Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Away We Go...

Upon returning home, we somehow made it a point to talk to one another at least once a week if nothing else. I always felt like I had to say more so than he did. I was in school, school was filled with interesting things that I could expound on for hours. Because that's what school teaches one to do, so I would.
When I realized I had gone on too long about one thing or another, he never had anything to say. Always about how he was 'trying to get back in to school' - which he had been for twenty-something years - or the self-deprecating answer about how boring he was.
In a way, he was really good at making me feel bad for him. After all, he lived alone and had no one. But at the same time he put himself there in the first place. He may not have been a father to me, but from the way Sherilynn talked, they had been together for a long enough period of time that he had a second chance. It seems she was trying to make it work more than he was. She even encouraged him to go to couples' therapy with her, which they did. But it ultimately did nothing. And just as he did with me and my mom, Sherilynn and Karlee were no different.
One day, a few weeks before spring semester ended, he mentioned how he was thinking about going to DC to see his sister - my aunt. Oddly enough, I never considered Thomas a father, but I considered his sister my aunt. Perhaps because I saw her more when he had visitation rights. During his legally alotted time, he would take me to her place anyway. Her memory left a fond impression.
I had never been to DC before, and I wanted to see her after all this time. 
After little thought, I decided to go the following month. It would just be him and I in my VW Beetle, road tripping our way from Florida to DC. I thought that perhaps we could find something to talk about on the way. We managed to talk for an hour or two when we were on the phone. How bad could 13 hours be?
The answer? Bad.
We had nothing to really fill that time with, and his awkwardness became grating after a while, what with the sprinkles of 'how much I'd grown' or 'smart' or 'pretty' or anything else that had no real depth to it.
By the time we ended up in DC, I was more than happy to find some meaningful conversation with my aunt - once the shock of how much older I was wore off.
Her and I are more alike than I am to him. Because of that, I sometimes like to pretend that I'm the product child as part of a trial experiment to see if two women could create life without any need for a man, and of course since this is scandalous to the general public, Thomas was just a fall man in being my aunt's closest genetic relative.
That's what I like to believe.
I could easily find myself happily having a relationship with her, but not with him.
Of course, that didn't happen either despite giving my contact information to her.
But one thing that I managed to ask during the trip - the most lucrative thing - tired of the beast of burden glaring over my shoulder:
"So... why did you leave me and mom?"

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Ever-Present White Elephant

During our interaction, I felt there was always a white elephant in the room - a monster of a thing - that demanded attention that neither of us could bother to give it, though we were ever aware of its presence.
From the way our social interactions stuttered, to the way that I could never quite stop fidgeting. I consider myself an individual with high energy, but never to the point of fidgeting - a sort of anxious hand wringing, nervous laughter at nothing in particular. But I wasn't alone in it.
From a purely objective standpoint, despite the stumbling nature of our conversation, it was nice to see where my other half came from. Living with my mother my entire life, I knew we were similar in personality- both of us bubbly individuals with a similar sense of humor - and I knew from her viewpoint what I got from him - some of his expressions and mannerisms, according to her - though I was never able to really view that myself.
Because he was this absent individual, I wanted nothing to do with anything that came from him, but with that childish conviction set aside I was able to see it.
I still didn't like it.
Thomas lived in a one bedroom, one bathroom apartment in a seeming perpetual state of youthfulness that could only come from one with a college education who never advanced past that point. He never graduated. He never had any further schooling. Never changed his major to have any higher schooling. He stayed rooted to one spot like a portrait in time. From the looks of the picture in his room I didn't change in his eyes either.
We went to pick up food from Publix, and even in the line he made a comment about me to the cashier about me being his 'little girl'. The cashier's raised brow masked exactly how I felt on the inside, combined with my own feelings of revolt.
Still, it was nice to talk to him because where my parents are more conservative leaning, he was as liberal as me. Talking about my viewpoints without any rebuttal is a nice feeling. To be understood, even if on a semi-superficial level.
But there was also something boring about talking to him. He was great for my ego, and I think everyone needs that to some degree. However, everything came with that drawling 'wow' and how 'pretty' and 'smart' I was.
But to him, that's all I was - some kind of doll that he crafted a frame for, then took the credit when the artist swooped in to breathe life. The artist that would swoop in to quickly say, "What about the life brimming over in her eyes? What about her hands that work toward her dreams? What about the the perfect scars that shows that she has lived?"
And sitting there, listening to my ego being stroked made me long for home.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Repeating the Past

I waited with the little girl that was my half sister - because I had one of those. She was eleven and just like any other girl at that age, not quite on the verge of puberty, still holding on to childish tendencies she showed me her mess of a room - a tornado of pink chaos. Dolls, toys, bits from toys, all mangled and dashed together on the floor combined and recombined seemingly to never be torn apart.
I wondered what her mind was like for her to live like this? What chaos happened in her home life? Though when I peaked in her mother's room briefly to go to the bathroom, it was the same way. I wondered if one day they might drown in those things.
Among the wreckage, she showed me something that her "Grandma Barbara" - Thomas's mother - gave her, though I can't remember what. Something too fancy to be valued by a girl her age.
I had these sentiments because I remember the same sort of gift from the same woman once in my life.
A bath set on a silver tray lined with bath bombs shaped to look exactly like pearls, soaps crafted to look like roses, paper wrapping them with pictures of English cottages.
I read the words 'toilet soap' on one of the wrapped bars and at an age similar to this girl before me - I dropped it in the toilet. Similar to the 'I miss you' cards, I had no attachment.
Soon, an old car pulled up and there he stood just as I remembered him: well over six feet tall with dark brown eyes with matching skin and hair that he constantly straightened. He was thin which gave the illusion he was even taller than he actually was - something that I took from him.
He didn't emphatically hug me in the way that Sherilynn did, but he stared at me in awe. The last I saw him face to face I was eleven. Now, I stood before him with no barriers between us. I made the journey myself. There were no more binding legal contracts. I stood free.
"Wow," was all he could say upon seeing my face.
I looked on awkwardly, my mouth screwing into something that wasn't quite a smile nor a frown. A graceless smirk. The closest I came to matching his awe and enthusiasm. He gave me a very slow hug which I stiffened at, but slowly obliged.
Sherilynn was much more overjoyed than the two of us combined. She eagerly grabbed her camera and took pictures of the three of us.
The father and the two daughters that he couldn't bother to bring up. Though one of us he tried more than the other.
We didn't stay long at that place, long enough for pictures to be taken before deciding that there was catching up to be done. I thanked Sherilynn for her hospitality and my half sister - Karlee.
Sherilynn gave me her information and said that we should stay in touch for her daughter's sake, for her daughter to have a sister. I smiled and said my line was always free.
I sent one email a few weeks later. I never heard anything back, I never received any calls.
Thomas gave me his address before hopping into his car and I hopped into mine.
Soon, we were on the way to his apartment for us to talk, and given the chaos from earlier that day, I rather looked forward to it.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Outsider

The drive down A1A is always beautiful. It's a leisure drive with an endless stretch of ocean on the side that goes as far as the eye can see. Thankfully, if anyone else is on the road, they're doing the same thing you are - glancing just slightly to the side - so no one is rushing to get anywhere. I wasn't an exception.
I thoroughly enjoyed the journey, but the destination felt like something to be desired.
I decided to do this, didn't I? I wanted to go, right?
But what if he didn't even live at the last address I had?
I cranked The Beatles louder on my stereo and opened the sun roof.
What if it's weird? What are you even going to say?
It was a hot day and the air wasn't working right, so I needed to at least get somewhere.
Or at least a drink of water.
When I arrived at the address given, an older man with dark skin stared at me oddly, but not menacingly. I guess I was a sight to see. Slightly sweaty from the Florida heat, tank top and shorts with a giant afro puff on top of my head.
I asked if Thomas lived there because of the address given.
He still looked at me oddly and said no.
My eyes fell to the ground and I tried to mask my disappointment. A half hour drive along the coast wasn't a terrible journey. I would get to see it on the way back.
But before I could turn away, he said, "But Sherilynn lives here. You can talk to her. Come on in."
Sherilynn is the mother of my birth father's second daughter. I found out about her when I was 11 on another random journey I took to see him. I wouldn't have found out about her otherwise.
So now I was ushered into a house filled with people I never met who stared at me and called me 'Thomas's daughter'. It felt weird - those words - but I gave an awkward, polite wave and people stared at me in disbelief.
I was the estranged 'daughter'. The first one.
I know that he had several photos of me from when I was a baby, but nothing past that point. In his mind - and probably the minds of those who had never seen me - I was still that small. Or not much older. Definitely not twenty-two.
Or maybe they were just hard pressed to believe I existed. Maybe I became a legend of sorts because when they looked at me as if I was some mythical creature. That story that you hear over and over again, but you don't believe you'll ever see anything like that in real life. Until you do. I was the legend.
Soon, I was embraced by this woman that I never met with her daughter - my half-sister, now eleven - close behind.
"I always wanted to meet you so much!" She cried out, "But he never gave me anything about you. It's like he wanted to keep us separate."
And I believed it.
"I'll call him over."
And with those words, I felt that familiar discomfort bubble up again.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Back to the Beginning

"You created me, so don't you wanna see me?" - Marceline's Song

From the time I was younger, the most I ever heard from my birth father was an 'I miss you' card sent through the mail. It always came certified and I always had to sign for it. The card always had a $20 bill in it, which at the time was more than my seven year old brain knew what to do with.
When the mail person asked me for my signature there was always some sense of dread. Thinking about it to this day even unearths those old feelings that I buried. Could I say that it was resentment?
Perhaps to some degree.
But I couldn't say that my mother and I ever lived a bad life in his absence. We were probably better for it.
Even if that meant that she had to work hard during the day while I stayed at home with my grandparents.
At that time, he would come by on the weekends. I don't remember feeling particularly happy about the visits, nor did I dread them. I just always thought they were out of place.
I knew this man was my father, but it just felt weird. It always did.
He wasn't there when I said my first words. He wasn't there when I took my first steps. He wasn't there when I started school... and then one day he just appeared when I was four and a couple weekends I had to go see him.
Shortly after, my mother married the first man whom I ever called 'dad' and came to raise me. We moved away meaning the man who I only saw a couple weekends a month (whom I was on a first name basis with) disappeared from whence he came only to become sappy, empty Hallmark phrases on manufactured cards.
I asked my mom at seven why he never came to see me if he sent periodic 'I miss you' cards and she didn't have a good answer. She always said she didn't know.
How could she?
I felt like it had something to do with the months of unpaid child support that I heard mentioned - that thankfully, we didn't need - or the fact that I couldn't change my last name when my mother got married. Something about that always set a bitterness in me.
Every time a card came in the mail, my mother and I would have a long conversation about him. I always asked why he didn't want to see me. She didn't know. She asked if I wanted to see him. I didn't.
And that was usually that, though sometimes in those conversations my mother would mention, "He always said he wanted to tell his side of the story when you were old enough."
By the time I became a teenager, those cards came less and less. When I was eighteen, they stopped coming altogether.
And for a while I forgot about him. At least until I was about to start school at a state university. Around the same time, my parents moved to a town that was thirty minutes away from where I knew he was living. I decided for that summer to stay with my parents in their new home while waiting for my lease to kick in.

I also decided on a sunny day towards the end of May to find out the unknown side of the story myself.

Filled with determination, I tied my afro off my neck with a bandana, grabbed a couple of snacks and hopped into my VW Beetle before taking off down scenic A1A.

It was time to give the other side a fair shake.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Beauty of Nature

(Today's block.)

The last fading of light in the distance always rendered the sky in a beautiful way. The blueness of the mid day sky giving way to brilliant lavenders, rosy hues of pink, a blended indigo...
Gorgeous.
I took in the sunset with a sigh, really reveling in the beauty of it all. The fog that accumulated making the trees and mountains in the distance seem a haze of shadows that blended so perfectly I couldn't tell where the scenery ended and where the sky began.
The only thing that held any kind of clarity to it was the marsh in front of me where some pond scum floated in clumps. Vaguely, I wondered what it could be. Algae? Plankton? Did marshes have plankton? It seemed beautiful in its own way too.
I savored the day because I didn't know how many more I would be able to really feel like this. The fading, brilliant colors, the warm, thick humid air on my face...
Most of the time life was a rush of moments and so often it feels like we're stuck in our own head that we miss them. We forget to take a moment to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. We forget to really look, really be aware of all that surrounds us. All the beauty, all of mother nature in her majesty and wisdom.
I gently knelt to feel the grass that peaked out of the marsh. It was slightly damp to touch and a water bug rustled from beneath a patch of it, jumping further away from my reach.
These small things, we take them so much for granted, and really, I didn't know how much longer I would be able to be given such a gift. Such pleasure.
I marveled at all of this as I dumped the body in the water.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Passion

Navigating the world since leaving school has been a constant battle of trying to shave off square edges to fit into a round hole. Is that what it means to grow up? Is that what deems us adults? Is throwing away everything for the sake of fitting in and meeting a certain requirement what we're supposed to do? By that definition, growing up feels impossible.
The jobs I've accepted as a means to an end have said the same thing about me, but from different mouths. Recently, I think one of the girls - very close to my age - commented in a jovial way, "There's just something about you." And others have said something along those lines to me as well, for better or for worse.
Special snowflake? Hardly. But that 'something' - whatever it is - feels like it may as well be a mark that everyone can see and attempt to shave into something more suitable. The nail that sticks up gets hammered down, after all.
That's what is feels like.
On a very positive note, the most successful people have always had certain personality types or there was just 'something' about them. Some kind of passion, some kind of drive, some kind of aura, but it's never an easy journey.
I mentioned this swirl of thoughts to my boyfriend - growing pains, square pegs, round holes and the like - and he said, "You are just so unabashedly yourself, and that scares and intimidates a lot of people."
And as he said this I thought, "Why are we so afraid of ourselves?"
For myself, I am passionate. I am one of those passionate people that errs on the side of scary. My voice raises and it's mistaken for another emotion. I've heard so many times, "Why are you so angry?" But I'm not angry. My passion flows, my passion drives, and my passion creates.
If not for passion, why are we even alive?
If I am passionate and the world around me attempts to curb that passion, what does that say about the world?
What does that say about ourselves for accepting it?
I, for one, refuse.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Ramen Counter

A few days ago after getting my hair done, I found myself at the ramen counter drinking a beer at two in the afternoon. It wasn't something I usually did, but when one can afford small luxuries, one takes full advantage. Plus, it was amazing that our small town had a ramen shop in the first place! I had only been there one other time and thoroughly enjoyed it, so though I would repeat the process.
Last time I went, it was relatively quiet since it was late enough that lunch had past, but still too early for dinner. But this time, it was me and another gentleman. 
I couldn't help but glance at him out of the corner of my eye over a sip of beer because he was also black. There's always that sort of silent acknowledgment as if to say, 'I'm black, you're black, let's collectively enjoy our blackness'.
And it could have ended there, but we were both alone and found ourselves in a nice conversation. He told me he was an attorney, I told him I was between jobs but I was finding a lot more time for writing because it was something that I loved.
He confessed to me that before going to law school that he liked writing as well. Poetry. But life sneaks up and gets in the way, so he stopped.
Always excited to meet a fellow writer my eyes popped and I leaned over and said, "You should write! We need your voice more than ever in times like these."
He looked stunned by this, and I know my passion can be disarming, but in that moment it felt like the most important thing to say.
We need you. We need your craft. We need your voice.
Because art is something that gets tossed carelessly aside in the pursuit of the American dream. Even when achieving what we think we should, some still end up unhappy. I think it's because art, no matter what it is, gives us life.
He seemed doubtful. He echoed what the voices of self-doubt in my own head say on a bad day, 'I can't' or 'It's been so long', or some other drabble to stop the keys from clacking under my fingertips or still the pencil in my hand from coming into contact with paper. 
We are our own worst enemy, but I like to think that our voices and encouragement can give each other the inspiration and life we need to move ahead.
"You can do it! I believe in you!" I said cheerfully.
And I don't know if he's writing or not - thought I very much hope he is - but I hope I inspired him. He at least gave me a recommendation at a job I had my eye on so I'd like to think I did something worthwhile.