A Tribute to Angels

My mother’s parting words, words during trying times, words on a long drive, words basically always, included Pray to the angels.

Recently, a friend I met in Cuidad de Mexico, after I told him about an act of kindness, said Definitely good to have those angels out there.

After each leg of traveling this summer I felt an immense surge of You Are Amazing for the people that have raised me, housed me, loved me, fed me. This post, loosely inspired by Hannah’s list of people met while traveling, is A Tribute to Angels (names included, please let me know if you’d like me to leave you anonymous!)

  • Martin, Rosa, & Lesley – for allowing me to be the fourth on a best friend backpacking extravaganza, despite only one of you knowing me for ONE DAY prior to the trip. I learned so much from you
  • Andrea, Emilio, & Kevin – for completely taking care of me when I arrived in Honduras with no plan and no contacts what so ever. Those 24 hours will be a reminder of the kindness of strangers for the rest of my life.
  • Aunnika, Gili, Orlando, & Eva – for showing me what it means to travel alone and yet in the company of such wonderful friends. Also THAT WATERFALL THO
  • Jarrod – because spending an afternoon in the ocean at La Tortuga reminded me how to play and your incessant whining made me laugh (just kidding that burger took fucking forever), and because you taught me singlet, tinnie, to sink, and a slew of other Australian slang I will do my best to remember.
  • Susy, Gil, & Byron – TEQUILA TIMEEEEEEEEEE!! Teaching. Me to dance, speaking English wen you could have excluded me, and your instant acceptance. Pan y mantequilla solamente! Also Susy prepare to be absolute BFFs when I get to Mexico City ugh I love y’all
  • Nami – for being a big sister to all of us. For your honesty, your vulnerability, and having all the necessities the moment we arrived in Mexico.
  • Kyle – for making ex-pat life feel realistic, letting me do my best to “pet” hairless Humo, and giving my running life a jumpstart, and hope that non-9-to-5 is Real
  • Katie – WIFE I CANT YOU NEED AN ENTIRE POST I JUST CANT
  • Kelly, Mike, Amanda & Kris – for loving my dog and treating her like she’s your own, and KM especially for dealing w my constant in and out all summer
  • Em/Cookie – your creativity and love wrapped me like a warm blanket when I felt so lost and anxious. Our reconnection gave me permission to Be Artsy in a way I haven’t been in so so long. Your hospitality was all encompassing and calming and beyond perfect. Also dog love always
  • Everyone who bought my books – because you funded my ability to get back to Michigan, and lightened the load in my car without me having separation anxiety for the texts I love most
  • Sally – because you do everything for me that my mom would, but distinctly Sally and with a love so strong it’s tangible. You, too, deserve a whole book of gratitude
  • Alexis – seriously, ten years. Never mind letting me accidentally drive away with your metal ruler & xacto, with a less-shedding dog after your AMAZING VACUUM, you are so genuine. Going to mass, crafting, letting eat an entire pizza with not that much shame… thank you
  • Sho, Em, Abbie & Aven – BUT THAT DINNER WAS PERFECT oh god the absolute example of #girlpower and poetry and not even real it’s so picturesque days. I want to live in that forever
  • Michelle – you radiate acceptance and openness, and your hospitality in Detroit kicked me into making a concrete decision about geography. I’m genuinely so so sad to miss out on sharing a city with you FOR NOW, but feel that much closer and more confident knowing we’ll be more in touch now
  • Sue & Meg – your love means everything. Being with you made me feel so close to my mom, and so validated in my decisions, and so ready to embrace a me I haven’t met yet. That meal will stand out for years and years of such a distinct feeling of safety and validation
  • Cait, Mare & Babies – i don’t need to put you here because I’m moving basically next door and you’re about to be a staple in blog posts. BABIES
  • Alex – who knows if you know that you’ve made an appearance for the last two blog posts because you’ve made such a deep immediate impact on my life plan, let alone the last 15ish years, you are The Literal Reason I am coming to Baltimore and I hope you’re as confident in me after two weeks of me crashing as you are now 😁😁
  • PKM – I know you hate written messages so muchas gracias for sharing your home with me
  • Chris & Regina – visiting after a year felt a little more like walking into the living room in Novi when we all happened to be in town: calm, natural, so normal. I am so so SO looking forward to being in close proximity for the first time… ever?
  • Clarice– talking with you w and inspires me always. You are such a unique and important friend, and our shared experiences and stories of travel are shaping my outlook on the world and my life as a whole. I am insanely excited for our next trip
  • Lucas – you are Cousin Supreme and I’m mostly pissed I can’t hang out in your garage, or your tv room, or at a soccer game with you for a while. Thank you for making me feel welcome and same
  • Crystal – our relationship has so much history, so much power, and so much separation. I am so so grateful to reconnect as adults and cousins in a way that feels real again. I don’t want any more gap years Ever Again!!!
  • Nancy – for sharing insights about both parents, about family, about love. For letting my pup in your home and reminding me of the roots and the ground I carry everywhere. For laughter and frozen yogurt and a Dearborn neighborhood walking tour
  • Cindy & Marcy – my night in Novi was A Dream!!! I had no idea I needed it so badly, your motherly support lifts a burden I didn’t realize I was carrying, and your stories remind me of a strength and creativity I had forgotten I have. I am so so grateful to share you with the women I call my oldest closest friends and sisters
  • Jason, Kaitlin, Kate, Aimee & Zain – there is a power in revisiting friends that popped out with all of our visits. Thank you for feeding me, asking about my life, reminding me of the endless and timeless support I have, and for being so kind

I am nervous I’ve left someone out, as it was a long and adventurous summer. Know that I love you. Know that your kindness warms me and reminds me of all I am grateful for. I do not wish to write like a Hallmark card anymore so in more traditional CaroSpeak THAT IS IT FOR RIGHT NOW GOOD GOD I LOVE YOU BLESS THIS SUMMER AMEN

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Validation

I am having a hard time answering questions. From family and friends they give me a tight chest, wider eyes, an extreme desire to duck under a table. From strangers I deflect, deflect, deflect and instead do the asking.

I have been thinking about how much I’d like to go to therapy. Better than therapy: life coaching. In my head, that’s one place I could go and answer questions, and pose some, and mostly feel okay about freely sobbing.

My emotions lately are in a constant flux. I get an interview for a less-than-$15-an-hour job and I am elated. I have value! I am doing something for myself! I don’t hear back from a job I don’t even want but feel like I am qualified for and I am sunk. Who will they hire instead? Will they hire anyone? Are they even seeing my application?

I spend time with people I love and it feels so strange to be so Present. I don’t have a constant flow of urgent texts, emails, and calls from randos I’m dating or teachers in panic or supervisors needing something done. I’m noticing Michigan in a way I haven’t done in years. I’m seeing people who remember me as a person I haven’t acknowledged in so long.

The world feels foreign in its familiarity. I got so comfortable talking about the children I love so much, so used to the same chains of educational bullshit malfunctions in endless circulation: a teacher with chronically low expectations, an administration that struggles with consistency and budgets, curriculum that’s unresponsive, pay that is utterly ridiculous…

And now I am in a new new place. I wake up when I want to. I stay up until 3am writing in my journal. I look at people without the already built up defensiveness that You Don’t Have A Clue About This Life, and instead I am now looking with a wide openness: what can you teach me about the self I used to be?

These are the lessons I am learning. When a high school best friend’s mama reminds me of the duet poem we spoke to a high school auditorium: I remember when we practiced holding hands in sync with our eyes straight ahead over and over. Her mom reminded me the title, Natalie/Alicia, and my gratitude became a fountain. This life I have lived.

My cousin in Kalamazoo, he stopped on his way to a carpentry job 45 minutes away to say goodbye. Smoking his last Red of the pack, he said, Its my last one, but you can have a puff. In my pajamas he shared his cigarette with me, and when I handed it back for the last time he laughed to himself, said You’re just like your mom. My heart swelled with the remembering, fondly, of her imperfections. I’m not proud of my sporadic relationship with cigarettes, but I can’t erase that my family is full of us, that growing up my mom was perpetually sneaking cigarettes from everyone, the same way I do now.

Today I had a perfect winding walk with an Arkansas friend, who put words to rooted feelings:

You have to spend time unlearning…

It is hard to break the mindset that everything that’s not education is Less Than

I spent the night with two women, more mothers, who loved my dog and made me food in a warm crowded kitchen. Who told me stories and showed me pictures. Who are artists themselves, and have me in a place with my big toe jutting out, away from the Career Scheduled Box-Driven life I’ve been living. They say I jumped right into it from undergrad, they say this isn’t a path everyone takes. Cindy says, It make take a while to establish yourself as a writer, but you can do it.

My heart all a flutter just typing that onto my phone: A Writer, A Writer. I’ve been reading more Baldwin, with love, and holding it close. My favorite is a bit that Marc E Bassy samples in his song, Only the Poets (which I listen to incessantly), and I leave you with it:

It would seem to me that the artist’s struggle for his integrity must be considered as a kind of metaphor for the struggle, which is universal and daily, of all human beings on the face of this globe to get to become human beings. It is not your fault, it is not my fault, that I write. And I never would come before you in the position of a complainant for doing something that I must do… The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us. Soldiers don’t. Statesmen don’t. Priests don’t. Union leaders don’t. Only poets.

Humble

When my mother died, I remember being baffled by the most pronounced emotion I felt: Gratitude. My heart was always swollen with the things other people were doing for me. Not inflated like a balloon, but swollen like wounded knee. The body swells to prevent further injury, according to google, and that’s how I felt. Had I not been wrapped in thick love, I would have shriveled in the outside air.

That’s how I feel now, unemployed and feeling … (helpless? hopeless? future-less? impossible? overwhelmed? lost? anxious? depressed?) last night, for the first time in two months, I sat down with the journal that I write in daily and I consciously thought Caroline, How Do You Feel?

I can say anxious and depressed in a moment, because it’s a given. When you cry without warning and wake up with nausea, it’s just a thing you have. Situational, yes. Tolerable, yes. And also: totally normal. It’s normal to feel this when you have walked away from the highest paying job you’ve ever had, walked away from best friends and being comfortable and having a clearly marked path to walk on.

But what else? I realized that in confronting the I Have Anxiety Thing from the past year, I wrapped myself up in claiming that identity, and forgot a bit about what else I am.

I went to dinner last night with a friend I haven’t seen in years (which has been a trend of the past few weeks), who kept asking me, “If you had unlimited money, if you could do anything, what would you do? What do you love?”

I refused to answer him.

Something in me seized. I don’t know or trust him enough to open completely. I don’t have the confidence in myself to claim the things I love (art, dialogue about race, writing, building relationships, teaching). I don’t want to answer these self-help questions over a table at Olive Garden in such a flippant way when it is the exact question that has been Crushing Me For Months-Years.

I’ve spent the last full month in other people’s homes. I have eaten their food, held their babies, crafted beside them, felt their love wrap around all parts of me: in the clothes I borrow, in the yards I let my dog run in, in the drinks we share. I have been (in less dramatic words?) at the mercy of those who love me.

It is terrifying to ask for help, and utterly overwhelming to receive it.

The last post I wrote, I “knew” I was moving to Detroit. This changed when I went to dinner with a high school friend (yep, another one I haven’t seen in years). We sat with Korean tacos in a market in DC. He is calm and deliberate when he speaks. He makes eye contact and has an vibe of energy and seriousness and genuine concern all the time. As we sat, he looked at me, he asked,

“Are you doing okay?”

Externally, I glanced at my taco in my hand. I played with my hat or my teenage-boy-hair. I took breaths and smiled.

Internally, my organs set on fire. I felt pin pricks in all of my extremities, wondered where the exits were both literally and figuratively, and did everything possible to contain the scream and onslaught of violent tears that immediately throbbed behind my eyes. Are you serious, friend? You really going to ask that right now? 

I said something like, “No. I mean no but of course yes. I’m okay.”

In that conversation, which honesty just typing it out has me wiping my eyes in a Kalamazoo coffee shop, he worked out details of what I can do in Baltimore. He offered his room (I’ll tell my roommates you’re my cousin and you’re going through a divorce. I don’t think we can have dogs but whatever I’ll say I’m dog sitting…), promised to make a call the following day to a friend who just bought a house and needs a roommate, and started calculating cost of living, thinking of jobs…

He asked about my support network in Detroit, and compared it to my support network in Baltimore and surrounding cities. In more of the so-sincere-I-am-extremely-uncomfortable style of talking he said, I want someone to look out for you, and I will make sure you’re okay. I’ll get you set up. I want you to know you’ll be supported.

Real talk, my friends, just typing that God Damn Italicized Sentence I had to stare at the ceiling, take my glasses off, wipe my eyes four times, change the song on spotify, and come back to finish it.

This experience, this joblessness+, is Humbling.

I pretend, and act on the pretending, that I am independent as fuck. I move from state to state on a whim. I pay for international trips and take my dog to the vet. I get my teeth cleaned. I grieve for my mother as alone as possible. I go on tinder date after bumble date after man from the bar date and I don’t fret when we never speak again. I am used to this.

This experience, these weeks stretched into months, has me in a place of complete vulnerability. My footing isn’t just lost, I am in a current in a river I don’t know the name of, with my head hardly above water. Each time I reach my hand up, though, someone pulls me clear out, gives me clothes and food and a pep talk, and convinces me I am who I think I am, this is just, you know, part of life.

PS: I started posting on medium, if you use, keep track here.

Gay

I’m in the 6th Ave subway station, I just said goodbye to my brother. I hadn’t seen him for a year until this weekend, and this last bit at the bar was our first time alone together in so long. He brought up something like, casual but clearly thoughtful, “I read something about you feeling more gender fluid these days?” And I loved him intensely in that moment, a sibling seeing me. Seeing me through words I wrote months ago that he remembered, seeing me and knowing the world and how to speak in a way that felt so soft and open and real and surprising.

In the subway station, minutes after hugging him and telling him that, yes, I will text him when I get back to Cobble Hill, I heard singing.

Not subway performing, not the audience type, just a calm voice singing along with headphones or to themself, just enjoying 1:30am New York. I walked a bit down the platform, eyeing but not eyeing where it was coming from. I’m always attracted to it.

But before I could identify it there was some kind of bullshit masculinity walking through: a moderately overweight Black man with metallic sneakers, Velcro flying, a jean jacket and a voice meant to intimidate but just felt sad, something like “…none of those gay mother fuckers… cock sucking… I won’t have… disgusting.”

I stared at him. I watched him walk past and stared at him and consciously in that moment wondered what do I do. I hate the words this man says, and then I see who he walks past, I notice the singing has stopped.

A tall, lanky Black man. A matching denim jacket, jewelry and nail polish but not a certain kind of feminine. Holes in the knees of his black pants, a phone in his hands. A green khaki hat.

Violent words man gets real close to the bench lanky man is sitting on with his Latina-appearing-woman-friend, he keeps sputtering violent bullshit nonsense and keeps walking, but the words sit. I’ve paused from my phone, I stare at him until he goes past the next set of steps, I am full of fury: at that man, at myself.

I go back to my phone and then I move my body. I sit next to lanky man and his friend and say, still on my phone, “fuck that guy.” I sit. I say, “I just want to sit next to you.”

I know I am doing something and I know it’s not enough. It might be inappropriate (am I invading space? Am I in the way? Am I silencing further dialogue or preventing increased awkwardness by staying on my phone? Does my presence bring a power of body or an arrogance of I didn’t do anything in the moment but I am near you to show love?)

Where is the line between fearing for my body and using my body and voice as love for someone else?

I am on the subway now. He sits across from me with headphones and gum, and I wonder how often this happens. How surely he shrugs them off. I have Baldwin smirking off the cover of the book I’m reading reinforcing everything and I am overwhelmed. I want to be something, I want to stand for something, I want my whiteness and my femininity to be considered but not used as an excuse.

I like New York for the same reasons I hate New York: it takes all the things I’m thinking about, I’m terrified of, I’m in love with, I’m not sure about, and it shoves them in my face one after another.

This post, this blog, this life is not about me but it’s exclusively about me. I am filled with so many things, and I’m grateful and depressed that I leave tomorrow.

Rape

Trigger warning,

trigger warning,

trigger warning.

I hate everything, everything about writing this. And I’m going to feel sick when I wake up, but this blog is something of a healing tool for me, and for that I am grateful.

***

I was 19 when I was raped. I remember sitting in RA training the fall I got back, a sophomore in college and feeling accomplished for spending a summer in New York City, working three jobs and going to warehouse parties with an adorable soccer player I met on, get ready for it, the subway.

I thought a lot about how lucky I was, to have a cousin to give me a really fucking cool first internship, to have her couch to stay on and other (paid) retail jobs to sustain me. I remember where I was on campus when the idea came up, my mom on the phone.

I drank a bit that summer, but I smoked weed more. It’s something I very rarely talk about because I hate it about myself and I dislike weed so. fucking. much. now. I spent time with this guy and his friends, he pulled me around to parties and apartments and put halves of pills in my drinks I didn’t ask the names of.

So many of my friends back home did so many more drugs than I did, I didn’t worry about it. It wasn’t me; it wasn’t real. I don’t have an addictive personality, I was never worried about that. It was New York. New York is hardly even real – it’s all the things we see on tv and movies, its all this fast-paced success. It’s all this love and happy accidents and hard things you overcome with friends.

And sometimes, it’s rape.

At RA training that fall we had a certain chunk that must have been about sexual assault or laws or something as a whole, all I remember from it is a slide they showed us defining different kinds of rape. I was in the front row of a huge auditorium and I bit back tears hard and froze. I commit to memory Gray Rape. Apparently that was legalese for what happens when you have alcohol in your system and someone chooses to have sex with you and you don’t want it. It’s Gray. Because rape has a category that’s gray. Nevermind saying No. Nevermind trying to push someone off of you who will not be pushed off. Nevermind not having any idea where you are, in the days before Lyft and Uber and maps in your palm, leading you home.

I was 19 when I was raped, and 28 when I was assaulted, and I never name those things. I have never named those things. And the assault, the person who did it who I knew fairly well, the next day or however many days after, he thanked me and told me I could have called the cops.

Before he said it, I didn’t know, I didn’t realize that was an option for me. Because I don’t get _____. Because that’s for the women who are part of those huge statistics. One in six women has been a victim of rape. In New York and nine years later I did not have the concept that what happened to me warranted legal intervention. I didn’t consider that I could speak and action could happen. I was, and have been, and am, above all, Horribly Embarrassed that this has happened to me. It’s infantile and it’s still 98% how I feel. With incredible, empowered, knowledgeable women friends I am slowly shifting the thick layers of patriarchy and stigma and, I hate claiming this word, pain. This Was Not My Fault. And a much much smaller voice says, I did not deserve this.

I’m writing this post at three in the morning because today a series of events jogged this and made it very real for me. I don’t want to write this. My brother and sister and father are friends with me on Facebook and could see it. My friends, an ex or two, people who worked with me can read it. People who do not want to consider for a second, people I Do Not Want ConsideringMe Like That For A Second can read it. They can know, now, that this happened to me. That I’m part of the statistics. And I want to protect them from that truth.

The thing is, though, the thing is, do I want that for myself? Do I want the memory of this? Do I want to carry the shared stories of countless women friends who have had countless encounters? Do I want to carry the story of how and when and where this happened, kept quiet for 11 years because I believe I put myself in that position? If I hadn’t been… if I hadn’t done… if I was more careful…

I’m tired. Today I wish that when I was 19 I had been able to tell someone. I don’t really care about legal action, I just wish I had known someone that could help me wade through the After. I wish I had the friends I have now. I remember the first months of that school year being So Hard. I remember the first time I told someone and all I could think was Gray Gray Gray and that person reinforced what I could have done differently. I don’t even remember who it was, I think a boyfriend. That person looked at me Some Kind Of Way. I didn’t tell anyone else. I’ve given slight comments, little validations, tiny affirmatives in conversations about this topic, but I don’t know if I’ve ever said I Have Been Raped.

Recently I went on a Facebook tirade about sexual assault and a woman commented something akin too “well you’re more feminist than I am and -” and I try to but if I practiced what I say I believe I would have started talking a decade ago. I wouldn’t be so fucking terrified to publish a blog post. I would talk about my story. I would own who I am.

I learned a lot today. I’m learning a lot in this unemployment submarine. I’m learning a lot every time I come back to New York.

I’m pretty sure whoever reads this is going to have some kind of reaction. I know it will be centered on me. Don’t. I’m 30 now, I’m doing shit, I don’t want to have this conversation with you. This post is important but I am frankly terrified of mother like figures feeling sad or responsible for me. I bet part of why I can post this a because my mother is dead, and I can only imagine the horror she would feel knowing this about me.

I am terrified of how many loved ones I know have their own stories, worse than mine, with higher frequency, with someone they love rather than an acquaintance, with someone they have to keep seeing. Talk to them. Have a conversation. Tell them it’s not their fault. Tell them over and over and over it’s not their fault.

And if, God fucking forbid, this ever happens to you or anyone you know, go to the police immediately. Be patient. Be brave.

Obsessed / Blessed

I am giddy just considering my life’s events of the last 48 hours. So many women who absolutely fill me up til I’m dripping love from my fingertips and earlobes, who give me apples and Cliff Bars and necklaces from my mama for the road, who validate me in a way that is so genuine and real.

After Saturday’s bout of shaking anxiety, I landed in hand after hand that pressed me with love and You Are Okay Vibes.

First all my pseudo sisters, Sho’s family and my baby niece. One of my favorite moments was when I was washing dishes from the dinner two sisters made, their first time hosting in their new rental house. They have empathy and meditative and kindness reminders posted all over, just like my aunties do, and I looked at them as I heard laughter and voices from the living room, as as Sho put Baby to bed upstairs, and the warm soapy water and repetitive nature of washing all wrapped me up and filled my pores and I Was So Home.

They love my dog and treat her quirks as quirks and we fit all of us into a tiny perfect space. French braided and read our poetry aloud. There is such a power that comes from being with Women.

Then saw Mom’s BFF since they were so young and her daughter that I’ve known and loved since she was born and I was rendered speechless with the immediate welcoming love that greeted me. I can’t pinpoint why it was so surprising and overwhelming – maybe because I am so rarely with people who have known me my entire life? Maybe because being in my home town felt warm again, for the very first time since my mother died there eight years ago? Maybe because now is a time when I feel so vulnerable, when I have literally nothing to offer anyone, as I drive across the country again just praying the car doesn’t break, and Still People Give.

From there, I drove to Detroit. The streets on the way in were so familiar and so foreign, burned out two story homes and new bars with murals – the city feels mine and Never Mine At All, the grit and dirt and streets and houses are so… they’re comforting. Never mind that the woman i was meeting, a close friend in undergrad that I haven’t seen since, was exactly as I expected and remembered: immediately radiating acceptance and warmth and joy, also showering me with grace and generosity, as we gave each other abridged versions of the last almost-decade of life.

And from her, and the night, I quickly realized that I think the time between now and Mexico City, when I need to save enough to pay off a credit card and sustain a few months without work in a foreign country and wait for my new passport… that I think it’s pretty clear I need to spend those months In Detroit, an I’m really fucking excited about it.

Yeah IDK

I woke up shocked that it’s possible to have this much anxiety with my life as free as it is. Legit confused, and angry at myself for having anxiety when I have nothing that can give me anxiety.

And what’s sillier is that it took me until now, four pm, to write it out and chuckle to myself. Remember how I don’t have a job? And my dog is getting stranger and stranger with all the transition and new people; her erratic behavior has me on edge. And I have no income. And I am starting a creative project that I am fighting embarrassment of –

I didn’t really process how much of myself I critique through some Hypothetical Other who thinks I’m an idiot.

I went to a baby shower for a friend from undergrad today. She has always been excessively kind and wonderful and warm to me, and yet I spent a full hour trying to settle my breathing, talking to myself as I showered, found clothes that were nowhere near feminine or nice enough to fit in, and gathered the gift. I ended up 20 minutes late, which made absolutely no difference for the event but had me clenching my teeth on the way in regardless.

Today’s reminder from the universe that I Am Okay was going to the coffee shop a mile from auntie’s for a cold brew before the drive to Traverse City and seeing another friend from undergrad behind the counter. She remembered me by name and we chatted about life and artistic endeavors and she radiated a warmth and safety I desperately needed in that moment (thanks, girl!)

I am expecting my 30s to be easier. This first two months has felt like someone picked me up by my feet and hasn’t turned me right side up yet. I am being stubborn as fuck about finding work: I’m Not Even Looking. I’m both paralyzed by the fact that I have no income AND heels in the ground determined to not do something just because it’s there, just because it’s reasonable. I am at some mental crossroads that right now is a mix between a dust storm and a hurricane.

Caroline, the fuck you doing?