I’ve been struggling all day with how I am going to break this story down and give it to you in short form. This weekend I went to the Bronx for my first official research trip. *trumpet blast*
It was a trip full of deep emotions and strong words. Words like;
Villain. Deliverance. Refract.
Other phrases followed me in the door as I arrived home. Like the scarves you tie to luggage to help you identify your belongings in a crowded baggage claim, they wafted off of handles and out of pockets.
The Land of Make Believe. Parallel lines.
Let’s begin this story with a new platitude that I feel very strongly could become the next big thing.
Nothing bad ever happens over a slice of pizza.
Like all other platitudes and positive affirmations, there’s exceptions to this rule but dang, don’t you agree that this should be a universal truth. If bad stuff happens, it should never happen over pizza.
Over a slice of pizza, my friend Jena told me that she was shooting a wedding in New York and asked me if I’d like to come along. I said I’d check my calendar and see if I could swing it.
“I have to do some research there anyway.”
It took a few weeks of moving things around on the calendar but in the end, it worked out. I didn’t tell anyone I was going. If you know me, you know that there’s not often a thought that passes between my ears that I don’t blurt out.
I was nervous.
Technically, this was the first trip I had accidentally planned for the specific purpose of researching my father’s life. At the time, it seemed like a convenient, economical way to begin the process. Plus, I’d have the support of my friend to help me through any of the rougher spots.
Every idea seems like a good one at the time. (It was a good idea but we’re not at that part of the story today.)
After 15 hours of traveling, Jena and I approached the city in our rental car. She squealed, “Yaaay, we’re almost there.”
I sheepishly squealed back. Or maybe I said,“Baa…”
Nope. It was definitely a squeal.
Suddenly a tsunami sized wave of self-doubt came crashing into me. Hard. I felt a shortness of breath as I looked at the city stretching out around us for miles of darkness marked by sparkling lights. I was suddenly confronted with a very harsh and unrelenting interrogator.
Who do you think you are? You think you can just come into this city and ask questions? Who do you think you are that you deserve answers at all?
The voice in my head kept berating me and I slowly leaned over, put my head between my knees and started to do some deep breathing. I steadied myself and eventually, the voice quieted down a bit. At least it quieted to a volume that allowed me to hear my own thoughts.
The days that followed found me challenged. I asked questions that resulted in 3 different reactions.
- Here is your answer.
- You don’t want to know.
- I don’t remember.
And maybe there was one more.
4. You’ll never understand.
For the answers, I was grateful. For the rest, I was insistent. I tried to balance being respectful of a place in time many didn’t want to revisit and honoring my own right to know about my father.
It felt like balancing on a tight rope at times. The tension in my own spirit was difficult to carry and the self-doubt kept revisiting me every time an answer was hard to extract. Always reminding me that I would never find the answers I was looking for. Always cajoling me to move on and let it go.
I was not my father’s only victim. I have known that for a while but I was not aware of the full story. I was able to hear more than I ever heard before. I was able to look into eyes, hold hands and drink in the energy in the room.
As a side note, that story only came to be known through my willingness to share my story. From that, there was a seeking of deliverance and healing.
Dear Self-doubt, Suck it.
I learned that they called my dad by the nickname, ‘Country.’ He came to the city by way of Anderson, North Carolina. He was a big, strong, country boy that people feared and loved. I saw the hospital where he was born. I met friends who knew him as a teenager. When I asked one friend about his gang life, he told me that my father was a villain but he loved him very much.
It lead us to have a conversation about how we all have a dark side. It made me think of all of the people in my life that I had loved regardless of serious character flaws. It made me wonder how his friends would feel if they knew what he did to me.
I didn’t tell them. I’m not sure why.
I think we all tend to think of good and evil as parallel lines. We think of them as living in a 3 dimensional space and never intersecting. But they do. They are as intertwined and inseparable as bones and flesh.
I am tired today. I’ve spent much of the weekend trying to do the opposite of what I want to do: shut down.
I’ve cooked healthy foods for myself. I’ve allowed myself to get completely sucked into mundane tasks. I’ve listened wholeheartedly to my children. I’ve been to yoga and gone on walks. I’ve returned to my blessed present.
I even watched a few movies and was hit by this phrase from Cold Mountain.
Bird has a job. Shit has a job. Seed has a job.
As I stood outside of the housing projects my father lived in, I listened to others talk about their experiences living there. I remembered how much my father wanted the lives of my brother and I to be better. He never wanted us to return to the place where he lived as a villain.
He wanted us to live in a home where the Cosby’s were our role models. He wanted us to live in a community where drugs wouldn’t be involved in our daily interactions. He wanted us to speak properly and stand up straight. He wanted us to be educated and took us to museums we passed on road trips.
He gave us a good life amidst the evil he was doing in secret.
Shit had a job.
On Sunday afternoon, I practiced yoga in the back of the class with 3 young survivors of sexual trauma and their parents and guardians. On their way out the door, I gave them new art sets and neon sparklers. I chose not to write them a note inside it. I left the pages blank in honor of their ability to tell their story in the way that they want to.
Seed has a job.
After my travels were over, I said goodbye to my friends and sat on my couch. Other than to meet my basic needs, I didn’t get up again until that yoga class forced me up and out the door. I sat shell shocked watching episodes of Parenthood.
If you’ve ever seen that show, you probably already know that as far as a tool to wrench choked back tears from your body, that show is the top of the line. On a normal day, I cry at the end of every episode.
Seriously. The show has some tear inducing magic spell attached to it.
There’s always a sort of hangover effect that comes with doing this research. It’s like my heart gets locked up, my tears are frozen to the inside of my eyelids and I can feel my body twisting into the knots sailors must’ve used to keep their sails tied down in the worst of storms.
I have learned through this process that it’s my job to unlock, defrost and untie. It’s my job to unbind myself from any negative energy, any scary remnants of the past and any emotions waiting to be released in a safe space.
I sat on my couch and I waited to cry. It took an episode or two but sure enough, Max got into that really great school and I cried. Once the dam was broken, I jumped into the waters that rushed through. I was gone. Crying my eyes out and it felt good.
Bird has a job.