When Birthdays Are Mourning Days

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My mom and her sister were born a year apart. So, it only seems right that they would have children whom were born a year apart! I was born in June of 1981. My cousin, Nathaniel, was born in August of 1980. When we were little, we would joke that through July, we would be the same age.

It has now been 13 summers since Nathaniel Brian Jones was murdered on the streets of St. Louis. The most troubling thing about his death was the thing I mentioned earlier:  in July we would be the same age.

I remember the funeral, the internment, and having to celebrate my 25th birthday the next day. It was from that point, that I decided I couldn’t celebrate my birthday anymore:  we were both going to be 25. It was at my birthday which marked every year he was not in the world. I remember not going around my aunt because I felt like a death omen. Every July, and every August 5th, I think of him.

I think of the little boy that played with me. That ate bugs. That told me he would never leave me. I think of the young man that grew to utterly dislike me when we got older. Whom I no longer felt protected by. I thought of the young man and the immense potential that Oak Grove Cemetery inherited. This is the mystery of grief and sorrow:  you wrestle with the memories of what is, versus what could be!

Nathaniel as we grew up became a man I did not recognize. Who was mean, lost and unrepentant. He became a man that I wouldn’t trust to watch my purse! In that frustration, I stepped away from him. As much as we were told and taught family was everything, I gave him over to the life he wanted. In that giving over, I decided to separate that identity which was wrapped up in our birthdays, and our ages.

As I focused on me, education and writing, I could only shake my head when told of his criminal exploits. Of getting shot. Or refusing to leave the city after being shot! When his mother threw his bed away–meaning he couldn’t come back to her house!

When he wouldn’t listen to anyone.

I am unsure, even right now, if I had already considered him dead. I know that there was a visceral dislike for him, and with his death? That dislike? It became a breech.

There was no remedy.

There was no closing the gap.

I had to deal with him leaving the world after he promised me he wouldn’t.

During the month of July, we would be the same age. 

It is almost like being haunted. He was eternally be 25, while I am headed towards 40. We would be headed towards 40! What I grapple with this year, is this idea of my life being half over; while his being over. I mind myself of this fact on darker mornings; contemplating my own mortality and eternal destination.

I think of what it means, or would mean to die at an age he would which he would have never seen. I think of who will be there to remember all those who the world has forgotten. I think about the what-ifs, the why-comes and the would-bes. Most of all, I wonder if we would have gotten back to that place where time no longer could or does matter.

The fact is, I am aging.

The fact is, Nathaniel never will.

Funny thing? The darker irony of this is perfect! Why? It’s fitting for a boy that never did want to grow up. I suppose even dark wishes can be granted.

Break The Cycle, Not The Girl.

 

Earlier this year, I did a miniseries about calling girls, especially Black girls, fast. Click here for that. In this series, I pull no punches. I was as honest as I knew to be. From that honesty, I break down what it means to call a girl fast. From that wisdom, I am enraged at this story.

Not only did her father catch her having sex.

Not only is she 12, and was having sex.

Her father, took a belt, beat her in front of the entire world.

And the story is from the vantage point of how he punished her.

How he punished her?!

See. Therein lies the problem. We have to be able to challenge crazy., toxic behavior. Should this young girl have had sex so young? No. But her father should never have done this to her. This is abuse. It is not discipline. This is not any form of love. I will not suffer to debate that more.

I remember being 10, and I called a boy on the phone. For record this was a boy I knew, and my parents knew. And I consider him my childhood sweetheart. I remember the summer I turned 11 that my parents (mother and father now) spanked me because I called him. But they said I got spanked because I lied about calling him–when I wasn’t ‘old enough’ to call or talk to boys. They spanked me over the course of two days. What did it teach me?

1-My parents were unreasonable.

2-I had to become sneaky to do what I wanted because they wouldn’t let me do anything.

 

What did spanking her teach her? That her body was dirty? She wasn’t worthy to be protected? I doubt it. What spanking her supposed to teach her that her body was property? I am confused what the added element of putting everything online was supposed to do? If he is to truly care and protect his daughter, this could have been handled better. Put the boy out, yes. But talk to her.

TALK.

That thing parents, especially some Black parents, don’t want to do. I have had my mother tell me that I ‘talk’ to much to my kids. I talk to them, so they can get used to talking. So they get used their mother listening to them–rather than yelling. So they can get used to saying what is wrong rather than hiding, lying or thinking they can’t come to me. I never want my children to only remember how I yelled and never listened. I had to catch myself before I called my 11-year-old daughter fast once.

She is 11. And tall. And doesn’t look her age. And she was wearing a dress that showed off things Black girls are taught to cover. If I had called her fast, my own daughter, it would be the equivalent of calling her a whore. No! I will not do that to her.

This story should be the start of conversations. This man needs to be told this not how you raise daughters! This is not how you handle this! You do not reprimand a Black child like this. The cycle of policing the bodies of Black women and girls through violence must end.

While people are talking about how he hit her with this belt, I am wondering what happened to this child once the video ended. I want to know was she left in this room in tears, hurt, confused and bleeding–with only half of an idea why.  This has to end. The toxicity ends when we give onus to both parties involved in this situation!

Beating her won’t keep her a virgin, sir. But it will push her from you. When there comes a time she will need you, where she is drowning, she will not reach. She will remember this, and die in whatever she is in. Why? She will fear the outcome more than the rescue.

{image screenshot from author’s timeline]

Daddy Lessons #6: Dealing With The Fucksh!t

“As much as you can, avoid foolishness at all cost.”

-Richard L. Bush (1948-1998)

My father was a man of action. He had this uncanny ability to discern what was, is, could be foolishness. For this ability, I am grateful. With him gone, and the regime of Orange Thanos, I have never missed him more.

When I encounter crazy situations, after trying to pray first, I look at the situation for what it is. From that observation, I come to one other rooted piece of gospel from the Urban Prophet: “Now, you know what you got.”

I don’t have the patience to go through this life giving 10-level energy constantly to 2-level problems! I don’t have the desire to give more energy to situations which cannot/do not improve or to people that don’t desire to hear wisdom!

This also goes for people that choose not to support me in prosperous endeavors! I have made up in my mind that people can walk, fly, ride or catch up! In order to have peace in this life you have to learn how to deal with people; and how to deal with people you don’t like or people that won’t change.

You cannot allow people with no power in their own lives to try to assert power in yours! You have to be able to tell people where they can and can’t be in this life! You have to be strong enough, wise enough, to listen to the things and people that matter.

And also know when to know what will never change. The best thing God will ever give you is sense and eyesight. When you use those two things together? You are unstoppable. Keep that same energy to deal with people, things and situations which don’t serve you. Protect your peace at all costs–because it’s priceless.

JUNETEENTH In The MAGA Era

 

There are some things that even the woke ally cannot wish you.  Do not tell a Black person, whom is a direct descendant of chattel slavery, Happy Juneteenth.  Stop. Do not do this. I’m not going to ask again.

With that being said, this Juneteenth feels a little different with Orange Thanos in office. It feels like we have to fight a little harder to be seen. It feels like I need to be that much more Black to counteract all the toxic whiteness and malignant red caps. It feels like every thing Black has to be preserved, illuminated. served and strictly defined as ours.

OURS.

This nation is the diverse, beautiful, luminous place that it is, because of the minorities that were either kidnapped, enslaved, conquered and mistreated. From that muddy, rocky roux–we have a myriad of traditions that are now classified and quantified as childhood memories. Especially for those of us whom are African-American.

In this era where the insecure majority feels as though it has to stomp out anything that is not white or conforming, Juneteenth is our reminder as Black/African-American people that we cannot die. We will not die. Our power, our survival has been in traditions and support. It has maintained our sanity and our love for one another. It encamps in the lives of us their descendants to remind us of our own power. The strength of the combined force of time and tradition which yields legacy. It is this legacy which allows us a people to keep going. It is this living history that lets our children know that there is still joy and love and light in the world–and they are owed some of it.

I am in favor of all things being equal, but there are some things that I refuse to compromise with or on. And there are things that these MAGA sycophants are not going to take from me. They aren’t going to make me shrink. They aren’t going to make me think being Black is bad, dangerous or something to apologize for! A red cap is a white hood is a crooked badge is a Johnny Reb is a plantation overseer.

Juneteenth is our holiday. Is our day. Is our history. Our ancestors survived so much worse–we will endure this too. And at the end of this? We will celebrate the end of this tyrannical dynasty too. Just watch.

 

 

 

My Heartbeat Bill, Part 2

*NSFW:  This piece was written in response to the passing of what is commonly known as the Heartbeat Bill in the state of Georgia. This is/was my real life experience and account. If you find yourself in need of support in regards to a similar circumstance, you are free to email me at theladyofharris@icloud.com. No woman should be shamed by her decisions.

-JBHarris

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I went to get an abortion on a bus.

 

I was told  to eat something before the procedure so I wouldn’t get or be sick. I took an apple with me that morning, when I really wanted a banana. I thought eating a banana that morning would tip my mother off that I was pregnant. But, days before, she told me to have a seat at the table and get a piece of paper.

My mother is a 40-year nurse. The first part of her career was in Labor and Delivery. She knew I was pregnant, I think. I think she wanted me to just tell her. I had asked her i there was a way the body could have it’s hormones so outta whack that you get sick. “Have a seat, okay?” My mother never said, “Okay.”  She told me the only way that could happen is illness or pregnancy. I wrote that word and my ears burnt. It was the want of not disappointing her that pushed me to remain silent. It was the disappoint I knew would come from my family that made me stay silent. It was the condemnation I thought I would get that thought it be best to be silent.

I was the Golden Girl, you see. Pretty, smart and going to do so much. So much potential. I wasn’t supposed to get pregnant before I had a career or a husband. Yet, that happened. It was judgement and my own condemnation that kept me quiet. And for years after. I walked to the bus stop in the same hoodie I went to Dr. Ferris’s office in. I took the #41 Lee bus to the #70 Grand bus to the clinic. I had my purse and the money for my abortion inside it. I was told to bring the money in either check or money order. No cash.

I ate my apple on the way to the bus stop, as if I was preparing or a dark-op mission. No emotion. The only thought was, “Go and get it done. Go and get it done.” I had already cried. I kept crying. I cried the night before. I held my Bible, and I cried. I told God I was sorry. I asked Him to forgive me. To help me. I told God this:

“If you don’t allow me to have another child, I understand.”

I walked to the bus, feeling knowing, that this was the first and last time I would let this happen to me. I thought that if I never got pregnant again, I wouldn’t be mad. I couldn’t. I thought God forgave me, and I was prepared to never be a mother–to never be a mother. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a Mama then. I was murdering a child–an innocent. And I was prepared to give up the ability to have a baby, because I was letting this child die.

I walked from the bus stop on Grand and Forest Park. I remember how hungry I was. But, I was on a mission. I had to get this abortion. Nothing was going to stop me. The clinic had a talk wrought iron fence about 8 feet tall. At the gate, there was someone standing there. It was an older White woman in a dress, with a hat holding a sign that read:  THEY KILL BABIES HERE. I don’t remember her facial expression, but I remember she didn’t move towards me. And it was quiet. It was a group of people on the parking lot, but no one bothered me. I was lucky. I had seen enough documentaries, national news and Law & Order to know abortion clinics do get bombed. That providers are, can be killed. I knew that girls in my situation could be hurt, even killed. Yet, I went in.

The security officers greeted me, asking for my ID and appointment time. I gave them my ID and walked through a metal detector. Dominic said he would come with me, but I didn’t believe him. But I called him, and told him I was okay. I wanted him to be there. I didn’t want to be alone. I was still so sad that I used birthday money to do this.

I was there all day. All day.

I remember being herded into this sitting room with all these other desperate-looking women. I saw mothers with their heads wrapped up. I saw best friends being supportive. I saw an interracial couple–I fixated on them. I wanted Dominic’s arm to wrap around me like this blond young man did for his girlfriend.

I had to get height and weight. I had to pee in a cup, again putting a white cup in the mystic microwave to make sure I was pregnant. What was the most disturbing part was the ultrasound. There was this brunette White girl in a white Planned Parenthood t-shirt that escorted me to this room with stirrups. I remember they had to do a vaginal ultrasound to see how far along I was. She asked if I wanted to see the ultrasound. I turned my head, “No.” I heard the heartbeat, tried to block it out. The mission was to get the heartbeat out of me. I had to keep the mission, like all warriors. I couldn’t let my heart betray the mission.

I remember waiting, and being herded from room to room, with more ugly upholstered furniture. I was cold. I was quiet, I spoke to no one. I was, tried to be grave quiet. I was finally funneled into this room with like 6 other girls. The medical assistant was a Black girl in red scrubs that told us how to prepare for our procedure. She gave us all a gown, a pad with a big Kotex pad attached on the side and a medicine cup with 2 pills in it. One pill was to dilate the cervix. The other was a pain pill. I think it was a Percocet. While I was getting dressed, I noticed the room was filled with girls that looked like me. All Black. All pretty. All pregnant. All soon not to be pregnant.  One girl that sat on the couch in a gown was so pretty. She had a short cut, classes and had her legs crossed on the couch. She said this was her second abortion.

Second. 

I couldn’t imagine  doing this more than once. When I asked, I said it was my first abortion.

First. 

Saying that word made me feel sick. I wanted to hurry up and do this and leave. I waiting in the room, cold and half naked, and alone. When my name was called, I was lead to this small white room with a blue exam table. I was told to lay down and relax. There was a woman that stood next to me as the doctor came in. The older White man balding and white hair with glasses. He sat between my legs with the stool provided. I was told it would feel like ‘a deep pinch’. She held my hand, this angelic looking woman with glasses. I held my breath and she held my hand. I looked at her hand as she held it. I felt something cold and metal enter me, and then pull something out.

I was told the procedure would ‘evacuate the uterus.’ My baby was sucked out of me and was no more a part of me. The doctor said I did good, and I was done. He left and shut the door. The angel that held my hand asked how I felt. “Fine.” I said, being relieved and cheery. I sat up on the table, trying to swing my legs off to stand. I almost fell.

I was lead to a recovery room to rest for a few minutes before I was allowed to get dressed. I laid there, on this hard blue cushioned chair and thought. The same nurse came and got me to let me know I could leave. I could get dressed. I was herded with another girl into this living room area to discharge with aftercare and medication.

I had no insurance. I walked to this window, and was given a brown paper bag with an antibiotic in it with pain medicine. “For the next two weeks, showers no baths.” She sat at this small desk below the this open window. “Take one of these pills everyday until they are gone.” I watched her fill out my paperwork. “You need to come back in 3 weeks for a follow up appointment.” I had no intention on ever coming back. I smiled and took my bag and left.

I left. I wrapped my hoodie around my waist. I went home.

I didn’t see Dominic for a week. He said that he tried to come see me, but security wouldn’t let him in. Knowing what I know of him now, he’s an utter liar. He may not have even come there, let alone called to check on me. I remember I had sex with him during the time I was supposed to be abstaining, and taking these antibiotics. I wanted to feel wanted. I wanted to feel like he loved me. And my body? I think Winter Santiaga from Coldest Winter Ever said it best, ‘it felt like dropping a pebble in the ocean.’

I stayed with Dominic a year and more after that. He said that he owed me a baby. He told me that he loved me. We tried to move past it, to forget it. But I couldn’t. I cried in his arms one night, just wailing. I realized what I had done–what he convinced me would be best. After everything I had done, endured with him, I expected him to marry me. I wanted to be his wife. He promised me it would be better. That he would make it up to me. The thing about that? I refused to be caught up in this again. I got on birth control–and stayed on it.

Every month I got my shot (this contraception shot called Lunell). Spermicide every time.

When we broke up a year later, I hated myself. I did. I was so sad. I had given up so much to be his girl. But this? My baby? Our, no, my baby?! Ah, nall. It wasn’t until I met the Able Unshakeable did I know just how broken I was. And how empty I became, and how unloved I was.

Don’t judge a woman that had an impossible situation, with an impossible choice, with impossible outcomes. Before you condemn her, or send her to Hell, think about if that was you or someone you knew.

Everyone got dirt, don’t be so quick to bury somebody else.

 

[image from bbo.co.uk]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For A Fast Girl: Epilogue

You own your body and all that happens to it.

The first eighteen years? You are at the mercy of people. But after that? The remainder of your life is up to you.

In her book Eloquent Rage, Dr, Brittney Cooper talks about the intersection of Black, female and sexuality. She talks about her own struggles with embracing her body and sexual pleasure. Dr. Cooper talks about the process she herself as a proud Black feminist went through when it came to sex and being fast!

Those feelings of shame, guilt and denial of pleasure are real.

What I hope that you have gotten from this four week journey is that you embrace all that you are. That you value all you are, and will become. I want you to know that being fast has nothing to do with the way you wear you hair, the fit of your dress, or your number. You are entitled to your entire personhood as a woman. You are and were entitled to be protected as a young girl. You have the right to demand respect from any person that wishes to share time or intimate space with you. You have the right to please and to be pleased.

When you become a woman of a certain again, and in certain company, you can even joke about being fast. Why? You now determine what it means. You determine when you say it and in what context.

We have to understand that our grandmothers, mothers and aunts were of an era where a how a woman carried herself meant everything. How a woman was perceived would garner her ridicule or respect. They did as best they could with the wisdom that they had, believe the best way to protect was to overprotect; to over correct; to shame was to prevent the post assault conversations of “What did you do?” or “What were you wearing?”

Take this info to heart, dear ones. Remember that you, all of you, is valuable and to be valued. You determine your path and whom you take with you. In the famous words of Lil Wayne in 6 Foot 7:

“You can stand under me, if they don’t understand me.”

If they call you fast while you are living your best life, they were never meant to catch up anyway.

 

For A Fast Girl: When They Call You A Name

I don’t know who started this.

I don’t know who the first person was to call a Black girl fast.

I don’t know if it was meant to be a joke or a correction or to save her life from something unseen. What I do know is, now a century and a half from enslavement (and what passes as freedom), this word has been used to corrale Black girls ever since.

From there, it’s a slippery slope, right? If you can call a Black girl ‘fast’, it’s easier to call her a ‘ho.’ Which makes it easier to call her a ‘bitch.’ Which, in turn, makes her devalue the other Black girls around her using the same vernacular.

It is so easy to devalue a little Black girl. Making her an object and not a person is the quickest way to keep doing that. To keep making all the music she listens to value her body and latent, potential sexual prowess.

With this roux, you’ll always grow fresh crops of fast girls.

Inevitably, someone will challenge this observation. They’ll say I’m too sensitive. That I’m overreacting or my favorite: hit dogs holler. To that, I counter by saying, “Who is throwing the rocks?!” I’m not being sensitive so much as observant. That’s what my job is as a writer.

In the age of hook-up culture versus primo geniture fueled by toxic patriarchy; of #MeToo and rape culture; sexual assault taken as a male past time, someone must be vigilant. Someone must be willing to protect our girls. Someone must believe them. Someone must be willing to go to the mat for little Black girls and women. Someone has to be willing to take the rocks that accusers have and disarm them. One at a time.

In the interest of honesty, I too have been called fast. By my aunts that thought I was doing too much for male attention (e.g., switching, what I wore). I’ve also been called a ‘ho.’ And bitch. And ugly. These comments came from young men, men and boys that once I wouldn’t, couldn’t give them what they wanted (either sex or attention), the next step was to try and make me feel bad. In making me feel less than, their egos remained in check and unscathed (note: this is how toxic patriarchy works).

However, the great thing about aging out of that particular bracket where being called fast was an option is self-reflection. I now have the life experience to look back and determine just what and why that was trash behavior! Moreover, I am able to assert the trash behavior was independent of me! This means people projected what they thought onto me.

In a toxic, sexually charged culture, any deviation to that acceptance of said dominant culture is, can be, problematic. Not allowing myself to be dehumanized was problematic. Standing up for myself is problematic. Not allowing myself to be loved or desired in pieces was problematic. Not being sexually available (which is the definition of being a ‘fast’ girl might I add!) was problematic!

The adage goes, “It’s not what they call you, but what you answer to.” In order to protect yourself and your spirit, you cannot answer to every thing you are called. At the same time, knowing who you are will make those names not stick. And those same dogs that holler? You can throw your rock right back at them.