Saturday, November 29, 2014

Six Degrees of Separation: Part II

Walking up Pleasant street towards Thorns Market Talina, Nani and I passed an older Caucasian woman who knits colorful headbands and gloves and sells them on the street to make a living.  An older African American gentlemen played his guitar for money and another young Caucasian played some form of string instrument sitting on a bench right outside Thorns.  

As we passed the third peddler, Talina asked me "Why me?  Why did you chose me? There are so many people out here. Is it because of my skin color (referring to the both of us being women of color)?  

After looking within for words to describe why I just couldn't leave her sitting on the ground I looked up at her eyes and said "Because you are me and, I am you,"   

I grew up in fear and uncertainty feelings which later hardened into anger, resentment and insecurity. My father was an alcoholic; when he drank he became vicious and violent towards my mother.  One day he came home from work to an empty apartment - we were gone.  Not yet five years old, our escape and transition are foggy memories of my mother heating our pajamas and school clothes in the the stove's oven. My mother never sought counseling for herself or us.  Up to the age of about 12 years old, I lived in fear of my mother's explosive temper.  There wasn't much we could do to escape the transfer of abuse.  In a fit of rage one morning, my mother charged my sister who with no where no to go backed into a closet in one corner of the kitchen where she was slapped, pulled, shoved, cursed, jabbed with a fork and then bit.  I stood helplessly watching my mother beat my sister.  Afterwards  we were sent off to school walking through block after block of junk yards where tenement buildings once stood while "I hate you; I wish you were never born" rang in my ears.   

By the age of sixteen I was an emancipated minor which meant I did not have a safe, nurturing and welcoming space where I was loved and accepted. 

Talina, Nani and I crossed Pleasant street over to Faces department store. 

"Is Hay Market, alright?" I asked.  "Yes, that's okay," she nodded.  "Can I use the bathroom first?"  Talina asked as we entered Hay Market.  "Of course you can; there's one up here and another downstairs," I assured her.  

There was a woman with her baby waiting to use the upstairs bathroom.  I suggested we go downstairs instead.  We descended down the back stairway to the cozy, dimly lit dining area in the basement level.  We waited for Talina to exit the restroom and then, the waitress helped us get situated in a comfy corner.  Once seated, I took off my coat but, Talina did not.  Talina barely looked up or, directly at me.  I could tell she was uneasy.  There was a grace and humility about Talina which made me feel privileged and honored to have the opportunity  to meet and share with her.   

"I still don't you see yourself in me?" she said looking up at me.  "Is it because of my color?" she asked.  "No," I said.  "When one of us hurts; we all hurt.  We choose to ignore the suffering of others.  I believe this is why so many of us suffer from dis-eases.  I am doing for you what I would have wanted someone do for me at your age - showed me they cared."  

At the age of 13 I was very short-tempered.  One afternoon, I responded to my mother's verbal abuse by pointing out her own immoral behavior regarding her dating her best friend's boyfriend.  She went into a raging fit and attacked me.  She grabbed an antique doll and hit me over the head.  I lost it when I touched my forehead and saw blood on my fingers.  When she charged at me again I pushed her; she grabbed a stick to hit me with and I grabbed it away from her. She screamed "how dare you hit me?!" And, my older sister came out of her bedroom.  "Vivian, that's your mother!" she exclaimed.  But, I had only tried to defend myself.  I never hit her; I only pushed her away from me.  My mother turned to my older sister and said "either she goes or, I go," pointing to me.  My sister was only two years older than I.  I can't imagine what it must feel like to have to choose between your mother or your sister.  This ultimatum was the beginning of my exile.  From the ages of thirteen to 22 I bounced around to at least six or seven different places.  And, at 21 I was not living on the streets but, I was completely alone renting a bedroom in Washington Heights on the upper West side of Manhattan, attending community college, working and paying rent.  

Even though my older sister lived minutes away from me; we were not close.  We didn't have a loving and trusting relationship.  We didn't look out for each other.  We didn't trust each other.  As a result, I didn't think much of myself.  I was completely isolated from my family and didn't know how to trust people enough to make close friends.  I was severely depressed.  As a result, I was drawn to emotionally unavailable men who lacked honesty and integrity.  Men who often times manipulated me emotionally. Having had no point of reference for what unconditional, protective love looked, felt or sounded like, I was constantly fooled by the 'knock-off' version of love - lust.  

Manipulation, lying and, selfishness were the characteristics I grew accustomed to.  I did not understand honesty, integrity, loyalty and commitment; therefore I felt unprotected and vulnerable in them.  Anyone who exhibited patience, kindness, integrity and loyalty appeared weak and boring and hence unattractive.  Everything I wanted: loving, trusting, committed relationships (family, life partner, community) I did not know how to identify, cultivate and much less embrace or reciprocate.  I lived in a world of shame, confusion and fear masked by (a bruised) ego, procrastination and selfish motives.  I have come a long way.  In my teenage and early 20's I wasted my time, income and energy maintaining a white-supremacist standard of beauty.  I dyed my hair, wore light-colored eye contacts and acrylic on my nails.  I purchased very expensive shoes and clothes I could not afford consequently I never had any money to do anything.  All the while my spirit bled to death. I was slowly  giving up on my self - drowning out my inner voice.  

One summer day, I met this elderly man in Washington Heights: Harry.  Harry, was in his late 70's or early 80's and was a former dancer with impeccable style who traveled to Paris during the Harlem Renaissance period.  Harry and I would walk down Broadway street to a street-side cafe for a beverage.  There he would encourage me "you should go to a state university; you have too many adult responsibilities.  At an university you can live on campus and not have to worry about paying rent." I did not understand why this man thought I was smart enough to attend an university.  I had never mentally pictured myself at a state university; I didn't think I was good enough.  

So, I shouldn't write 'homeless and pregnant' on my sign?" asked Talina struggling to understand.  

"Home is in here," pointing to her heart.  "Home is not a place; its a sense of belonging, of self-worth.  Your home is inside you.  I understand you are in a shelter so you don't have your own place to live." I explained.

"But, I feel I'm homeless because I don't pay rent; I'm just staying there [at the shelter]."  Talina insisted.

"So, a bill makes it a home?" I asked.  

"When you stop running from what's in here [pointing to her heart where her emotional and mental wounds are] you will become your home.  Do you know that when you write something down; you bind it?  You solidify your thought.  Meaning once you have written it you have agreed that you have called it into existence." 

To be bound means: tied to, in the direction of, and together with.  So you are speaking homeless and pregnant into your future.  You are not a homeless pregnant woman but you have written you are homeless pregnant bound.  

"Yesterday, I wrote 'homeless belly-dancer; tomorrow I will put 'homeless belly dancer' or, should I write 'out of work belly-dancer?"  Talina wasn't there yet fully but, I could see her slowly trying to release her lie.

"I want you to start telling yourself what you need to be who you truly are.  Start telling yourself 'I am home.'  Talina fell silent, eyes locked with mine and then at a distance.  I knew she was seeing herself; her future - her home.  

"Thank you," I said putting some money in her hand.  "You're thanking me?" she asked.  

"Yes," I confirmed.  
"Why?" she asked.  "When one of us heals; we all heal.  You are me, 17 years ago." 

I knew I had just healed the 17 year old me.  I reached another level of healing.  I also realized I was her 'Harry' - her elder.  

I know one day in the future, Talina will be the elder to a wandering spirit whom she will help to reach home.

I am thankful for the ancestors who have and continue to guard my walls...blessed to know I too am one.


  1. Thank you for this.."when one heals, we all heal". I can identify with the spirit of home

  2. MISS VIVIANA, now that I have read the rest of the story I have realized many things and I am left with a feeling of completeness, I believe nothing in this life happens by chance not even the dust that unknowingly falls on us as we walk down the street. Due To This Public space I will conceal my thoughts and tell you thank you so very much for allowing me to read this !
    Asadullah M. Al-Khidr

  3. MISS VIVIANA, now that I have read the rest of the story I have realized many things and I am left with a feeling of completeness, I believe nothing in this life happens by chance not even the dust that unknowingly falls on us as we walk down the street. Due To This Public space I will conceal my thoughts and tell you thank you so very much for allowing me to read this !
    Asadullah M. Al-Khidr