August was, for what it was worth, a month I really needed that I had no idea I needed until just now. It was a really, really good month. I celebrated some great things. My son turned 16, and we celebrated his birthday in New York City- his first visit ever. My best friend bought her first home and we celebrated her birthday by her allowing me to cook the first meal in our— um… her new kitchen. I fit easily into my goal jeans— some red size 8s that I never thought I’d fit again. Actually, that’s a lie. In On February 18, 2018, when my life and my body and my weight and my skin and my hair were a mess and my self-esteem was in shambles and my cholesterol was high I wrote in my journal that I would fit them again, and in August I did. So I did think I’d fit them again. In August I guess I learned the learned the true power of intention and of journaling. Wow. And I didn’t realize that til just now, either. I also saw my doctor for a physical and my vitamin D is low but my cholesterol is normal. I kicked my caffeine habit. (That one was a bitch to surrender, I tell you.)
In August, my workload slowed to virtually nil.
And when I say nil. Listen.
I wish I could show bank statements, but I don’t want to introduce that kind of negativity into your lives. I had no work. So I had no choice… but to sit still.
Correction. I read an excellent book I’ve been wanting to read for months. I discovered that I’m really, really good as baking things. So fat I’ve mastered several cobblers, banana pudding, (lemon) pound cake, red velvet cake, cupcakes, the most amazing chocolate frosting I’ve ever tasted (no, really), and buttercream frosting. All from scratch. I cleaned. I REALLY cleaned. I rearranged furniture to shift energy. I got rid of old things. I fixed stuff. Hung pictures. Got Hendrix a bed. Soaked in the tub. Gone to the zoo. Visited New York City with my kid and watched the wonder of the city through his eyes. Watched my baby turn 16. Geez. I hung out with my mother. I cried with my best friend as we celebrated the end of a long journey that was totally worth it. I reorganized my kitchen cabinets. I’m doing some gardening next week. I’m even gonna (get this shit) repair the zipper on some pants I thought I’d gotten rid of that I can fit again. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, to celebrate the stuff I never thought I’d enjoy because I never really took the time to do.
All because I had no work.
In August, I learned some sucky (really REALLY awful sucky) money lessons. But I had a change to stop worrying. And give my energy to things with products I can be proud of. Maybe even discovered another stream of income, because my baked gods? Y’all. Amazing. I’m serious! So instead of worrying, I found outlets for my nerves… and found some dope shit. And I started this blog to whine about how much August was the worst because I didn’t make any money.
Ha. Fooled my damn self with this one.
I’m ready for September.
I am ready for the rest of this year. I took August to figure out what I really wanted. I wrote things out. Set some intentions, you know? Bought some candles. Mastered my twist-out. Even found myself an academic planner… the ones that start with September. The start of Michael’s school year has always been the beginning of a new year for me— probably because I spent so many years teaching. I’m getting to really know this person I am, and with self-awareness has come improvement.
I wasn’t frantic about work, because there was none. And because there was no work, there was life. My prayer is that I learn balance when my workload increases, well, as it continues to increase. I really hope I stop to breathe and bake and be. And write and sing and love my cat and cuddle and laugh.
I found the most fantastic gift in what I thought was a void. And I didn’t realize that until just now.
Maybe I finally figured out how to manifest something other than shit to worry about.
-journal excerpt, 8/31/18
It's story time. And listen, it's taking all the energy I can muster to even sit up and type this, so y'all better read the whole thing.
One part of adult responsibility that alludes me is taking frozen meat out of the freezer in the morning so I can cook it for dinner that evening. I'm one of those "It's 6pm and everything is frozen" kinda people. Every day. (Don't be judgy. He's almost 16 and still alive so obviously I get it right sometimes.) I had two options. I could've either gone to the grocery store and bought something to cook (yeah right) or grabbed something quickly and called it a night. What do you do when it's late, you got a family to feed, and all your meat is frozen?
Well. I'll tell you what NOT to do.
I don't care how hungry you are, or how in a rush you are, or even how good it smells when you drive past, DO NOT get food from the Popeyes at the intersection of Marlboro Pike and Brooks Drive. EVER.
Last night, I was holding on to the toilet for dear life, my head in the commode, asking forgiveness for every phone call I did not answer, for every little white lie I've ever told, and for whatever it was that I did that was bad enough to deserve the hell I lived through last night.
Ate the chicken around 8. It settled in my stomach like a brick. Just feeling all kinds of gross. My stomach hurt and I was feeling kinda sick, but I had no idea what was to come. Honey, around 11pm, I swear I thought I was about to earn my wings and fly up outta here. Y'all know my stomach is janky, but y'all. I've never experienced the kind of pain and desperation and anguish that I experienced last night. That chicken damn near took me out, y'all. And I didn't even eat all of it... I had ONE old dry (and lemme not be brand new now... that shit was delicious) chicken breast and half a biscuit and now I know what Jesus must've been feeling when he took on the sins of the world while hanging on the cross. Because last night while I was damn near crawling to the bathroom to dry heave (because after the 4th time there was nothing left in my stomach but regret), I just knew that God had chosen me to show the world the consequences of shitty food. Last night I was the fake Messiah and I rose from the dead this morning to tell you this:
That Popeyes is the work of iniquity. I should've known better. Nothing good ever comes from Marlboro Pike, dammit. I went to that Popeyes once in the middle of the afternoon and they were completely OUT OF CHICKEN. Why didn't I learn? A chicken store that will remain open when there's no chicken to sell is not to be trusted. But what did my simple ass buy last night? Smh. Whatever you do, avoid that place like the plague. I do NOT want (most) of you to experience what I lived through last night. Take heed.
All night I writhed in excruciating pain. And I threw up food I ate in elementary school. Today, my throat and stomach are sore. I didn't sleep last night. I think I finally passed out from the shock of the pain around 5am. And, to add insult to injury, when I finally woke up this morning, guess what I saw first when I opened my eyes?
You guessed it. That Popeyes box. Taunting me. Reminding me of my trauma.
If you eat from that Popeyes, you get what you deserve. You've been warned. Don't be like Alisa. Cook your own food... at your house.
Or don't. But whatever you do, don't eat at that Popeyes.
I'm still half damn dead. Right now.
So... I had my 36th birthday on June 1, 2018.
I am usually incredibly reflective at the onset of my New Year. I think about all I did (and didn't) accomplish the year before and all I'd like to accomplish in the coming year. I write something incredibly insightful and introspective. But not this year. This year, I'm listing the 36 things about me that make me who I am. 2018 has been about self-love and self-acceptance for me, so I'ma list the shit about myself that is what it is... and you can accept it or not. Either way, it's still who I am. This is Alisa... at 36. Enjoy.
1. I still don't know how to wear makeup. Anything beyond mascara and lipstick is Greek to me.
2. I still blast rachet music at inconsiderate rates of volume with the windows down in my car. Y'all gonna get all this Lil Kim coming through my speakers. Like it or not.
3. I still skip wearing a bra whenever I can get away with it.
4. I traded pizza for kale. Under duress, but my waistline thanks me for it. Kale also doesn't give me indigestion from the firey pits of hell either, so there's that.
5. My son is taller than me, so I have to yell a lot so he remembers I'm still his mother.
6. I became a cat person. Hendrix is the love of my life. She's shady as hell, she only deals with who she likes, and she cuts a mean side eye. She's my kindred spirit.
7. Everything makes me cry except the shit that's supposed to.
8. I carry Tums and Pepto Bismol tablets in my purse. Shit gets real sometimes. Pun absolutely intended.
9. I have no patience for impatience. Wanna test me? Honk your horn behind me at a light as soon as it turns green. See what happens.
10. I don't believe in "late." Whenever I arrive, I'm right on time.
11. Yes, I will still watch you calling my phone and then send you a text saying "You need something?" as soon as it stops ringing. No, I still don't believe in answering my phone.
12. When I was 25, I bought a Camaro because it was red and I could drive it fast. At 35, I bought a Jeep because of the cargo space and the durability. My, how our priorities change.
13. Coffee is still the nectar of life and the key to my being able to adult properly.
14. I have absolutely mastered procrastination. There's an art to effectively bullshitting and still getting stuff done on time. When it's done right, it's a beautiful thing.
15. I text back in my head now. I'll read a text, respond in my head, and close the app. I don't do it on purpose, but if you sent me a text and didn't get an answer, I'm likely not ignoring you. I responded. Just not to you. *shrugs*
15a. I said I'm "likely" not ignoring you... because sometimes, I am absolutely ignoring you.
16. "Righty tighty lefty loosie" still gets me through tough situations.
17. I will still leave my house if certain insects come inside. They can have the house. I have shit to do anyway. *goes outside to vacuum the sidewalk*
18. God's grace and favor still cover my whole life except when I eat something I know I'm not supposed to eat. Then God be like, "You got it, girl. You chose to eat it... now you suffer the consequences." Petty.
19. I lecture my son about the value of good music... and MAKE him listen to the greats. Ain't no Lil Uzi in my car... We gonna listen to Rakim... and you're gonna love it.
20. I still don't separate laundry. F*ck it. Does my white shirt get any less clean because I washed it with the darks? I don't think so.
21. For me, convenience > the price of convenience. IDC. Hello, Peabody, Molly Maid, and UberEats. *heart eyes emoji*
22. I still look for an adult to call in difficult situations because I've not yet realized that I am the adult.
23. I'm still planning what I wanna do when I grow up. Nevermind the fact that I'm almost 40... and good and grown.
24. I'm still going to see the new Incredibles movie this weekend... whether my kid decides to come with me or not. Judge your mother.
25. I don't wear heels anymore. Period. Tipping along on feet that hurt is not the bid. You gonna get these cute flats and shit the hell up about it.
26. I still hide the good snacks in my bedroom. "I don't know what happened to the rest of the Oreos, Michael. Eat some granola instead."
27. I show up for the people I love. Even when I'm a little MIA on a day-to-day basis, if you are in crisis and you need me, I'm there. Period.
28. I have everything I could ever need in any emergency in my car. A blanket. Water. A flashlight. Lotion. Blun-- I mean... um... Gum. I always have gum. Like I said... Any emergency. I'm ready.
29. Paper mail > email. A handwritten anything is always the key to my heart... unless it's a bill for something. In which case, f*ck you.
30. I will online church in a minute. I can pay my tithes via PayPal. I even take notes. Church in my pajamas is my whole entire jam.
31. Kanye West is still my favorite artist. I threw Kanye the Person in the trash after his "slavery is a choice" stunt... but you don't throw out the art with the artist... especially if it's good art. All his albums get heavy play from me. Fight me.
32. I have 18 tattoos. And I'm still not finished, much to my mother's chagrin.
33. What the hell is a speed limit?
34. This is new-- I brush my teeth, wash my face, and floss every night now. Bad skin and dentures haunt my dreams. So do sagging tits and cellulite... but being fat and braless are both the bid, so...
35. I'm glad I'm almost finished this list. Tryna think of 36 of these was exhausting.
36. I'm still me. Absolutely me. I'm spoiled, I can be irrational, I'm moody, I am prone to depression, and I can be absent-minded at times. I'm also incredibly smart, fun to be around, and I usually smell pretty nice. And you know what? I like me. I like the woman I am at 36. I worked so hard to become who I am... and I'ma love all of me. And so are you, dammit. You gonna love all this Gemini madness.
There you have it. Thirty-six for thirty-six.
*sips herbal tea* (but only because I have no liquor and it's too cold to leave my house)
So I chose to wait until tonight to write this blog because some things are just... scary. As much as I love to write, and as easy as it comes for me, some shit is just... difficult to say. I imagine that, after I get it all out, I'll feel some sense of cathartic relief. Either that or immense embarrassment. Maybe a combination of both. Either way, I'm saying it... because my podcast is big of a 'what' to omit the 'why.'
So many of you reading this have known my journey since the very beginning, but a quick recap for those of you who don't quite know me yet-- I left a nine-year, relatively successful teaching career to chase a dream. That's really all the backstory you need.
This is really where the 'why' starts.
A few months before I left teaching, I started doing EXTENSIVE research on entrepreneurship. I began my research with-- you guessed it-- Instagram.
It's okay if you're rolling your eyes. In retrospect, I'm rolling mine, too-- hard.
I began to browse social media and I identified Black women after whom I could pattern myself. I studied their habits. I took their master classes and published their digital content. I drank their podcasts, listening to them for hours on end. I read all the books they suggested. Think & Grow Rich. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. The Power of Habit. The 4 Hour Workweek. I bought expensive planners and colorful pens. I made vision boards. I learned the Law of Attraction. I watched these women win and I convinced myself that I was just as smart, just as talented, and just as capable as they were of winning.
When the opportunity presented itself for me to leave my job, I took it. In a very and unexpected strange way, through a series of really difficult events, I was allowed the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, and when I saw the opening, I took it. I'm the only child of very supportive parents. I thought I was armed with a dope, airtight support system. I was actively involved in my church of 30 years. I had some money in savings. I thought I was ready. So, armed with my Instagram mentors and everything I learned in the books and blogs I read and the podcasts I listened to, I started my writing business. I called it Alisa Writes. I was a writer for hire. I hung my "open for business" sign and I waited for the followers, the friend requests, and the funds to start rolling in. I just knew I'd be successful in no time.
In reality, I would go on to experience four of the shittiest years of my life.
I looked up one day with not one single penny to my name, no church home, very few friends, no work, stacks of unopened bills (why open them? I knew I couldn't pay them), and no hope that things would get any better for me. That was the day I realized I needed to get help, so I started researching therapists in my area.
I first walked into my therapist's office on February 3, 2016, and the very first words I said to her were, "I don't think I can survive too much more of this." It took only three sessions for my therapist to diagnose me with severe depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. Here I was, three years into a master's of mental health counseling degree, and I had never once considered how dark and how deep depression could really go until I lived in that place myself. Week after week, I'd go, and I'd sit on my therapist's couch, and I'd cry. I'd talk about how much of a failure I was. "I don't understand it," I'd say. "I'm saying my affirmations. I'm reading positive books. I'm praying. Why won't this feeling of failure go away?" I asked her one day.
My therapist looked at me. What she said next changed the trajectory of my life. "Why are you failing?" she asked.
Over the next several months, my therapist helped me discover that the reason why I felt like I was failing as an adult was because I wasn't adulting in ways that worked for me. I was adulting and businessesing and grown woman-ing in ways that worked for other people, but I completely lacked the self-awareness necessary to figure out what I needed to do in order to succeed in my own life.
Basically, I didn't know anything about myself.
This is when shit got real.
My mission in life became learning who I was. I had to muddle through all the lies I told myself, all the excuses I made, and all the flaws I tried to hide from people. I had to learn to love myself, because I'd convinced myself that I wasn't good enough. This is so trite, but I was comparing my flawed behind-the-scenes footage to the filtered, edited highlight reels of others... and beating myself up for not being them. You would think, considering how low my self-esteem and self-concept already was, that being real about my flaws would devastate me. You'd think it'd be the nail in the coffin. I was already holding on by a string here... What good would it do to see all my ugly shit live and in living color?
It changed my life.
What I discovered was a whole, complete person... with flaws and with faults, but with a fierceness that I didn't know was there.
As I was doing the work to discover myself, I also discovered my purpose.
#AlisaExplainsItAll is my life out loud.
It's me talking about my shit... and about how understanding my shit taught me to use it to my advantage.
It's me talking about my struggles as a single parent of a teenager. It's talking about how I am not a morning person, about how I don't manage money well. It's me talking about how unorganized and absent-minded I am. How I flake on my friends. How I found hope in therapy and how underrated mental health and happiness are. It's me sharing what I learned about myself during the lowest times of my life... and how I turned these flaws into the foundation of something really, really special.
Of all the books I read, and podcasts I listened to, and webinars I watched, and networking events and seminars I attended, I didn't experience any measure of success in my personal or professional life until I learned myself... and learned to love myself.
Along the way, through lots of trial and error, I learned how to build a brand and how to run a business.
My hope is that through honest, very candid discussion about myself, I can help someone who may be feeling like they're not doing anything right. I want to help someone who feels like they are failing. I want someone to use my struggles and my stories as their strength. Because if I, with my jacked-up ass, can get it together, my hope is that I can inspire others to stop trying to be perfect and just live with purpose.
This podcast is where I will share my truth. The long and short of it. Even the ugly parts.
Maybe I'll even inspire you to share yours.
"Somebody check on his mic," the producer said. "We need to make sure he can be heard clearly without any feedback."
Kyle sat nervously in the chair, trying his best not to fidget. He watched as the film crew ran around checking the lighting, and making sure everything was ready for the cameras. The young woman came by again with her makeup kit.
"Kyle, you have to relax. You are sweating, and messing up your makeup. Do you want to be all shiny in the face when you make your television debut?" she joked, dusting his nose for the umpteenth time. Kyle laughed and took a deep breath. When she finished, she looked at him and smiled. "Aren't you handsome?" she asked jokingly.
Kyle shrugged and blushed and watched her as she scurried off the set.
There were a few more camera tests and sound checks, which made Kyle even more nervous about this interview. Finally, after what seemed like hours, everything was in place. The producer came over to Kyle and shook his hand.
"Mr. Sherman, thank you so much for agreeing to this. Please, just be candid and as honest as possible. You'll be allowed to speak without interruption. Just tell the whole story exactly as it happened. Do you have any questions?"
Kyle shook his head. This would be his first time on television and he was anxious. He wanted to get everything right so he wouldn't look foolish. "I think I'm good," he told the producer. "Just ready to get it over with."
"That's understandable, Mr. Sherman," the producer said. "Okay. We are gonna start rolling now. Whenever you're ready, you can go ahead and begin."
"Where should I start?" Kyle asked.
"From the beginning," the producer said. "Start from the beginning." He walked off to the side and took a seat. Everybody in the room was silent and watching Kyle, who cleared his throat and began talking.
"The beginning? Okay, well... My name... Uh... My name is Kyle Edward Sherman. I am 34 years old. I am a husband... well... I was a husband, and I'm a father of three boys. Their names are Edward, Robert, and Kyle, Jr. I have three sisters and a brother, and my parents have been married for 43 years. Life for me has always been pretty simple. I enlisted in the Army after high school and did two tours in Afghanistan before I tore my ACL and was honorably discharged. I came back to New York, got married, and I became a C.O. a few months after my oldest son was born. I've been at the same job ever since.
I was a correctional officer at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York. Beacon is a really quiet town in upstate New York, away from the crowds and noise of the city. I've lived in Beacon for my entire life, and it's strange seeing people I've grown up with, people I went to elementary school with, people who lived on my street and played basketball with me, now incarcerated and under my command in this prison. It's sad, actually.
I liked my job okay. I mean, it's not the most glamorous thing in the world, but it was steady, the benefits were good, and it was close to home. I made decent money and had lots of opportunities for overtime. Who can really complain about making money? My wife whined that I needed to work fewer hours and spend more time at home with her and the kids, but I kept trying to explain to her that there isn't much opportunity here in Beacon, especially for people like me who didn't go to college. Every time it came up, there was an argument. Just a few weeks ago--"
"Mr. Sherman?" the producer interrupted. "Can we stick to the story? The real story? The reason why you're here this morning?"
Kyle frowned. "I'm sorry. Was I rambling? I'm sorry for rambling. Should I start over from the beginning? Or can I just pick up--"
"Just pick up where you left off," the producer said patiently. "You were talking about your job. What else can you tell us about it?"
"Oh, right. Okay. Well, as a C.O., it's basically my responsibility to make sure the prison runs smoothly. I make sure the inmates have what they need, and that they aren't putting themselves or others at risk of bodily harm. I make sure they're processed properly, that they get to and from their work details in a timely manner. I talk to them, too. I try to pour into their lives, give them some positivity. Help them understand there can be life after prison if they play their cards right.
That's my favorite part, talking to them. There's so much you can get to know about a person when you just listen to them. A lot of people write these guys off as bad just because they end up in prison, but I don't always think that's the case. Some guys are just down on their luck and trying to feed their families, and that's how they end up here, you know? Some are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to make the inmates here feel like they matter, like they're not just societal castaways. So I do my job, but I also listen. I find out about them. I treat them well.
Anyway, I know you're all here to hear about what happened between me and Calhoun, so I'll get to the point.
Calhoun was processed into the jail on one of my days off, so I didn't have an opportunity to meet him and feel him out during intake. He was already on the yard, assigned to a cell and work detail by the time I saw him. During an inmate's first few weeks in Fishkill, I like to watch him, see how he acts, how he fits in with the other inmates, how he sleeps, whether or not he eats, or cries, or begs to go home. I like to see which inmates have their eyes on him, you know? The thing about Calhoun that surprised me most was that he was always unbelievably calm. He didn't come on the yard running his mouth, acting tough like so many of the other inmates do. But he didn't cry and hide and cower in the corners either. He had a very quiet confidence to him, like he wasn't trying to make any noise, but he wasn't really one to be fucked with, either. Wait-- Can I say fucked? Am I allowed to curse?"
"It's okay," the producer responded. "We'll edit this interview before it airs. Go on, Mr. Sherman."
"Okay. So like I was saying... He had this confidence to him, and the other guys could sense it, so more or less, they just left him alone. He didn't seem to know anyone, and he wasn't associated with any gang or group, and I know he wasn't from Beacon, because I know pretty much every family here, having lived here my whole damn life. But as I'm looking at him, there is something so familiar about this dude... Something I recognize from somewhere that I can't put my finger on, you know? Anyway, the first few months Calhoun was in Fishkill, he was alone.
He was assigned to laundry detail. He was ridiculously meticulous about his work, and he never talked to the other inmates on laundry. He didn't watch tv or play cards or dominoes with the other inmates, either. He'd just... Sit. Off to the side. Not staring off into space, but he'd be sitting there watching the other guys, or reading. I always sensed he was getting a feel for who was who and what was what in Fishkill. From the moment I saw Calhoun, I knew there was more to him than what most people noticed. I decided to look into his file to see what I could find out about him.
Calhoun was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, which ain't all that far away from Beacon. Maybe a half hour, tops. He graduated near the top of his class in high school and accepted a baseball scholarship to Syracuse, but for some reason, he didn't go. Three years after he graduated from high school, Calhoun was arrested for petty theft, and he did several short stints in Otisville, Great Meadow, Bare Hill for small crimes. Petty theft a few times. Low-level drug offenses. Auto theft. Nothing real serious, you know? And he'd serve a few months, a year or two, and come home, and within a few months, he'd be right back in jail. The time between his last stint in jail and when he ended up here in Fishkill was the longest he'd been out since his little crime wave started-- 5 years. He came to Fishkill on aggravated assault and armed robbery charges and was given an 87-month sentence-- just over 7 years, the longest sentence he ever got.
What struck me was how does a kid graduate at the top of his class and get into college and get collared for such small, insignificant crimes? Calhoun was so... Weird. He wasn't new to prison, but he didn't fit the profile of a typical prisoner. I took a special interest in Calhoun after I read his background. I was determined to figure him out. See what made him tick, you know?
Anyway. Months passed and Calhoun was still off to himself, doing his own thing. After about 6 months on the yard, something changed. Calhoun had been a loner. He sat alone, ate alone, exercised alone... But one day, I noticed another inmate, Jenkins, sitting with him at his meals. A week later, two more inmates joined them. The week after that, there were three more. In a month's time, there were eleven inmates with Calhoun at meals, at HIS table, meaning they sought him out, not the other way around. He was clearly the smartest of the bunch, and the other guys that sat with him seemed to gravitate toward him in a major way. They hung on to his every word. Eventually, they were getting his meals for him. Doing his work in laundry. He was the boss, see, and they were his subjects. The eleven grew to twenty real quick. Soon, Calhoun and his boys became a major concern to us C.O.s. They'd become one of the biggest cliques we had on the yard, and I still never figured out how. Despite their size, though, they never got into fights. They never caused any problems. They never made any noise.
One afternoon after Calhoun had been in Fishkill for about a two years, I overheard him in the TV room talking about his girl, the girl that he'd left at home. This was the first time I'd ever heard about a woman from him; he shared very little of his personal life. The only visitors that ever came to see him were his mother, his brother, his sisters and his nephew. There was never a woman. Anyway, he was talking about this girl, and I overheard him say her name-- Tootie. He called her Tootie. He didn't go into a bunch of detail. He just said he missed her. Changed the subject and started talking about something else.
I'm standing nearby kinda baffled, because my wife's nickname is Tootie. Her mother gave her that nickname when she was born. Small world, I thought. I ain't think anything of it.
A few weeks later, in the TV room again, Calhoun mentions Tootie again. This time, the fellas were all sitting around talking about their girls at home and what they did for a living, to see which of them had the smartest woman, you know? Calhoun says that Tootie's a nurse, that she's smarter and prettier than any of their women. A nurse? My wife is a nurse, too. I'm not the smartest man in the world, but things were a little bit too coincidental. I thought maybe he was fucking with me. It's easy to find out personal information about C.O.s, and inmates often use this personal info to fuck with us, to expose our weaknesses, to get under our skin. I left it alone. I mean, it ain't hard to find out I'm married to a woman that everybody calls Tootie that's a nurse. I chuckled, shrugged it off."
"Mr. Sherman," the producer called out. "We need to take a second to adjust your makeup. You're sweating again and you look shiny on camera. Kristen!! We need you on set!"
The makeup girl came running, brush and powder in hand. "I'm certainly getting my salary's worth of work with you today," she joked. "Relax," she whispered, "or I'll have to take you into the trailer to calm you down." She winked and ran off.
After adjusting the lights and doing another sound check, the producer said, "Okay, Mr. Sherman. You were saying that Calhoun knew your wife was a nurse, but you didn't bite. Continue."
"Okay. Almost a year passed before Calhoun ever mentioned Tootie again. They were in the dining room having breakfast when one of the fellas joked that Tootie sounded like a name for a stripper and not a nurse. Everybody's laughing, you know, and Calhoun says, 'Her real name ain't Tootie, you dumb prick. Her real name is Nicole, and she's got a rose tattooed on her hip.'
This stopped me in my tracks. Knowing she's a nurse and her nickname is Tootie but her real name is Nicole is easy stuff. Common knowledge. But that rose tattoo? Toot never wore anything that revealed that tattoo. Very few people knew she had it. She went and got it when we first got married seven years ago. It's a rose with her cousin's initials, R.H.C, next to it. This was her favorite cousin that died when they were kids. She wanted to have a way to remember him always, so she got the tattoo. This was way too coincidental for my liking, but I didn't want to cause a big fuss, not with Calhoun's flunkies all over him. So I decided to wait and talk to him privately. This is eating away at me like crazy, and I need answers, you know?
A few days later, I managed to catch Calhoun by himself in the TV room. His friends were all playing cards, and he was off to the side, reading. I go and I sit next to him.
'So tell me more about Tootie,' I said.
Calhoun starts grinning, wide. Ear to ear. Almost like he couldn't wait to tell me all about her, you know? He puts his book down and starts talking.
'Well, Tootie, or Nicole, she's a nurse down at St. Luke's in Newburgh. She mostly works nights, so she don't visit... She got kids at home to attend to, and she's important at her job. But she's real pretty. She has my initials tattooed on her hip next to a rose. R.H.C.-- Robert Henry Calhoun.'
So by now, I'm clenching my teeth, you know? And I got my hands balled into fists. Coincidence is one thing, but this was just too much. I'm silent, tryna decide if I wanna say something else, and he continues.
'Tootie's a great woman, you know? She's a real cougar in the bedroom, too.' And then he winked at me. The bastard actually winked his eye at me! And I'm trying so hard not to lose my cool, because so many other C.O.s fall into this trap with inmates, and I refused to let Calhoun get the best of me. He keeps talking.
'There's a blue armchair in the corner of her bedroom, and she likes to be bent into all kinds of positions on that chair.' Nicole and me... We have a blue armchair in our bedroom. He goes on to describe our bedroom, down to the smallest detail. He knew she kept her hairbrush on top of the antique jewelry box she inherited from her grandmother. He knew that we have one pillow on our bed that's bigger than the rest of them. He knew all about my wife's sexual preferences. He's talking about her like she's the greatest lay he's ever had, like she's not my fucking wife! Can I get some water, please? It's hot as shit sitting here!!"
The producer jumped up. "Can someone get Mr. Sherman some water? Let's take a quick break. Kristen! Makeup!"
Kyle gulped water from the bottle that was handed to him and took several deep breaths. "Just tell the story," he muttered to himself, trying to calm his racing heart. He agreed to do this interview, but he hadn't anticipated it being this difficult. Kristen runs on set and wordlessly reapplied his makeup, doing everything she can this time to avoid eye contact with him. After a few minutes of deep breathing, Kyle said, "I think I'm ready now. Let's get this over with."
The producer nodded. "The cameras are rolling. Please continue."
Kyle scratched his beard. "So Calhoun describes all this stuff to me, and I'm just kinda standing there. I'm stunned, because I never had Toot made out to be a cheater. She's a really good wife, you know? A good mother. She's a family girl. My mind is playing tricks on me. I'm thinking, how could this man know all the details of my bedroom? Maybe he knows one of Toot's friends, somebody she talks to a lot. Somebody feeding him information, you know? I'm trying not to jump to conclusions. I can't let this fucker think he has me by the balls, but I'm mad as fire inside. And he's not yet come out and told me that the woman he's describing is MY Toot, so I'm giving all the benefit of the doubt. I try my best to look cool, like he's not getting to me, you know?
By this point, it's time for the inmates to leave the rec room to prepare for lights out, so Calhoun and I have to cut the conversation short. That night as I'm driving home, I have a million questions going through my head. Nic's at work, so I can't bother her, but I'm so curious. Does she really know this guy? Is he just pulling my leg, or has he really been inside my house? Inside my wife? I've seen other C.O.s snap and lose everything all over some inmate who paid someone on the outside for personal details just to fuck with them, so I'm wary. Cautious. Calhoun didn't say anything to me that he wouldn't have been able to get from someone else, and, like I said, he's from Poughkeepsie. We live in Beacon. Nic works in Newburgh. Everything is so close together. There ain't no way we don't have mutual friends. I decide not to mention it to Nic. I don't wanna upset her if it's not true, but if it is true, I don't want her to know that I know until I have all the details and I'm absolutely sure. I go home, go to bed, try to forget about it.
A few weeks go by and everything at home and at work is business as usual. I don't make any noise about it. Nic is acting like herself. Everything seems okay. I do my best to push the whole thing out of my mind, and I'm almost successful, until one day, I'm standing on the yard while the inmates are exercising and Calhoun comes up and stands next to me.
What he says next changes my entire life."
Kyle closed his eyes and clenched his fists, as if the mere memory of what was said is too much for him to handle. He opened his eyes and spoke slowly in a low tone, so that everybody in the room had to strain to hear him.
"Calhoun walks up to me," Kyle said, "and asked me if I've ever wondered why my middle son doesn't look anything like the other two, who look exactly like me. I don't answer. I'm just staring at the guy, trying to decide on my next move. He continues, 'I know you wanted to name the kid Ricardo, after your father, right? But Tootie insisted on naming him Robert. Interesting, right?' And he walks away. And I'm standing there dying inside. My middle son, Robert, who is 4, doesn't look a thing like my other two. Robert is several complexions lighter than both Nicole and I, and he has gray eyes. And I remember the argument Nic and I had over his name. For months, she insisted we name the kid Robert. Months. She was so adamant about it that I just gave in and let her give the kid the name, you know?
So I take my phone out, and I scroll to the most recent picture I have of Robert. And it hits me like a ton of fucking bricks-- the thing that was so familiar about Calhoun when I first saw him. Those gray eyes. Calhoun and my son have identical gray eyes. Nobody in my family has those eyes. Nic's family either. I'm weak in the knees at this point. I run over to a corner of the yard and I throw up. I'm sick. I can't see straight. I'm pissed. But I know I gotta stay cool, right? Because this is my livelihood, and I can't just be going off. So I wait out the rest of my shift, and I drive home. By this time, Nic is on her way to work, and she's dropped the kids off at her sister's, so instead of picking them up like I usually do when our shifts overlap, I call her sister and ask her to keep them for the night. She agrees. I go home, shower, and sit in the living room, and wait the eleven hours until Nic's shift ends.
She walks in the house the next morning all shocked to see me. 'Where are the kids?' she asks. She comes over, sits on my lap, kisses me like she usually does, only I don't kiss her back. She stands up. 'Is everything okay?' she asks. And I tell her everything ain't kosher, and ask her who the fuck Robert Calhoun is to her. And for a split second, I see something in her eyes, you know? Horror. Panic. I don't know what it is, but it ain't normal Nic, who usually has everything under control, you know? But the look is only there for an instant. And she goes back to her regular self. She looks me in my eyes and says, 'Robert Calhoun? The name doesn't sound familiar. Was he a patient at the hospital or something?' And then she walks off into the laundry room and starts folding clothes. She just worked a 12 hour overnight shift. She is usually dead on her feet by the time this shift ends, but this day, she goes in the laundry room and does housework. She's nervous. Visibly shaken. Fidgety. So I walk in the laundry room after her and stand in the doorway. I ask her again.
'I don't know anyone named Robert Calhoun,' she says, as she tries to push past me to leave the laundry room. I know her. For years, this woman has been my everything. I know when she's telling the truth, and I know when she's lying. Right now, she's definitely lying. I took my fist and punched a hole in the drywall. She screams, starts crying. I don't yell though. I just look at her again, and ask in my normal voice, 'Who the fuck is Robert Calhoun? Don't you fucking lie to me, Nicole.'
By now, she's fallen to her knees, and she's sobbing. So I sit down on the floor next to her. 'Just tell me the truth, Nic,' I say to her. 'I'm your husband. I can handle anything except you lying to me.' And the truth all comes out."
Kyle stopped talking to take a sip of water. You could hear a pin drop in the room. Despite all the people crowded into the small space, the crew with all their equipment, the makeup artists, everybody was absolutely silent and staring at Kyle, obviously enthralled with his story. He'd never had the attention of so many people before. All eyes stared at him, begging him to continue. So he did.
"My wife met Calhoun when she was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. He went to Poughkeepsie High, but came to Newburgh Free Academy, Nic's school, for a baseball game. He was one year older than her, a sophomore. From the moment he saw her, Nic told me, they were in love. Inseparable. They did everything together. They had big plans after high school, you know? Nic planned to go to nursing school, and Calhoun was set to play baseball in the major leagues-- he was that good. The summer before Calhoun was supposed to leave for college, however, Nic found out that she was pregnant. She still had a year left in high school, and she was devastated. As soon as they found out about the baby, Calhoun called Syracuse and let them know that he would not be accepting his scholarship, and instead, decided to get a job on the railroad in order to support his small family.
Nicole and Calhoun had an apartment together. Calhoun worked on the railroad, Nic was a part-time secretary and full-time high school senior. Sometime during her eighth month of pregnancy, however, she noticed that something didn't feel right... the baby had stopped moving. So she went in to see the doctor, who informed her that the umbilical cord had separated from the baby and the child was dead inside her. Nic was rushed from there to the hospital, St. Luke's, the same hospital she works at, and her labor was induced. She delivered a stillborn baby girl.
Nic told me that, after their baby was born dead, their relationship really took a hit. It was too late for Calhoun to accept that scholarship, but Nic went on to graduate and was accepted into nursing school. She left him to go to college, and his life took a turn for the worst. He became a heavy drinker, messed with drugs, and he and his brother Greg started with their string of petty crimes. Maybe he became a criminal because he was bored. Maybe because he hated the way his life turned out. Either way, his life turned to shit. Despite all they'd gone through together, though, they still had a thing for each other, seeing each other while Nic was home on breaks and when Calhoun wasn't in jail.
Nic graduated and gave Calhoun a chance to clean his life up. They moved in together and everything, but he just couldn't stay out of trouble. She kicked him out and vowed to move on with her life without him, and two weeks later, met a handsome young man in the grocery store who was struggling to push his cart while hobbling on crutches. He'd just been discharged from the military and had a bright future ahead of him. She knew she could settle down with him, have a family, and live a normal life.
That young man was me. She married me, but she loved Calhoun, and despite her vows, she couldn't stay away from him. According to her, on six different occasions, she slept with Calhoun in our home while I was at work. She even admitted that Robert was Calhoun's son. That crushed me... Just hearing her say those words. I mean, it's not like I didn't know, but hearing those words, 'he's not your son,' had a whole different effect on me, you know? I sat there and watched her cry, listened to her beg me for forgiveness. 'I owe him,' she sobbed. 'How could I say no to him? He ruined his life for me!' She told me that Calhoun was her first love, but she loved me, too, and would be willing to never see Calhoun again if I agreed to stay in our marriage. I love my wife. She's beautiful, and smart, and an awesome mother. All she wanted was my forgiveness."
Kyle stopped talking and stared off into space for a few minutes. He seemed to be in a daze of some sort. Finally, after several minutes, the producer decided to give him a little push: "Mr. Sherman? What happened next? Did you forgive her?"
"No," Kyle said, matter-of-factly. "I killed her. Wrapped my hands around her neck and choked her until she turned blue, until she stopped fighting me, until wasn't breathing anymore."
Kyle took another long pause, as if he were truly contemplating his actions. The producer said, "Do you regret your decision to kill your wife?"
"No," Kyle responded immediately. "I don't. Listen. I understand cheating, right? Because it happens. Stepping out on your marriage doesn't make you a piece of shit. That's forgivable, right? What's not forgivable is having unprotected sex with some felon in my bed, getting pregnant by the fucker, naming the kid after his sorry ass, and allowing me to raise the kid, thinking he's mine, attributing his gray eyes to some long-forgotten relative or something. What's not forgivable is not giving me the option to decide whether or not I wanna raise the bastard child of your high school loser ass boyfriend. I don't regret killing her. I regret marrying her. I regret loving her. Killing her? Nope."
Kyle paused again, took another sip of his water.
"So, I killed Nic, and then I went upstairs, put on my uniform, and reported to work. I clocked in, got my cup of coffee, shot the shit with the fellas. Per my usual. When it was time for my shift to begin, I walked out on the yard. Supervised work details. Stood around chatting with the inmates during their meals. Even played a game of dominoes with Calhoun and his gang, which was kinda fun. Hadn't played dominoes in years. When Calhoun got up to use the restroom, I followed him, and as he was using the urinal, I walked up behind him. Asked him, 'Why did you give me this information? What do you expect me to do with it?' Calhoun finished doing his business and turned to look at me.
He said, 'I could've been like you, man. Made something outta myself. I gave up everything to be with her, to make things work with her, and she left me. She up and left me to follow her dreams, even though I sacrificed mine to be with her. I stopped loving Tootie a long time ago, to be honest. When I found out that you worked here, I thought long and hard about how I'd play the hand I'd been dealt. I watched you, studied you, figured out what kind of man you are before I said a word. I'm stuck in here for seven years, but Tootie? She's on the outside, enjoying her life, when she's the reason I'm in here in the first place. I should've been in the majors. This ain't personal, Sherman. I promise it ain't. This is between me and Toot, and I needed you to do my dirty work, since I can't. You get it? I needed her life to be destroyed, just like she destroyed mine.'
So Calhoun and I are staring at each other in the bathroom, man to man, eye to eye, with the weight of all he said hanging between us, and the tension in the air was so thick it could be cut with a knife, you know? And all of a sudden, this fucker starts laughing. I mean, not just a chuckle. A full-on belly laugh, tears running down his face, the whole nine. And it hits me like a ton of bricks: He used me to get revenge on Nic. I did what he couldn't do. I destroyed my life-- I'm definitely going under the jail for killing my cheating wife, my kids are about to be without both parents, and this asshole gets to walk away, all this destruction in his wake, with clean hands. And I'm standing there watching him get a good laugh at my expense, and I figure I might as well finish the job, you know?"
Kyle balled his hands into fists and clenches his teeth. There are tears in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall.
"So right there, in that filthy prison bathroom, I wrapped my hands around his neck, and choked him, too. He used me. He baited me and I took the bait. Before I met him, I lived a quiet, normal life, you know? Worked a simple job. Had a peaceful marriage. Enjoyed spending time with my kids. He came along and took all that from me. All because he couldn't let go of the past. I choked Calhoun until he turned the same shade of blue as Nicole did. Choked him and made sure he'd never laugh again. I left him on the bathroom floor, walked up to my supervisor, gave him my work badge, told him I needed to call my lawyer. Informed him that Calhoun was dead in the bathroom and Nicole was dead in our laundry room. I took a seat on the intake bench and waited. I wasn't thinking anything. Wasn't even mad. I just felt... Hallow, you know? Empty.
I thought about pleading insanity. Did you know that before Fishkill became a minimum security prison, it was the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane? I could say that I was possessed or something. But there was nothing crazy about what I did, you know? I did it because they both played me. They both took advantage of me. My wife betrayed me in a way that I didn't think was possible for her. Her lover played me, like my life was a game of chess. He won. Checkmate."
Kyle stopped talking. He noticed that Kristen, the bubbly makeup artist, was quietly crying, her sniffling the only sound in the room. Everybody else was staring, open-mouthed. When Kyle agreed to do this interview, he did so only because his story had sparked national attention. So many people thought he was some awful monster, but just as many people sympathized with him. He'd been offered book deals, exclusive interviews with top journalists, and even a movie deal. But all he really wanted was the opportunity to share what really happened, to clear his name and be honest.
He reached down and scratched his leg. In all his years as C.O., he'd never paid attention to how itchy and uncomfortable prison uniforms were, because he never had to. He looked down at his orange jumpsuit, NYDOC printed across his chest, the shackles around his ankles, and the handcuffs around his wrists. He shook his head.
"My name is Kyle Edward Sherman," he said, "and I am 34 years old. I am an inmate at the Downstate Correctional Maximum Security Institution, located twelve minutes from where I grew up, in Fishkill, New York. My sons aren't allowed to come visit me, but I don't want them to, even if they could. There is a nasty custody battle happening right now for rights to middle son, who really isn't my son after all. His grandmother, Sandra Calhoun, believes she belongs with him. I don't have the strength to fight her. How could I?" He held up his shackled hands for emphasis. "I'm a little tied up at the moment." He laughed despite himself, but no one else in the room did.
"I killed my wife and her lover. I will probably spend the rest of my life in prison for my crimes, although I was urged to plead not guilty and am currently awaiting trial. I agreed this interview because I want the world to know that I am not a monster. I am a man who loved his wife, who was devoted to her, who would've done anything to see her smile. I am a man who was played by a woman I would've given my life for and the man who was so driven by revenge that he didn't care who else got hurt. I am not a bad person; I was just dealt a bad hand. I played it to the best of my ability, but in this game, there were no winners."
Kyle looked around the room at all the faces staring back at him. To his surprise, he saw no disgust. Nobody looked sick, or angry. All he saw was sympathy. All he felt was exhaustion.
"That's it. That's the whole story," he said.
"It's a wrap," the producer said, rousing the crew from the daze they were all in. "Thank you, Mr. Sherman."
I couldn't believe how hot his skin felt on my fingers as I wrapped my hands tighter and tighter around his neck.
It kinda felt like he swallowed fire, and I was feeling the heat of it as it worked its way down his throat. Like lava. Like he swallowed hot, molten lava. His skin was so hot that I was tempted to snatch my hands away, but I was strangely hypnotized by the heat. He clawed and tore at my hands, struggling to free himself from my grasp. His face glistened with sweat. I could see the life draining from his face, but all I could think about was the heat of his neck, burning into my palms. Would my hands be noticeably singed? Would people be able to glance at my hands and know that I killed a man with them?
"Do you have any idea how much you've hurt me, Chris?" I said in a quiet voice as I watched him fighting for his life. Chris was almost a foot taller and 70 pounds lighter than me, but none of that mattered. This time, I was in control. This time, I was the one killing him slowly, just like he'd done to me.
"Subrena," he gasped. "We can work this out. We can... get you some help..." His body jerked, and he stopped talking. His throat just felt hotter and hotter the tighter I squeezed.
Was I feeling the heat of his soul leaving his body? His eyes bulged as he clawed at my fingers, trying to loosen my grip. His lips turned blue. He took what I knew was his last breath. He stopped fighting. I smiled in triumph and satisfaction...
...and then, drowning out the beautiful sound of his imminent death, that annoying buzzing started.
I jerked my head up from my desk so fast, I got dizzy. The bright light of the abrasive overhead florescent lights burned my eyes as I struggled to get my bearings. Where am I? Did I kill him? What is that noise? Shaking my head to get rid of the fog, I finally figured out that the buzzing was my cell phone, and I had no idea where it was. I'd fallen asleep on top of the mountain of papers that had taken permanent residence on my desk. I gave up looking for the phone and gazed out of my office window. It was dark. The hallway was quiet. I looked at the small clock on my desk. It read 7:13pm. That means I'd been off the clock for three hours, yet here I sat, alone at this desk. It was time to go.
I gathered my things and made the long walk down the quiet hallway and outside to my car. It took me almost 10 minutes to find my keys at the bottom of my overstuffed purse. I unlocked my car door, sat down in the driver's seat. I started the ignition, but the small yellow truck on the floor of the passenger side caught my eye.
I remember the day he dropped that truck. We searched everywhere for it, but couldn't find it. I'd assumed it was forever lost in the abyss under the seats, where old French fries, action figures, small toys, and loose change go to die. But somehow, the yellow truck managed to free itself, and it taunted me from its new position in plain sight, immediately bringing tears to my eyes.
The yellow truck belonged to my son, Amir. Not a day passed when I didn't miss Amir so much that it physically ached. I hadn't seen my boy, or kissed his small face, or heard the sound of his laughter, in almost six months. The last time I saw him was in the courtroom, the day he was taken from me.
"I make more money than she does," he'd told the judge that day almost six months ago. "For years, I've been urging her to finish her degree, maybe consider a job that pays a little better. It would've afforded her the opportunity to move out the ghetto, to raise my son in a safe neighborhood. She could've used that money to feed him better, to expose him to more. Instead, she stays right where she is. Amir would have a life with me that she would never be able to give him."
I stood, dumbfounded, as this man that I once loved more than life itself obliterated my character in front of this old, white judge. "Furthermore," he continued, "she won't stay clean. I know she's still using drugs. I've been begging her to get help, but she won't. I even offered to pay for it. Who knows the danger she introduces into Amir's life? Getting high is more important to her than her own child. She's selfish," he said, "and not fit to raise my son."
The judge looked at me. "Ms. Stevens," he asked, his deep voice resonating through the quiet courtroom, "do you have anything to say about what Mr. Harley is saying?"
I took a deep breath. I wanted to tell him about the way Chris abruptly left my life, telling me he was no longer satisfied with me and wanted to be with someone else. I wanted to tell him how depressed I became when Chris moved out, how sad I was, how every day felt like some cruel joke God got a kick out of playing on me. I wanted to tell the judge how the drugs were the only thing that made the pain subside long enough for me to live a normal life. Hell, I wanted to tell him that they only thing keeping me alive, stopping me from putting my .45 in my mouth and pulling the trigger, was Amir. I wanted to tell the judge that it was Chris's fault that I was this way. I did everything he wanted. I cooked, kept an immaculate home. I made sure I satisfied him in the bedroom. I kept my body up, maintained my sex appeal. He wanted a woman with more ambition, he told me. One he could discuss politics with. One who understood literature. One with more education.
"I didn't mean for this to happen," he told me over his shoulder as he gathered his things. "One thing just led to another, and before I knew it, I was in love with her."
"Please," I begged, stripping myself of whatever dignity I had left. "I know we can work this out."
"Bre," he said, finally looking up at me. "I want another baby. She wants children of her own..." His voice trailed off as my legs gave out under me and I fell to my knees, sobbing into my hands.
Amir had almost killed me when I delivered him. The bleeding was so bad that the doctor had no choice but to perform an emergency hysterectomy. Through no fault of my own, I was unable to have any more children. At first, Chris promised me that he understood, that he would love me anyway. I guess he forgot about his promises.
"This is for the best, Subrena," he said as he took the key to our apartment off his key ring. He placed it on the coffee table. "We both deserve to be happy."
"I am happy with you," I said. He left anyway.
I wanted to tell the judge how my heart shattered into a million pieces that night when he slammed the door behind him. I wanted him to know that I am a drug addict and a loser because of Chris. I wanted him to know that I loved my son and would do anything to keep him, but I knew he'd order me into rehab, and I wasn't so sure I could survive a sober life. Not anymore.
So I shook my head. "No, Your Honor," I said in a small, defeated voice. My cheeks were wet with tears; my shoulders slumped. And just when I thought I couldn't get any lower, Chris said, "My wife and I will raise him into the man he needs to be, into the man that she could never produce in him." His wife. The woman he left me for.
"Very well," the judge said. "Mr. Harley, I am granting you temporary full physical and legal custody of Amir until and unless Ms. Stevens accepts and completes treatment for her drug addiction. Ms. Stevens, you may have supervised visitation, which you will have to schedule with our court mediator. Is this clear?"
Defeated, I nodded. The judge pounded the gavel, and I stepped outside the courtroom. I was crying into my hands when I heard, "Say goodbye to your mommy, Amir. You won't be seeing her for awhile." I didn't look up, because I couldn't face my son, but I felt his small hands on my arm, his kisses on my cheek. He, too, was crying. "Please, Mommy," he said. "Fix what makes Daddy mad so I can come home. Please, Mommy!" Amir was five years old. I looked into his bright eyes, promised him I would fix things so he could come back with me.
Six months later, and nothing had changed. I was still working the same job, still doing the same drugs, still living the same sad, worthless life. Amir's truck on the floor of my car reminded me how unfit I was, how disgraceful I am as a mother and as a woman. It made me want to cry. It made me want to drink. And drinking would make me want to smoke dope. What else did I have to lose? I pulled out of the empty parking lot. Like so many other nights, I had nothing waiting for me at home except emptiness, roaches, and the constant reminder of how much of a failure I'd become.
My car drove itself to the liquor store.
As if on autopilot, I got out the car, walked inside, picked up the same pint of Paul Mason I drank almost every night. I went back to my car, texted my connect, waited for him to text me back with his location. It was almost like I was having an out-of-body experience. I was watching myself spend my rent money on a crack rock, another crack rock, which took me one one step further away from Amir. I watched myself drive home, pull into a parking space, kill the engine, collect my work bag and purse from the front seat of the car. Tonight was different, however. Because before I could slam that front door shut like I did so many other nights before this one, that yellow truck caught my eye again. Amir deserved so much better than to have a mother like me. I thought about him in his new home, a huge, gorgeous home on the good side of town. I thought about his private school, the education he was getting. I thought about the puppy Chris and his wife gave him on the first day of school. I thought about my baby getting on with life, living well, without me. He didn't need me anymore. I closed the car door and walked into my apartment building.
I turned the light on and the roaches went scurrying. I dropped my bag on the floor, kicked off my shoes, and walked into the kitchen. I opened the fridge first, and then the cabinets. All I had to eat was an old jar of peanut butter and some stale cookies. I walked out the kitchen empty handed, opened the bottle of Paul Mason, and took long sips, feeling the liquid burning my throat as it went down, into my empty stomach. I didn't stop until nearly half the bottle was gone.
I don't understand why bad things happen to good people.
Life for us was good. It was a simple life... Not too many bells and whistles, but there was stability, you know? We split the bills, shared the household responsibilities. I made a home for him. I cooked, smiled, doted. I did everything that I thought I was supposed to do for him, to him. I was nasty in the bedroom, just like he liked. I drove his mother to doctor's appointments, always remembered to sort the laundry the way he liked me to. I kept his favorite juice in the fridge. I used to scribble our names together in an old notebook I kept hidden under the mattress. Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Harley, it said. Mrs. Subrena Harley. Subrena Stevens-Harley. I'd planned the face I would make when he finally proposed to me, even picked out the shoes in which I knew I would marry him. Life for us was good, until he decided he wanted to do something different. Until he decided he wanted more than me.
The night he left me was the first time I ever got pissy drunk.
I believed in my heart that Chris would leave me, miss me, see the err of his ways and beg me to take him back. I was wrong. After only being with her for three months, Chris gave her the engagement ring that he didn't once offer me in the entire five years we'd been together. I watched them excitedly plan their wedding via Facebook, silently begging God to allow her to experience a tragic, fatal accident that would send Chris running back into my arms for consolation.
It was the night they posted their first pictures as husband and wife that I smoked crack for the first time. Amir was 2 years old.
The Paul Mason was beginning to make my belly warm, and I felt the familiar tingle of my impending intoxication washing slowly over me. Just a few more minutes of feeling things... I got excited about the relief I knew I'd soon feel. The liquor made the demons inside of me rage a little more quietly, gave me a little more space to think my own thoughts. I walked into the kitchen and retrieved the stale cookies from the cabinet. I took the cookies and the brandy and walked into my bedroom, stretched out across my unmade bed, and opened my laptop. As Facebook loaded in my browser, I took another swig from my bottle.
"This is the best I felt all day," I said aloud, my voice a stark contrast against the quiet of my apartment. I giggled.
Facebook loaded and I snacked on the stale cookies as I scrolled my timeline. Black Lives Matter. Deodorant causes cancer. A baby picture here, a new job announcement there, a rant or two about police brutality... Facebook was the same relaxing mishmash of nonsense and nothingness tonight that it always was. I welcomed the mindlessness of reading what went on in the lives of strangers. I loved looking at their lives, imagining that their lives were mine. I loved the temporary break Facebook gave me from my own sordid reality and the details of my own life, my own failure.
I scrolled a bit too long this time.
Staring back at me from my computer screen was the smiling, beautiful face of the woman who had stolen my son and his father from me. She was immaculate. Her makeup was flawless. Her hair was long and shiny. Her white teeth glistened. It almost looked as if she were glowing.
"We're finally pregnant!" the caption read. "I have Chris, my amazing husband, Amir, my awesome son, and I'm carrying the daughter I've always dreamed of having. My life is perfect. My family is complete!"
I scrolled through all the comments congratulating her, each heartfelt message causing the ache in my heart to spread a little more to other parts of my body. By the time I'd read them all, my entire body hurt, and I was sobbing, crying the ugly cry of heartache and angst, of a pain so bad I thought my heart would stop beating.
I got up off the bed and walked into the living room. I dug the crack rock out of my purse, found my pipe amongst the dirty laundry on the hallway floor, and lit it. My pipe, my drugs, my liquor were the only friends I had left. I took hit after hit, got higher and higher, and waited for the pain to subside as the crack numbed my senses. The relief I felt was temporary, and it made me angry. I needed more. I grabbed my purse. Hair all over my head, clothes disheveled, barefoot, I walked outside to my car. I got inside, closed the door, sent the text to my friendly neighborhood drug dealer, and saw Amir's yellow truck on the floor of the passenger side of my car.
I saw Amir's yellow truck and I knew that all the drugs in the world would not save me from the pain of being a failure, of failing him, of being an awful, incapable, unfit mother, of letting another woman with a perfect smile and a perfect resume and a perfect life raise the child that nearly killed me, the child that killed all his future siblings that I might've one day carried.
I reached over and picked the yellow truck up from the floor. The realization hit me like a ton of bricks. "He's better off without you," I said aloud in the car as I looked at that yellow truck In the palm of my hand. "Everybody is better without you."
Suddenly, the taste I had for crack disappeared. I needed more than the drug could give me. This pain was more than a crack rock could heal.
Still holding the yellow truck, I got out the car and walked back into my apartment building. My neighbor, Mrs. Jenkins, spoke to me as I stumbled past her.
"I'm praying for you," she said. "I'm praying that God will deliver you from the demons that are trying to end your life. Keep fighting, my sister," she begged. "God has a plan for you."
I stopped walking and looked at her. "Where was your God," I slurred, "when Chris decided he didn't want me anymore? Where was He when the judge took my baby from me? Where was your God when I tried to stop smoking crack? Where was He when I was selling my body for another hit? What has God ever done to help me? What the fuck has your God done for me?"
Mrs. Jenkins was unaffected by my drunken rant. "He comes when we need Him most," she said.
"Fuck him," I spat. "Fuck your God, and fuck you." I fumbled with my keys, opened the door to my apartment, and slammed it behind me.
I dropped my purse by the front door, stepped over the clothes and papers and trash strewn across the floor in the living room, stumbled past the dirty laundry in the hallway, walked past the closed door of what was once Amir's room, and made my way back into my bedroom. I walked over to the closet Chris and I once shared, and reached up on the top shelf, way in the back, so far back that I had to stand on my tiptoes to retrieve it. I finally found what I was looking for and walked back to the bed holding it in my right hand and Amir's yellow truck in my left.
Chris didn't bother to take his gun with him when he left. I guess he forgot it.
For years, I've been planning to get rid of it. I couldn't decide if I wanted to give it away or try to sell it, but it had been collecting dust in an old shoe box on the top shelf for as long as I can remember. I took it out of the box, felt the cold steel against my skin. Felt the weight of it. Put my finger on the trigger.
Chris always kept the gun loaded.
"It's for our protection," he'd told me the day he brought it home. "I promise I will always protect you, Bre."
I felt the hot tears as they spilled from my eyes. When Chris and I met, I was in college. I was working on becoming something that I could've been proud of. I was a nursing student, I had my own studio apartment, a car that had seen better days, and a part-time waitressing job. My life wasn't glamorous, but it was happy. It was mine. Chris came along and turned my world upside down. We made big plans, plans to buy homes and start businesses and have children and see the world. When he told me he wanted to finish his degree, I quit school and worked full-time to support him. I gave him every dime I made. I dedicated my life to him and Amir. And what did I have to show for all the plans and promises? Nothing except a nasty crack habit, more empty Paul Mason bottles than I could count, a dead-end call center job, a broken heart, and Amir's yellow truck.
The barrel of the gun felt cold against my temple.
It was even colder in my mouth.
What do you do with your pain is so deep that you can no longer drink and smoke it away? What do you do when it hurts to live every day? What do you do when everything you had that was worth living for is gone?
I felt the cold steel between my lips and on my tongue. I still clutched Amir's yellow truck. There were no more tears. All I felt was relief. I finally found a way to end my pain, and it wasn't in a bottle or a pipe. It was in an old, dusty shoebox in the top of my closet.
I closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. Closed my lips around the barrel of the gun.
Amir's yellow truck fell out of Subrena's hand and onto the floor with a thud and rolled slowly under the bed.
For the past several weeks, I've been trying to wrap my mind around this incoming president. I don't like him, and I seriously doubt there's anything that could ever convince me to change my mind about him, but the fact of the matter is that on Friday, he will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, whether I watch the inauguration or not, whether I voted for him or not, whether I like him or not. I am trying to accept it because I am tired of carrying the burdens of disappointment and bewilderment. Our democratic process is what it is. He was elected. He will be the president for the next four years, regardless of how I and so many millions of others feel about it.
However, there is so much happening around him that I just can't accept. One such thing is his meeting with Steve Harvey last Friday.
Before I get into the meat of this post, let me say this: I have long been a fan and supporter of Steve Harvey. When I was in the classroom every day, feeling like my soul was literally dying, it was listening to the Steve Harvey Morning Show on the radio that got me going each day. I listened to him talk about embracing destiny, about taking leaps, and I credit him as a major influence in my decision to leave the job I hated and go into business for myself. I've been listening to his show faithfully for years. I purchase his books. I've defended his relentless opportunism-- because he is, in fact, a relentless opportunist. I enjoy his candor when it comes to expressing his thoughts and feelings about things, however unpopular his opinions may be (because I have a deep belief in being true to how you feel, regardless of how the tide may be turning around you). I even watch Family Feud. Steve has been alright with me for a long time now, and I've been rocking with him, despite his frequent shenanigans.
Everything changed for me last Friday, however, after his "meeting" with Donald Trump. I was so disappointed, in fact, that it took me several days to compose my thoughts about it enough to write this post. My thoughts have only been fueled by the many people on social media who see nothing wrong with this meeting. Please forgive me in advance if this post is a little emotional.
Steve Harvey sold his soul to the devil on Friday, and I don't fuck with him anymore for it.
(Couldn't think of a better way to say that. I needed you to feel it as deeply as I do.)
I told y'all I been rocking with Steve for awhile now. Since the day SquirrelWig announced his candidacy for president, Steve has been extremely vocal about how absolutely unqualified he believed Trump to be. As the election unfolded, the more we got to know about Trump, the more Steve talked about how vehemently against Trump he himself was. A staunch Hillary supporter, he talked about how unqualified, unfit, and unequipped Trump was to be the leader of the free world. He talked about his abusive language and poor behavior. He talked about Trump's failed marriages, his failed businesses, his corrupt practices and racist perspectives. He insisted that he would never, ever endorse Trump, because he believed Trump to be the embodiment of all that is wrong in America. The day after the election, Steve was almost in tears on his show, incredulous (as most of us were) that Trump actually won the election. Steve continued to slam Trump. He said that he felt morally and spiritually obligated to speak his truth, and that no matter what happened, he would never endorse Trump as president. Never. Although I shared most of his sentiments about our new presi-- I can't even bring myself to say it-- I was more impressed with the way Steve used his platform, with his unwillingness to compromise his morals and his unabashed boldness when it came to speaking out against Trump.
On Friday, Steve Harvey, despite his supposed moral and spiritual conflict, met with Trump, posed for photographs with him, and endorsed him as genuine and sincere when the meeting ended.
So wait, Uncle Steve.
You ain't been rocking with Trump at all since the beginning. You claim President Obama asked you to reach out and bridge the gap between administrations by meeting with Trump and Carson about the state of the inner cities in America, and that you felt like you needed to honor President Obama's request, even though Obama ain't God or your daddy, even though he was asking you to go against what you believed, and that you agreed at Obama's request. You met with this man in a hotel lobby. A meeting in a lobby ain't a meeting. It's a spectacle. A photo opportunity. You met with him and smiled for pictures with him, and endorsed him-- something you claimed you'd NEVER DO-- when the meeting ended. You allowed Trump to use you, to parade you as he has done so many other black people who have agreed to meet with him. Despite all that you had said, all that you felt morally and spiritually, the opportunist in you could not pass up the chance to snuggle up to Trump, and you took that opportunity and ran with it. You ignored how you felt about him, how you claimed others should feel about a man as unqualified as Trump, and you endorsed him anyway.
I'm not mad the meeting happened. I'm mad at how it went down.
So your morals ain't shit, huh, Steve? Your morals are so easily manipulated that, when given a chance to further your own interests, you neglect your morals and jump on the opportunity? He used you, Steve. The same way he has used so many other Black people to pander to the minority population in this country. He used you for a photo opportunity. Trump's track record shows that he doesn't give two shits about the Black people in this country. Everything he's done thus far shows just how disingenuous he really is, up to and including appointing Ben Carson, a DOCTOR, as secretary of housing and urban development in America. His candidates are grossly unqualified, and he doesn't care. Trump doesn't give a fifth of a fuck about the poor, disenfranchised people in this country at all. This isn't me making an assumption, either. Look at his track record. He's dismantling the Affordable Care Act. He's cutting funding to Planned Parenthood. He's trying to pass legislation that schools shouldn't be gun free zones. On a human level, Trump is disrespectful to women. He's a relentless bully. He's a brat, tweeting like a butt-hurt teenaged girl whenever anyone says anything he doesn't like. He is volatile and unpredictable. And, Uncle Steve, knowing all that, you endorsed him anyway?
What happened to how you felt?
If you really had a genuine interest in meeting with him on behalf of the best interest of your people, Steve, you would've in a closed-door meeting. You would've understood that this conversation was bigger than an opportunity to be seen with Trump, a man you insist you will never respect. The meeting would've happened quietly and behind closed doors. You would've refused an opportunity to smile your wide smile in a picture with the fool. And, even more, you wouldn't have dared fix your mouth to talk about Trump's sincerity, a sincerity you know is false, that you've called out on several occasions.
This meeting-- or vicious publicity stunt, because I believe in calling a spade, a spade-- shows that morality has a weight to it that most of us can't carry. Steve obviously couldn't handle the weight. Despite his morals, he took the bait when it was dangled before him and showed his opportunism, and how easily bought he is.
Morality is your principles concerning what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad. Morality is your own set of beliefs and ethics, the things you feel strongly about. Morality changes as we grow and learn, but our morals are what govern our lives and actions. Morality dictates what we accept and what we don't. Morality isn't supposed to be something that changes with the direction of the wind, either. It's what roots you. Morality is supposed to be rigid. The general sentiment should be inconsequential; it shouldn't matter what the rest of the world is doing when it comes to your morals. However unpopular they might be, whatever the backlash you receive, you stick by your morals, because they are what govern you.
Steve stashed those morals on Friday. This meeting and the subsequent endorsement went against everything Steve claims he felt morally. When given an opportunity to meet with Trump, Steve chomped at the bit, and all those morals went flying out the window.
For that reason, I will never respect him again.
Should Black people be meeting with Trump? YES. Absolutely. Because, like I said in the first paragraph, like it or not, he is our next President. (That left such a nasty taste in my mouth.) Should Trump be made to sit and listen to the concerns and the issues of Blacks in America? Yes. I wouldn't dare say that any Black person who meets with Trump is a coon and an Uncle Tom, because that's just not right. Trump SHOULD be talking to us. He should be hearing what we need and feel and want. But when the meeting is more of a spectacle than a conversation, when it happens in a lobby where everyone can see it, when it ends in a photograph and an endorsement of the worst possible person who has ever run this country, it takes on a completely different meaning. This ain't about Black folks. It's not about housing and urban development. It's not about doing what's good for us. It's about Trump's desire to gain favor from Black folks by meeting with strategic "leaders" (and STEVE IS NOT A BLACK LEADER-- HE'S A COMEDIAN-- I JUST WANT TO POINT THAT OUT) and taking pictures with them-- "Look, see? I'm not as bad as you think I am... I just met with Steve Harvey! I just met with MLK Jr! They both say I'm an alright guy!" It's about allowing himself to be used as a show pony, another example of Trump's dumbassness and how "his African Americans" love him.
Steve. You fell right into his trap... and I can't support it. I can't support you. I can't handle the fact that you aren't who you holler you are-- a man who stands by his beliefs, no matter the repercussions. You talk about how real you are, how authentic you are, how you are still Steve from around the way, despite your money and stardom-- two things that you brag about on daily basis. You're an egoist. You're an opportunist. And you dropped the ball worse than I thought possible. All that you've said against Trump over the better part of two years became invalidated. You're a hypocrite, Uncle Steve, and I can no longer support you.
There's a lot wrong with the state of our country right now.
Betsy DeVos is the most under qualified person on the planet to be the Secretary of Education. There have already been investigations into the immoral and illegal actions of Trump's other cabinet candidates. Trump himself has very clear about how big of an asshole he is-- and how unapologetic he is about it. I could be here all day talking about the shitstorm in which we are currently living... but I don't have all day to talk about it and that's not what this post is about. What we can't afford is having "leaders" who are willing to turn their backs on their morals and principles to pander and shuck and jive and collect a check.
We need to be steadfast in carrying the load of our moral convictions, however heavy and hard it might be to stand by what we truly believe and feel. Steve lost all the respect I had for him on Friday.
God help us these next four years.
And help Steve... because he's tripping.
(as I sit in Busboys & Poets and enjoy blueberry hibiscus tea and a Cobb salad)
Remember that show "Taxicab Confessions" and how wildly successful it was? It's because people will get into a taxicab (or, in my case, a Lyft) and literally tell ALL of their business. The good, the bad, and the just plain weird. I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned it here, but I've been driving Lyft for awhile to supplement my income. I like it. I like the flexibility it allows me. I also like the conversations I have with my passengers; they make for GREAT blog posts.
Kind of like this one.
Late last week, I picked up a young girl (she was about 25) from her home in SW to take her to work. She worked on 16th street, and as we were in rush hour traffic, we had plenty of time to chat. She started talking as soon as we got into my car. She was telling me all about her plans to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend's family, and discussing in detail the incredibly off-putting, borderline racist comments her future in-laws, religious fanatics from middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania, For example, she told me that her future mother-in-law believes that Jesus is portrayed as having fair skin, blue eyes, and long hair because all the Renaissance artists who painted him were gay.
I didn't bother to tell her that Jesus wasn't a white man at all... It would've blown her mind. She was one of those white girls with an annoying inflection on the end of every phrase and sentence she spoke, you know? Like everything was a question? You get what I'm saying? Because I can explain more if you need me to? No? Okay. Moving on.
Eventually, we reached the point in our conversation where she stated emphatically that she never wanted children, and the thought of what children do to your body and to your life once they're here absolutely repulses her. She talked in detail about her sister's pregnancy, rife with hemorrhoids, stretch marks, and constant indigestion, and then talks about how her sister, who is awake at all hours with a newborn, is a weird, zombie version of her original self.
"My boyfriend knows I don't want kids and he's fine with it," she said. "God bless anyone willing to throw their lives away parenting. Girls like us (she was referring to me, too) know how to live on our own terms, right? Who needs kids slowing us down?"
Mind you, up until this point in the conversation, I was just interjecting well-timed "uh-huhs" and "oh, really?s" but had not offered any personal details of my life. She went on.
"What are you, like 24? 25? Way too young for kids, right?"
"Well, actually," I said, (and when I 'well, actually,' a read is coming... just wait for it) "I'm 34 with a 14-year-old son."
I watched her face turn beet red in my rearview mirror. "Really?" she said. "Wow. Black really don't crack."
I laughed. (These white women and their attempts to endear themselves to me... they overcompensate and it's hilarious to watch.)
"Yes, really," I said. "I've been a parent my entire adult life. And you know what? For me, it really hasn't been that bad."
Let me say this before I continue in the conversation. I am not one of those mothers for whom the world stops revolving for my kid. He is not the center of my universe. He is not my king, or my world. He's a fourteen year old person of his own, with his own life, his own personality, and his own interests. I love him because he's an individual, my complete and total opposite. I respect him enough to give him the space and opportunity to be his own person, with my guidance and steering.
But ol' girl, as brusque as her delivery might've been, was kinda right.
It's so important to know beyond all doubts that you actually want to be a parent before you become a parent... because parenting is a lot. And no, I don't have an infant who is waking up all night to nurse or a toddler who is writing on my walls. But I have a teenager who plays three sports, is a percussionist, attends school in a different state, and still tries to maintain a social life. He likes girls and insists that we listen to Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert (these are REAL PEOPLE) in the car. There is always something to pay for. Something to buy. Something that's needed. Something that's necessary. Parenting requires commitment beyond that of any other job you will ever have, because it's constant. You're on call always. And when parenting rings, everything else, especially when you're a single parent, takes the back burner.
I had to remove my feelings from the conversation with the girl because she talked about being a mom like it was a disease, something awful and huge and incurable. I just listened to what she was saying, and I was kinda impressed that, even without being a parent herself, she understood that the commitment and dedication good parenting required was something she just wasn't interested in .
It made me think... How much do we really consider the weight of things before we commit to them? And how many of those commitments do we make because society tells us that they're the "right" decisions? How many women get pregnant and are miserable? How many people stay in unhappy marriages for the sake of appearance? How many parents have kids they didn't plan, don't want, and don't really like, but feel trapped in their circumstances? How many people lie to themselves about their sexuality because they are too afraid to be who they really are? How many of us are too afraid to say something like, "Parenting is awful and I don't want it for my life" because we are afraid of being judged?
That conversation stayed with me for the rest of the day. I made the decision to be a mom, and fourteen years later, I don't regret it. I love my son and the joy he's brought to my life. But there are a lot of other decisions that I could make that fall into that same category, and I admired my passenger's candor, her ability to discuss so clearly what was not for her even when she had no idea she was in the company of someone who had a totally different outlook. She was exactly who she was regardless of who was around her or what I thought (even though she assumed I wasn't old enough to be a mom because good melanin genes).
I'm challenging us all to live according to what is best for us. What feels best for us. What we know to be best for us. We all deserve a stab at living the lives we create for ourselves according to our own design. Yes, we have to work. We have to pay taxes. There is shit that is inevitable that we HAVE to do that just come as a part of adulting. But there's also stuff we don't have to do. We don't have to reproduce. We don't have to get married. We can tattoo our bodies, pierce our skin, dye our hair, dress in ways that make us feel good. We don't have to fall into society's definition of success in order to be truly successful. All that matters is that the life you live validates you, your own morals and ideas, and what you want. Happiness is underrated. It's the difference between being alive and living. I challenge you to take the time to figure out what really makes you happy. Make a damn list. What brings you joy? What makes you feel alive? What makes you happy? Live your life in ways that honor your list. If marriage isn't for you, don't get married. If kids aren't your choice, don't have them.
(Especially that. Because you do a child a disservice when you have them and don't want them. Don't mess them up for life by treating them like a mistake.)
Be you, out loud. Be exactly who the hell you are, without being afraid of what people will think. The people who really love you will accept you however you come, and those that don't really love you don't matter anyway. Your sexuality, your body, your work, your self-expression... all YOUR choices to make. Choose wisely. And, by wisely, I mean choose carefully what you want... and don't worry about what anybody else thinks of your choices.
I never once tried to convince the young lady in my car that she was wrong about her idea of parenthood. Not one time. I respected fully and completely that this was her opinion, even though I am a mom myself. She reminded me of something that is easy to forget: that my choices matter, regardless of how they may sound to other people. That my happiness trumps what other people want for my life. That life is uniquely what I make it... so I might as well make it good.
I know some of you are shaking your heads already... "She's always ragging on the church!" you're probably thinking.
And yep. Y'all gonna call my mama again... I already know it.
Listen. I am the woman I am, in large part, because of the church. Remember, I spent 30 years of my life being actively involved in the church and church activities, so I attribute a lot of the better qualities I have to lessons learned in and because of church.
But sometimes, the church ain't shit... and I gotta speak on it. But first, story time. Because I ALWAYS have a story.
When I was a 19 year old sophomore at Hampton University, I got pregnant with Michael. The pregnancy itself was a huge deal for both our families; both his AND my parents were officers at their respective churches. After we'd told our parents and everybody had a chance to deal with the news, life pretty much went on as normal. At the time, I attended Antioch Baptist Church in Hampton, VA, which happened to be the church my son's father and his entire family attended. I sang in the Youth and Young Adult Choir, and Michael's dad was the church's drummer.
I sang. He played the drums. Everybody knew that Mike and I were together; it was only because of him that I ended up at Antioch. Keep this in mind.
When I was about 3 months pregnant, the pastor called me into a meeting in his study after service. I sat down across from him and his wife, and he looked at me and said, "We think it would be a good idea for you to step down from the choir until after you have your baby. We lead by example here, and it just isn't appropriate for you, an unwed pregnant woman, to be singing in the choir."
I sat silently for a second, and then said, "Okay. I don't like your suggestion, but I can understand where you're coming from. I expect you'll be having this same meeting with Mike, right?"
They looked confused, so I went on, "I mean, it's just as inappropriate for him to be on the drums, considering he's the one who got me pregnant, right?"
The pastor looked stuck for a minute, and then responded, "Mike is a salaried musician on our church staff. He will be allowed to continue playing with the music ministry."
"So let me make sure I understand you," I said slowly. "You want to sit me down from my ministry because I'm pregnant, but the father of this child won't share the same consequences?"
"No," the pastor said. "The act of formication was the sin, not the baby. But sins have consequences. Now, you're clearly pregnant, and it's just not a good example to set to our congregation, especially not the other young women who might look up to you."
I was quiet. Then, I responded, "Until you sit Mike down from playing the drums, I will continue singing in the choir. I didn't get pregnant by myself."
The conversation went back and forth for several minutes, but I was adamant, and refused to acquiesce. They insisted that they had no reason to sit Mike down, because HE wasn't the pregnant one. I told them that if sin had consequences, and he and I committed the same sin TOGETHER, we should have the same consequence. I refused to allow them to shame me into hiding when Mike could boldly play his drum set every Sunday.
So. I sang in that choir, in that black and red choir robe, until the very day I went into labor. I was fat, hot, uncomfortable, could hardly breathe, always hungry, and swollen. I would've loved to sit my pregnant ass in the congregation instead of being up there singing. But I refused to sit down out of principle. I'm proud of myself, even at 19, for sticking to my convictions. Had the pastor called both of us into that meeting and sat both of us down, I would've accepted the consequences of my actions. But my pregnancy was no immaculate conception, and the father of the baby had just as much responsibility for my growing belly as did I, so I sang until the baby came. Literally. I went into labor on a Sunday night. I sang that morning.
Fast forward to today... I'm driving Lyft this morning when I hear Russ Parr and his morning crew talking about the unmarried female pastor who is pregnant and refusing to step down from the pulpit. You can read her story here. In summary, she got pregnant, and her initial reaction was dread. She knew that she would be judged harshly for her pregnancy because of her position in the church--- and she was. People were calling for her resignation, saying that she should be ashamed of herself. People love to claim that pastors and church officers lead by example, and should not do anything to distract others from their ministry or the work of the church.
I call bullshit. Listen to me closely.
Everybody. Your pastor sins. Yop. So does your super-saved, extra anointed, speaking-in-tongues grandma. So does the usher who rolls her eyes at every short skirt that walks into the sanctuary. So does Deacon so-and-so, who seems to live at the church because he's there every single time you are. That lady who gets to church before the doors are even unlocked and sits in the front row and wears the doily on her head and always has them strawberry candies in her purse? Yep. She sins, too. You reading this... You, my love, are a sinner.
Let's not even get me started on MY sinner status. Tuh.
Everybody sins. NOBODY IS PERFECT. And, according to the Bible y'all saints know so well, God doesn't esteem any sin higher than the other. So that little white lie you told that creditor that keeps calling your phone ("I'll send the money to you on the first of the month" when you KNOW you just said that to get them to stop calling) is no bigger or smaller sin than, say, a pastor having sex outside of marriage.
The reality is, male pastors do shady shit all the time. I've seen it with my own eyes. They have affairs outside of their marriage. They misappropriate church funds. Their eyes linger a little too long at legs walking around for offering. Their hugs are a bit too tight sometimes. But they're men... so they're allowed to continue in their shenanigans as long as they preach fire and brimstone and make the people shout and lay prostrate. I can name names of prominent pastors right here in the DMV that have approached me on some shady shit, right there in the sanctuary. PROMINENT PASTORS. And none of it would be hearsay, because I lived it.
Also, Jamal Bryant. If you don't know him, Google him. That man is a hot ass mess in his personal life, but he's a skilled orator with a huge following. And when I say his life is a hot ass mess... Man, listen. And he has quite the flock at his Baltimore church.
A well-known pastor out of Roanoke, VA, was having an affair with a woman at his church, which resulted in the woman and his wife getting into an actual fist fight during service. FISTICUFFS, y'all. Two women scrapping like they were in the streets somewhere over a raggedy old pastor WHO IS STILL LEADING HIS CONGREGATION.
But because this woman actually shows the evidence of her sin in her growing belly, she needs to resign?
Pregnancy is a very public indication of a private act. She's being condemned simply because one can LOOK at her and see that she committed a sin. When you sin and nobody knows about it, it's nothing, right? Don't ask, don't tell, right? But we can't assume they don't sin. They're human. People know of pastors who have affairs, who do drugs, who steal from church funds, who drink and do drugs, and they pretend it's not happening. So how dare the public have such an outcry against this woman when they don't have similarly visceral reactions about the sins committed by male preachers?
This hypocrisy in the church is just too much for me sometimes.
This woman asked for forgiveness from her congregation. She stood up in front of them, admitted she had committed a sin, and told them she was an unwed mother-to-be. They rallied around her and supported her, and she continues to pastor her church. But Russ Parr's callers this morning got all the way under my skin. They were misogynistic and hypocritical and demanded that she be punished for her pregnancy.
Ain't a nere one of them perfect. Because the Bible says we ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. *wait... I felt a quickening...*
This isn't an article about church leadership being allowed to do whatever the hell they want. This is an article about how differently we regard men and women in church leadership when it comes to sin. Reverend Lassiter in Hampton, Virginia made that very clear to me when he and his wife asked me to stop singing but didn't dare remove their drummer (because who else would play the damn drums?). The public response against this pastor and her unborn baby prove it, too. Misogyny in the church is REAL. Men have forever been allowed to do whatever their tickles their raggedy ass fancies, but when women do it, they're slut-shamed, condemned, and shunned, and expected to go into hiding until their bellies go back to normal. And it's ridiculous.
And I'm calling it out.
Women do not get pregnant alone. Well, Mary did. But that's different. Women are as human, as imperfect, and as susceptible to temptation and sin as men are. Stop holding them to standards you don't hold men to, especially in the church.
If you're not a sinner, and everything you do is perfect, why are you attending church anyway? You wouldn't go to a hospital if you weren't sick, would you? You don't go out to eat when you're not hungry. If your life is perfect, then feel free to judge the actions of others, because you're clearly Jesus Christ himself. Also, stay home. Church is for the imperfect... the people who are striving to do a little better every day but know they need help getting there.
But since your life ain't perfect, stop pointing out the speck in someone else's eye and ignoring the log in your own.
That's Biblical, too.
Pastor Desiree Allen, you have my full support. Preach until your ankles are too swollen to stand, and then sit on a stool and preach. And as that baby grows, and pushes your organs up, and your diaphragm doesn't expand the way it used to, and you're winded, and tired, and hot, keep preaching anyway. You've asked for forgiveness for your sin. God forgives as far as the East is from the West. (Yep... in the Bible.) You've asked for forgiveness from your congregation.
Everybody else can mind their business... and/or go to hell.
That's it. Y'all be easy.
Warning: I had wine and olives for dinner tonight. So I'm not sure if this will be an actual post, or some stream-of-consciousness rant that only makes sense to me... because wine. Lots of wine. But anyway...
This will probably be another one of those unpopular posts that have the church folk calling my mom and asking her a million questions about my wayward life. Y'all gotta chill. I'm sure she's tired of answering your questions. Geez.
So I've been diving into the spiritual realm quite a bit lately in my life. I guess it's first necessary to give you some background information on my spiritual journey thus far.
I was that kid for whom church was NEVER an option. As long as I woke up on Sunday morning with breath in my lungs, I was going to church. Period. I was christened at 3 months, baptized when I was 7, and I served in every possible youth capacity imaginable. I was an usher, I sang in the choir, I was even a delegate to the Progressive National Baptist Convention for several years. Most of my friends were from church. I am a deacon's kid. I even attended Christian school for two years. It's safe to say that my life, until I was 18, revolved around church.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic when I left for college and was no longer forced to get up at the crack of dawn on Sundays, don stockings, and go to church. The first few weeks of school, I absolutely relished spending my Sunday mornings in my bed, snug under my covers. But around the 4th week of school, I felt empty, like something was missing from my life. The following Sunday morning, I woke up, got dressed, and went to service at the chapel on campus. Every Sunday from that Sunday until I graduated from college, I, without being under duress of any kind, woke up for church. I even sang in the choir-- even up until the day I went into labor with Michael. (His daddy was the drummer. Lol. ) So, just like that, church was, once again, an integral part of my life.
I graduated from college, came home, and jumped right back into my childhood church like I'd never left. It wasn't long before I was in the choir, singing on the praise team, and facilitating a ministry. Spending several evenings a week at church and attending both Sunday services was the norm for me. That was just... what I did. Until one Sunday, when I was 31 years old...
I'll spare the grizzly details and just say the church leadership and I had some irreconcilable differences, and for the first time in my entire life, I found myself without a church home. I was genuinely lost. Within a few months of leaving the only church I'd only ever really known, I joined another church-- a very popular megachurch not too far from where I lived. Michael and I went through the new members classes and I was excited to get involved. I'd always loved the pastor and really enjoyed the services. The Sunday before Thanksgiving 2014, Michael and I received the Right Hand of Fellowship at this new church. We were officially members. I joined a couple of ministries, and got Michael involved with the youth, but as I sat in the services along with the other several thousand members there, I felt lost. Absolutely lost. Like a needle in a haystack. Yes, there was a worship experience going on around me, and yes, the pastor preached the Word better than any pastor I'd known, but nothing about that church felt personal to me. I was going through the motions. I was just... there. One of a sea of members. I didn't know anyone. Mind you, I was coming from a small, community church where EVERYBODY knew me, where I had been loved and spoiled my entire life. This new church wasn't for me, so I stopped going. It just never "felt" right to me.
I church-hopped for awhile. There were a few other churches I'd visit. I'd even attend my childhood church with my parents from time to time (but the petty in me was careful to avoid speaking to certain people... because I don't forgive so easily). But I never quite felt like I belonged anywhere. I was church homeless. Eventually, I stopped trying, and just stayed in bed on Sundays. Forcing church felt so inauthentic to me. As a result, I suffered spiritually, which was completely confusing to me. Spirituality had to be just more than attending church and listening to sermons, right? But I felt so empty
I decided to stop searching outside of myself for a spiritual connection and do my own research, look inwardly, and figure out what spirituality actually was.
What I discovered kinda surprised me.
All my life, I heard that spirituality was my relationship with God, which was strengthened by my attending church, going to Bible study, and assembling with the saints (and the ain'ts... because y'all already know they're there, too). Spirituality, then, in my mind, was directly linked to church. And, according to my mom, who is VERY concerned about the lack of church in my life, there is no way I can grow in my spiritual life without being part of a church.
I'm not saying she's wrong. But I discovered she's only telling a very small part of the real truth of spirituality.
One night, I was on Twitter and I happened upon a thread about a full-moon ritual. It sounded kinda hocus pocus, but I was in a space in my life where I felt so spiritually empty that I was willing to try it, just to see how it worked. In this ritual, I was supposed to write down the things I wanted to get rid of in my life, and the set the list on fire. As it burned, I was supposed to imagine those things I wrote down evaporating into the air with the smoke. I made my list, and as it burned, I was moved to tears. I actually felt the weight of those things leaving my shoulders. As I cried, I prayed... and thanked God for taking those things away from me. It was strange that a full-moon ritual led me to the most sincere prayer I'd prayed in months.
After the full moon ritual worked so well for me (I actually let go of those things I wrote on the paper and have not picked them up since), I decided to dive into crystals and explore how they worked. I contacted a friend of mine who was well-versed in crystals, and asked her a million questions. Her answers led me to really taking the time to look at myself and see which of my chakras needed the most work, so I could determine which crystals were best for me to begin with. I read about each chakra, and was honest with myself about my flaws. I discovered that my solar plexus (the chakra in my belly) was the weakest.
I've had digestive issues and ulcers for several years. Last month, I had my gallbladder removed, and I was diagnosed with celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten. I also suffer from anxiety, have fluctuating self-esteem, and doubt myself and my abilities a lot. All of things are directly related to having an over- and under-active solar plexus. This site was really helpful. So I bought a couple of crystals-- citrine and tiger's eye for strengthening the solar plexus, and quartz for calm and serenity. I began to learn about the power of the crystals, how to use them, how they worked in my life. I bought a Himalayan salt lamp and sage for smudging. I began to really pay attention to the energy around me and, as a result, I started exploring meditation.
Meditation was difficult at first. I could never really clear my mind enough for it to be effective. My thoughts would wander. I would end up making to-do lists or thinking about writing projects when I was supposed to be mindfully mindless. So, instead of clearing my mind, I'd use my meditation time to pray.
So I'd be lying still, clutching my crystals, pouring my heart out to God in prayer, talking to Him as honestly and candidly as I knew how, giving Him all my burdens and issues, sharing with Him my dreams and hopes, and feeling His spirit literally filling my heart in ways I didn't even feel when I was attending church 4 times a week.
I'ma rewind that for you.
I left church, got into moon rituals and crystals, which led me to learn about energy, which led me to meditation, which caused me to pray to God in ways I'd never been able to pray in church.
Learning who I am, what my fears and flaws were, and exploring alternate ways of strengthening my relationship with the world around me, with the universe, and with myself, led me to God in ways that church never did.
Spirituality, then, is not a relationship with a Higher Being. It is a relationship with self.
All my life, I'd learned that spirituality equals church. It took me years of feeling empty and lost to discover that spirituality is so much more than that. Spirituality is nature. It's honest evaluation of self and a vow to improve weak areas. Spirituality is appreciating the beauty in nature and its healing power. Spirituality is gratitude. Church is simply a building. Religion is simply indoctrination, or a list of rules and rituals that govern how we live. Religion really means absolutely nothing, which, for a woman who spent almost every Sunday of her life in church, deeply enmeshed in religious activities, is shocking discovery. Spirituality is a deep appreciation of life, of self, and of nature. It's placing your relationship with your Higher Power in perspective. Sometimes, when I meditate, I simply say "thank you" over and over again.
I want us to get away from the idea that church is the only way we can connect with God. It's not.
I like attending church services. I like the singing, the preaching, and the fellowship. But I understand church and church activities as mere portals to spirituality. If a song or a sermon ushers you into the presence of the Most High, then that's amazing. But, for me, it was nature. It was learning about crystals and the moon. It was focusing on chakras and energy. It wasn't until I really found myself that I found God in a way that was real and meaningful to me.
Yes, I believe in the Law of Attraction and other laws of the Universe. Yes, I believe that my citrine and tiger's eye stones have energy that have improved my confidence and self-esteem. Yes, I believe in the power of the moon and its cycles and how they impact our lives. Yes, I believe that my salt lamp and smudging changes the energy in my home. But I also believe deeply and sincerely in God and His power in my life. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe even more in the power that God gave ME when He created ME in HIS image... I believe he made me a god in my own right, just like Him. And I believe in doing all I can to cultivate that power in myself.
Don't let anybody tell you that these things are mutually exclusive. I got into an argument with someone on Facebook who said that anybody who believed in the "universe" couldn't possibly believe in God. How stupid. Humans are smart enough to understand that everything isn't absolute. I can believe in the power of nature and in the God who created it at the same time. In fact, I think that reverencing the power of nature is another way of showing respect and admiration to God. It all works together, in my opinion.
If you are a person who believes that church and worshipping God are the only ways to engage spiritually, I want to tell you that there is so much of the spiritual realm that you are missing out on. The more I got to know myself, the more I got to know my Creator. As I grew in love and awareness of self, my awe and admiration for God grew, too. The better I knew myself and the universe in which I exist, the better I understood God. I discovered spirituality through a deep, very honest, sometimes painful and discouraging awareness of myself. As I discovered the god in me, I discovered the God in whose likeness I was created.
So. Do your moon rituals, Use your stones. Sage. Meditate. Face your flaws. Celebrate your beauty. Understand your chakras. Learn the laws of the universe. Show gratitude. Give for the sake of giving. Pray. This is the very essence of spirituality.
Funny thing... I had to leave church to find God... and I found Him where I should've been looking for Him this whole time: inside of me.
Sometimes I write things that are too short to publish. I needed someplace to put them. Here seems like just as good a place as any...