two white women stand together with a group of people milling behind them; the woman on the left is dressed in graduation garb; the woman on the right is in a lilac short sleeve jacket and matching dress

003. six things i wanted to call you about recently

Letters to Mam

Mam,

Your number is still in my phone. Part of me refuses to delete it because doing so seems like the final admission of your leaving. But then, whenever I open my phone app to call someone, your number comes up as my most called, right next to my ex-husband’s, and I am reminded again that I can’t call you.

Some of the things I wanted to call you about lately:

  1. Alonzo Brooks’ case has been reclassified as a homicide. We followed his case after watching the new Unsolved Mysteries together, and felt deep in our bones the injustice of his and his family’s treatment. I know you’d be as happy as I was to hear this development.
  2. I gave a presentation at conference at my university this week about disability and accessibility. It’s the first academic presentation I have ever given that I haven’t been able to run by you first. You are so much a part of my academic journey, my academic life, that not having your perspective on this presentation was noticeable, and made me feel unprepared in a way I will have to learn to live with.
  3. Derek Chauvin was convicted of all three charges against him. I sat on my bed and sobbed off and on for hours, not because I felt joy, but because for once, someone was held accountable. All I felt was brief relief. When the video came out last summer, we talked for a long time about defunding and rebuilding the police, the history of policing in this country, and our fears that even with his actions on full display for the world to see, how he might not face any consequences. I hate that you weren’t here to see him face consequences, to see this step towards (possible) change.
  4. My divorce was finalized in March. You were so supportive of my coming out, of my separation and living authentically, even though it meant ending an otherwise healthy, loving marriage with a man you loved like your own. I wish you could be here to see what that looks like for me.
  5. I have read more than 70 books so far this year, and there are so many I wish I could tell you about. Little Fish by Casey Plett, Luster by Raven Leilani, Sheets by Brenna Thummler, Home is Not a Country by Safia Elhillo, the Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman…I could go on and on and on. I love that we could share books, that you taught me to love books before I could even read, that we could talk about books for hours and hours and never run out of things to say. The only thing we ran out of was time.
  6. I have also watched several movies and TV shows that I wish we could have watched together. The fact that we shared film studies made watching movies such a fun and simultaneously deeper, richer experience – even watching Hallmark movies with you was a conversation. I am grateful that I filmed our discussion of The Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), so that I at least have one of our conversations preserved forever.

We used to talk 2-3 times a week, at least, and in the last month or so I have really been feeling that void. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel like that void is filled, because no one could talk about anything like you could, or provide the perspective you could, or frustrate me with their devil’s advocacy like you could. I miss your voice through the crackle of a cell phone speaker, Mam. I miss your mind and your willingness to spend hours talking about everything in the world with me.

I miss you.

Love,

A

002. tension & ghosts

Letters to Mam

Mam,

Last week was the kind of nightmare I’m glad you weren’t here to see.

The guilt I feel in even thinking that is tremendous, but there is it, immediate and definite. I don’t think you’d fault me for it. I know how you would have worried if you’d known what I am about to tell you and, feeling powerless to help, how that worry would have stirred into a full panic, which would have done no one any good.

In the midst of record low temperatures, my apartment lost power for approximately 60 hours. About halfway through the ordeal, I was able to escape said apartment for a friend’s house 30 minutes down the highway. I remembered everything you taught me as I drove down the one cleared lane: go slow, keep your wheels straight, don’t throw your brakes, look for black ice under bridges. Everything I know about surviving comes from your warnings.

Mercifully, I got myself and your grandkitty safely to my friend’s home, which had relatively consistent power over the next two days. I ate better than I’d eaten in weeks (my friend, L, is a divine cook) between rounds of boiling, cooling, and storing water, binge-watching Netflix series, and shitposting on Twitter to release the tension roiling in my body.

I was finally able to return home on Thursday. By then, the roads were better, and the heat had returned to my two-story flat. One of the first things I saw when I entered was a huge cockroach on my stove, and all I could do was sigh before disposing of it.

It’s now many days later. I still have no hot water, and won’t for many days still, but I have little else to complain about. I am one of the extremely lucky ones—the privileged ones—who was spared burst pipes and ruined belongings and hypothermia and everything else. So many have lost so much.

I don’t find it a coincidence that my neighborhood—largely working poor, multi-generational, immigrant and otherwise BIPOC—was targeted for such an extended “rolling” blackout. Knowing you, you would have played devil’s advocate while secretly agreeing with me, just to push me to think more complexly. That used to annoy me, especially when my passions flared hot and righteous and I just wanted someone to tell me I was right, that it was okay to be angry.

Today, I miss it, even as I know that I would prickle at your defenses.

Perhaps soon I will learn how to argue with a ghost.

Love,

A

a blurry figure leans against the walls of a stone tunnel

when you finally stop running

General

I’m beginning to think that denial is stronger than faith—at least, in me.

I never thought of myself as a runner, feet pounding the pavement or carpeted track of my university gym, rolling inward as I lifted and struck again. I hated the sound of my footfalls, no music loud enough to mask my breathing. This was before my legs got bad and running became impossible—or so I thought.

The fact is I’ve been running from the truth of myself for more than a decade. By truth, I mean there is evidence of my path in the pages of journals I’ve kept since I was six, mentions of attraction and fears and wants buried between reviews of books and half-finished poems and obsessive (performative) notes about boys.

The truth that I am a lesbian. A lesbian who married a wonderful man who is her best friend and the only person she thought she’d spend her life with.


Coming out as gay when you’re 31 years old and married to a man is its own unique chaos. Fear at how friends and family will respond to you. Weekly therapy to try to understand why it took so long to stop running, why you stopped now. Moving into an apartment with one of your two cats (he kept the other). Exploring the hellscape that is online dating when you’re queer and new and not sure what you can offer another person when you’ve already failed the best friend you’ve ever had. Filing for divorce in the middle of a pandemic.


The reality of my life has completely unraveled in the last three months. No more beautiful rental home. No more stability. It’s all panicked timelines and deadlines and somehow, a full-time job waiting for me every Monday morning.

This is the story for so many of us. I (almost) can’t believe I’ve been running alongside all these women for so long and never noticed, each of us fighting against the force the pulls us off the track until we can’t anymore. Until we have to say it—quietly, at first, and only to ourselves, then again in desperate admissions to our loved ones.

Sometimes it feels like I was running to keep my fragile world spinning, and once I stopped to look back at what I was running from, I realized it had already shattered, splinters of glass lodged in the soles of my feet. I wonder how long it will take to excise the shards from my skin, for the scars to heal.


I have hope for congruity, now; for peace, finally. I have hope to find it here and share it with you, so maybe there won’t be another me that follows along that broken, well-worn path.

‘Language Barriers’ is a Best of the Net Finalist

General

Part of me wants to say, “I don’t know how this happened!”

But I do.

It was one too many comments in a day of exhaustive, unsolicited feedback from strangers who felt ownership over my body by virtue of its existence in their presence.

My options were to scream into the void or put words on paper. Thankfully, I did the latter.

Over months, I edited the words into a poem. I sent that poem to nearly a dozen journals before Kissing Dynamite sent me the email that changed everything.

They wanted to feature my rage in their May 2019 issue.

I provided commentary to readers. I got to tell the why and how of the words that had poured out of me that one angry day that could have been any angry day.

The feedback I received was empowering. I hadn’t felt so validated in my feelings of violation and indignation.

In September, I received an email with the subject line, “Surprise!” Inside, the KD team announced that they had nominated ‘Language Barriers’ for the Best of the Net Anthology.

To be nominated was itself an honor. It was enough.

Last week, following a string of bad news, I received another email with the subject line, “Congratulations!” Inside, the lovely Christine Taylor, EIC of KD, told me that my flicker of fury had been named a Best of the Net finalist for 2019.

This is how it happened: I turned my hurt into flame into a story. I shared that story with someone who found some beauty in it, who shared it with their corner of the world, then shared it again with an even bigger corner of the world. Someone there saw some beauty in it, too, and decided to share it even wider.

There is magic in how it happened, and something so desperately human that it can’t be named.

Thank you Christine, the KD team, the judges and readers and producers at Sundress Publications. Congratulations to my fellow finalists, the winners, and all the other digital poets just trying to make something of the everything. Keep doing.