"Ripped apart, then put back together, them the ones with the most beautiful feathers…"
"You'll be back", the Uber-cab driver said as I stared at the clouds, reminiscing on my trip. "LA Unified School District is hiring. They have elementary and middle schools."
I smiled at him but didn’t answer. I looked up at the big white clouds and just wondered: when was the last time I took a moment to enjoy the clouds? Was it was over the summer, when I was in Florida, road tripping from Savannah with the girls? Or was it July 17th, the same day of Eric Garner’s death, when Matthew and I chilled on Riverside. We shared laughs under a succinct silver lining in the sky. I took a picture of the Sun in the middle of the great white clouds on his phone but he posted it on Instagram as if it he had taken the picture on his own.
“Did you do LA Live?” The driver interrupted my thoughts.
“Nah…” I put my phone on the charger that he conveniently had for his passengers in the back seat. “I didn't come to party. I just needed to get away for a few days.”
“Get away?” He switched from the middle lane to the express lane. “You mind if I ask what a beautiful woman like you would need to get away from besides the below 0 degree weather back East?”
My voice cracked, tears began racing to the front of my eyelids. “I can’t even find the strength to get into it right now. I’m sorry.” I held my head back, in an effort to force my tears back down.
“Don’t hold your tears inside. I know someone has probably told you that you’re too pretty to cry but crying is beyond pretty – crying is what makes a person beautiful.”
And with that, I let it all out. I cried in the back seat of his black Chevy and shared my truths.
“It hurt so bad, I wanted to kill myself. I mean, I wasn’t going to … my students, my legacy, my Spirit – nothing would allow me to do anything to permanently harm myself but the images in my head wouldn’t stop haunting me. Beautiful memories of failed relationships and dark thoughts of not ever being able to truly be loved in the way that I loved everyone else raced through my mind. I had a rough childhood… grew up in an abusive household, you know? So I know how to be strong and fight but this time, I couldn’t find the slightest bit of strength. I didn’t know who to turn to… I was in so much pain. I couldn’t eat. I wasn’t able to sleep. And when I did, my nightmares were filled with murky shadows of past heartaches and disappointments. It was terrifying. I was so weak. I felt alone. I was scared. Scared of being alone forever. But at the same time, I wanted to be left alone. I turned my phone off for almost a week. But even in my silence, I still couldn’t find peace. I usually write and blog my sorrows away but I couldn’t publish anything since things fell apart. Everything I wrote turned out to be written reflections of my dreadful reality. I tried to read but even in the books, I found reasons to believe that my agony would never end. There was no escaping, until I turned my phone on again. My brother, Al, was the first person to contact me. He urged me to fly here to get away from everything that was going on. I was leery at first and afraid of falling behind in my responsibilities with my Blossoms, my students, my grad work, and even my blog but I was having a mental break down and my Spirit led me to put everything on hold and just … just go. Flying out here had no affect on me though. Even when the plane landed, I was still crying. My sister-in-law, Holly, said I looked like a zombie when I got to their house. And I felt like one too. I know I was breathing but nothing in me felt alive.”
“We’ve all been there. Trust me, I know depression on a first name basis. Was this the first time it happened?” He asked me as the traffic began to get heavier. It seemed like we had been sitting in the same spot, under the same clouds forever.
“Yes…. And no… I mean, I have felt depressed before but not to the point where I couldn’t lift myself back up. Everything in my life fell apart at the same time. But …” I wiped my face, blew my snotty nose, and dried all of my tears. “Coming out here was therapeutic. Even in the midst of my tears, I can really say that I am not going back to Baltimore as the same woman that I was when I first came here.”
“Wow. What changed? Like, what did you do to feel better?”
“Me? Oh, sir, I didn’t do anything. This is going to sound crazy but I stopped trying on my third day here. The first two days, all I did was sit around in a tank and a pair of worn Sevens that my bestie passed down to me since she couldn't fit them anymore. I wept for the lost little girl inside of me ... and I wrote ugly, dreary poems and letters to myself. But on day 3, that’s when things changed. That’s when I relinquished all control and handed it to something much, much higher than me…
MY BROTHER’S DAD, Dave, came to get me at 8:30. It was so early that the sky was still white. He told me to dress warm because even though it was going to be about seventy-five degrees outside, it would be really windy on the back of the bike. I threw on some ashy-black Forever 21 leggings, a white Polo t-shirt, my favorite oversized L.L. Bean denim oxford, my black leather Zara jacket that Push bought me when he flew me to Chicago a few years back, and my old 14-eye black Doc Martens. He passed me a black helmet and goggles as I hopped on the chrome, ready to go.
“Do you want my face mask? When the wind starts to hit, it can get very uncomfortable, especially when we’re on the highway.” He asked me, as we rode down Verne Avenue, making the neighbors stop and take notice of us as they crossed the street.
“No, I don’t want it. I want to feel the wind.” I really did. I just wanted to let the wind touch my soul. I truly believe that nature’s elements are extensions of God. Lord knows I needed His touch now more than ever. I needed a healing.
We rode on the freeway for about an hour. I recognized names of cities like Long Beach, Inglewood, and Santa Monica and I recalled the names of streets like Slauson and LaBrea. Each brought me different memories of times when I visited the Los Angeles area in the past. I felt a sense of comfort, like I was right at home. I rested my head on my step dad’s shoulder and just enjoyed the ride. It was smooth, until the wind really started to kick. He had warned me but of course, I didn’t listen. My face started hurting from the hard gusts but I still had to keep it cute. I turned my head the other way, closed my eyes, and thankfully, the gusts no longer phased me.
We pulled up to Abbot Kinney, a strip in Cali best known for its street-wear and indie boutiques. It was about 9:30 in the morning and most of the stores were closed but we walked, talked, and took lots of pictures. I saw one of the most beautiful dream catchers that I have ever seen. It was made out of crochet, tree branches, and flowers. Its tassels hung longer than my legs. I’m sure it had to be expensive, considering the fact that many of the less elaborate ones in Urban Outfitters run for about $100. So I took a picture of it, vowing to show to my BFF, Carissa - the DIY Queen, so that we could make one of them ourselves when I got back home.
“So, what brought you down here to see us? You guys on a mid-winter break at school?” Dave asked as we passed a small echinopsis cactus garden. The colors were beautiful. It felt like the first time that I was able to see colors in days. The petals were a bit lighter than a highlighter's yellow, with traces of a faded fushia pink on the tips.
“Well, the Cliff Notes version is that I feel like everything has fallen apart. My mom relapsed after she promised me she would never touch that stuff again, me and my boyfriend broke up, and my grandmother and my grandfather are having issues - too much to go into details about ... but I just feel like I don’t have anyplace to call home anymore. I feel like I’m alone. But Al bringing me out here reminded me that I’m not. I know people really care about me and all… but I still can’t stop feeling like I’m dying inside. I even thought about dying but I know better than to take the easy way out. I even went to the physc ward at Hopkins. The diagnosis was depression. Yesterday, Holly listened to my story about what’s been going on and she watched me cry. She looked right at me and told me, “You’re not depressed… You’re experiencing a hell of a lot of loss and disappointments from people that you love and expect more from. You should be crying. It’s the normal way to deal right now. You’re human.” Which made me feel better about my tears but I still feel the same pain. It won’t go away. But I know it’s going to get better. I’ve just been listening to the Voice within. I know its all happening for a reason. I just have to keep reflecting. I’ll be okay.” I tried to down play my emotions. Didn’t want to get into every detail with him, I knew after two years of not seeing one another, he just wanted us to enjoy our father-daughter time together. No need to burden him with my sob story.
“Well, in life, we all hit rocks and those rocks give us time to stop sailing and look at our lives as we journey… I’m not saying those rocks don’t hurt. I know it hurts… but it won’t break you. The Universe is just giving you space and time to rebuild before you can start moving again.”
Wow, I thought. That was a great analogy. Perfect advice.
Before I knew it, we were back on the bike, heading further down the strip to grab honey vanilla lattes and brunch at the Urth Caffé. We sat outside, right under the sun, and talked over two veggie omelets.
“Tell me more about that inner voice you mentioned earlier…”
I was caught off guard. I never really had to explain it to anyone but I tried my best to describe it without sounding loony.
“Well… basically… I hear a voice within me… it guides me… its stronger than my own intuition.”
“Wow…” He interjected with a little laugh… “That says a lot! A woman’s intuition is strong already.”
“Yeah… I’m blessed to be able to discern between the voice of the Spirit and my own. But I hadn’t been listening to it… I think that’s why all this stuff started to happen to me.”
“Well, it sounds like you’re getting back to where Spirit wants you to be…” Spirit? I thought to my self… He’s spiritual? He knows what I am talking about? He doesn’t think I am crazy for saying that I hear the Voice within?
“Many people don’t learn what you’re learning at such an early age, V. Life is really about living the mission that Spirit created for us. Living for Him and not for ourselves.”
“Yeah…” I agreed. “I am really starting seeing that now.” I looked up at the Sun as it shined on my face. I removed my circle-framed shades to let the Earth’s biggest star graze my face in its entirety.
Dave began telling me stories about his many arguments and break ups with my mother. He even recalled a break up that made him want to give up on his life. He never had evidence of her infidelity but he knew that she cheated on him many times and broke his heart. I grew livid as he told me stories of my mom’s wild ways – I felt bad for him but what made me really mad was the fact that here I was, all these years later, living her karma. Between the Bible and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, it has always been said children will repay the sins of their parents. Why Mother?! Why???
“Don’t struggle with the Universe.” Dave snapped me out of my mind’s tirade to my mother. “The pain comes when you don't give up the struggle. When you don't let go. Learn how to give up the struggle and let it be. There were so many times when the Universe was trying to separate your mother and me, way before we had Al. I knew it. I’m sure she knew it too. But we kept trying to be together, despite it all. Don’t make the same mistake. Detaching is hard but it’s easier when you let Spirit take control.”
As soon as he said that, I immediately thought of where my mother is today. Somewhere in The Bronx, trying to ignore her problems, abusing drugs. Was God saving me from something unbeknownst to us all by separating me from my beloved Bae? I wanted to fight for our love but was I supposed to just let things be? And was there a greater reason for my mom's return to her addiction? Was I supposed to just ignore both of their actions like they don't hurt me? I pointed my nose to the Sun again, this time hearing Dave say,
“You have to have an insane amount of patience to know that Spirit is working things out, even when you can't see it with the eye.” And there it was, the answer to all of my questions. I began to replace my fears with faith.
WE HOPPED BACK on the bike and headed up the coast. The signs read, “Welcome to Malibu” and I got excited.
The beach was pretty empty, with the exception of a few surfers and a bikini model that was having a photo shoot. By this point in the day, the temperature must’ve been almost 80 degrees. We were really hot, still wearing our leather jackets and combat boots. We walked along the shore and I suddenly remembered, my Docs are not waterproof. The waves crawled over the sand and into my boots, soaking my socks and smothering my toes. I didn’t mind at all. I knew my feet needed to touch the Spirit, just like my face did when it was smacked by the wind and kissed by the Sun.
“Come on Val!”
I looked up and Dave was already on the rocks, exploring the caves. I followed right behind. All of that climbing reminded me of the time the girls and I climbed a mountain in the Black Desert in Egypt. I had on some old open-toed Jesus-sandals, ill equipped for rock climbing. I ended up busting my big toe but I didn’t care. “PYNKs, IM COMING UP!” I yelled from the bottom of the mountain after our tour guide cleaned and patched my toe back up. I hadn’t come that far to fail. Lucky for me this time, I had on boots. For once in my life, I was prepared.
I had to use my hands and feet for balance as I went up the rocks. But whenever I would reach a higher plateau, I would lift my hands and praise God. I was grateful.
Dave and I climbed from one side of the mountain to the other side. When we got to the other side, it was serene. A baby seal was on the shore, all alone. There was also a white pelican, walking back and forth from the water to the sand. I thought about both of those creatures, alone, yet content.
After getting some amazing footage, we headed back to the other side of the mountain.
“I love your hair!” The blonde, golden-tanned model yelled over to me in between her shots. She looked just like Barbie.
“Thank you! You’re beautiful!” I yelled back, feeling flattered that she noticed me at all.
“You and your dad are the coolest kids on the beach! Denim and leather! That’s my kinda’ beachwear!” The longhaired photographer gave us a kowabunga-thumbs up, a gesture that solidified the fact that we were definitely in Malibu.
Just when I thought we were getting ready to head home, Dave suggested we put our leathers down so that we wouldn’t pass out from a heat stroke. We were going to climb the mountain that led to the highest cliff of the island.
“You think we can just leave them here on the bike? No one is going to steal in this neighborhood right?”
“It’s less about the neighborhood and more about our belief in the protection we have over ourselves. All we have to do is believe that our things are safe and they will be.” He began to tell me a story about a little girl who was selling lemonade with her dad over the summer. The little girl had to use the bathroom and her dad asked her what he wanted her to do with the money. The little girl told her dad to leave it right there on her lemonade stand, “It will be fine Dad. Let’s go!” She was right. When they came back, her money was right where she left it. Dave explained that over hearing that conversation was a “waking dream” in which he was given a message from Spirit. I had never heard of walking dreams but I was sure that I’d experienced them before, without actually knowing the proper term.
So we left our jackets on the handle of the bike and headed to the cliff. What happened next was most definitely a mix between a waking dream and some sort of deja-vu for me. Exactly 12 days before that day, I wrote a poem that I titled, the Whisper of the Cocoa-Faced Angel, describing the images of my version of Heaven. I didn’t realize it until after we got to the top of the mountain but everything I encountered during our walk up the mountain was exactly what I wrote in my poem.
I found myself in an endless field of yellow daisies, with the soundtrack of humming birds and the laughter of happy old people and joyful young couples who spoke and smiled at me along the way. They were coming down while I was going up. When we got to the top of the cliff, I prayed and thanked God for His grace and mercy. I went all the way to the edge and let my legs dangle while I began to meditate. I closed my eyes and listened to the roar of the Pacific Ocean, allowing my mind to envision the future. When I looked down, there they were, two dolphins jumping in and out of the water together. Who knows if they were mother and daughter or husband and wife... They were fast but the quick glimpse that I had of them was more than enough for me to know that God was simply reminding me – if he gives the dolphins love and companionship, there’s no doubt that he has the same in store for me.
Dave sat with me and I realized that he was actually my cocoa-faced angel. I’m sure he had no idea that his words were cleansing me of all my troubles and fears. We talked about my future and his past.
“One of the greatest lesson I’ve learned over the years is that in order for me to grow, things have to change … and we hate change but we have to learn to accept what the universe puts in place.” He was right. It was just like the Pacific – we can’t move that ocean, we have to accept its place. It’s purposefully been designed to nourish us as well as every living thing that dwells within it. We have to believe the same notion about our pain – we have to accept and know that nothing that happens is a mistake, everything was intentionally placed within us to nourish and help us to grow.
BY DAY FOUR, my journaling began to shift. My dreams kept waking me up, revealing different reasons why people were being removed from my life, why certain things were taking place, and what I was supposed to learn from all of it. I couldn’t sleep through any of it so I began writing it all down. The more I wrote, the more clarity I gained.
When I woke up on Saturday, Al and Holly told me we were going bike riding to Seal Beach, which was an extensive 8 miles away. The Sun was with me for the entire ride there and back. The birds were too. I distinctly remember the different songs that I heard as I rode pass the lemon trees, orange trees, and palm trees. As I got closer to the beach, even from as far as 3 miles away, I could smell the water. I was reminded of my poem again. I was truly experiencing my Heaven.
On the way back to the house, I decided to use the 6% that was left on my iPhone’s battery to play Jhene Aiko’s latest album, Souled Out. I played my favorite song first, “Blue Dream”. Then I played the song that has been getting me through all of my turmoil as of lately, “Eternal Sunshine”. After that, I decided to let the rest of the album randomly play. The song that features Common titled, “Pretty Bird”, came on and before I knew it, I was in tears… I couldn’t stop them from falling. But they weren’t the same anger-filled tears that I screamed and ached through two weeks before when I had her song, “Lyin’ King”, on repeat. These were tears of appreciation and self-actualization. I finally understood the meaning behind “Pretty Bird” and all I could do was thank God for my life while I cried and cried and cried.
"There's a blinding light inside of you and they cannot deny you..." Jhene sang. I literally felt those words as I rode that bike down the road. I realized that she was saying exactly what so many of the people that love me have been saying as well: Everything I have been going through is apart of my journey and although I may have lost a few feathers, I will always, always have my wings. I realized that I have to shine my Light, not just for me but also for those who look up to me as I fly.
"Pretty bird… We need your light", I sang with her and felt warm tears roll down my face, as I rode that bike. It's a blessing and an honor to have gifts that others need but all of this has taught me that I can't give anyone, whether it's my friends, my students, or a boyfriend, my Light until I face my darkness, accept it all, and let it go. This is a process but I will fly again. I am grateful.
"Ripped apart, then put back together, them the ones with the most beautiful feathers…” -Common
SUNDAY CAME and I woke up early to read the Word. I read the whole book of Ephesians. I annotated it the entire way through and found a few verses that resonated with me like no other.
“God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by His power that is working in us. (3:20)
There is one body. There is one Spirit. You were appointed to one hope when you were chosen. He is over everything. He is through everything. He is in everything. (4:4-6)
He is the One who gave some the gift to be apostles. He gave some the gift to be prophets. He gave some the gift of preaching the good news. And he gave some the gift to be pastors and teachers. (4:11)
You were taught not to live the way you used to. You must get rid of your old way of life. (4:22 )
You were taught to be made new in your thinking. You were taught to start living a new life. It is created to be truly good and holy, just as God is. (4:23-24)
I wish I had the space to put the whole book of Ephesians into this but I had to narrow it down to those 5 verses. The fact that the Word specifically named teachers as chosen and gifted was another reminder of my purpose. I couldn’t ignore that divine message.
We spent the day together like one big family. I wished Kandy, my younger sister, could’ve been there. Al, Holly, Dave, and I all headed to flea market on Melrose. I had been enjoying so much of nature but now it was time for some thrift-therapy. I picked up a beautiful rabbit fur. Now, usually I don’t buy real furs but the man kept going down on the price and it was just so plush. I also picked up some jewels and organic body butter but my favorite purchase of all was my vintage pink typewriter. My love for vintage school supplies is no secret but this pick-up was an ode to my love for writing.
After Melrose, we headed to the Huntington Museum, Library, and Botanical Garden – yes, it’s all of those in one.
As soon as we entered the garden, the clouds opened and began to pour down on my head. Because of my Poetic Justice styled braids, my scalp was totally exposed. Everyone asked me if I wanted an umbrella or if I wanted to go back to the car but I didn’t want any of the above. I took my time, letting them walk way ahead of me, as I let my favorite of all of God’s elements drench me from head to toe. My entire body was soaking in His love. I heard the flowers inhale as each drop landed on their petals. The pond, filled with silver fish, began to tremble as the new waters fell from the sky. I began to capture the blessing of the Spirit's water for life. I snapped as many pictures as I could before my Nikon’s lens fogged up. It was at that moment that I had to stop and pray.
Thank you for this day. Thank you for bringing me here to experience the miracles that you so effortlessly make happen. As I watch you nourish each of these plants with this rain, I have no doubt that you are supplying me with everything I need as well. I am honored to be a vessel of your Light. Continue to humble me, for I am nothing without you. Thank you for the pain that has led to wisdom and growth. Thank you for restoring my heart. Please don’t ever take your Spirit from me. I love you and I am grateful that you have chosen to dwell within me.
LATER THAT NIGHT, we had a barbeque. Holly grilled the best salmon that I have ever had in my life. We ate and laughed and listened to everything from Tupac to Drake. It felt good to be with my brother, whom I was separated from for almost 18 years of my life.
I picked up my journal and favorite pink pen. I tried to write but I was distracted by the entries from the previous week. I looked at each of them and knew what had to be done. I ripped them out of the book and declared, “I am going to burn all of these! I never want to see them again!”
“Don’t do that…” Al was sincere. “You should save them to look at them later in life so you can remember what you have overcome.”
“No.” I usually don’t dispose of anything I write, whether good or bad, but my mind was already made. “I won’t ever forget this pain and confusion that I have experienced but I do not want to carry it with me. I need to burn these. It has to be done.”
With that said, no one stopped me from walking outside to the barbeque pit. Holly mentioned something about an English tradition where they burn their writing and walk backwards into the ocean when they finish to complete the ritual. I may be quoting her wrong because I wasn’t really listening. There was no ocean; it was just me, the fire, and the black-inked memoirs of my pain.
I put the papers in and watched the red ambers dance while my words melted into ash. I looked up at the crescent moon and stars. I was about to pray when my brother came outside. He stood next to me in front of the fire and put his arm over my shoulder. “We’re so blessed”, I said to him. “Look how much we went through. We’ve come so far. You're a pilot, a husband, and a homeowner. No one thought we would be here.”
“You've accomplished a lot too and you've been all over the world. We beat the odds."
"I'm glad I have you to look up to. You show me that I can do anything that I want in this world."
"I’m glad we have each other. You’re not alone sis. I love you.”
We talked for a long time and I stayed right under his arm, with my ear intently memorizing the sound of his heartbeat. At 28, I still don’t really know what love from a man that wants nothing from me at all feels like. But my brother’s embrace was what I had been longing for, all my life. Not sure when I'll meet my soul mate ... and I may never meet my biological father but I have my blood brother and he loves me, unconditionally.
We went back inside and shared a toast, “To Val feeling so much better than she did when she first got here!” Holly said, as we all touched glasses. “You have family here, don’t you ever forget it.”
Before I knew it, we were in front of US Airways, unloading my luggage and my typewriter.
“Thank you so much.” I said to my driver as I handed him an $8 tip.
“I should be thanking you. Such a beautiful soul you have Lady. Please come back to California again. We need more of you.”