Nonfiction

Out There is a Garden.

Like a widower, like a prisoner, like an acolyte new to a nunnery, the mother who splits with her lover during pregnancy–or more acutely, because of it–is expected to sustain an extended season of mourning–of mourning and reverence and soberness. She will be watched, her next actions weighed and measured. If she returns to the fray too soon, she is a bad mother, dodging her new role as diaperer, doter, and dairy in order to don peep-toe stilettos and hit the stroll, wielding a clutch full of condoms.
It’s tricky.

When the casual observer spots this woman with an infant, he conjures a domestic life for her that includes a shared bed, nightly lower back rubs, a partner, because this early on–while the baby is still dewy and wordless, while the mother is still bathed in her miraculous life-bearing aura, while the father is still awed by his heir–this is simply implied. There is no uncomplicated way to explain the echoing loneliness, the cavernous absence, the awkward near-daily phone updates on their daughter’s development. At a time when her most intimate moments should be spent with her ex, at the rail of a crib, whispering over the shared triumph of getting their colicky infant to rest, the last thing anyone suspects is that she’s calculating the appropriate time to wriggle free of her billowy blouses and pull on the form-fitting regalia attendant to getting back Out There.

Out There, with its speed dates and hookups and earnest longterm courtships, is no longer her scene–or if she is me, it never was. If she is me, she is practically hermetic, all her previous relationships casual, unconsummated, or in the case of this last, the result of happenstance, fondness, and, later, inertia. Every man she’s dated–and there have been less than a handful–was found in the places she most regularly frequents: school, work, church.

She doesn’t know to meet them, otherwise.

Regardless, an unbidden desire to meet them has risen, like decomposing Lazarus improbably exiting his tomb.

She knows there is a link between this pining and her heart’s recently enlarged capacity for love. Love is emanating from her pores, insomuch that she runs the risk of becoming an unrepentant helicopter, hovering over her increasingly independent child, lifting her for hugs and kisses before she ever has the chance to offer them. She needs a reservoir for the runoff; a dreamcatcher for the excess; a man who makes more sense within the context of a world that has reimagined her as someone’s mother.

And, there–there is the other rub: she is someone’s mother now. This necessarily changes everything.

If dating was a house of mirrors before, filled with misshapen images of herself and her possible suitors, dating with a child is a house of cards, full of false starts and toppled attempts to balance a new identity with an old one.

She will need to reconfigure her banter, curtail her nervous laughter, meet eyes and match their fervor, infuse all conversation with clarity. She can no longer be one for ambling. There is no time.

It has become apparent to her, in these twenty months she’s spent alone, that as the mother of a one-year-old, she will be treated as though she is unavailable. And in so many ways, she is. The best part of herself has been claimed, the bulk of her time accounted for.

What can she offer a prospective paramour, other than leftover love, the slivers of time per day that her daughter spends sleeping, the occasional phone call at dawn?

She must grow more.

It is impractical to desire a garden she has no space or time to tend. But what is life without the wildness of flowers, the sustenance of fruit and grain, the lushness and full spice of the herbs? And what will she do with the love overflowing these buckets, if not use it to water a series of promising seeds?

Her season of mourning has ended. A partner is not so readily implied of a mother with toddler, as the one who conjures images of the madonna when she holds her swaddled babe.

Now, the wind has turned. The soil will yield to tilling.

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Nonfiction

ManWomanBoogie.

Can man be stronger, if a woman is there?
I would have to say yes.
Can woman make it without men being there?
She would have to be blessed.

— Q-Tip

For the first ten years of my life, I was raised in a matriarchy. I lived with my mother and her mother (or, intermittently, with my mother alone) until I was ten. I don’t think it’s possible not to have feminist leanings, being raised in households like these. There is no male energy and, by extension, no male “authority.” Women are paying for everything that is essential to life–and they’re doing it on far less income than a man would have to. When you’re disobedient, women are doing the chastising. When you’re obedient, women are doing the work of positive reinforcement. When you’re broken, women are mending you, to the best of their ability.

If you’re fortunate, they’re doing all this without pining for the men who have been long absent or the men they have yet to meet. If you’re fortunate, they’re doing this without bashing the whole of the male species.

But that’s only if you’re incredibly fortunate.

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the Nine series (novel excerpts)

Dejame.

Nine was born Ninah Jude Brown in a cold single-bed room at Sparrow Hospital. It was 1979 in Lansing, Michigan, which meant that the White nurses were merciless in their “care” for her unmarried mother, Marcheline, as she writhed and shook her legs at the sheets like they were puppies nipping her ankles. These angels of mercy in their trapezoidal bonnets and bobby socks pursed their lips disapprovingly at Marcheline’s bare ring finger. Knowing there’d be no hovering husband to complain on her behalf, they refused her a cold compress as sweat poured from her feverish forehead, denied her ice chips when her lips cracked and her tongue went coarse, and would not hold her hand as her uterus contracted, for fear that the melanin would rub off.

In her epidural haze, she even thought she heard one of them tsk, “When will these nigger-girls ever learn?” Months later, Marcheline would rather absently repeat this to her mother, who stood several feet away, pushing pureed carrots beyond Nine’s puckered lips. Her back turned, Marcheline would fail to notice how her words bolted up her mother’s spine and rocked her for a moment, right where she stood, baby spoon suspended just out of Nine’s reach. Then came the tremble with unspeakable anger at her own hospital ward tale, wherein the nurses weren’t White but were just as full as vitriol and there was no sweet anesthetic to muffle their judgmental asides. Just as Nine would begin her hungry whimpers, her grandmother would emerge from her swoon of recollection and Marcheline would rush away from the bathroom mirror with makeup impeccably applied and race for the honking car downstairs in a sweater dress seemingly designed to make her date forget her new motherhood.

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