The Origin of Love

I love coffee.  I love the color purple; the color, the movie, and I REALLY loved the book.  I love reading.  I love the sound of the ocean and the sand at the beach.  I think of all the flavors, I love mint chocolate chip best of all.  LOVE is a word I use pretty regularly and I throw it around like confetti…I love my black walnut floors, I love my house, I love my Eames lounge chair even though I seldom sit in it…I love a lot, and I feel it deeply.  I did not however know how much love I had inside of me until a hot July in Hope Mills, North Carolina, when I first held the daughter of my daughter.  Sure, I love coffee and the color purple and chocolate chip mint ice cream and books, and I guess more importantly, I sure do love my daughter, but this, THIS was different.  11 years ago I felt a wave of something that was bigger and deeper and stronger than anything I had ever felt in my life, and it scared me.  My hands shook and my heart skipped and I felt timid, which might sound strange, but it is true.  That I could love something that much was terrifying.  I liked to think myself ‘tougher’ than that…I’d been through bad things, sad things, rough things, difficult things, and I always felt kind of proud of how I would dust myself off and move on, no matter what, but this kind of emotion frightened me, that I could care so much about something; somebody else’s someone.  Sure, I loved my daughter, I mean of course I love her, but to be honest, I was 18 when she was born, living a life in less than perfect conditions, and even after I got away from the awful and moved back into my parents’ house, I of course worked full-time which included every weekend, and was going to college at night, on my days off…my mom and dad and my sister were far more active ‘parents’ than I was to my child, it was simply how it was, and despite how much I did in fact love her, I was too busy trying to love myself that maybe I did not give her as deep the love she deserved…but then, fast forward > there was this baby…I had sold my house the year before she was born, fixed up my boyfriend’s attic into my own little apartment, had my own small business, no debt, no obligations to anybody but myself, and could pretty much do whatever I wanted and go wherever I wanted…so I went to North Carolina, in July, for a month, to help my daughter and son-in-law and to bond with that baby.

We knew she was going to be a she and we knew she was due around the 23rd of July but shortly after midnight of the 17th,  I was outside at a local summer bar on the water,  listening to my friend Dave play his guitar and sing, when I received a text message that simply read “9.5 lbs”  While I am sure they must have emailed me pictures that next day of their baby, I don’t remember.  My mother was already down there and surely she  must have emailed me pictures, but all I remember of those first hours was the text message.  When I arrived in North Carolina two days later, a few hours after my daughter was released from hospital, after that dreadful 9 hour drive, my daughter looked tired and overwhelmed…The house was filled with people, my son-in-law’s family all lived near them in North Carolina, but nobody had sterilized any of the bottles, or put any of the gifts away that had been brought over or delivered, and while everybody was cooing over the baby I realized at that moment that MY baby needed me…so I did what I do best, I started to organize and make order out of chaos, a place for everything and everything in its place; started putting gifts away, tossing trash, got a pot of water on the stove to start sterilizing bottles and mixing formula and making things happen, and while I was exhausted from that awful drive, I did not sit down until it was all done…then the house emptied of all those people, I showered, and I told the new parents to get a good sleep and I kept the cradle in the living room with me, and that first feeding of that first grand baby was the best hour…I held her and whispered to her and fed her and walked around with her cradled in my arms and felt so happy; that I had the freedom and the means to take a month off of work to help my daughter, to bond with this baby who I would perhaps might only  see two or three times a year…I thought about how when she was older, it would be great if I read to her over the phone, so she would know my voice, and know how much I loved books.  I thought about when I would next be able to get to North Carolina to see her, I thought about how I hoped my daughter was going to be okay, SO many thoughts in that time it took that little mouth to take 3 ounces of formula…

I could go on and on about that first month of her life, bonding with that baby…I don’t think I thought about work even one time that month.  I was devoted to my daughter and her daughter and it felt so good, I felt beyond joyful over what I was doing, and I did go back in October, and stayed another month when my daughter first went back to work…tomorrow, or should I say shortly after midnight later, that baby is 11.  That baby lives next door to me, less than 100 steps.  That baby is already over five feet tall and when she stands beside me I can kiss the top of her head without having to bend…

I never had to read to her over the phone, I got to read to her in my lap…shortly after her sister was born two years later they decided to move, North Carolina felt too far away my daughter said.  We built two houses on two lots and here we are, neighbors…this baby who will be 11 tomorrow, comes and goes here at my house as if it were just an extension of her own.  I love that I can see her any time of any day.  If she is engrossed in a book she’ll text me a picture of the cover.  She told me the other day that she was reading It’s Not The End Of The World, “again, because it’s just that good.”  When she sleeps over here in my loft with her sister, they still love a bedtime story.  To be read to is one of those childhood joys that never goes away, and I love that she doesn’t think that she is too old yet, for bedtime stories.  She often says that she’s “just like you Nana” over books.   She is one of my favorite things about being alive.  She was the origin of love for me.  She brought out a depth of emotion I did not know I was capable of feeling.  She calls me Nana and I call her Sweet-Ti, she loves the sound of the ocean and the sand at the beach, and of all the flavors, she loves mint chocolate chip best of all…

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Fear Factor

If I say ____, he will _____ me.  If I ask him _____, he might do _____.  I was married, albeit briefly, to a man who had a drinking and a drug problem but more than that, had a violence problem.  When he was nice he was very, very nice, and when he was mean he was horrid. So I spent the months I shared an address with him always on edge.  Trying to do the “right” thing all the time, so dance and navigate around his moods, his thoughts, the extreme thoughts of supremacy provided by the neurotransmitter chemical interference of cocaine and booze…it was ugly far more often than it was pretty.  So to say I was on “alert” all the time when I was around him, is quite accurate.  So I can only imagine what it feels like to be a hard-working and successful black man, driving an expensive car, in a predominantly white town, or even to be an out of work, -down on his luck-,  black man, driving a clunker in any town…alert, fearful, what ifs…I have a degree in criminal justice and minored in pre-law, and I worked one day a week for over a year in the prosecutor’s office as a volunteer with the criminal case management office and at the jail. A criminal is a criminal, I don’t care what color of skin they’ve got, and I saw and interviewed criminals of every shade, and they were all mad that they got caught doing whatever it was they were doing…BUT a person just out running errands, or on his or her way to work, or the liquor store, wherever, is not presumed a criminal…should not be presumed to be anything but a person on his or her way to work, or the liquor store, or wherever.  It has got to be awful to be on that kind of alert all the time, just because you are black.  I can’t even wrap my head around that, knowing how hard it was to live with a brutal man for the months I was a wife, I can’t bear the thought of living with that kind of anxiety, every day of my life, because of the color of my skin…

Lots of black people are criminals.  Lots of white people are criminals.  Lots of black people have illegal guns.  Lots of white people have illegal guns.  Lots of black people drink and drive, or like to buy drugs now and then.  Lots of white people do too…We are all the same, people, humans, on this planet.  Lots of black people own homes, and have jobs, and check their mutual funds in the Sunday paper, just like lots of white people.  BUT I suspect that lots of black people go into immediate anxiety with a fear factor of 10 when they see the red and blue lights blinking behind their vehicle, far more often and far more acutely than white people do, and that’s a problem.  It’s a problem for ALL people.

About a week ago I had to go water plants for a customer who lives up on the ocean with a narrow driveway easement and little to no room for me to turn around my ridiculously long double cab-extended bed pick-up truck, so I parked on the street, with my hazard lights blinking so I could walk up to the house and do my watering and then leave, without difficulty of having to back down a 700 foot long driveway onto the street…and when I walked back to my truck there was a cop sitting behind my truck.  Mind you, there are no signs that say “no parking” but I think it’s just understood, however I had my hazard lights blinking, which I thought implied that I was not parked but stopped at the moment, so I walked over to the car, and said, “are you here for me?”  The cop was a big-fat-necked, north Jersey accented, non-local of our quiet and laid back and casual beach community, but he was in fact hired by our beach community and was the one with the uniform and the badge and the police car, so despite how I loathed his appearance and tone of voice, I had to remember he was the cop and I was the one with the truck in a place it really was not supposed to be…BUT not once during our few minutes of interaction did I fear for my life, or fear that he was going to arrest me, or fear that this minor traffic violation would escalate into anything other than a parking ticket that would annoy me but otherwise not have any affect on my life whatsoever.  In fact it never even crossed my mind that having a cop behind my truck would lead to my being roughed up or maybe shot.  Those thoughts did not even enter my realm of possibility at that moment…THAT is the difference and that is the problem that black people have to think about every day.   I’m not looking for a debate, I am not looking for an argument, I am just telling it as I see it…it is not fair, and it has to stop, and I think people of all colors should feel angry that it happens.  I know from my brief marriage experience, living in fear is no way to live.  I got out of my difficult situation, there is no way to get out of your skin…