Week 20: #52Essays2017 Day One – VONA 2017

Night of My Arrival

I forgot a pen. How can someone attending a writing workshop forget a pen? The irony of it all.

This is my third VONA and I am excited to be here for one reason. I missed this energy. I remember, for my first VONA in 2014, arriving in Berkeley, California and looking so pale and anxious, my sister friend begged me to put on lipstick. I was anxious. I was also completely hungover from my 30th birthday celebrations, but that is an entirely separate essay.

I suppose I was more prepared for this VONA. I was anxious all week, felt the anxiety settle into my stomach, gurgle there. I was nauseous for most of Saturday before I got here. I was dizzy and jittery. When I hugged a sister-friend, who, also attending, offered to drive me to Philly, she remarked that I was shaking. I didn’t even realize that my entire body was buzzing until she said that.

I ask myself what VONA brings to my life and all I can say is energy and ink. The VONA experience is one that is about mastering balance. You must balance the work, the ink, the language, the craft with the emotional, social, and spiritual current running through the entire set of people in VONA. I want to make the best of this experience and I don’t want to squander the it. I am a sponge and VONA and all of its wonderful spills and overflow of energy, is the life-giving water. I want to grow this year as a writer. I want to laser-focus on what I am working on.

*

Day One of Workshops

I hadn’t really slept well the night before, but I was up and at ’em at 5:45am to make sure I was showered and dressed for the scheduled sound circle with Gina Breedlove. I went down to the dining hall with my dormmates for the week. Sat down to scrambled eggs, two sausage links and two pancakes, a take out cup of coffee and I was out. I had never done a sound circle before and didn’t know what to expect but I was open to the emotion and the experience.

The room smelled like sage and roses when I walked in. The scent of sweetness and herbs is calming for me, reminds me of botanicas and altars.  Gina, an elegant woman shrouded in spirit addressed us all with the salve of her voice. She wore a floor length, long sleeve dress with greens and blues twisted throughout, shoulders framed with lilies of the valley, a tattoo of a butterfly on her neck. She has the kind of voice that soothes, that eases. Her movements were smart, intentional. Her gesticulations and breath were calculated, measured. Every thing she did was with an intention. Her voice was the sage in the room. I would like her to narrate my life.

The sound circle was meant for us to move energy through our bodies with sound, with the sound of our voices. Each sound was meant for a specific chakra, each Sanskrit word seemed to vibrate against us as we chanted them. The energy was lifted in the room. I felt it. I suppose I was vibrating hard because a number of people said they could feel strong waves of my energy. Sarah even came and placed a hand on my back and checked in with me, told me she could feel my energy from across the room. I thought to myself that this energy I am exuding is all because of VONA. I am allowing myself to be open to waves of energy that in any other way, I am guarded and wary of. New York City can do that to someone, force them to create walls around their spirit.

I felt the places where energy is blocked. I know it is blocked. No, not blocked. Locked. I know I have the key. I am working on loosening those joints so I can be fully open in my spirit. Solar Plexus chakra, the place that holds grief, the stomach, flipped and flipped when we chanted for it. I cried when I felt the chant reverberate there. I know the grief and trauma I feel is pushing against my solar plexus, my stomach, my bowels, my “gut.” I feel it there. I am swallowing to keep it all down. I have to allow myself to process and release. It’s all so complicated when you are unsure of how much you are holding there. Gina Breedlove referred to this release of energy and grief as having a “productive cough.” That resonated with me.

I know I am an energy carrier. I hold weight in this room, in this world. During the sound circle, we were asked what one of our favorite sounds are and my response was the sound of summer, cicadas in the trees, the buzz much like the hum of those chant words. I realized that my spirit is as wide as the ocean, as powerful as the ocean, and as vulnerable as the ocean. I must protect myself always. Ocean and roses.

*

After this opening of spirit, we went straight to our workshops. Our facilitator, Kiese Laymon, is the kind of spirit that reminds me of this beautiful Philly summer weather we are having. Warmth and light and cool, cool, cool breeze. He is a tentative and real soul. Someone that doesn’t parade as a facilitator but more like a prodding stick: Let’s think this, let’s ask questions, let’s make this messier. His brain and his language and writing are brilliance. His heart though. I know that is where he is the shiniest.

The conversations were just stunning. The sound circle work really opened us up and thought and heart poured out of us. I am choosing not to talk fully about what was discussed out of respect to some of the personal things the other writers spoke about, but I will highlight what crossed my mind throughout our workshop discussions.

I wrote in my journal, “When I forget things, I get scared about losing my mind.” I think about Titi Li. I think about Tita. I think and worry about my aunts, uncle, my mother. The loss of lucidity is my worst fear. I want to die with clear eyes and no cobwebs in my brain. I suppose I am pressed to publish and write these things because I am scared that if I don’t, I will forget it all. I will lose it in the mist of dementia one day.

And I want to die with clear eyes.

I thought about being 7 years old and telling all of my secrets to Velvetina, my velveteen rabbit doll. I told her all of my secrets and shared all of my child hopes with her. I whispered so much to my doll, that the seam in her pink satin lined ears had begin to tear. Pages and ink and words became the tear in that ear. I write for that ripped satin ear.

I described writing as being about fucking with your wounds constantly. Healing is not finite. One day you’re ripping off your bandages, exposing them to light and air. Other days, you pick at the scab, the stitches, the scar. The next day you coddle and recharge, you’re gentle, you try to heal yourself. There is no end point to this kind of work really. There is a constant rekindling, , a constant new lens on your wounds, your trauma, your pain. This kind of thinking made me think of Alex La Salle, advising me that too often people use the word “revolution,” when we should be saying “evolution.”

When we workshopped the first person’s piece, I think what came across is the line between technique and emotion, text and intention.The need to make sure that you are present when you write, that you put yourself in the story, and not just in a way that you are just a mere moving part. Place yourself in the story because you are a functioning and emotional part of the story.

We discussed the need to be compassionate with ourselves. Most importantly, we discussed the need to give ourselves permission to do this work, to trust ourselves with the art.

*

And that was just day ONE.

 

 

 

 

#52Essays2017 Week 19: I Don’t Want This Anymore

“The way that people feel changes everything. Feelings are forces. They cause us to time travel. And to leave ourselves, to leave our bodies. ‘”- Helen Oyeyemi
*

The other night, I travelled back in time and met my younger self.

I was on a date, a first date. I had met the man when I left a meeting I had in midtown Manhattan. He got my attention as I was walking with my headphones on by waving frantically. I was a little taken aback, thinking I had bird shit on me or something so I stopped. He smiled. He was shorter than me, but had a great smile. He put his hand out to shake mine and we laughed at his waving.

“I had to get your attention somehow! You have headphones on!”

The conversation was pleasant. We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet for dinner later that week. When we spoke on the phone, he let me know he was a business owner with multiple businesses and that I “had nothing to worry about.” Our first conversation was really just him talking. I didn’t mind really though I did make a note that he dominated the conversation. Without any prompting from me, he told me about his ex-girlfriend and the reason they broke up. He broke up with her because she didn’t accept an extravagant gift he gave her. He was offended that she didn’t want to accept something that her man had given her and he left her because doing that showed him she didn’t value him enough.

I’ll be honest with you, that should’ve been a red flag, but I shrugged it off, thinking to myself that at the very least, it would be a decent dinner and decent conversation, even if we never hung out again afterward. I thought if there was no romantic chemistry, there would at least be some friendly banter and a fun night.

I was wrong.

*

I was a “sexy matador” the Halloween that the film “Black Swan” was smash hit. I plan all of my Halloween costumes meticulously, so all the details mattered. Fake rose in my hair, a double ring that had red roses on it. I was all in. It was cold, a snowstorm expected the next day. My friends and I had all purchased tickets to a boat ride party, something we had done in the past. I called a guy I had a physical relationship with to accompany me, hoping at the very least, that the night would end in some drunk sex. He arrived late and we were all the last to get on the boat before leaving the dock. I was a little irritated, but I shrugged it off, ready to enjoy the night. His costume was a cheap dollar-store orange prisoner jumpsuit costume that clearly showed last minute effort, and was highwater, showing off his dingy white socks and crispy clean sneakers. He looked like an asshole, but it was Halloween, so we got on the boat and proceeded to get shitfaced.

The night, overall, was decent. When we all left, my friends and I jammed into his car. I asked him to drop off a friend of mine a few minutes away from the boat and he went ballistic. He was so angry that my friend asked to be let out so that she could take a cab. I was furious but said nothing. I knew the fool would end up, despite his bitching, driving the rest of us uptown, so I sat back in my seat, expecting that the situation was squashed and we would ride in peace.

I was wrong.

“Why the fuck are you so stupid? I swear I told you I didn’t feel like driving anyone. Do you not listen? Are you deaf or something? Am I talking to myself, stupid? You are just so fucking stupid, I don’t even know why I fuck with you, I swear!”

My friend Ciara piped up in the backseat.

“Stop calling my friend stupid already. Just drive the car!”

I sat in that front seat and let him drive us back uptown, knowing that the night would end with him wanting to be physical. I knew sitting there, biting my sharp tongue, that I wouldn’t let that happen.

Whatever my intention though, I sat there and absorbed all the words, absorbed all the stupids, all the venom.

*

My trip back in time started with a royal blue vintage dress and heels. First dates are always fun for me. The meticulous care to detail for me. Which perfume? What outfit? What jewelry? Fresh curls. What makeup?  I take my time getting ready. It’s special to me. Who is to say that this first date won’t be my last first date? Call me vain, but in our “how we met” story, I want him (whoever he will be) to say that I looked and smelled beautiful and that the night was full of my brilliance which added to how amazing I looked.

Yep. I’m a little vain. I get it.

I smelled like a fucking rose for this guy. The Universe must have known that shit was about to go down because I grabbed the wrong set of keys and locked myself out of my apartment on the way out. I had to go get my landlord’s extra set and the whole process made me extremely late for the date.

When I called homeboy to apologize for my tardiness, he said, “Don’t worry. Get in  acab. It’s on me. I told you. Don’t worry.”

I did just that.

I arrived in the front of this fancy Cuban spot in the Theater District of Manhattan and stepped out of the cab. He came out of the lobby of the restaurant and walked towards me.

“Did you have to wear heels? You’re already tall.”

“Hi.” I laughed awkwardly.

He didn’t laugh with me. He rolled his eyes and turned to pay the cab.

“Now people are going to look at us weird because I look shorter than you. You don’t put much thought into shit, do you?”

I felt the familiar sting of venom but ignored it and followed him into the restaurant. The place was beautiful, spacious and warm, with booths of  quilted light blue fabric and greenery hanging from the walls. I loved it. He greeted the concierge with a hug, chatted with the staff as I stood off to the side. He didn’t introduce me but instead made a show of knowing everyone there. The people waiting to be seated stared and I smiled back sheepishly.

He requested a booth for us and we sat, the waiter serving us glasses of red wine. I giggled and told him that I felt like we had stepped into a scene from “Scarface.”

“Was she taller than him though? I don’t know. Next time, let me know what you’re wearing so I can tell you if it’s okay or not.”

I gritted my teeth as I sipped at my wine glass. I could feel time trying to pull me back. I could feel the past tingling at the hem of my dress. I sipped more wine.

“So, look at the menu. What do you want to eat?”

“I looked at the menu online. I like everything on it. Since you’ve been here before, choose for me what you like best.”

He rolled his eyes and looked to the ceiling. “Here we go…”

*

I was drunk after that boat ride. I was fine when the music was bumping, when I was surrounded by people and music and laughter. But in the front seat of that car, trying to ignore being berated by the dumb ass driving, the world began to spin a little bit. I was able to make it into my friend’s apartment. He followed inside. My homegirls decided their night was not over. The room was a blur in its spinning. I declined to go. My friend shrugged, said to leave the slam lock when I left. He and I were left alone. He reached for me, his eyes no longer venomous, but full of lust. I pushed him away.

“I don’t even like you as a person, you know that? I think you’re a terrible person.” I slurred.

“Oh word? You hate me?”

“I don’t hate anyone. I just don’t like you.”

“Well, fuck you then, ho. Figure out how the fuck you’re getting home then.” He pushed me hard as he walked past me to leave the apartment. I was too drunk to really care.

As soon as he left, I struggled to stay lucid as I sat on the couch of my friend’s apartment. I knew a snow storm was coming and I didn’t have any clothes or snow boots at her apartment so I forced myself to wake up and call someone. I had a homeboy that lived close enough, so I called him and asked him to come get me.

“Damn, Ang, my boy borrowed my car tonight. Are you okay? Are you safe?”

“I’m just drunk and that guy was an asshole.”

“He didn’t hurt you, did he?”

“No. Not at all. He got mad and left.”

“Well, get in a cab over here and I’ll take you home when my boy drops off the car. You can sober up a little on the ride. I’ll see you in a bit.”

*

The dinner was expensive platano maduro and churrasco. I’ve had better for cheaper in the hood. The restaurant was beautiful and it should’ve been a really fun night. Instead, it was tense and awkward and for most of the evening, the dude berated me for everything: the way I responded, the responses I had, the way I didn’t look him in his face for every word he had to say against me.

“You’re so disrespectful. No wonder you’re single, baby. You need to learn how to listen to your man.”

You’re not my man. 

I sipped at my wine and tried my best to lighten the mood. I have a large tattoo on my right hip to thigh area. The very edge of it was visible. Homeboy I suppose caught a glimpse and pulled my skirt up my thigh to see the tattoo better. I yanked my skirt down and scoffed.

“Are you crazy?”

“No. Are you? I’m here with you, treating you to dinner. You’re supposed to be sweet and nice to me. I just wanted to see your stupid tattoo.”

“You should’ve asked instead of sticking your hand up my skirt.”

“I can’t believe you. I hope you’re not always this ungrateful.”

We ate mostly in silence. There was something pulling at me, a familiar sense of confusion, of trying to see through muddy waters. This man was fucking with me, right? No one could be this ridiculous. I thought back to those times in my life when I had felt bad about shit like this, bent over backwards to appease the dude I was with because if I didn’t, he’d up and leave or he’d start to call me all the names I already called myself. Either way, I would be alone. That past shimmered there in the dim restaurant like a mirage. The wine didn’t taste good anymore, the food was subpar. I saw myself as a younger woman, apologizing to the man I was with. I gritted my teeth this time, pushing time ahead with my silence, knowing that if I opened my mouth, I would spaz and all I wanted was to end the night peacefully.

The waiter was a handsome older Cuban man wearing a light blue guayabera and rust colored shoes. He had a nice smile halfway hidden by a thick black mustache. Every time he came back to the table, he would joke with the dude I was with a bit and then turn and ask me if I was okay. He didn’t ask me if I needed anything and maybe I read too much into the question, but he kept asking me if I was okay when he would come back. I thought to myself that he had probably seen this guy mistreat women before. I nodded and remained silent. I was swimming in the treacherous waters of the past and I was trying to keep my head above the water, trying to keep clear and cool.

When the bill came he smiled and asked me to guess how much he spent on me. I answered and he laughed telling me I wasn’t used to men spending their money on me. I was all fire on the inside at his arrogance. I swallowed it and asked if we could leave. When I stood up and grabbed my scarf to wrap around my shoulders, dude rolled his eyes again.

“You look like a friggin’ tree next to me. I can’t even reach your shoulders to help you with your scarf. No more heels for you ever.” He smirked. “Let’s get in a cab to my house. I’m in the city and I’ll have him drop me off first and then give you cash to go the rest of the way to your house. Okay?”

“Sure.”

I followed him out of the restaurant. Our waiter was outside smoking a cigarette.

“Be safe, young lady.”

*

“‘Forget’ sounds like such a passive act, but anyone who has experienced the powerful force of repression will know the effort it takes to unforget, to remember.” – from “The Black Notebooks” by Toi Derricotte

*

I took the cab that night thinking I wouldn’t be waiting there long, but when I got there he wasn’t even dressed yet. He asked me to relax a bit while he showered and we waited for his boy to bring back the car. I passed out in my costume on his bed.

I thought it was a dream when I felt him on top of me.

He had pulled up the dress of my costume and was kissing my neck and breasts, whispering how beautiful I was, how good I felt. I could feel him undressing me, but I couldn’t move. I was fuzzy as if I was eating cotton as if my brain was made of it. I felt him push himself inside of me and I could feel my mouth moving and saying no but I couldn’t hear my voice and I couldn’t lift my arms, which felt like lead, like someone was sitting on them.

I pushed him away in my mind. I yelled no in my mind.

When he finished, he kissed me on the lips and I turned away. He turned to the wastebasket and threw out a condom.

He took the time to put on a condom. He thought about this before he did it. 

He thanked me for spending  time with him, offered me water, coffee, helped me sit up, handed me my panties.

“I don’t feel well. I need your bathroom.”

I threw up in his bathroom. I stuffed my fist into my mouth and held back screams. I felt as if my body wasn’t my own any longer. I felt like he had taken it and stripped it of me. I was no longer me. I was no longer me. I felt lied to. I washed my face and rinsed my mouth. I wiped smudged mascara off of my cheeks. I swallowed it. I absorbed it. I soaked it in.

“Get me a cab.” I said it softly.

“You don’t wait for my boy anymore? I can take you, babe.”

“I’m not your babe. Get me home like you promised.”

He paid my cab, slipping me twenty dollars as he tried to embrace me. My arms were limp. I was nauseous still, the room still spinning. I was still drunk. I stumbled down the steps outside. I slurred when I gave the cab driver the address to my apartment.

And then I thought, How could you let yourself be here again?

I cried the entire way home. I slept for days after, called out of work. When I returned to work, there was an email from him asking why I was acting weird with him. Didn’t I realize that the moment he shared with me was so special? So important to him? I didn’t respond to him. I never spoke to him again.

But I wasn’t even awake. I should’ve just stayed on K’s couch. I should’ve slept there and dealt with the damn snow somehow. I did this. I did this. It would’ve never happened had I just stayed where I was. I did this. 

*

After eating expensive platano maduro and drinking copious amounts of red wine, I got into a metered cab with dude. I was kind of happy to be on my way home. I couldn’t wait to take off my bra, enjoy my red wine buzz alone with the doggy bag I had taken with me without his ass berating me. It was going to be a great end to my night.

Instead, he lunged at me, sticking his tongue in my mouth and his hand up my skirt. I could feel his fingers trying to shove my panties to the side and his tongue slimy and stale against my teeth. I shoved him off of me. Hard.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“Are you serious? You pushed me off of you?”

“It’s our first date, man. What is going on? I am not okay with that.”

He didn’t respond but instead turned away from me and looked out of his window. We rode in silence mostly. He muttered the entire time.

“Ungrateful. You’ll never find a dude that will do what I did tonight. Stay with these broke dudes then. You don’t deserve this shit.”

When the car came to a stop near his building, he paid for his ride and jumped out, slamming the door. I shrugged and told the driver where I was going. I couldn’t find my wallet and I could feel myself getting anxious, so I asked the driver to pull over and put the light on so I could look for it. As I was looking, the dude came and opened the door.

“I’m sorry I acted that way. I promised to get you home. I just called a cab service. It should be here in a few minutes. Get out of this so you don’t have to pay a metered cab. I’m sorry. I really am.”

I hesitated.

I should’ve stayed in the car. Instead, I got out. He handed me some money and reassured me that a livery cab was on its way. As I waited, he asked me what my problem was.

“I was just being nice to you all night and you went crazy on me.”

“That wasn’t nice. Are you crazy? That was inappropriate. Period.”

I was holding the money in my hand when he reached over and yanked the money away.

“Give me my fucking forty dollars, stupid bitch.”

And that’s when I unleashed the Bronx on his ass.

*

“The stomach, is the core seat of the Solar Plexus. This chakra, governs all physical systems related to digestion – we’re talking the stomach itself, the intestines, the bowel, and all peripheral digestive areas. Energetically, the Solar Plexus governs core self-esteem, self-worth, self-value, and overall feels of empowerment.

In fact, many people see the stomach as the seat of your personal power.” –Sarah Petruno 

*

I’ll be honest, I didn’t really tell anyone about that Halloween night. I kept it to myself for a long time. In fact, I told one person at the time. It was a male friend of mine, someone I no longer communicate with. His reaction was seared into my brain for years, a keloid in my psyche.

“You allowed this man to disrespect you. How is it his fault if you allowed him to do it? You put too much trust into these dudes and then want to blame them for what happened. If you hadn’t trusted these men, you’d still be unharmed, you wouldn’t be damaged the way that you are.”

How could I disagree with him? I called that supposed homeboy that night. I asked for a ride home. I passed out on his bed. I was too drunk to function. I was too drunk to communicate until it was too late. I was damaged and it was my own fault.

So, I pushed it down. I pushed it all the way down and ignored it. I let it sit in my stomach, let it fester there. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t tell anyone because I was ashamed of my choices that night. I was able to get away from one abuse only to allow another that night. Not only had this happened with someone I thought I could trust, it was not the first time. I had been sexually assaulted when I was a teenager. I had promised myself then that no man would ever violate me in that way again. I felt nauseous, as if my life had become a chaotic tornado and I was spinning. Spinning.

I thought I was stronger and smarter than that.

One day, I told the story to some of my sister-friends, one of them being the friend that I was with that night, the friend whose house I had left. Her eyes went wide when I told her. I could see tears brimming in them and she reached out a hand to me. I don’t know why, but I pulled away and shrugged.

“It was nothing. He was just a jerk that got what he wanted. I don’t talk to him anymore. We’re not friends. I was drunk. I should’ve just stayed here that night.”

“Ang, so what if you were drunk? So fucking what? He was on top of you when you woke up! Mama, that’s rape. He raped you. I’m so sorry he did that.”

I excused myself and went into the bathroom, feeling as if the room was moving around me, as if I was being swallowed up by her words, her watery eyes, the hand that reached out to me. I didn’t want it. I sank to the floor in front of the toilet bowl and vomited. I threw up and cried and threw up and cried. When my friend walked into the bathroom, she didn’t say anything. She stood there and let me cry. Our other friends had no idea I was sick.

“You can’t hold on to shit like that, Ang. You’re getting yourself sick like this.”

I nodded, head dipping towards the cool of the porcelain. I felt sick. I felt as if my insides were rotten. As if I were rotten.

How much shame can you carry before it weighs you down and pours out of you?

*

When he grabbed the money out of my hand, I flashed back to the car ride home that Halloween night, flashed back to all of the times in my life when a man put his mouth to talk down to me, all the times I’ve been treated like dirt. I had tried to keep it cool all night but the moment he snatched that money out of my hand, I felt fury rippling through me.

And I fucking spazzed in the middle of the street.

I called him all kinds of names, told him to shove his money in his ass and twirl, told him he was a fucking psycho and to stay the hell away from me. I headed towards the corner where I saw a cab waiting at the stop light. I ran towards it and heard him yelling “Babe! Babe, wait!”

I turned, my hair slapping me in the face with the force of my turn.

“I’M NOT YOUR FUCKING BABE, YOU FUCKING PSYCHO!”

I walked to the cab and jumped in, slamming the door shut and locking it, as I watched homeboy walk towards the car. He reached for the door handle, pulled. His face softened as he looked at me through the window.

“Why are you acting like this?” I heard him say.

“Fuck you! Leave me the fuck alone.”

There was a guy sitting inside the cab I had jumped into, paying his ride. I didn’t even notice until he cleared his throat.

“I am still paying for my ride.”

I turned to him with laser eyes. “I don’t give a fuck what you’re doing. Pay and get out but I’m not opening this door.”

I watched as my date handed the money he ripped out of my hand to the driver. I hated that he was watching me with sad eyes, as if I was indeed the one who was bugging out, as I was the one who had violated him, his space, his time, his body. I was furious and scared and tired. I just wanted to go home.

I could feel my body begin to tremble, the familiar heat of anxiety creeping up from my toes. When the car pulled off, I burst into tears. I was in full panic. I sobbed out of fury, out of fear, out of relief. I was on my way home. I was safe.

I thought of that young woman I used to be, the one who people said allowed men to mistreat and violate her. I mourned her pain. I cried because for so long I kept her pain inside of me. I probably still do.I don’t know. I know that the curls in my stomach, the nausea that swept over me, the panic attack he triggered…it all took over me. I was a mess.

The cab driver asked me if he was my boyfriend. I shook my head vehemently. He smirked.

“So then why did you even go out with him?”

“It was a first date!”

“You should’ve gotten to know him better then, young lady.”

“It was a first date!”

The cloak of my shame wrapped itself around me. I told myself I should’ve stayed in the metered cab, told myself I should’ve walked away when he started his bullshit in the restaurant. I told myself that I was the one who let it get this far. I went on to Instagram and did a live feed, knowing that one of my tribe would see me, a puddle of tears and anxiety. I was right.

“You did nothing wrong.”

“This isn’t your fault.”

“You’re safe now.”

Simple words. Powerful words. Words I am grateful for.

I got home, went into the bathroom and threw up. I purged out all of the expensive platano maduro, purged out all of the venomous shame. I let myself cry.

And then I forgave myself for traveling back in time.

*

I didn’t tell the story of that night because I was trying to show you all how much I have grown past moments like that Halloween night. I told the story of that horrific first date to remind you all that sometimes in the journey, you time travel back in time. The Universe puts a repeat episode of your past right in your face. It tests you, asks you where you want to go with it, pushes you to make a decision.

Are you going to move forward or are you going to fold and repeat history?

I can’t tell you how many times I have repeated history or how many times I will.

I can tell you that on that night, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to blame myself any longer. I can tell you that on that night, I felt myself step out of my body as if I was watching myself react to this arrogant douchebag.

I was the Universe that night, asking myself what I was going to do.

And all the memories of trauma forced themselves to be seen, like a movie screen before me, bright and clear. The past and all of its bullshit, all of the tears and fear, all of the anxiety, the shame, the fear…it all was sucked into that moment there.

I don’t want this anymore.

That is exactly what I thought to myself before I spazzed on homeboy.

I don’t want this anymore. I won’t forget. But I don’t want this anymore.

Here’s to the past and for all I went through. Here’s to the future and all that may come. But most of all, here’s to being present and being aware and refusing to step back in time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#52Essays2017 Week 18: Cascadas y Mariposas (or Being Alone is a Superpower)

“And sometimes the best cure to loneliness is, in fact, to be alone.” – Samuel Leighton-Dore, from “The Difference Between Loneliness and Being Alone”

*

The trip was supposed to be a cutesy coupley kind of thing with the dude I was briefly dating this winter. I won’t even get into details about why it ended only to say that we were not compatible. He had purchased the Niagara Falls weekend couples package off of GroupOn and at first, we were both super excited. As time passed, I could tell that his enthusiasm had disappeared. When I confronted him about it, he denied his behavior, telling me everything was okay. I pushed a little because my intuition was telling me that he just wasn’t 100 percent into dating me any longer.

And I was right.

He finally ‘fessed up to the fact that he didn’t feel we were compatible, but not before he tried to paint the picture that it was because of something I had “done” to make him feel that way.

“Look, J… if you need to blame me for things ending, then go for it. I am okay with that. Just know that I am aware that it’s only because you’re not totally into the situation.”

Cue La Lupe’s “La Gran Tirana” here.

Now….what to do with that GroupOn? Homeboy tells me it’s mine, to go for it, makes a corny joke about wanting half back if I take a dude with me. The next day he hits me up and asks me about the refund policy because he “highly doubts” I will go alone.

I bought the bus ticket the day he texted me those words.

He must not know about me.

*

I planned every detail of this trip. I made a checklist of things that I needed to take with me so I wouldn’t forget, paid for excursions beforehand, wrote down every detail of my itinerary. I crossed every T and dotted every I.

This was the first time I would be taking a solo trip in my life so I wanted to be prepared. I had traveled alone before, sure, but there was always something waiting for me at the other side: a friend, a lover, family, a community. I had never taken a trip where it would be just me for the entire trip.

It occurred to me, at age 32, that the “couples” trip I was supposed to have would be the very first “couples trip” I would have ever taken. I can’t lie, the anxiety of the entire thing had me asking around.

“Do you have the time to accompany me? It should be fun.” No one had the time.

The Universe though, had other plans for me.

*

My bus to Canada left Port Authority at 5:15am. After taking a Lyft ride to Port Authority, I waited in the dingy waiting area for my bus to arrive. Something about Port Authority before NYC wakes up is creepy and sad all at the same time. Part of me kept my eyes open for my own safety as a woman travelling alone but prayed for every soul wandering around and wanting a warm place to sleep in the middle of the cold concrete of the city.

The bus ride was long. Nah, not just long but extremely long. Eleven hours to be exact with transfers in between. I slept in between transfers thanking the Universe I hadn’t forgotten my airport neck pillow. When we arrived in Rochester, border patrol came onto the bus and asked each of us for our passports. There was a beautiful couple sitting in the back, like one of those couples that should be in a perfume ad or something. They had been sitting together since NYC, cuddling and nuzzling each other in between their own naps.

Apparently,  the handsome male of that couple didn’t have proper paperwork. He was asked to get off the bus. They both tried to explain they were on a romantic weekend trip together but the border patrol officers insisted they exit the bus, one of them resting his hand on his holster in that way cops do when they want you to know that you should do as they say or else.

They both had accents, they were both brown. The young woman with him, eyes wide with fear, was told she could stay on the bus, but of course, she grabbed all of their items and waited outside for him. I applauded her in my mind for that. I watched as the border patrol walked the young man off the bus, towards their patrol car, frisked him, digging their hands into his pockets, patting him down.

I watched this happen, just like every other passenger watched. I asked myself if he could feel everyone staring. I was ashamed for watching and made myself look away.

A redhead in back of me with a short haircut sucked her teeth. She had already been irritating for a lot of the ride, talking so loudly on her cell phone that I could hear her over the music in my headphones. I wasn’t the first to be annoyed. An elderly woman asked her to lower her voice and she snapped that she was almost done and for her to “hold her horses.”

She was a pain in the ass and she was sitting directly behind me.

“Good riddance.” She spat between her sucking teeth.

“I think his passport was just expired or close to expiring. They are getting very strict about those things.” I said this out loud to the air, knowing she would hear.

The redhead leaned forward in her seat so I could see her face clearly as she spoke. She had thick glasses that made her beady eyes beadier and a row of sparkling braces over still-crooked teeth. I could see the spit forming in the corners of her mouth as she spoke.

“Nah. I’m glad he got kicked off. I don’t want no terrorist on my bus.”

I turned away from her. I asked myself later why I didn’t acknowledge her or why I didn’t tell her that her comment was problematic. I can admit to myself now that I did not want to engage a long drawn out conversation with a bigot. I was exhausted from the trip and the anxiety I was feeling from travelling alone and to engage her would zap me of the energy I had left. I can admit to myself now that I was also scared of the conversation escalating and my being kicked off the bus for being the browner of the two. I was apprehensive about being kicked off a bus I had already paid for, losing my money, and losing time on a very short trip. I was apprehensive about this happening without someone to get off the bus for me like the young woman had done for her beau.

I was apprehensive about this happening while I was alone.

But, on the other hand, I was ashamed for not saying something. I was ashamed for not standing up for that beautiful brown couple. I was angry at the redhead for her words, for sparking shame in me for my own inaction. I put my music up and held back hot stinging tears.

Sometimes that kind of shit can make you feel a hell of a lot more lonely.

*

When I finally arrived in Canada, it was not the brilliant springtime weather I assumed it would be. High temperatures did not take away from the chill in the air. I arrived in the hotel completely drained and wanting to hide. Upon my arrival, I found out that I was unable to use some of the vouchers for the GroupOn because they were only valid for couples. I cried in the lobby waiting for my room to become available while I contemplated how much additional money I would have to spend, unloading all of the energy I had absorbed on the trip over there, unloading the redhead, the shame, the anxiety of being alone.

I called my mother and she comforted me by saying I deserved the trip, that a man would take away from the experience, that I needed to calm down, get to the room, and relax. She told me that I did the right thing by protecting my own energy from the ginger on the bus. I thanked my lucky stars I had thought to pack a bottle of red zinfandel in my bag to keep me company this weekend.

I spent the first night using the hot tub that came in my couples suite, sipping wine, and munching on rice crackers and trail mix, watching whatever came on the television. I took selfies and slept and kept the blinds and drapes shut tight. I hibernated that night and gave myself quiet time to replenish my drained energy. I didn’t want to deal with anymore people or talk or look at anyone. I was protecting myself from bad vibes by cocooning in my hotel room.

*

I woke up early the next day swimming in anxiety. I stared at the empty side of the bed, a side I had left empty because I don’t know how to sleep in the middle of a big bed. I always make room for someone else, even if they aren’t there. I wished I had someone to curl into when waking, someone who would hold me and encourage excitement for the day.

But there was no one. I frowned.

I stayed in bed for a half hour, urging myself to get up, even if it was just to brush my teeth. This was a familiar conversation with myself. It’s why I put my alarm clock for half an hour before I am supposed to get up every day. I have to convince myself that I need to get up and handle the day, give myself a pep talk.

I stared at the ceiling. “So, you’re going to pre-pay for all of these excursions and just stay in bed? You really want to waste money and do what you could’ve done in the Bronx, minus the eleven hour bus ride? Get the fuck up!”

I sucked my teeth at myself. I was mad. I was grumpy. I was anxious.

“Let’s go. At least get dressed and go eat downstairs at the IHOP. At least do that. You’ll feel better after coffee.”

So, I did. I started small. I put music on and sang along with it as I moved. First, I brushed my teeth and pulled out my outfit for the day. I unfolded one of the hotel towels and hung it on the hook right outside of the shower. Then I pulled out the papers and junk I needed for the excursions I had paid for. Showered and washed my hair, lotioned with my favorite vanilla lotion, stared at myself in the huge hotel mirrors in my black bra and panties.

I stared at the bed behind me, imagining the man I loved lying there, smiling at me, staring at me with eyes that desired me, adored me. I blinked, imagined a man sitting at the edge of the bed, tapping his foot, looking at his watch, his face contorted with annoyance.

Except there was no man there. Not a sexy, kind-eyed one nor an asshole perched at the edge of the bed rushing me.

A part of me was sad by this and a part of me was relieved.

*

After breakfast, I walked towards the falls, using screenshots of Google Maps because once I left the safety net of  the hotel WiFi, I had no use for my phone other than its camera.  The day was neither cold or hot. It was a bright sunny day with warmth and breeze. After stopping at an information desk and getting all of my questions answered, I walked to my first excursion. It was the boat ride that went to the front of the falls called the Hornblower Cruise.

Excited, I stayed on the top deck, clinging to slippery silvered barricades, sliding across the slippery gray floors of the boat that reminded me of the cheap New York City party cruises I would go to in my 20s. People crowded together on that deck and as the boat moved, everyone readied themselves for I don’t know what…war? Magic?

The closer we got to the falls, the mistier it became. It became clear why those plastic raspberry-colored ponchos were necessary. The water looked like it had been painted and it was a teal blue that looked like I could’ve swam in it like a fish, like the kind of teal blue Crayola would never be able to recreate. The front of the boat where I was standing began to feel as if it were being pulled into the falls. As we hit the Horseshoe Falls, the water falls on the Canadian side of Niagara, the power of the water around us was astounding. While everyone around laughed and took selfies, I watched the water pouring over the sides and listened to the roar of it crashing down.

The power of the falls scared the shit out of me. So much in fact, that I turned away from them a few times. I felt as if at any moment we would all be swallowed into its power and be lost to the swirls of misty teal blue waves, into the crashing white thundering down around us. I had never felt more out of control, more powerless, or more miniscule outside of that night in December all those years ago. Except, this time, I was exhilarated, replenished almost.

I was reminded, standing on that slippery gray deck in my flimsy plastic poncho, that we are all guests on this Earth. I was reminded as I felt so small there surrounded by these skyscrapers of blue-green and frothy white water, that humans spend so much time trying to control things that were never ours to control, that we never had a right to control. I was reminded that power is beautiful.

I was reminded that something that can stand alone can be powerful and gorgeous and provide the world with energy.

I was content in that moment. I knew that I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much if I were focused on a man or a friend with me.

I looked around me, saw couples, old and young, gripping each other, kissing in the mist and I felt a pang. That would’ve been a classic, right out of the movies moment for sure.

I looked up at the falls again as the boat began to go back to the dock.

And she roared that I was not alone.

*

Every man that wasn’t related to me that I told about this weekend solo trip to the falls thought I was just being pathetic and lonely. Can I say their words didn’t sting? Nope. Can’t say that at all. It sat with me so long I wrote them down, chastising myself for being what one had referred to as “mad desperate for attention.”

One even told me I was stupid to try to “prove a point to a dude who doesn’t give a fuck.”

“Now, you’ll be at one of the most romantic places in the world alone. You’re going to look like a dumb ass, watch. How you gonna go without a man? Why didn’t you ask me?”

Because every man’s assumption, outside of my older brothers, thought that for a romantic weekend getaway, I should call them.

Because of course, I wanted them.

Por favor.

*

I visited the Butterfly Conservatory next. It was a bus ride away and the transportation in Niagara Parks was fairly easy to navigate. I arrived and walked in, sat for the informational video before the walk through the conservatory.

“Butterflies can’t hear but feel vibrations.”

Oh shit, they’re empaths like me.

“These sound wavelengths they feel, we are oblivious to, but it is how they move about the world and how they sense their enemies.”

Kinda like women’s intuition. 

“The colors on their wings are created by millions of scales that are layered and reflect brilliant and sometimes vivid colors.”

I’m made up of a million layers, too. 

“Please make sure not to touch their wings because as beautiful as they are, their wings are extremely delicate.”

Sounds about right. 

As I wandered around the conservatory, beautifully colored butterflies floating around me in iridescent blues, yellows, greens and reds, I couldn’t believe I was seeing these gorgeous insects face to face, some that I had really only seen in pictures before. A beautiful black and lime green winged butterfly landed on my pointer finger, greeting me almost.

I thought of that silly movie where Ashton Kutcher fucks up history by touching a butterfly in the past when he time travels and wondered what would change since that little black and green lady landed on me. I thought back to the Hornblower Cruise and the power of that kind of beauty compared to the delicacy of the butterflies. Could beauty and power be both hard and soft? Could there be a balance?

“Most species of adult butterflies are solitary creatures.”

So, there’s beauty in being delicate and alone. Okay, I can dig the shit outta that.

*

I can honestly say I enjoyed the rest of that day. I was overjoyed and super proud of myself that even with anxiety trying to nudge its way into the day, that I was able to get through it and motivate. I was proud that I was able to really enjoy the day and best of all, with no one else. That was such a huge accomplishment for me.

And then came the steak dinner at Keg’s Steakhouse.

I dressed up for myself meticulously, wearing special earrings and a beautiful dreamcatcher necklace I had purchased in a gift shop there. I used extra vanilla lotion and fluffed my curls. I walked to the restaurant from the hotel and regretted not packing boots as I shielded myself from the chilly wind rushing past me.

I was seated after a short wait and ordered a glass of a dark red zinfandel. I munched on the amazing complimentary bread. I ordered bacon-wrapped scallops, a filet mignon with asparagus. I relished that food, sipped at my wine. I even ordered a mini creme brulee for dessert. The meal was expensive because the couple voucher for the restaurant was invalid for a single person but I had decided upon arrival that I wouldn’t nix the steak dinner.

As I was paying my bill, a woman sitting at table next to mine with her homegirls approached my table.

“You really ate that meal alone? So did you get stood up? Me and my friends were all wondering.”

“No, I’m alone. I am visiting the falls alone.” I tried not to be offended that I was a topic of conversation at their table.

“Wow. You’re brave. I dunno if I could do that without someone here wit’ me, ya know? You don’t see all these couples, girl?”

“I see them. But I was hungry.” I shrugged, signing my bill, and placing the pen down.

“That’s it though? Just hungry? Or you’re trying to prove something to a man?”

I sat back in the chair, handed the billfold to the server as he walked by the  table and smiled.

“I guess I was at first. Not anymore. I guess I’m trying to prove something to myself now.”

I smiled again, stood, and wished her well.

I never asked her name. I didn’t need to. I knew why she had approached me and I thanked the Universe as I walked back to the hotel.

I proved to myself that I was capable. That I could enjoy myself. That I could love myself enough to do exactly as I planned without anyone there. That I could shield myself from negativity like that stupid ginger on the bus by being certain and sure of me. I proved to myself that I could give myself the care I needed to recharge and that I didn’t have to rely on external things to ground me. Love and the desire for it stopped being a salve, a fix-all, a hoped-for safety net. I proved to myself that the anxiety about being alone wasn’t enough to hold me back.

I proved to myself that what made me vulnerable, what made me delicate like those butterflies is what also made me powerful like the water. I was both.

I realized that I could be both cascada y mariposa.

#52Essays2017: Week 9: Not Your Problem

Having an anxiety attack in front of someone is probably the most annoying and frustrating experiences I can have. Not only do I have to navigate my own emotions and ground myself, I aggravate my anxiety by dwelling on how the person is reacting. I create narratives about what they are “really” thinking despite them reassuring me that all is cool and we’re chilling, etc. I’ve mentioned this in some of my previous writing on the topic.

Anxiety is like my shadow. I am always aware of it. I am always conscious of it because it can just happen. There is never a warning or anything. It’s not like my anxiety steps into my brain and says with Kanye West-swagger, “I’ma let you finish this day, but I’m the boss now, bitch.” Anxiety is not polite and it is certainly not patient. It will bumrush the fuck out of you and leave you breathless and angry with yourself or worse, it will make you feel like a turd. And no one wants to feel like a turd, man. No one.

*

I am at the house of a former paramour. I am reading a book of short stories sprawled out on his bed, while he showers. I am fine. I am enjoying the read and comfortable and ready for a nice night. Everything is okay.

He comes out of the shower and asks me if I’m ready to eat dinner. I nod, closing my book and follow him to the kitchen. I stand next to him as he is serving me a plate of rice and beans and a chuleta. I peel the banana I bought from the bodega and place it on the plate he’s holding and serving my food on. It’s yummy to me but not common, so he smirks at me and I open my eyes wide at him.

“What?” I giggle.

“Nothing. Just never seen that.” He smiles.

“I like it. My mom likes it. It reminds me of family.” I’m not lying. Mami always served me steaming plates of arroz con habichuelas with a regular ass unpeeled banana growing up. It’s delicious and it saves the trouble of having to peel a plantain and fry it in oil, even though that shit is just as delicious, if not more.

He nods, smiling with me, and drops a spoonful of beans on top of my rice. He hands my plate over and I walk out of the kitchen to sit at the table.

And that’s when I feel the heat tingling at my toes. The wave of it washes over me like sauna heat and I can’t breathe. I don’t know why it’s happening. It’s just a feeling. Maybe it’s because I had taken a swig of vodka before he went in the shower. Maybe it was because I was reading a short story about fear right before dinner.

Or maybe my anxiety was just being an asshole again.

I stare at my plate and think to myself, Oh shit, he’s never seen me have an anxiety attack. Please stop. Please stop. 

Of course, that shit only makes it worse.

*

“To conceal anything from those to whom I am attached, is not in my nature. I can never close my lips where I have opened my heart.”

-Charles Dickens

*

How do you tell someone that you have anxiety? Or depression? Do you have a long conversation with them? Do you write them a letter? Do you send them links to articles about it with the hopes that they can connect the dots?

There is a huge reason why people so often hide their emotional struggles and mental issues. It is because of fear. The fear of being shunned, ridiculed, laughed at. I mean, let’s be real here, who the fuck wants the negativity and the stigma? And let’s not front like there is no stigma to it. Because there is. Especially in communities of color. For generations, we have been dealing with the “blues,” with “los ataques de nervios,” etc every day. Hardship and adversity is part of our regularly scheduled programming. Who wants to admit that they are overwhelmed by what everyone else is trudging through and dealing with? The reality is this: Not everyone knows they are dealing with it. Not everybody wants to admit it.

How do you tell someone you have a problem when you don’t how to define the problem? When no one has ever talked about it? Today, in the information age, we have access to resources that help us understand these issues. Ask yourself what our parents and grandparents had. Probably nothing but some Agua Florida and alcolado. Probably nothing more than a nap. And then they went back to work, back to surviving. No one talks about it because they couldn’t. Survival mode was more important.

I think about my maternal grandmother, single mother to four children, busting her ass working in factories and ensuring that her kids were safe and fed. My grandmother had to deal with that, with the constant stress and uncertainty of survival, but also the hardships of  being a dark-skinned primarily Spanish speaking Puerto Rican woman in a city that essentially didn’t give a fuck about her or her kids.

I wondered if she was scared sometimes. I wonder if,  like me, she would try to cry as much as she could in the shower because there she could pretend her tears was just the water she was bathing in. If like me, she tried her best to hold it all together. I never saw my grandmother lose it but I imagine there must have been moments where she felt overwhelmed. She was human after all. She had emotions. She wasn’t made of stone. Not the way she loved.

I think about her every time I acknowledge my anxiety. She’s a big reason why I am so open about my struggles.

She’s no longer with us, but I still hope she sees it as a strength.

*

My anxiety attack that night at homeboy’s house was a big one. One I couldn’t control. I felt like my entire body was on vibrate. Like the tears would never stop. Like I could take the wrinkles out of his sheets with how hot I felt. I wnet to his bedroom, afraid his roommates would walk by and think I was some sort of raging loca crying over her arroz . I ended up eating that meal slowly, cold rice and dry chuleta, banana mushy. I grounded myself lying on my back on his bed, listening to ocean sounds and imagining being anywhere but having an anxiety attack in front of him. It helped that he was willing to help, that he was patient.

When I spoke to my mother about it later, she told me that it was probably best if I walked away, excused myself.

“Try to excuse yourself and go to the bathroom if you are feeling that way, Imani. That kind of thing can be too much for someone to handle, especially a guy you’ve only been seeing for a few weeks.”

“But Mami, I have done that in the past and it doesn’t help. I’ll stay in that bathroom for a million years. Then whoever I am with either thinks I am a wack-job or that I was shitting…on a date. No, no, forget going to the bathroom. If he wants to date me, then he needs to know that anxiety is something I have to deal with.”

“But that’s not his problem. It’s yours. That’s too much to have someone you’re just dating be responsible for. That’s too much to have them deal with.”

I ended that conversation with a quickness.

*

I didn’t end that conversation with my mother because my mother was wrong. On the contrary, she’s right. It is no one’s fault, responsibility, or problem that I have to deal with anxiety. I am completely and one hundred percent aware of that.

But, here’s the shit. My anxiety attacks are always, and I mean always, exacerbated by worries of how whoever I am with deals with me having an anxiety attack in front of them. I literally make it worse by worrying about it being “too much” for them. I drive myself crazy worrying if I am a burden, or if I am making a fool of myself, or if this will dictate our future.

And I’ve come to this conclusion. I am open about it because the shit happens. It happens and I won’t excuse myself to cry in a germ-infested public bathroom because I am more concerned about how they’re taking it. Fuck that. Not when I need to focus on grounding myself. I have enough to deal with when I’m having an anxiety attack.

Not to mention, if someone can pass judgment on me for it, if they can choose to leave or dismiss me because of it, if they feel it’s “too much” for them, then they aren’t meant for me anyway.  Boy, bye.

I’m trying the best that I can. I am managing this rollercoaster ride as best I can. I didn’t ask for this. This is all a learning process for me. But I can’t be silent about it. I can’t hide something that is now a part of my life. How would that be building anything with anyone? What if, like that night at homey’s house, I just can’t control it? I can’t excuse myself?

No, it’s not his or anyone else’s problem. No, they shouldn’t feel obligated to do shit for me other than show some damn compassion. They shouldn’t be burdened with this, I know.

But trust me, if anyone feels the burden of it, it’s me.

 

My Crappy State of Awareness

“You know, being aware of your crap and actually overcoming your crap are two very different things.” 

-Dr. Cristina Yang as played by Sandra Oh on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy”

*

I don’t write about my anxiety. I never have. I have posted Facebook statuses about it, I have shared articles and memes about it, and I have been open about coping with it. But I have never written about it. It was only until one day, on the phone with sister-friend Vanessa, sobbing about it that she said softly, “Mama, maybe that’s what you should be writing about.”

I started a piece recently that is now on its fifth or so draft that has me reeling, spinning like a top. Writing about the roots of my anxiety have caused anxiety. How fucked is that? I didn’t really think as I wrote the first draft of it. I just told and didn’t show a damn thing. I had to tell it before I showed it. I tried my best not to focus on anyone that I was writing about, tried my best not to worry about what may happen after the piece was written. I tried not to think about who would be angry or hurt, who’d drill me with guilt and ridicule. I didn’t want to wrap my head around what people would say.

As it’s been workshopped and edited, I began to struggle with the idea of writing it. I remember being told that one part of it, a part that to this day when I read it I get shaky, didn’t express my terror enough. Admittedly, I was aghast that someone could not feel what I felt as I wrote/read it. I mean, this was the scariest moment of my life! But, I had to step away from my emotions again and think like a writer. This wasn’t about me. And perhaps, that’s hard to understand. But, writing makes you see that emotion sparks it, but craft is what molds it. Can you dig that?

No matter what I have to do as a writer, this is my emotional truth. This is what I need to do. Write from the wound, right from the wound, as the Jedi Masters have so often told me.

That same sister-friend tells me all the time how guilt-ridden I am. How I apologize too often and worry about things that need not be worried about. I cringe when she says it, mostly because I know she is kind of right. I don’t know where this guilt came from. The constant and nagging feeling that I am failing the people around me, that I am a burden on the people around me, that I am not the granddaughter-daughter-sister-cousin-niece-friend-lover-writer-woman I should be.

Damn that word “should.” That word alone can send me into a trembling, stomach-flipping mess.
*
A few tips on how to react if I have an anxiety attack in front of you:

I am not over-reacting. I am not pretending I am a star in a novela. I am not acting crazy. I am not a loca. I am not wilding out. This is a real and physical thing and it is excruciating and hard. The dismissal is insulting and deeply hurtful. Stop that shit. Please.

I can not relax or chill or be easy. That implies I can control what is happening, which I cannot. Do not say those things to me. I will only get worse. I will only believe that I am getting you upset, mad, sad, or worried and I will spiral into a deeper attack. Stop that shit. Please.

I am ashamed and embarrassed when they happen. I have had them on girls night out, during workouts, on dates, in the middle of class, in the middle of teaching. People have asked me why I get attacks, what triggers them. I don’t know most times. Sometimes, it just fucking happens. It is nothing you did. It is nothing that I am doing. It is nothing that is happening.

Please try to understand. If I could control what was happening, I wouldn’t have them. Offer me kindness. Your presence is far more than enough of a comfort than you think. Most times, if I feel it coming, I try to excuse myself. Sometimes, I won’t be able to do that. Offer me a glass of water. Tell me everything will be okay, that I am alright, that we are alright, that my mother is alright. JUST TELL ME EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT.

*

Every day during the week-long workshops at VONA, participants are asked to write on a huge sheet of paper that has a daily question. One day, I believe was “What is your biggest fear?”

I wrote when no one was watching.

“That my anxiety will kill me.”

VONA changed my life. I knew from the moment I was able to write those words that I am never going to be the same woman again. Not just in my writing life, though that has changed as well in ways that I am still working through. But VONA gave me a community that nurtured me, spiritual kin from all corners and all places.

Case in point. As I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I found out I was accepted into VONA. I was over the moon about it. Anxiety stretched me thin in the days before I finished my last set of final papers and exams. I decided to be open about it on Facebook. This was probably one of the first times I ever shared that I was coping with anxiety. Sharline, a VONA veteran, responded to my Facebook status with a simple “You are not alone.” On different coasts, Sharline and I had never met. We had never broken bread together or shared secrets. She sent me a link to her own work. That exchange shaped how I approached talking about my anxiety.

I went to VONA with the belief that now that my degree was finished, I was chilling. I landed in the Bay after a very drunken thirtieth birthday thinking that I was finally saved from the incessant attacks. I was wrong in a big way. I balanced giving myself with isolating myself. I was asked a number of times if I was okay, asked why I was always alone. While others participated in a poetry salon one night, I was sitting alone in my room staring at the screen of my laptop urging myself to write something, when I felt the floor light up with heat under my soles. I was surprised by it. I tried to stop it. I paced. I did jumping jacks. I did breathing exercises. I imagined soft oceans and palm trees. I hummed “Three Little Birds.” Nothing was helping.

I walked out and towards the poetry salon, hoping that hearing people reading their work could help me come back down. I avoided everyone’s eyes as I tried to situate myself in the lounge. I was shaking, pale. Sister-friend Vanessa catches eyes with me, motions for me to join her where she is sitting. I ignore her at first. She’s persistent enough that I walk over to her and sit on the floor. I immediately begin to cry silent tears. She doesn’t say anything, just pats my hand and offers me Kleenex. On the way out, I see brother-friend Miguel who gives my hand a squeeze at the sight of my puffy eyes. I was relieved that no one said anything, no one made me feel awkward and uncomfortable. They offered me kindness and patience.

Every single time I post something about my anxiety, it is these sisters and brothers that reach out and read it. That tell me to go ahead and feel them feelings. To own my truth. I am grateful. And now I’m writing.

It changed my life, I tell ya’.

I was accepted into VONA for a second time and am about to embark on a brand new journey there. I feel like a completely different person. I won’t lie and say that I have overcome anxiety. In fact, I had a really bad night the other night. I will say that I will walk into VONA proud of the steps I have taken. Proud that I haven’t let it kill me. Trip me up, maybe. Kill me? Naaaaaah.

I am going to finish that piece and when I am ready, I will share it with the world. I can only ask that if someone reads it, and they don’t have the words, that what they read is: You are not alone.

Time to overcome the crap.