An Email and a Well

I am not ready to become a better me, I think to myself as I walk past the book, resting on the coffee table, for the umpteenth time. At least twice a day I cross the book’s stationary path, when I head to my bedroom and when I leave my apartment. So the number of times I have this thought is significantly higher than the word, umpteenth, implies. Truthfully, I must have had that thought for an ‘umpmillionth’ time. Finally, one weekend, when my life was in complete shambles, I decided to crack open the cover, and read what lay behind the smiling pastor’s picture. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain at that point. Desperation enables action.

I’m a fast reader, but it took me a while to read the book. Normally, I process a book’s deeper message while reading. With this book, I read, paused, processed, processed some more, then continued to read. Each page became filled with annotations, resembling Joel Osteen’s manuscript after a visit with an editor.

Words were circled.
Important lines were underlined.
Questions, affirmations, and comments were written in the margins.
Tears were shed.

Last night Early this morning, I received an email that ‘effed’ up my mood, completing extinguishing the high I had after a long, productive day. After reading it, I did not want to do anything else. I simply wanted to crawl into the hotel’s bed and sleep, with the flawed expectation that I would escape, ignore, or at least delay my emotional reaction to its presence. The hours completing REM cycles would be buffers, protecting me from those hurtful words and their intentional desire to trample and stomp all over my sensitive and fragile esteem. In other words, I sought a false solace in the bed, cowering from a bully.

In the book, there is a section that discusses relationships. He suggests that one should not allow others to throw stones in your happiness well. When one does, one’s well becomes drier because of the presence of the additional rocks, which build up and eventually dry out the well. I have very little knowledge of or experience with wells. Yet, I interpret this analogy to signify that one is in control of one’s happiness.

After one REM cycle, roughly three hours, I woke up with this troubling email still on my heart, already draining my energy needed for another marathon day. I strongly considered going back to sleep to run, hide, and ignore. Then my synapses snapped to the message of the well, the book, and the promise I made years ago to protect my well. I positioned my body upright and said a silent prayer. Then I reached for my ipad and accompanying keyboard and began to write, a safe and true solace.

Are You A Man of God?

The train pulls up to the station and I can still smell the beer stench from the passenger next to me. No judgment, I remind myself as he sloppily piles his personal labtop and other materials into his carry on book bag. Visibly, he is in a hurry so I politely move out of his way so that he can get to wherever he is going.

As I ascend the stairs, the only thought on my mind is the comfy hotel bed that awaits my tired body. The chilled midnight air welcomes me to Philly. While waiting in line for a cab with two friends to whisk us downtown, a man spots me. We make eye contact, and he approaches me with a hurried step as if he knows me. “You,” he loudly says, pointing at me. I turn my head to look around. Maybe I intercepted his eye contact which was intended for someone else behind me, which has happened countless times before.

“No, you,” he quickly clarifies, recognizing my slight confusion. We regain eye contact. “Are you a man of God,” he questions.

For the first time, I am having a difficult time writing a post. The other posts have flowed effortlessly from conception to publishing. I get a rush from it. I gladly welcome and enjoy the strong shot of dopamine that courses swiftly through my body. Writing is liberating.

This post is different. Very. I know which experience I want to share, but struggle with its delivery like a breech birth. The words dangle in my mind and are lost in translation as I attempt to transpose them onto paper my blog.

Could it be because this moment was confusingly powerful?
Could it be because this moment has many different implications and interpretations?
Could it be because this moment touched me emotionally, in an unfamiliar way?

“I am,” I answer, unsure, not of my answer but of his intention. “Can you pray for me?” he continues with a solemn look in his eyes. “I tried to commit suicide earlier today.”

We move a few steps away from the line to ensure some privacy from the other train passengers waiting for their cab to transport them to wherever they were going.

I listen to him tell me about his struggle with life since his release from prison after twenty five years. I listen to him share his disappointment in himself when he attempted to rob someone a few hours ago. I listen to him recount his frustration, after his failed attempt, with a nearby Black church, whose pastor refused to help him because he is not a member of the pastor’s church. I listen to him ask for money so that he can get to his job, his night shift begins at 1am.

I reassure him that his relationship with God is self-determined and independent of membership to a church. I reassure that he has to live with his decisions and can lead a life that he can be proud of only when he is ready to do so. I reassure him that I will pray for him. I reassure him that I do not have any money to give him.

Suddenly, our moment is disrupted when my friends call my name to let me that we finally made it to the front of the line. As I duck into the cab, they look at me and ask what did the man say to me.

I thought. “Are you a man of God?” I respond.

Friendship Has No Curfew

I normally do not wait until the absolute last minute to do laundry. This time was different. I procrastinated washing my clothes, each day lying to myself that I would do it after I got home from work. Each morning, I would check to make sure that I had at least one more clean pair of underwear for the following day. No motivation. Then that awkward moment when I checked and I did not have that pair. Sudden motivation. Laundry had to be done tonight.

But why tonight of all nights. Thursday was going to be a packed day; after work, I had to attend a parents’ meeting followed by a basketball game. I knew when I returned home, I would not have the energy or desire to do anything, especially laundry.

The basketball game was even more exhausting than usual because only three of my teammates showed up for the game. We played valiantly, but four against a rotating five (it seemed like they rotated a new fresh squad on the floor at every chance they could; it also helped that they had a full twelve man roster available) for an entire game was unfair, though we almost pulled out a victory.

Driving back to the Bronx with two of my teammates, my close friends, I randomly shouted with despair and disgust, “And now I have to do laundry.” My G-shock watched prominently displayed 10:35pm in the muted Ninja Turtle green light. “I got laundry to do too,” one friend responded. “So do I,” the other said.

At 11:15, we descended upon my building’s laundry room, only to find out that I could not add any money to my laundry card because the ‘add-money-to-your-card’ machine was not working. There was no way that we were going to wash all these clothes with the $0.25 displayed in that odd neon greenish blue light when I checked my balance.

When I saw that the card machine was not working, combined with the earlier lost, my emotions exploded. My face drooped to the ground, lamenting the fact that I had work in the morning and would have no clean underwear. “Man, chill. We can wash our clothes in my building’s laundry room,” my friend, who lives across the street, said in an attempt cheer me up and shut me up before I unleashed my laundry list of problems.

Long story short, we washed clothes until 1am, at which time the power in the laundry room went out, leaving my clothes with roughly 10 minutes of lost drying time. Damp clothes, added to the ‘losing list.’ Then we decided that we should get something to eat, but what would be open. Ol’ faithful…McDonalds. Though I am not a fast food fan, I knew that a McDonalds mango smoothie would brighten my night morning.

There was a problem. I was not going to drive my car. Parking in my neighborhood is like gold mining, difficult and tedious work. When one finds a spot, near the front of the building like I found that night, one does not move.

Once again, my face tethers on negative a million. Can I win at least once tonight, I yell in my head.

My friend saw my soured facial expression and quickly suggested, “We can ride our bikes.” Bless his soul for his quick thinking. Maintaining my role as Mr. Cynical Pessimist, I retorted, while pointing at my friend from Connecticut who was crashing at my spot for the night, “He doesn’t even have a bike.” That finger purposely blamed him for obstructing my ability to get some food, while the other three pointed at me for procrastinating. “Man, chill. He can use my daughter’s bike,” my friend responded. His answer made me laugh and knocked me out of the unfamiliar, uncomfortable character I was playing.

We rode our bikes to the local McDonalds at 1:30am and went through the drive thru. My friend flirted with the worker. He reassured her that we actually have cars but did not want to lose our parking spots. She giggled and said, “Sure,” without the slightest ounce of belief. We rode in a unseasonably warm fall night morning, laughing through the streets, wondering why we never did something like this during the summer, when it would have made more sense.

When I finally hit my bed at 3:07am, I thought fondly of my random night, the result of my procrastinating ways and lack of clean underwear.

Thankfully, friendship has no curfew.

My First Time

It was a Friday night. My house was empty. I rarely ever had the house to myself, but oddly my mother had taken my brothers somewhere and my step-father went out. I was bored. What should I do?

We met each other in San Francisco at a student conference and kept in contact. Shortly after our return to the east coast, she became my girlfriend.

I was sixteen and in 11th grade. She was fifteen and in 10th. I represent the Bronx, but she was raised out in Brooklyn.

I had practiced on my own. I wanted to make sure that I understood how it worked because this was new to me.

I was nervous. My hands fumbled, but I intently listened to the sounds. That was the key. Each touch resulted in a slightly different tone.

That night, I was determined to make it happen. No more practice needed, I was ready.

After a few minutes, I was done. Pleased, I rolled over with the biggest grin on my face.

My private phone line rang within a minute.

“Hello?” I answered with anticipation.

“What did you do?” she questioned me. “What is this text message thing you just sent me.”

Ever since that first textual moment, I have been textually active.

Safe texting.

Womb II

“Where you at, scrap? You sleep?” his voice booms through my iphone receiver. I can hear the laughter percolating in his voice. He knows my answer.

“I’m chillin’ at my mom’s house, man,” I respond sleepily, waiting for it.

And it begins…he laughs a deep laugh born in the pit of his stomach. He laughs for only four or five seconds, but it feels so much longer because his laughter is filled with sincerity. He laughs that kind of laugh that makes me laugh.

“I know what that means,” he teases. “You’ve been sleeping. You always sleep when you go to your mom’s house.”

He’s right. I have sleeping issues, but those slowly melt away like butter placed on a warm skillet when I enter my childhood home. I feel safe. I feel comfortable. I am myself, no pretense. Consequently, my body resigns to the fact that I’m tired, spent, and stretched a bit too thin. It finds solace in 3014.

“Man, that place is your womb,” the banter continues.

I told my family that joke during Thanksgiving dinner. When I woke up a few hours later, after a turkey induced coma like rest, my family revealed that they were laughing at me while I slept. Did I snore? Did I yell out some nonsensical sound? Did I drool? I quickly touch and wipe my mouth as the thought rushes through my mind.

Nope. That wasn’t it.

Apparently, I was curled up in a fetal position with my hand under my head and my knees slightly bent towards my stomach. That opened the flood gates to “Wombgate.”

Joke on jokes on jokes.

When they finished cracking up about my sleeping habits while visiting the house, everyone went to sleep, and I thought it was over. Oh, I was wrong again.

In the morning, as I prepared to leave, I decided to stock up on some delicious thanksgiving leftovers. I asked my mother to help me fix a tubberware plate. My youngest brother quickly quipped, “That’s right mommy, he can’t get food without you.” The simulated pregnant belly rub made us all laugh.

Womb

I mispronounce words. I am conscious of it. I am more conscious of it because I am an English teacher. I am most conscious of it when I am with other English teachers and notice that I sometimes stammer in their presence because I am over thinking the pronunciation of a word.

I spent my first few years in a French-speaking Caribbean island, learning both French and English.
I grew up in the Bronx, surrounded by Spanish and English speaking Caribbean immigrants.
I love hip hop and its melodic slang.

Flashback: As a freshman in college, a friend from Minnesota asked if she could record a conversation of mine. She had to write a linguistics paper and thought I would be a great subject because of my New York accent. As luck would have it, my childhood friend was visiting that same weekend. She and her partner simply left a recorder in my room and told my friend and I to just talk.

And we did.

We spent the first few seconds joking about the recorder, and then our conversation flowed from family to school to sports to women.

I never saw the linguistics paper my friend wrote, but I remember she told me that she received an A. I can only recall two strange facts she shared with me: my friend and I apparently conjugated our verbs in a sparsely used tense or something along those lines. More importantly, she told me that when I said ‘room’ it sounded more like ‘womb.’ She and her partner, while transcribing, had to stop several times because initially they were unsure how ‘womb’ fit into the conversation.

Flashback #2: When I fell in love with hip hop, dropping the G off of the word was prevalent; it reflected the slang, represented the culture, and rearranged the rhymes. For example, “chilling” became “chillin.'” Since the N was now the last letter, it was stressed. This phenomenon happened for all ‘-ing’ words.

Flash forward from the flashback: My first year teaching at my current school, a student publicly pointed out to the class that I did not pronounce my Gs at the end of ‘-ing’ words.

She was correct.
I was humiliated.
She laughed because, according to her, I did not speak properly.

Similarly, the high school principal confronted me about my mispronunciations. During our discussion about my desire to move into administration, he stated, “I’m going to be on top of you with your communication this year.” His comment, I initially thought, related to a quick email I sent him, in which one of the words was misspelled.

As I am leaving the room, I respond to a different comment by saying, “That’s interestin.'”

“That’s it. Right there,” he says, in a eureka tinged manner as if he figured out a cure for cancer or some other great discovery that would better the world.

He asks me to sit back down and he says that he notices my dropping of the ‘G’ in my words. I can tell he is uncomfortable. He says that he is concerned that parents, a very important and influential constituent of our school community, and others will make assumptions about me. As an administrator, I will have to speak publicly to various audiences. He claims that he is worried that my speech may, in their minds, confirm any negative prejudgments. Thus, my need to speak correctly. Humiliated again. Ironically, he stated that if I was French and mispronounced words, many people would overlook and excuse it. He does not know my origins.

The conversation dangerously straddled the intersection of race, class, prejudice, and discrimination. Those four words were never mentioned, but their presence and intensity were palpable.

I did not know what to say. I did not know what to think. I did not know how to respond. I did know the conversation was uncomfortable, manifested most notably by his body language. More importantly, it hurt me.

Yet, when I got home, I practiced…all weekend long.

Running.
Talking.
Something.
Nothing.

While I was practicing how to enunciate “correctly”, I threw ‘ask’ in there as well because I was sure that my ‘ask’ sounded like ‘axe.’ Heck, my ‘room’ sounded like ‘womb.’

I practiced too much that weekend. While I now “correctly” pronounce words that end in G, sometimes I mispronounce words that end in N, often adding a not present G, out of habit.

I mispronounce words. I am conscious of it.

Shoulders of Giants

Sir Isaac Newtown is often attributed with the following quote: If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.

On this Thanksgiving, I want to acknowledge my gratitude for the shoulders on which I stand. I am only where I am because of the unconditional love and unending support that various people have given me.

While I am not a fan of commercialized holidays, which many of them have become, I am thankful for Thanksgiving because it is a day that promotes reflection.

I wish we, as individuals, as a society, and as a country, did it more often.

Enjoy your thanksgiving and all the delicious food.

More importantly, enjoy your family and friends.