Saturday, August 16, 2014

Fiction Series: Free Verse, Part 3

Read parts 1 & 2 HERE.


I checked Malaki's email once again:

FWD: Network & Jazz


I'd love to see you here. Get out of that office and come have a drink, girl!


I'd almost forgotten about Malaki's invitation.

Okay, I'm lying. I didn't forget. However, I was hoping that he'd forgotten and I could quell my anxiety of finding something to wear and teetering on the boundary of professionalism and damn-you're-fine.

I wasn't desperate----much.

It'd been five years, since I'd been in a serious relationship. I'm not sure if I could even call it that, considering it started and ended during my sophomore year of college. I'd spent six years, in the south, acquiring a Bachelor's and Master's Degree and not once, during post-grad, did it occur that it might be time to date. After six months in NYC, with no roommates and no demanding class schedules, the loneliness started to kick in. There was only so much wine, a good Netflix series, and a pack of batteries could do, for much longer.

I grabbed my cutest, all black, H&M dress from the closet, threw on some heels I'd got at an incredible discount, and puckered up to some Ruby Woo. I did my best struggle walk--courtesy of the several steps descending into the station--to the train, praying I'd catch the shuttle to the other side of Brooklyn. The platform was filled with a Brooklyn that I was still trying to recognize. Hipsters in variety: off color gals with sunken trousers and bohemian bags, those with trust funds and those with a dream, men in Vans or boat shoes, brown girls with wild hair gabbing about the tiny apartment that they were forced to share. I looked for the little boys with blue snow-cone lips, the beckoning mamas with swaying breasts, the confused Timberlands in muggy weather, the BK I grew up in. 

I opened my notebook on the train, squeezed between a woman with a laundry cart and another on her iPad: 

Lorraine and I found love at the bodega
He was gesturing to the sound of slapping dominoes
and sipped Heineken 

Marcus checked Lorraine first
Of course he did
She was chocolate smooth
and all legs

I was portly,
back then

All hips, lips, and acrylic fingertips

"I wanna be your man." 

& I knew he wasn't talking to me, 
but L-boogie already had one of those, 
so she walked right in and ignored him

I could hear her from outside of the 
glass door

get a 
ham and cheese
on a roll
& don't give me none of that cheap sh*t
I want the cheddar kind,
the yellow one that got taste"

His second attempt was a grab at my arm:

"So you just gon' act like you didn't hear me?"

& although I knew...
none of his words, before this
were for me

I swallowed them
on park benches,
in the laundry room of his apartment building,
after church, 
when my parents were still conversing,
and could care less about where I was, 
long as I got my scripture

I remember his purple Sunday suit
a few weeks after I found out that I was old news
He was pissed that I ended it first

My mother, father, and I 
walked with bibles in hand


I'd been dating eighteen year old Marcus for six weeks, three hours, 
and 43 minutes, sometime last month...

But that day...was the first time I'd ever seen a MAN
My father lifted him up to a broken street light
and asked him if he'd like to see God

"I love your daughter."

I'm still looking for the love he spoke of that day...


I arrived, to the networking event, thirty minutes later than I expected. My feet were already in incredible pain and I longed to switch into the flats, immersed in my oversized purse. The location was right around the corner from Free Verse, an unmarked store, with dark drapes in the windows. I'd always assumed to be closed. There was a huge man, in all black, standing at the door. 

"Password," he said.

I gave him a blank stare.


I remembered the flyer, "Swanky!"

Walking into the venue was like stepping into another world. The entire place was open brick, draped in all white. There was a huge bar along the wall, with bartenders that wore tuxedos, and the jazz band sat right across from it, on a platform stage. I looked at the man, at the piano, and immediately knew him to be Robert Glasper. What kind of shindig was this?

The crowd was intense. Everyone was draped in dark hues, despite the luminous decor. I spotted Louboutins and Armani suits, champagne glasses clinked, and the sound of forced conversation pervaded the space. I pushed through a cohort of cackling naturalistas--that I'm sure were "Mean Girls" in their heyday--and dropped my coat off at coat check. I made my way to the bar and pulled my wallet, from my purse. I hadn't spotted Malaki and I was in need of something brown, warm, and numbing. I asked the closest bartender for a whiskey, neat and a splash of water. I took out a ten to pay him. He leaned over, touched my hand with the payment, and whispered, "Open bar love. Enjoy." 

I didn't know why I was embarrassed, but I was sure that I blushed. The gentleman next to me must've noticed. 

"I would offer to buy you a drink, but the bartender just ruined my game."

I smiled.

The bald brother wore a black linen shirt and slacks. He had the strongest hands I'd ever seen. He extended one for a handshake.

"I'm Karam."

I grasped his hand and shook it, "I'm Jai, short for Jailin, nice to meet you."

"I've never seen you here before. How'd you get your invite?"

"A co-worker invited me. Well, he's more so like my boss. Kind of. He's a colleague," I was trying to make myself sound more important than I actually was.

Karam laughed, "You always this nervous expounding on the hierarchy of your occupation? May I ask what you do?"

"I'm in publishing. I work for.."

Just then Malaki slipped in and finished my sentence, "She works for my firm Karam."

Karam stepped back, as if he'd been caught doing something wrong, "Oh. Then you work with the best." 

Malaki and Karam embraced one another, like longtime friends.

"I guess there's really no need to introduce you Jai. This is Karam, my brother from another mother. He works for the devil."

Karam play jabbed Malaki in the side, "He means...I work for Goldman Sachs. Hater." 

Malaki excused us and showed me around the room. There was a VIP loft area, a raffle for a Jamaican getaway, and dinner being served in the back area. He explained that the event was very exclusive and only the best and brightest were here. 

I joked, "Why was I invited?"

He stopped mid-tour, "Because that's exactly what you are. I wouldn't have invited you, if you weren't."

Malaki was no Marcus. He'd probably never known the serenity of sitting on a Brownstone stoop, kissed a girl in an alley, or played ball in Gersh. He was no silver spoon, but he'd always been given the best. The child of Bajan immigrants, his parents persevered and made sure that he was enrolled in the greatest programs NYC had to offer. At thirteen, he was accepted into a private school with a view of Central Park, where he'd be one of two black students. At 17, he left for Harvard. Now he was back home, jet-setting and making his mark in the industry, sure of himself, and fine as hell in his repetitive tailored navy blue suit.

Something fabulous blurred past with a compliment, "Ludlow. J. Crew. Correct? Looking good Mal."

Malaki smiled back at her and caught a quick glimpse of her behind, while she walked away. I looked down at my crumpling H&M dress and suddenly felt a little insecure.

"Oh, you have it like that? I see."

"Sometimes, but I've been single for a while. I'm turning 28 this month though. I've been thinking that it might be time to settle down."

I looked up at him, avoiding his perfect chestnut stare, "Is that right?"

He licked his lips, "Yeah. I need someone smart, ambitious, creative, beautiful, mysterious..."

He touched my arm while he spoke. The room suddenly seemed empty. I wanted to fill the spaces between his adjectives, with something. I just didn't know what, yet. 

After watching Karam do a tipsy dance to the reggae they'd switched to, after Glasper and his band left, and several introductions to Malaki's friends, I started to think about Free Verse. I wondered what was on their schedule for tonight. Malaki was conversing with a group of other publishing folks, when I grabbed my coat and whispered to him that I was leaving.

He stepped away from the conversation, "Do you need a ride home?"

"No, I'm good. I think I'm going to head over to Free Verse and get some coffee and a new book." 

He put his arms out, asking for a hug, "C'mon. Bring it in."

I laughed, he'd clearly had a little too much to drink. I hugged him. 

Walking into Free Verse, felt like coming home. Mr. Miles was behind the register, in the bookstore, and I gave him a fist pound upon entrance. 

"Jai! Looking more like your momma everyd ay girl."

"That's what they keep telling me, sir."

I could hear noise coming from the performance space, on the second floor, "What's going on tonight?"

Miles took the money from the register and placed it in a small blue bag, for deposit, "Jones is having his reading. Just dropped a book today."

I didn't know who Jones was, but I was always down to support a new author. I crept upstairs and found a seat, in the back. There were black and white books stacked in a corner, a girl sat next to them on guard and took twenties from folks who couldn't wait to buy one. The host stood at the microphone urging the author to come back up and read one more excerpt, before it was time to go. 

"I've been bugging him all night and he's agreed to give us one more. Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands back together for Damali Jones." 

I watched Damali get on stage and finally put two and two together. Damali Jones. 

He stood in silence at first, looking crisp and simple. Playing with the cross that hung on the v-neck collar of his white tee, he spoke into the mic: 

She’s from a small town.
Depending on what side of the fence you stood on,
You were home,
Or somewhere far away.

But no one ever left.

Her mother vowed
She would be different

Enrolled her into performing arts high school
Tuition scraped off dinner plates,
They sent her off to college
On a full stomach

But she was hungry.

Parties, boys, and the occasional girl
Dissolved between part-time jobs
And school work
Someone had to pay the difference
That someone had to be her

Living life in a blur,
She kept responsibility on (lock)


Locks, the color of fire,
drape her butterscotch neck
Like sweets set ablaze

Ring through her heart shaped lips
She knew nothing of love,
Degree in one hand
Burden in the other
Her past somewhere in her sleeve

An uncle,
Who disguised incest with playtime
And cousins
Who needed help to meet
Childhood orgasms

Her art,
Performed and perfected

She walks university halls with her head down
Mumbling whispers,

“I don’t belong here.”

Pummeling dorm walls with her fist
Claustrophobia of her memories
Catching up to her

She feels (lock)ed in

White lines replace
(or sit on top of)
She snorts her release

Roommates worry,
She promises to kick/sniff the habit

“Don’t worry, I got this on lock.”

Tardy and absences
Grades faltering
Lectures with the store supervisor

“How could you forget to lock up?”

Questions become literal
She opens up shop
Craig-listing her attributes
For the world to see

Re: I bet you can’t find a lower price than this

Craig is a white man with a wife
And two kids
Who balances his checkbook,
Like his junk on prostitutes

He knocks at her front door
Arrangements made
Chastity forgotten

She lets him in
The door (locks)

The 52-year-old
graying man unzips,
demands that she (locks) lips with it

Her knees lock into position
One she knows all too well
Her locks, fly back and forth for dear life,
like the two-hundred dollars she needs for rent
depends on it

He tells her to “come”, after he’s done so

“Sit here, so I can look at you.”

He all too pleased,
Grins as he leaves

Forgetting to (lock)
The door behind him

Allowing the shame
To sift into the January wind
Money flickering like light leaves
On the nightstand

She cannot look in the mirror.
Pulling at her dreads,
A hyperbole for what she will feel in the morning,
A (lock) of hair falls to the ground

as does she

she’ll do anything to keep from going home
anything to be the first in her generation to progress
she will dance with success

otherwise there is no movement
stuck where you started
tight position

a complete stop

closed mind
closed heart
closed opportunity

closed everything


So much talent, Jai thought.

The crowd applauded him and several folks got up to grab his book. The host got back up on stage, "Grab a copy of "Sever" and make your way out, after you get it signed. Y'all know the deal." 

I waited for Damali to engage with his prospective readers. He signed each book with care, took pictures with people, and gave dozens of smiles away. He was some kind of awesome, tonight. I was the last to get my book signed.

He looked down at the open book, "Who am I making this out to?"


He looked up and smiled, "Good girl. How are you?"

"I'm great, just waiting on my signature."

He leaned back in his chair and smiled, "Anything else?"

I bit my lip and held back on what I really wanted to say, "I also want to know how you know my dad."

After Damali packed the rest of his books up, said thank you to Mr. Miles, and helped to close the store, I walked him out. While walking through the foyer I inquired about my father again.

"He was like the father I never had. A mentor, if you will."

Damali continued to the door, but I stopped him.

"I was always with my dad. How am I just meeting you now?"

Damali pushed the door open despite my protest, "Your dad was very protective of you Jai. He kept you away from where he was from, but he always came back to see us. He always came to see me." 

We walked down the steps and as I got ready to ask another question, I saw Malaki waiting at the corner. Once he saw me, his eyes lit up. He walked towards us and took my, now heavy, purse from my arm. 

Malaki spoke, "I'm going to put you in a cab and ride home with you. I can't have you taking the train this late."

Damali looked Malaki up and down, "Gonna introduce me to your friend?"

I looked at the both of them. Malaki was clearly headed to drunk and Damali was sober and annoyed. 

"Malaki this is Damali. He's...he's...a friend of my dad's." 

Look forward to new installments of "Free Verse", every week! I'd love to hear your comments, below!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

From My Journal: Tackling My Anxiety, Head On, For The First Time.

A few weeks ago, I dealt with an ambush. In the same week: I was promoted at work unexpectedly, healing from an accident, I hadn’t been writing, and removing a really close (but shifty) friend from my life. I woke up on the Friday of that week, took a really long shower, put on my smoothest suit, and spritzed myself in my favorite perfume. I'd prayed the night before, called my parents and my mentor, made peace with my decisions, and decided that I was going to conquer the day. 

I got to the office and tackled my to-do list, checking off items, one by one. As the list dwindled, my spirits rose. I felt the anxiety dissipating slowly and I couldn't wait to spend my weekend writing and giving my apartment some feng-shui love, which would help to rid me of the rest.  

I was talking to some co-workers, when a text came in. I glanced at my phone and continued to figure out if I wanted sushi or a salad. The text was from an old romantic interest turned friend. We were madly in love once, but after an onslaught of unfortunate events, in his life, he’d decided that the relationship direction wasn’t for him. Over the last few months, we’d been trying to be friends; we sent the occasional meme to each other and exchanged pictures of our daily lives, keeping the other informed.

After my co-workers left the room, I checked it.

“Hey. I’ve been trying to tell you these past few weeks, but I couldn’t figure out how. I’m engaged. I wanted to tell you, before it went up on social media.”

Instant trigger.

My fingers were cocked, aimed, and ready. I was ready to flip out on him, to tell him all about himself.

How is it possible that someone that I loved and who seemed to love me so deeply could just skip over me and decide on a union with someone else? How could he have not told me, when it all began? How could he not love me?

I caught myself. I heard my friends and mother’s reiterated commentary of men knowing when they wanted to be with someone. I made excuses for him. They were all apparent. I was there for every slip-up and missed opportunity. No one in his situation and mental space could be ready for the next step.

Or so I thought…

I sat and felt it wash over me: The nervousness of my promotion, the pain from my accident throbbing through my leg, the anger of not having the time to write, the absence of a friend and the scorn of a lover. I felt an anxiety attack’s initiation and I waited for it to explode.

I opted out of lunch for the day, typed my way through my last few assignments, and ignored the fast paced beat of my heart and shortness of breath. I grabbed my workbag, when the clock struck quitting time. I opened my phone and got ready to call off all my evening events and isolate myself at home, for the weekend. Interestingly, my email with my mentor, from the night before appeared.

After a long talk about my inability to scribe, because of the demands of my day job, my ongoing anxiety, and how much I needed regular talks with him, he gave me incredible advice:

“You spent your college years in a seaside town that is over 400 years old. You became a legendary spoken-word poet. You became hungry for what you could do literarily. Going to NYC made sense, given your ambitions, but there is much to learn and gain in other places as well.  One of the problems the NYC publishing industry has always had, in my humble opinion, is that it forgot the rest of the world is not NYC. There is beauty everywhere. You might very well find you can write a novel at a retreat in Vermont faster than you could in the literary capital of the world, Brooklyn. Personally, I enjoy being the one writer in a hundred people. I don't know how I would feel about being the 100th writer on my block.

Cherish the time you have at your current job, but continue to seek out things that will give you more time with your writing. Carve out the life that will make YOU happy. That is something within your control. Vacation elsewhere. Fantasize about the feel of a fresh pair of Dunks on your feet. We do have to grow up, but we define what that means, not other people. I named my company Cap & Sneakers to remind myself that my ultimate work uniform will always consist of those two things, regardless of my age. Tell Frankie Beverly to take off his hat at his age and he will laugh in your face. You can always age your swag, but dressing the way other people tell you sucks if you have to come out of pocket to do so.”

Of course, we were talking mostly about writing. However, the paragraph glared at me, as I stood in front of the 4-train. I NEEDED TO CARVE OUT THE LIFE THAT WOULD MAKE ME HAPPY.

I had to stop letting, if I could, the infliction of men, friends, and others control my happiness. A HUGE factor in having severe anxiety is utilizing the things you love to calm it. I had major life changes happening, but I wasn’t truly doing the things that helped to smooth things out. I hadn’t taken a vacation in ages, I couldn’t remember the last time I entered a sneaker store, I tried to fathom what chapter of my novel I’d been working on, and my new skateboard didn’t have one scratch on it.

Would my anxiety over these issues hold so much weight, if I were immersed in things I loved?

I left the train platform and went to the closest spot, in the station, with reception. I called my best friend, from back on Long Island, and told her I was coming home for the weekend.

“What do you want to do?” she asked.

“BOARD,” I said.

That night we went to Long Beach’s boardwalk and shredded, despite the signs that warned against it. I felt like a teenager again, draped in a hoodie and sporting fly kicks. We rode until 2am, when we saw a police car approaching us. We ran, laughing. Afterwards we gulped Slurpees and cracked on one another, until it was time to go home.

The weekend started my healing, but I knew it was only half the battle.

I sat my parents down that same weekend and told them that I’d need space. I know how my anxiety works: Sadness, isolation, coming to terms, and recovery. My parents are never happy when I’m in my isolation phase, but they’re getting better at it. Instead of “invasive” (b/c that’s how my anxiety interprets it) phone calls and visits, they’ll send the occasional text and wait for me to answer. I also sent out a mass text to my closest friends, with an article on what I was dealing with. It was something that I’d been ashamed of, but recently decided that it was better if the people I loved were prepared for it.

I spent two weeks in my apartment reading books I never had the chance to finish, finally watching “Lost Girl”, and letting go, when I wasn’t working. I ignored the gym-buddy requests and the doorbell, via my best friend & neighbor. I knew she could hear that I was home, through the door, but she was also aware that if I wasn’t answering…I wasn’t up to it. I let my friends DJ their radio show, from my apartment, hoping they’d liven up the place. They let me sleep through some of the show, but woke me up with great tunes and forced me to laugh and smile.

Eventually, with time, space, and understanding, my anxiety lifted. It took two weeks, shorter than usual, with intentional precautions. I decided what I could/could not deal with. I took the lead. I made it clear to all those around me and they respected my wishes.

I could’ve chosen to hide the real reason behind this post. I could’ve wrapped it up in gorgeous prose. The title would’ve been: How to Deal, When He Chooses Her.

I didn’t.

This time it wasn’t about him. I’d gotten over our “love” a while ago. I should’ve been disappointed, but the way my body deals/dealt with it, isn’t normal. It was an amalgamation of things. Knowing this kept me in check. It urged me to deal with the issue, right away. It gave me the power to involve everyone, in the healing process.

This time it was about me.

& if you see him or my last anxiety attack, anytime soon? You can tell them I said: Peace. 

for the tall, thick, awkward, and different.

I'm obese. That's the technical term right? It means I'm overweight. I'm bigger than your average 5'11 woman, based on the chart that adorned the locker room in high school. It was the same chart that the girls referred to, after we'd weighed in for our physical exam. I was 230 pounds. The gym teacher said it loud enough for everyone to hear. The girls giggled all period and waited until it was time to hit the showers to expound on my heaviness.

"Next period is lunch Erica. Go easy." 

I'm obese, because when I use "fat" my friends are appalled. They throw their hands up in the Forever21 plus size section and guffaw, when I pick up a size 14.

"Girl that ain't your size! You're not big, you're healthy."

Whatever that means.

I know what I look like. I'm not as big as I used to be, but my stomach still spills and I have thighs for days. I'm still a size 14. I'm plus sized.

I'm big foot. We (my mother & I) always have to go to specialty stores to find shoes, for my size twelve feet. I always have to remind my friends that we're going to the men's section when I'm buying sneakers. I've never quite been balanced or been able to wear my heels with prowess.

I'm awkward and different. I tried to describe this to the fashion designer who created my cape, for the reveal of J.K. Rowling's last book on Harry Potter. It was even more difficult to describe, to my boyfriend at the time.

"Wow. I didn't know you were such a lame." 

I once had a female friend tell me: You can change everything, but your shoe size. You can lose weight, dress differently, tone down the nerdiness. It can be done.

Needless to say, she isn't my friend anymore.

Commentary and judgment led to insecurities I never owned, until they were spoken out loud. I don't need anyone to tell me anything about myself. I look into a mirror everyday and trace stretchmarks. I slip my feet into extra large vans, before I go skateboarding. I trip over left out comic books and paraphernalia. I know exactly who I am.

I know exactly who I am, where I am, and who I want to be. I also know what I want for girls like me.

I want to be able to disrobe for a lover and not be cognizant of my 'extra'. I jiggle. I find it interesting, the way my body shapes what it's been given.

I also want to be so sure of myself that a lover's words don't define my security, in or out of the bedroom.

I want us to be bold. Bold enough to raise middle fingers to anyone who tells us that we're not society's depiction of beauty.

I want us to not be afraid of vulnerability, to show all of ourselves. I had/have this habit of meeting boys/men, behind computer screens. I would've kept them pen pals if love would've allowed me to. I would've stayed hidden, for as long as possible. I would've liked to meet them as myself: no makeup, no spanx, no dress that I bought yesterday. I would've embraced them, if they did the same for me. I would've embraced myself, if they didn't. I wouldn't be altered, either way.

I want us to be sown; sown into the psyche of all the little girls who think something is wrong with them. Too nerdy, too clumsy, too smart, too loud, too anything...

I want unabashed love. I want the kind that wants me, all of me. I want the kind that doesn't ask me to suppress any parts of myself.

I want us to be angry. I want us to stop accepting the norm. I want us to dance in the train, as if no one is watching. I want us to boast PDA. I want us to read mythology and history and realize that scarcely any woman was that small, back then.

I want good friends. The holistic kind. I don't want the ones who're only around when you're doing something that interests them. I don't want the kind that smile in your face and wish you stumble, behind your back.

I want us to stop pretending like we aren't fierce; that 5'7 & up gals can't put on heels and talk to Gods.

I want us to know that when we enter a room, without speaking, we still command attention.

I want us to know that DIFFERENT is everywhere. There's ALWAYS someone who's interested in what you are. They're out there waiting for you to join them.

I want us to tell the naysayers otherwise. I want you to tell them that you're aware of who you are and their critique isn't welcomed or necessary.

I couldn't subdue me, if I tried. All things unique, always surface. If you open my briefcase, you'll find a figurine Wonder Woman. There's a pair of Jordans and an extra skateboard, in my office. I keep a HP wand pen, in my writing desk. 

I want us to know that nothing will change, if our internal doesn't. You can lose the weight, adorn your face in makeup, shed yourself of oddities. None of that will change anything. Knowing that every part of you is special, is the only thing that will.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Alice in Harlem: Book Club Sundays

This weekend I had my first book club experience, thanks to my friend Anastazia! Every woman there was connected to me in some way: my alma mater, youth non-profits, and/or my current job. We spent the evening indulging in Anastazia's cooking, wine, and Chimimanda Adichie's "Americanah."

Anastazia threw down! We had burgers, orzo pasta, and plenty of toppings to go around. She also had a watermelon tart, for dessert. Homemakers for the win?

Chimamanda's book was a love story wrapped in notions on culture, race, religion, immigration, morality, marriage, and so much more. The debate, in the room, was heavy. We voiced our opinions and listened to related narratives, as the sun descended into the sky. 

It was an excellent read! I give it a 9 out of 10. Our next read is Boy, Snow, Bird and I can't wait!