Monthly Archives: June 2015

My Dream, A Clarification

I have a dream, but I see it as more of a fantasy. I do not think it will ever actually happen, or Where it Could actually happen. It’s possible to want things without believing in them, or to want things while knowing you probably should not, and so will not, have them. This should all be kept in mind as I explain my dream.

I want to be a matriarch.

I want to have six children, and I want each of those children to grow up sustainably happy and healthy. I want each of my six children to have eight children, who grow up sustainably happy and healthy as well. Those forty-eight grandchildren, I would prefer for them to each have 5 children of their own, but at that point it’s really anyone’s game. You can have more, or less, or none at all. That is the first part.

When I am eighty-three years old, I want to have been living in a house with a porch in a neighborhood that is friendly and full of children. Children of all ages, even teenagers, running around and hanging out outside. They’ll pass by my house, where I’ll be sitting out on the porch, and I’ll call out to the children. Don’t picture a kindly old grandmother who knits and is sickeningly sweet. Picture a wry, spry old lady who sees children getting into nonsense and calls them out on it. At least one teenager will have thrown up on my lawn from drinking too much. I’ll have taken hir inside, cleaned hir up and given hir tea, then watched hir ironically each day since. I’ll tell all the children, all the people in the neighborhood about themselves, and because I’ll be the oldest person around and people will still respect their elders, they’ll just have to take it. I’ll call out to people, tell them about themselves, and tell them stories that don’t always seem quite to relate to their situations.
“That crazy old Miss Khalilah,” most of them will mutter to each other, “She doesn’t know what the hell she’s talking about.”
“That Miss Khalilah knows her Shit,” the others will say, and they’ll come by my porch and do logic puzzles and listen to my stories, and on a good day, I’ll give them Snickerdoodle cookies or toffee, or Mandel biscuits.

“Mom, you know you’re not supposed to be eating this food,” my children will tell me when they come to visit. I don’t see myself a skinny old woman. I’m gonna be nice and plump, with a lap big enough to fit one grandchild on each thigh, a body so comfortable that I’ll be able to nap with the little ones, lying simply on the ground and having them use me as a bed. My doctor will tell me I need to lose weight, but as long as I can walk around the block ten times, I won’t listen. Doctors.
“It’s for the kids!” I’ll tell them, and when they aren’t looking, one of my granddaughters will pass me a bag of Twizzlers.

My porch will be big enough to fit half of my family, and the other half will spill out into the yard, in upstairs bedrooms, by the grill. I’ll host reunions, and cook all types of food. Manioc, Dutch eggs, Scotch eggs, doro wat, burgers, chicken, cornbread, fried fish, ribs, macaroni and cheese, yams, grilled asparagus, pap, cassava, etc etc etc. It will be a feast not just for the family, but for the entire neighborhood, who will cram into the back and front yards. We’ll clear a space after dinner, and blast African music (contemporary and classic), and all of the family members will battle it out. It won’t matter if I’m the best dancer or not; at my age, everyone will be so impressed I can still move, I’ll always have the biggest bills stuck to my forehead.

Of course everyone will be invited, but everyone will also be encouraged to buy tickets for the event. I’m thinking something like $10 a family, maybe $15, which is great considering all the food and entertainment. It’s not even like that money could really cover the expenses of the reunion and guests, but that’s okay. I don’t want it for myself. I’ll just keep the money, and my dancing winnings, in a separate bank account as a scholarship fund. Each year, all my college-age grandchildren will have to write an essay about the topic of my choosing. The writer of the essay I most appreciate will receive money, which will be awarded after the dance contest. My grandchild will read hir essay to the entire crowd, I’ll present the envelope (which won’t actually have money in it. This is purely ceremonial. One time, my dad gave me a check. The next morning, he found it in the sink, along with my dishes. There hadn’t even been anything particularly distracting going on that night, and I was still scatterbrained. Knowing myself, and the Khalilah-offspring I’m likely to produce, there’s no way I’m giving out scholarship money in the middle of a Lushiku Family Reunion) and then everyone will go back to dancing and chatting and playing games, long into the evening.

“That old Miss Khalilah may be crazy, but she sure throws fun parties,” the majority of the neighborhood will say.

And the next day, when it’s just my six children; forty-eight grandchildren; however many great-grandbabies; and whatever other family members, extended and immediate are around my porch and house, I’ll come downstairs and pass around all the sweets my children wish I would stop eating. I’ll push one of my younger grandchildren over on the porch bench, sit and clasp the littlest of the bunch in my lap, and look happily around at my legacy. I’ll take some Twizzlers out of my pocket and gnaw at them for a minute with the few good teeth I have left, then swallow and begin to tell a story.

My dream. Fantasy.

Talking with White People

At a table of white females telling me to just keep up hope and have my children anyway, and you know what? It isn’t helping me.

I have just told them an edited version of the three possibilities that scare me:

  1. I will raise my children to have them killed for their melanin.
  2. My kids will realize the way the world views them, feel sad, hopeless, and worthless, and kill themselves.
  3. I’ll become so sad that I will no longer be able to properly care for them (translation: something so awful will happen that I actually end up killing myself, emotionally ruining my children for the rest of their lives)

These three possibilities were of course met with surprise, and mild ridicule. It’s very easy to look at someone’s situation from a distance and be like, “Well, don’t give up! You’d be a great mother!”

I think that I would be a spectacular mother, until I wouldn’t. I think that I would be wonderful and caring, until my depression swallowed me and I was unable to care for myself, let alone people who depended on me.

It’s funny how easy it is, even for myself, to make assumptions about people’s lives.
The woman who teaches with my mom, surprised that I’d forgotten my mother was receiving the Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a very big honor. How could you not know?” she pressed. We were working at a camp for their district’s sixth grade, and I was helping her with an activity.
“She actually did tell me, a few months ago,” I told her. “It just slipped my mind recently.”
“Not knowing your own mother was teacher of the year?” she said, disapprovingly. “You’re very lucky to have her, you know.”

‘Really, lady?’ I wanted to ask her. ‘Am I lucky that my mother called me selfish for finally refusing to comfort her over my own rape? Is it unacceptable that with that, and the waves of black shootings and police brutality occurring all over the place, I may have forgotten an award ceremony?’
But of course, you can’t go around answering people’s judgmental questions with brutal honesty.

That’s the genius of tragedy: your story does not really belong to you.
Of course it’s your story; it has happened to you. You are the one who lives it, thinks about it, cries over it. But you cannot talk about it, without dealing with the people who listen to it. Once it is out of your head and into their ears, they have claim over it. Explaining myself to this woman would ruin the rest of our time working together. Telling my mother what happened naturally led her to expect comfort from me.

My mother, the white lady. Who, without being fully aware of the racial issues in America (or the world) suffers from extreme empathy. Who gave her mainly colored, largely conscious daughter empathic distress. Who is unable to completely mother me when I need it.
And now I’m supposed to take this, and have children of my own? I think I would be worse. If I look into my future and see fuzziness, how can I expect to be there for my kids?

“It’s just too bad,” someone told me. “I’d rather have your kids in the world than some of these other people’s.”
So would I. But it’s largely because of these other people that I don’t want to have them.

Want to make a joke? Tell someone on the edge of hopelessness to just stick it out; try a little harder; don’t give up. At the same time, admit that you don’t actually know how they feel, but tell them that there really isn’t that much to be upset about. Give them non-examples of things to be excited over, and expect that to replenish their energy.

“It’s hard to see the changes you’re making in your own lifetime,” she told me, “But they’re there. Like my mother, for instance, she never used to understand race relations. Whenever I’d talk to my parents, or try to correct things that were wrong, it would be like, ‘Oh, there’s Hippy Lacy, talking her crazy racial peace again.’ But now, with Trayvon Martin and, who was it? … Michael Brown! And all of those stories, they’re in the newspaper. My mom reads the New York Times, and those stories are in there. So now, she’s starting to think, and to recognize that maybe there is a problem, and now she’s sending me articles. That’s progress. All these problems and events are being covered, and that coverage is leading to improvements.”

“You do understand,” I said, feeling so tired, “That in order for any of this progress you’re seeing to come about, people have to be slaughtered. Innocent people have to be murdered, almost every week, and other people have to suffer and protest and exhaust ourselves emotionally. In my school, during the Baltimore riots, we had a blackout of the student center. We dressed in black, and gathered together, to mourn and share our experiences. It was beautiful, and horrible at the same time. Do you know what it’s like to sit in a space, sobbing, unable to go to class or even move very much, and have people stepping around you to get their lunch? Do you know what it’s like to observe the contrast between yourself, feeling stuck, and everyone else who feels unaffected enough by your situation to happily go about their lives? My friends and I are breaking, broken, and your mom is sending you a newspaper article.”
I did not know how to express how offensive I found the situation. I can exhaust myself to the point where I don’t want to leave my bed anymore, and that would be worth it to get a white lady to begin to think. People could put themselves in danger, plan, build, and march, so that a white woman could exert herself enough to put scissors to paper and cut out an article detailing the next murder of a black body. That was worth it.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. ‘Should I be the next martyr?’ I wanted to say. ‘Should I write a Black Lives Matter manifesto, tattoo it on my body, put it in my pocket and jump off a building? That would make headlines. That would get your mother’s attention.’
‘And what will you do?’ I wanted to ask. ‘You four, sitting in front of me unaffected. Perhaps you think that what’s happening is wrong. Perhaps you can see a headline, and shake your head in disgust. What else will you do? Why am I the only one at the table trying not to cry?’
You,’ I wanted to point to a girl at my table. ‘We go to the same university, and I have never seen you before in my life. I have never seen you socially, and I have never seen you as an activist. You didn’t care about the AfAm department; you weren’t there for black lives; or Muslim lives. You are in Kenya now, but you couldn’t go to the vigil for Garissa. And yet you tell me that I shouldn’t be hopeless, shouldn’t give up? Should I be fighting, to make You proud?’
Once again, it was impossible to speak candidly. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get everything out, anyway. The effort not to cry was rough.
Misery is sobbing in front of people who do not have the capacity to understand how you are upset.
“I only want you to do what you want to do, I don’t want you to do anything else,” she said, hurriedly.

Fast forward to the next morning:
A woman, a researcher, is in our living room telling us about Kenya, past and contemporary. She is a white American woman married to a Ugandan man, who has been living in Kenya for 47 years. An interesting lady, a funny lady, a cynic.
“Why is it,” she is asking, “That no matter how carefully I try to explain these things, and how precise I am, they don’t get it?” She is talking about Africans, diseases, and information about the spread of AIDS. She says, referring to Africans, that there is always a skepticism or a rejection of what cannot be seen. Because Africans cannot see the bacteria and tiny organisms that give them the diseases, they will not believe in the ways that prevent them from spreading their existence. Thus, no condoms or caution when it comes to sex. It’s interesting that she does not seem to see how this issue of skepticism or rejection of what cannot be seen can also be applied to Americans. Perhaps not in terms of health, because they know that health concerns can affect them personally. White people and issues of race, though? I can tell you to your face about problems, about my deteriorating mental health, and you won’t get it. You won’t completely believe me.

We’re back, and the last white girl is comforting me.
“Just remember your dream, and the eighty-three year old matriarch,” she’s telling me. “You can’t give up. Because that has to happen.”

I wonder what it’s like in her head.

Fathers’ Day

Do I make the long distance call? Do I have a father to call? Would it matter either way?

“How was the doctor’s?” my mom wanted to know as I walked in the door. I took a moment to steady myself, trying not to jump. I had not expected to run into her right away, nor did I particularly want to speak with her. I was pretty stuck in my head, and my feelings, and wanted to sleep.
“It was unnecessary,” I told her. In a half second I decided to stick with blunt honesty. Her feelings would be okay, and I’d be able to speak as I went to my room. “They used the same website I’d used myself to check my shots, so all they did was write a prescription for malaria pills I won’t be needing. They don’t take insurance, though, and because my father would rather sit in a car under the sun for an hour and forty minutes than be in the same room as me, I had to put it on my card.” I was on the stairs.
“That’s not true,” my mother started to protest.
“It is,” I told her. “He hasn’t spoken to me since you told him, and he won’t take the chance of having to speak to me now.” She hadn’t even told him the entire truth. He thought I was ‘only’ assaulted. I wondered if he would have stopped talking to me years ago, had he known the first time I’d been introduced to sexual assault. I wondered if knowing that a rape had taken place would be enough to have me kicked out of the home.
“He loves you,” my mom was saying. It was true. My dad loved me. He still does. But,
“That doesn’t matter.” This was more importantly true. I knew that he loved me so much that it pained him to think of anyone violating my body. I knew that the pain was so intense that he didn’t know how to deal with it, let alone how to comfort me. I knew that he felt personally ashamed of what had happened to me, and of his inability to protect me. I knew he loved me so much that all he could do now was reject me, and hide from my presence. I could understand all of this. I am my father’s daughter. I love him, too. I will continue to love him as I resent him for loving me the wrong way, and abandoning me in my time of need.
“You just need to talk to him,” my mother, another person who was not loving correctly, pressed.
“Actually, he needs to talk to me. This is not my job.”

This is a father’s day post. We can skip the ensuing argument with my mother on his behalf; the tears she shed over my situation; the yelling accusations she made, calling me selfish when I opted to sleep instead of comforting her until her tears stopped. We can talk about mothers, or parents who suddenly no longer parent, another day.

She’s knocking on my bedroom door. She’s at my bedroom door, knocking.
“Dinner is almost ready,” she calls to me.
“I’m not hungry,” I say. My mother has different types of silence. I can tell from this one that she’s upset. She thinks I’m purposefully trying to hurt the family by refusing food. I’m not stupid. I’m also not hungry.
“Please, don’t be difficult,” she says, coming into the room. She’s in the room. It’s unnerving how much tension she brings in with her, nearly all on account of my father, who is downstairs and still not speaking to me.
I’m being difficult.” It’s a question, posed as a statement. “All I want to do is sleep.”
“This family has been hurt,” she tells me, coming closer, “And we need to make it right. Please come eat.” We need to make it better. Who is the we here? And how has This Family suddenly become the victim of the situation?
“I was raped,” I say, tired. I see that she shrinks back from the words, so I repeat them, louder. “I was raped,” I decide to shout. “I WAS RAPED. And you two have only had to hear about it. So why are you asking me to do all the work to fix the two of you before I can begin even to fix myself?”
“He cooked, Khalilah.” She is going to cry again. “That means something.”
Actually, I think, I think it means that he’s tired of American food, just like he’s growing tired of America. I don’t say anything out loud, though. I just roll over and stay still until after she has left the room.

It isn’t fair. I could laugh at those words. How often did I say them as a child about nonsense matters? And here, staring a fully unfair situation in the face, they have lost their power. Of course it isn’t fair.

What will happen if I go downstairs? I’ll eat, my mother will eat, my father will eat. We will not speak to each other. I’ll get up, wash the dishes, and go back to my room. My father will continue to ghost me. It is unlikely that things will change.
What will happen if I stay here? My mother will eat, my father will eat. I will sleep. My father, who loves me, will notice my absence. He will think I am spiting him, will fail to see his own actions and will assume that I am rejecting him. By doing what is best for me in the moment, I sever completely all possibilities of any reconciliation. It will be certain that nothing will change.

I get out of bed. I go to eat. Nobody really turns down fufu, anyway.

Now, it’s Fathers’ Day. I am in another country, an ocean away from him. We still have not spoken. What do I owe this man? Does he want a reminder that he has a daughter? Will his love for me make that too painful?
If I am being perfectly honest, I do not want him to be happy. Not for this. Not now that he has contributed to my pain by failing to fulfill his title. The situation is painfully ironic. If I say something, he might think I’m being mean.

Not saying anything would be akin to refusing his food, though. Nothing really means anything anymore. I can do this. Take a deep breath, smile. Even if he can’t see you. It’ll sound less fake.

Happy Fathers’ Day!

Letter #2 (Trigger)

How have you been, Armani?

Time is so relative. In five weeks I will be with my cousins again in South Africa. I know that it’s close, but it honestly seems so far. Impossible. There are multiple points a day when I think I will not make it to them.

Here is where you come in. It has simultaneously been a painfully long and surprisingly short month since you forced yourself into my last safe space. When I say this, I am not talking about my body. It was terrible enduring you inside my body, of course. There was a reason I pushed you out of me multiple times, only to pass out and find you inside of me again. What I am talking about, though, is my mind.

I cannot control my mind anymore, and you are taking up too much space.

I have spent thirty days living flashbacks. Even now, as I type out my words, I do not fully see the screen in front of me. Instead, I see your dreads, and your torso coming down onto mine. I see your sheets, and hear your whispers. I can feel you, and I don’t want to. This is something you don’t think about. When you hear about other people who have been raped, you think about it as a one-time thing. You don’t realize that their minds will replay the experience for them over and over again. By now, Armani, you have raped me about twenty times a day, and the repetition is not doing anything to help me. I’m still not used to your invasions.

*Pause to be a social person. I have a job to do; I have schedules to create; I have new volunteers walking in whom I have to lead and make comfortable in this other country. So while you may hover in my mind, I am not allowed to reflect right now.*

There are good and bad things about how busy I am. Sometimes, I get so distracted that you go away for a little bit. Then, I’ll have a second where things settle, and you come pounding back into my head. I have anxiety now, thank you. I’m supposed to be stepping up, and taking charge of people, but I feel about as powerful and capable as a hypoallergenic feather.

“Kill yourself,” my friend told me jokingly, after I’d teased him.
“I consider it every day, but I haven’t don’t it yet,” I told him.

I’m not actually writing to you anymore, Armani. I don’t think I ever want to speak to you again. But I do need to write. I do need to get out my thoughts. I have friends, now in other parts of the world, to whom I can speak, but I cannot inject them into my mind when you are most troubling me. I need to be able to pretend that you are somehow receiving the negative energy I attempt to direct toward you.

My period was supposed to come on Monday. It didn’t. Finally, blood appeared later on Friday. Never have I been so happy to endure cramps. What were you doing this week? Were you having fun, as I considered the ethics of aborting a rape baby?

I saw my girls yesterday, for the second time. We went back into the school. Seeing them was probably one of the most lovely experiences I’ve had in a long time. It’s such a wonderful thing to be loved, as much as you love someone else. That’s what it’s like with the girls. As soon as they saw me, they began to shout, “Teacha Khalilah!” They rushed to hug me, and sang songs using my name. All of my girls grabbed my hands, and we became a mess of smiles and laughter and jubilant shouts. For the rest of the day, whenever we passed each other, they would call out to me and wave.
I saw Ava, now in kindergarten. Did you watch “A Path Appears”? She’s in it, from a couple years ago. I remember seeing Ava in Margaret’s Safe Place last summer, but I never knew why she was living there until I watched the documentary. Her grandfather raped her, before she was in preschool. And now she goes to KSG, and she can wave happily at me as she goes about her business. How do you do it, Ava? How are you able to continue living, to be alive and present, when all I want to do is crumble? Why are you able to keep it together while I, four times your age, am barely holding on?

I have the capacity to survive this. But I do not think that I can ever live in the same way, or to the same extent that I did before. Which is laughable, seeing as how the extent to which I was living before this happened was already limited. I hate you, Armani. I don’t have any better conclusions.