I’m thankful for so many things in this moment.

Sitting cross-legged on my little blue sofa, with my elephant tapestry wrinkled and draped over it. Blinds up, window open, plants watered. And green. Bright green, too. Emily King is on the speaker, the volume is all the way up. About an hour ago, I finalized a new employment partnership with a big name brand for the workforce development program I manage, via zoom with a brightly colored head wrap, and a few starter locs peeking out, a cute little blazer, and drawls.

I can’t remember the last time I took a moment to just sit and revel in stillness. Absorb the calm. Note the colors. Quiet the noise. Today is different because I am.

A week ago, I was laying in a hospital bed, chapped lips and confused about how I had gotten there. I mean, I knew why I was there physically – fucking COVID. But there was something else depleting me, just gnawing away and it felt as if it had joined forces with this illness to take me out once and for all. I realized over those few days in there that I had been encompassing another sickness long before this physical illness.

A soul virus. Big, broad and deeply embedded. It made me so sad. I don’t do well with sadness and I knew that it was going to be one humdinger of an experience to take on the task of extracting all of my shit but it had to be done.

The ride had finally stopped. The whirl of death and disease and work stress, family stress, and Me stress that I had been spinning through for the past year had all come to a stop because I had. So while I was “resting”, I surveyed all of my broken little bits and pieces of me, I felt so incredibly sad.

Oh boy, had I worn it well. Knocking goals out, checking to-dos off my list, publishing books, starting podcasts, even LLC’d my consignment shop and started the process for my non-profit, while literally feeling like death on the inside. Internal landmines exploding left and right, and I’m just stepping and smiling like some weird ass Stepford wife with a tray of burnt cookies, telling everyone that life is good! Just eat the cookies!

The first burnt cookie was Mr. 51. My inflated prototype. We fit so perfectly in our world of illusion. I wouldn’t dare sit here and type some shit to discredit our experience. It was exactly what I created it to be. But what I wasn’t prepared for is that once our cozy bubble burst, once reality snuck in and shook things up a bit, he couldn’t hang. I thought I knew better.

While we had never had a true conversation about love, he took my breath away a few weeks back when he sat across from me and stated very matter-of-factly that if we were to ever officially be together, I would have to be his wife. All I could muster was, Wow. In my mind, I’m like this experience just gets better and better. Two seasoned adults, having an open dialogue about how we’d be with each other, after being so good to one another in friendship. This was adulting, this was dopeness. This is the kind of thing I wanted to experience over and over again. His gentle honesty is what I love about him most. We made good, good love that night.

That’s the last time that I saw him.

No explanation. No goodbye. Not a phone call or text. Just disappeared from my life as quickly as he appeared two years ago.

Hurt is different at 45. I thought I had chosen the right people to meet me where I was. I had established a new standard, had my rules in place and dared anyone to challenge them. When I saw signs of bullshit, I got them out of my space quick without even breaking a sweat. Doubt meant no, so when I smelled bullshit brewing, I called them on it and cut them off. I didn’t have to do any of that with him. It was the easiest two years I had ever shared with someone for one simple reason. I thought that he was genuinely my friend.

I lose count of how many times I’d be in his presence; whether we were sitting at my table laughing or laying in my bed, feeling so incredibly safe in his arms, and thought to myself, “This is exactly how it’s supposed to be.” He was my friend. The only person who had ever made me feel that safe in friendship besides him was my daughter’s father – another blog, another time – and the hurt he inflicted fucked me up for years. I couldn’t phantom that depth of pain again.

Twenty years ago, shit maybe even ten, the question would’ve been, “What did I do to deserve that?” But add in twenty more year’s of experience and what I know is that it has nothing to do with me. That didn’t stop the hurt though.

While in the hospital, I composed a quick text after realizing it had been a week since I had heard from him. I typed: “You waste of a fucking human male. Who exactly do you think you are to pull some shit like this with me? I’m not some weak-ass twenty-year-old, excited to be the flavor of the month! I’m a whole grown-ass, good ass, valuable, beautiful, amazing woman and you dare to ghost me?? You must be intravenously injecting yourself with stupid! What a waste! What a fucking waste!”

I deleted it and went with something less violatile. Instead, I sent a quick text about being disappointed, and how I “thought you were genuinely my friend”, looked at the text thread, hit send, deleted the thread and cried.

I’m going to send him love and light each time he shows up in thoughts. With the exception of the ghosting, it’s impossible for me to think of him without a smile because he kept one on my heart. He gave me exactly what I asked for and maybe the universe decided during all of this that I didn’t need it anymore. Those tears though, ooh they were heavy. The walls of my little fantasy world had tumbled down and now I had to take a look at everything else.

The next burnt cookie was Grief.

The previous year had started with the murder of my son’s best friend. Like a display of dominos tumbling one after another, there was not a day that passed without news of yet another death. When my younger cousin was killed(his mom is one of my oldest and dearest friends), I felt something shift in me, as if a light had dimmed. I did my best to ignore it but after a few more losses, the one that completely darkened me was the death of my girlfriend Keonya. But still, I called it pushing through when I wasn’t doing anything but sweeping my dirt around the floor making a bigger mess. I was gone, y’all. I could feel pieces of me just crumbling away and my fight was gone. I didn’t want to be here or anywhere. Calling depression early bedtime and filtering anxiety through a busy schedule, I changed my phone number and had literally stopped responding to texts unless it was family or Mr. 51. However I could get away with detaching, I did. And called it boundaries when I wasn’t trying to escape anyone but myself.

Let’s go ahead a take the next burnt cookie off the tray: My family.

I look at my three sons and my heart breaks. 21, 22, 23 and no solidity in any area of their lives. I have a son preparing to come home from prison, a son who’s out of work and possibly returning to live with me soon. None of my sons has a drivers license. My youngest son has two children who don’t know him because he’s been in and out of jail since they were born. My eldest son treats women like emotional punching bags, burdening them with his lack of motivation and only calling me when they decide that enough is enough and threaten to put him out on his ass. He calls me once a month to say, “Hey! I’m just letting you know I may be homeless soon.”

I called him from the hospital to let him know that I was sick, and he called me back five minutes later to say that he just wanted to let me know that his living situation might be changing because his current girlfriend was complaining about how much weed he smoked. I haven’t heard from him since but noticed that they’ve published a new video on their YouTube channel so all is well for another month.

My middle son, knows it all and if you dare to share a suggestion, thought or opinion to help him as he struggles with no income after losing his job to this covid shit, he cusses and screams and I hear from him again when he’s asking to borrow my van to go to the store. My daughter, who is the poster child of independence; my best friend in the entire world, is ok with calling me to vent and complain, but if she’s down in the rabbit hole of pissiness and I offer advice, she snaps my head off quicker than a cobra and excuses it as “her frustration.”

My mom only knows me when I’m low. Between her and my daughter these past few weeks, they took damn good care of me. Damn good care. Tending to every need and things I didn’t even know I needed. But that’s the very unique thing about my mom. When life hits me, she’s right there. But when I’m lifted, doing great and making strides, I don’t hear from her, and she makes it clear that she doesn’t want to hear from me. She’ll rush me through good news, interrupt conversations about work achievements or funny grandchildren stories with a dry, “Mmhmm, anyway.”

To her, anxiety is the culprit. She’ll quickly tell family, “You know how Janell’s anxiety gets.” Well let’s talk about that burnt cookie for a minute.

The anxiety of not wanting to row the fucking boat? The one where there’s not enough room for me, no matter how many times I clear it out? Just everyone else and their stuff? The one where I just want to jump overboard, and swim away without ever looking back?

No. Fuck no.

Gasping for air does something to you. You realize, very quickly, all of the breath you’ve wasted. Explanations, arguments, cries, shouts, silence, pleas, fake orgasms, real orgasms with fake people, sobs, screams, all gone and never to come back. All you have to show for it is resentment. Anger. And anxiety.

I wasn’t living. I don’t even think I was existing. I was just here, ducking and hiding. Wanting to be anywhere but here. Or so I thought.

The only thing that I poured focus and attention into over the past few weeks, besides getting better physically, were my conversations with God. I bared all.

I came home from the hospital and could barely stand in the shower so I sat in the tub and let the water fall and my tears right with it. Who had I become? I didn’t recognize myself. I had tried to be so many things except good to me. And I mean truly good to me. Sure, I had my little self care routines but that shit was a gimmick. I screamed freedom because I was still carrying the weight of so many chains and figured if I said it loud enough, they’d fall off without me having to do much.

What did I really want?

To finally forgive myself. I had never. I sat in that tub and hugged my breasts and belly for the first time in my life. I embraced me and said out loud, I’m so sorry. Sorry for all the ways that I willingly gave you away. I put my hands over my heart and said, I’m so sorry for always finding fault in you and never showing gratitude for how big you are. You’d love the world if you could. It’s who you are and I’m so sorry for making you think that it’s abnormal to love in the way that you do. I even cupped my vagina and told her that she could rest now. I’ve never let her rest. Not in peace. Not since I was 17.

I said out loud to my family, my prayers are all yours but my peace is mine. I cannot let you have that! It belongs to me! I said to my girlfriend Keonya, I love you so so much, but I have to let you go to do your work so that I can continue doing mine. All of my angels, I liberated.

And I opened myself back up to love, right in that tub. I said I know you’re coming, and I can’t wait for you to look me in my eyes when I’m caught up in my own storm, or when I’m meddling in someone else’s, and say, “No babe. Let them niggas be grown. It’s our time.” That’s what I desire. Not a “Mr. 51” or any other labeled lovers. I’m opening myself to my man. Someone to have me in these moments when I don’t have myself.

I released that life raft that I’ve been dragging for 30 years, with everybody’s everything. Broke it into pieces. Now, they can build another but guess who won’t be rowing? I said, it’s all yours, all of you. I love you all so much but I’m only here to assist, not take on. I will always do what I can, it’s impossible for me to be any other way. But your boat, your oars, and I prayed a word over my children that was so powerful that they stopped after awhile. I just sat in the tub and heard thank you over and over again, as if God were finally thanking me for trusting Him to do His will.

I said no more concrete walls, God. I want air. I’m soft, I love hard, I laugh loud, I’m selfless, I’m kind. Intimate. Warm, bright, vibrant and I need my light back on. I don’t want to be in the darkness anymore.

I was off balance and drowning because somewhere along the way, I decided to step out of who I was and become who society said I was supposed to be. Cold. Tough. Aggressive. Super sexual. Getting caught up in the wave of this must-have facade of steel when I’m as fluffy as they come. Love is my super power. But I forgot about pouring it into me, in my way.

My strength is unmatched, on the inside. On the outside, I’m a force of light. I feel everything because I’m supposed to, that’s my design. I’m not some kid sponging in the ways of the world naively. I’m a woman who has experienced life, love and tragedy in ways that would snatch souls, and I’m still full of life. Because that’s how God made me, and for the first time ever, I am so okay with that.

After coming home, I had to go back and spend another night in observation at the urgent care facility. My heart would not stop racing. Out of six nurses and one CT tech, at least four of them shared some sort of spiritual experience with me. In random conversation, each of them made a comment in some way, shape or form about strength, love, not taking moments for granted, feeling blessed to help people through healing, “doing what they were called to do, paying more attention to the little things. Paying attention to love, absorbing moments.“ From squeezing my hand, to wrapping blankets around me, they loved me. A CT tech looked me in the eyes and said I love you, one nurse even placed her hand over my heart.

There is no such thing as coincidence. I just stayed silent and took it all in. The next morning I was discharged, feeling better than I had felt in three weeks. I hadn’t been to sleep so I came home, showered and slept until 2:33am. I woke up, took a deep breath in. There was no congestion, no cough, no heaviness. Just clear, deep breaths. I said, “Thank you.”

Covid was resolving but another virus was gone too. And as long as I have breath in my big, curvy, full of love body, I won’t ever let it find a home in me again. Feels so good to breathe. And hold a tray of warm, gooey cookies, light brown, no charcoal. I can breathe.

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