Things I Am Learning While Building My Empire

PART ONE: THE INTENTION

I want to start with a bunch of disclaimers and contextual information.

TULA AT SHADE

I have not been building my empire very long. A few months at best. I’m very new to this, and I don’t have a lot of experience. But in spite of that, I do have a few observations to make that may sound foolish to those experienced with empire-building. So, I’m going to be exhibiting a bit of vulnerability by acknowledging what I don’t know. Additionally, I am very specifically speaking about what empire-building looks like as a woman. Empire building is a very different experience for us. It has a completely different set of trials and tribulations that have everything to do with gender and how our gender is perceived. More specifically, my observations are around what it means when a woman is doing something that she isn’t necessarily expected to do, like empire building.

Empire building requires being clear about the vision.

Even coming up with my hashtag, #myempiremustbebuilt took time. The hashtag was originally #theempiremustbebuilt, and I rolled with that for a while. But because I know being extremely clear about what you want is vital to success, I changed it. I want the empire I build to be mine. I may share aspects of it with people for our mutual benefit, but I always want to be in the leadership role of this. And acknowledging that I do want to be in the driver’s seat was a struggle – all of the negative self-talk began. “What makes you think you can do this?” became the constant question in my mind. But I have learned to counter with “why can’t I?” I mentally run down a checklist of all the things I know I am, all the things I know I have. I remind myself of the tools and skills I’ve collected over the years. And I remind myself of the time and effort I put in attempting to help other people build empires I thought I was a part of, only to discover that I wasn’t really. I remind myself of how it felt to count on others to validate my worth, instead of doing it myself, first and foremost. I remind myself of my responsibility to value myself and what I have, period. I must set my price and add tax, shipping and handling charges. That is an inside job, not something I should outsource to others. With all that in mind, I changed my hashtag to #myempiremustbebuilt. Because I do want it to be mine. I am also creating a playbook for what power and influence look like for me. How I wield power and influence isn’t going to look like what people are used to. It is not about defeat and conquering others and making them submit to my will. It is about the recognition of how creating small collectives of powerful people with the right leadership and sharing of resources can create change. But to be clear, the leadership is mine, the vision is mine. What I bring to the table that others don’t is the ability to identify others with skills and talents that they haven’t quite figured out how to maximize, while I am maximizing my own. And as I’ve gotten older, wiser, and more able to navigate my ego and my heart, I can identify that in people no matter what kind of relationship we have. My superpower is the ability to illuminate and elevate everything I touch. This is the superpower my empire is built on. It is my vibranium.

When I started using #myempiremustbebuilt as my hashtag, it was in jest. I had always wanted to really put some intention around my creative endeavors. Next thing I knew, I was publishing my book, doing some book talks, producing several really amazing shows, curating a fabulous circle of talented people who have been incredibly supportive, and who also want to build empires. And I encourage them to, in conjunction with mine. A huge part of empire-building is strategically placed allyship (more about that later.) Centralized, absolute power is not a benefit to my empire, plus I don’t want to be the only empire that exists. I need to have trade partners, I need to have defenders, I need to have thought partners, I need to have protectors and counselors. My best interests need to be the best interests of the collective, and vice versa. Most importantly, I need to make sure any enemies I have are respectful and distant. Hate me, but don’t try me.

With all that said, it is my pleasure to present CAESAR PRODUCTIONS, LLC.
Caesar Productions temp logo

To be continued…

PART TWO: EMPIRE BUILDING AND SEX

Advertisements

FINDING OLD STUFF…

Because I be finding stuff sometimes…

 

Single – This is about to get interesting…

struggling

As many women do when they’re newly single, I think about my exes. Exes from years past, and more recent exes. Exes I’ve written about in this blog, much to their chagrin. I revisit those relationships in my head, trying to find dangerous patterns that I may be repeating currently, or have repeated recently, making sure whatever lessons I learned in those situations are still at the forefront of my mind. And of course, I think about the sex I had with these people. One of the ways I know I’m over someone is if I can think about the sex I had with them and enjoy those memories in isolation, without thinking about other, more unpleasant parts of the relationship. Can I remember fucking them without getting upset about how we broke up or without focusing on the pain of how it ended – that is the test. After all, no matter how things ended with anyone I’ve ever dealt with, at some point that person meant a great deal to me, and there is no reason to ignore that just because it went badly. The good parts deserve their rightful place in my memory. At this point I can think about all my exes that way, except my most recent one. It’s my personal highlight reel. I remember the rainy nights, the unusual locations, the odd circumstances, the tender moments, the trips we took, the hotels we stayed in (I love hotel sex), the funny stuff, the really amazing lingerie and heels I wore, the candles, the music, the really good sleep that happens afterwards if things go well. The moment when he’s inside you and you are certain that this moment encompasses everything you need to know about the meaning of life.

These are the things I like.  These thoughts amuse me most times, and  they’re way better than porn. A man recently asked me if I liked porn, and I said “nigga, I AM PORN!” (I had been drinking at the time, I’m not sure what that even means, but it impressed him. He’d been drinking too.)

porn hub

Stop clicking it. It’s not a link. Pervert.

Sometimes doing this makes me horny, which isn’t a good thing right now. My options in that department are limited, and come with a lot of complications that I just can’t deal with right now. My emotions are all over the place these days – some days I really don’t give a fuck, others I give all the fucks in the universe. Some days I cry bitterly as I drive past my ex’s house, the tears blinding me and I have to pull over to wipe them out of my eyes. Other days I know I could put a bullet in his head and think nothing of it because he’s hurt me so deeply. I am the walking wounded. It’s not that I think I’m going to feel bad forever, because I know I won’t. I know I will get over this eventually. But I know that I need to go through the process of being hurt, and I hate that part. I hate this part. I hate the feeling lonely part, the crying part, the second-guessing the whole relationship part, the horny part, the part that needs tight hugs like I need air, the part of me that feels like I can never trust a man again, which is really bad because all my best and closest friends are men. But its good too, because they also remind me all men aren’t trash. And maybe my options aren’t as limited as I think, but I don’t have the energy to unravel those things right now. My life now requires familiar things, safe spaces, people who aren’t new to the landscape of my life. I need the security that comes with history, with extensive shared experiences, that comes with people who know me, and those are the people I am filling my life with at this time. People who I know get me in at least a few important ways.

When I started therapy in the early fall, my therapist told me to think of some things I enjoyed about being single. And I did manage to come up with some stuff that reminded me that being single does have some good stuff to it. But its just not stuff I want. Not right now. What I want is what I had…or at least what I thought I had…a happy, stable, long-term relationship. And yeah, its cool to come and go as I please, to randomly hang out with good friends, to fill my calendar with activities and projects, it still all feels like a placeholder for what I really want but can’t have right now – a relationship. I listen to people who are happily single talk about how glad they are to be away from jealous, possessive exes and situations where they couldn’t grow, or be themselves, or make progress in their lives. But my relationship wasn’t like that, which is why I miss it. I don’t want to hate being single, because I know there is a lot of value in this time of my life. My personal hashtag is #myempiremustbebuilt, and being single will likely give me the best chance at achieving the things I want to achieve. In the past, men haven’t been interested in supporting me while I built my empire. They wanted me to help them build theirs, which I did – then they got mad when I turned out to be better at empire building than they were. It was all good until I began to eclipse them, then the saltiness came.  It’s cool though – I still have love for each and every one of them to some degree – they just can’t stop me or top me. I hope they’ve each come to terms with that.

I want to enjoy this single time. I don’t want my whole existence to be centered around the absence of something, because there are really a LOT of good things in my life right now. I have some of the ABSOLUTE BEST FRIENDS and colleagues. I am proud of how I’ve curated my circle of support. They are, each and every one, amazingly beautiful human beings. I am beyond blessed to have them, and humbled that they allow me to take up space in their worlds. I have a great new job with a lot of potential. There are good things sprouting up in the cracks of my broken heart. I just have to learn how to make them grow.

 

 

HOLI-DAZE: A SAD ME

And just like that, the holiday season is upon us.  It’s going to be a rough one for me.

charlie brown

The holiday season can make people feel particularly sad and melancholy. I have experienced it myself – the first major hospitalization my dad ever experienced related to his bipolar disorder happened on a Thanksgiving night when he was having a serious manic episode. My dad remained in the hospital the rest of that year, and into the following one. I have been deathly ill during the holidays. I have had Christmases as a single mom where getting my children a few gifts was a struggle. But up until this year, over the past few years my holidays had been beautiful – because of my ex.

Now neither he nor I had any use for holiday decorations. So in the 4 years we lived together we never decorated our house, never put up a tree, never acknowledged any of that stuff in our house. The only concession we made was soulful Christmas music, because hey, who doesn’t love soulful Christmas music?

But we always had huge Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners that we prepared together…mostly he prepared.

For Thanksgiving, he’d begin the prep the night before, and by Thanksgiving morning we were in full cooking mode. He was an excellent cook, way better than me. Not only did he cook well, he was very knowledgeable about food in general. I learned so much from him about preparation techniques, about different kinds of foods and spices and fruits and vegetables. I loved going to the farmer’s market and the butcher’s shop with him. Some of the first birthday gifts I ever gave him were kitchen tools. I would prepare a side dish or two, but he did everything else, from the roast lamb, glazed carrots and minty peas to the seasoning encrusted turkey, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, homemade cranberry sauce that put everything in a can to shame to the greens to the sweet potato pies. He was always an excellent cook. In fact, cooking was how he locked me down in the first place. We’d started dating in the fall, and he invited me over to his place for New Year’s Eve. He prepared for me a 5 course meal that was so good, I literally didn’t leave his house for about a week afterwards. I was afraid he might get away. (Trust me, he did NOT mind.)

On Thanksgiving and Christmas, we’d prepare these huge meals, and my mom, my daughter, my son and his girlfriend would come over for dinner. I always encouraged him to invite his family over for dinner because we had so much food, but he never did. Nor did he go visit his family for the holidays. We would gorge ourselves silly, and I would send my family home with lots of leftovers. Then, the best part of all, we’d get brioche bread and make these huge, amazing turkey sandwiches for the next few days, filled with meat and greens and carrots and cranberry sauce and spicy mustard.

Last Christmas was to be the last time we were all together this way. Strangely enough, my mom didn’t want to come to dinner last year; she said she was too tired to get ready. I literally had to go to her house, help her shower and dress, and bring her to my house. She was really depressed about my sister’s death, and my sister’s birthday was December 20th, so she was really down in the dumps. But once I got her to my house she seemed fine, and we all ate like crazy, talked and laughed and watched television. I loved my ex so much for making my family his family, at least for those times.

By mid-January, my mom was sick, by late January she was diagnosed with cancer, and she died on February 13th, three days before my ex’s birthday.

What a difference a few months makes. Now my sister is gone. My mom is gone. My ex is gone, and I’ve moved back into my old home, which I now call my new/old home. I am now presiding over the kitchen that was my mother’s domain for years. Yes it has been totally remodeled and upgraded with granite counters and stainless steel appliances. It’s beautiful. But my mother never lived to see it. And this is where I will prepare the first Thanksgiving dinner without my mom. (To add insult to injury, because I left my old house so suddenly, I left most of my pots and pans, and I had to buy new ones in addition to food to prepare this meal.) This house had seen its fair share of big Thanksgiving dinners, but this year it would only be me, my daughter, my son, and his girlfriend. And I’m really struggling not to cry, not to scream, not to feel awful about how lost I feel. How achingly alone. I hate how suddenly my life has fallen apart, how suddenly almost everyone I deeply cared about left me. A bubble of hurt wells up in me and makes me want to scream, but I swallow it down because if I start to scream, I may never stop.

fine

I’ve made plans to cook a big/small dinner. No need to do a turkey just for us. I’m making fried chicken, seafood mac and cheese and regular mac and cheese, greens, string beans, and seafood gumbo. A couple of sweet potato pies and my infamous chocolate amaretto cake and that’s it. I’m planning an early dinner for us, then everyone will go hang out with respective friends. For me, that means hanging out with a good friend who has been kind enough to open up his home to a bunch of us misfits. Right now I am really looking forward to that – I know there will be lots of good food and drink and music and love – things that will nourish me and remind me that in spite of it all there still are lots of reasons for me to be thankful. There are still lots of reasons for me to celebrate. Of course, these are just plans. Part of me worries that I’ll be too upset and emotional to cook, or do anything. Part of me wonders if I’ll just stay in bed and cry all day.

Part of me wonders what my ex is going to do for the holidays. I wonder if he misses all of us sitting around the table, eating his delicious food and heaping all kinds of praise on him. I wonder if he’ll miss the food coma we’d go into as soon as everyone left, managing to do just enough cleaning up, then lying in bed, rubbing each other’s bellies and singing this weird little song we found on You Tube called “Too Full To Fuck.”

But my life is different now, and new traditions are a part of that. I just hope the memories of the old ones don’t tear me apart.

 

 

 

 

 

CONDOMS

And now, a word about…condoms.

condoms 1

I was pretty messed up from the fact that my 5-year relationship had ended, and had ended very abruptly, and had ended with me devastated and having tons of questions. I was distraught, and once we parted company, I felt like I deserved an explanation at the very least. I wanted to know why he’d done it. I tried to contact him over the first few weeks after we parted company. I would call and call and call, hoping he’d answer. Then I would text. I’d reach out to him on Facebook. Nothing. I discovered he had unfriended me on all social media. And he didn’t respond to any of my messages – not my calls or my texts or anything I did to try to reach out to him. Five years of my life was wiped away like ink on a white board, and he had absolutely nothing to say about what had happened, though he continued to interact with all my friends on social media – it was weird seeing him comment on my friend’s posts and having them inbox me, saying, “do I interact with him or not?”

icons

One Sunday afternoon my daughter and I were in Target, purchasing a few items. As fate would have it, we were in the condom section. My daughter is just starting to step into her womanhood in a significant way, and we’d had several conversations about condoms. My daughter did not like the idea of a woman carrying her own condoms – she felt it was tawdry, that it was an indication that a woman was seeking sex. I asked her what was wrong with that. As a single woman in these days and times, she has an obligation to herself to protect herself at all times. The fact of the matter is every sexual encounter always presents risks to our health, and it was her job to minimize those risks. Condoms were the best way to minimize those risks, and she couldn’t put her fate in the hands of another person.

condoms in purse

We stood in front of a huge selection of condoms. There were all kinds of options. As she looked at the different colors and features offered, we talked about all kinds of condom-related things. About allergies to latex. About when to initiate the condom conversation. About who should put the condom on and other condom etiquette. As we continued to talk, my daughter continued to be uncomfortable. She wouldn’t select a box of condoms to purchase. I continued to talk to her about the importance of using them, and, in an attempt at solidarity, I smiled and said, “hey…I’ll buy a box of condoms too. I might as well. I’m single now.”

I didn’t really mean it when I said it. I was just trying to make my daughter feel better by buying condoms with her. I hadn’t thought about buying condoms at all, because I hadn’t thought about having sex at all. I had spent the past 5 years in a sexually monogamous relationship – one I was very happy with. I had never cheated on him during that whole time, had never been with anyone else. It had never occurred to me to. We were both HIV negative and STD-free, so we didn’t use condoms and didn’t entertain other sexual partners. Most people seem to struggle with the idea that limiting your number of partners in addition to proper condom use goes a long way towards decreasing the risk of contracting STDs, but its true. I hadn’t used a condom in nearly six years – the last time was during a brief fling I had some 5 months before my ex and I became involved.

The idea of having sex with someone else was very foreign to me. It felt very weird and oddly disloyal. I had been happy in my relationship with my ex, including sexually. I’d never wanted to seek out other partners. Like most people, I had a very short list of people I knew who I found attractive for various reasons that I perhaps would have had some desire to “try” if I ever had some kind of magical “hall pass” (not that I wanted one), but even those thoughts were brief flights of fancy. But standing there, in the condom aisle, looking at the Trojans and the Lifestyles and the other brands, it occurred to me that, at some point in my future, I would have sex with someone else. I knew it wouldn’t be anytime soon, but chances are it would happen. And because I knew I was way too damaged to be in a relationship, if I found I really wanted to have sex, it might be outside of a relationship – something more casual – some kind of situationship. Otherwise, I’d have to commit to not having sex until I was involved with someone. So, would my next time just be a fling?

Then I wondered how it would happen…and with whom. Was it someone I already knew, or would it be someone new? I had no interest in interacting with men. I didn’t want to meet anyone new. I felt very emotionally battered and bruised. I didn’t think anyone would find me sexually attractive again. I was older now, not as fit, not as firm, not as young, not as hot as I had been in times past. Could I convince someone to willingly have sex with me? To paraphrase Mos Def, did I still possess any of the “right weaponry?” If I did, would it still work? After all, I’d fought quite a few battles with it.  What would sex with someone else be like?

I’d spent five years sexually satisfying the same man. I knew what he liked, and what he didn’t like. I knew his special places, what types of touches he preferred, and where. I had a huge inventory of tricks and treats that I could spin into endless combinations for his pleasure, and lots of accessories to enhance those combinations. Getting to know someone sexually is a process, and a process that has always been important to me. I just didn’t feel like getting to know anyone. In any way. I couldn’t imagine intimacy with someone else, seeing another man nude, touching another man’s penis, making another man come. I couldn’t imagine someone else touching me or seeing me naked (ugh!) I couldn’t imagine someone else inside me. I couldn’t imagine someone else making me happy in that way. How would this work anyway? I didn’t want to have sex in my house for lots of reasons. Would we meet at his place? In hotels? Would I go back to my no kissing policy? Would we cuddle? Would we fall into each other’s arms afterwards and sleep? Would he immediately get up and go after a quick shower? Or would I? Or would both of us?

Or maybe I wouldn’t ever have sex again. That might be easier.

As I looked at the condoms, I felt defeated. I didn’t want to be single again. I really didn’t. And I didn’t just want any old relationship. I wanted the relationship that was gone, back when it was good and healthy and whole.  I didn’t want to be out on these single streets. I thought my days of that shit were over. But evidently not. A new round of singlehood was here. I felt sad, and tears actually sprang to my eyes. This really represented the end of an era for me, the beginning of an odd kind of freedom that I didn’t want. I wanted to be enslaved to the past. My eyes traveled down the shelves, and then my eyes alighted on the Trojan Magnum Condoms – Thin, Ultrasmooth, Lubricated. Oh shit, I thought to myself. What if my next partner needed these? I mean, I had been planning to just buy some regular old condoms – good quality ones mind you, but what if my next was some oversized dude who required a tarp to put his dick into?

magnum

I looked at the condoms for a long moment, remembering the men in my life who used these kind (and they really did need them, it was not just about vanity). Those men had always supplied their own condoms, because they knew they had to. Should I buy some of these too, so I’d be prepared for all…comers? The thought made me laugh, which drove the tears away, and I looked over at my daughter. She was looking at me intently.

“Mom,” she said. “Are you all right?”

I really did laugh. “Yeah I am sweetie. Just travelling down memory lane a little.”

She looked at the condoms, then back at me. She made a disapproving face.

I sucked my teeth. “Look, don’t get mad at me because I’ve enjoyed having a pussy. You should try it sometime.”

Finally, I picked some condoms (not the Magnums), and purchased them. I brought them home and put a few in my wallet, knowing it was purely a symbolic gesture. I wasn’t fucking. I was faking. I felt sad, but oddly free somehow. I felt like a world of possibility was open to me – a world I would need some protection from, but could still be a whole lot of fun. But not right now. Right now I was too ugly and broken and sad. But none of us can really see into the future. I should have bought the Magnums.

 

 

I Like to Kiss Him…It’s Kinda Weird…In A Good Way

After breakups I forget who I am. Every time. Utterly and completely. This last one was a doozy, so I forgot all of myself at light speed. I literally had to run from my old life like a refugee, with only the things I could gather together in 36 hours. After such a traumatic experience, I really forgot everything about who I was. I didn’t look like myself. I didn’t dress like myself. I didn’t adorn myself as I usually did. I felt like someone had deactivated me, had turned me off and I couldn’t figure out how to get the juice flowing back through me. I was already grieving a lot of losses, and now I had lost my life and myself as well. How would I get me back?

But part of answer came to me quite accidentally. It is through the magic of human touch, which now I allow myself to experience in every way. In fact, I know I’m getting older because I enjoy hugging and kissing way more than I ever have.

kiss-7I have friends and acquaintances in my circle who are amazing huggers. Like, they can change you whole outlook on life with a single hug. Their hugs are so friggin’ amazing I actually used to avoid them because I didn’t feel deserving of such goodness. But now I look forward to seeing them because I know I’m going to get a hug. I don’t awkwardly pull away like I used too, feeling like I stole something. Now I lean into the hug. I enjoy it. I let it last however long it should, and I allow it to find its own ending.

But this blog isn’t about hugging. Its more about kissing.

I wrote a blog about kissing 5 years ago – I wrote it the morning after the night I first kissed my most recent ex-boyfriend. I really enjoyed kissing him, and for me that was a sign that he was special. Because like a lot of people, for me there is a unique level of intimacy that exists in a kiss that is distinctly separate from other forms of intimacy – even sex. Additionally, my boyfriend before him was a bit stingy with his kisses, and I took that very personally, as if he didn’t like kissing me or something was wrong with me. I even asked him about it once and he said it had nothing to do with me, but of course that just made me certain that it was me…maybe he hated my face, or my lips weren’t soft, or my breath stank, or I was just an awful kisser. It affected my confidence, to be perfectly honest.

But I was having a different experience now. To have access to freely given, well-executed kisses was a great thing. To have someone want to kiss me, to enjoy kissing me, to bring his lips to mine enthusiastically and frequently was great. During our five years together, we kissed. A LOT. In fact sometimes we’d be just sitting around watching television and one of us would yell out “MAKE OUT SESSION!” and we’d just start kissing and touching each other for a few minutes, then we’d stop and go back to watching television. It was a silly little thing we’d do, but it made us both laugh. (We hugged a lot also, which also made me more comfortable with hugging, and more comfortable when my friends would hug me.)

black-couple-kissing-300x275

This positive experience made me more comfortable with kissing, which was good. It restored my confidence. Evidently it made me more comfortable than I realized. The next time a man moved his face in front of mine to kiss me, I didn’t shrink away like I had done all my life. I actually met him head on and kissed him back. Without hesitation.

Now because I have always given so much weight to kissing as an especially intimate act, when he kissed me, I felt like a line had been crossed. I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready to kiss anybody. Plus I was just out of my relationship. Plus this kiss wasn’t from a boyfriend, or someone I was dating, or someone I was pursuing romantically or sexually. And he wasn’t pursuing me, not really. We were friends. But it was someone familiar, that I had some history with. And right now, falling into familiarity is what saves me from falling apart. And he was familiar – a place of comfort. And I think I was comfort for him as well. It was like we going back to a place we’d both been to in the past but hadn’t really had a chance to thoroughly explore, and now we were taking the time to see the things we missed because we’d only stopped through briefly the first time.

But then another strange thing happened – I enjoyed the kiss. Like…REALLY ENJOYED IT.  It reminded me of the first time I kissed my ex in the sense that I enjoyed kissing from the very first time we kissed. Usually it takes time for me to get used to kissing a person, for me to be sure I’m kissing them the way they like, I worry about if the kisses are too moist or too dry (#virgooverthink). I worry about how big my head is. I worry about how big my face is, how round it is. I feel uncomfortable, because I don’t like the way my face looks, and now this guy is all up in my grill, really seeing my whole fucking face up close and personal and I start feeling like I need to compensate for how my face looks by kissing him awesomely. (#virgosuperoverthink)

First-kiss.jpg

But none of those thoughts occurred to me when he kissed me. I just enjoyed it. And then he kissed me again. And I enjoyed that too. And I wasn’t worried about my face, or my head, or anything. And then he nibbled my bottom lip absolutely perfectly. Not too much force, the absolute perfect amount of pressure and force and lip and passion. It actually freaked me out a little, because I wasn’t expecting to enjoy kissing him, because the only person I’d ever enjoyed kissing right off the bat was my most recent ex, and I had chalked that up to a happy coincidence that couldn’t possibly happen again.

But it did. With him. For almost ten minutes. Can you imagine, being kissed absolutely perfectly for ten minutes straight? I honestly needed nothing else after that.

So, I am reminded (yet again!) who I am (because I forget sometimes). While I’ve done a lot of things to reactivate myself, which have included getting my hair done, getting a physical, changing my diet, taking my cute dresses and shoes out of storage, burning sage all over my house, chanting every morning with crystals, re-engaging with the things I love to do (including blogging), rubbing shea butter all over myself every day, and going to therapy weekly, allowing myself human connection has been as important as any of those things. And not even in a sexual way necessarily. Human beings are meant to be in relationship with each other, and when my life fell apart my first instinct was to isolate myself.

But I didn’t. I did all those things I mentioned. And I leaned on my friends. Hard. Some days they’ve had to carry me through my life. But I let them help me. And they have.

And I kissed him. That helped too. I may do it again one day.

THE LITTLE REDBONE – The Beginning

BABY ME

As a child, reading was EVERYTHING to me. It was my life. It gave me life. It helped me escape the confines of my limited existence in Paterson, New Jersey. I traveled to far away places and did really exciting things through reading. My earliest memories are of the hundreds of books that stuffed our small house in tall bookcases lining the walls of the living room…encyclopedias and biographies and anthologies that were my first exposure to fiction and short stories and poetry and famous people who did amazing things and wrote amazing things. My room was also full of books as well – my worn out copies of Louisa May Alcott novels and Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries taking up space alongside copies of Dr. Seuss and my worn out copy of “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”.

ME AGE SEVEN

Alongside our house was a small black shed that covered the space where our garden tools and our garbage cans were stored. It was right next to the back gate of our house. Even though our house had a big porch that ran across the full length of the house, the shed was my favorite spot to read, especially in the summertime when I was out of school. I loved hot weather. I loved feeling the sun lying across my skin while I read books for hours on end. At some point every day during summer break I would take a stack of books, pack them into my blue and white polka dot suitcase along with a blanket, and I would march outside to lie out on the shed and read. It was a little slice of heaven to me, but it never lasted as long as I wanted it to. Why? Because my parents would insist I come in the house to “get out of the sun”.

 

It always seemed that just when Nancy Drew was unraveling the meaning of the  latest clue she discovered, or just when the Hardy boys were piecing together all the information they had uncovered, I would hear my mother yelling through the house, “Tula? Tula!” Just as I was savoring the sweetest line of Nikki Giovanni’s poetry, or just when I was clutching my rapidly beating heart as Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” wound its way to its awful conclusion, I would hear my dad say, “is that baby outside? If she is, make her come inside!” And shortly after my mom would come to the back porch and call out to me, “Tula! Come in the house and get out of that sun! You don’t want to get dark, do you?

BABY TULA 3

My parents first started admonishing me this way I was a very small child, say 6 or 7 years old. I didn’t understand what they meant, and since this took place during the era of children not asking parents to explain themselves, I knew better than to challenge them. Plus I was a pretty obedient child, and I wasn’t going to challenge their authority at that age. But I wondered why they were so concerned about my complexion changing. As I got a bit older I thought they were worried about me getting sunburned, though I never did. (To this day I don’t burn no matter how long I’m out in the sun.) Yes, I would get brown during the summer because I spent hours outside. Yes, my parents would mention my browner skin tones from time to time during my vacation from school. But when the cold temperatures set in, the summertime tan would always slowly fade away, so I never thought much about the change in my complexion because it was always temporary. I always came promptly into the house when they called me, but I didn’t understand the urgency in their voices.

As I got older I spent less time outside reading and more time outside with my friends playing and socializing. (This was back when kids stayed outside for hours playing and could wander as far away from home as they could get as long as they returned by the time the street lights came on.) We would travel through the neighborhood in a harmless pack of mostly girls, stopping along the way to play games of jacks, freeze tag, double dutch, kick the can and red light green light with whatever kids we encountered along the way. We would go to the corner store and get handfuls of penny candy, potato chips, and juice in small plastic jugs. We would go to the neighborhood playground to swing and slide and watch the older kids play basketball and softball and dance to music played on huge boom boxes. This took me away from my parents’ direct supervision for hours at a time, and meant I was out in the sun for hours at a time. I always came home when I was supposed to, but now I browned more quickly. Now the dark caramel coloring it used to take me until August to achieve happened by the fourth of July. My parents began lamenting the more rapid change in my complexion more openly and frequently.

baby tula 2

I was still oblivious.

My parents then did the unthinkable. They asked me to invite my friends over to play at our house. Like…in our house. They would say, “Tula, instead of going out in that hot sun why don’t Heather and Margie and Kathleen come over here and play instead of wandering around all day?” This was unprecedented in those days, because parents discouraged their kids from being in the house during the summer for any reason. You couldn’t just “run in and out the house letting out the cool air”, or you would run the risk of being made to stay in the house as punishment. If you voluntarily went into your house during the summer, it was assumed that you were suffering from heat stroke or something equally deadly. But my parents actually wanted my friends to play in the house. I mean…come into the house. I thought it was weird, so for the longest time I didn’t mention it to my friends.

tula black and white

Then they took it a step further. My dad had a room in our house dedicated to his artistic endeavors – my dad was a commercial artist (you would call him a graphic designer now) and he would often sketch, draw and paint in his leisure, so he had his paints, easels, drafting tables and other art supplies in this room. It was right by the back porch and near our guest bathroom, so my dad would often take his easel onto the porch to sketch. It also had a refrigerator in it where he kept snacks and drinks. But my parents moved his art stuff into their bedroom and took most of my big toys – my doll houses, big dolls, my rocking horse, my oversized stuffed animals, my bicycle and other larger toys I had and put them into this room. They put my board games into this room. They moved one of my bookcases into this room. They basically put my most awesome toys into this room. They put my little table and chairs into this room. And by the time they finished moving my best everything into this new space, my “playroom”, as my parents called it, was born.

I really felt weird now. I didn’t know anyone who had a room for their toys specifically for playing. But as soon as my friends knocked on my door to ask me to come out and play, my mom invited them in to see my playroom and spend their time there with me. Of course they loved it, and we spent hours upon hours having a good time in there. Now that I look back, I guess you could say my parents were ahead of their time – they created supervised play dates long before they became a thing. And most importantly, it kept me out of the sun!

tula middle school

The novelty of the playroom was a good deterrent from outdoor activities for a long time, but I still wanted to go out and play. At those times my mom would try to discourage me, reminding me of the fabulousness of my playroom. Often I would head out into the bright sunshine in spite of her best efforts. She never completely forbade me from going outside, but she made her displeasure known, and occasionally I did give into it and I would stay in the house. But I guess the goal was achieved – I was out in the sun much less, especially since my friends always wanted to spend at least a few hours in the playroom. So I didn’t get as dark as fast as I had previously. They took it as a victory I suppose.

Time passed. I got older. I started getting teased at school about my complexion a great deal. Plus I was a geek who got good grades in everything, read lots of books, and spoke standard English with great fluency. AND I had started writing, and earned great praise from my teachers for my essays and poetry. I was every teacher’s pet, which also made me every bully’s target. In fact, one of my best friends when I was a little girl turned against me as we got older and became one of my greatest tormentors. My parents often had to come to school to deal with bullies. For a period of time my mom would meet me at school to escort me home because she didn’t trust that I would get home unharmed if I walked alone or with friends. I got beat up, spit on, chased away from lots of places by small groups of angry kids who called me, “Oreo cookie”, “paleface”, “Whitey”, “Cracker”, “White Nigger”, as they ran after me, hoping to catch me so they could beat me up and further torture me up close and personal, which usually included threats to cut off my hair. (This actually started my interest in track, because I learned to run fast enough to get away from all of them.) As I became more aware of how concerned everyone around me was about my light skin, I began to ask my parents more direct and pointed questions about the motivations behind their concern about me “getting dark” during the summer. I asked about why everyone seemed to hate my complexion in general. My dad would make vague comments I didn’t understand about everyone being jealous of me. For what? Why? What did it mean?

YOUNG TULA 2

The pieces were slowly coming together. And the picture that was forming was really troubling.

To be continued…

 

Previous Older Entries