Where Are You Now?

“Where are you now? As I’m swimming through this stereo, I’m writing you a symphony of sound.”¬†~Jack’s Mannequin [“The Mixed Tape”]

no_looking_backDo you ever wonder where they are? I mean all the people you’ve left behind, or the ones who’ve left you behind? I sometimes do. In the darkest shadows of the night, when I should just move on, I can’t seem to do it, because they come to me, like ghosts, vestiges of the persons they were when I knew them, when we were new and unblemished. But this distance, it blemishes them, it stains them with broad brush strokes that I wish I could unsee.

And I guess you can say I’ve been stained too, that I am not the same person I was either, that some of that is my own fault, or even if it isn’t, it’s fair to say me feeling that way makes it so. It’s even funny in a way because of all the things I could regret in life, some of the biggest regrets are the ones I don’t even remember, because something, in some way, alienated people from me. I shouldn’t even care. I should say that it’s their loss, but I somehow can’t bring myself to look at things that way. Maybe I’m a masochist.

I hear songs that we shared and I think of them. I listen to the melody and I can’t help but relive the memories that we still share, except now separately. When my phone vibrates I still think on some level that it might be them, that they might be texting to make amends, or at least to explain. Because the lack of an explanation is what makes it all so… incomplete. The lack of an explanation is the difference between the shadowed nights with ghosts and a good night’s sleep. When my phone vibrates I keep hoping that it’s the one line that will bring me closure.

“It was never you; it was all me.”

“It just wasn’t the right time for me, emotionally.”

“You never listened to me, and I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”

I firmly believe that some people are only in our lives for an age to teach us lessons, to be there for that moment, to be a brief impetus in our lives, and that these people inevitably move on. But I can’t bring myself to think when the time’s up that only one of us would know about it. Maybe I’m just not the kind of person who can move on to the next thing if something is left unsaid, even if I know the time has come to separate from whatever I’ve had with someone else.

Now that I’m older I’ve taken to reminiscing an awful lot. I find myself seeing time ago through some colored lenses, letting the blacks, whites, and grays blend together to form a kind of muted rainbow. I find that I think back a lot less, but that when I do it’s for those people I really thought would be around my life forever, either because they said they would or because, to me, it was merely understood. And for those ghosts I can’t help but hear specific songs and get brought back, every single time.

In spite of myself.



Learning to Listen

“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.” ~Dean Jackson

listening-manListening is a lost art. Believe it. There’s something to be said for sitting still, giving eye contact, and nodding along, not because you’re waiting for a chance to speak, but because you care enough to be there. I know too many people who are waiting to jump in, to offer suggestions, and to tell their own personal stories that may or may not be relevant to the issue at hand. But sometimes, sometimes listening should be just that — listening. Being there. Proving it.

And believe it or not, but someone you just met today can be a better listener than the friend you’ve had since diaper days. Someone who just walked into your life can be the friend to whom you can be most vulnerable and just let it out. Sometimes that’s better because you have no preconceived notions of them, and they have none of you. They can come into it as a fresh page ready to receive the scribbles of your soul.

I’ve had too many friends over the years who used me as just that sounding board, from those who I had known a while to those who I had just met, but something that was common to the vast majority was the assumption that there would be no reciprocation. I know this because these friends were never really there for me when I needed them, were never truly listeners for me because every time I saw them they were too busy talking.

Beware those who can’t keep their mouths shut long enough to listen. Odds are that if you let them in on your secrets, they won’t be secrets for long. And if they’re constantly interjecting their own thoughts how can they possibly be there for you? I know a few people who are always comparing whatever I’m saying with something that has happened in their life, even if there are absolutely no parallels, instead of just letting me vent, or get out my thoughts. They eventually moved on to other friendships, which was okay with me.

Because often that’s all I need is a pair of ears, a soul that obviously cares, and eyes that look into mine with empathy, with caring, with a firm commitment to be there for me. And that’s what I try my best to give to my friends who need me in turn. And it’s not reciprocity, the idea of “tit for tat.” It’s just being a good friend, no matter how often they may need me, or no matter how often I need them. They don’t keep score. They don’t disappear from my life, and I don’t from theirs.

Learning how to listen is a skill that is dormant from way too many people’s lives. It might have to do with the selfishness social media breeds, or it could be something else entirely. But whatever the reason, we need to bring it back. We need to empathize with others, to give them the gift of our time, because nothing is more precious.


Nineteen Blackbirds

071dc4f8b0101a81903a1265c72f1748Atop a razor thin wire thirty feet above my head, nineteen blackbirds are perched, resolutely, zombie-like, side by side by side, as if waiting for the bus. Their balance is perfect, so self-assured that most appear to be asleep standing up, the skimpy thread bowing under their combined weight but under no threat of ripping. Forked talons curve artfully around the wire, one by one by one in a straight line until no more talons are left to be seen, and I wonder why there aren’t an even twenty of these beasts.

I count again.

Above their heads the sky is a dusky¬† blue, shot through with pale sunlight, in places hollowed out by the expanse of creamy clouds. There is no breeze as I sit on a park bench looking unabashedly at these denizens of the air, but they sit in place, content to play possum instead of spreading their wings and taking flight. I want to make a loud noise just to see if they will react. I want to scream them into action because I can’t do the same in my own little insulated world.

I sit here silently instead.

Are these birds ravens, like the storied birds of literative lore, or the much maligned crows that often darken doorsteps with their shadow-like precision? Or maybe they’re the infamous birds of the apocalypse, the souls of demons dressed up in outer ebony plumage, waiting patiently for the world to end. I watch as other birds drift past, but not one stops to join this horizontal conference thirty feet above my head. I wonder if this is evidence of some kind of winged etiquette, or a collaborative clique, a nearly extinct class system come home to roost.

I wonder if they will ever move.

I know I have somewhere else to be, something in my world that requires a particular kind of attention, but that doesn’t seem to matter right now. Instead I am engaged in a waiting competition of sorts, an intricate game of chicken where my opponents are actual birds. Quite rare indeed. They might as well be dead up there; they’re certainly dressed for it without even trying, these harbingers of a world bereft of color, sitting stolidly, impossibly, on a tiny wire.

I too am black.

Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the one on the far left shakes a tail feather, then two, then its entire tail is in motion, a plane motor kicking into gear. Seconds later it is gone, taken to the air in a blur of feathers and a sudden motivation that is impossible to gauge. The next one in line begins to stir moments later, an echo of its brother, already lost to the air, and the clouds, and the rest of the sky. Then he too is gone just as quickly, and I have already forgotten what he looked like, even though he was here for what seemed like an eternity. Seventeen blackbirds on the line, but they are no longer still.

I watch them take flight.

It is dizzying, staring up into the sky for so long, neck craned back to take it all in without missing a beat, but I couldn’t move if my life depended upon it. This is my world, and I am world leader pretend. And I can’t help but feel like a part of me is fracturing as one by one by one they leave, as everyone has always left me before, as they will all leave me again. It was a false comfort, those inattentive birds, as they sat like stone for so long, but they were never going to stay. Just like the raven iconically quoted, “Nevermore.”

The wire vibrates as the last blackbird releases its grip, hurtling itself into the cloud-strewn sky like a rocket taking flight. I follow the line as it undulates in a rhythmic pattern, then begins to slow down the longer the birds are gone, until it stops completely, as if the winged creatures were never there.

I open my eyes and realize they weren’t.


Black Friends

“It’s hard for me to make black friends.”

11965720-friend-friendship-relationship-teammate-teamwork-society-icon-sign-symbol-pictogramI saw this on my Facebook newsfeed today, but it’s always been just as true for me. For those of you who don’t know me, who are reading my blog for the first time, I am black. I say this because I think it matters in the framework of the above quote. A white guy said this on my Facebook newsfeed, but it’s just as true for me.

I grew up in an entirely black neighborhood, I was a member of an entirely black church, and I went to an entirely black elementary school, but that didn’t make it any easier to find black friends. There were many black people around, so I had many black acquaintances, yet I didn’t really get close to anyone. It may have been some combination of my initial shyness, my lack of common ground with them, and/or my low opinion of myself.

Or it could just be that too many black people are too familiar with too many other black people without really knowing them. That has always been a pet peeve of mine. I would love to get to know you, but when you assume that you already know everything you need to know about me I bristle. Maybe it’s just because I’ve never felt normal, whatever that means, so I hate assumptions of normality.

But I shouldn’t generalize, right? As I very much know, not all black people are the same, even if the culture calls for over-familiarization when it comes to other black people. Getting through the initial assumptions, though, they’re tough, especially when the over-arching societal structures don’t allow for getting beneath the surface when you meet someone new.

Besides that, I don’t meet very many black people these days, which makes it that much harder to make black friends. I made the decision to live where I do, to work where I work, and to be where I am, so that’s partially a byproduct of those decisions, but I have to be honest. Even if I met a slew of black people every day, what are the odds that some of them would be my friends?

It’s hard for me to make black friends, even though I’m black. Maybe even because I’m black. But I guess it’s hardest for me to make black friends because for me people are people, because it was difficult for me to even put the term “black” in front of so many nouns in this post. It’s hard for me to make friends, period, which is okay. I’m an excellent friend once you get to know me, once you get to trust me, but not many take that opportunity.

Which is okay, because I hear that quality of friends is so much more important than quantity of friends, no matter their color.


To Be Needed

neededThere have been very few times in my life when I truly felt like a part of something, like I was intrinsically involved in the inner workings of a cause, a movement, or even a group of people. I have always been a catalyst, for sure, because of my boisterous personality, but what has that done for me when it comes to feeling necessary?

Others often look to sports as a way to feel a part of something, as a means to an end, but even on that front I was always lacking. For some reason I always chose the sports that weren’t really a team concept, like tennis, and golf, and I left the group mentality to those who needed the push and pull. But I need the push and pull too. I guess I just didn’t realize it back then.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been about friends for me. Maybe I just wasn’t meant to be the friend type in this society because for me to feel like a part of a friendship I need a lot of contact. So, of course most of my friends throughout the years have always been the type who aren’t contact people. I seem to attract the type of friends who are content with sporadic communication, and that’s not me.

Even my sister was an enigma to me. For years I was jealous of her, which hampered our relationship. It always seemed like she made friends easily, the type who were there for her early and often. It always seemed like she had it all down, that people flocked to her without her even trying, that she was an integral part of the world she inhabited. I was jealous that it wasn’t me, that I didn’t have whatever she had to make myself necessary to others.

But it’s not about her. And it’s not about the friends I chose to surround myself with off and on for years. It’s really about me and my expectations. When I think about the times when I felt like a part of something I inevitably go back to my poetry groups, to the first one in Philly so long ago, and to the one in Utica now. For some reason, even though poetry isn’t my first love when it comes to writing, it brings something out of me that makes me feel necessary, like I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself.

I expected nothing from either poetry group, and they gave me everything. Funny how that happens. And I wonder if that’s how I should be when it comes to other situations and with other people in my life. Maybe I should stop beating myself up over lost friends, or over time between conversations. Perhaps I should instead spend my time getting rid of expectations, just living for the moment and seeing who comes along for the ride.

That’s a very renaissance kind of attitude for me, but I’m feeling a renaissance kind of feeling right now, so it fits. I feel like approaching 40 is making me see things in a completely different way than I ever have before. If I want to be a part of something I need to let it happen organically, to just explore my interests and let things come to me. And stop blaming others for not fulfilling that need.

Because it’s all up to me, and it always has been.


@ Heathrow

heathrow-airport-terminal-5“I’ll sit anywhere,” she told the airline attendant behind the counter whose name tag read Patrick. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, London time, and Heather was surviving on fumes by that point, in a race against time trying to make her way back to Chicago.

“Listen, I missed my flight, but it wasn’t my fault,” pleaded the desperate woman.

Patrick looked up from the monitor embedded just below the surface of the counter as Heather strained to look down at the plane schedules he had pulled up. He had frosted tips, the type that she would have laughed out loud at if he were one of her closest friends, but at that moment he was her best hope so she stayed silent.

“Ma’am,” he said, in an impeccable British accent. “I don’t doubt that, but we have no flights available until 6:30, and that would be standby.”

“But I need to be in Chicago, like, yesterday,” she begged, stopping just short of getting on her knees. She adjusted her cleavage, hoping that might change things, but his eyes were on her own. It figured.

“Then might I suggest calling whomever you’re supposed to be meeting there and letting them know you will be a tad late,” said the ever helpful Patrick, smiling sardonically at her.

“It’s not like that,” Heather said, all pretense of begging gone. She was an executive, and used to getting her way. She wasn’t going to let some, some pencil pusher tell her she couldn’t get it done. “Look, I’ll pay you for whatever you can get done for me.”

“We don’t accept tit for tat,” said Patrick with a straight face, indicating with his index finger the security cameras trained on them. “It’s strictly against the law. But I can place you standby for the 6:30 and you can keep your fingers crossed.”

She walked away after giving him her name and cell phone number, feeling like an ironic mirror of herself, a meek version of who she hoped she would never be. But it was so much more than that, she finally admitted to herself, knowing that if she couldn’t tell herself the truth she would never be able to trust anyone else with it. She felt like a total failure not just because she missed her flight, but because she wouldn’t make it to such a significant event — again.

Jordan had called her on Monday and made her promise she would come, that she would be there for the most important day in his life, knowing how crazy her own life was and what it would mean if she said yes. But she had said yes anyway, because she was weaker than the facade she put on every single day, and for the simple fact that it was him asking. She had never gotten over Jordan, even with an entire ocean and five years between them. Yet she said yes, as if he were asking her to coffee to catch up, not to his impending nuptials.

“I can’t imagine my special day without you there,” he’d said, not knowing how it made her catch her breath, not realizing it tore her up inside. Still.

“But won’t it be awkward, Jordan?” she replied through slightly gritted teeth. “I mean, we almost got married.”

“Which was ages ago, and you’re still my best friend,” he had said, dismissing her fears like so much garbage. “You are my best friend, right?”

“Shouldn’t your fiance be your best friend, Jordan?” she asked, knowing his answer before the pause, before the exhale, even before she asked the question.

“You know it’s always been different with us,” he’d said. “And Shae understands that. She’s the one who asked me to invite you, that it wouldn’t be the same without you.”

And Heather had sighed then because he knew he wasn’t lying, that Shae had such a pure heart that she would want whatever Jordan wanted. But they were both such idiots, really, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, what was between them as surely as a hedge separating private lawns. Because she was balanced on that hedge, ready to spring onto the green grass on the other side, regardless of who it hurt.

“Okay,” she had said, half expecting cheers from the other end of the connection, but he just gave her the details and signed off, as if it had been a foregone conclusion the whole time, like the call had been a matter of course. She felt bruised in that moment, a peach that wasn’t quite ripe enough to taste good in the peeling, but at the same time she felt a rush of elation. She was going to see Jordan again, after five years of phone calls and dodging his requests to visit.

But she sighed again as she wheeled her carry-on across the tiled walkway of Heathrow, Terminal B. Even if she managed to get on the 6:30 flight there was no way she could make it to the reception hall to catch the ceremony, and only a thin wisp of a chance she could get to the reception. And if she missed that flight she would arrive too late for any of it. She knew she should call Jordan, that she should let him know she would indeed miss his special day, but she was too afraid to dial his number.

She imagined he would sound magnanimous, that he would say it wouldn’t be the same without her, that he would be sad over the situation. In that way the phone call would only serve to make her feel better, but she knew she deserved to feel as bad as she possibly could, because of the reason she had been late. The night before she had taken out all of their pictures, all of the photos that had chronicled their friendship since high school, every album she had created in secret, knowing how it would look to others. And she had allowed herself to cry the tears she had held in since her move to London.

Soon the vodka had come out, and then all pretense was lost as she drank her sorrows away, tears fat and heavy, falling onto the photos she had fought so hard to preserve. But she hadn’t been able to stop herself, because his marrying Shae was the final nail in the coffin of what could have been for the two of them, one last arrow to her heart from the man who said he would love her forever. It just wasn’t the kind of love she wanted from him, which made all the difference.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” came the smooth voice over the intercom, breaking up the sound of the muzak that had been the soundtrack for Heather’s melancholy mood. She sat down on one of the unyielding black plastic chairs across from the news stand that somehow seemed to her melancholy as well, deciding whether staying would accomplish anything of merit.

“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” said the voice again, and something tumbled around in her mind, finally settling into place with a snap, breaking her from her self-imposed torture. It was time to really move on. There was a reason she had missed her flight, and it had nothing to do with Jordan. It had everything to do with her, with her own opinions of herself, how she had said she wanted to move on, but had done nothing besides avoid the situation. It had changed nothing. London had changed absolutely nothing.

So she got up out of her seat, even though she had just sat down, and headed for Terminal C as fast as her legs could carry her, Patrick’s eyes on her the whole way until she turned the corner and joined with the crowd of people in the tunnel between terminals, hustling from one place to another just as she was. A smile crept its way onto her face as she realized what she had to do to change her life for the better, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair at Heathrow wasn’t the answer.

The loudspeaker came on once more, but she had stopped listening by that point, on her way past Terminal C to the exit, to the double doors that led to a freedom she hadn’t recognized was owed her. It was time to get rid of those pictures for good, she thought to herself, her mind racing, to block his number from her phone, to make a clean break once and for all. It wasn’t healthy for him, for Shae, and most definitely not for her at all, and she had to be the one who was strong, who severed the rotting limb before it took over everything.

Heather easily melted into the group of newly arrived passengers heading out into the rising sun of what had the potential to be a brilliant London day, and she smiled for the first time in a long time. Chicago could wait. Forever.


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