“I wished my bloodline, as it were, would clot. My kin has a thing for self-destruction.”
⏤ Apple Tree
I don’t know when I realized that I couldn’t just get lost in my own story the way I did the shows I’d watch. I had a way of locking into the character’s whose lives I envied ⏤ mindless and enthralled. I tried to do that with my own life, jumping in and out of the kind of drama that didn’t ruin anything for real, but made everything interesting. The realization that I had to write the life I was going to live, that I couldn’t just read and enjoy it, hit me hard.
I’m the daydreamer. I lived in my head for the better part of my whole life. It was my safe space away from the abrasive tones conversations with just about anyone tended to take. Every hint of condescension, impatience and frustration would send me running back to the confines of my mind, so I made myself a home in the right hemisphere of my brain.
Perpetually daydreaming had its consequences, of course. I’ve missed entire English lessons on grammar and punctuation because the world of my thoughts was far more engaging than the humdrum tales of prepositions and when to use them. Curating real life was far different from back floating through the pages of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe where I was Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter simultaneously. Free of the burden of decision making but engaged enough to mentally shout warnings at the characters who had become extensions of myself. Life was real and I had to be me ⏤somehow, while concurrently figuring out who me, was. All for the glory of writing the story of my life. Though, I hadn’t the slightest clue about how to begin.
There’s a lot of speculation about when life truly begins and I’m not talking about the pro-life versus pro-choice debate. I’m talking about the race against time that I was already losing by the time I learned of its existence. At one point, life began at 21, though getting there made me realize that inflation applied to the age of “figuring it out” too. It was the age that should have come with a more refined sense of understanding of life that would be sufficient preparation for the years to come. That’s how I understood it at least. There was a shortage of talks about what kind of days the future would yield. Despite not knowing what to expect, there were alarming numbers of “ you should have this done by now” lectures just around the corner of every moment that fell short of what they should have been. Even trying to beat the lecture to the corner became a Herculean task with the ever growing bindle of shame I carried on from previous failed moments. There was never any shortage of reminders of just how badly I was doing at life.
I’m aware that no matter where your start was, you can excel, you can exceed expectations and you can succeed but for a long time, I resented my parents for not getting ahead in the race before throwing me into it.
The years I spent suffering through track and field provided a painful yet accurate visual aid of the legacy I was born into. Picture this. The 4 by 400 meter girls relay race is beginning. Everyone you know is out to watch the events of the day and they gather by the fence near the track to see you win. The race begins. The first leg finishes neck and neck with several others in the leading lanes and hands off to the second leg who falls a little behind. The second leg pushes to finish handing the baton off to the third leg, who, after succumbing to discouragement, falls even further behind only to later fumble the baton and scramble to recover it. The third leg then passes the baton, a blown lead and the weight of redemption to the anchor. The anchor doesn’t have the advantages of a good lead, being neck and neck with any of the front runners or even a hope to win the race but must find the energy to double efforts to simply finish.
That’s me, the anchor of my family. Except, I dream of winning. Simply finishing the race is akin to merely existing and that is a different kind of death in itself.
I didn’t know there was more to know than what I learned. Had I known that I would need much more than I was given to make something cohesive and impactful of my time here, I would have trained harder. I would have looked beyond what was passed down to me from my mother. She was a dreamer too. My mother has always been more curious about just how life’s odds could potentially favor her, than where she could go if she applied more of herself than her imagination. I suppose that’s where I learned to escape the limitations of myself. If I knew that the same mind that could create dream-like escapes could also curate solutions, I would have put a timer on my daydreams long ago in order to be awake and present for all the lessons that would propel me further or help me to pivot in the direction of my destiny.
I finally found a compelling place to pivot. When I began, it was almost as if it were my rite of passage to mystically descend into existential chaos. Maya Angelou spoke highly of journeying with the support of her ancestors, “coming as one but standing as 10,000”. I’ve waded in the solace of the imagery of the generations that sired me, stationed at my flank, ready to go to war with me. Yet, for me, the spirits of my 10,000 stood opposite me, barring the path to my desire for more.
Somehow, even with wanting to sever my blood ties in order to stand independent of the toxicity I was in line to receive, I still managed to inherit the only heirlooms my lineage could afford me ⏤ depression, anxiety and the auspicious ability to stand in my own way.
I was stubborn, so I was adamant about overcoming it all despite what either nature or nurture had to say about it. I poured tears over the years of conditioning that were stacked against me, I ate my fears for breakfast in attempts to show them just who was boss but I didn’t dawn on me then, in my attempts at aggressive defiance that, you are what you eat. The more I fought the way my familial past featured itself in my present, the more of it I noticed, and before long, it metastasized against my will.
There’s very little that’s attractive about battling anxiety and depression. I didn’t want it to be my reality so I fought it. I wanted to feel the same excited jitters in real time that writing myself into short stories inspired by my favorite television characters got me. I wanted the interesting relationships with high-energy individuals, conversations teeming with emotional build-up that provoked drawn-out hugs and speeches from loved ones reminding me of just how much they loved me. I wanted the passion driven job quest that would catapult me into epiphanies about who I am and what I should be doing. I wanted everything in between the relationships and the career wins; the personality emphasizing wardrobe, the car that says, “I’m one of you but in my own way”, and a day to day life that was so saturated with variety that I could completely forget about the notion of choosing what I would become. My mother’s hand-me-downs made that increasingly difficult.
One thing was for certain, there were no examples of anything desirable hanging from my family tree. Sybil May, the tree that my mother’s apple didn’t fall too far from ⏤ a fashionista of her time and bigot in her own right, who blamed the white man for all her shortcomings ⏤ clutched her vanity like the pearl neck pieces she fancied. Being mulatto was her claim to fame and her desire for beauty was so great that she rejected anything she didn’t find beauty in. She had given one of her daughters, the one with the darkest skin, to her mother to be raised as she didn’t find dark skin on women to be a thing of beauty.
Before learning of the complexities of Sybil, I romanticized who she was and would have been had she lived beyond my secondary school years. I dreamed her to be a soft- spoken, humble matriarch. The type to end quarrels with a mere look and quelled the fears of her children and grandchildren with strong and warm embraces. That isn’t who she was. I thought her up as I wished to remember her and the disappointment that followed the rude awakening was more than I was prepared to get tangled up in.
I’d conjure up thoughts of her when I was at odds with my mother. I’d imagine that after all of our squabbles, I’d turn to her and she’s undo the damage that my mother caused with hugs and stories of my mother’s imperfect upbringing. Instead, I stumbled upon stories of crass scoldings and beatings with broom sticks and I was left with the conclusion that Sybil May would not have been my savior had she still been alive. She was, in fact, the reason for the unloving tormenter that my mother had been to me. Even worse, she became the justification for my mother’s ways and the reason I, as much as I didn’t want to, felt obligated to forgive the hand-me- down abuse my mother wasn’t introspective enough to dismantle before it got to me.
The older I grew, the worse it felt. Reality grew too brute to imagine alternatives and I fought the desire to return to being young enough to dream up an escape with the realization that if I could get to grown, I could run away from it all and not look back.
That was my plan, to grow and go ⏤ but a funny thing happened on the way to old enough. That funny thing was the coexistence of my desire to be nothing like my mother and Sybil May and the realization that I was already more like them than I’d ever noticed.
I had the bipolar depression, the anxiety and the self-destructive tendencies to match. To top it off, on my best days, I’d turn to vanity to inspire validation from others to supplement the esteem I couldn’t find in myself.The epiphanies were heartbreaking.
I walked through the mall one day after theatrically playing sick in order to be allowed to leave work early. The plan was to ditch my department store digs and go for ice-cream and a long drive with my then partner in crime, Geo. Our antics were the things my day dreams were made of ⏤ car ride conversations in between our favorite songs cranked up to ignorant decibels, windows down, beckoning the inner city breeze and final destinations of whichever spot begat the fried foods we fancied in the moment and the ice-cream spot closest to it for dessert. After successfully convincing the department supervisor that my sullen and sniffly disposition was legitimate, I carried my act through the mall in an attempt to stay in character until I was in Geo’s car and in the clear. I walked past the kiosks on the mall’s lower level and somehow locked eyes with myself in the mirror hanging from one of the posts next to where a vendor was standing. Tears immediately flooded my eyes. I looked away in a hurry and quickened my steps towards the escalator, rode it to the top level and exited the building.
It wasn’t me that I saw when I locked eyes with myself in the mirror. It was my mother. It was an odd experience for several reasons, most important being that my mother and I share very little by way of resemblance ⏤ her freckles seem to dance against the backdrop of her very light complexion whereas mine shyly blended in with my very brown skin. I resented that I was able to lock into the full image of her face despite the fact that our resemblance is weak and that I was already walking at a quick pace. My mother and I were frequently at odds. She wasn’t my favorite person as I knew that I was nowhere close to being hers. As a result, anything that I embodied that represented her, offended me. I felt betrayed by my own body. The keeper of my secrets who knew just how much she had hurt me had been disloyal.
Getting lost in my delicately curated thoughts became less of an escape and more of a distraction, hindering my actual escape. I don’t know exactly when it shifted but mindless and enthralled no longer suited me. I had to spend less time with the characters I loved to befriend and more time developing my own character. I had to get serious. If I hadn’t come down to earth when I did, my blood ties might have formed a noose.
I hoped to fall from my family tree the way Lucifer fell from grace. I did my best to exalt myself above the bipolar lows of the daughters of Sybil, in hopes that I’d be far enough removed from the depths of the curse the women before me nurtured in place of the children they bore. I longed to roll far enough away from the foot of the tree I fell from. To sever my blood ties with insanity like the umbilical cords there were never any husbands present to cut.
I’d be disconnected from the promises of emptiness, passed through the gaps of generational stories like airborne viruses. I wished my bloodline, as it were, would clot. My kin has a thing for self-destruction.
I found my way back into my thoughts, this time, I’m manifesting the dreams in my head. The baton is still in play but this race is new and I’m creating the lead I wasn’t given. All that I wished my family to be will have to start with me.