I'm running from my feelings as fast as my mind will take me. My heart is screaming at me to slow down and engage but to engage feels way to scary, so I continue the sprint. Anxious thoughts run a mile a minute in my mind and cloud and fog my ability to think rationally so effectively that I am not sure what is truth and what is fiction at this point. Falling in love is just too terrifying, so my mind is working double time to tell me all the reasons it won't work out in a manic fashion. The divorce rate has my friends toppling like dominoes and I'm convinced I have secondary post traumatic stress disorder to the point of not knowing if love is real or a social construct we all trick ourselves into. I am running as fast as I can, I will paint green flags red in an attempt to drown out my heart's cry to be vulnerable. I will close my eyes and shut my mind and tell myself I am guarding my heart for to feel is dangerous and I am not a risk taker.
When I dream my mind has to relinquish its right to sabatoge and he is always there, we are always dating, and we are always faithful to one another. Even in the throes of temptation, I am dream level loyal to my man. And yet, when I awake I am back to swirling thoughts of fear and dread that it won't work out in the end, so why am I even putting the effort in to begin with?
If self sabatoge is the name of the game, I am winning, but I am running a race I don't want to finish. I glance over my proverbial shoulder in hopes that my heart is close behind, that it is closing ground and will overtake my mind. My mind is running, but I hope it comes in second.
I’m in class trying to focus and my mind continues on an impulsive loop. Obsessive and unobtrusive hypotheticals fill my mind and I try to breathe through it and fail until I realize my sight is blurred and I havent been breathing at all. I start to feel nauseous and dizzy and tell myself I cannot have a panic attack or faint in class. That would be way to embarrassing and my subject of panic is only hypothetical which makes it even worst. My vision becomes laser and I think I have to get up and go to the bathroom before I pass out but I’m too scared I will fall before I get there so I choose to stay in my seat. Everything goes quiet around me and I focus on breathing and nothing more. My heart begins to slow down and my breathing becomes more regulated. The instructors voice comes back as a whisper then actual volume. I refocus and begin to take notes.
My head throbbing, I hear the click of a latch as the trunk pops open.
I open my eyes slowly, as the light is blinding and makes my head pound.
Where the fuck am I?
And how did I get into this trunk?
The last thing I remember was slow dancing with a handsome stranger, who had handed me a drink. Fuck. fuckfuckfuck what was in that drink?
And why did I take a drink from someone I don't know?
Because she was beautiful?
I hear conversations all around me suddenly, in a language I can't quite place, but then recognize all at once. Grateful for that semester of Spanish I recently completed in college so I could grasp words and sometimes phrases, clues to my whereabouts.
Mexico. I have crossed the border while hungover and passed out in the trunk of a car.
How is this happening?
My mind is groggy and snippets from the night before flash through my mind. The night hot, sticky. A pool nearby in the home of a Texas socialite, cocktails and party dresses swishing through the night air, people sweaty with dance and dripping compliments and flirtations.
I had seen her from across the room, glistening in a dress made of gold that looked like it had been poured from a glass of champagne down her body. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. It took me over an hour to get the courage to approach her, and then I did bashfully, a shot of liquid courage beforehand. I had already had too many, my judgment was off, but I had to shoot my shot.
She laughed at my clumsy effort at a hello, then held my hand and guided me through the crowd. We talked and laughed, flirted and began to dance. She left to get me a drink, I don't even remember asking what it was. I was too enamored, to drunk on lust to notice that I was also just drunk.
And now here I am. In Mexico, being pulled forcably out of the back of the trunk of a car. There are men everywhere, and the beautiful stranger is nowhere to be seen. Was she a pawn? A willing participant? What happens now? Where will they take me?
I shake my head and listen for clues of my whereabouts. I can get out of this. I have been here before. Maybe not this country, and not this group of men, but the situation is the same. When will I learn from my mistakes?
When will I stop accepting drinks from strangers and stop mistaking beauty for safety?
Don't roses always cut you with their thorns?
we are friends with benefits and i am scared of how it will all end.
there is no way to know how it will end, are you communicating well?
yes, we talk about letting one another know if we are catching feelings or not.
that's good, are you on the same page?
we are, and he is open to talking about it.
is there anything keeping you from being more than friends?
he is an alcoholic and it scares the shit out of me. i am scared i would be dealing with him being drunk or i would be anxious about him getting drunk all the time. my parents are alcoholics. i am scared that if he gets sober, when something bad happens he will just go back to drinking. i don't know how bad his drinking has been in the past, but we were at a friends house just hanging out and he was so drunk i had to carry him in.
another night we were at his house just watching a movie, and he blacked out and didn't remember anything the next day. what if it kills him?
do you love him?
is it romantic?
sometimes, but then i see him so drunk i have to carry him and it's like my heart grows cold.
is he a good lover?
he is amazing.
is he kind?
is he handsome?
sexy as hell.
do you feel safe with him?
i told him im scared when he drinks and i saw his heart break in his eyes, and he saw that mine was already broken.
does he have a reason to drink?
he does. his girlfriend died with his baby in her stomach. on my birthday.
fuck. i would drink too.
With cold skeleton fingers
Death knocked at the door of Elizabeth.
It was her time
And she wasn’t ready.
She had expected
Death to be kind to her and allow her a slow, predictable death
But Death doesn’t pander to the wishes of children
Who are born in unlucky homes.
Death responds to accident and peril
As easily as cancer and dementia.
Elizabeth was born in a home
That ruled with fists
And broke things in fits and starts,
Bones and plates
It didn’t matter.
She was the price
For defending her mother
When her father
Was out to kill.
She stood in front of her mother
And her father struck
But the blow didn’t land with as much ferocity
Because it was not intended for her.
Elizabeth threw him off
And she was unlucky once again,
Because Death turned away from her door,
Forcing her to continue living with bruises
She was running away from home. So much had happened. Her family moved every couple of years and they were finally in a place she thought she could call home. After so many moves, so many states, so many schools, she let her guard down and she wasn’t shy anymore. She decided to make friends on purpose and she developed true friendships. Then, one day her family said they were going on vacation for her dad’s work trip, to a place in Alabama, a quaint little town. She and her sister were excited. It was a fancy hotel. While the dad was in meetings, she, her sister and sometimes their mother would go swimming and eat meals that were designed for the rich. They rode bikes and went golfing. They explored the town with its year round Christmas lights and quaint charm. Out on the pier, they watched the sun set and looked at the stars. On the last morning, after yet another decadent breakfast, her dad asked her if she liked the town. She said yes. He said would you ever want to move here? She got suspicious, “Why are you asking?” He said because we’re moving here. Her eyes filled with tears and her face grew hot with the betrayal she felt when she discovered that their most recent move he said was the last one was a lie. She cried in the hotel room for the rest of the day. She knew what going home meant. It meant saying goodbye to all of her friends. The ones she had finally made in earnest; on purpose. They got back home and she began to tell her friends that at the months end, when school was out, her family was moving. She cried. Her friends cried. She grew more depressed and despondent with her family. Eventually, she decided she would make the choice to run away.
She went to a friends house and her friend had her cousins over a couple of days after she got there. There were two of them. A male and a female. The male was a few years older than she. Her friends room was spacious and where they spent most of their time. The curtains were red and overlooked the water, a gorgeous sight which years later would be destroyed by Hurricane Michael. They played games and told stories, her friends mom frequently bringing them snacks and checking in. They hung out all night, watching movies and eating popcorn. All four of them were getting along well and creating inside jokes with quick wit and easy laughter. She didn’t show any favoritism to any individual person, she wasn’t flirting, she was being herself. She should have slept in the bed with her friend and the female cousin. Instead, inexplicable to her now, she chose to sleep on the floor alone, in between the two beds in the room. She had nothing but a blanket and a pillow but felt safe and comfortable all the same. She fell asleep and woke when she felt someone next to her. He curled himself around her and she was startled, and scooted away from him. He got close again. She grew frightened and was continuing to feign sleep as she moved away again. He moved closer. He began to touch her and she froze in fear and confusion. Does she ‘wake up’? Does she hit him? Does she try and get away, and if she does will he hurt her? Will he wake everyone up, will they blame him or will they blame her for putting herself in that position?
The night felt long as he treated her as a possession, not worrying if she was awake, not worrying if she was even conscious it seemed. His hand was rough and frenzied. The minutes crept on.
They all wake up and he is back in his bed as if nothing happened. Her friend and the female cousin even made a comment that they were hoping that the girl could stay awhile, and maybe even form a relationship with the male, because wouldn’t it be so fun to be family? She wondered in a panic if they had seen what happened, and if so, how could they be so nonchalant?
She hasn’t slept but she is ready to go home. Her friend said ‘I thought you were running away? It’s only been a few days?’ but she said that her time of hiding was over. It was an abrupt end and her friend had a look of confusion on her face. ‘Also, it’s so early, don’t you at least want to have breakfast with us?’ She said no, and left as quickly as she could.
She doesn’t remember how she got home, but when she did she was afraid and she was sick and she was scared. He was lean and tall, reddish brown hair and a lot of freckles. He would become a blurred fixture in her mind. She barely knew him but he changed the trajectory of her life. He took a sense of safety she hadn’t fully understood she was taking for granted.
She called her dad at work. Was she going to tell him about it? Now she can’t even remember because she was thrown off by the woman who answered the phone.
“Hello, is my dad there?”
“What do you mean, love? He quit a month ago, said he already moved into his new office in Alabama. You didn’t know? Has he not been home?”
She didn’t have a clue. She knew she hadn’t seen him in a while, but she had also been actively avoiding her family, and sometimes he worked late.
It was a gut punch. He couldn’t be trusted. He didn’t even tell her he had left. He was her protector and he wasn’t even there.
She never told her dad what happened. Years later came the Me Too movement and she posted it on a status. Her mother thought it was in reference to another instance the girl had in graduate school. That could be a Me Too as well, but that wasn’t the one the girl was referencing.
Who exactly is the villain? Is it the boy that abused her when she was innocent? Was it the dad who wasn’t there when he should have been? Is it her for staying silent?
Who can tell a true villain?
Crying out to Love, sometimes called Jesus, sometimes called Light
On Friday morning, I was attending one of my best friend’s fathers’ funerals. I had helped her clean her mother’s home with her father after her mother’s passing just 4 years ago. While I was standing around before the funeral, surrounded by his friends and family, I spotted another mutual friend who was in the midst of talking with an older couple. I approached to say hello to her, and she introduced me to the couple. They asked how I know the deceased and I said his daughter is a good friend. How did I meet the daughter? In college, but we became friends in Kazakhstan. Our mutual friend regaled stories of how we all went to the same campus ministry and church for a long time, having also gone to KZ and Africa together on mission trips. The couple then asked me where I go to church presently, and I answered honestly and said nowhere. The older woman grabbed my hand and with the dramatic flair of a Broadway star, she began to cry and beg the question “how do we keep losing all of our young people from the church? There are literally thousands of you! Why did you leave? Please tell me!” the last request with a simultaneous pulling of my hand into an embrace I wasn’t asking for.
I was at a funeral and had come with thoughts of grieving and wanting to be there for a friend, and I was instantly transformed into a ball of rage and frustration at what I felt was a transgression on my boundaries. I had to will myself to focus during the funeral without becoming angry that someone would launch into a soliloquy about how youth are leaving the church, the only solace being a sigh of relief at still being considered ‘a youth’ in my mid-30s.
I am in the midst of “taking a break” from the church, and trying to redefine who I think Jesus is. I grew up Southern Baptist and then started attending an evangelical, non-denominational church ministry in college and continuing on that path until a few years ago. My family is non-traditional in the realm of religion. My father is agnostic and my mother is still clinging to the Southern Baptist church with a grip that is killing her for the sake of her mother, a devout conservative Southern Baptist woman through and through. When I ‘left’ the Baptist church to attend an evangelical church that believed in the Holy Spirit, my mom didn’t speak to me for the good part of two years, believing I had joined a cult. She wrote me, desperate for me to turn back to the Baptist church. ‘Speaking in tongues’ was of the devil and something I had begun to do that terrified my mother. She even went so far as to drive to Auburn, where I found her sitting on my bed after class, crying. She told me that if I walked out of my door to go to the ministry meeting our college group was having, that she would take my car, my house, and she would call the school and take me out of college entirely. I walked out and called my father. Thankfully, he was on my side and sternly spoke with my mom about that being inappropriate. Cue not being spoken to for a couple of years while I was on the dark side.
And still, I stayed true to the church and to my faith. I believed that Jesus and Holy Spirit were real and they were not confined by religion. I claimed a spiritual journey that wasn’t bound by people or indoctrination. I continued to speak with my dad about Jesus and how he provides for me financially for mission trips, and continued to pray for the sick and dying, believing for miraculous healings that never came.
Growing up, my family were nomads of sorts. We moved 13 times while I was growing up, and I attended a total of 11 schools. Every state and town we lived in, I attended the Baptist church with either my mom or my grandparents. When I was 11, I lost my grandfather and best friend to cancer. My grandmother lost her mind briefly and came to live with us. I had night terrors for years. I would wake myself up screaming and developed sleep paralysis. I then lost a dear friend to suicide, then one to drowning, then one to a shooting and then a pair of sisters I was friends with died in a car accident. The deaths didn’t seem to slow down or stop and with everything in me I clung to the church and to the mutual belief in Jesus that I shared with friends. So I didn’t believe in the specific Jesus my mom did, and I had faith in a Christian God where my father didn’t and I clung to that faith. Jesus would heal my broken heart, I was sure of it. Church provided the constant comfort in my life that I needed.
I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in social work and I began to work in the field right away. I had an internship in a domestic violence shelter, where the highest number of abusers reported were on the police force, another internship with an AIDS clinic in Birmingham where I worked with drug abusers in recovery, who were also homeless, who were also HIV+. I moved to Nashville and worked in an inner city school where shootings were fairly regular, and gang violence is a reality, and working within a broken system and culture of poverty was very real. I became immersed in the suffering of others and began to believe that more than ever I was living out the gospels, Matthew 25: 35-36, “ For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” I was near to the brokenhearted, like Jesus told me to be.
I had signed up to serve for a tea for persons of color who were also working in the inner city with another ministry. It was a night of delicacies and pampering for these women which I fully supported and had been excited about being a part of. That week at work had been so exhausting and intense, that by the time the event came I was worn out, but still wanting to serve. I figured that my church of all people would understand, especially the other volunteers at this event, an event specific to serving persons who are working within the same population I was. So when one of my fellow volunteers asked me how I was doing, I thought it was safe to answer honestly. I said it was really rough, that there had been two shootings just this week, and the most recent had happened earlier this morning. A middle school youth had been shot and killed right in front of a bus full of children, and I was the grief counselor on call for that school to meet with not just the students, but also the adults and persons who had witnessed the event. That included the cafeteria worker and neighbor who first reached the body, the victim’s mother, and the victim’s brother and cousin. It was heartbreaking and difficult to not break down and to be there with this family and these persons who had just had a life-altering event happen in front of them. I didn’t give all of these details, but I did mention the shootings and the volunteer asked what they were about in horror. I answered that the first one was gang related and the second was an accidental drive by. She then looked very confused. Gangs? I thought that was only in movies, surely you aren’t insinuating that is a real thing? I confirmed that yes, it is, and not only that, but it is happening only 30 minutes away. Cue the disillusionment that was the start of my unraveling.
I had a difficult time allowing myself to truly examine my surroundings. My life had always been a dichotomy of home/work life and church life, but something switched in me that day. There is an element of pride in here I cannot ignore, an inflated sense of personal ego that I understand is a part of the problem. A sense of “I am helping the poor, why aren’t they?” that is sour to taste. Truly, my unraveling is at the mercy of a crippling ego that I am trying to break in the midst of trying to figure out who God is. I began to only see my church as white and wealthy and I actually prayed to God asking him to let me leave and go somewhere else. I heard back from him “be the change you want to see in the church.” So that phrase kept me there, in that congregation, for a few years. But I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get past the fact that I was driving 30 minutes to a health and wealth, white washed congregation that seemed clueless of the lives outside of their very doors, while I worked in a predominately African American project housing area and school and the segregation was overwhelming. James Baldwin said the most segregated institution in America is the church, and honestly, that sickens me but it seems to be glaringly true. I couldn’t reconcile that the Jesus I had been trying to follow wasn’t looking anything like the Jesus that I heard about in church, he looked more like the Jesus I saw in the streets and in the broken. So I left that church and found one that had a focus on racial justice and equality, where I attended a race and gospel class after services. The class was diverse, but the church remained “white as snow”- as was our congregation description by an African American pastor who was invited to speak one Sunday.
On top of the turmoil of being a person torn between two worlds in the same neighborhood, I attended yet more funerals. One of them, a mere month ago, was for a high school friend; he was cleaning a gun that was supposed to be empty and it discharged into his stomach. He called his wife, one of my best friends, but she missed the call before he called 911. He died before the ambulance arrived. It was four days after they had all celebrated their daughter’s first birthday. She is the spitting image of her dad. And yet again, in the funeral service, I heard “he wouldn’t want you to be sad, he is in Heaven and therefore doing better than any of us” and something broke in me again. Something shattered. Because honestly, fuck that. I have been to too many ‘Christian’ funerals where we are told not to cry because the person is in a better place. And I will not do that. I will grieve and I will mourn the loss of my friends and family, I will cry and be angry and scream and cry out, and I am tired of being told to sit silent and praise God in the midst of it.
So this is where this older couple found me, at another funeral, where they shed tears not for the deceased but for my apparently forgotten soul since I had left the church. An angry, confused, desperately seeking person trying to figure out just who Jesus is. And I hope to. I hope to redefine him, to find someone who looks like and embodies kindness, but I am no longer convinced that is in a church. Maybe it is in nature. Maybe it is in simple acts of kindness, or moments of loving embrace and honest conversation. Maybe it is the light in each religion practiced on the earth, and he is an expression of the purest parts of each one. I am not sure who he is right now, I am not sure who I continue to pray and cry out to, but it is too much of a habit not to continue to cry out. I now cry out to Love and sometimes call him Jesus and sometimes God and sometimes Light but I must have someone to speak with, to sort things out with. Some entity to give me hope when everything feels crushing and difficult around me. I am not willing to give that up, but I am also no longer willing to go into buildings where there is no diversity, and accept sermons where there is no room for emotions. I will cry and I will scream and I will lament with my brothers and sisters from every background and I will do it at a kitchen table, on a couch, in a coffee house, but I cannot do it in a church. And that is something I am telling myself is okay, one day at a time.
Being a bridesmaid is a part time profession of mine. I have some work coming up this weekend and I am going to slay, I can feel it. The catch this time is one of my one of my ex-loves is going to be a guest and the girl who was a part of our relationship ending is a bridesmaid with me.
I saw Ryan and fell for him in the same instant. We became friends, he was interested, we went on a few dates until he decided he was working too much and wanted to wait until he had more time to devote to me. We retained a close friendship that I thought was so much more while we were waiting on him to “have more time.” I attended family weddings with him, we traveled the U.S. together, his sister commented on how she hadn’t seen his eyes light up the way they did when I walked into a room. People in our different communities thought we were dating, if not engaged or married.
He was about to leave for Africa for five months, and before he left we went on a two week trip together. The day before we left he told me he should probably tell me he isn’t interested in me romantically anymore. He said he had forgotten to make that clear, remembering that over a year earlier he had left that door wide open and “forgot” to shut it. We went on the trip, me confused and angry and heartbroken the whole time. His second day in Africa I got a message saying we shouldn’t talk while he is gone. We didn’t speak at all, and I waited for my heart to mend. He flew back home after those five months and called me from the airport wanting to see me. I was incredulous and asked what the hell he thought. He came over and I told him I wasn’t going to do this, that I had been in love with him for over a year, finding out it wasn’t mutual before he disappeared and didn’t speak to me, and we couldn’t be friends like before. That was the first fight. He cried and told me he understood, but he did love me. For months I was able to keep him at arm’s length and then all the sudden it was as if nothing happened. We were sharing a car, he was cooking my meals, and I was driving him to work and picking him up. We had entered a relationship he called symbiotic, and I called love.
Fast forward three years, we’re laying on the couch together watching Curb Your Enthusiasm and a text runs across the screen. He forgot his phone was hooked up to the TV and I saw that Trisha kept texting. Trisha is his sister’s name, and therefore the person that he had convinced me he was texting so much in previous weeks, except this time, he had “be-friended” so many Trishas that he had started having to put a distinction next to them. Trisha Sister, Trisha Bar, Trisha Hairstylist. Trisha Bar was the one who happened to have her text flagged on the screen. She was wondering if he wanted to meet up later. I turned to him with a rage and a whoosh of relief as simultaneous as only three years of loving and hating can bring. I said I can’t do this anymore. I stood up, shook my head, and walked out the door.
We stopped speaking, and that was that. I was convinced I wouldn’t have to talk to Ryan again, and the negative connotation I had towards Trisha was a mute point as there was no way I was running into her. And for three years of new jobs, homes, and making new friends I didn’t. That is, until I was asked to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. With Trisha. And with Ryan as a guest.
The wedding is here and I am nervous, the bridesmaids have parties planned for the whole week. Trisha and I somehow end up next to each other at almost every function. The one person the bride told me I would not share a table with at the rehearsal dinner and who ended up having her place card directly next to mine? Trisha. And you know what I discovered? I love Trisha. She is hilarious, gorgeous, kind, feisty and honest as hell. The wedding came, and I remembered I would be seeing Ryan. Our first interaction came when he caught my arm and said hi, how are you? Do you want to stand in line with me for cocktails? I said no. Hours later he found me again on the dance floor, pulled me aside and we caught up. And do you know what I discovered then? That I am thriving, and he is exactly the same.