Dear Future Husband

You’ve got your work cut out for you, my darling.

I promise I will not try to make your life difficult. In fact, I’ll do whatever I can to help you, to ease your spirit and give you comfort. But I’d be lying if I acted like I didn’t know I’m a bit of a handful, and I think you deserve to know why.

Men have abandoned me my entire life.

The first was my father. When it was time to choose between alcohol or me, his addiction made the choice for him. He left our family. He died a few years later.

The second was my first love. He took all he could from me, then threw me aside. He decided I was good enough to cook and clean and coddle him, but not good enough to be his girlfriend.

The third was the boyfriend who assaulted me. He didn’t ask for my consent. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to. Or maybe he felt like I wasn’t worth asking.

The fourth was the fiancé who tokenized me. He wanted all I had to offer, but not me as a person. His true feelings showed when I ended our engagement; he told me just how terrible he thought I was.

The fifth was the fiancé who abused me. He hurt me mentally, emotionally, and physically. He gaslit me. He expected me to do all the housework, pay all the bills, and raise all of his children. He spent all of my money. He tried to strangle me.

That cruel man was the last to break my heart before I met you.

In spite of all the negative, I still believe in love. And when I love, I love HARD. It may take time for me to give you my heart, but if and when I do, you get all of it.

I’ve decided to give my heart to you, future husband. I expect few things in return.

I expect you will treat me gently and with kindness.

I expect you will defend me and protect me from anyone or anything that attempts to do me harm.

I expect you will listen to me. Pay attention to my words and actions. I say what I mean and mean what I say—all you have to do is listen.

I expect you will be there for me when I need you.

All of these expectations are ones I have for myself also. I will be kind. I will defend you. I will listen to you. I will be there for you whenever or whatever the circumstance.

I will treat you how I want to be treated.

Because even though men have abandoned me and broken my heart, the strong women in my life taught me to always treat others with the respect and dignity I want to receive. And I will. You will have my full, never-ending adoration, respect, and love until you treat me like you no longer deserve it.

Marriage is something I plan to do once and only once. Choosing a husband is not a choice I make lightly. It means a lot to me.

It means I’ve found the man who will treat me the way all the other men didn’t…

…like someone worthy of love.

Black Parade

I’ve been trying to think of just the right words to summarize my experience at the Commitment March in Washington. D.C.

(That’s why it’s been so long since my last post.)

And I do apologize, for all my delay has been for nothing. I still haven’t found the precise wording for what I saw…what I felt.

“Inspired” is truly an understatement for the fire that was lit within me.

Waiting in line next to a white woman and her tween daughter, listening to stories from a man who marched with Dr. King the first time, I felt the spark.

“Look at this,” I thought.

“We all know this is a historic moment, when we draw the line in the sand.”

Listening to speaker after another, each from different walks of life, stoked the flame.

A young lady who survived one of the most tragic events in recent history.

An older man who reminded us that the gay rights movement began with a brick and a Black woman.

Finally, and most tragically, the family members and friends of so many of our martyrs.

Ahmaud Arbery.

Breonna Taylor.

Jacob Blake.

I was on fire. Flames roared across the crowd.

We all burned.

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

“Black Lives Matter!”

We marched and chanted to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial, a fireball.

I haven’t felt the same sense. I feel…alive.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, reborn.

Bad Guy

Whenever I make a choice for myself, I always feel like the bad guy.

Don’t want to go to an event and say so? Bad guy.

Don’t want to be touched and move away? Bad guy.

Don’t want to do something for someone else and mention it? Reallyyyyy bad guy.

Black women in America have been seen as community property for so long that people take offense when we say no. For hundreds of years, we were expected to do everything for everyone. Unfortunately things haven’t changed much. Black women are expected to solve the world’s problems, all while little is being done to solve the problems Black women face.

I’ve known my whole life that “No,” is a complete sentence. (I got a perfect score on the English section of the ACT. #humblebrag) However, I’ve only recently started living it. Some people may be surprised or even offended by the change.

Do I care?

…No. 😉

Speak Now

One of the things I’m trying to work on is speaking up.

Now, if you’ve ever met me you know I’m not afraid to talk. According to my mama, I’ve been talking since I figured out how to string two words together. My elementary school teachers tried to keep me quiet by moving my seat—that did NOT work. Long story short, I’ll talk to anybody.

But talking and speaking up are two different things.

Speaking up means voicing your opinions. Speaking up means sharing your feelings. Speaking up means calling out people or behaviors that are wrong.

I haven’t always done that.

As a kid, I was expected to stay in a child’s place and not question the adults in my life. In middle school, I told a boy that I liked him and he humiliated me in from of my entire class. In high school, after an emotionally abusive boyfriend hurt himself right in front of me, I was told not to say anything about it. Instances like these occurred in college and my adult life too. Honestly, there were many times I silenced myself because I was worried people wouldn’t like me.

But no more.

We only have one life to live, and I’m tired of not speaking my truth. This newfound desire to speak out has made me uncomfortable—especially at work. But these are just growing pains.

My opinions and feelings are valid. My voice is important. It’s time to speak.

Now.

Poetry Girl

Today I was doing my normal COVID pre-work routine (coffee, stretch, cardio) and this random rhyme popped into my head. Not all at once though; it came in a few words at a time until I ended up with a little poem.

I kept saying this poem in my head, over and over—it wouldn’t leave me alone. It was so persistent I had to stop and write it down! The only thing I could find in the moment was my planner, so now there are a few lines of a poem randomly next to my to-do list for today. 🙂

Never in my life have I considered myself a poet, but that made me wonder: Is that what poets do all the time?

Are songwriters consumed by a melody?

Do colors blur the vision of the artist?

Will a dancer’s feet twitch with the steps?

Honestly, ya girl is NOT an innovator. Give me a list of tasks, I’ll do ‘em—well and ahead of schedule too! Ask me to come up with what tasks *should* be done…thanks, but no thanks.

That’s what fascinates me about humans and our brains! We all have different thought processes and desires and talents. I love learning about how people think. So I’ve got a call to action for y’all:

If you’re a creator, I’d love to hear more about your creative process. Please share in the comments!

Sabotage

Yesterday before work, my inner saboteur paid me a visit.

After my daily cup of coffee and a quick 10 minute yoga video, I journeyed to my “home gym” (a.k.a. a spare bedroom with a smart TV). I turned on a video from one of my favorite fitness YouTubers and got to work.

Or at least I tried to.

About 10 minutes into the workout, I was struggling. My balance was off. My speed was slower than the instructor. My arms and legs were shaking. At one point, we were doing a core exercise on the floor and I just couldn’t get it right—I kept moving my arms and legs at the wrong times, to the wrong spots.

“Wow, you’re really terrible at this.”

“Do you even know your right from your left? How embarassing.”

“Honestly, I don’t even see why you bother with this. You’re never going to look as good as you in college.

“You’re fat. Ugly too. Just give up!”

I didn’t give up…but I did cry in the shower after I finished the video. “Cruel” is an understatement when it comes to my inner saboteur. Clearly, I am my own worst enemy.

As a Black woman in America, I work very hard to prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable—I deserve to be in the room. When I’m anxious, or sad, or overwhelmed, my inner saboteur shows up to make me feel even worse.

Everyone has these voices in their heads. What I’m working on is changing what it says to me. For every negative comment, I need to train my brain to come up with something positive.

So today, I’m heading back to my “home gym” to try again. If my inner saboteur shows up, I’m telling her to kick rocks. Nobody’s gonna stop me from accomplishing what I want in life—not even me!

My Life

The first time, I was young.

I don’t remember my exact age, but I was a kid–probably around 5 or 6. I was at a friend’s house, playing with girl about the same age as me. We were acting out our favorite TV show, Saved by the Bell.

She was having a hard time choosing who to be: Kelly Kapowski (the beautiful cheerleader) or Jessie Spano (the super smart class president).

My choice was already made for me. I’d be Lisa Turtle, the rich fashionista.

Not because I was rich. Not because I enjoyed fashion.

I would be Lisa because I was Black, and Lisa was Black. Plain and simple.

Honestly, I identified more with Jessie–I loved to learn and I admired her passion for issues like saving the environment. I liked how she always said what she thought and worked hard to be the best. But I couldn’t be Jessie because we weren’t the same color.

I didn’t really think of it as racism at the time because, as a said before, I was a kid. But looking back I see how I was put in a box because of my skin color.

The second time hit a little harder.

Once again, I don’t remember my exact age. But I was still a kid. I was riding the bus to school, and an older boy kept trying to get my attention. He kept calling me a racial slur (one that I will not type here).

Yes, I told the bus driver. No, she didn’t do anything.

I got called this slur EVERY DAY until the boy got his driver’s license and stopped taking the bus.

The first day I got on the bus and he wasn’t there, I felt a trickle of relief. By the end of the week, I realized he wasn’t coming back. The trickle turned to a flood. Finally, I could ride the bus in peace and quiet.

What’s that saying? “Third time’s a charm…”

This one I remember in great detail. I was in sixth grade, in Ms. White’s classroom. It was almost time for school to be dismissed, and we had to be sitting at our desks when the bell rang before Ms. White would let us leave her classroom.

I was kneeling on the floor beside my desk, picking up all my papers and books. I wasn’t dawdling–I was putting stuff in my bag as fast as I could. But there was so much stuff.

The bell rang and I wasn’t in my seat. No one could leave until I sat down. I stood, then moved to sit down at my desk. That was when I heard it.

“Hurry up, BLACKIE!”

It came from a white boy I only knew in passing–his name was Jesse. I don’t remember ever speaking to this boy–before or after this incident–but I can see his face in my mind’s eye as clear as day.

I froze where I stood. All hopes of sitting down were gone–I couldn’t move. I just stared at him.

Ms. White made Jesse apologize to me–a quick “sorry” that was clearly more about getting to the bus line than giving an authentic apology. Ms. White released the class, and I shot out of that classroom with tears running down my face.

I was practically running to get to the bus, crying. Someone–I can’t remember who–asked what was wrong as I flew past.

“Nothing.”

I can’t even remember if I told my mom what happened.

It happened over and over again, and got more humiliating each time.

In high school, it poured rain on the day of a band competition. I was in the colorguard, wearing a hairstyle that required a lot of hold. Pump It Up spritz was the go-to product to keep my hair in place. (If you’re a Black woman reading this, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. Pump It Up is an old school Black hair staple, right there next to Luster’s Pink Oil Lotion and my aunt’s favorite, Blue Magic scalp conditioner.)

“Ewwwwwww, what is that smell?!?

Apparently, Pump It Up + rain water = a slightly unpleasant aroma. And another guard member was LOUDLY letting everyone know about it. I just tried to stay as far away from everyone as I could. Not only was the hairstyle that took an ENTIRE DAY ruined, my day was too. I felt like such a freak, even though the white girls back then would use so much gel and hairspray they reeked of aerosol.

It presented itself so often, in so many different ways.

My worst experience with racism to date didn’t even happen in America. That’s why it’s the worst time–I didn’t see it coming.

I was in Denmark for a work trip, staying for two weeks. It was January, so the days were short and dark and cold there, but I was so excited. I’d never been to Europe before, and here I was–traveling abroad for business! I felt so fancy.

The first week passed without incident. There were a few snags with my work project, but I powered through them. Then the weekend came and everything changed.

I went out to dinner with a co-worker. We went to a fancy place and ate a meal with, like, seven different courses. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the delicious food and generally had a fantastic time. We took a car back to our hotel, and I headed to my room after a quick goodbye near the hotel lobby. Shortly after I got back to my room, I got a text from my co-worker. The man working the front desk said I couldn’t stay at the hotel.

He thought I was a prostitute.

I went back to that front desk, room key in hand. I explained that I’d been in the hotel for an entire week and hadn’t had any problems until today. I asked that man if he would have made the same assumption if I was a white lady.

He said NO. Had I been a different color, he wouldn’t have given me a second thought.

It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I wish I could say those were the only times.

But there are so many moments I’ve left out.

The “You’re so pretty for a Black girl,” moments.

The time a classmate said it wasn’t fair I got a full scholarship to college because I was Black (even thought I was in honors classes and my grades were higher than hers).

The “You’re not like other those Black people–you’re one of the good ones,” moments.

The time a former coworker “complimented” me by putting both of her hands wrist deep in my fresh kinky twists–without my permission, of course.

The “I’m sorry, we don’t have makeup in your shade,” moments.

The time a boy I had a crush on in high school told me he couldn’t be racist because he’d kissed me once. (This was years after the kiss, on a Facebook post about police brutality.)

The “You’re so articulate,” moments.

The time a judge at a speech tournament wrote me a ballot explaining that I shouldn’t just do pieces on Blackness–that I was “better than that.

The “I don’t even think of you as Black,” moments.

The time I competed in a local beauty pageant and won Miss Congeniality, but I wasn’t included in the photograph that ran in the paper.

The time I drove past the fairgrounds in my hometown and saw signs stating “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and learned just whose lives clearly didn’t matter.

The time I had dinner at my high school boyfriend’s house and his father refused to speak to me. Seriously–the man didn’t say a single word to me the entire time I was there. He spoke to everyone else, but not to me.

The time I got pulled over late at night in my new car. Terror isn’t the word–it was worse than that. Thank God I hadn’t been drinking, had all of my paperwork, and had the wherewithal to put on my most “articulate” voice for the officer.

Every single time I change my hair and people at work say they can’t recognize me–even if it’s just a switch from curly to straight. (And it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.)

It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. And, unfortunately, it’s a regular part of my life.

If you read this and realized that someone you know has said or done something like this in the past, I hope you’re horrified. If you read this and realized YOU’VE said or done something similar in the past, I hope you are filled with shame. I hope you look back over your life and recognize every single racist thing you’ve been part of. I hope you cry.

And after all that, I hope you make a promise to do better.

I hope you realize you aren’t a bad person, but that you have some learning (and maybe more importantly, un-learning) to do. I hope you read up on how America has disenfranchised Black people since we were stolen and brought here. I hope you advocate for Black people with your time, energy, money, resources, and especially YOUR VOTES.

I hope you check your racist family members and friends–don’t let those jokes or comments slide. I hope you support reparations for descendants of slavery. I hope you protest for us and with us. I hope you stop saying you’re “colorblind” and start saying “I see your color, but I don’t devalue you because of it.”

I hope you take a look at your life, now that you’ve seen some of the uglier parts of mine.

Heat

Think about all the things going on in your life: work, school, family, friends, all that. Think about how much you time and energy you pour into those things. Now ask yourself this question:

What am I getting back?

If you are providing support, you deserve support. If you are giving respect, you deserve respect. If you are listening and striving for understanding, you absolutely deserve to be listened to and understood.

This applies at home, at work, and anywhere else. You should get back what you put in.

But–and it’s a BIG but–you also have to communicate your feelings.

Have you told the person (or people) that you’ve been supporting/respecting/listening to that you aren’t getting the same in return?

Sharing your perspective is the most important part of all this, and yet it’s the part that often gets skipped. How do I know this? Because I’m the one who hates confrontation. I will avoid it at all cost.

Communication does not have to equal confrontation.

If these people truly love you, care about you, and value you, they’ll hear you out. They’ll try to meet you halfway.

And if they don’t, just remember this:

I put my work in–day in, day out!

Baby I deserve it–don’t let me down.

You used to make me feel like a diamond.

Now it don’t even seem like you’re tryin’…

So give me one good reason I should need you?

Kelly Clarkson, ‘Heat’

Fighter

How long do you argue with someone?

You’re right. They’re wrong. Classic scenario, right? How much time do you spend fussing with this person to prove the obvious–you’re right, and they’re wrong?

Had you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have looked you in the face and honestly replied, “As long as it takes!”

Awwwww, Baby Ashley was so…earnest.

Nowadays, I just don’t have the energy. And, to be frank, it’s just not worth my time.

2020 has shown me that life is too short to waste on things that just don’t matter. And unless you’re one of the cov-idiots who thinks this pandemic is fake, you probably realized that WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THE BULLSHIT.

Seriously. If it isn’t something that impacts my health, my family, my community, or my coins, I’ve decided I’m not fighting with you about it.

This is proving easier said than done.

Last week, a man went awf in my inbox. Just going on and on about why he he shouldn’t have to…he doesn’t have time…why is he required to…and so on. And I had a #ThrowbackMoment. Baby Ashley read that email and started putting together a three point presentation on why she was right and he was wrong.

But guess what Grown-Up Ashley did, y’all?!?

She sent a reply that was merely TWO SENTENCES. Those two sentences said everything that needed to be said. So I said my piece, and I went on about my day.

Say your piece, then move on. Don’t let anyone waste your time, your breath, or your life!

Try a Little…

Tenderness. Ah, Otis Redding. Still not sure exactly what a “shaggy dress” is, but the song is awesome regardless.

We could all stand to treat each other a bit more tenderly these days.

Now, more than ever, am I realizing that people are just that–people. Each person is facing their own internal battle, and plenty of us have external battles to fight too. (Hellooooo Miss Rona.)

“It’s a cruel world.” We’ve all heard that before. But does it have to be?

Not at all.

Could we all take the time to really listen to each other, be honest, and make a valiant attempt to see the world from someone else’s point of view? Could we not just talk, but actually communicate? Absolutely.

Will we do this? Fuck no.

Why? Because we don’t want to make the effort. Or, to use a phrase I’ve heard more often than I’ve ever wanted to, “That sounds like a lot of work.”

Who cares if it’s a lot of work if it’s the right thing to do?

Every damn day I bust my ass to try to do the right thing. My mother raised me to think of others, be compassionate, and do what I know is right even if the world says it’s wrong. These were lessons I learned very early in life.

Apparently not everyone got the same lesson.

But what can I do other than lead by example? I’ll try my best to be kind, and supportive, and to treat people the way I’d like to be treated.

I’ll try a little tenderness.

Will you?