Beauty from Ashes

More than a year ago, my husband and I decided to have a child. We had decided to get married and decided where to live and where to work, and this was another decision that would need input from God, but like the other major decisions we made at the dawn of our thirties, it was ours to make, ours to control.

I grew up believing that pregnancy was a condition that could flare up at the worst point in a young woman’s life, especially pretty girls like me who weren’t careful and didn’t use protection – and that fate was to be avoided at all costs. Good, pretty girls with bright futures do not get pregnant before they are married – this was the naive, ignorant me talking who hadn’t yet met women who did exactly that and blew me away. I believed that the smart ones knew how to cross Virginity Road and still stay childless through their roaring twenties. I mastered the ‘pull and pray’ method in long-term relationships where there was enough trust to negate condoms, but no ring or promise to care for the child we might share. I can remember being twenty-three and high-fiving the mirror when my period came, literally wiping my brow in a sigh of relief and promising the angels it wouldn’t happen again. (Then doing the same damn thing all over again.)

People always tell us we’ll have beautiful children. They say they can’t wait to see what the child will look like because we are the most beautiful couple they know. Sometimes (but not always) I go quiet when they say things like this, using simple mathematical equations to block out what is only meant to be kind and encouraging. My teacher said two negatives make a positive, but what would two positives make? If you multiply a positive by thirty-something negative years, would it produce a positive or a negative? Can a negative be an integer and if so, is it a whole number? And finally, When will this conversation be over?

You begin the ‘let’s have a baby’ journey so casually, so fucking nonchalant about the when and if it happens because you know it’s going to happen, it’s a just a matter of when. You aren’t phased by their gentle reminders that you’re getting older because you’re wearing a strapless bra and a new blouse that falls off the shoulders, making you feel young. You shrug, brush the dust off and go home to roll around in bed with a man that loves you, loves every inch of you, and loves practicing. He isn’t in a rush, neither of you are. “We trust God,” we say back to them, almost offended that they’d rush us into doubt when we have been taught our entire lives that God is good and everything comes in His perfect timing.

In the sixth month of trying you get serious about it, and I mean serious. You pee on a stick every single morning and monitor your health like never before. When you pack for trips, you pack your basal thermometer first, then your toothbrush. You feel determined with every app you download, and suddenly life becomes all about the green squares, showing you when you are most fertile. You feel confident until you tell Diane that you’re not drinking because you’re trying to have a baby and she shoots back with, “Drink ‘till it’s pink” (meaning the pregnancy test). So you swallow down your $12 glass and tell yourself to relax. It’ll happen, and these champagne bubbles are mama’s helpers.

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Felix Culpa (Part 2)

**Felix Culpa translates to “happy fault” in Latin – or rather, something disastrous that turns into something positive.**

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It’s fall; the season after winter, before summer. The beginning of November. Everything that I see outside of my kitchen window, including the other apartment buildings and the dead grass and the construction piles and the fashion choices of people I later spy on the subway platforms, matches the coffee in my cup.  A medium, bright brown.

The last sips of coffee are rare for me – there’s never, ever enough time to drink an entire cup, nor can I handle it – but I drank it down this time, and I’m relishing it. If it’s sweet I let it sit on my tongue for a moment before I swallow. And this cup is delicious down to the very last drop, but I’m feeling guilty. I haven’t prayed and it’s time to go. I shouldn’t be standing here in the window drinking coffee, not if it means I drink coffee instead of praying. It was prayer that delivered me out of my troubles and it is prayer that will sustain me.

But hey, I’ll pull it together tomorrow. Let’s do this, Day! (And that my friends, is the coffee talking.)

Here we go. Out into the world. Headphones: are in. Music: is on. Life: is GOOD.

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Felix Culpa (Part 3)

**Felix Culpa translates to “happy fault” in Latin – or rather, something disastrous that turns into something positive. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 here.**

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‘God’ and ‘damn’ are two words that shouldn’t be spoken together when you express your frustration, but that’s what comes tumbling out of my mouth that morning, the day after the election, the day after my country ‘tis of thee voted Donald Trump to be the 45th president.

Brandon is even more quiet than usual as he flips between the Today Show and ESPN. I too am quiet, feeling a dull anger as I dress for work. For some reason, I choose to dress in denim from head to toe, and pair it with cowboy boots and a purple bandanna that Greg L. brought me from Japan. Dressing like a Black American cowgirl feels like my body is holding its first press conference for the rest of the world. “You may not want me, America, but I’m here. So giddy up.”

I stop at the deli to purchase flowers for my colleague who is and was a mega-Clinton fan. I know she will be devastated about the election results, though for vastly different reasons than me. I think about her as I gently thumb the buttercup petals resting on my lap during the commute. As a White woman, she is feeling the agony of disappointment in society on a larger scale, and it is a first for her. She won’t soon forget this feeling. In fact, she will join 1 million other women on January 21st to march across every major city because she can’t accept what has happened. Welcome, sister. Welcome to what so many of us have felt before. You now belong to America’s worst after-school club: the Minorities.

“Goddammit,” I whisper, “what the fuck.” This is the second time I have cursed this way, but I’m reacting to what I see on social media this time around. My antenna has been up for the past two days, my paranoia level at an all-time high. I can’t bring myself to pray or to focus. For I know that at any given moment, people that we think we know on an intimate level will begin to proudly own their choices and won’t be able to resist joining the winning team. My heart sinks at what I am seeing.

One of our closest friends has begun to find and post articles showing Donald Trump to be a unifying figure, and goes a step further to say that his negative image has been fabricated by media outlets. Now it’s one thing to say that you voted for him despite his inflammatory aggrandizing —and it is entirely another to say that he never made any inflammatory statements to begin with. It is wrong, and it is dangerous to normalize this type of behavior. But more than anything, it is devastating because I thought you knew us; and I thought we knew you.

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Felix Culpa (Part 4)

**Felix Culpa translates to “happy fault” in Latin – or rather, something disastrous that turns into something positive. You can read Part 2 here and Part 3 here.**

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When I was a junior or senior in college, the theater department announced the next production to be “A Chorus Line”. My mother had been lying to me about my singing voice for so long that I believed I could win the starring role. So I auditioned for the main character, a sweet woman with a good work ethic. Instead I was cast as another major character – Sheila, the bitch.

My mother was right: I can indeed sing. But it’s not soft and elegant like Norah Jones, or high and flighty like Jackie Evancho. It’s deep and it sounds grounded, like it’s coming from the earth instead of the heavens. I didn’t want to be Sheila the bitch, but no one can deny it was a very natural fit.

I am Sheila in my relationship, the one who begins the fight and doubles down on my position. Brandon is the naïve, hardworking girl from a small town with a sweet disposition. He is much more prone to say a sentence or two, shrug his shoulders and drop it, whereas I rumble in the jungle. I fight and he flees. Both tactics have their own advantages and our unique personalities have complimented each other well up until now.

By the end of November, I’m willing to be the bitch for everyone. “Hey, over here! Look, I’m a bitch!” I would tell them. I’m willing to stand up on a soap box and scream out into the streets that I regret my decision to address a friend about comments I felt were inherently racist and troublesome if it means Brandon and I can be normal again. Because I miss my husband. I miss him so much. I miss his stomach and his laugh and his need of me.

Even though I feel spurred on in my spirit to continue speaking my truth, I give in and decide that the cost is too high. When I first spoke up about the comments that troubled me, I knew that it might mean losing this person as a friend – but I decided that at the end of the day a person who gets angry with you for correcting them on racism probably doesn’t have your best interest in mind anyway. I’m happy to have a conversation about the complexities of race and opportunity in this country, but if we have to go all the way back to square one and begin with “Do You Understand That Some of the Things Donald Trump Says Are Racist?” there is no hope for a real relationship. The gap is just too large.

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Felix Culpa (Part 1)

Felix-culpa

Phrase

(plural felix culpas)

  1. (literally) A “happy fault” or “fortunate fall”.
  2. (literary) A series of miserable events will eventually lead to a happier outcome.
  3. (religion) The Biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve and the loss of the Garden of Eden, known theologically as the source of original sin – meaning that this loss of innocence was a fortunate fall because of the good that would come from it, that is, Christian redemption and the eventual hope of Heaven.

 

What Happens Behind Closed Doors

In a season of loss, sex has been a constant. I smell him, clean from the shower. A hand I cannot see comes to rest on my right shoulder. The hand relaxes there, relaxes me. Our stomachs touch. The hand’s thumb reignites to knead that shoulder, the ear lobe located three inches away, and my lower back muscles. On television, kissing always begins on the mouth, but that’s not where I go because first, before we kiss, I need to inhale more of his skin scent—strongest on the chest and the chin. I run my nose in the valley north of his neck, where there are stray hairs that survived the morning shave. I roll onto my back and invite him to let all of his weight fall there. I shut my eyes and I let his hair sweep over my entire face and onto the shoulders his hands have abandoned for my legs. It is the beginning of a routine that will in time lead to children. It is unconditional love expressed through long caresses up and down the rib cage, fingers sliding from the base of the neck into hair so we can be pulled closer together.

But Today and the last 5 Yesterdays, this unconditional love looks very different. It starts slow – that is the rhythm of love: slow and steady and building toward something. Our home is quiet and the air in it, cool. I begin the painful process of trying to sit up and let out a groan just as I reach an upright position. He calls my name from the other bedroom where he’s been sleeping on an air mattress on the floor since I had emergency surgery to remove my appendix. He asks if I’m alright, and what I need.

“Water,” I answer. I’m so thirsty. He delivers it to me, and asks me how I’m feeling with his hand on my forehead. “Better,” I say.

Everything is ‘WE’ for the first 12 hours after I’m discharged from the hospital. We get me to the bathroom, where he’s shifted a dresser that now acts as a crutch for me to lower and raise myself. We wash my face. We get me back to the bed. We update my parents. I don’t have to think, about anything. We feel like a real family.

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In case of emergency, put my Alabama cap on me and then call 911.

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Updates

October 9 2016:

I lost track of time because I got busy, but I want you to know that I crushed the week before last. Do not count me out just yet. This girl is (still) on fire.

Boom bing bam! Done done done!

Resumes were flying, referrals were zipping back and forth between future employers and me. I interviewed, and I interviewed well. One of them was in the fanciest midtown spot, and get this y’all: there was a piano in the marble lobby and a lady hired to play it all the live long day. (So I don’t belong there.)

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