I Survived My DUI Stop. But I’m White.

Another black man was killed by police in Atlanta. Shot in the back while he was running away.

Know the egregious act that ended his life?

He was drunk. And he fell asleep in his car in a Wendy’s drive-thru.

This is a story I should be hearing in an AA meeting in a church basement drinking chronically bad coffee. Not reading in the paper. Because he shouldn’t be dead.

Every black person gunned down, or choked to death, or any of the myriad of ways black people can die in this country just from being black feels personal to me. (If it doesn’t feel personal to you, it’s because systemic racism has done its job convincing you that black people are complicit their own abuse and destruction in this country. Don’t worry. Your condition is reparable. Pick up A People’s History of the United States and start reading.)

But Rayshard Brooks. This case forces me stare right into the face of my own white priviledge.

Why?

He died for doing something I’ve done too may times to count: he drove drunk. Am I proud of that? Hell no. But was I murdered by police for it? No. I wasn’t.

Here’s what happened to me instead:

I was driving the wrong way down a one way street in Tallahassee, Florida. I was actively operating my vehicle. Rayshard Brooks was asleep in his.

I got pulled over. I was obviously drunk. I’d been driving with one eye closed so I could see the road more clearly (again, not something I’m proud of–but it’s factual). And, again, careening the wrong way on a one way street. Clear indication that maybe shit has gone real wrong.

Rayshard Brooks wasn’t currently a danger to anyone when the police approached him. He was inconvenient to Wendy’s customers.

When the cop approached me, I had zero concern for my own safety and a wanton disregard for other people’s lives. I was so entitled and such a drunk shit that I wasn’t even worried I would go to jail. The cop was annoyed with me.

Annoyed. Not lethal.

I told him that I knew one of his fellow officers, and his demeanor changed immediately. He wasn’t even annoyed anymore. He was concerned for my safety. He told me to go straight home.

Right.

I’m visibly drunk. I get pulled over. I am entitled, completely unremorseful, and am throwing around the names of other cops simply to avoid the DUI that would’ve been a more than fair consequence for actively putting people’s lives a risk.

And he told me to be safe and sent me on my way. He didn’t even follow me home.

So you know what I did?

I went through a fast food drive through for a late night snack on my way home. Just like Rayshard Brooks.

No one was concerned about Rayshard Brooks getting home safely. Clearly.

Drunk driving kills innocent people. It’s an offense I take incredibly seriously now, on this side of sobriety. I also know that drunk people are irrational, belligerent, and can change moods on a dime. Does Rayshard Brooks grabbing the officer’s taser mean he was violent? Nope. Should it have gotten him killed? I know that’s not even a real question.

This is precisely why we need to defund the police. They shouldn’t even have been there. Rayshard Brooks wasn’t an active threat to anyone. He was sleeping it off in his car. Which is pretty much all you can do with drunk folks anyway. But who else were Wendy’s employees supposed to call? If we defunded the police and shifted money around so that trained professionals could address drunk and disorderly conduct and substance abuse without lethal force–with an eye on getting people the help they need–well, Rayshard Brooks surely wouldn’t be dead.

White folks acting like they don’t understand what defund the police means–I don’t believe you. You understand damn well. But you also know you are extremely unlikely to be murdered by police while driving drunk, or after a routine traffic stop, or sleeping in your own bed. You are comfortable with the status quo because it is unlikely to kill you.

It is unconscionable to risk more black lives for the comfort and sense of security of folks living out their white privilege. Defunding the police is imperative. Rayshard Brooks has every bit as much right to be alive as I do.

Not Nothing

Somehow, I’ve found myself teaching a writing class to a handful of 9 and 10 year olds.

That’s weird in and of itself. I typically regard groups of kids the way I might regard, say, a murder of crows. Beautiful, but best to keep one’s distance.

I’m easily overwhelmed by the chaos, caw-CAWing, and furious flapping of wings.

Their unpredictability (groups of kids & crows) unnerves me. And my patience doesn’t near approach even backsliding saint level.

But, earlier this summer, I was clearly possessed by a benign, somewhat random spirit because I floated this idea for a summer writing camp. We could chalk the whole idea up to the fact that the bookstore needed an additional revenue stream. But, truthfully, it doesn’t feel that simple.

Deep down, way deep in my subconscious, I think I’m being pulled toward being the kind of adult that I needed in my world as a kid. One that would’ve encouraged my pull toward writing, pushed me to share and open up. I needed an adult to celebrate my creativity in all its quirkiness and to push me to color outside the lines. Hell, what I really needed was an adult to show me that you could obliterate the damn lines.

Before we started the writing class this week, it was a check box on my To-Do list. I wasn’t sure I’d be any good at teaching/facilitating a group of kids at all. But something happened to me when I saw their little faces pop up on my screen (it’s all virtual because it’s still all pandemic-y out there).

I saw them.

In all their weird, kid glory.

And it clicked for me, deep in my soul somewhere quiet and a little bit sacred, that what I also needed as a kid was other kids who would let me fly my weirdo flag without judgement. I needed a place to nerd out where I felt safe and valued.

Like magic, the murder of crows in my head flapped off in a flurry of feathers. And I was just left with these kids. Wide-open, quirky, sweet kids.

And seeing them made room for all my excitement about their stories–hell, about them in general–to come rushing out. It’s like someone rubbed off the dust of their kid coping mechanisms (muting the other kids, shrugging their shoulders, mumbling “I dunno…”) and let me see all their internal kid stuff that makes them pull back and want to close down.

Instead of becoming one giant sigh of exasperation, I suddenly find myself redirecting without any judgement. Because I see what their doing–and what they’re trying to hide from–so clearly. And I get it. But I also whole-heartedly believe that this togetherness, the vulnerable space they have to exist in to put themselves out there by writing and sharing, is greater than their fear.

And I’m kinda just wowed by their creativity and the scope of what some of them want to write. I’m sure as hell not going to stand in their way.

I don’t want to teach them to color outside the lines. I want to be the one who sets the paper ablaze, so we can all watch it burn.

But, grandiose Dead Poet’s Society dreams aside, at the very least, they’ll leave this little writing camp knowing that there’s one more adult out there in the world who thinks they’re awesome and believes in their creativity, who heard their story and their vision and celebrated it.

And that’s not nothing.

Confidential to New(ish) AntiRacists: Get a Life Raft

I don’t know everything.

Hell, I don’t know most things.

But here’s one thing I’m sure of: if you are a white person getting down to the hard, soul-searching work of becoming anti-racist, you’re going to need a life raft. Because there’s a tidal wave of rage, grief, regret, and full-blown horror headed your way.

Prepare yourself.

You’re about to discover that everything you’ve been taught is a lie. Racism is in the air we white folks have been breathing since the day we were born. It takes a lot of undoing. And, for some of us, the realization that the adults we trusted as children have programmed us to be unquestioning consumers of the message that people of color are inferior, deserve less, are in some way flawed, chose to be denied equity (and on and on and on) will be devastating.

The generation before us bought the lie and served it up to you. That is true. But we’ve all worked together to keep white supremacy alive and well. And being an somewhat-unwitting participant doesn’t absolve you of culpability.

You will recognize this, and it will rock you.

You may be called a race traitor. People will look at you sadly and accuse you of feeling having “white guilt” (and you may, if you just shuffle around with your head down saying “fuck fruit” and not doing anything. Don’t do that. It’s self-indulgent). They’ll ask you if you think you’re black (that one is particularly confounding to me). People will be assholes.

You’re about to engage in a completely new way of being. It is the right way. But it takes some serious psychic and spiritual equilibrium to ride this tidal wave.

That’s why you need a life raft.

Let me stop here. When you look around you, full of despair and itching for absolution, your instinct will be to run towards black folks and use them as your life raft.

Do NOT do this.

We’ve been taught (by our culture and sometimes by plain words) that black people exist in service to white feelings. They do not. Do not process your feelings with them, in front of them, near them.

Black people are busy. And they are done with our mess.

So where will your life raft come from? That’s up to you.

Maybe you go find you a good therapist to process the indoctrination of white supremacy and the dismantling of systemic racism with. If you’re choosing a new therapist, sniff out how they feel about antiracist work before you sign on. The last thing you need as you begin some of the deepest psychic work of your life is someone co-signing your bullshit as it arises. And it will arise.

Ferret out your white friends who are also engaged in antiracism work. If you don’t have some, make new friends. Talk to them. Share. Process. Avoid at all costs your white friends who are, in fact, racist. Anyone who thinks the status quo in America isn’t that bad will only frustrate you, bring you to tears, make you drown.

Go for a run. Take up yoga. Paint. Write poems. Dance. Sing. Meditate. Pray. Lay in a hammock. Stare at the clouds. Do what renews your soul.

You are a person. A whole, beautiful person. With a helluva lot of work to do.

Take care of yourself. You are no good to anyone if you get overwhelmed, throw up your hands, and decide nothing will ever change. You aren’t helping anyone if despair drives you deep into yourself. You can’t engage in a struggle if you’ve got both hands tied behind your back.

One of the least kind things that we, as allies, can do is process the ugliness of our own ancestry in front of black and brown folks. Choosing a life raft is a kindness–to you and to the people of color around you, who know all too well the havoc, chaos, and destruction that white supremacy wreaks.

Go find you a raft.

Then get back to work.

Now, What Happened Again?

Sometime around 6th grade or so, I got ahold of The Diary of Anne Frank. And suddenly, my world was awash in both the goodness and insight of a 13 year old European Jewish girl from forty years ago and the abject horror that human nature can unleash.

Both. At the very same time.

I, a WASPy eleven year-old living in the Florida suburbs, was completely enchanted by Anne’s urbaneness (she was a German girl living in Amsterdam–I couldn’t fathom that I’d ever visit either place) and her energetic and observant nature. I desperately wanted to be her friend. Or to be like her. Eleven is a hard, confusing age and reading Anne’s diary let me feel close to someone–another kid–that I admired and looked up to.

And then they killed her.

I was bereft.

Of course I knew what would happen when I picked up the book. I knew, intellectually, about the Holocaust. We’d covered the facts and figures–the loss of life, the utter devastation, the depravity of human nature–which are simply staggering. But numbers don’t speak to me like they speak to some people.

I didn’t understand what happened until I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank. And once you know–on a deep, soul level–the beauty and horror that occupy this life side by side, you can’t unknow.

I was obsessed.

I read and read and read. Every time I went to the library, I grabbed a book about the Holocaust. My mother tittered about my obsession. But I had so many questions. How could this have happened? I felt such loss. I loved Anne. And that love for her pushed me to examine the very hardest truths about life.

Stories change everything.

Anne Frank has been the gateway for reaching and teaching children about hope, strength of character, the destruction wrought by hatred, and the horror of war since the late 1940s. She made me better because she made me curious.

Stories make my daughter, Jane, curious, too. Some stories I wish I didn’t have to tell her, though. Like the story of what happened to George Floyd.

She listened quietly. I think she thought I was making it up at first. Because who puts their knee on someone’s neck and leaves it there as they scream “I can’t breathe!”? In Jane’s consciousness as a 9 year old, that doesn’t seem possible. It seems so absurd. Why would he do that?! she asked. I’ve never seen that look on her face before. That disbelief.

Because George Floyd was black.

That’s the answer I gave my 9 year old for why George Floyd died. Because that’s the truth.

We live in Southeast Atlanta. Jane is constantly surrounded by black excellence, black joy, black friends, black teachers and leaders all the time. That is a gift we gave her by moving here. She hears and sees the stories of black kids all the time–living, dreaming, laughing, just being. So when we talk with her about racism, she has an emotional understanding that I couldn’t have fathomed at her age–because she has something to connect with.

She can extrapolate. She knows her friends’ stories. And she knows the story of George Floyd. And that look of utter disbelief I got from her–it was about knowing how quickly that could become the story of someone she knows, someone she loves. It was the horror of knowing that, in this country, we allow people to die with someone’s knee on their neck for nothing more that being black.

She asks about George Floyd’s story. And Ahmaud Arbery’s. And Breonna Taylor’s. Over and over again.

So I tell her. Again.

She’s trying to make sense of something utterly senseless. She’s a bit obsessed. She’s been confronted with the horror of the war against blackness in this country.

And now that she knows their stories, she can never unknow them. Because stories change everything.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Check Yes or No

When we moved to Atlanta, we walked up into a ready-made group of friends we lovingly refer to as The Tacos. When we’re all together, there are 21 of us (adults & kids). And, pre-quarantine, every Thursday we’d taco. All together. In a restaurant. (Actually, there may be 23 of us … this is why no one ever asks me to do the final headcount before we get seated on Thursday nights).

We’re oh-so-lucky to have had this big group of friends in Atlanta from the get-go. Because, let’s be honest: making friends as an adult can be tricky at best.

I mean, where is one supposed to find these friends, exactly? Sure, you can be friends with your neighbors. And sometimes that evolves organically. You say “hey,” then you bbq together, then it’s all Saturday-afternoon-hangouts and backyard luaus.

Not really. I’ve never even been to a backyard luau. Ever.

You can be friends with your kids’ friends’ parents. But that can be as convoluted as it sounds. Just because your kids bonded over a great (and obsessive) love of building intricate Minecraft worlds doesn’t mean you will have a damn thing in common with the people who spawned that tiny human that your own tiny human finds so delightful.

Or maybe you stumble upon someone at work, or while you’re volunteering, or between the barbs flying at your neighborhood association meeting, that seems like quality potential-friend material. But then what?

You basically have to ask them on a friend date, for coffee or drinks or something of the sort. And friend dates have always made me even more nervous than regular dates–which means I bring all my awkward and only a fraction of my charm. And for the first few minutes, I’m so anxious I can barely hear myself think, much less hear the words coming out of my trial-friend’s mouth.

Fun times.

But something weird and cool has happened during quarantine. It’s like there’s a sensitivity/truth switch that’s been flipped on. I watch what people post on social media, and these posts have stopped being something to just kill time while I wait in line somewhere, something I scroll through while my mind is really somewhere else (how many distractions can I take on at one time, and still not really feel distracted?). They’ve become these little portals into other people’s worlds–not a constant stream of vacations and parties and activity, but a look into what really makes them them.

Because I own a bookstore, people also reach out to me all the time via text or email to see if I have a book, can recommend a book, have heard anything about a book.

I love books of all types. And I love to chat (much to Simon’s dismay sometimes).

So, when someone requests a book that I loooooved or they hit me up with a list of books about a topic that sets me on fire, I get to see a piece of them that might take about forever to get to in regular chit-chat out in the normal world. Which is so cool. Like truth serum. But with books.

Three times in the past (almost) 3 months now, after texts back and forth about books and then about kids or BIG life issues or COVID or protests, I’ve found myself texting: Hey, when this is over, let’s be better friends IRL.

And it’s not even like asking someone on a friend date–because I already know. I already know we can be friends because we are. We’ve built a friendship in this super-weird quarantiney world one text, one social media post, one one-liner joke at a time. I know more about them, I can guarantee you, than if we’d had 5 awkward coffee dates.

There’s something so simple and straightforward about sending that text. It’s like sliding them a note that says: Can we be friends? Check yes or no.

They’ve all checked yes (with smiley face emojis & exclamation marks), in case you were wondering.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

We All Have To Start Somewhere

Hey, white folks! I’ve got an idea: let’s stop shouting “Racist!” at each other just to end a conversation. Let’s honor where each person is in the long, hard, soulful world of becoming anti-racist, meet them where they are, and help them along.

Because it sure isn’t black folks’ job to do that. That’s all on white people.

I was at a meeting full of white folks who were ostensibly there to chip away at white supremacy and address institutional racism. An elderly, white, Southern woman shared something she and a friend were doing … I honestly can’t even remember what it was right now. What I do remember is the response from the young, white discussion facilitator. He interrupted her, voice raised: “That’s not enough! We have to move beyond that. We have to do more!” And he summarily dismissed her–right there. In front of well over 200 people.

Well, shit.

That’s not going to work.

There is so much work that needs to be done. It is constantly going to feel like we aren’t doing enough. That’s because we have not done enough. But this isn’t a sprint. Stop for a minute to think how long this struggle has gone on. Racism is pervasive and insidious. It is not going away overnight. But we also can’t be running (potential) allies off because we fancy ourselves so much more “woke” than them that we dismiss them completely.

I fully believe I will spend the rest of my life unspooling my own racism. There is no room for complacency. It’s unnerving to discover something so ugly lying so deeply inside yourself. It’s easier to turn away than address it. Bringing it out into the light so that you can examine and release it takes unwavering courage.

White people need to encourage each other in this work, not shout each other down constantly. Because you cannot, you should not–DO NOT–expect black people to praise, encourage, or emotionally support you in your work to dismantle white supremacy & systemic racism. Do not expect your black friends to offer you a cookie for cluing in to the abject horror that is the racial landscape in this country. This is not their work. They should not have to praise you for finally seeing what they’ve been telling you is happening all along.

When I write about being silent or simply listening, I’m speaking specifically about how I think white folks need to conduct themselves in racial justice settings or discussions where black folks are present. Plainly put: do not tell black people about their own experience, do not talk over them, do not justify. And do not attempt to assume a leadership role. They understand this struggle better than any white person every will, so just listen. And follow instructions. It sounds so simple. But I can guarantee that the internalized centering of whiteness will make it difficult. Do it anyway.

For the love of god, call out racism where you see it. There’s certainly no shortage of it. But make sure you’re not centering yourself, as a white person, in the discussion. Our egos make the desire to be more knowledgeable, more righteous, more “woke” seductive.

If you are white, assume a complete lack of wokeness on your part. It’ll keep you from behaving like an asshat among other white people who are trying their level best. Offer suggestion, lead by example, challenge people to do more–but that can only happen when we don’t dismiss people who are new to this anti-racist journey.

Look, I’m so far from perfect at this. A white person yelling “Racist!” at me can silence me from 100 paces.It happened a few years ago in a discussion about our local schools. It was an absolutely crucial discussion, one that could have had a resolution that was rooted in actual equity, more integration, and a better educational outcome for all the kids. But folks started hurling “Racist!” at me, and I tucked tail and ran. I regret it. I backed down from what I really believed was right. I shut down.

Which is why, among white folks, there needs to be an understanding: if you see someone doing that grueling work of addressing their own racism, encourage them. No, they aren’t doing enough. Neither are you. But we all have to start somewhere.

Photo by Ryan Wallace on Unsplash

The Miraculous Power of Shutting Up

I did a very smart thing about 6 years or so ago: I started listening

Not very revolutionary, right?

Except, holy shit at the things you can learn if you just stop talking long enough.

Here’s the thing: encountering feminism in college gave me the mistaken impression I had license to talk all the damn time. I was tired of my desires and ideas being marginalized–I’d grown up in a super-conservative space in which women were fully expected to take a backseat to their husbands and all that bullshit. And, maybe, I didn’t do a very thorough examination of feminism (I can assure you there’s a lot more to it than just claiming center stage. Actually, center stage isn’t really so much even a thing…). I just heard what I wanted/needed to hear in that moment (the message to claim my voice) and ran with it.

In some ways, that served me. In other, long-term ways, my voice ultimately got all kinds of in the way of my ability to hear other people’s experience.

The first time I caught a whiff of intersectional feminism (a phrase coined by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, which examines overlapping systems of oppression, like being a person of color AND a woman) was when I took a head-over-heels-smitten deep dive into Alice Walker’s work in college. But, truth be told, when you aren’t ready for ideas, they just kind of slide off your psyche. And I totally wasn’t ready. The good news is that those ideas don’t just slide off into the abyss. They stick around, marinading in your brain until you are, in fact, struck down by the sheer magnitude of the truth of them one day, seemingly out of the blue.

For me, a woman with roots in Georgia and Alabama among people who were served by the social status quo of racism, I was afraid to take a serious look at my own internalized racism. Easier to just proclaim racism as “bad,”assure myself I’d never done anything (overtly) racist and carry on. I wasn’t hurting anyone, so I was a good person.

Right?

I think about that self (a little smug, but definitely full of fear and 100% lacking in understanding about the complexities and pervasiveness of institutionalized racism), and I want to shake her. Hard.

But that was my journey. And anything else just isn’t the truth. 

When unarmed black men started dying at alarming rates (or, more accurately, when cell phone video made it harder to deny that unarmed black men were dying at alarming rates), I started paying attention. And, once you see–really see–with your heart what is happening, when you witness the ravages in racism as real lives lost, real suffering, real and sometimes deadly inequity, you cannot unsee it. 

And it brings grief. So much grief. 

You can get overwhelmed by the grief. But let’s call that what it is: a cop-out. Because, y’all, there is so much work to be done. 

It’s instructive here to just grab a glimpse of what it looks like to people of color, who’ve been doing the grueling work of liberation and the uber-frustrating, often futile work of just getting white people to listen, when white folks jump into a shame/self-loathing cycle (which is mainly just a way to avoid actually doing anything). This excerpt is from a piece that appeared in The Root aptly entitled “Four Emails White People Send to Black People When Black People Talk or Write about Racism:”

I’m so fucking tired of White people and being a White person. We are so fucking awful. I hate myself. I hate my white skin and my even whiter than my white skin teeth . . . .Sometimes I look in the mirror in the morning and I just want to peel my skin off like an orange, taking each layer of whiteness off and tossing it in the trash with the rest of the fucking garbage. Actually, since oranges are covered in white pith after you peel them, that analogy doesn’t quite work. I guess bananas and apples and pears don’t either. Shit, have you ever realized how disgustingly white most fruit is when you peel the outer layers off? Goddamn there’s no end to this shit. Fuck racism, fuck white people, fuck whiteness, and fuck fruit.

Damon Young, Very Smart Brothas

While it’s true that sometimes if feel like there is no end to this shit, getting all fuck fruit on the systemic racism and white supremacy in the United States isn’t gonna work. Why? Because it completely lacks action. It centers whiteness and how “bad” we feel.

Feeling bad never changed anything. In fact, it’s a pretty clear path to self-pity and self-loathing.

Not helpful.

But one simple suggestion from Glennon Doyle a few years ago pulled me out of that fuck fruit cycle. She suggested that folks follow at least one person on social media that was different from them in some way. That’s it. Totally doable.

Rather arbitrarily I picked Ijeoma Oluo and Ally Henny. Seriously good choices that I deserve no credit for.

Here’s what these two women of color have offered this white girl: the ability to see the world from a different lived experience, deeper insights into the subtle ways of racism, and access to knowledge that I now don’t have to ask the black folks in my life for.

Because literally one of the last things your black co-worker, black neighbor, black friend wants to do is answer your questions about racism.

Totally not kidding on that.

If you have questions, if you’re having trouble envisioning how our culture looks stripped of the privilege of whiteness or if you want to know what you (as a white person) can do to make things better, ask the interwebs. Use Google. I hear its a pretty good search engine. Follow folks on IG or Facebook.

But remember that, to learn anything, you have to be willing to listen. Not justify. Not speculate. Not excuse. Not enable. Just listen.

It will break your heart. That much is true. But then you’ll know. And then you can move into action. Because make no mistake: racism a white folks’ problem. And now, NOW, is the time to fix it.

Flashlights & Love

Our first Valentine’s Day together, Simon got me a flashlight.

Oh, he got me some red roses, too. But the flashlight was the main present. He wanted me to be prepared, just in case. This is his way, laying a path and making way for my independence, nurturing my strength. But I didn’t know that then. How odd, I thought. Then I promptly commenced to lamenting that he wasn’t more romantic.

I grew up on a steady diet of rom-coms. Still love them. But the way of the men in these movies is to completely miss the fact that they have a good thing going. To dismiss or overlook all that is good, strong, quirky about the women who love them–then to come careening back into their lives, when it’s a breath away from being too late–with some grand gesture to prove their love, to acknowledge the worth and value of the woman who has loved them all along.

I mean, when it’s put that way it kind of sounds like some bullshit, right?!

So, no, I didn’t understand the way of a man who would give me a flashlight.

I have, in fact, gotten a few big, romantic gestures over the years. Some of them not necessarily because they are what he would’ve chosen, left to his own druthers.

The proposal, for instance.

He got down on one knee in the middle of a bar on a weekend night to ask me to marry him (yes, we got engaged in a bar. We were 100% always in a bar at that point in our lives. But also, the music festival we’d planned to spend the weekend at had devolved into a mud bath of sorts, so–in his defense–the bar was Plan B.)

That may not seem like much. But it was pre-transition. He spent so much time trying not to be seen–at all–that the idea that he’d drop to one knee in the middle of a crowd of people, that he’d consciously draw attention to himself in order to bring me joy, well that’s quite a gift.

Now, I know how to appreciate those gifts, to savor them, to realize the sacrifice they take on his part. The love is in the sacrifice, not in the gesture, it turns out.

In addition to my rom-com, big gesture version of love, I also came equipped with the idea that people who love each other never fight.

Goodgodamighty.

I’ve been disabused of this idea about a thousand times over. Simon and I are as different as they come–I’m pineapple on pizza. He’s pepperoni. We see the world from such vastly different persepectives that, if we argree on something immediately–without discussion and endless cycles of negotiation–we know that that thing is foretold by the Universe. Plain and simple.

That’s how we picked up and moved from one side of southeast Atlanta to the other after two years and one day. I came to him with this crazy idea that I tried to pass off as a whim, so I could start softly and build a case later after the initial no.

And he said yes. Right away. Which is how I knew, for certain, that a move to East Atlanta was right and good and ordained by the Universe. When we both want something at the exact same time, it becomes magical, driven, possible.

Because somehow he sees through my restlessness, my (slight) tendencies to want things my way (because isn’t that really the only way?!), down deeper into what I really need. And those are the things he jumps behind. The ideas that will help me, and ultimately our whole little family, flourish.

So, yeah, he’s flashlights instead of grand gestures. But flashlights, they light your way. They give you confidence to explore. They make you feel, simultaneously, safe and strong.

But his biggest gift to me–his grandest gesture to date–is that little bookstore that I own, the one that brings me such unabashed joy. I brought the idea to him, just sure he was going to tell me I was off my rocker. We’d just moved (again). I’d finally started making some real money with a writing business I’d spent several years building up. And yet, here was this little idea that had taken hold…

And he saw it, right away. He saw that this was it for me. This was what lit me up. He asked questions that helped me sort out my vision for the store. He cheerleaded. He designed logos and websites. He carried boxes. And he told me he was proud of me, that he believed in this. That he believed in me.

That is the person I married, although I there was no way to know all this at the time. But 14 years later, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t trade that flashlight for all the romantic gestures in the world.

Love Doesn’t Need That Mess

I sat cross-legged on the floor, near enough to the other kids to look like part of the group. But, while they fidgeted and whispered, my attention remained rapt. Other kids felt mysterious to me; I never really got what they wanted me to say or do. Like maybe other kids had some sort of instruction manual, but mine–even though it should only have taken 4-6 weeks for delivery–was lost forever & now I was just going to wing it.

So far, it wasn’t going particularly well.

But adults: I knew how to be in their presence, knew what the expected responses were. In short: adults were easier. So I paid more attention to them.

So, now I sat dutifully on the tightly woven carpet of a Sunday school classroom, staring up at our teacher. It was just kind of in my nature to be bizarrely well behaved (and also, my mother’d put the fear of God in me about misbehaving in church). But also, even though I was only 7 or so, the kind of church we attended had already started drilling down on the “getting saved” bit.

Fires of hell? No, thank you. I was sure gonna pay attention to how to avoid all that mess.

But now, suddenly, the teacher started talking about dreams and waking up in the middle of the night. My ears pricked forward. Because I couldn’t ever remember a time I didn’t wake up with my heart frozen in terror, my feet pounding the floor to my parents’ bedroom before I even registered my first real, waking thought.

Maybe I’d get some solid advice on how to not be scared. Because adults know things, right? Or at least at that point I thought they did. (Now I know better.) Adults always seemed to have some secret key to universal knowledge that would magically unlock all the answers and make the world make sense. I could not wait to be one of them. An adult with answers. That was my aspirational goal. At 7.

Although I can’t remember this part super clearly, I’m pretty sure the teacher opened this whole conversation with the “Satan is tricky” motif. Fair enough. A universal antagonist.

But in these stories, Satan was always trying to get in. Actively. Not in a dual nature, we all have good-and-evil inside, choose wisely sort of way. Like in a monster who breathes sulfur, who can morph and change and trick you, so you always have to be on guard to fight as a warrior for Christ sort of way.

Let’s just be clear: that’s some scary shit.

But this man is going to tell me how to keep Satan at bay. At least I hope so. Because now I’m really scared.

“If you ever wake up in the middle of the night,” he continues on (and this should sound like a ghost story, but for all the world it doesn’t. It sounds more like practical advice, like how to escape your house in the case of fire), “and you see a loved one who has died standing in your room (here I thought of my great-grandmother, because she was literally the only person I knew who’d died at that point) and that loved one calls to you, do not go to them. It may actually be a demon calling you to them. Satan will try to get at you whatever way he can. He’ll even use the memory of people you love who have died.”

What. the. actual. fuck?!?

For years afterward–years–I was afraid I’d wake up in the middle of the night to see the visage of my great-grandmother bathed in moonlight beckoning me to her. And what if I wasn’t strong enough to resist? What if I was lured to her and spent eternity with the fires of hell raging around me because I’d made a mistake?

That’s a damn big ‘what if’ for a kid to carry around.

Not until I was an adult did I see clearly that fear is simply a way to rule over and control people. Love, real love, has nothing to do with fear. Love doesn’t need that mess. Not at all.

I wish I could go back and tell that 7 year old that the Universe is full of love for her. That she can find all the peace she needs right inside her own heart. And that one day, she’ll have no idea what God is–not at all. And that not-knowing will feel like such a gift, full of possibility and light.

But I’ll settle for telling a little bit of her story. Because that’s healing in its own right, too.

How Does She Manage This Stuff?

When I arrive back home from my daily sojourn to deliver books, Jane meets me in the kitchen to regale me with tales from her day. Or to stand there repeatedly asking what we’re having for dinner. Either way.

Earlier this week, she proudly announced that she’d struck a deal with her father wherein he was renting a twin mattress for the office from her.

If you don’t live in this family, I’m sure that could be confusing as hell, so I’ll break it down real quick: Simon snores. Like a chainsaw. We’ve tried various remedies and fixes. And still. Because I am not some sort of demigod, I cannot sleep through that blessed racket. We finally landed on a compromise in which we go to bed together and then, when it’s all Chainsaw City up in here, I wake him and he migrates to a lovely little set-up in the office.

It took me years to admit to myself that our marriage would not dissolve like Kool-aid powder in water if we slept in separate spaces. And that I have to have good sleep to function. And that the desire to smother him with a pillow would be a hell of a lot less if it didn’t sound like I was sleeping in a construction zone.

He ordered a new mattress for the office. He deserves optimal sleep, too. But shipping was going to take a few days, so he asked Jane if he could borrow the twin mattress on her loft (where she isn’t even sleeping right now). For a couple days until his nifty new hybrid spring/memory foam mattress arrived.

Earlier during this endless quarantine, Jane discovered the joy in rearranging her room on the daily. She also likes to ask if she can have pretty much anything her father or I could actually lay claim to in this house. What do I mean? Well. she asked me if she could have the master bedroom the other day. I kid you not.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could move Couch Bed from the office into her room. Couch Bed is precisely what it sounds like: a squishy & utilitarian little Transformer that flips up to be a couch during the day & a bed at night. Nifty.

Obviously, we aren’t using it for guests right now (hello, pandemic), so sure. Why not?

Now Jane’s got her own pseudo-apartment in our house. A couch during the day. A loft with a desk for reading and “working.” A flipped down queen-size bed at night. She even has a waiting area, where she suggested I could sit on a bean bad, read a magazine, and wait to speak to her.

Good Lord.

Back to the mattress…

When Simon asked her to borrow it, she hemmed and hawed. I rolled my eyes so far back in my head they almost got stuck there. Because (FOR REAL, GIRL) share. But I let it be.

And I come home and now she’s a mattress landlord.

To be fair, Simon offered to pay her to borrow said mattress. And Jane is a shrewd money manager. She’s always saving to buy something. I don’t doubt that, if she’d had access to the stock market, she would’ve had an impressive portfolio to concern herself with when the pandemic hit. But, alas, she’s NINE, so her chief concern is how to squeeze her parents for more cash.

When Simon asked her what a fair price would be, she suggested $10 a day.

He countered with a much more reasonable $3 per day rate.

She deliberated for a while. Until he reminded her that, if she waited too long, Mommy would come home and just take the mattress and move it to the office. And she’d get nothing.

It’s so good to be really seen by your people, you know? Because hell yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

So, Jane’s relaying this tale rather nonchalantly, and she says, “So, I get 8 dollars for lending him the mattress until Friday. It was supposed to by $9.” Here she shrugs, wrinkles up her little nose, and says, “I don’t know what happened there.”

Oh, girl, I don’t know what happened there, either.