The Fourth Trimester

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Myel Terefe GebreyohannesThe birth of our son was everything I had wished and planned. Our intimate bedroom home birth that welcomed him into the world left us just as peaceful as it did exhausted. Shortly after he belted his first cries and the midwives hugged us goodbye, the three of us sunk into the bed for our first family nap. I woke hours later with a new person buried in my chest and, as I smelled his hair and counted his toes, waited for the beautiful tears of joy to set in as my first crowning of motherhood. But they didn’t—and I felt peculiarly empty. This was day one of the fourth trimester.

As much thought and time as I had put into my study of the 40 weeks leading up to this climatic moment, I was stumped as to how little I knew about what to expect upon Baby Myel’s arrival. In all practicality I was fully prepared. But of all the blogs, books and videos I’d been referred to, not one—ner one—had given me the frankness needed to help me face what would be one of the hardest few months.

What followed: After the wave of congratulatory visits from family and friends, we were left to feign for ourselves in our new roles as parents. Clueless, anxious and sleep deprived, coupled with raging hormones that were at war with my body, made for a disruptive spectrum of insecurities. I wasn’t enough. I was disappointed in my lack of maternal instincts and impatient to get it right just once. I felt unstable, selfish and inadequate. And guilty. Guilty that the hormones morphed me into this needy, unappreciative person that neither I nor my partner recognized. Guilty for not enjoying every moment of this precious time. I quickly felt like I was loosing my sense of self. What I knew myself to be—dynamic, passionate, sensible—had boiled down to an existence as a caretaker. A boobie manager. And though I have the blessing of a patient partner and loving family and friends, few people asked how I was doing. How I was reeaaalllly doing. Or would have understood. I felt let down. As the first of my close friends to have a baby, the fourth trimester was on its best days lonely and worst days depressing.

With each passing week, the gray skies finally parted. I left the house more. Myel found his smile. The family traveled. I reclaimed my personal projects. Our new normal didn’t feel so crazy and irrational and blossomed into a life of infectious baby giggles and sheer happiness. In retrospect, those 2-3 months post birth—in all their shock value—brought out the rawest, realest bits of myself in ways only that experience could. LEVELS. I’m grateful for the lows and for having emerged from them more vibrant and more in love than ever before. Yet, I’m still bothered that the lack of candor and awareness about the fourth trimester experience does a disservice to women. It keeps us in isolation and hinders us from growing in solidarity. It conjures self-doubt and encourages comparison. It hurts our sisterhoods. The saving grace is knowing that it too shall pass. And it does. And it’s all so worthwhile.

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This story also appeared in HANNAH Magazine inaugural issue Fall 2016.

Black Alley

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There’s a place where black and brown, are unjust crimes
A back alley so dark, we get lost in time
Mainstream scurries past it, a pep in their step
A reflection of our nation, too hard to accept

Streets corrode, with desperation and rage
Justified anger on minimum wage
Drugs, liquor, debt, infest overgrown tumors
Rejected job applicants, but valued consumers
Jump out boys, 5.0, ghetto playground fun
High from the power they hold in the gun
No financial literacy, can’t build family wealth
One dollar menus bleed disease and poor health
Where black fends for itself, wrong turns can be lethal
Threats leave them shook, cuz wolves will come eat you

Education fails deeply, the textbook’s a fraud
Stories of heroism, controlled by the mob
Words distorted: discovered, protected
Far from the truths of robbed and neglected
Schools prepare young men, for what is to come
Mirror jail cells, psych wards, with no daylight sun
Resources skimp, classroom walls bare and cold
No critical thinking, memorize what they’re told
His sweet 16, but can’t write a full thought
Yet moved to the next grade, cuz our standards are shot
The only thing done wrong, was having nappy curls
Black and brown graduate, unprepared for the world

More black men in prison than university dorms
Back alley, black alley, their demise, corporate porn
A place where black boys, aren’t respected as men
They search for hope, til they hit the dead end
Natural born resilience too broken to mend
Inevitable that home becomes the big pen
Exaggerated sentences, no reason or rhyme
A government contract that violates their time
Gates lock behind them, opportunity dead
Insanity creeps, hearts and minds are not fed
Corporations eat well, their bellies full from free labor
Walk on backs of our men, notorious traitors

For those who return, across the barbed wire
Realize freedom, just another one of them liars
Rehabilitation promoted, inside for discipline
On the outside means nothing, criminal record is sin
Dues paid, but still face marginalization
Bigotry, judgement, and stigmatization
Disillusioned, devoured, with no peace of mind
Rat race toward idealism, with no finish line
Stripped of options, after doing a bid
Cycle picks up, in the next baby’s crib
Innocent youth born, then quickly dismayed
The system thrashes throats, til their voices fade

Back alley, black alley, broken clocks on concrete
In shadows, not muted, we’ll stomp loud with bare feet

-CDL

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This poem was inspired by Free Minds, which uses books, creative writing, and peer support to awaken DC youth incarcerated as adults to their own potential.  Learn more, do more, visit freemindsbookclub.org.

#blacklivesmatter

New York Heartbreak

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136th and Adam Clayton PowellI watched the New York City skyline get smaller and smaller as I drove away. I let out that ugly cry, where your body convulses like a maniac and you don’t recognize your face in the rear view mirror. This was a goodbye that I denied was coming until I could no longer. My apartment was vacated, my well wishes were exchanged, and my bags filled my SUV to the ceiling. Me and those bags were headed to another city, another experience, another leg of this ‘ol journey. And so the sobs continued for another two states past the NJ Turnpike.

It felt like heartbreak. I would return, and will, but this was different. The dramatics weren’t for nothing. New York stood for something. She was the alarm clock that woke me up from a dormant reality and a by-the-book perspective. She gave me a paint brush and a bullet—the tools of an artist and a soldier—and told me to design a life I loved.

New York. She wooed me with her click clack against the concrete. The sound was a drug. Unstoppable was the high. Her boom box echoes. The 70-year old man with the gold chain on a Saint Nic park bench bumping ’99 Missy on the speakers. The smile from the stranger on the other side of the subway car window as it swept away yet another serendipitous “coulda been” soul mate. The wink from the bodega cashier as he threw in a free swisher in my black plastic bag. “Only for you,” as he flashed his rotting teeth behind his charming smile. The neighbor across the hall who would pound on my door for a $5 loan and an invitation to her 57th birthday party so that I couldn’t say no. The Harlem pit bull breeder who for three years never let me and my girl off the hook for a date to the skating rink. Late nights of twisted convos and classic chuckles on the stoops of strangers’ brownstones. The little things that stick.

New York. She introduced me to the gems of the world who deserve center stage but who live on the margins of society. Like Valerie, my sweet friend Valerie. A woman in her forties, whose breasts would swallow me whole as she buried me in her arms, completely uninhibited and oblivious of the warmth she invited or the developmental disability that barely impaired her. The reincarnated members of Motown who snapped in synchrony on the subway platform. A twinkle in their eyes bright enough to remind me that gentlemen are still alive but a scratch in their throats rough enough to appreciate their strength for rising every morning to share their spirits with commuters who would never stop to listen.

New York. She gave me a sense of humor about myself. She challenged my character, intelligence, and loneliness. She built my confidence only to crumble it seconds later with her intuitive magic wand to humble that ass. She put me in ridiculous positions and sat back to watch what I would and would not compromise. I’m sure she laughed at my few failed attempts to grow up, most def. But the caterpillar is now a butterfly.

New York. She amused me with all the people chasing thin air in their respective industries and social circles, mistaking brand names, gentrified neighborhoods, and plump rolodexes for authentic credentials. Or, credentials of authenticity. She enforced the difference. What lies behind corner-of-the-shoulder hugs, associates on speed dial, and Kool Aid drinking are empty cages. I want the warm embraces, the eye gazes, the eclectic taboo conversations. I want people to know me, not of me. She gave me friends who do, and who wear authenticity as crowns, and who splash in my pool of depth.

There’s more richness to the New York experience than the hustle it brings out of you—the reason most people praise their stint in the city. Yes, you leave a harder grinder, a wittier negotiator, a more resourceful ladder-climber and bridge-crosser. A given. But in a race to be all those things, I savor the city’s quaintest, most kindred moments to be had.

New York. (*looks back at skyline and keeps driving) We were a good team.

The Nomadic Life

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DSC_0147I’ve lived in 11 cities under 23 roofs in 29 years. Being on the road feels most at home to me. I’ve never entertained thoughts of settling down in one place, never found a city worth the investment, never been attracted to monotony, and never been willing to compromise the zeal of a nomadic life for any one relationship. I don’t like the idea of joining the thousands commuting the same route to work every day or knowing the aisles of my grocery store too well. Like clockwork I get claustrophobic after three years in one city and feel the need to re-evaluate my life, nervous at the thought of one place becoming too familiar to me and with me.

Part of me doesn’t want to be anywhere long enough to be considered “from” there, too indecisive about what city I want to let claim me and what memories and people are tied to it. I’ve done my share of running away, relocated my life across town and across seas for some of the wackiest reasons. I’ve been bored, and moved. I’ve been lonely, and moved. I’ve been hurt, and moved. Each move represented the opportunity to clean the slate and design a new life.

As a younger woman, I had a convincing rationale behind every misguided decision. I was independent and held the world by the reigns with a tight grip. With the stance of a jockey winning a race, relocating felt empowering. I don’t think I realized then that it was my fear of the shotgun that ignited my intense search for what was next. Usually the gun and smoke represented the past. That, or complacency.

I’m still just as excited at the prospect of conquering new places but instead of running away, I run forward. It’s taken me a while to be honest about the difference. Today’s quest is less about escaping what’s behind me and more about discovery that lies ahead. I feel like a Disney character, the one wanting to break free from her captivity to explore the world, and does so recklessly and relentlessly. A hybrid of Ariel the Little Mermaid and the cast of Madagascar. I think back on a tasteless first date conversation a few years ago when the man asked me how I turned out “ok” having moved so much. I choked and had a WTF monologue in my head. He was obviously a “born and raised in___” kinda guy, unexposed and uninspired. Often misunderstood, the nomadic life isn’t for everyone.

As I approach my three-year mark in New York, I feel the familiar nervous twitch creep up on me like the cooties. I’m not sure what’s next, how I’ll get there, or how soon, but there’s something in the world that is untapped and is calling my name. And when the world calls, I beckon. A year ago today, as I crossed the mountains from Fez to Chefchaouen, Morocco by train, I couldn’t have predicted where I’d be right now. I write this at the top of a hill in Kibagabaga, Kigali in Rwanda. Every city whose soil I walk, I wonder if I could call it home one day. The answer is always yes. As I run toward discovery, global citizenship has taken a comforting shift. Instead of deciding whether to make a new city home, every new city now welcomes me home. “Mi casa es tu casa,” they all say.

 

Then It Clicks

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IMG_0958I recently had a conversation about fuck ups, love hangovers, and liberalism with an AirBnB guest that lasted well over a typical stranger-meets-stranger exchange. The minutes turned to hours as this man–a grungy, Nirvana-listening, just-got-out-of-bed dressing, inconspicuous 40-something– dropped some knowledge. I was engaged, as I usually am when I get the chance to go in deep with someone with whom I wouldn’t otherwise cross paths. AirBnB is the best, most unassuming matchmaking site.

“When I turned 30, I realized I wasn’t immortal. Then it all clicked,” he said.

I let that marinate for a minute. I actually think the clicking happens less like a light switch and more like turning a dial. At so many moments I’ve felt like “I got this.” Like what I knew before those moments didn’t compare to what I knew then, and given all my fabulously acquired life experience, there was no way in hell I’d be naive enough or unprepared for the next trickery up life’s sleeve. Cuz I got this, right? (…asking myself unconvincingly)

Low and behold though, like clockwork, we experience life at several WTFs per day. What comes of them are “Damn, you got me good this time, God” kind of conversations. By now, I’ve sat my tail in the corner to stew in the fact that each experience is an opportunity to turn the dial to the right just a smidge but at no point will I ever make a 360 degree turn on that dial. Or maybe I’ve just made it my business to extract meaning from every non-coincidental event and broken mirror I find, conveniently appointing them as signs that the universe is trying to tell me something noteworthy.

It’s never until way post-event that the culmination of those WTFs even begin to shape into a takeaway that makes sense. To beat myself up over not understanding the process would be counterproductive, in the same light that coming to conclusions about all the things I’m certain about would, just to renege after yet another life jolt. While I let unknowingness stew, for an abbreviated moment I cuss it out under my breathe. However, when I arrive at the other side of impatience, the process of discovery—the intersection of the unknown and passionate curiosity—excites me down to my painted toe nails.

There are definitely those obvious ah-ha moments that do come over us with no needed process of evolving—the decision to no longer put up with this or that, the clarity of what and who we love, and simple intuition. But what we’re made of and who we become? There are far too many mini clicks that need to happen for me to believe that “it all clicks” is a final destination and a one-time awakening. Naah, life don’t go like that…