joining the flock

In the summer of 1986 I joined the United States Army Reserve. I was 19 years old and had no inkling of the nature of my upcoming journey. I was young and naive with high expectations and childlike dreams. 

I required money for college; that was my primary reason for joining. I wanted to become a lawyer. Serving my country was an afterthought. The GI Bill was my road to higher education and a better future. I had initially walked into the Air Force recruiters’ office, college and jets on my mind. My scores were insufficient, so I could not join to become a pilot. I had to choose from jobs within my test range. Dejected, I ambled down the hall to the Army recruiters and officially joined the Army Reserve as 71L (Administrative Specialist), my MOS (Military Occupational Specialties). I don’t fully recall why I wanted to change, but felt compelled to do so.

Basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) were at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At the time, Fort Jackson was said to be one of the most grueling basic training forts in the United States. I was unable to confirm this at the time, but it certainly felt like the truth. AIT was not as challenging, but still intense and demanding. 

I left Fort Jackson and headed back to the North Bronx, now officially a private and reservist. My monthly duty station was Fort Totten in Queens, built in 1862 (named Fort at Willets Point) and renamed Fort Totten in 1898.  Each month I made the long trip to Queens to spend two days conducting military business. It was unimpressive and uneventful. Once per year we went away for two weeks, with my first two week trip landing me in Colorado, knee deep in sidewinders and what felt like twin suns.

After nearly two years and incessant indecisiveness regarding what I wanted to study in college, I decided to join the Army full time. Becoming a lawyer no longer felt like a fit. I imagined defending the guilty and immediately became disinterested. I then decided to become a computer programmer and began learning C, C++, FORTRAN, COBOL and Pascal. While I enjoyed learning the many programming languages, I didn’t envision myself programming day in and day out at a corporation. Pre-lawyer dreams of becoming a singer, model and actress had long been dashed to the wind due to lack of support. I needed to get away. The Army was my escape. Silly, I know this now.

My first duty station as a full-time soldier was West Germany, Deutschland, winter 1988, Christmas week. I learned to stick shift in Deutschland and drove on the Autobahn (Bundesautobahn), speed limits be damned, within two days of learning manual transmission.  I rode on the U-Bahn, the railway system with no booth clerk at many stops.  A small ticket machine stole their jobs and left the honor system as a replacement. Some days I purchased my ticket, other days I took a chance, hoping a conductor wouldn’t float through to check tickets and give tickets to the dishonorable. I was caught once without a ticket, but that did not deter me from periodically rolling the dice like some Germans. My adventures in Deutschland are extensive and will find their way in other stories on another day. Of all the stories, however, there is one more I will share here. I was there when the Wall came down and many East Germans left what some would consider their prison and others would call their home. Small cars I called shoes, all piled high with luggage sometimes twice the height of the tiny cars, moved along narrow streets in West Germany. Droves of East Germans, excited to reunited with Westside family members, flowed like a stream over unfamiliar asphalt. The influx, although expected, was still a shock to the system in the West. I witnessed it. Got a piece of the wall and a cut of the original fence that remained before the wall went up. It was surreal to be there, a witness to transformative history.

Promotion to Specialist • West Germany 1989

I gave birth to my first daughter in Frankfurt, West Germany, October 1990, then decided it was time to extricate myself from an environment I had slowly realized was not conducive to the life I wanted for my child. After a bit of research, I found a loophole that allowed me to leave the military. I was tempted to remain in Germany given that I had fallen in love with the land and the people. But youth and inexperience planted fear in me, so I left. 

I learned many valuable lessons while in the military. It is an experience I cherish. I am not a “patriot” like many of my veteran friends. The military did, however, provide me with opportunities. I have been asked many times over the years if I would do it over, would I join again? No, never again. I would definitely not do it again. I believe the universe repeatedly attempts to provide us with lessons. If we avoid a lesson one way, we are given the lesson another way. I believe I would have received whatever lessons I learned in the military through some other means or method.

I remember all that I’ve gained. I also realize all that I’ve lost by joining.  In the end, it balances out. I suppose. It is what it is. I had an experience. It was valuable. It is over. I honor it and would never wish to do it again. I do not believe anything but bullying is solved by war. Death always follows. For a moment in time, I was a part of that as I out-processed soldiers for the Gulf War, Operation Desert Shield. The hands of time cannot be reversed. And that is ok. I am here and I know something I did not know yesterday. 

in the small places

Remembering Her Through Streams of Words

I’ve always felt that I, human, am frighteningly small and whatever this is that we exist within is big, bigger than anything I could describe with human words. Not even numbers, math, arithmetic can illustrate what this is in ways we can fathom. Or even believe. Yet, we are in it. We are swallowed up by it. It ingests us and digests us as we move through it, trying to find our way to the other side of it. If there is another side. If there is only one side. 

We are the grain of sand upon the beach of these galaxies, all swimming inside a mass of multiverses. We are floating through space, circling things we cannot see, and being encircled by things we may never see.

I bend inquisitive words to my will, hoping to breathe life into the mouths of their newly fleshed selves, hoping these words will help me to feel big inside this nameless ancient thing. I wonder about this hope I carry and whether it is authentic. Do I truly want to feel big? Do I want to know what this is? Or do I want to feel a greater sense of what I am in all this? Maybe I am terrified of the realization that I am sand. Or the molecule that sits upon the sand. Or the molecules that make up the sand. Maybe this is what frightens me, to realize how seemingly insignificant I am in all this. I am absent the ability to understand it. We all are. So there is no one I can turn to for answers, because we are all the many molecules moving around inside the form that is sand. Trapped by invisible limitations that won’t allow us to be anything other than sand; anything other than human. We cannot escape, we can only be.

I’m lost. I wake each day, sun warming my skin, and find myself yet again trapped inside this mysterious flesh that won’t set me free. Each sunrise renders me small and ever shrinking. I am acutely aware of this aging body I inhabit that will one day stop. I will be motionless, still, ceasing to realize the smallness of everything I’ve ever known. Becoming smaller as the abyss takes hold. Ultimately, ceasing to realize the bigness of all that I will never see or hear or smell or touch. Will there be something else once I leave this prison? Or should I count this as a mysterious gift I cannot decipher? Will there be the chance to explore that which is bigger than me, and smaller than I could ever imagine? Does that which is smaller than me contemplate its existence in the way that I contemplate mine? In similar ways? Maybe we are the only beings that contemplate existence. Will I enter the light or the darkness, or a peculiar amalgam of both? Will I go into permanent unconsciousness or permanent existence and sentience? Will I BE; or not be?

I think. 

Then…

…I bake words in hot ovens so they may rise. I fry them in cast iron pots, black and seasoned over the years to add flavor to everything that touches them. I take words into my hands and toss them in a buttered pan, so they can flavor my existence and find the truths I cannot see. The words seek out the roads less traveled, the paths to uncharted places only the stars have seen. I want to go there, to the uncharted places. I want to become big; then small enough and wise enough to commune with the ones who know what it is like to feel small. They live and love and look up and out, wondering what else there is…who else there is. I sauté words, preparing them for my still growing imagination. I imagine big, trying to offset my feelings of smallness. I have trouble seeing the power of smallness in this moment, even though I know there is power in the small. I know it. I do.

If we let it, realization of our pending death could open portals into other worlds (and words). Maybe only into the worlds in our mind, but maybe into tangible worlds waiting for us to find them. If we fearfully attempt to pretend death isn’t coming, we could deny ourselves a magical journey. 

My stepmother died Friday, April 20, 2018. She was kind. 

Her journey thrust me into deep meditation. I went to the hospital. Saw her lifeless body. Her mouth was agape due to rigor mortis, so it could not be closed. It was surreal. She’d only been dead for two hours when I arrived. Her body was still warm. 

Warm.

Warm.

No movement. No breath. No heart beat. Lifeless.  But warm. Warmth is life. 

It was life.

I kissed her forehead and my lips warmed. I spoke to her, feeling that she was still traveling and would hear my words. I wanted my imagining to be true, for her traveling soul to smile as I spoke. 

I wanted her to have a soul. 

So I spoke to her, not knowing if what I conjured in my mind was true. As I sat staring at her, I no longer knew what was true. In truth, I never did. I’ve always tossed our existence around in my mind, never landing on anything I could say I know for sure. We make claims about faith and hope and utter knowings we cannot prove to anyone but our dream-selves. Our fear of not knowing gives rise to claims of “personal journeys” only we can experience. There it is. No proof required. Convenient methods we use to allay our fears. We are creative beings. We are. 

I watch.

She seemed small on that hospital bed; small, vulnerable and helpless. Not even the doctors could bring her back. In that moment, they were helpless demi-gods who once dreamed of omnipotence. They left the room, dragging their words behind them, littering the floor with their helplessness. She was a prisoner inside a body that was warm, but motionless. And she was leaving this place, never to return. She was inside a cage-less, warden-less, fence-less prison that would hold her for a time we can never number. We often ponder how long we could or might live, but we rarely ponder how long we will be dead. If we care for this body, we could be here for 90 years, maybe more. When that time expires, we will be dead for millions, billions, trillions of years…if this is all there is, this moment, this body and these words I leave for you to read. No soul-spirit, just words that will one day ash and find the wind. If this is all there is. If.

I realize now that the small places are not much different from the big places. Just as a thing can be so small we cannot see it, a thing can be so big we cannot see it. That is the way of galaxies. We are here, in this big thing, but cannot see it or its neighboring galaxies with our naked eyes. Everything is big and small all at once. 

This was my stepmother on the hospital bed, big and small all at once. She reminds me to be humble and live well. Because there is a journey up ahead that nothing in this life can prepare us for. This journey could be magical or tragic. But it will be.

the potential for a memoir

One of my advisors a year ago encouraged me to write a memoir based on a writing prompt during one of our residency workshops. He was so enthralled by what I had written within the ten minutes given, he promptly shared his excitement with my previous advisor, who accosted me at our next workshop.

I have never thought about writing a memoir. Who the hell am I? I never imagined I had anything interesting to share. The writing prompt was meant to draw out a past memory, nothing more. But when he insisted that I consider the memoir after what I wrote, I began to toy with the idea.

Some of you have read the very short opening of my piece. The overall piece is now nearly 100 pages. For both those who have read the opening and those who have not, I’d be interested to know if you read what I’ve shared below (what I wrote during the workshop), would you be curious and want to read more?

Be honest. I have thick skin.


I was born beneath Cuba, across the waters of the West Indies on an island that lives and breathes Bob Marley. It was 1967. While papa, my grandfather, was mending the house he built with his bare hands, civil rights marches were happening in “foreign” the place the locals called America. As King, Jr. lay dead, murdered by the mindset of the majority, I learned to walk on hot stones. The light of a man went out. I was oblivious to this then. I lived in a place where electricity and running water and indoor plumbing didn’t reach us. The outhouse was dark at night. But my uncle would take me there sometimes. At other times the chimmy, as my grandmother called it, would be pulled out from under the bed, squatted over, then slid back filled with yellow waste that reminded us of our simple life.

I was small and grass blade thin but I remember the mangoes and jackfruit and star apples and ackee and ginepes and the flowers I used to make jewelry, little necklaces and bracelets, bright and red and beautiful. I want to remember the name of that flower, but time sends memories away to places we can’t find.

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a return to locs

My DNA has warned me that if I keep on with this nonsense about growing out my natural hair without locs, there will be hell to pay. I get death threat-like whispers from my cells that I need to restart my locs, or else.

This is a trying time, when the body actively participates in dictating aesthetics. And almost violently invading mind and soul to the point of unrest.

Like elephants, my cells’ memories are keen and strong. They want “their” locs back.

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i am wanting

I no longer remember who I am, nor why I am. Inside this foreign skin I breathe. I inhale the world I’ve wished for in far away dreams and exhale the world I exist in, bedeviled by those who swim in blood red ego.

I am wanting yesterday, packed up to take with me into tomorrow. It is in that place ahead where I’ll find what I seek. I am wanting.

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