Met him on a Thursday, sunny afternoon
Cumulus clouds, eighty-four degrees
He was brown, deep
Said he wanted to talk about my mission
Listen to my past lives (Word?)
Took me on long walks to places where butterflies rest easy
Talked about Moses and Mumia
Reparations, blue colors, memories of shell-topped Adidas
He was fresh like summer peaches
Sweet on my mind like block parties and penny candy
Us was nice and warm, no jacket, no umbrella, just warm
At night we would watch the stars
And he would physically give me each and every one
I felt like cayenne pepper, red, hot, spicy
I felt dizzy and so near the heavens and miles between my thighs
Better than love, we made delicious
He me had, had me he
He had me tongue-tied
I could hear his rhythm in my thoughts
I was his sharp, his horn section
His boom and his bip
And he was my love…”
Jill Scott, Love Rain
We all have markers we are searching for as evidence. Not the fat crayola or sharpie kind or even mile markers letting you know how far you have traveled. I mean the markers we look for in the people we map out as possible lovers, partners or soulmates. It is the “evidence” we need to see that gives a sense that this one might be “the one”. We also have markers that we collect for ourselves like giant shiny colorful marbles. Big fat ones, little ones, old worn favorites and new acquisitions. Our personal markers that so often materialize in our youth, are either further developed over time into a fully integrated identity and love language OR they become amazing performative masks we “put on” and will show up as an impostor in our relationships. Our perfumed messenger frightfully awaiting their reveal.
These markers get developed or underdeveloped throughout our lifetimes. I have mine that I have been excavating a few months shy of 50. So much of what I perceive as being necessary from the person I would fixate my attention on was based on a several different internalized narratives. Will they be your Solomon to your Makeda, Dwayne to your Whitley, Boaz to your Ruth, Martin to your Coretta or Teacake to your Janie? Will they help me play out the mythical narrative developed from the folklore wrapped around my parents relationship? The great love of my life that finds me when all hope is lost only to die perhaps? My markers were ingested and lay fallow until I was about 14 or 15 and that is when I picked up my first mask. The mask of the popular girl who would be desired by most and sought out by the ones who could raise her social stock. In retrospect, I realize that I felt so out of place, unattractive by 80s standards and disempowered at that time in my life. I have reflected recently on the youthful decision I made to pick up the mask of the super active, creative, student leader, cheerleader/homecoming queen with perfectly coiffed hair who would, hopefully, attract the most popular pretty mutha fucka at school. And walah! I would be made whole. Not really and that girl is still here. Anyway, I think the markers are often presented to us as pablum when we are children. It is was we see in our homes, on tv, in between magazine cover and running full force down along the spines of Harlequin romance novels (or Zane, if that’s your preference…do people still read Zane?).
The markers in and of themselves are not always problematic. There is a continuum of health and dysfunction that exist inside the markers that live inside of me. I received the message that “you are enough and you deserved to be loved” and I also received the unspoken and I’m sure intentional message of ” don’t expect too much and don’t be too much”, “let someone love you a little bit more than you love them” (like that was some kind of actuarial love insurance) and the fait accompli “you can’t expect love to last”. Either way, I embody those markers. But what happens when your temporary developmental markers become your permanent mask? What happens when you become so invested in the marker that your true self, who you are in your rawest form is underdeveloped because is has been deprived of light and a consistent practice in loving. Mind you, I’m clear that at first, my mask were life giving is some immature and fleeting manner. That puff of fake power, that seduction that is possible when I glamoured someone with my glittery personae has been real intoxicating thing for me. But the let down, the love hangover and reinforcement that who I am really am underneath all the new masks I have fashioned and worn over the years, would never hold the same allure, would never be enough to be truly loved. Desired, yes. But loved, stripped down, naked and real in a sustained way? Maybe at first, but then…..
I made a confession to my therapist that I don’t think I know how to date healthy at this point in my life. That felt like some real grown up shit to say so I do feel like I’m making progress. I have also been going through the withdrawal of throwing out the mask that choke my real voice and hide my true identities. The mask that turned dark and taunted me, “you will be found out soon enough”. I realized that my masked also obscured my view so that when I met someone that I fancied for myself, I was likely being glamoured too. I have found myself in relationships, entanglements, one marriage, and situationships with people who were also invested in their own mask, their markers and their undeveloped identity. They were a reflection of me. They were a reflection of what I believed I deserved.
The mistake was made
Love slipped from my lips
Dripped down my chin and landed in his lap
And us became new
Now me non-clarivoyant and in love
Made the coochie easy and the obvious invisible
The rain was falling
And I couldn’t see the season changing ……And the vibe slipping off its axis
Our beautiful melody became wildly staccato
I have been working assiduously to discern that parts of myself that are performative because of the pure powerful joy of that being really who I am at my core and the part of me that leans on that as a crutch to shield the real me from the harm I think is inevitable in relationships. Sidebar: I have been waiting most of my adult life to use the word “assiduously” in reference to myself. The popular cheerleader/homecoming queen student leader had been transformed into some type of ethereal Earth Mother goddess crystal toting social justice plug. The seductress pattern master, the Mary Poppins magic pusher with a spoonful of Osun’s honey (see also “altar in a bag”) and the “oh, you don’t want none of this” badass…all here, present and fully accounted for.
When I spread out all my masks…all my years of costuming and varying avatar accouterments, I realized that first and foremost, I get to simply look at what is in front me. What have I collected, constructed or orchestrated? What is life giving and what is toxic? What does it all look like and what does it tell me about what I need and where I get to go? Secondly and maybe most importantly, if I don’t accidentally fall down into the rabbit hole of self-loathing and shaming, I get to remind myself to not judge myself too harshly. I get to choose to show compassion to that 14-15 year old Billie for her choices then and I get to walk with her through letting it all go. I get to see my real face and body, explore my heart..touching each narrative and memory with care and I get to breathe new life into it with my own unencumbered breath.