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The Gritty before the Litty

So, if you’re new here…heyyy ya’ll I’m Carmalita. I have a pretty unique life and I’m open AF about it. At 18, I began intentionally breaking generational curses and working to improve my mental health. Granted, as a teenager I didn’t have the vocabulary to name it then but, I’ve been deliberately doing “the work” since. The work for me, is doing the hard, gritty, painful emotional work to heal from systemic and personal traumas. The work is also intentionally enjoying the good stuff in life too. There is joy found in the work. It takes time but oh is there joy.

In my pursuit of a joy-filled life, I’ve purposefully implemented boundaries both emotionally and physically when dealing with particular people. For me, that usually means not seeing/talking to anyone I feel the need to protect myself from in any capacity. I'm pretty open about the boundaries I have because I think it's important to know and name when folks aren't good for your mental health. I think it's important to talk about how sometimes there are people in our lives who trigger emotional responses because our body remembers pain that our mind does not always. I think it's important to extend grace and love and forgiveness. I also think it's important to protect your peace at all cost. The problem though, is that the DOING, the protecting of self, it ain’t easy. And I feel like I have to put on full-body armor to protect myself every time I visit my biological family.

In the essence of the, "You can't heal in the same environment that made you sick," quote--I don't spend more time in Ohio than I have to and I especially avoid people who could potentially trigger me--even if it's my mother. Especially, if it's my mother. So, when given the assignment to reconnect with her when getting back to America, I got back and tried to compartmentalize that shit until the assignment was completed.


The first thing I did when I got to Ohio was have Ari drop me off to get a rental so I could go to my hometown, Washington Court House. I hadn’t driven in forever and tried to get to my destination before the sun went down. I arrived as the sun set over an open country road. I will always be a small town girl that stops at dusk for sunsets and open fields.

I visited some chosen family and ate my weight in Donatos pizza. I didn't get back to the Airbnb until late and did not feel like going to any homecoming parties. I saw Ari as she was leaving and wanted to kick it with her badly but didn’t have anything in me though, not even fumes.

Anxiety was growing in my body, so I reached out to my homegirl Ashley for support. I knew it was important to take it slow and love on myself a little extra, so I took a bath and lit some candles. We sent voice notes back and forth until I got in bed. I was super restless and right when I managed to fall asleep Ari’s ass came in loud and litty. I was annoyed as hell. She was in fun mode and I was trying to rest my body in preparation for any emotional blows it may take the next day. I fussed at Ari through my locked bedroom door while she slurred playfully, on the other side.

“Carrrrrrma," she said, face pressed against my door.

I wanted to open the door and laugh with her, hear about who she saw. See what trouble she was about to get in, or what trouble was about to get into her. But I didn’t. I held my breath in frustration and said, “Alright, you gon be real mad when I wake your ass up at six in the morning.” My frustration completely misdirected. It was easier to be upset with her lightness than to admit my own heaviness. I feared if I named my shit out loud, even to myself—I’d worry myself out of sleep all night and not go in the morning. I was afraid of potentially ripping open wounds I was tired of healing from. I was afraid of telling Ari how upset I was and killing her buzz. She eventually let me be and I tossed until I fell asleep.

I stirred early the next morning in a panic. Anxiety woke my body before my mind had a chance to. My skin felt foreign and I wanted to crawl out of it. I considered going for a run but I decided against it and busied myself to avoid crying instead. I showered, packed a bag of clothes to change into and some food for Xena. I reached out to Ash to see if she had some more emotional space for me, and sent Ari a voice note telling her I was heading to Columbus and freaking out about it. I had planned to make it back for the off-campus tailgate and other homecoming festivities; I just had to get through the morning first.

Tears streamed down my face as I opened my Airbnb room door. I hurriedly wiped my eyes with my sweater sleeve when I saw a sleeping male body fully dressed in slacks and a vest on the living room couch. I walked past dude to tell Ari I was leaving and to lock the door. I assumed her dude had got drunk and passed out on the couch the night before. To my surprise, when I opened her door there was a tattooed arm poking out of the cover that was not hers. I said, “Oot,” and slowly closed the door back so as not to wake them. I blinked away tears and tapped the sleeping man on the couch.

“Hey, Mr. Man,” I tapped. “Excuse meee, Mr. Man.”

When he removed his arm from over his face, I realized I knew the guy. He was fine, fine. One of the few athletes I knew who hadn’t been overcome by a dad-bod or a shitty diet since playing collegiate sports over a decade ago. I thought, “Well damn, this could have busied me and put me to sleep last night,” but I made a choice a while ago not to drink, smoke bud or have sex when I’m sad. That’s how habits form and I ain’t got time for that shit.

I said, “Oh hey, Such & Such. I didn’t know you were here. I might not have been such a bitch last night if I knew you were.” He woke up, groggy and disoriented, stood up, gave me a lil half hug and said, “Hey Carma.” I hugged his fine ass back and hoped he couldn’t see the tears burning in my eyes. I told him to lock the door for me and headed out with bag and dog in hand.

I barely made it on the freeway before the panic of seeing my mother set in for real. I tried to record some video for later vlog purposes but couldn’t hold it together. I called Uncle Eddy in Senegal on WhatsApp, ready to tell him I couldn't do it. I looked forward to hearing his cool demeanor on the other end of the phone. I knew he'd tell me to stop crying and make a dry joke. I wanted to hear some of his old man wisdom dashed in loving encouragement, but he wasn’t available. Distraught, I began to sob and call out to whichever higher power was on duty that day. I didn’t think I could do it, I was afraid I might physically combust from fear. The last time I went to my Granny’s house I legit almost died. I was physically assaulted by a family member and vowed to never go back. I thought I made peace with never speaking to anyone or going to that home again. But…forgiveness.

I was full-blown having chest sobs and could barely breathe but didn’t want to pull over on the side of the freeway. I tried to pull it together and remind myself of how strong and capable I was but all my self-talk was in sobs and not helping. As if she knew I was in the middle of a meltdown, Ashley called to check on me.

For the hour of my drive Ashely did what Black women do best—she sowed into me. She was the strength I needed in that moment and gently reminded me that I had a job to do. Ashley prayed for me and offered her reassurance.

"Carma, you just got back from Senegal. That was a hard time for you and you came back to America and hit the ground running. Of course you feel overwhelmed and afraid. You're trying to pack months of healing work into a two-day trip and still have fun and visit your friends. It's not realistic to think you're not going to feel anything. You're not a robot, of course you feel overwhelmed." She named my fear and anxiety and reminded me that because of the work I’d done, I could no longer pick and choose when I'd feel. She allowed me to cry and move through my big feelings while also validating them. After speaking with her, my feelings didn't seem all-consuming and devastating. By the time I got to Columbus, I was good. Even if for a moment that got me to my next moment, I was good.

As I drove, my best friend Habon hit me up to let me know she was home and to stop by even if my babies weren’t there. I’m all, “Ain’t nobdy come to see you Otis!” cause my nieces were at her mom's. I went to her place and rubbed on her bulging belly where my third niece is growing healthily.

We caught up for a bit and went to White Castle’s (you know Black folk be pluralizing everything), and got some sliders for breakfast. Habon loves my granny and had been trying to get me to call her for the last two years. She was both surprised and proud of me for finally choosing to see her.

Feeling lighter, I got back in my rental and headed to my Granny’s. It took no time for fear to creep back up like it never left, but I pushed through. I called my Granny knowing she’d be at home with a client on a Saturday morning. She’d been a beautician since the beginning of time and let go of her beauty shop, Pink Panther Hair Designs, a few years ago. Now, with her laundry room doubling as a salon with a shampoo bowl and chair, she still takes care of her regulars. All her shampoos and dyes and rollers and hot combs and setting lotions were on shelves or in drawers. The same seated dryers I grew up sitting in with pillows under my behind where stationed in her den in front of a large TV. The phone rang a bit and she answered with excitement.

“Hey baby!” She answered.

“Hi, Granny. You home?” I asked with a tight chest.

“Yes, baby. I’m here with one of my customers. You in town?!”

“Yes, ma’am. I’m here.”

“Ohhhhh, yes Jesus. I knew when I prayed this morning today was gon be a good day. Hallelujah, Jesus.” She shouted on the other side. “Yes, baby come on by. I’ll wait to wake yo mama. Yes, lord!”

I smiled at her her-ness and braced myself for what was to come.

I didn't know what would come up for me emotionally going back into that house. I haven't ever been a sweep some shit under the rug kind of a person. I'm more of a remove the rug, deep clean, and if it needs to be-- replace that shit, type person. It's difficult for me to show up in spaces with elders who have no boundaries and would rather pretend everything is okay just for the sake of "family", with no regard to anyone's emotional well-being. But, forgiveness right?

It was wild to be at eye-level with photographs I remembered craning my neck to see as a child. The wooden stairs at my granny’s house that once felt mountainous now felt as if they'd shrunk half their size. Even though I'd been to the house a hundred times as an adult, this time I felt hella Alice in Wonderland-y.

The seeing of my mother and grandmother was relatively uneventful. I was in and out in about 30 minutes. I gave my hugs and kisses, took pictures & dipped. This wasn’t my first time doing a, “Surprise, I’m here! Kay-love-you-bye!” pop-up after an extended period of no contact. It's how I deal.

As person who was adopted as a child, I get to pick and choose when I wanna be bothered with my biological family. I was seven when my relationship with my mother was---put on ice? Excuse me as a navigate language around the severing of a connection with the woman who was home first. My family isn’t that large so there aren’t many folk I have to maneuver around. I realize the jacked up-ness of my ideology but this is my truth. Ya’ll know there are particular people in your family you don’t want to be bothered with for real.

For me, it’s easier to say I don’t have a mother than to say I’m disappointed in how she shows up in my adult life. It’s easier to pretend she still doesn’t exist than to allow her behavior as an adult hinder the good memories I cling to from when I was a child. Avoidance be protection too. Ya girl is tired of avoiding though. I’m learning new ways to incorporate boundaries in my life without disconnecting myself completely from people—I’m still figuring out logistics though.

I learned/embraced in Senegal that I carry more than my mother’s face. I carry her light too. Her charm. Her childlike wonder. I carry her grit. I carry her love for children and also tomboy shit. I carry my mother with me in spirit. The difficult part about all this knowing though is having a relationship with my mother as a person in all her humanness and not just her as an idea.

I know she loves me (or whatever). I can acknowledge that she protected me from a hell of a lot when she gave my siblings and I up for adoption 20 something years ago. I know that because of her choice, I was afforded a different chance, and given an out from the life she knew. I know that I had better/more resources than she had as a mother of four before 30 during the crack epidemic of the 90's. So, I push through safely and work to navigate being an adult and having an adult relationship with my mother and her mother despite the layers of our complicated family history.

I wish I could say I left my Granny’s house after all the hugs and pictures feeling lighter. I wish I could say I drove off feeling hopeful and not triggered but I cannot. When I pulled off, I realized I had been holding my breath more than I hadn’t. So, I exhaled loudly and allowed the constricted energy to release from my body. I had a couple more friends to visit and surprise and I still very much wanted to enjoy some part of homecoming weekend. I recognized the need to take a moment to decompress. So, I went to the mall and bought some shoes both my adult-self and child-self would be pleased with.

This post was a little heavier than I had intended but, the work be heavy. I do the heavy lifting and reach out for help when I need some assistance because I like thoroughly enjoying the good in my life. Too often, when we suppress the heavy, the "bad", the uncomfortable, the down right fucking hard--we let it get in the way of the good. I promise, on the next post ya'll--oh baby is there good ;0).

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