Sitting in the cafe thinking about this week. These past few weeks. The shifts going on in everyone’s life. Shit, those Mayans were on point. This is a year of major changes for everyone. Everyone I know is going through some shit. Some confront-yourself-and-everything-you-fear kind of shit. Some who-are-you-who-were-you-and-who-are-you-gonna-be-and-wanna-be kind of shit.
I’m thinking about voice. My voice. How losing it (or forgetting it) is so tied to my identity, my insecurities, the shame that was imposed on me and I internalized. How I was silenced. How I allowed myself to be silenced, so many times. How I silenced myself. And how I’m not going to be silent anymore. Even though the truth is I convinced myself that I wasn’t silent. That I had this bravado that so many people don’t have. When the truth is/was that I was still silencing myself. I was doing it in, of all places, my writing.
This week I completed two pieces: My VONA 2012 for the VONA newsletter and the rewrite of Millie’s Girl for an upcoming anthology. Yesterday, I went home and cleaned my entire house. I put away the laundry that I did a week and a half ago, folded and everything, and then never put away. After putting my daughter down for the night, I swept and mopped the house. I washed the dishes. I cleaned the kitchen, wiped down countertops, burned incense, said prayers. I was electrica! I don’t know what this energy is but I’m going with it. Me voy! I’m off! To where? I’m not sure. But today I’m okay with that.
Today I feel a story pushing up into my heart. Taking over my whole chest cavity. Creeping in like a fog, without the darkness or ominous music. The first story of my memoir. The memory of my mother holding a knife to me when I was five. I remember waking up the next day and looking at my naked body in the mirror. I was so little I had to stand on the toilet seat to look at my torso in the mirror. At the red dots on the left side of my rib cage where mom had pushed the knife, daring Millie, almost pleading, “Atreveme, que yo mato a esta desgracia’.” That day I learned that Millie couldn’t protect me from my mom, no one could. Just like no one can now.
She hasn’t spoken to me in eight months. We’ll be in the same room and she won’t even look at me. She’ll bait me like she does, like she’s always done, but she won’t talk to me. That’s how she punishes me. She denies me her love. Except now, I won’t go back groveling like I did so many times. This time I’m loving myself. See, if anyone in the street treated me the way my mom does, we would have a fuckin’ problem. I should demand more from my mother. I deserve more. So, I’m imposing those boundaries. So, she won’t talk to me. So be it. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. Some days it hurts more than others. I mean, she’s my mother. I miss her. But what do I miss? She’s always been this way so, what is it I miss? I can’t say. Because, in truth, she’s never really been there for me. I mean, she clothed me, she fed me, but she never really mothered me. And that’s why I say that I was orphaned when Millie died seven years ago.
In a strange, very profound way, my mother not speaking to me has helped me write this memoir in a way I couldn’t before. And I know it will continue to give me permission as I go in with my voice. Writing it the way I would, not the way “they” wanted me to write it.
It’s interesting what happens when you shift your perspective.
When I returned from VONA, one of the things that was very present in me was community, the lack of community. See, one of the most beautiful things about VONA is also the most wrenching. VONA is like a cocoon. You meet these people that understand your process, that understand how very hard it is to be a writer, a writer of color. To go into these spaces that fuck you up. That break you apart. It’s so very hard going there though we know that we will come back more together, better, wholer, more healed. You meet these people and build this community, this tribe, this familia, that you then have to leave. You have to go back to your normal life where you’re not cocooned. At VONA, if you have a breakdown, which you always do, you call your homegirl, your sister, who is upstairs or down the hall, and she will come hold you and listen and wipe your tears. She’ll pick you up from the floor and remind you of who you are, why you’re doing the work you’re doing, why you have to keep doing the work you’re doing. That you’re not alone. That you have a community that supports and loves you, that will hold you up. So when you go home, back to your “normal” life, the re-entry can be devastating. You have to pick yourself up from kitchen floor. You have to clean up your own snot. You have to hold yourself. And no phone call or text message or email can assuage that reality, no matter how much you try.
I had to shift my perspective.
When I came back to NY, I was soft and in pain. Shit, I’m still soft and in pain. And that’s okay. It’s part of the work I’m doing. I’m digging into my past and healing myself. I’m writing about things, reliving things that have haunted me. I’m unpeeling the vise grip my past has had on me, finger by iron finger. This shit is hard. So, there are times, many times, that I’ve yearned for, looked for community. And the community I’ve found hasn’t held me up. I’ve exposed myself (because I have to take some personal accountability here) to people that don’t have my best interest in mind. Scenes that are full of pretentiousness and ego. None of which will serve the metamorphosis I’m going through.
See, I was looking for love and family and community in all the wrong places. And I was focused on what I didn’t have. What was lacking. What was missing. And completely ignoring, not recognizing what I did have. Which is a lot. I have so much love in my life. What the fuck was I thinking?
Now I’m focused on what I do have. On the community I have built. On the love that surrounds me, because, truth is, it’s everywhere. They are everywhere.
Suheir Hammad said something very true and beautiful to me the other day. I was talking to her about community and how disillusioned I was feeling. She said, “V, remember, they’re not wolves. You are. And you have your wolf pack. We’re right here.” Yes! Word!
And so, this one is for my wolf pack. For always being there. For loving me with all my shit, through all my shit. For holding me up. For staying true. For listening and offering advice and being honest, even when I needed to be screamed on or told that I was fuckin’ up, bullshittin’, avoiding. For reminding me of who I am and how brave I am. For confirming me when I need confirmation, and checking me when I need to be checked. Thank you. I love you. I got you. Siempre!