the perfect breakup

He was a good mix of Stringer Bell and Cutty, with plenty of grown man swag. Took his street skills and upgraded to a government job. 6’4, dark skin, perfection. We laughed long and loud at jokes I can’t remember.

*

We met at that delicious moment on a Saturday when the night is still full of possibility. He was with his friends, I mine. I turned, stood apart, saw him, and smiled. In that moment, I forgot that I skipped dinner, dressed hastily in 6 inch heels and jeans, smeared red lipstick on pouty lips. 

We traded more than words. We dealt in inflections, smiles, and butterflies. He left the spot but came back and found me standing, befuddled, in the midst of drunk undergrads grinding offbeat to hit songs.

It wasn’t ever serious.  No dinners, just drinks–my choice. Sometimes flowers. Fun nights out with his friends, not mine–my choice. When we met strangers? “This is my friend,” I’d introduce him. Whenever he called me his girl, I’d freeze up. He noticed and stopped.  

Just drinks. He told me that I was someone with whom he could fall in love. “Me too,” I said, because silence wasn’t an option, and because it was true, and because I knew it would never work. I’m not quite ready for marriage, kids, and a white picket fence, but when I am, I want to be with someone who has a clear-cut theology to which I can relate. He loved Jesus but we weren’t chatting about Him all the time. He loved Jesus but we weren’t about to go to Bible study, grinning and holding hands. He had a blues kind of soul. Worshipped God while listening to soul music in packed bars.

When it became clear we were both stubborn and wanted other things, he slipped out of the back door of my life. I wrote him a flawless goodbye note. It was a recommendation letter for a man I used to date, a man I could have loved if things were different. Something he could show the next woman. A flag he could wave, as if to say, “Look! I loved well, when I had the chance! Look, I was vulnerable, and kind, and romantic! Look, I taught a young woman that there is strength in vulnerability, that she never need be afraid of love! Look!

Because of him, I think I’ll know love when it finds me. Next time, I’ll be ready.

RJD

 

The Last Gift

The day after Uncle Junior died, I realized New York would always be home. I received the call about his turn for the worse 6:30 in the morning. Because I have never been good with grief, I spent the morning watching bad talk shows with families more imperfect than my own. I sauntered into Dunkin Donuts. I desperately clutched coffee as the train hurtled through tunnels.

My relatives and I convened in the hospital. We sat and waited for death. After a long day of prayer, tears and laughter, we said goodbye to one of the most elusive figures in our family. I kissed my Dad, uncles and aunt and headed back to the subway.

What song should your ipod play after you watch your uncle die? I couldn’t get it right. I stood on the subway platform listening to a book, to Rupee, to a hymn.

How do you spend time with others without letting your grief spill over and infect them? I spent the evening cracking jokes to cover my sadness. I clutched a glass of wine and watched Scandal with new friends.

*

But the morning after Uncle Junior died, I sat in the window of a popular restaurant and, to my surprise and embarrassment, started sobbing uncontrollably. I was the worst advertisement in the world: I was rocking an unruly afro, a headcovering, weeping over my coffee. The waitress stopped for a routine check and was alarmed to see my tears. I couldn’t breathe or speak.

“My uncle died yesterday,” I wailed.

They politely placed napkins at the corner of the restaurant table and left me alone. My mascara and eyeliner were running. I wish that I possessed that rare talent of elegant crying. But I don’t. At all. In fact, I looked a fright, and I felt terrible for destroying the atmosphere of the restaurant. My grief swallowed me whole and ruined the breakfast of the poor man who was sitting at another table, facing me.

I only stopped crying when I bit into a delicious crepe. I never knew that goat cheese could be such a tonic.

I was relieved when the gentleman sitting across from me left the restaurant. I hate crying in front of anyone, especially men. I felt guilty for the destructive, consuming nature of my grief. The waitresses approached. “That gentleman just paid for your breakfast. You’re all taken care of.” When I offered them a tip, they turned me down. “He took care of everything.” I was humbled, and stared out at the street. By this point, he was too far down the street for me to thank him. I prayed that God would bless him.

*

From that point forward, the city opened itself up to me, protecting me from the sharp edges of my feelings. On my way into Brooklyn, I met a man who rocked a gold tooth and advocated for black liberation. Later, D. and I drank the afternoon away and talked about everything but death: his job, my dissertation, and what our thirties would bring for us. Roxana and I had Indian food and watched more bad television. In random pockets of the afternoon, I talked to strangers, or I withdrew for my restoration.

I spent the past 12 years of my life traveling. As a New Yorker, I always wondered if small towns in America would be friendlier spaces, where it would be easy for me to fall in love, get married, have children, shoot, live my life. Other places remained closed to me. With the exception of Detroit, everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States has greeted me with a polite grin and eyes like closed shutters. Even Western Mass, my home for the past 8 years, is not receptive to the range of my emotion. When I cried in a restaurant in Amherst, the waitress looked at me and talked to me as though nothing strange was going on. She did not offer me extra napkins.

*

In his death, Uncle Junior offered me a gift. I know that New York is home in a way that nowhere else can ever be. I am not one who makes a habit of sharing my emotions with others. But when I needed to share, I was surrounded by family members, friends, and strangers who let me grieve or let me be. I don’t need to continue looking for home: I found it in the stranger who paid for my breakfast, the woman who greeted me at the deli with a smile, the taciturn, uncomfortable silence of being smushed on the subway next to strangers. I found it in the pleasure of daytime drinking with D., one of the most standup guys I know, and laughing with R. about dating and daytime television. I found it in a hospital room full of love, and in a funeral where church folk and loud Trinis grieved through laughter and big plates of good food. I found it with my family on Long Island, where we crammed into the smallest room in a large house and laughed about trifling family members. No matter where I live, New York will always be the place I turn to when I need to feel loved, embraced, and accepted. It’s home.

RJD

Happy Valentine’s Day!

It’s 6:30 am on Valentine’s Day, so I have a deep desire to eat at least one of the dry, but pretty cupcakes I picked up at Stop and Shop. (They were so cute I couldn’t resist, and the icing is good…). Because it’s my life, I have a cold, and there’s a delayed opening at 11. I teach at 12.

Of course, I’m up early, creating an assignment for my students and blowing my nose with a roll of toilet paper, dressed in a nightgown that would be sexy if I wasn’t also wrapped in a bright green hoodie and not-quite-so-matching head scarf. But then again, nobody is up in here but me and Jesus, and He loves me just as I am. 

I have never had a romantic Valentine’s Day. Ever. I never dated anyone during the holiday, being sure to end my relationships well before and begin them after V-Day. So I’ve learned to enjoy my own company. I don’t even bother getting together with friends to bemoan my singleness or their relationships. Why bother? I did that once, looked around the bar, and thought “I could be at home knitting and have more fun.”

Ever since then, I have leaned into the holiday, learning to celebrate all of my relationships. My parents have loved me for 29 + years; my siblings love me; my small coterie of friends love me as well. They have been there for me longer than any of the men I’ve dated and deserve far more consideration at the present moment. God loved me before the foundation of the world…so why should I trip over not getting flowers from one of my gentlemen friends?

You know what I really want to do this Valentine’s Day?  Eat buffalo wings and watch Claudine. And maybe Mahogany. Maybe I’ll do an all-black romantic movie day, starting with Anna Lucasta and ending with Something New. If I have a chance to shuffle out of my apartment, I may get a bottle of wine (or three) and eat chocolate.

Perhaps when I’m married, I’ll be excited to celebrate romantic love with my husband. But from where I’m sitting, it’s a great day for me to celebrate all of the love I have for God, family, friends, and myself!

Do something special for someone you love today. And do something awesome for yourself (no guilt allowed!)

 

HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

RJD

 

On Health + Burnout

It’s the night before the school year, and I’m frantically making to-do lists that are, quite frankly, ridiculous. Instead of focusing on the challenges I already have before me, I am thinking about what else I should throw on the pile of responsibility. And now I’m tired, cranky, and annoyed.

*

I need to recover from everything.  Block out the world and tend to all the damages from my 20s–relationships that fell apart mysteriously, graduate school and the exhaustion it brought, and the daily grind of cooking-cleaning-exercising-meetings-teaching-writing. I need to stop taking on more responsibilities. Scale back. Focus.

*

Have y’all watched Top of the Lake yet? It’s amazing (and, conveniently, is also on Netflix). My favorite part of the miniseries is GJ, the ornery guru who cannot stand her followers. Several times, she says, “the body is a teacher.”  Ever since hearing her say that, I keep thinking about how my body urges me to rest, to eat, to exercise.

GJ is crazy! But I love her.

Before I take on any non-essential task, I will assess how it impacts my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Because I only have one life, and one body.

I cannot be replaced.

RJD

Delight in Uncertain Times

I keep daydreaming about my future when I should be sleeping. I’m excited, and nervous, because I’m old enough to have accomplished something and young enough where anything can still happen. (Within reason, of course–I’m not likely to become a model, athlete, or stunning musician.) I have no idea exactly what I want to happen next, which is a sensation that is both freeing and absolutely terrifying. I have always had a plan. Always. And now…I don’t.

Well, of course, I have the outlines of a plan–graduate, find a job–but it’s all so sketchy. Quite the opposite of concrete, truth be told.

But isn’t that when the best things happen?

*

I keep having flashbacks to me at 20, a badly dressed student running around the U.K. and Europe without much of a clue. I had the best time in Florence with friends. As soon as we got there, we ran into our other classmates from school, who told us that our hostel was too far away. K. preemptively canceled the hostel, before we found a new one, which left us homeless for a few hours. We found an internet cafe, looked up addresses, then hopped on a bus with no real clue of where we were going.

And after a series of slightly sketchy negotiations, we found ourselves in an amazing hostel. I’m pretty sure the hostel was illegal, but we had a view of the Duomo–a cathedral which is central to Florence. I still remember the way the sun came into our room through the shutters in the afternoon.

It was all a good lesson for me: when I let go of my own plans, something better came along.

*

I learned that lesson again just 2 years ago. I had a dissertation idea, and I started working on it. After writing about 70 pages, my computer crashed. I couldn’t find the copies anywhere. No one could restore my hard drive.

I cried as though someone close to me died.

But somehow, in the midst of the wreckage, I developed another idea. This project, everyone agrees, is far better.

*

I will take delight in uncertainty, rather crawling up and being fearful of an unknown future. As a girl I longed for adventure; as a woman, I long for stability. My life is a negotiation between the two, but this year, I have no choice but to wake up and see what the day offers. I will treat each day as a gift from God which is full of good and wonderful things.

Gone with the Wind + Friendship

Only a truly good friend would agree to watch Gone with the Wind. It’s a 4 hour saga about love, loss, the South and the Civil War. Of course, I don’t like the film’s treatment of black people, but it is still a wonderful film. Scarlett O’Hara is both wonderful and terrible as she attaches herself to Ashley, the wishy washy married man who says he’s in love with her, but isn’t. She never takes Rhett Butler seriously.

Everyone talks about the romantic relationship between Scarlett and Rhett, but what I love most about the film is the depth of Scarlett and Melanie’s friendship. Yes, Scarlett is trying to get with Melanie’s husband. However, during the last days and aftermath of the Civil War, they partner together. Melanie is too sedate, and Scarlett is too…spirited, but the two of them work well together.  Scarlett makes Melanie stronger, and Melanie makes Scarlett a more loving woman.

Of course, my closest friend here drove over, made potato salad, listened to me blather on about my latest paramour, and then, and only then did we start watching Gone with the Wind. It was easier to watch the film because she was here; we both sighed at the drama, contemplated the film’s importance, and kept wondering if Scarlett did get Rhett Butler back.

My friends make me stronger. They help me face my problems, and as I fight for them, they give me a reason to keep on going. Through all the failed relationships, they are here for me. They support me, and they kindly tell me when I am messing things up, or when I’m perfectly fine and my dude is acting a fool. When I watched Scarlett deliver Melanie’s baby, then drive home in the midst of great danger, and kill an interloper, I thought “I would do that!” and “my best friends would do that for me!”

Even after I get married, I know my girls are going to be there, helping me get into and out of scrapes. I love them so very much, and I’m blessed to have them in my life.

hug your best friend today,

RJD

The Price Women Pay: The Godfather and The Peril/Pleasure of Loving Masculine Men

“I know girl. I love masculine men too. But that always comes with a price.”

One of my good friends and I were lamenting our attraction to and love of masculine men. We all know it when we see it: men who are not cowed by the circumstances of life; who do not complain; who are not confused; who find a million different ways to make a dollar; who stay silent and make their moves. All of that has its own sex appeal, but the problem is that these men refuse to be controlled, and always offer a challenge. They insist on living life on their own terms. And, as it happens, so do I.

As I slowly work my way through the American Film Institute’s Top 100 Films, I have noticed that the first four–Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Casablanca, and Raging Bull–are about men who are, in a sense, awful. But awful and sexy at the same time. They do what they wish, with little regard to the women around them. (Casablanca is the only film that looks at women somewhat romantically.)

In The Godfather, Michael Corleone negotiates a marriage to a pretty woman in Italy, although his girlfriend, Kay is back in the United States. Even as he calmly introduces himself to the father of his soon to be wife, the audience knows that Kay, his girlfriend, is frantically contacting his family’s compound.

Yet, his ability to do what he wishes is thrilling. I felt bad for Kay, annoyed with Michael, and frustrated with the fact that I loved how grown mannish he was about the whole deal.

The problem with The Godfather is that women are inconsequential and easily replaceable. After his Sicilian wife dies, victim of a car bomb, Michael returns to America, pursues and then marries Kay. There is never a mention of his first marriage. Michael’s sister is abused by her husband. Domestic violence is natural, albeit punished. This is part and parcel the danger and privilege of marrying a powerful man within this film: you always have money, but must be prepared for infidelity, verbal and physical harm. In this film, there is no suggestion that marriage can be an equal partnership between men and women; as Don Corleone tells Michael, “women and children can be careless. But not men.” By the end of the film, when Michael is the Godfather, he calmly lies to Kay about killing his brother in law. And then, the men retreat to their own world, while the women cook, clean, and take care of children–all unimportant things in the world which the movie depicts.

Whenever I view The Godfather, or a film like it, I immediately imagine myself in the subject position. Rather than seeing myself as Kay, I, in watching the film, become Michael, the hero. I am not only attracted to him, but imagine that I, too, would kill two mobsters in a restaurant, marry someone with whom I fall in love at first sight, and get annoyed with Kay for asking too much about my business. In fact, when watching the film, I yelled at Kay. “Don’t you know you never ask a man about his business?!” and “Girl, no, you can’t go to the hospital.”

I don’t only desire Michael, who is such a G, but I also desire his masculine privilege. I want to be with Michael, and I also want to be him at the same time. Of course, this is in part because the film is so very good. The acting is brilliant. The story is expansive; I am always automatically drawn into the narrative.

I am attracted to men like Michael because they understand the fine balance between silence and yelling; between violent acts, and peaceful ones. They understand the usefulness of patience. I feel protected by those men. When in their presence, they train all of their attention onto me. Business will come later, and will theoretically provide all the money I could ever need.

In 2014, however, I don’t really trust men to provide for me (other than my beloved father). So, like men, I also am forced to prioritize business over pleasure; to compartmentalize my romantic relationships, rather than allowing them to bleed over into everything else. I am “the godfather” of my own affairs; but I’m also, like Kay, waiting on men like the ever silent, emotionally distant Michael to make a commitment.

Loving men who are traditionally masculine is a joy, but it always comes with a price. But then again, I never did well with men I could control. I recently asked my Dad which qualities I needed in a husband. “Aside from the obvious” I yelled, after he told me someone who loved the Lord, me, and was a good provider.

“You need someone with a strong personality,” he said, laughing.

And while I’m sure my father doesn’t want me to marry a mobster, he just might want me to marry a man who would know how to operate in a room full of them. Yeah. I think I like the sound of that.

Can somebody figure out how to clone him?!?! 

RJD