November 7, 2014

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circa 1991

Little One,

I’m writing to let you know that we are going to make it out alive. I know you’re skeptical and that more than that you are terrified but I know that your strength and determination outweigh all of that. There are always going to be days where you can’t imagine taking another step or giving half the effort life sometimes demands but that is okay.

Your capacity to witness, observe, and question the difficult things in life is what is going to get you through. You have always seen injustice, suffering, pain and asked ‘why?’…and occasionally ‘how is that fair?’ You want answers and you’ve demanded them for so long; I wish I had them to give to you even now.

The world is not perfectable and neither are you — but I promise you that is the best realization you’ll stumble across over and over and over. Just be better than you were yesterday and the day before that. And bring something wonderful into the world each day for yourself and those around you: a kind gesture, a thoughtfully paid compliment, or a revolutionary idea. But also remember that some days it’s alright to simply enjoy being alive and sit quietly with a book and a cup of hot tea.

I am able to share all of this with you because I’ve lived it and I believe it with all my heart and soul. And you know what, kid? I’m happy. I am looking forward to the next ten years. I’m writing to now from the place we were always running towards. I won’t give you the answers you’re seeking. I want you to be surprised when you get here but also know that this was the place all along.

i will say that I am writing (I was even published), I am traveling, I am contributing and I am thrilled at my role in the universe. 

You have so much potential that you haven’t even discovered yet— I need you to know that the struggle isn’t in vain. I can’t wait for us to meet. Just hang in there and when you to where you’re headed, I swear you’ll know.

I love you and I think about you every day.

~~~~Mwongeli Masesi

PS. Look how far we’ve come my baby ❤

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herstory, history, ourstory

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circa 1994

My sister and her Conservative, religious, homophobic, intolerant, and selfish husband recently decided that neither me or my mother are allowed to see my niece Zora. Because we are toxic individuals who are going to negatively impact the young life of their child. Because I am emotionally abusive and have said “hurtful” things about their marriage like the fact that my sister is an actual hostage in her own “home”. Because I have a mental illness they don’t feel comfortable leaving me alone with their precious little human.

It’s a lot to process and even after you process it, none of it makes sense.

My mom continuously wants to talk about it. She wants to understand where and how my sister became this stranger that stands before us all. And I admit that, I too, would like to understand. But I have also come to accept that I don’t need to understand.

I lived with my sister for nearly eighteen years. She has known me since the day I was born and she has seen the highs and the lows and we were both raised by two of the most amazing humans to ever grace this planet.

And yet here we are, my father is dead and my mom is a widow who is just trying to make it from day to day without collapsing under the weight of her grief.

And yet here we are, my sister’s husband has decided and she has agreed that the people who merely want to love and care for her child are horrible people.

Goddess, I wish I could lie to myself so soundly that I begin to believe it so wholeheartedly.

I am not perfect. I accepted long ago that perfection is impossible and my mom is no exception to that rule. But we are good, if not exceptional, people. We want nothing from either my sister or her husband except to help them and love them and their young family.

But apparently speaking the truth and living honestly is too much for good Christians. Apparently that’s one of the commandments they glossed over.

Thou shalt not lie.

Thou shalt not lie.

Thou. Shalt. Not. Lie.

Richard Yates once wrote, “No one forgets the truth; they just get better at lying.”

I don’t know what truth my sister is living, or her husband, or what truth they plan to share with my niece but it breaks my heart to know that whatever truth they share it won’t be one that helps Zora grow or learn or become the human our ancestors hoped we’d become.

I would never ask my sister to live for anyone else or to allow anyone else to tell her the way she should live her life but my parents sacrificed and did so, so much in order for her to be free to choose and I just hope that at some point she chooses the side of love and kindness.

I don’t even care if I never see her again. She made very clear that I am not welcome in her life or her home as a result of my mental illness and various other life choices. But it kills me to see her cut my mom out of her life. It kills me to see her keep a child away from a woman who has done nothing but love and care for everyone around her.

I was conflicted as to how I wanted this essay to unfold but I am pleased with the end result and I stand behind everything I have shared. My sister is off somewhere in the universe telling people I’m crazy or that I don’t respect her marriage (hostage situation) but I genuinely don’t care what she says about me because the people who need to know the truth know and everyone is entitled to tell their side of the story.

I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Well, this hurts. It hurts more than losing my father because my niece and my sister are alive and well, but I am not welcome in their life because of factors outside of my control.

I have done the self-care. I have seen the doctors. I have worked on myself for years now and as a mental health professional I find it astonishing that my sister has made this decision.

But like I said, there are a hundred different stories. I just needed to tell mine in the only way I know how. And regardless of the choices my sister and her husband make, I will always, always pick up the phone or book a flight to see my niece and support her no matter what.

So this is my truth.

And this is my story.

home is where my heart is

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Six by Polly Nor

I only recently realized that all of these years I was looking for a home. I was looking for a place to say, “That’s where I’m from.” But home has always been right here inbetween by rib cage and my spinal cord. Home has always been right up behind my ruined face. Home has been home has been home has been home.

I was wandering and searching and flailing about but I just had to sit still and see that I was already right where I needed to be.

I love how Facebook gives you snippets of your memories from the year before or years ago. I look at those pictures and I see that I was always whole. I was always the person I was meant to be. It just took some time to love Mwongeli. It took some time to look in the mirror and see that I was complete and loved and real.

I always wondered how some people are so authentically themselves. How some people are so comfortable in their skin. And now I know how. People come to a place of self-love after years of self-loathing. After years of heartbreak and brokenness and sadness and loss.

I am almost certain I will be heartbroken again (how else do we grow?) but at least the next time my heart breaks I will have myself to cry with. I will be my own support and cheerleader and teammate.

God, how beautiful is that?

 

you are allowed to be crazy so long as you read the fine print

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art by lora mathis

Last night I took an inordinate amount of shrooms and I suddenly found myself feeling every repressed feeling surrounding my father’s passing. I was just out with a friend and then BOOM! I was pressed down by the immensity of the love and loss I quieted nearly six years ago. And obviously because I am the most irrational rational human this side of the Mason-Dixon line then I decided I needed to go see my dad.

Naturally.

I wanted to be where my dad was. I wanted to fly directly to Kenya and sit with him for the first time since the pallbearers lowered his casket into the red soil of the village. I wanted to feel his presence one more time by any means necessary.

I regret now that I tried to share my experience with various family members and friends. I regret that I was vulnerable and naked and I showed the part of myself I worked so hard to hide from the world all these years.

And the emotions I felt were not limited to my father’s passing. I was also feeling the entire weight of years of repressing my emotions and ideas in order to make other people feel comfortable. I quieted my own heart song in order to allow other people to feel more at ease.

I wanted to go to Kenya because that is where it all began and daily I wonder who I would be had my parents not decided for me at such a young age that I had to grow up in America. That I had to be oppressed and silenced and broken down because of the color of my skin or a difference in chromosomes.

So I went to the airport. I made the decision to purchase a one way ticket and just go home. I just wanted to go home and be next to my father. I wanted to see my family. I wanted to just give the big ole middle finger to this American dream and go back to where my dreams all began.

I made the mistake of calling my mom and one of my best friends to tell them where I was and where I was going and of course they attempted to intervene. Christ, I have had so many interventions that I could probably start sitting in on them and guiding people as to the correct and incorrect modus operandi.

I was met by a delightful young man named Rod who worked for United Airlines and he told me he didn’t think I really wanted to go to Kenya with just a backpack and two books. He kept telling me what I wanted as if I wasn’t fully present and fully capable of discerning what going to Kenya on a whim meant.

But I did understand and I still understand. And when two paramedics showed up with six police officers I fully understood that what I wanted was irrelevant. I understood that it didn’t matter if I recited Dante’s Inferno in its original language and told you all of Anna Karenina’s family members names or what Sylvia Plath was wearing when she died.

None of that mattered because everyone else saw what they wanted to see even though I was trying to show them what I was seeing. I was seeing my truth. I was seeing things more clearly than I had ever seen them before.

I am back in Logan Square after signing an AMA form for the paramedics and rolling my eyes at the people in blue. Because I might be crazy but I am free from the chains and weight of other people’s expectations. And next time I’ll just smoke a joint and buy my boarding pass before going to O’Hare and I certainly will not call my mom or my best friend.

I am a smart, strong, and genuine individual and gone are the days of asking permission to be who I am. Gone are the days of feeling as if I am stepping on someone’s toes by experiencing the world the way I experience it. I have spent time being psychoanalyzed. I have taken the countless medications. I have talked to multitudes of people and no one has ever offered me something even close to insight as to why I got the brain that I did.

Why some days are technicolor and other days are grayscale and other days are a mix of the two.

Honestly, I don’t even care what color my days are anymore. I’m just happy I’m alive to see the entire rainbow and then some.

 

grieve so that you are free to do something else

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art by Jenny Holzer

I remember the night my father died and the doctors let us in to sit with his still warm corpse. It was only hours before he and my mother had returned from vacation in Kenya. I came home to see them and celebrate the holidays at a family friends house. I remember coming home from the friend’s house and my dad going into the garage and leaning up against the tool shelf.

He was clutching his chest and he told me he had to go to the emergency room.

And then a few hours later he was gone. We all sat around his corpse in the sickeningly bright room as my mom wailed over and over as she pressed her face into my dads still chest. I remember I was so embarrassed at how deep and tangible her pain was. I wanted her to stop crying, for my dad to get up, and for us all to return home like every other time my dad had a heart attack.

But this time he wasn’t coming home and we were not returning to the home that we knew before. My sisters eventually showed up from their respective parts of the city and suddenly all of us were in that room with the grief and the pain and the discomfort and we didn’t know what to do with ourselves except continue on with what remained of our lives even though the biggest part of it was being prepared for burial in a morgue.

I listened to my dads voicemail for weeks after he died until my boyfriend told me it wasn’t healthy. Until the university turned off my father’s voicemail and gave his office number to someone else as if he hadn’t worked there and lived there and loved there as he taught preschool teachers.

And when we went to Kenya and we were met by my Uncle Gideon and a whole crowd of friends and relatives at the airport, I was still embarrassed. I was embarrassed that my pain was now on display and that people were taking time away from their lives to grieve my father. I was ashamed of my grief.

I remember being so hot out in the village standing in the house waiting for people to pay their condolences and pretending like I remembered any of my hundreds of relatives. I remember grimacing when people said that my father’s death was for the best and that he was in a better place now.

A better place than with his wife and daughters?

And as they lowered his casket into the grave and people shared their countless memories of my father’s beautiful life I swayed a little in the heat and I felt my heart close in on itself.

My aunts held my mom up as she collapsed under the weight of the grief. And I looked to each of my sisters hoping one of them would show me how to behave. How to move forward when a piece of my heart was being lowered into the ground and covered with dirt and cement.

I still don’t know how to move forward. Some days I think that I have made a little progress but then other days I go to my mom’s one bedroom apartment and I am reminded of what we all lost.

I look at my niece and think about how my dad would be so in love with her and show her picture to all his friends whenever he got the chance.

I look in the mirror and I relax my face and I see my father looking back at me.

I laugh and my eyes crinkle the same way his did.

I am still grieving and I know that I will never be done doing so but at least finally, I am using that grief to do something else. Something my father would be so, so proud of.

Grieve.

Wail.

Break.

And then get up and do something else.

get you a girl who can do both

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art by lora mathis

I suppose it would have been easier to sit quietly and maintain what little peace of mind I have left. It would have been easier to change the channel or turn the page rather than bombarding my psyche with all the violence that rains down upon black bodies. It would have been so much easier to post a music video with lyrics under the guise of sharing my feelings through the words of another artist.

But I have a voice. I have something I been dying to say for quite some time. I have something inside of me that is aching to escape.

And before I would have held myself back and not tried to stir the pot in an effort to make people see what a sham this entire existence is but then I only ended up doing myself a disservice in those instances because I internalized my trauma and it compounded my mental health issues.

I realize doing what I did in an effort to open a few people’s eyes was quite risky. It was quite the gamble on my personal well-being and my relationships with various people.

But I have said it before and I can only continue to say it again until I can no longer utter a sentence: If you are silent about your pain they will kill you and say you enjoyed it. Zora Neale Hurston wrote that decades ago and it is the only sentence I play over and over and over in my mind when the world comes stampeding onto my heart.

Was I hurt yesterday? Of course. Did I consider getting drunk to just overcome the sadness? Did I consider causing myself harm in order to escape the pain?

Of course. How could I not?

I am only human.

But I chose a few weeks ago to take care of myself. I chose to start running again, cutting down on alcohol and instead opting to be lucid for whatever this world has to throw my way.

It hasn’t been an easy journey but I am finally strong enough to handle the experience. I am finally strong enough not to be broken by broken people.

I know who I am and what I stand for and that is all I need to make it from sunrise to sunset. Well, that and the love and support of countless friends and family.

Everything else that attempts to hold me back is merely that, it’s just “attempting” to extinguish my fire and flame. I am the one who determines how I feel and what I allow to come into my mind and heart.

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

 

 

 

i hope you know i tried even if you refused to see it

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art by lora mathis

people are so odd. i could spend the rest of my life trying to understand and i would just be lowered down into my grave as confused as the first day i discovered the universe.

before i learned to take care of myself i internalized a lot of negative energy from the people around me. i often wonder if i am even truly depressed or i’m just awake. perhaps it is a combination of both.

but i have been working hard on accepting the world and my eventual role in it as a storyteller and artist and human.

and i am saddened by the reality of this existence but i am not disheartened as soundly as the first time i realized the truth.

i am on the more indifferent end of the sadness spectrum if that makes sense.

and i am trying not to let that indifference make me shut out people who are trying to navigate the world in much the same way that i am. people are trying and failing and breaking and laughing and loving like i am trying to do.

i am trying not to let the hate so completely engulf my soul that i don’t create and express myself after years of editing myself and being sidelined because of the color of my skin and the chromosomes i had no control over.

i am trying.

i am trying.