to think that tolerance for your situation is a decent substitute, at least in the interim. I am guilty of that on an almost daily basis. The industry that I managed to land in after four years of college and a year of law school was something that I looked down on. I felt it was beneath me in almost every capacity. I did not think the people with whom I worked or who worked *for* me were beneath me, but I hated the industry I was in with such passion that it became the ruler with which I measured my own failings. And I resented the shit out of myself. I hated that I did not have an immediately identifiable passion to pursue on the side which would deliver me from my hell of mediocrity. I HATED most of my bosses who I felt were intellectually inferior to me, and more than a few of them had the emotional intelligence of a scorpion. I felt trapped by bills and responsibilities and a lifestyle to which I was accustomed. And all of these feelings of failure and rage and resentment built up inside of me year after year after year, becoming more pronounced with each passing birthday or major milestone in the life of a friend or loved one.

With these feelings came an extreme bout of anxiety and moderate depression. More anxiety than depression for me, but my perfectionist mentality made me shun asking for help and I turned my nose up at medicating the problem. I didn’t need a pill to make my life suck less, I needed to click my heels three times and land in the career of my dreams. Only then, when I was making the money I wanted in the field that I was perfectly suited to be in, would I allow myself to consider what comes next. Only once I was perfect would I concentrate on my health, traveling, dating, or on increasing my volunteer presence in my community. How could I go help out the disenfranchised when *EYE* was suffering too?!

I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t going out with friends. Mama loved herself about a bottle of Chardonnay each evening before bedtime. I was suffering from blinding migraines, tightness in my chest, an irregular heartbeat, and my hands were going numb. And the more my anxiety manifested itself in the physical and the more doctor’s appointments I went to in order to confirm that I wasn’t actually dying, the more shit my boss gave me (in my head) for leaving work early or taking the day off. He never actually said anything to me, but I was convinced that he was judging me and doubting my commitment to my job (that I hated) and plotting on a way to get rid of me (scorpion) before I had a chance to liberate myself from Hell and move on to my destiny!! I just had no idea what that “something” actually was, how to find out, how to afford making any major life changes while living in one of the most expensive cities in America and maintaining my autonomy. You know…the pesky little details. Sometimes life makes those decisions for you, and that temporary loss of control is exhilarating and horrifying at the same time. Perfectionist = control freak.

I cling so desperately to the idea of perfection because with that perfect life would come the illusion of stability (IT IS ALL AN ILLUSION!!!). This yearning for perfection, and as an extension my desire for stability, has made me operate from a place of fear for a very long time. I would rather be miserable with a secure source of income than take a step back (emotionally and financially), look deep inside myself to discover who I am without a job title behind my name or other people’s expectations having a predominant place in my head, discover what I am truly supposed to be doing with myself, and figure out how to make my days on this planet extraordinary and satisfying. And allllll of this added up over time gives you the glorious mess of an imperfect human being that I am today.

In my short 35 years on this planet, I have experienced a lot. I have had some amazing good times, but have also suffered some soul-snatching losses and defeats. Consistently I have been carrying guilt and pain and the burdens of imperfection for many, many years. I have measured my reality against my own expectations for my life, found myself lacking, and then consistently beat myself up emotionally for it. I fight a paralyzing fear of worthlessness on a daily basis while still being expected to show up and excel at whatever is in front of me when all I want to do is scream and cry and fade into the shadows if my star can’t shine as brightly as I feel it is meant to. And what I feel is not unique to just myself. These overwhelming feelings haunt the minds and hearts of millions of people in this country each day, but we are just now getting comfortable talking about and trying to normalize how we as humans process our emotions.

There are so many people out there fighting an all-out war on a daily basis, and their number one opponent on the battlefield is themselves. Some people think that depressed people or people suffering from anxiety are always the people who are “emo” dressed in black, sitting alone crying all the time, or who are just down-in-the-dumps. If that is all they care to understand about mental health issues, then it’s easy to ignore the symptoms in themselves or in the people they love. If a person is sad they are depressed, but if a person comes to work every day and can tell a funny joke or smile in a picture for Instagram then they are OK, right? Then they act shocked when that person takes their own life or otherwise hurts themselves with addiction or mutilation, saying things like “they were always so happy,” or “I guess you never know what’s going on with a person.” So as a parting gift for reading this post, I am going to try and post some words of wisdom for all parties so that there can be understanding, self-love, and compassion moving forward.

To my fellow perfectionists or anyone suffering from depression or anxiety my advice is the one I give myself on a daily basis: Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not being whatever you think your version of perfect or accomplished or gifted or blessed looks like, and try really hard to think of the people and experiences that bring you joy. Try and find peace there so that you can navigate around the noise in your own head and come out on the other side with a clarity and renewed sense of direction and purpose so you aren’t frozen in place forever. And speak with a professional if you aren’t comfortable speaking with close friends or family. An objective opinion is often helpful for showing you that while you are valid in not being content with where you are, you do have the power to change your circumstances. And if for some reason you cannot immediately change your circumstances, it might give you the strength to change you attitude about them. Perfectionism is the driving force of greatness! Do not apologize for having a high opinion of yourself and what you are meant to accomplish! But find peace in accepting where you are in this present moment, and use those experiences as tools to add to your arsenal so that when your time arrives you are a force of nature that cannot be stopped. Remind people why storms are named after people and leave your mark on the world in a way where people will speak about you with admiration for your talents and your compassion for others fighting the same battles that tried to take you out.

To my readers who do not suffer from mental illness I say the following: Do not dismiss the feelings of someone who is literally fighting themselves for their life simply because you do not understand the burden that they carry. It is not your job to give them “tough love” or remind them that there are people who are worse off than them in the world to try and provide perspective. That shit does NOT work, and they will close off the part of themselves that they allowed to become vulnerable until the cancer destroys them from the inside. Remind them they are loved and valuable and encourage them to follow their passions (or in my case, discover what their passions are), but then don’t follow it up with some patronizing sentiment that is really designed to make you feel better for helping them rather than actually being of any real assistance to the person in need. Remind them that where they are right now is a stepping stone that they can pick up and add to their personal or professional foundations to make themselves stronger for whatever is coming their way next. But do not make them feel weak for baring their souls to someone with whom they felt comfortable enough to let their walls down. Be kind. Encourage forgiveness of self. Love them for who they are right now, not for who you or they think they will become. And if you are truly scared for their health and safety, do not rest until you have gotten them the professional help they need. You would rather they be upset with you for a few months or years than cry over their absence if the burden got too heavy for them to carry by themselves.

Love yourself. Love each other. Tomorrow is a better day.

 

Chapter Seven – When is Karma a curse and when is your curse a blessing?

Hello CTT family! I hope everyone is gearing up to have a safe and fun Memorial Day weekend! Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the true meaning of the holiday before diving into BBQ’s and swimming pools, because we wouldn’t have what we have today if it weren’t for the sacrifices of the brave men and women of our military.

Well now that *that* has been covered, onto today’s topic at hand – when the hell is something your Karma or when is it your blessing? Can something bad that happened to you be the Karmic bitchslap of when you did someone dirty, but also turn around and become your biggest blessing?

This isn’t a long and deep post today, this was literally a thought I had this morning while cooking breakfast. They say when God closes a door that he opens a window, but is it God *and* Karma if that door actually hits you in the ass on the way out? If you are currently suffering and it’s darkest before your dawn, how does the Universe balance out lifting you back onto your feet with the rage you feel knowing someone else is delighting in your misery? Do you lessen your blessings and prolong your curse if you’re waiting for Karma to slap the taste out of their mouth too?

I have had a lot going on lately and I am sure when I have come through the other side I will share it with you all, but for now these are the questions that I need answers to at this present time.

Ok that note I hope everyone has a wonderful and safe weekend! Catch up soon!

Chapter Six – All Racists Can Catch It With Me – Period

Hello my Cheaper Than Therapy familia! It’s been a while, and you all have been missed! It’s been more than a month since my last post, but there has been so much going on lately that today I decided to stop pretending to be productive at work (I kid! I kid!), and jot down a few thoughts that have been floating around in my head for the past couple of days.

This post is going to be a bit of a departure for me – I’m not reflecting on a past trauma or imagining ways that I can inspire the masses with a “learning to love myself” soliloquy while draping myself figuratively in a giant afghan of love while holding a hot cup of comfort tea. Nope. It truly only has one meaning behind it, and there should be no room whatsoever for misunderstanding or miscommunication. I am putting all racists/sympathizers/white nationalists on notice that 2018 is the Year of the Troll. I have come to poke the bear, agitate the hive, and laugh at your cyber hissy fits with a mirth generated in my spirit by my ancestors who have come before me. Generational Petty. Ancestral Reads for the Gods. This won’t be like what the trumpsters try and do whenever their Cheeto-In-Chief tweets something godawful and they are forced to spin it and talk about what he “really meant to say.” In all truth, it will be *exactly* like what tr__p actually posts himself – exactly what I mean in the exact tone that I mean it. No muss. No fuss. No confusion.

GREAT NEWS EVERYONE! Equality has finally been achieved in 2018 y’all!! But before you get excited, understand what this equality actually means to you and possibly the people you love the most. In being an equal-opportunity troll, that means that you, your spouse, your mother, father, brother, sister, kids (yea, I’ll come for your kids), cousins, priest/pastor/bishop/deacon, Meemaw, Pawpaw, etc. are all equal in my beautiful brown eyes. Congrats! This equality comes in the form of me reading for absolute FILTH anyone who I deem to be a racist or racist sympathizer.

Due to the wonderful invention that is the Internet, I am bombarded with the absolute WORST in the people I thought I knew and loved or who I was close with growing up. I continuously see self-righteous people using false statistics (WRONG!) or political commentary laced with dog-whistle racist vernacular (FAKE NEWS!!) to make themselves feel good and justified for feeling the way that they do because they are tired of being “politically correct.” When I was growing up we just called being respectful of people who were different from us “not being an asshole,” but whatevs…#FirstAmendmentRights #WWJD

Here is a list of the people with whom I am done being “politically correct”, and to whom all of the shade available in the Amazon Rainforest will be thrown for each and every stupid, backwoods, ignorant, tone-deaf racist comment that I see come across my timeline. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, these are just the people I have encountered in the past 24-48 hours so they are fresh on my mind. I ain’t mad fam. I ain’t mad at all. I’m just done. At this point you are encouraging or living in willful ignorance, and it is not my ministry to keep being your Knee-grow interpreter. I am not going to do for you what human decency, a love of Christ, or at least a Google search can do for you. I’m done with all of that. Now I troll. Hard. And then laugh. And then block you. Got it? Ahem. The following individuals can CATCH THESE INTERNET HANDS without warning and at any time:

  • All those people who think that “such and such wouldn’t even be on the news/be a hero/ if he wasn’t A BLACK PERSON.”
  • The people who think that Chicago is the baseline for how all of Black behavior/culture should be measured. Full. Stop. You sound stupid. And racist as fcuk. There have always been resources on the ground trying to stop the violence in the affected communities, but the people doing good in the community never make the national news because Blacks uplifting other Blacks isn’t sexy television. And whenever something good just so happens to make the news, you have douchebags like the people listed in bullet point #1 who have to try and tear it all apart. #ThanksObama #ObamaWasNotThePresidentOfChicago #TrumpAbolishedMyBrothersKeeperDayOneInOffice #DoYouFeelStupidYet?
    • Question – Have y’all held town halls on how to stop angry white men from shooting up concerts/churches/schools/theaters/restaurants yet? Holla at me when you do and we can have an actual conversation, but until then STFU.
  • The people who are spewing #BlueLivesMatter (not a real thing) or #AllLivesMatter (duh! but ours are the ones currently being extinguished unjustly) all over my timeline, but never ever ever have anything to say against the homicides of unarmed people of color because “they should have complied.” How many times have the police cameras shown people in full compliance or even with their backs to the cops and they are still shot like rabid animals with absolutely no remorse. None. An unlawful arrest is just that – unlawful. And the human body will automatically tense up when being attacked, especially if you have your hands cuffed behind your back. Seriously. And just for shits, imagine the righteous indignation you would feel if you were unjustly approached by the police/kicked out of Starbucks/harassed at a golf course where you are a dang member. Try and imagine the people in these videos as being someone you love or at least the same color as someone you love. Can you honestly say that the excessive violence is always justified? Do you honestly not think that a deeper melanin hue is *not* inherently viewed as a weapon in and of itself? Are we still telling ourselves these lies to make ourselves feel better about our predisposed views on race?
  • People who move into communities of color and then want to complain about said community and call the police to impose the kind of change they wish to see. I’m looking at *you* Gentrifiers. You moved to Harlem, Linda. Washington, D.C. used to be nicknamed “Chocolate City,” Susan. There are communities of color a rich history and a proud culture all across the country, and if you want to move there and become part of the narrative then nobody will stop you. But if you come in and immediately try and change everything that made those communities beloved and unique, then you have crossed the dang line. #ThatsRacist
  • The people talking about how the Black family is falling apart, but take no responsibility for the Prison Industrial Complex, the failed and blatantly racist “War on Drugs,” the systematic imprisonment of minorities for non-violent offenses when whites would get treatment or community service, support of for-profit prisons, a lack of proper educational opportunities/facilities in minority communities, no access to feminine healthcare/birth control, etc. It is all inter-connected and we have been trying to tell you this for years…
  • To the people who start every single discussion with, “I’m not a racist, but…” You are a racist. Idiot.
  • To absolutely anyone who quotes the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to justify your ridiculously biased views on Black America. Have you guys ever even read any of his writings or listened to any of his speeches besides “I Have A Dream”? It will shake you to your core and show you that you really don’t know who he was at all.
  • To anyone with a Black friend who refuses to listen to us when we try and explain to you our daily interactions with microaggressions. What are microaggressions? They are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” How do you choose not to understand that decades of exposure to these microaggressions can be just as harmful as seeing a cross burned in your yard or being called a nigger by your friends or their family? You are a shitty friend.
  • If you, or anyone you know, still tells racist jokes and then thinks that we are “being too sensitive” when we tell you that your shit is raggedy. You are some of my least favorite humans, and my backlash will be swift and personal.
  • If you dismiss old people’s racism as being ok because Meemaw or Peepaw are old and “set in their ways.” You understand that actually makes them worse people in my eyes? How did they manage to live through all of the advancements from Civil Rights Movement and still come out on the wrong side of history 50 years later? FOH man. Eff your Meemaw and Peepaw with their old racist behinds.

Some people wonder why I go so hard online for my people, and I do not understand what is there not to understand? Why on earth would I just sit here and ignore provocative posts from people who are in my extended circle or try and use kid gloves to gently try and ease them out of their prejudiced ways? Since when did the burden fall on me and my community to make others feel better and less threatened by the ever-forward surge in demanding equality and equity and peace and respect? That ship sailed, sunk, and will never be seen or heard from again. Y’all are going to get *this* version forever and ever so either get on board or get to steppin’.

Carry on, be great, and be good to each other. Stop trying to justify viewpoints that reduce a strong and proud people to the images which are portrayed in the media simply to make yourselves feel morally or culturally superior. I’ll be forced to bitch-slap you with some real history lessons (you know, the ones they don’t teach in school because history is written by the conquerors), and then I will troll you until your eyeball starts to twitch and your mouth goes dry from cursing me out through your computer. And I won’t give a single, solitary, curly-haired fcuk about it. Peace out, racial intolerant MOFOs. Your antiquated mentalities might have gotten this train-wreck of a “president” elected in a wave of post-Obama blacklash, but its time has passed and we are going to move forward together as a progressive nation whether you like it or not.

**sets off fireworks in the colors of the Pan-African flag while throwing up the “X” for Wakanda and singing “Left Every Voice And Sing aka the Black National Anthem**

Chapter Five – What do you say when you feel you have nothing to say…

It’s been a couple of months since I last logged into my Cheaper Than Therapy blog, and that’s because honestly and truly I felt I didn’t have anything to talk about. Of course there were things going on in my life – some meaningful, some benign, some random nonsense that i thought was funny – I just did not feel that it would matter to anyone else but me. I called it Writer’s Block, but it was more paralyzing than that. It was the sincere feeling that nothing I wanted to discuss was important at all. Period. I mean, not every post is going to be profound and deeply introspective. Sometimes I just wanted to log in, write some stuff, then go on with my day. But then I would feel guilty at the idea of wasting everyone’s time reading my nonsensical dribble or for using the blog as a personal site to vent my frustrations, so I would do nothing. Write nothing. Create nothing.

I would sit at home staring at my laptop closed on my dining room table, and then pour myself another class of Cabernet and absorb the latest news cycle with a tightness in my chest. I would sit and brood over future uncertainties, both personal and professional, and have to do deep breathing exercises to stop my anxiety attacks before they took over my entire body. I would suffer from migraines and spend my evenings or days off on the couch in the dark not really sure how to stop them from happening in the first place and freaking out about the frequency of my headaches. And after about a month or so of forgiving myself out of my weekly posts and suffering from the physical manifestations of inward psychological torment, it occurred to me that maybe I don’t *not* have anything to say after all.  That maybe I was feeling a little bit bluer than what could be considered ‘normal’ and I was slipping into a full-on depressive episode coupled with crippling anxiety attacks. That maybe I should try and get some help to snap out of it before I become paralyzed in other areas of my life and it becomes even harder to pull myself out of the darkness. I needed to see my general practitioner and I needed to speak with my therapist. Immediately.

Mental health is a very hot-button topic today, but in the Black community there is still a heavy stigma and shame surrounding the matter. We expect more from ourselves, from our psyche, than we should and it is not fair for us to do so. We put so much pressure on ourselves to always have our shyt together, and then beat the hell out of ourselves and each other when the facade slips. When the person behind the curtain peeks their head out, and we are faced with our own shortcomings or those of someone we know. It makes us uncomfortable as fcuk and nobody likes to feel uncomfortable.

I have suffered from anxiety ever since I was around four years old and it is physically and emotionally exhausting to deal with on a daily basis. I don’t feel like I should have to hide that part of myself all the time just to pretend that there aren’t days where I feel like I am falling apart. To make myself or someone else more comfortable with my faux perverted and distorted image of reality. My anxiety attacks as a child used to give me stomach pains, migraines, vivid nightmares, and a feeling of hopelessness that no child or adult should ever have to endure. Now as an adult it still does all of the above to me, but now you can throw in being anxious about going out to certain places or with certain people, not succeeding to my standards in my career, never getting married, never having children, not being sure if I even want children, where will I live in the next 12 months, etc. I do not typically call my friends or family during these episodes because I don’t want to drag them into my negativity shit-show, and I have always reacted very negatively when someone tried to tell me ‘everything is going to be alright’ when there is no way to fcuking know that for sure (sorry Mommy…). I have been experiencing all the fun of the anxiety from my youth, but now with fun adult-sized problems and consequences. Whoop! Whoop!!

Now take that anxiety, top it with just a dollop of mild depression for good measure, and you have the headspace in which I have been existing over these past few months. I tried seeing my psychologist, but he couldn’t squeeze me in on a day when I was feeling particularly anxious so I don’t think I will be going back to him. He answers his phone in session anyway, and I deserve more than that for my copay of $70 for 50 minutes. I tried making an appointment with a psychiatrist after my primary care physician suggested that I might need mild anti-anxiety meds so that I stop putting so much pressure on my heart, but the doctor he recommended does not take insurance and told me that psychiatry in Miami is mostly a cash-only business. I have no cash and lost my motivation to research the matter for myself any further, so I never got the help that I really needed. All the while I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into my anxiety hole, but did not feel like there was anyone who could help me other than myself so I said nothing. I did nothing. I wrote nothing.

I still feel that way today, but I am attempting to pull myself out of whatever headspace I have been occupying by my own self-determination. I am one of the lucky ones who can do that. I am not a danger to myself or others, I can still function normally on a day-to-day basis without medication, and I have a strong support system for the times that I choose to reach out for help. My asking for help never sounds like asking for help, but those who know me really *know* me, and always make time for their friend when called on.

There might be someone reading this now who feels the way I have felt. The way I am feeling right now. I am really not great at pep talks, but I will say that allowing yourself to slip deeper and deeper into your anxiety or depression will not make anything better. Your problems tend to magnify the longer you focus on them and can paralyze you into inaction where you look up and months have gone by without anything getting resolved. Each day is precious – we have no time to waste making sure that we are emotionally and psychologically healthy and fit to take on the challenges life throws our way.

I offer no advice or parting words of wisdom on this post. I named this blog Cheaper Than Therapy because I was hoping that somehow sharing my insecurities and shortcomings and traumas through writing would reap the same benefits as visiting a mental health professional. There are days where that is more true than not, and other days where I am almost embarrassed by the hubris of it all. Sometimes talking to someone with a bunch of letters after their name is EXACTLY what you need, and if that is your truth then you should never feel one moment of shame about it. Other days allowing your friends to bear witness to your vulnerability will help remind you of how strong you really are, and give you a safe place to not have to be strong if only for a moment. And that is fine too.

Do what you need to do to be ok. Never apologize for needing time to yourself. My dear friend told me just yesterday that it is imperative that I put MYSELF first in whatever I do, or I will have nothing to give anyone else when called upon to do so. This is advice I will take immediately, as it is also advice that I give other friends of mine fighting similar battles as myself. Taking the advice that you know you should take can be one of the hardest things you do, but do it anyway. Like the old adage says, “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who do mind don’t matter.” I believe that was from Dr. Seuss. Very smart man indeed.

And once you recognize that you are spiraling down a dark path, forgive yourself for failing at pretending to be normal (there is no such thing) and then allow yourself to move through your feelings. Recognize what is real and what is a manifestation of your anxiety/depression. Confront it, don’t hide from it! Put action behind actionable items, and let go of the shyt you can’t do anything about. Recognize your triggers and try avoiding them if possible. Let your friends and/or family members know what is going on with you, but only when or if you think they will be a source of support and strength during your darker days. Try and eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water. This is just good advice period, but when you’re busy freaking out about everything else at least you don’t have to feel guilty for eating a gazillion calories in the process. And know that it will pass. It always does. And that should give you just a moment of peace in the midst of your storm.

Cheers.

 

Chapter Five: Black and White-ish

It seems like everywhere you turn these days there’s another male politician/actor/entrepreneur/singer/journalist being accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Some people are surprised by the names coming out of the darkness. Some people are screaming that due process hasn’t been done before these men of power lose their jobs. Others are, of course, attempting to impugn the characters of women who have come forward, especially if they felt their grievances haven’t been aired in a timely-enough manner. Besides waking up every day to see if this sham of a president has started World War Z yet, we all flock to Facebook or whatever ‘news’ source we rely on in the morning while in the bathroom to see who else went down in flames overnight. Who else are we boycotting/trolling/mad at today? What did he do? Who did he do it to? How long ago was it done? Do we try and counter the not-so-good from the past with the good works they’ve done since then? And do I really have to sort through all of these emotions before I have had my first cup of coffee?

I also see people getting taken apart for saying harassment and assault fall along a spectrum, and that you shouldn’t necessarily lump one group of men with the other. People who are rapists or who have exposed themselves to women in the workplace aren’t the same as the guy who grabs your hand walking down the street to get your attention or who makes a gross comment about the sway of your hips as you walk past him on the sidewalk. People come out with pitchforks whenever they hear this comment made! If a man says it, then he is complicit. If a woman says it, she’s a femi-nazi or self-loathing or something else altogether. My counter to that argument from the woman’s perspective, is that she herself has likely been harassed and/or assaulted and has compartmentalized these experiences into their own little boxes of misery. She has put her entire life’s worth of being made to feel powerless in one way or another on her own sliding scale of gross behavior so that she is able to push forward and continue with the business of living her own life. Not letting what happened to her keep her from being successful both emotionally and financially, whilst also burying deep in the back of her mind the knowledge that with each passing day she loses any credibility if she chooses to bring her assailants to justice – if she even knew his name in the first place. She is aware that people will think that if she speaks up at work against the Water Cooler Flirt, people will think she is being too emotional and that they can’t even speak to her without offending her and making her run to HR. That she only thought his comments were inappropriate because she wasn’t attracted to him, but if it had been Copy Room Dude instead of Water Cooler Flirt she would have blushed like a little school girl virgin and loved the attention. I’ve recently seen talking heads on cable news saying that all of these complaints are ruining company Christmas parties, and grown men as asking if they can even say someone looks nice or is wearing a pretty outfit without it causing a complete scandal in the office. Will telling Susan you like her new haircut lead to Ted losing his job? Stay tuned for next week’s episode of “Can You Seriously Not Tell The Difference Between Harassment and a Compliment?” for the answer!

Now. By this point in my post you’ve probably formed an opinion about why I feel the way I do. You either agree with me or are perched atop your moral high horse (who is black and white in color), and you feel justified in thinking about just how WRONG I am on this subject. You cannot fathom how I could think that sexual assault and harassment can be, and sometimes must be, looked at on a sliding scale of unacceptable, and you probably feel good about that opinion. You have decided I am either seriously misguided or a self-loathing, pick me, these-women-should-have-said-something-sooner person. You’ve decided I am not mad enough at the men who are being accused, and feel that because I have given any room for grey space at all that I am essentially victim-blaming, even without saying the actual words. For me, very few things in life are black and white, and I say there are degrees of unacceptable behavior that must be addressed and reacted to accordingly. I shall provide examples for people who are sitting there reading with a furrowed brow already forming their responses to how wrong my views are on this matter. To them, I say to indulge me a bit while I walk you through some of the most painful parts of my life, and if you still don’t understand where I am coming from…well I honestly don’t care if you understand where I am coming from because my views on this as a survivor are pretty set in stone for my own self-preservation.

I am, and will always self-identify as a survivor of sexual assault. I am also a woman who endures sexual harassment on an almost daily basis from complete strangers who feel entitled to my body and my time. Given that I am both of these things at the same time, and I definitely was affected on a greater level by my assault rather than any subsequent harassment I faced, I rank my personal traumas on a sliding scale. I have to wake up every day remembering what happened to me, and live with the idea that instead of calling the police or  fighting back, my dignity got dismantled right in front of my face and I did nothing to stop it. Let’s share some examples, shall we?

I went home with a friend from college for the weekend during my freshman year of school. I remember my mom telling me stories of the fun she had going home with friends during college, and I was so proud of myself for getting on that train to Baltimore that day. I am a nervous person by nature and going so far from school felt like such an adult thing to do since even in college I would call my parents and tell them where I was going and who I was with, just in case I came up missing in DC. That city scared me up until the day I left it, and I haven’t been back to Baltimore at all since this incident. But I digress…After arriving in Baltimore, the plan for the evening was to go hang out at her friend’s house. That was cool with me since I was never a person who enjoyed clubs, and I envisioned sitting around with wine and conversation just like when my friends and I would hang out. I could never have imagined how different my life would become after that night. How different I, myself, would become.

Instead of a group of her friends hanging out at home, we went to some guy’s house who she was sleeping with and he had a roommate. It was weird, like being set up for a blind date and not knowing it was happening, but I tried to be cool about the situation like I hang out in strange men’s homes all the time. No big deal…all the while I sat there stiff as a board because if this had been a date I already knew this guy wouldn’t be anyone I would be interested in. He had just recently gotten out of jail, seemed more than a little rough around the edges for my personal taste, and something about his energy seemed…off. I was not comfortable being around him because I think he thought I had been brought there *for* him, and that was clearly not the case.

We sat around talking and I was watching the clock getting more and more over the situation with each passing minute. Just when I was hoping we would be leaving soon, my friend and her dude disappeared into the back room and the music was turned on. Clearly I knew I was stuck there for a while. This was before Uber and I didn’t know where I was to call a cab and leave, so I sat there and waited.

The guy could tell I was nervous, and told me not to worry. That we were just going to chill and watch some TV until our friends were done, and that I didn’t need to be in the corner sitting stiff as a board. He offered to bring me something to drink, and I naively accepted. I asked for water and he brought me wine. I was thirsty and my mouth was so dry that I took a sip. One sip was all it took for me to know he had put something in it. I kept pretending to drink to throw him off, and all the while I noticed the movie on the TV had been replaced with a porno where the actress had a similar shape and skin color as myself. I also noticed in between blinks which were lasting longer and longer that we were no longer the only two people in the room. He had called over a group of his friends, and they were all standing over me. I never took more than one sip of the drugged drink, so I didn’t black out, but I was definitely not coherent and I was also paralyzed by fear. The man are all watching the porno and talking to me about doing to me what they saw the woman doing on screen, and I kept trying to find my voice to scream for my friend in the back. Neither my voice nor my legs would work. It was at that point when I was surrounded on all sides of the bar stool I was sitting on, the stool was picked up with me on it, and I realized I was being carried off to the other bedroom. I had to think fast. When we got near the bathroom I pretended I was going to vomit and rolled off the chair. I locked the door just in time, but the group of men were trying to beat the door down. I made violent vomiting sounds to throw them off and ran the shower to drown out the phone call I made to my cousin Craig for help. I had my phone tucked in my bra, but even after calling him I couldn’t tell him where I was or how to come find me. I was helpless and alone and terrified.

The pounding at the door stopped, and eventually the roommate opened the door by picking the lock. I was on the floor by the toilet, curled up in a ball crying, and he suddenly became kind again. I knew it was an act and I played along because I didn’t know the angle, but I was still trapped in the bathroom. He told me it was safe to come out, that he sent his friends away, and that he was sorry if they scared me. I tried yelling for my friend again, but the music was just too loud for her to hear me and I wasn’t getting past this guy to bang on the door. I looked at the front door, but I had never been in an area like this before and somehow being outside was more terrifying than staying inside because of the trees, darkness, and isolation.

It was in this moment where the friend laid his cards on the table and gave me the kind of choice I pray nobody reading this ever has to make in their lives. As a ‘thank you’ for not letting his group of friends run a train on me, he was expecting me to show him some gratitude for being such an upstanding guy. And I got to choose how I thanked him. I could thank him with my mouth or I could thank him with what was between my legs. But he made it very clear that gratitude would be shown or those men would be called back over. So I made my decision, was stripped naked by a man for the first time in my life, and lost a little bit of myself that I’ll never get back that night. It was the single most horrific evening in my life, and my very first sexual encounter of any kind. I put that experience in a box and buried it. I told my friend what happened, she confronted him, he denied it, she believed him, friendship over. She even gave him my number so he could check up on me and ask if I wanted to see him again. I hate her to this day. I feel like I hate her more than I hate him, but even as I write these words I have a hard time articulating why that is. All of these emotions and memories live in a box at one end of my spectrum.

After I take the brief moment every single day to relive one of the most horrific instances of my life, I then have to prepare myself to have fortitude against every single man I will encounter that day who will touch me without asking, make lewd comments about the shape of my posterior and what they imagine they could do with it, or demand I give them my number even after I tell them I’m involved with someone.

I have to prepare for any rejection I give to be met with violence, because I have endured violence in the past. I have been followed down the street being screamed at by a man I would not speak to while walking alone. I have had a man drive in reverse down a one-way street to try and get my number, then when I told him I wasn’t interest he threw a glass bottle at me, called me ‘fat’, then drove off as I stood there in complete shock of how close that bottle came to breaking the front of my face. Elevators? I want to stand in a back corner so that wandering hands don’t touch my behind and then get blamed on it being crowded. Construction sites? Terrifying. The gas station? I’ve been getting proposed to at the pump since I was 12 years old. Men can be so goddamn disgusting towards little children, it makes my stomach turn.

In addition to daily, run-of-the-mill harassment, I have been violated by people with whom I shared an intimate relationship. I have had partners lie about putting on a condom. I have had partners pull the condom off during sex. These are both instances of rape. In that very moment the act becomes non-consensual if I never agreed to having sex without protection, but who has ever gone to the police with this complaint? I just recently learned they even gave this behavior a cute little name – Stealthing. Sounds like something a superhero would do or a private detective, not a person who just exposed your body to STI’s and an unwanted pregnancy just so he can enjoy the moment more without a latex barrier.

Even a man I had been dating for months allowed friends of his to drug me at his house and take pictures and videos of me in various stages of undress. I was then blamed for not being able to hold my liquor and acting out of control around his friends. I can only pray nothing else happened while I was blacked out because I have many hours that I cannot account for from that night. I found out the truth a few weeks later because his roommate let slip at dinner that they had intentionally gotten me intoxicated and doped up as part of a hazing process to join their friendship group. And he was so bold that he admitted this while we were having dinner with my mother present. I didn’t say anything. I did not confront either my boyfriend or his roommate in that moment. I just stopped eating, gathered my mother who was holding her knife like she was about to do some serious jail time if I didn’t get her out of there immediately, and I left. Sadly, just as in college, I did not report him to the police because I was embarrassed and knew I couldn’t prove what happened all those many weeks later. Plus he was well-respected and admired in the community, and I knew it would be my word against his. I just froze the memory, put it away as a lesson learned, and kept moving forward. Again. I wish that I hadn’t, but I did, and now for me it is too late to say anything.

The perversion of Rape Culture is that it does not only extend to outward manifestations of violence towards women. And in this area, there are none who are without blame. We all have to own the mess we’ve created. We must own every ‘boys will be boy’ comment that took personal responsibility from the child for his bad behavior because those lessons and exceptions have followed him into adulthood. For every time we made not being raped the responsibility of the woman and not the man, we as a society must own it. For every time a woman felt she had to lie about having a man or being gay or anything else besides simply not wanting to give a random stranger her phone number, we must own that. Teaching little girls that little boys hit them or are cruel to them because they have a crush. Not teaching little boys how to communicate feelings and intentions with genuine emotions and not simply forgiving their hyper-aggression towards women because ‘boys don’t cry’. By being told we are being ‘too sensitive’ if we actually *do* speak up about behavior we found offensive, especially in the workplace. By allowing ourselves to be slut-shamed for not being a virgin or for dating multiple people at a time. By feeling that we owe anyone an explanation for our bedroom behavior so that we aren’t viewed as a whore. By allowing any dialogue at all that does not cement the phrase ‘NO MEANS NO’ and the fear of prosecution, persecution, and penalization into the minds of each and every man and woman out there to make it known that the days of victims fading quietly into the background are done. Until we made pedophilia as much a deplorable crime to some people as being homosexual or wearing a mini-skirt at a bar on a Saturday night (I’m looking at YOU, Alabama). Until we make it where women and men feel empowered to speak up, come out of the shadows, ruin the lives of those who ruined theirs, and make society itself a caustic and hostile environment for these behaviors, we must all sit back and allow the victims to come forward with their stories. And we must allow them to put their trauma on whatever scale they need it to be on to help them cope and live their lives with the dignity they deserve.

I will continue to keep certain actions compartmentalized and view assault on a gradient because that is *my* coping mechanism. I am deeply affected by it all, but the pervert who got handsy in the elevator isn’t the same monster who raped me. He could be that monster to someone else, but I cannot take responsibility for every hypothetical worst-case scenario out there or I will lose my mind. While I agree that embarrassment and punishment should happen to anyone who abused their authority to dehumanize a female colleague, I just can’t put a cat-caller and date rapist in the same category. I cannot say the person who took a stupid and vulgar picture pretending to grab a woman’s breasts is the same as the person who took a drunk girl into the alley and raped her behind a dumpster. I cannot punish the douche-bag boss who said I looked ‘exotic’ the same way that someone should be punished for exposing themselves and ejaculating in front of a subordinate as a show of force. Those men are different to me. They could be monsters to someone else, and everyone else will compartmentalize these behaviors differently based on their experiences, but for me they are not the same.

We are all responsible. We are responsible for the men being raised feeling entitled to a woman’s time and body. We are responsible for the women who forgive and ignore it. And we are responsible for media and entertainment that project women’s bodies as being used at the discretion of whoever can overpower her mentally or physically. We are all responsible. And we should also acknowledge that everyone’s trauma will feel different to someone else. That people who react on a sliding scale of awful aren’t trying to be complacent and aren’t condoning the behavior, but we are saving our reserves of outrage for the charges that most reflect the worst moments in our lives. Trauma is not black and white. People are not black and white. Life is not black and white. Therefore my personal logic dictates that outrage cannot be black and white either. And it isn’t. And my views on this will remain unchanged forever, or until the parts of me that have been broken and damaged are made clean and whole again.

Chapter Four – Homeless As Fcuk, Rooted In Myself

I was raised in a small southern suburb of Dallas, TX. I grew up in a home with my two parents, my younger brother, and my puppy Cocoa. We were as close to The Cosby Show as a family could get – both parents were educated professionals, we lived in nice homes in nice neighborhoods, my dad golfed, and my mom was a member of various organizations and never missed a school activity. As for myself personally, I got good grades, was student council president, an honor student, danced with the drill team, had a lot of friends, and never got into ANY trouble. I traveled, attended charm school, loved to read and write, and was about as sheltered as any child could possibly be growing up. I never saw real poverty, was protected from death and illness until I was older, was never physically abused, had my own phone line in my own room, and I was happy. I had a very, very happy childhood. Not perfect – but happy. And through all of my happiness growing up in a small city in Texas, I had always dreamed of going to college in Los Angeles to be near my father’s side of the family and where I was always super happy. My father assured me that he had the power to bestow upon me dual citizenship as an official Angeleno since he, himself, was from the City of Angels, and that was what I always wanted. I was a Texan, but had always been in love with LA. I was going to attend UCLA where my aunt was a professor, spend time with my cousins, go to the beach all of the time, hug a palm tree, and just live the Golden Life. I was on a path. It made sense. It was safe with just a dash of daring, but nothing too crazy because my family in LA would make sure I was ok being so far from my safe little suburb and my parent’s protection. And then I walked through the doors of my high school the first day of my junior year and had a complete and total breakdown. There was no way in HELL I was leaving Dallas, never mind leaving Texas! I couldn’t move away! My entire life was in Texas. My family was there, all of my friends were applying to schools in-state, and I didn’t want to leave the only life I had ever known. Not even to fulfill my love affair with the West Coast. I just wasn’t having it. I immediately decided I was going to school in-state, and in my mind there was nothing else to think about. Texas has some great schools, and I would go to the best one I could and get a scholarship and be near my family and friends. Like high school part two. Duncanville continued. Nice and safe and familiar. My mind had been made up.

I made good grades, did well on my standardized and advanced placement exams, and then put together a list of the top schools I was going to apply to. There was Southern Methodist University at the top of the list since that’s where my best friend Genny was applying, The University of Houston because that’s where my *other* best friend Kellye was applying, and some other schools that have escaped my memory so far removed at this point. But I was accepted to all of them and I had never been happier in my life! I decided I would attend SMU, and my bestie and I started plotting on how to become roommates and daydreaming about all of the fun we would have together! I wore SMU t-shirts, SMU flip flops, would go to North Dallas to visit campus and daydream about what a charmed university experience I was about to have. I was over-the-moon excited! I was going to be a Mustang!! And then my father put the application for Howard University on my desk, said to fill it out because I had already missed the early application deadline, and I needed to make sure I could secure a spot for their Fall 2001 class with financial aid. I looked at him like he had lost his mind. Totally and completely lost his mind. There was no way I was going to Howard University. In Washington, DC?! I would rather have thrown myself onto a fire ant pile covered in honey than move to DC. Never mind the fact that I didn’t want to leave Texas, you wanted me to head in the opposite direction of my second love, Los Angeles? Nope. That wasn’t going to happen. So I threw the application in the garbage as soon as he left my room, and began to put the unpleasant memory out of my head as I started daydreaming about attending SMU the next year. My father, however, was hip to my shenanigans, and after three more failed attempts to get me to fill it out on my own I was made to fill it out under duress. I filled out my application to Howard University with him standing over my shoulders to make sure I didn’t toss it away again like I had the first few copies. When I asked him through tears why he was making me apply to a school that I was hands down not ever going to attend, he looked me dead in my face and said that I needed to leave Texas and experience the real world. That no daughter of his was getting stuck as a “Texan” if he could help it, and that as proud of me as he was for getting into the other schools the only option was Howard because that’s where his money was going to go. And I completely lost my shyt.

See, even though he lived in Texas for roughly thirty years, the state and people in it never quite grew on him. From what I have always been told, he and my mom only settled there after getting married because my mom’s dad was sick and she wanted to spend time with him before he died.  If that hadn’t been the case, my brother and I would have been raised in Southern California where my father was convinced everything made a lot more sense. He had good friends in Texas and a lucrative career, but something about the idea of Texas exceptionalism, Evangelicalism, and covert racism disguised through the smiles of neighbors and law enforcement really bothered him. He wanted me to live in another part of the country and attend an HBCU to learn that there was more to life than what was in the Lone Star State…and I hated him for it. And that hatred intensified when I was accepted to Howard University and given a full academic scholarship because I knew there was no going back. There was no denying my father as I didn’t come up in a family where you told your parents what you were or were not going to do, and the decision of what college I attended was no different. I was going where I was told to go, and that was the end of that. My fathers words kept bouncing around in my head about not wanting his daughter to be a “Texan” and how he wasn’t raising me to be one. I didn’t know what that meant or what the big deal was. Of COURSE I was a Texan! It was the only home I had ever known, and now I was being forced to leave and move to a big city far from my family and friends without any consideration of my wants or feelings. I had one cousin at Howard already, but it was of little comfort since he and I weren’t terribly close at that time. That last summer when I was at home, he and I barely spoke to each other and when we did speak it always devolved into a screaming match. I even opened my mouth and told my father that I hated him. And I meant it and he knew it. The morning that I we were leaving for DC, my father came into my bathroom while I was getting ready, pulled me into his arms, told me how he had cried like a bitch the night before thinking about how his daughter was growing up and leaving, and how proud he was of me. I stood there with my arms by my side and wouldn’t even hug him back. I wouldn’t even look at him. He told me one day I would understand why he was doing what he felt he had to do, and then he turned and left.

Fast-forwarding through my Howard years (saving for future posts) and arriving at the summer after graduation, I remember sitting down with my dad and telling him that I finally understood why I needed to leave.  The skills acquired and life lessons learned while at Howard prepared me to take on absolutely anything that came my way, and I cannot say that I would be so well-rounded or resilient if I had gone to school an hour away from home in a city that was still very homogenous in its beliefs and culture. I had agreed to move home for a year before starting either law school or grad school, and I was already itching to leave. Nothing shows you just how different Texas is from the rest of the world like living somewhere else for four years and then coming home. I was home, but not really. Everything was familiar but so very different. I was different. Nothing felt like it used to anymore and I could not wait to make my next moves. I owed my father a debt of gratitude for forcing me out of my comfort zone, and I remember sitting with my daddy that summer and telling him so. I thanked him and told him that as much as I hated to admit it, he was right. He usually was about most things, and I told him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for him forcing his hand all those years ago.

I said goodbye to my father – my hero and biggest champion of my excellence – the August after graduation. His death completely devastated me. I would never be whole again, but he trusted me to hold it together and keep the family moving forward so that was what I tried to do. But I also had a promise to keep to him, so by the next Fall I was sitting in a law school classroom in Los Angeles trying to fulfill my end of the last bargain we struck with each other. I was in my favorite city, the birthplace of my father, getting the law degree he always wanted me to have, and spending time with the Left Coast part of my family. I had finally arrived! I was sad he wasn’t there to see it, but I was convinced I was finally walking in my purpose and I wasn’t going to let my father down. But the funny thing about keeping promises to other people that aren’t what you actually want for yourself is that at some point everything all comes crashing down. I had a near nervous breakdown and withdrew from school just a few days before I had to register for my 2L year courses. Took a sabbatical to be more accurate. I had never wanted to go to law school (another ‘Father Knows Best’ mandate), and I absolutely had not given myself the chance to mourn or heal after my father died, so I was in an emotional tailspin. I was heading down hard and fast with a bottle of vodka in one hand and a Long Island Iced Tea in the other, and if I hit the bottom I wasn’t sure if I would recover. I knew I couldn’t stay in school and I knew I couldn’t afford to stay in LA, but the idea of moving back to Texas caused me to come completely undone. I couldn’t go back. I wouldn’t go back! My father fought to get me out after resigning himself to the fact that he was destined to live and die in the place he hated the most, and if I was going to leave law school then the LEAST I could do was to not go back to Dallas.

I ended up in New Jersey for the next six years. Not sure if that was what he would have wanted, but living in NJ and working in NYC provided me with invaluable experiences and memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. And at the time it felt like I was honoring my father by not coming back to Texas, no matter how many obstacles I faced over the years. I stuck through it, overcame more than my fair share of shyt and economic hardships, and then BAM!! I landed in Miami, FL after being relocated for work! I had finally arrived!! I loved Miami and had wanted to live there for years, so finally getting to move to where I really wanted to live made me feel like I was making real gains in my life – both personally and professionally. If I couldn’t live in LA, then Miami was a close second and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be here!

I rarely went to Texas to see friends or family over the years, and I always said it was because I was busy working or didn’t want to leave my dog, Dallas. (And yes. My dog’s name is Dallas. I totally get the irony that I named him after the one place I swore I would never return to, but that is neither here nor there). Going home always gave me an uneasy feeling. Everything was familiar and easy when I went home, but I was always ready to leave after a week and get back to my spicy latinos and cultured Caribbeans and away from what I still felt was a truly homogenous and conservative environment. Whenever I WOULD go home, I would walk around with a head full of naturally kinky/curly hair, my militancy and Black Nationalist ideas coming out of my pores and glistening on the surface of my skin like the blessings of my ancestors, and I would not tone myself down to make people comfortable just because I was outnumbered and most assuredly outgunned. I wanted to shake people up and make them uncomfortable – to show them that there are those of us who leave Texas and have the veil lifted off of our eyes. We knew that even though everyone is nice and polite to your face, that Texas has a severe cultural rot festering beneath the gleaming facade of the state motto “Be Friendly,” and those of us who knew it was there would call it out and expose it at any cost. This mentality still terrifies my mother to this day, as she is always telling me to be careful so I don’t offend the ‘wrong person’ and end up hurt. To which I reply to her that “they” can’t kill us all, and I won’t be silent just to allow certain people’s false ideals of superiority to be perpetuated just so I don’t end up hurt. This back-and-forth always drove home the point that I could never live there again. Ever. I was just too different now. I was too awake. Too educated. Too true to myself to allow Texas to “Texas-fy” me into the submissive state in which I had been raised. I was just not a “Texan” anymore, and every time that plane took off heading back East, I was comforted that I was in the right place for me culturally and socially because I didn’t have to be less of myself to be safe and accepted and celebrated. I missed my family, but had found myself and that was worth so much more.

Which brings me to today. As I sit here on my sofa in Miami with the sun shining, palm trees swaying, and my dog resting by me feet, I am giving serious consideration to moving home. Back to Texas. Turns out my dream city has over time turned itself into a nightmare, and I find myself longing for the simplistic nature of North Texas. The overall cost of living is a LOT cheaper, the jobs are plentiful, and even though you’re sure your neighbors vote against your best interests in every election as least they’re friendly and polite. A place where I assume everyone is racist until proven otherwise, but where a thick accent, well-timed “Yes ma’am”, and a ‘bless your heart’ will legitimately solve 90% of the issues you face on a daily basis. A place with queso and cowboy hats. The best BBQ in the country and where Whataburger is king. The only problem is that the idea of moving back makes me physically ill. I feel like if I move back, or even worse if I end up staying there permanently, that I would have let my father down. Like I would have failed him. After breaking my promise to become a lawyer, the promise that I would never become a “Texan” seemed like one that I could keep because home isn’t home anymore. It stopped feeling like home while I was away at college, and Texas became Public Enemy #1 to me as soon as my father left this plane of existence. Texas just isn’t home without him there to complain about it. Leaving Texas was the last great battle that he had, and it took him dying to win it…well actually his fight endures because he was cremated and my mom still has his ashes. So even in death he hasn’t been able to physically escape the place he hated, but at least his soul is free. So what does that say if I willingly choose to go back, especially after I have fought so damn hard to stay as far away as possible for as long as possible?

It says that I am my father’s daughter after all, and I have been instilled with the ability to make the difficult decisions to achieve a desired outcome further down the road. The foundation of making me the type of woman I am meant to become has already been poured and set, and the framework for the house that holds my most basic and fundamental personality traits and belief systems has been raised. The hard work began in Duncanville, TX while growing up, was refined on the campus of Howard University from 2001-2005, and the work will never actually be completed because every major life event or transition will add a brick or apply a layer of paint to the exterior as the House of Ashley continues to grow upward, outward, and inward. I am now strong enough to be an “Ashley” in a sea of “Texans” and thrive. I thrive everywhere I go, and Texas will be no different if I decide to make the sojourn back up north. In Miami all major roads lead north, and from the way I have been feeling lately I have gone about as far south as a person can go before they end up upside down. Home will never be home again, but maybe I can create Home 2.0 or Home The Rexim and figure out the next steps in my life with my family and childhood friends by my side. Maybe I can move back to Dallas to regroup and refocus without it being seen as a failure or like I am spitting on my father’s wishes. Surely my father, who only wanted the best for me, would not judge me harshly if I make my way home for a better standard of living and to spend quality time with the only parent I have left? Doubtless he would trust that any children I might have will possess that same fiery rebellious spirit in them that I have now, and that they won’t be raised as “sheeple” and perpetuating a lot of the negative stereotypes associated with my home state? These are thoughts that have kept me awake at night. But if I am being honest, at this point I am no longer keeping promises to ghosts. They’re not here to clean up from the fallout, and as much as his opinion has always meant to me, from now on I do what is best for me alone.

I grew up in Texas, have lived in California, New Jersey, and Florida, and am thinking about going back to where it all started. But it still doesn’t feel like home. Still doesn’t feel like it fits. I am a woman in search of stability in a sea of uncertainty – of a future that isn’t bleak and exhausting. I yearn for simplicity and it might be possible that Texas is my route along the road to my next stop. To my forever home. It is said that you can never go home again, and I find that to be true. Texas is not my home any longer, but it may very well be a necessary stop along my path to the next great opportunity. I don’t care which ZIP code is attached to that endeavor as long as I am successful. I have a lot to prove to myself and to my father, but no matter what I chose and no matter where my journey takes me, my father can rest easy knowing that he did his job making sure I came out as well-rounded and multi-faceted as possible. He made sure to raise a citizen of the world, so no matter where I next plant my feet and raise my flag a part of him lives on. The woman I am now will not be easily influences or swayed back to the girl she was when she first left home. My home is inside of my spirit, so whenever I go I will always be home and my father will always be with me. One fist in the air, making the status quo uncomfortable, and being a voice of rebellion and sedition so that the veil of friendliness and Evangelical Christianity and unfounded exceptionalism comes tumbling down and people have to face their hypocrisy. That was his gift to me, and no matter what state I live in that gift will always be with me. That gift is my home.

Chapter Three – Wedding Revelations

Last weekend I was honored to stand next to my oldest friend in the world as Co-Maid of Honor at her wedding. She was a beautiful bride, and happiness was radiating off of her in waves because she had found the man with whom she wanted to start a family. I had been asked to stand with her as she took her vows before family and God, and it will always be a memory that I treasure. However, as happy as I was for her to be marrying the love of her life, I initially wasn’t terribly excited about attending the ceremony. It wasn’t personal against her or her fiancé, but over the years I had somehow convinced myself that I did not like weddings. Marriages? All about them. But a wedding? The ceremony itself? Nah. Hard pass dude. Public displays of affection and emotion make me very uncomfortable, and I thought that they were just a giant waste of money – the ultimate scam that played off of people’s sentiments and conned them into paying for crap they didn’t need to impress people who didn’t matter. Not only did I not want to attend other people’s weddings, I was 100% sure that I never wanted one for myself if the opportunity ever presented itself. The fuss over the dress, the flowers, the venue, the guest list, the wedding party?!? It all seemed to be a waste of energy and money, and a surefire way to start your new life together in debt and exhausted. Plus, the way my anxiety is set up I can promise that at some point I would have had a complete breakdown and contemplated calling the wedding off or just eloping. I had convinced myself that I wanted no part of this ridiculous tradition, and because of my own feelings I was finding it hard to get excited to attend and participate in the happiest day of my friend’s life.

Well it turns out that I was lying to myself and did not know it until I was standing up at the alter during the wedding rehearsal. Watching my best friend and her then-fiance in front of the priest together, seeing the intimate smiles and glances they shared with each other, the excitement from both families about the union and path forward as an extended family, I felt a tugging deep down inside of myself that I thought was dead and buried a long time ago. That tugging sensation worked its way up from the pit of my stomach, came crawling up my chest and into the back of my throat, and almost came tumbling out of the corners of my eyes before I was able to snap out of my trance. I didn’t know what had come over me until I watched my friend and her dad take their first rehearsal steps down the aisle together. Then the realization hit me like a ton of bricks and almost knocked me clean off of my feet. I don’t dislike weddings at all. I had simply convinced myself that I didn’t want any of these things back when my father died twelve years ago. The truth of the matter was that ever since I was a child I had always wanted an intimate, quiet, romantic wedding surrounded by only my closest friends and family. I wanted to get married in a beautiful champagne-colored dress bathed in candlelight and the warmth of a setting sun. I wanted to walk down the aisle to an Etta James song or to Claire De Lune by Debussy. I wanted to jump an actual broom as an homage to my ancestors, and walk through a shower of cream-colored flower petals or bubbles leaving the church. I wanted to share a laugh with my new husband in the car on the way to the reception as we opened the waiting bottle of champagne and toasted each other for becoming the other person’s everything for the rest of this life and the next. But I could not picture any part of this happening without my father by my side.

Finding a man who will love me forever – a man who will love me like my dad loved my mom – is almost too much to wish for. To find a man this special and not be able to share that singular moment of saying ‘I Do’ with my father was too much to even fathom. No daddy to walk me down the aisle and give me away? No father-daughter dance? Do I acknowledge him during the ceremony or act life there’s nothing out of the ordinary about him not being there? What is a fitting tribute on my Big Day to the man who isn’t there to participate? How could I possibly enjoy my wedding knowing that on the happiest day of my life I would still feel pain and loss and grief? How does one celebrate the moment when two hearts become one when a part of my heart died the day that I lost my father? What if the part of my heart that died was the part I needed to build a meaningful and lasting marriage with a good man? Is that why my relationships fail? Is that why I have tried to convince myself to not want a wedding because I also convinced myself that I don’t want to get married to protect myself from any additional pain? All of these questions caused me to shut down and close that part of my heart off. In relationships, I would play it cool when the subject came up and say how I’m not into conventional weddings, don’t like diamond rings, and how I would be cool with a courthouse wedding and the money could go towards something more logical. Lies. All lies. But convincing lies when confronted with the fact that any wedding I have will be unconventional because my father won’t be there.   These revelations I had while I was supposed to be paying attention in church almost brought me to my knees.

So now that I know the truth and can acknowledge that I actually do want a wedding one day, what does that all mean? Does that mean that my heart is beginning to heal and make itself ready to receive a man with whom I can build a life? Does this internalized moment of honesty mean I will start to attract the kind of man who doesn’t mind a little bit of conventionalism in his life, and who will also understand that the part of my heart that was my father’s will always be something I keep for myself? Will he love me enough to help me mourn and grieve during this transitional part of my life and hold me so tight that the parts of myself which were broken are made whole again through patience and prayer? Will he help me have a truly new beginning and not feel guilty about giving up my last name without my father’s blessing? Will he be someone who builds me up and doesn’t tear me down? Who won’t hurt me because that means he would be hurting himself? I think for the first time in more than ten years I am opening myself up to the possibility of this kind of commitment. And in doing so, have opened myself up to the idea of celebrating this kind of union in front of family and friends and not a judge in a courtroom with a random person serving as a witness. I’m doing the work now to make sure that I can be all of the things to my future husband that I pray he will be for me, so with God’s guidance, some real conversations with myself, and breaking down the guards I had installed on my heart against being hurt again maybe the right person will make himself known. He will love my scars, protect my heart, pray for our future, honor my father, and love me so deeply that for one perfect day we can live our fairytale beginning and vow in front of family and friends to work tirelessly towards our Happily Ever After.

A good love story is inspiring, even when the middle parts have some sadness and struggles. I will never get over losing my father, but if I can fix my heart to allow someone else to come in and make the rest of my heart feel so full of love that the part that died doesn’t take up as much space as before, I think that in and of itself will be a reason to throw one amazing celebration.