Like We Used To

This post comes after a long weekend of family, food, and fun times. For the past few years, my parents journeyed to the frozen north to spend Thanksgiving with me. This year, I headed back to my old Kentucky home to celebrate Thanksgiving in my hometown or, in the words of my mother, “like we used to.”

Airport chic.

For as long as I can remember, my great-aunt (or as I called her “Granny”) Aloma hosted Thanksgiving dinner at her house. The whole family would come over to eat, play games, watch football, and cut up in a way that only family can. Since her passing, we haven’t had a Thanksgiving celebration that’s been the same. This year though, we all got together and had that down home gathering.  

My “ready to eat” face.


I think it was hard for all of us without Granny Aloma there. We had a great time though, eating traditional southern dishes and laughing for hours. Family and friends all together, bonding over food and fellowship–my heart was so full (and my belly was too). 

 

This turkey was for the post-Thanksgiving dinner.

 
We kept our tradition of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving night alive too. The five of us (my mom, stepdad, brother, stepsister, and I) saw the late showing of Mockingjay, Part 2 and even ran into a few distant cousins at the theater! We got home and went to bed for a few hours in preparation for the next day…

Coffee required for 6am shopping.

Black Friday! My mom, stepsister, and I got up around six to go shopping.  We got some awesome deals at the mall, and I purchased my very own selfie stick (at 50% off). I even found my favorite soda from middle school!

Testing out the selfie stick!

Ahhhh, tastes like sixth grade.

We had breakfast, then hit a few other stores before making our way back home. After a nap, we went out shopping again and got even more deals. Mom and I managed to mark a few people off our Christmas lists (and picked up some goodies for ourselves too of course). 

 

Shop until you’re drop dead gorgeous!

 
Saturday I made a country breakfast of sausage, biscuits, and gravy before we went to watch my brother play basketball. He made some great plays! The fact that he’s dang near 7′ tall probably doesn’t hurt–I call him my “big little brother.” ūüôā
 

Ready to rebound.

 

Later that day, we had visitors come through–cousins! Clearly cute runs in our family because these little girls are the most adorable people ever! The big sister is a cheerleader/gymnast who is smart as a whip. The little sister is the sweetest, calmest little baby; this was my first time meeting her and she stole my heart right away. 
 

Sisters!

 

To make the night even more awesome, my stepdad brought me a delicacy I’m unable to get easily in Wisconsin…White Castle! 

The deliciousness is indescribable.

 

Today consisted of a lazy morning at the house before the family took me to the airport. Hugs were given; “I love you’s” and “be careful’s” exchanged. And here I am, writing a post about my wonderful weekend on a plane. 

Bags packed…

I love my family so much. I am so thankful to have grown up with people and traditions so honest and real. I’m glad we are able to come together and support one another “like we used to” and, hopefully, how we always will. 

Forgive. Forget. Move on. 

Trigger warnings: sexual assault and rape. 

The story started off normal enough. Man meets woman. Man is charming. Woman wants a friend. Man and woman set boundaries for their relationship, agree not to go too far. 

Then…things change.

Woman invites him over to hang out. Man starts to kiss her. 

Woman says, “Stop. We both agreed to wait.”

Man keeps going. Puts his hands in her sweatpants.

Woman says, “Stop!”

Man keeps going. Sweatpants at her ankles. His pants completely off.  

Woman yells, “STOP!” 

Man KEEPS GOING. Held her down by her wrists. Used his knees to open her thighs. 

Woman cries. Begs…

Man finally stops. Says, “Oh, you’re serious? I thought you were playing a game with me. I thought you liked it rough.”
Woman cries. Shakes uncontrollably. Struggles to breathe. 

She finally musters the strength to say, “Get out.” Locks the door behind him. Cries alone for hours. Sees the bruises on her wrists and thighs. Showers in an attempt to wash them–and him–away. 

She calls a friend, who stays with her until she cries herself to sleep. 

After that night, man apologized. Said that he didn’t know she was serious. Claims he was a victim of sexual abuse himself, played the sympathy card. 

Woman continued to talk to him, tried to forgive…forget…move on. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore. Hated to look at him. His touch. His presence. What he took from her. 

She tried to talk to him several times about what happened. He told her she was making a big deal out of nothing. 
Woman talked to her pastor and lawyer. Wanted to press charges on him because as a former youth leader, she felt she owed it to the girls she mentored, to show them what to do if they were ever in this type of situation. 

Lawyer advises against it. Says it wasn’t rape anyway, only sexual battery. That in most rape cases, every aspect of the victim’s life is fully exposed. Woman drops the charges to avoid public humiliation. 

Pastor explains how coming forward would have a negative impact on the church. Confronted the man, who called the woman a liar. Encouraged the woman to handle this without legal means, through prayer and forgiveness. Kept man out of the pulpit for about two months as “punishment.” Asked woman to take a break from being a youth leader, called it a “mental break.” She never went back to being a youth leader. 

It’s easy to say, “Forgive. Forget. Move on.” Or, in the words of the pastor at her church, “Forgive him, just like Jesus forgives us.”

But how can you forgive when your rapist is in your church, dangerously close to other women and girls? How can you forget when he works at your job and your employers don’t know (or don’t care) that he’s a registered sex offender in another state? How can you move on when you have 61 mutual friends on Facebook?

She blames herself. Her past relationships. Her desire for a friend, not a relationship. That she didn’t research him before (so she’d be aware of his two other charges of sexual battery, one against a minor). Her mother’s rape, convincing herself that history repeats itself. 
These events took place a year ago. She still feels ashamed. Embarrassed. Broken. Like she failed her girls. And herself. 

And she’s not the only one. In the US, a sexual assault takes place every 107 seconds. 68% are never reported to police. Four out of five are committed by someone the victim knows

So she keeps keeps quiet. Avoids him at church. Keeps her guard up at work. Watches poetry and yearns for the freedom to share her story.

Her story is the story of many of us. Too many women (and men) are forced to live in the shadows of their sexual abuse. Asked to do the impossible…

Forgive. Forget. Move on. 

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or rape, visit RAINN.org or call 1-800-656-4673. 

Mistaken Identity

A few weeks ago, some of my neighbors stopped by my house to return some mail that had been mistakenly delivered to them instead of me. ¬†I rarely get unannounced visitors, so I curiously approached the door–perhaps it was a teenager doing a fund raiser or a friend who happened to be in the neighborhood.

I opened the door, said hello.  A white man and woman stood on my stoop.  Their faces quickly went from placid to surprised.

“Are YOU…?”

“Yes, sir; this is my home. ¬†How can I help you?”

A quick explanation of the mail mishap and they were gone, leaving me with a Women’s Health magazine and feelings¬†of resignation.

This¬†interaction was, unfortunately, not a first for me. ¬†People have been surprised at my Blackness more times than I can count. ¬†Perhaps it’s the unassuming first name. ¬†Or maybe the lack of accent–my extensive public speaking background nipped that in the bud real quick.

But multiple times in my life, I’ve spoken to someone on the phone and heard a shocked, pleased, or even disappointed exclamation of “I didn’t know you were Black!” during our first in-person meeting. ¬†Or gotten a look of confusion in a doctor’s waiting room when I stand after my name is called. ¬†Each time, I roll my eyes and add the interaction to the list of acts of subtle racism thrown my way.

Why do people live with stereotypes–usually negative–of what Blackness is? ¬†Why, after meeting me in person, do people feel the need to remark on how “articulate” I am? ¬†Or how I’m “not what they expected?” ¬†Most people probably don’t even realize what they’re doing–and they definitely wouldn’t call it being racist. ¬†However, stereotypes about Black people are so deeply ingrained that most of the population doesn’t even recognize them unless they are explicitly pointed out.

Sometimes, the stereotypes have terrifying–even deadly–repercussions. ¬†A Black woman was held at gunpoint because a white neighbor thought she was breaking into her own apartment.¬†Luckily, this woman wasn’t injured or killed.

…However, this Black man wasn’t so lucky.

Neither was this Black woman.

For those who continue to mistakenly believe that we live in a post-racial society, look around you. ¬†Look at your own actions. ¬†Scrutinize your reactions to and interactions with people of color. ¬†You don’t have to wear a white hood, rep the Confederate flag, or say the n-word to be a racist. ¬†You don’t have to be a billionaire raised with the finest of things to have privilege. ¬†Remember this each time you open your front door and the person on the other side acts like you belong there.

Second Guess

This weekend, I attended a few events and had a wonderful time. I laughed, ate delicious food, and shared the company of wonderful people. I left feeling on top of the world.

Later, not so much.

I have this problem with analyzing myself–being hyper critical. Rarely in the moment, but always afterward. A mental magnifying glass, scrutinizing every word, move, thought. Wondering if I was too loud. Too honest. If they liked me. If they didn’t…usually followed by things I should or shouldn’t have said, did¬†or shouldn’t have done.

My guess is this comes from a lifetime of feeling less than. Not pretty enough, or smart enough, or talented enough. Constantly striving to present a perfect image so people wouldn’t see how broken I was inside.

That’s no way to live. And I won’t live that way anymore.

One of my goals is to care a little less about what other people think, accept my flaws, and love myself unconditionally. I cannot control the opinions of others, so there is no point in stressing over and worrying about them. As long as I’m the best person I can be–honest, friendly, empathetic, funny, kind–that’s all I can do.

I love me and–if these are the people meant to be in my life–they will too.