He walks past her,
driven by alcoholic
motivation instead of her smile.
Their home is a soundless cave,
cracking in every corner.
She carries on,
her fingers tire of their daily
actions in the kitchen, in the bedroom.
The only thing keeping
her there is the new lease
on life she thought she’d have
The damage is in her eyes
but he cannot see it.
She struggles to make a life
work for them, she hasn’t given up.
It’s hard when you look
at someone you’ve loved for
decades and they turn into
someone you do not know.
She puts the kettle on the
stove for tea,
the hissing sound that follows
two minutes later wakes her
from a daydream.
She’s got to get out
of this Hell.
You Shouldn’t Expect Me To
You came with your demands and like the lonely loner I used to be, I agreed to them. I washed my body in your honey-do lists from hell, neglecting who I was and what my purpose is in life. I fell in love, instead. I clung to the idea of someone other than myself loving me — connecting with me, and this, I thought is what made me whole. When the years became stumbling blocks, I realized somewhere deep in the crux of us, my world mattered less. Self-love was a thing of the past and you settled into the beauty that beckoned it. You had made your voice heard, your goal accomplished. I was half of who I was before you and less than half of who I should have been after you.
noun: self-love: regard for one’s own well-being and happiness (chiefly considered as a desirable rather than narcissistic characteristic). — Oxford dictionary
Do you know what it feels like to have the love of your life stop loving you? Stop making love to you? The damage was done and wading through those waters took up most of my energy and the rest of my twenties. I tried to give you more as we aged, even without your embrace — even without your love. I did not recognize the change in me until we parted ways, again. This time would be the end. The last chapter of our story built itself around our gloomy demise and I succumbed to it like a bee to honey. There would never be an us for the future.
It was for the best. It is for the best. I carried this mindset; moved with it, changed counties, cities, and states with it, yet you reappear just when I feel like I have moved on. I think this is your magic. This is how you draw me in. Two people — two great loves, neither of them willing to settle down with me. I wasn’t woman enough for one — wasn’t man enough for the other. And in my bold thirties, each of them plays see-saw in my life, taking me up and down. I am done with toys. I have no use for them. They wanted what they longed for — searched for. They have their “happiness.”
“Congratulations to you, what you wanted is what you got now . . . So you don’t gotta worry about me, you made it clear that you’re unhappy, (yeah). Go ahead and have your fun now, just remember what goes around comes around.” —”Karma”, Queen Naija
I notice that when I begin to love myself, to pay attention to myself and give my heart what it needs, old loves fall from the woodwork and make themselves known. I am left mentally screaming at them, “THIS IS MY TIME TO LOVE ME. DON’T TAKE THIS AWAY FROM ME, PLEASE!” My voice goes unheard. People who know how to break you will break you. They know the right buttons to push. They have seen the storyline and played their parts in the ending — they wrote the manuscript. I have decided that I am not cut out for acting. If I hurt from it, then I’ll hurt from it. But, I am done going back to spaces where only half of me is being loved and the other half is avoided. That’s no way to live.
Two people — two great loves, neither of them willing to settle with me. I wasn’t woman enough for one — wasn’t man enough for the other. And in my bold thirties, each of them plays see-saw in my life, taking me up and down. I am done with toys. I have no use for them.
I Can Smell A Toxic Relationship
“By definition, a toxic relationship is a relationship characterized by behaviors on the part of the toxic partner that are emotionally and, not infrequently, physically damaging to their partner. While a healthy relationship contributes to our self-esteem and emotional energy, a toxic relationship damages self-esteem and drains energy.” — Thomas L. Cory, Ph.D
While I was in those relationships, no one could have told me that either of them was toxic. I would have countered with every excuse in the book. I would have placed my partner on a pedestal and shared with the naysayer that “things are just in a bad place for him right now” or “she’s struggling with some things, there’s a lot on her plate.” I was blindfolded. I also had a false sense of love wrapped around me and I wanted to keep that. Anything that felt like love from another person to me felt right.
Over the years, I have examined and reassessed these two relationships. I have processed memories, collected dominant scenes, and broken them down for better understanding. During those times, not only was I independent, I could be controlling. With memories of what I saw in my home, growing up taking over my characteristics, had I not changed, I would have found myself continuing a cycle of harmful behaviors toward myself and allowing the same from others as well. I was willing to take the bullshit of it all if it meant that I was loved. But, was I?
Now, I can spot the beginnings of a toxic relationship. I can smell it. I know it. Memories spring up from the past if a certain phrase is spoken — if similar behaviors are displayed. The first thought to me is to communicate what I am feeling — to share why I may feel unsafe. If the reaction from the person is one of anger, placing blame, and any semblance of violence, I do not stick around. It could be as subtle as belittling me or projecting their hurtful feelings on to me and I flinch. I know it will not end well and I voice this.
Feel it crippling your heart. Ooh baby, can you feel it tearing you apart? That’s right, that’s love. When it comes, you never wanna give it up. — “Let it Burn,” Jazmine Sullivan
I am learning that loving myself is far more important than any inkling or falsehood of love from anyone else. The depths in which I am taking are scary. I will not lie. It is both amazing and frightening to learn what you will allow and what you will not allow when you begin to truly value who you are and what you deserve. I had to make a decision: Do I want to experience what love is supposed to be or do I want to keep experiencing what I thought love was?
“If it hurts, it isn’t love.” — Chuck Spezzano
And I will tell you, I am tired of hurting from a false sense of love and the love I feel now — while loving myself, truly loving myself, is the opposite of hurt. I want to hang on to this for a little while longer. I won’t apologize for it.
No one should expect me to.
Part III: Breathe, it gets better
Two men: both of them I have known for more than fifteen years — they are close to me. I love them. I try my best to understand them. I want nothing more than to always support them. And I pray that this world sees the beauty in them just as I do. I thought, “How can I have the world listen to them for several minutes? What can I do to gift someone other than myself the opportunity to get a glimpse of walking in their shoes?” The idea that turned into the words you see before you. I asked them poignant, in-depth questions about being men of color in this world today to see where it would take us. This is the third and final installment of this series.
It pains me somewhat to bring this series to a close, but a new project is already shaping itself in my heart and mind and will include snippets of their perspectives of this world from the various men and women in my life and will probably be a prose-poetry piece, so that is some consolation. Dre, like me, has been anxious for the publishing of each part of this series as we both wanted to see who our work would touch, speak to, and inspire.
He has been steadfast throughout this project — ready and willing to answer anything thrown his way and is supportive of every step we have taken to bring this project to light. It has been this project’s practice to begin with Dre and for this installment, that remains the same.
“While incarcerated, were you ever harassed for your arrest? Did other inmates attack or belittle you in any way? If so, how do you think that has shaped you?”
“I can’t say I was harassed at all. It didn’t change much of who I was. I was still quiet, reserved, and observant; as well as cool and down to earth. However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences. Funny thing is, being from Savannah, Georgia, you learn that there’s an unspoken brotherhood no matter if you knew any of the men prior to being incarcerated or if there was any type of hostility within any of them. In prison, Savannah stuck together, so there was no harassment from other cities. It shaped me to be alert in a sense, at all times, and always on guard — ready for the unexpected.”
However, in prison, the weak are preyed upon so you have to develop some type of toughness or suffer the consequences.
When I learned of Dre’s incarceration, I immediately thought, “I wonder how he held up. What happened to him and how did he survive it?” Dre’s incarceration took place while I was in college. I did not know about it until after his release. I knew him well enough before those years were taken away from him to know that he would survive this battle. I felt he would win that war. I was right. Every new day he is given is shaping him into the brilliant man that I know and reminds me of the persistent, observant, and inquisitive boy with whom I grew up.
“If you could say whatever you wanted to the arresting officers, what would it be?”
“I don’t know — really . . . I would ask why didn’t they investigate more to see if I was the person involved instead of just running with the first person (they could find) and probably the only person they thought was the criminal.”
Dre’s situation is one I have read about, one I have seen in movies — and one I learned about through word of mouth. I didn’t personally know of any cases of mistaken identity, cases of rushed or lack of thorough investigation, and cases of “arrest first, ask questions later” that hit so close to home. Dre has moved through the toughest part of his life and is an example of someone who is beating the odds.
My last question is one I thought I should ask — its relevance is pertinent to Dre’s life, what he has learned, and what he is enduring from it — both good and bad things.
“What advice would you give another young, Black man wrongfully accused, arrested, and incarcerated? How would you tell him how to survive while doing time?”
“ I would tell him: find a way to keep your mind active with some type of positivity. Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release. And although it hurts and even when you feel all alone, life isn’t over but you have to want to succeed more than you want to succumb to the environment around you. Trust me, you can make it out here once released despite the felony on your record. But it will take hard work and determination. It’s beyond possible.”
Don’t just sit in there stagnant. Stay away from those plotting to do more crimes upon release.
I read through Dre’s responses. I sat with them and pulled the pain, anguish, and optimism from each one. He has sustained. He is sustaining. He has not been torn down. One of the things we both wanted to take place with this project is a connection — for someone to read this and feel it if they need to. Sometimes, it only takes one person to grasp something that has been said, share it with someone else, and the message moves without the messengers touching it.
This is our greatest hope for this project. As the years pile on, I know that my friend and I will continue to build upon what we have created and share our life’s experiences with those willing to hear them.
This is Dre. He is a loyal friend, a source of wisdom, beaten yet not broken, and a faithful follower of Christ. I have more to learn from him and I look forward to it.
Vic has his running shoes on — chasing his dream. He is creating art at a faster than normal pace due to an upcoming art exhibit to be hosted in Austin, Texas, in December 2019. While he was working on his contributions to the exhibit, I worried this project would interfere with his creative output. It has not. He has been more than willing to [move forward and] finish what we started. For this, I am grateful. But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank. And since he is getting his affairs in order for what could be a momentous event in his life, I felt it only fair to build the questions of our last installment around his future endeavors.
“You will soon have the opportunity to showcase your work again. How will you use this event to your advantage?”
“I actually plan to wash and repeat the method of going to galleries that host the art of my interests and speak with the owners. It’s how this opportunity came together. This event is great for putting my name and work out there for sure.”
But then again, that’s just Vic. I have learned over the years, he is a keeper of his word. If he says it, you can take it to the bank.
“Being a man of color, specifically a Honduran (Black Hispanic), living in the South, have you found it harder to network and build a name for yourself and your art?”
“What has made things hard for me is my unwillingness to jump out there — really just a lack of confidence in my art. In my opinion, art could possibly be that one space on earth where talent brings forth a bit more of a level playing field.”
Vic’s response to my second question is one in which I too, have struggled — lack of or not enough confidence in my work. Until recently, I dwelled in the shadows of fear and did not take many chances when it came to sharing my work through various outlets and reaching out to publications of interest. Things began to change significantly when I removed the crippling aspects of fear from my daily habits of operation. The task now is to continue to pursue these connections I have made in hopes of continued growth and finding a bigger audience for my work. It is an eye-opener and a thing of beauty to see Vic doing the same thing.
“Have there been any helpful devices and tools for your art at your job? Or, is your job set up for functionality and production based on the company’s brand? How has this stifled your growth as an artist?”
“There have been ‘ah-ha’ moments at my job, so far as what I can do with the software. Creating or aligning customer provided graphics and making sure those graphics are screenprint-ready is my primary job. So, all in all, yes, there are helpful devices in aiding the functionality and production, which we’ve been busy with these past two months of which I am appreciative. Stifling? Well, there’s also that. I don’t do much vector work at home as I once did. (See: F.U. Robot.) But it has led me back to more analog pursuits like said art show coming up soon.”
Vic has learned that his work will not reach a bigger audience without some additional help from others within the industry in positions of being able to catapult his artwork to higher heights and he has also learned that the move in that direction begins with him. Asking him the questions I prepared for this project has opened up my creative world significantly. From Vic, I have found that if we remain silent in our creative corners or comfortable with our old ways of creativity, we will never reach our goals. It begins with us. We must push our art to where we want it. No one else will do it for us.
This is Vic. A fellow artist, a die-hard motivator, and a great friend. I believe as we grow older, we will become more comfortable and confident in our work and less afraid to share it. He is teaching me that we must have a starting point in order to finish. I look forward to the years ahead.
This project is one of great importance to me and I am ecstatic simply because we have been able to come together as a team to finish this. We started off with an incredibly high level of momentum and I know the three of us have maintained it. Our purpose here is clear: to connect with others who may need to share their story but would benefit from a starting point or boost from someone else.
We’ve put our truths out in the universe. —Vic
When I think about how much I have learned and what I will learn from the men of color in my life, I become filled with joy and love. I am also filled with hurt, anguish, and some despair. There will always be struggles for anyone simply trying to move further along in life, however, these struggles are made harder for People of Color.
I want to thank both of these men for continuing this series with me and giving me more to digest as it pertains to life and the ways of this world for a man of color. Andre Murray and Victor Garcia — here you will find their voices. Here, you will find their hearts. To know the struggles of those I love and watch them excel despite their previous circumstances or take notice of how they press on without giving up stirs a sense of action in me.
I will not give up. I know the importance of breathing after all.
It does get better.
Esther sent an email to me to become a writer for A Cornered Gurl because she had a piece in her drafts that she thought would be perfect for the publication and it was–it is. I have been reading Esther for at least a year now and with every post shared to Medium, she shows that her talents reach far and wide. She can do fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and micropoetry.
I am sure these are probably just a few of her actual literary abilities. When she’s writing, you’re reading. It’s hard not to. And for this, she is the featured writer for October. And now, the piece:
To The Man Who Told Me I Wasn’t a Feminist
“You can’t be a feminist. Feminists are anti-Christian and anti-men. That’s not you at all.”
I was in university. I must have been about 21 or 22. I was attending a campus Christian group/club when the topic turned to feminism. I mentioned that I considered myself a feminist. You and the woman who was leading the group turned shocked looks toward me and proceeded to tell me that a “real” Christian cannot also be a feminist. It was mostly you talking, but the woman nodded along and agree with everything you said.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of your reasoning because I wasn’t really listening. I was so shocked at what you were saying that I just stared at you with my mouth open. I probably looked like a fish. You probably thought you taught me something. You did.
I grew up in the church, so you might be surprised that I hadn’t encountered such blatant religious sexism before. I suppose I had, but it was mostly coming from old people like my dad (you were about my age), and never from women (at least not in my hearing). I was baffled that any person my age could think that a Christian couldn’t be a feminist — at least while continuing to be a Christian — and horrified that a woman could agree. I guess I had lived a sheltered life.
I had known you for a few months at this point, and I had a respect for you as the leader of the group. I lost all respect for you.
You taught me that I couldn’t trust a man just because he is a leader. You taught me that I couldn’t trust a woman just because she is a woman. You taught me that some young, university-educated Christians still believe in stupid, outdated sexist ideas. You made me even more determined to call myself a feminist.
You see, your mistake was in thinking that just because I’m a woman that I will listen to you. I don’t like to do what I’m told to do or be what I’m told to be. Like my Biblical namesake, Queen Esther, I will walk into the king’s court uninvited and ask for justice for my people. “And if I perish, I perish.”