Nonfiction

Running Toward 36 (With My Woes). 

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I’m turnin’ into a nigga that thinks about money and women, like, 24/7. That’s where my life took me; that’s just how shit happened to go. — Drake, “Know Yourself”

When I turn 36 in two months, I will cross over the benchmark of this decade where I’m closer to 40 than I am to 30, far closer to middle-age than post-adolescence. Subconsciously, during 2015, that must’ve been significant to me. This has been the year that I started chasing. Finally, I stopped waiting for my dreams to find me working, and refocused my work so that it gathered like an arrowhead and flung itself forward.

I still don’t know what else I want to be when I grow up. But I know far better, thanks to 35, who I am right now.

A few days ago, I tweeted that the 30s are a revelatory set of years — and not everything you become during them is inspiring or pleasant; not everything you realize about yourself makes you proud. The truth is: the first five years of my 30s taught me just how many of my good traits are decision-based. They’re the result of waking up every day and choosing to be kind or generous or thoughtful or compassionate. None of that is innate. I’m not always tender with my child instinctively, for instance. Sometimes I take a deep breath first and set my intention on a soft word or a gentle touch or a question — “Was that nice?” or Was that the right choice?” — rather than yelling, “What’s gotten into you?!”

And, I mean: I fail.

I can be shallower than I thought I had become, either compelled or unnerved by physical appearance in ways I thought I’d conquered as a child. I still notice how people look before I notice who they are; how they look still impacts how I process who they are. It’s something I intend to continue rejecting, now that I’m aware just how much work I still need to do.

Even when I think I’m operating out of pure human kindness, I can discover, at the end of a day, that I was in fact motivated by the response I’d hoped to receive. The disappointment I feel when I don’t get it is what makes that apparent.  Take this, as an example: when I was 33, I fell in love with someone, dated him for four months, and pined for him over the next two years. For him, I would run a gauntlet of errands, under the guise of just-friendship, attempting all the while to convince both him and myself that I was simply good-hearted, willing to accept what would never be — us, a couple, reconciled — yet still present myself to him, whenever he was in a bind. Love, after all, whether or not it’s met with equal or greater force, is kind. It doesn’t seek its own. It meets whatever need it sees, without expectation of repayment. This is what I wanted us both to believe. It’s who I thought I was: purely kind, unconditionally loving.

But I was stealing all kinds of repayment: the sight of him, his touch, the scent of him steeped in the cloth seats of my car, long after he’d left it, his conversation. I used it all as a kind of fossil fuel; I let it burn off my loneliness.

Worse, in my 30s, I’ve been on the receiving end of this very kind of attention, offered as under a label of friendship and undeterred by known disinterest in it. I’ve chosen not to reiterate my disinterest, because these days, having someone familiar near can be far more appealing than resolutely sending him away.

I am embarrassed to admit that. I spent my 20s eschewing all behavior that could be called clingy or needy or desperate or validation-seeking. I prided myself on being able to take a hint. I always left first, even if I didn’t want to. I knew all the adages: Never make time for someone who doesn’t make time for you. Listen the first time. Follow your first mind. If he’s truly interested, you’ll always know it. That I could know those things as true and decide to test them anyway isn’t something I enjoy disclosing about myself. The woman who does that isn’t the woman I believed I was.

My 30s have made me different. My 30s, with a small child I have yet to raise, whose future frightens me, for all its potential and for the possible ways that this potential will  carry her far away from me and lead me, in my very old age, back to the silent, less vibrant life I led before her, are the decade where my worst qualities and greatest fears are revealing themselves and it’s too exhausting to keep pretending to the world that I don’t have them.

I am often afraid, especially in my friendships and with lovers. I do not want to let anyone go. I can say this now because I am almost 36 and I think, when a woman is still single at this age, this sort of admission is expected.

I do enjoy the life I’m carving out. I am a writer, which is really all I ever wanted to be in the world, and I am a mother, which I was never certain I wanted to be, but have risen to — with all my heart — just the same. Ten years ago, I would not have dared ask for more. I do not always dare it now.

But increasingly, I am challenging myself to own whatever I am and then to interrogate it. I am, at turns, angry and jealous and petty, short-tempered and selfish, and even, as this most recent failed relationship taught me, unwittingly duplicitous. I have done more than my fair share of compromising what I truly want. Now, I am becoming exacting about it.

I simply want to be good — to myself, to my child, to others, good at my work and at a love as yet unseen. I no longer want to pretend to anyone that I am sweeter or more self-sacrificing than I am. And in the absence of that performance, in the midst of my daily choosing and failing, I want someone beside me making his own, similar decisions. Among them: accepting me just as I am and choosing, each day, not to flinch.

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Make Him a Balloon, Nonfiction

Residue.

It isn’t the absence that bothers me; it’s the silence.

Before last summer, you were the one who took responsibility for our conversations. I was allowed to be blasé. I could put work first; I could screen your calls. You’d call again. You averaged three calls a day, nearly every day, all eight years.

There were rare lapses. I learned that you could be inattentive when you were editing the first short film you shot, after we started dating. You were planning two local screenings. You were designing the DVD cover. You were collecting actors’ bios. I had to tag along on shoot days, if I wanted to see you. I helped you write and edit blurbs and bios. I calmed you, when you wondered if people would understand your cinematic vision.

The days leading up to the first premiere were the days of our first break-up. That one was childish, I’ll admit. I felt neglected. Even when I told you it was “over,” your shrug was audible through the phone. I could hear the rabid clicking of a mouse in the background. If that’s what you need to do… your voice trailed.

We were back together by the time the curtain went up in College Park and a cluster of a 200 viewers watched your thirty-minute production. “I’m so nervous,” you confided. “Me too!” I exclaimed, rushing behind you, clutching fliers and cords.

“Why? What did you do?”

*  *  *

Even with those notable exceptions, you were clearly the emotionally vocal one, quick to proclaim love (and lust), always the first to admit that the distance between us made you edgy and irritable. I miss you, you’d repeat with something akin to venom in your voice.

This is ironic, since I was the first to say I love you. I said it our third week of dating, right before hanging up the phone. You waited a while, until we saw each other in person again, waited until the very end of a date, when I’d already closed the passenger door of your car. “Hey,” you called through the cracked window. “Love you, too, girl.”

I floated up the steps to home.

*  *  *

Most of my family warned me that too much attention could be a sign of a control-bent partner. If you had to know where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, when I’d be home, what time I’d be able to call you back (and talk at length), then maybe you were treating me more like a barebacked colt in need of wrangling than a woman growing into her depths.

Or maybe you were a cheater, projecting.

As a girl who very unaccustomed to consistent male attention, I preferred to think you just cared.

I still think you cared.

*  *  *

The only other time you’ve been this detached is when we returned from Paris. With glittering eyes, I scoured the internet looking for a way to get back there. I found one: an ESL training program in Tournan-en-Brie. I could fly back to France in less than a season for a one-month intensive that’d earn me a certification that’d greatly broaden my career skill set.

You were opposed. And I was already writing a deposit check.

You kept insisting that it wasn’t safe for me to go to a foreign country for a whole month without you; it was the same fear tactic you’d used to convince me you needed to take that first trip to Paris with me, even though you couldn’t afford it.

I don’t think we were in love then. Before I’d decided to spend my spring break overseas, you’d been pressing me to spend that week with you, in California. Part of why I booked a ticket to France in the first place was to avoid another trip to your apartment. You’d tried very genuinely to make amends for the unintentional air of imprisonment my first stay with you had created. But I’d never been able to remember your place as anything other than Solitary.

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Fiction, Maranatha (novel excerpts)

Maranatha: Chapter 6.

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– Chapter 6 –

Gideon found himself zoning out quite often: in the morning, as he waited on a slice of bread to leap up from the toaster; at stop signs on near-empty residential streets; in showers, where he stood under the steaming deluge until he exhausted his hot water; in roundtables at the agency, while his colleagues cooked up copy for new ad campaigns; in restaurant booths sitting across from lovely women he’d rather drop off than dine with.

But it was particularly bad in churches, where the entire setup—half-hour of praise and worship, twenty-minute pre-offering sermonette, forty-five-minute sermon—seemed designed as a license to let his mind wander.

This was why he still went.

He’d chosen a place that didn’t remind him of home, an emerging church with all-White members, lax interpretations of biblical edicts, and a name ambiguous enough to belong to any number of businesses. It was the kind of place where you’d attend men’s bible study and, afterward, meet back up at bar for beers. Sometimes, rather than preaching, the pastor would screen a short film, shot by his Visual Arts Ministry, and the congregation would laugh and gasp and lift its hands, as actors played out some hardship on a scripture could fix. Once there was even popcorn.

They liked Gideon at The Lighthouse. When he wasn’t there, a twenty-year-old hipster whose actual birth name was Megatron shot him the occasional “Where ya been, bro?” text. When he was there, they worked hard to include him, asking him to offer his opinion on the design of their promotional material or trying to convince him to create an oversee a “Marketing Ministry.”

Gideon assumed the attention had to do with him being Black. This had happened to him a few times since he’d moved to Bellevue. He’d enter an all-white setting and either people were overly enthusiastic about his presence or they averted their eyes when he entered. The Lighthouse seemed really eager to have him there. Sometimes, if he stuck around long enough to have a conversation, he’d zone out while the person was talking, imagining himself grinning on their next brochure, standing between Tron and some bright-eyed girl with pink lip gloss and long blonde hair.

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