In the beginning …I pause because although I won’t complete this famous scripture; my Grandma’s wisdom revisits me and thoughts of this blog I may include her wise sayings possibly injecting some Biblical doctrine or at least touch on some passage to support my points to drive them home. Something we parents may express in our casual stories of our 'child rearing' days is those profound innocent, little expressions of affection, their humorous antics that we enjoyed in the all too short time we had them at home. As if it were yesterday, I can recall vividly those days filled with laughter. During this stage of my personal growth I would have been unable to know there was a distinct difference between 'happiness' and 'joy' I recognize now that my children did in fact fill me with joy as well. However, after baths, prayers and goodnight kisses time froze or at least transformed into this dark, stale atmosphere filled with what I call ‘universal clatter’. I think you know what I mean. It’s that low hum you hear amidst the quiet of the night as evening dawns at the end of your day ringing in your ears. Some may call it the remains of the day; those problem solving scenarios; of trying to plan ahead to ward off disaster, the issues of ‘too much month at the end of the money’ in where we often ‘Rob Peter to pay Paul. They course through your mind like a movie reel, frame-by-frame. Parenting, being a wife is challenging. When Hubby was not on some foreign shore, it was especially challenging to be both and make decisions alone. If children just came with ‘handbooks’ would it make the job easier? The jury is still out on that, divided into different schools of thought sociologists, psychologists and other professionals will probably argue until the next ice age. Trying to do my best in caring for the emotional, spiritual, physical and economical needs of both my children and husband (even more so when he was deployed) was overwhelming and I found slowly fading from my grasp was the understanding of who I was as an individual. The void created by this sacrifice was beginning to take on a life of its own. Instead of appreciating the quiet time after the kids went to bed, I was gradually feeling a broad sense of loneliness. I would sit at the dining room table thinking how nice it would be to converse with grown-ups to break the monotony for a change; maybe have a night out with the girls. I wanted friends to share a bond. I was beginning to feel locked into the everyday pattern of washing the same dishes, picking up the same toys, missing my husband….if he was home then arguments were primarily my point of view vs. his point of view…I’d feltmy handling of household problems was not only more but also the most logical being a woman. As a female, my ear was so-to-speak closer to the situation. However, the want of ‘friends’ caused an emotion I may have filed in one of my cluttered ‘catch-all’ drawers or left behind in a box somewhere. As a teenager, I suffered from low self-esteem and low self-confidence. I can remember doing my best to be liked and accepted by my classmates, hopefully they’d see me as the ‘friend material’ and without hesitation I'd be on "The List" of people automatically invited to their homes/social events. Sadly that wasn’t the way things were between them and me. This crushing truth came when a childhood acquaintance I'd known my whole life and went to my church regarded me as nothing more than someone she said ‘hi-&-goodbye’ to or didn’t acknowledge me at all. Other classmates went to my church that treated me similarly. My heart was so very heavy that day and rather than go straight home as I was suppose to I went to my Grandma’s house. My warm greeting to her was faux and could not camouflage the churning anxiety I felt. Ethel Mae Patton was an intuitive woman of 6ft 4; she walked with her head held high as statuesque as a Queen in spite of any insecurities she may have had. I think what also complimented this invisible force, which drew attention to her comeliness, was the fact she spoke in short philosophical expressions as opposed to my mother and her mothers’ (my Nana) lengthy discourses which were also compassionate in their own way. That day in particular words were “If you try to please everybody how you plan to please yourself? That’s too many folk to be for so many. Soon you’re going to find out some of ‘em ain’t even worth the time.” As a youth, the pain of being somewhat of an outcast could not be soothed by her words. By the time I reached the 11th grade, a group of students discovered they could harass me to the point of fear; and so I quit. I ran the streets with a crowd always ready to accept you. They were dubbed the “Heads” back in the 60’s. To insure my position among them I experimented with drugs until I met someone else. A high school student who lived at the opposite end of New Jersey, someone who I hoped offered me a different perspective and escape from my hometown ideologies. Rebellious and oblivious I discovered I was pregnant. This gave my mother to re-introduce order back into my life resuming her position as my parent. She and my father had recently divorced. I was quickly whisked away to a private school for ‘unwed mothers’ to fulfill her hope of settling down and finishing my high school education. I had never told her to this day, why I quit school in the first place. By the time, I turned 17 I had crossed the threshold of motherhood and was a single parent who now had to put her insecurities aside for the sake of her daughter. It was apparent my choices were clearly a result of them. While still rowing my canoe down that river of DeNile when I decided a change of environment was my best chance of surviving and joined my daughter’s father on the West Coast. The same problems existed even though a year had passed since we broke up but I married him anyway. I wanted to have another child feeling it would heal the wounds he blamed on distance and time. I had no idea what I was trying to fix were deeply connected to his childhood pain. Yet something told me I should just leave and when the baby was born, raise both the girls by myself. With no high school education, I thought I could not get a job, but coming from the East Coast allowed me to lie about my education and embellish the few jobs I had had during summer vacations. Always planning, I worked as many jobs as I could; broke away from him, move in with friends who introduced me to a young Marine home on leave because his wife wanted a divorce.Our relationship was simply friendship…neither of us knew to build any other foundation perhaps due to the troubles we were going through in our lives. Each week he came home from Camp Pendleton for two days. On those visits, we played chess, went to the movies, had family get together’s (as he was the brother of my friend’s husband); we enjoyed each other’s company, sometimes went to clubs and danced, sometimes let the others go clubbing and stayed home and just talked. It was 4 months before we ever kissed and a month later before intimacy came into play. As we got to know each other, better I noticed he began to move closer to me emotionally. Strangely, I wanted to take two steps back for each one-step he moved closer. There was a sense of ‘falling deep in love’ I wasn’t prepared for. How many times have we asked ourselves is all this to fill a void; am I rebounding? I couldn’t answer either question and only knew I did not trust my judgment so I ended the relationship rather cold and abruptly leaving only a letter behind which said, “If we’re meant to be together, then even we won’t be able to stop it.” Once again, I moved in with friends hoping to save more money to get my own place before the baby came.Gsia came early because of a uterine infection. I was admitted into hospital and put on strict bed rest. I hadn’t been hospitalized for more than 3 weeks before my body tried to abort the baby, but she lived weighing in at 2lbs 6 oz. Whether it was a hormonal fluctuation or a re-evaluation of my life, I called my husband about her birth. Still the same neurotic, agitated, and angry person I had to have him removed from the hospital and resolved I would follow through with the divorce and never ask him for a penny for support just so I didn’t ever have to experience his emotional and physical abuse, which he may transfer to the girls. During my separation with Melvin, the marine, his sister in all her intuition would encourage me to give him at least another chance. He was what ‘Brotha’s would call a ‘real man’. He kept his emotions to himself for the most part, never showed weakness and to picture him ‘pining’ for me was difficult. After Gsia was born, I wrote him a letter. I ‘talked’ to him through this letter pouring out all the emotions I was going through and apologized that I may have made a mistake. My first husband was ‘one of the cool ones’….not a ‘bad-boy’ but popular, handsome. On good days, he showed an endless devotion to my needs and was a good father to our oldest daughter Shaadai. Still the bad outweighed the good and I admitted that my pattern of choosing men always fit this description. Let me add here a story that happened when I was finally allowed to date. Brads, Cliffs, Kevin’s, strong names, strong bodies, tall, (yeah I was also color-struck) light skin and handsome guys were the ones I was drawn to. Naturally I thought it was because not only was I a beautiful young woman, but very intelligent. However, it seemed just as my father would say during his inquisition of them ‘they just wanted to get inside my box’. My mom would always bring up one of the boys I went to school with, whose family she knew to be very decent. Theophilus, short, fat, pudgy, very well mannered but I thought I would be the laughing stock of JHS. After so many urgings I finally made my reason clear and she replied; “You know what young lady, one day you’re gonna fall in love with a guy. He’s gonna be short, and dark-skin and his name is gonna be Melvin!” That conversation never returned to the forefront of my memory until we had had at least three kids. Gsia was not included in that three as she died at 18 months. The Examiner could never explain the death so it may have been a result of my ex’s physical abuse….I don’t think much about the blame being placed on anyone, in factI grew very strong because of my mother’s words of comfort when she came to California to help me arrange for her funeral. She said, Paula, I think God was trying to get your attention. I believe this. I heard a sermon once in where the Pastor said that sometimes your life is so loud that God cannot hear your prayers. To me that translated to, be careful because you do not want God to cause you to be still. So I think of her as the Angel who came to visit. She may have been born purposely for the re-inventing of me and abandoning my need to be accepted by others. Preemies stay protocol in the hospital until they reach five pounds, so I would spend as much time as my emotions would allow me to constantly afraid that one day she would not be there when I returned. One day, exhausted I took a nap with Shaadai before I had to return to the hospital. I felt a cold nose touch my face, then warm wet kisses bathing my cheek, followed by soft touches and I woke up to see Melvin leaning into me. I was so excited and in between my kisses I sang, “You got my letter!” praise God he has forgiven me. He pulled me up and caressed me at the same time asking “What letter? You never wrote me?”It was Kismet. So timely. I had saved enough money to move into my own place. My friends, Mary and Buck were a beautiful couple who loved Shaadai unconditionally, they were also so excited about a new baby coming into their home, but they were over 60…it seemed unfair to disturb their household bringing in a newborn that was destined to Have some medical/physical problems for quite some time. My marine had not changed…he was a rescue for me. It was not the best of neighborhoods but it seemed like a friendly place to begin raising my family. As I said, my Marine had not changed; the following visit he came with his sea-bag and everything he owned and moved into my apartment – without invitation! December 6th we will have been married for 33 years and as a result, I have been subjected to the disbelief of some, interrogate by others, and commended by the rest of those who marvel at such a commitment. Should you read this blog over again you‘d find there are key elements you may want to highlight to chew over. Having understood clearly what pained me so terribly in my first marriage as well as other relationships I discovered friendship to be the perfect foundation on which to build my relationship. I had finally learned what it was I did not want in a relationship just as Mel, even though we didn't see this as an outcome. The ground rules we set down before we got married was a promise to TRY NOT TO CHANGE one another. We did continue to re-invent ourselves. Raising children will force you to be honest with yourself. Allow them to see you as human or history will repeat. Thinking way back to peer pressure I had experienced it seemed I was the ‘joke’ in the school. This was brought to my attention by a committee of my so-called friends who felt it their duty to tell me I was one of the last virgins in the school. I don't know how much truth there was in it in retrospect but I had heard there were bets on who would be the first to kiss me. Was I simply a ‘tease’ or a ‘lesbian’? In one of my P.E classes, I learned that a boy will play with love to get sex and a girl will play with sex to get love. I wanted to sit in the cafeteria without smirks and giggles thrown my way and talk like the other girls do about the boy they love as if they’re already married. Grandma’s response was “If they’re not talking about you, they’d be talking about someone else! Take yo’ butt back to school and remember, if they kill you, they can’t eat you! but you old enuff to do as you want so I’ll say this; ain’t nobody gotta tell you when you had enuff.” My reaction to the wisdom of this Sage was, back then things were different and while her words seemed plausible for the early 1900’s things had changed, times had changed which she had no idea. As if she could read my mind and hear my thoughts from her tiny Formica table to her bedroom, she sent an audible response that I internalized immediately; “Ain’t nuthin’ new under the sun!” which sent me on a journey of self-examination I thought about the friendship I wanted. Today, I have no school friends as part of my social circle. Once again, I found myself sitting at a table; and I did reach out to other women. Still as the saying goes, I hadn’t ‘come into my own’ yet or fully understood all Grandmas’ words. The women I gathered unto me talked…they called on the phone incessantly; they visited so often I nearly lost my focus on the children. Sista’s(know that we ALL are, regardless of origin, or culture) scriptures refer to our mates as ‘help-meets’ and to paraphrase a biblical passage; that man the Lord gave me to be with, although he was a man of few words did express to me those whom he didn’t care for without explaining why. Understanding me, he wanted to avoid a ‘blow up’ I’d perceive as an attack on my character. I recognize now that it would put me face to face with my naiveté, weak-mindedness, and appetite for friends. It is by the grace of Fate/God (whichever name you prefer to give the Deity) that he saw who I truly was and often shook his head as I began separating myself from these people. He could see the trouble coming down the pike and was amazed that I did not; he understood that it wasn’t because I could not, but would not. Ladies, listen to ya Man….partnership is a 49/51% give and take. There are times when any one of you holds the deciding veto power. Herein lies the challenging struggle of the institution of marriage: Defending myself, different points of view, agreeing to a compromise and being friends first, respecting this above all else. Eventually, I was alone again but with life and Fate at the helm, the lessons I learned helped understand loneliness especially LOVE and its ability to cure all ills. While I loved all those I’d invited into my life, they never got to know the real me in order to understand that I saw myself in them therefore they could never move forward/pass the need to gossip, the jealousies and intimidation toward others. Essentially, they hadn’t learned to love themselves making it virtually impossible to love others effectively and efficiently. What’s filled the void, if one remains? I’ve turned to the constant companions I’d neglected before the growing pangs of entering JHS and HS…music and writing. The cathartic release was precious and fulfilling to me at one time before becoming a teenager took over. I write now, I compose, I photograph…because I never got the chance to explain to them why I bowed out of their society; how I loved them because I saw so much of myself in them. Of course, none of them had reached that juncture in their lives when they’d be able to hear and embrace this observation and still having issues of my own to work out at the time – I didn’t have the words either. In the words of Sistah Badhu, I now pick my friends like I pick my fruit, and to sum it all up I AM FINALLY loved unconditionally by the handful of children…my children, those who needed a Mom & Dad and adopted Ross and I as their parents. There is an unspoken rule in society where we ‘teach our daughters’ and merely ‘raise’ our boys. Well Fate has seen fit to open my eyes to LOVE’S willingness to teach us ALL in my sweet family; blessed me with a handfulof extremely good friends who also love me unconditionally….I thought I was fortunate and found favor in Fate when my first good friend entered my life….LOVE challenged me to wait and see just how much more beauty would enter my life. Think on this. You wouldn’t give your car keys to a 9-year-old child lacking both life experience and formal training. Well as Scriptures says, God never give us more than we can handle…so if what you pray and hope for hasn’t manifested itself just consider that you haven’t completed the life experiences or spiritual training required to handle the obligations and responsibilities required to handle them.To ALL MY LOVED ONES…present and future, I love you, for all reasons and all seasons, Tsaa
Steve Lohr is a reporter for The New York Times on technology, business and economics. In 2013, he was a member of the team that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting
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