There has been a very real shift in my life and the way I live in the past twenty-something years. I am sure this is true of most people, we all shift gears, change careers, have kids, move….any number of life’s little shimmies that cause us to hop off the path we were on, the path we were sure was what we wanted…what we were dealt or what we needed. It all changes us, adds texture and depth to the people we are and that one fact has always been extremely powerful to me. I’ve spent hours, weeks if we are talking accumulative, thinking about just that…truth is I have been grateful to each and every little sliver of, “life” that added more padding, (fuck like I need more padding…ugh) to this puffy person you see now.
I knocked out of work a little early on Saturday afternoon to have a drink with coworker and a customer that we all dig quite a bit. We were all sitting around, icy cold martini in each of our hands and the customer mentioned where his kids went to high school, “Oh I was expelled from that high school” I announced. The second the words leapt from my gin kissed lips I was aching to stuff them back in. The look on his face that mix of intrigue and shock…well it went a long way in reminding me how very different I am now. How the newer layers of my life have buried or built upon the stuff that was there before. Very weird feeling…a combination of shame and pride that kind of cinches around your melon and causes your spine to react in a stiffly uncomfortable way.
I sat there fidgeting waiting for the inevitable question, “What did you do to get thrown out of Poly?!” a school in one of the worst parts of town…a school with a serious divide between the amazing academic programs and the rest of us. A school with sliding metal gates that lock you in, (and the rest of the neighborhood out) a school that on my first day saw one of my good friends from middle school get jumped and stabbed in the head with a pencil.
So I had to suck it up a bit, share that this woman he was clinking glasses with, this woman he had taken years worth of wine advice from was, well I was once a hood rat. I was running the streets with any number of shady cats, skipping school, telling my math teacher to, “Go fuck himself” when he called me a waste and getting into fights left and right. Stunning that the school didn’t want me back right?! It was a rather telling and frankly, embarrassing look back for me, I knew that girl, I was that girl but she couldn’t be more different than the woman I am now.
The day I accepted the fact that I was going to be a mother to an African American male, I knew that if he was to have any chance whatsoever I needed to stop beating myself and everyone else up. I needed to be a safe and strong place for this young man to come, to feel accepted, loved and to see in my pale skinned face, my green eyes, absolute adoration, hope, love and belief in him. I would harness my angst and rage, my feelings of inadequacy…all my fears. I needed to cinch them in, pull them tight, let that pressure cooker of feelings spill out all over him, but this time for good.
I used to spend hours just touching him, laying in bed near him…my fingers tracing his brow, my lips across his sweaty little hairline. I would talk to him about everything; warn him of the things that would be coming his way, his little fingers curled around mine as I made his chubby little arms dance while I cooed at him. I let my past be the rod in my spine when my sweet little son came home in tears after someone called him that inevitable, “N” word for the first time. Let my newly warmed heart teach him to laugh about the fact that he looked so different but so the same. He wears my face my son, he wears my smirk and raised eyebrow, my laugh, my sense of humor and I wear his heart. His gentle heart, the sweetest soul I had ever met was in my care…one of the angriest girls her friends had ever met was in his. We learned so much together my son and I, he learning to be strong with his words, his voice and his intellect and me learning to let myself be loved, needed and proud. I made up my mind early on that I would never again do anything that dishonor that bond, make him see in me any other light. I owed both of us that much.
Sitting in that bar with that customer, skimming over my history and feeling my son throbbing in my heart I knew there was not enough time to go over everything, not that he needed or wanted to know everything…plus I was unsure how to encapsulate 20 plus years over a martini. I drove home feeling so torn, sure I was thrilled that I didn’t come off like a hood rat, that our customer was unable to see that side of my history but more than anything…it made me feel Jeremy in my heart and reminded me of where we came from and how our love has brought us to this point, this here and now.
I spent over half of my life living with him, teaching and learning from him and when he went away to school in Louisville, I had to open my palms and let him learn without me. Me still here learning without him. The training wheels removed, the two of us on our own…no more sweaty hairline kisses, no more chubby arm dances, his adventure just beginning and my role in his life changing. Me here without his hands on my back pushing me, learning how to be this woman…the one without those hands on her back pushing her. Knowing that the love, the bond, the life changing relationship would made us both strong enough to handle it. There are two things that bring me tremendous pride; knowing Jeremy is one of those things, the being able to look at him and say, “That’s my son” is the other.
I got home from my little bar date and I was feeling so full…full of love, joy, pride and sadness, feeling it all so close to the surface of my skin that I couldn’t even talk to my husband about it. I grabbed my ipod, poured myself a deep glug of Madeira and slipped off to the bedroom. I left the lights off, just flipped on the bathroom light so I was able to make out shadows, slid the headphones over my ears and let her say it better than I ever could
When my soul was in the lost and found
You came along to claim it
I didn’t know just what was wrong with me
Till your kiss helped me name it
Now I’m no longer doubtful
Of what I’m living for
Cause if I can make you happy I don’t need to do more
Cause you make me feel
You make me feel
You make me feel like a natural woman…
Aretha’s voice, my tears and a glass of creamy, citrusy, briny Bual to wash it all down and I was feeling better…stronger and more proud than ever.
I think of the fight that so many others had to endure to make my life, my life with this amazing young man even possible and on this day, when we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his willingness to stand honorably and defiantly, the others that sat in, stood tall and fell to make this life and this pride I feel possible...from the very bottom of my immeasurably full heart....
I thank you.