Aspiring to Inspire: Private Pain (Amidst These Ashes)

Greetings everyone! I was approached a while back to participate in the Aspire to Inspire initiative—to talk about each of my works and to observe them as an artist, appreciate the beauty of them … like reflecting back and patting one’s self on the back type of thing. However, the amount of things I had written were not alignment with the original time frame I had to get this initiative completed. Therefore I was given some more time … until the end of May.

I struggled with which work I wanted to do first. Did I want to do poems first, then short stories … or vice versa? Did I want to do them by release date? Neither of those felt right to me, so I’m deciding to do them in the order in which I’m called to speak on them.

For this entry, my focus is on Private Pain: Amidst These Ashes.

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I don’t know if it is like this for novelists, but I never tire of talking about my poetry and discussing different tangents—whether it’s cover concept, delivery, purpose or style. The challenge can be whether I discussed any of these things previously, whether it is on guest posts or book tours in the past. Apologies in advance if some of the information is repetitive.

The question that has been asked of me the most is why—why would I come out with such a gritty collection, one that would stir up more visceral than intellectual stimuli? Why would I expose so much of my own experiences, when most people were unaware these things even happened to me?

The best and most accurate answer is that on this earth, no person wants to be the only one who has gone through neglect, disrespect, sadness, aggravation … pain. The bad feelings are not exclusive experiences, although many would like to believe that they are. In fact, the downside is an absolute necessity if we as human beings can truly appreciate the uptick when it is in front of us.

I shared, in the hopes that someone else would read it and think, “If she survived it, I can survive it too.”

For this post, I’d like to present poems … not necessarily my favorite … but those that really mirror circumstances and the feeling in regards to being on the other side.

Dealing with family dysfunction

In the poem “That Are Not Mine”, I speak of what I considered an ideal family structure at the time. I was just starting school and noticed that the way my family was built was vastly different that the other structures of which I was exposed. Around that same time, there were some untruths conveyed in reference to why my father was not in the picture, causing me a great amount of turbulence that I didn’t express nor quite knew how to process.

Excerpt

I’m hanging out with my gang of friends,
Smiling and wishing the day wouldn’t end,
But the grownups come and the day is done.
My mom and dad are there;
I’m just like everyone.
I’m trying to cling to these wonderful times
But let go, sad for the moments
That are not mine.

It took me a while to let go and face the reality—that my mom and I would never have that storybook bond or have an experience similar to that on TV shows … where there’s the joy of reconnecting, the shedding of tears, and the building of a better albeit different relationship. Is this the solution that I’m advocating? I say that if one can see a pathway to have a peaceful, respectful existence with a parent, then try to do so. For me, the type of energy embedded in her aura does not coincide with the type of existence I desire as a mainstay.

There were other dysfunctional relationships but the one involving my mom packed the most punch. I couldn’t understand how there could be a tattered connection between a child and the vessel used for deliverance of said blessing.

Dealing with absence

I did not harp on my father’s absence (well, at least the guy people told me was my father—his name is not on the birth certificate).  He wasn’t around for me to know. Yet, around my freshman year of college, a member of his family approached me and expressed that he was interested in meeting with me. I speak on the experience in the piece “Said You Loved Me”.

Excerpt

You came across the tattered parts
Of soil, unresolved
And promised you would provide
The seeds to make them well.

To solve the mystery of your timbre,
You even gave me a voice
And promised
To give me a face
To put reality to my dreams.

We even talked of a meeting
The next time I came home.
You told me you were living with your mom
To get away from the city demons
And make a fresh start.

And I believed you.

Grandma had doubts,
But she fought the maternal urge
To protect me from disappointment

Because I had to find out
On my own.

I called for you,
But no one picked up
Or you just weren’t home.

I cancelled plans
With some old friends,
Wanting to stay close to the house
So I wouldn’t miss you.

But you never showed.

And after school resumed,
You never phoned.

There could have been several explanations as to why he decided not to show and not to call. Unfortunately, because he didn’t follow up, he left me to come up to my own conclusion. To me, it was more beneficial for him to have not made the attempt, because then the rumors about his behavior would have been hearsay and not made fact through his actions. He had the power to change his narrative but for whatever reason, chose to do so.

If anything, I would have liked confirmation that he was indeed my father due to medical reasons. I have been diagnosed with an ailment that isn’t on my mom’s side of the family, nor do any of my siblings have this. The female that said she was related to him—I’ve heard no more for her since the meeting debacle.

Dealing with unhealthy relationships

In addition to reflections on my mother and father, there are also interpretations of some of the other relationships I’ve been in—both platonic and romantic. Finding friends was a struggle for me because my appearance was rather awkward. I experienced bullying and had no one to talk to about my drama, plus I received spoken and unspoken messages that emotional responses were frowned upon, regardless of whether they were justified. I became less talkative around the age of eleven and writing became the only release that could soothe the trauma, if only for a moment.

The friends I did have, looking back, were not exactly the best stock. In those days, I was thirsty for acceptance … to be liked … and was drinking from any well, even if it was poisoned with agendas. Once I began to see what certain individuals were really about, my mood spiraled into an ocean of melancholy. Many told me that I was just having the case of the blues but it wasn’t until years later when it was revealed that said blues was the early makings of major depressive disorder.

How deep that ocean could be is addressed in “Evening Snack”.

Excerpt

One day—
A tough day,
A blue day,
I wanted something
To take the
Blue away.

I looked for
Some Häagen Dazs®
But remembered
My family couldn’t afford it.

I searched for
My favorite flavored Gatorade
But remembered
The sale hadn’t started.

So I settled
For some M & M’s-
The red and blue ones
Are my favorite!

But sadly enough,
All that was left
Were all of these dark orange ones …

It is often touted that one should “lead by example”. How can one know what to do if there is no one doing the leading? My mom moved when I was very young. My dad wasn’t in the picture. My grandparents did the best they could, yet I wasn’t comfortable addressing them about “the birds and the bees”. Therefore, what I couldn’t read about in Health Department pamphlets or through Harlequin Romance books (which I had to hide since that type of literature was considered “trashy”), I lived vicariously through other peoples’ experiences.

Eventually, the pressure was on to test the waters for myself but it was torture because of my mom’s narrative and my determination to be the exception not the rule as it related to the stereotypes. When I finally lost my virginity, it was nothing like the romance of Harlequin or the greatness of my other friend’s escapades.

Excerpt from “Other Carnival Acts”

Comfort took a back seat
To his eagerness to Conquer.

And the great outdoors
Became a lover’s
Playing field.

The splinters
Were the makeshift cushion,
Pushing at my skin
Until my flesh gave way.

I went to another place
As grubby hands
Tugged denim and cotton
All at once
And the sound of unzipped pants
Kissed my ears.

Latex met my sex
With the grace
Of a blundering fool,
And my eyes darkened
In fury and pain.

This made me wonder—had I picked the wrong guy? Or was I to blame? Sexual activity with my first felt more like a chore than a shared experience and there would always be this constant anxiety. One, because we could never do it in the typical “conventional” places. Two, there was enormous guilt for having sex in the first place, but most importantly, the guy was not being faithful to me. I was not engineered to stay when infidelity took place but how could I have predicted this penchant would be a common thread, no matter whom I was with?

There is no real preparation when going through violence, even more disturbing when the perpetrator is from your own mate. The escape is not as clear cut and dried as outsiders may think, and I am certain that is why the issue of domestic violence—although there is awareness—still has a lot of stigma. How many crimes do you know of where the victim is shamed, or asked questions to make one feel as if the violence was invited, encouraged? Yet, people wonder why most go unreported. For those who do report it, there’s more risk of the assailant plea bargaining to a lesser charge, or even worse, getting away with the crime and can go on to hurt more people.

You may think one way about the situation … until it happens to you. I documented a domestic assault experience in Private Pain: Amidst These Ashes.

Seeing the documentary “The Hunting Ground” brought me back to that moment and I could not help but shed tears. It was less about the experience haunting me and more about this being so rampant, so commonplace.

All of the pieces in this work reflect how far I’ve come. It reflects my resiliency, my humility … my evolution. I can see my growth—my thought processes, my outlook. I do not wish my tribulations on anyone yet I do wonder if I’d be me—if I’d be as appreciative for every second on this Earth.

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Poet, short story writer, and aspiring novelist. This blog details my writing journey and everything in between: supporting other writers, doing a feature column and serving as editor-in-chief for All Authors Magazine Online.

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