My mother and I are both approaching our first and second Saturns, respectively.
Today I am 28 years old and my mom is lonely. She is married to my stepfather who has been unemployed, but trying and could try harder. When people ask how my folks are doing, I say, “They are okay.” If people who’ve grown up with me ask me how my folks are doing, I say, “They are okay. They’re married but not in love.” Next year will be their twentieth anniversary and I think my mother would be more content sitting in her living room watching The Filipino Channel than on a vacation she can’t afford but pays for with my stepdad. An intuitive healer I saw last week asked me if my mom was alone in her house. Yes, I answered. Poet Warsan Shire writes about how women’s bodies are houses. She was – no, she is – lonely. The healer asked me if she was unmarried or single and I instantly wondered if the two, along with lonely, were synonyms. Yes, parts of me answered. She is in alone in her house. I am alone in mine.
There are no answers for me elsewhere. I have sought advice from close, close friends and even this intuitive healer.
I need advice about how to sustain a relationship, or love, or if those two are even the same. I need songs about how to be a grown ass woman. I need advice about what happens when you find yourself attracted to someone else, and life feels as if you’ve seen or met that person in another lifetime, and you wonder if you need to be with them again, now, in this lifetime. I need rhythm about what happens when that someone reciprocates and intensifies these feelings, and when mutuality becomes dangerous flirtation. I need sound from my mother, yet I also need breaks about what happens and where you can go when you know your mother cannot supply you with the advice you seek. I need a beat when you come to a place of true division. I need to know what happens when you find yourself writing an essay giving yourself advice, when really, you are writing a love letter to the man and the story that never happened to you. I need to know how to carry on when you realize that your letter is an act of forgiving yourself. I need advice about what happens when you make a decision to work on yourself, your partner, your love, but yet your mind and maiden wonder and wander back to what never happened to you. I need to know how other women, especially women of color, work on and live with the nighttime blues, or cold sweats incited by fear and guilt. I need an answer: how can I navigate my womanhood in its complexity?
Today, I am 28 years old and I question marriage. This past summer, I have been a maid of honor, a bridesmaid and MC (at the same wedding for one of my best girlfriends), and a guest to two weddings. I’ll be witness to another union in a month from now as a bridesmaid. I love love and all of the feels I get from watching grown folks commit to forever and each other. I love how sincere they are; how their love is matched, bursting, and evident to all.
I wonder, though, if marriage is for me.
During a rage of wanting more sleep and not liking the pressure of working for my bride-friends for free, I confessed to my partner that I didn’t want it. That I didn’t want to put on a show for my friends, family, comrades, or community. That it is not worth neither losing my sanity, compromising my friendships, nor battling generations-long trauma that I’ve seen my friends experience months, and even minutes, before they say their vows. Boats washed away at shore.
I wonder, then, if I am scared or if I think too much. I need to know: how do people know?
Today, I am 28 years old and I don’t know shit. I don’t know what it takes to love even though I thought I did, even when I used to do it. A part of me feels upset by the emotions and roller coasters I’ve felt in love. Parts of me feign happiness. Parts of me are sick of myself and my inability to love. How do you know when you are ready for a shift? How do you know when the ship has sailed?
When I found myself upset at my partner and turning to others for attention, my homegirl Bel let me know that there must be something about them that I need to tend to within myself. She said that they must represent something in my life that I am needing to work on. She and I talk often about our inner adolescent – the teenage girl version of us inside us – who seeks attention from us as a woman. This is what it means to be in conversation with ourselves and to self-reflect. We women always have emotional work to do so that we can just carry on. I write and talk to my adolescent in mind to calm her, but I can feel her inside me raging. I can feel her misunderstanding and wanting to be wanted.
Bel says I am acting out. Kirstie might say that I am acting out. And Shana says I am acting out. Even Jessi says I am acting out. Aileen asks me if I am okay. Caz asks me if I am okay. Melissa asks me if I am okay. My brother asks me if I am okay. Even I have to pause life and tell myself, “You are okay. I am okay.” This game of charades seeks an answer. I am all performance. I am all age and no wisdom. I am honest and inexperienced.
Today I am 28 and I started going to therapy. My inconclusive feelings have somehow become too much for me to hold on my own. After earnestly saying for years that everyone should go to therapy, and then delaying my own process, and going back now, I feel like I abandoned myself at sea, in a small boat overlooked in the indigo of night time. I have had an academic counselor since I was 12, and I had kept a counselor in that particular academic program through the age of 17. I strongly believe this consistency, these relationships, kept me in school, and kept me aware of my capabilities as a human being. Counselors and counseling have instilled within me the power of questioning and the reckoning with answers. Questions contain within them their key: quests. These quests have brought me in the past from indigo to black to blue and to the pink of a new day. Going back to therapy sessions two years removed from the practice of seeking guidance – I’m hoping and needing and manifesting – that I can find within me the light I have lost.
Furthermore, I even had a peer counselor when I was 18 – a first-year student in college. I worked with adults who were deeply caring and interested in my future and well being when I was 19, 20, and 21. I became a peer counselor for younger, undergraduate students when I was 19 and 20. The toughest times in my life were when I was 22, 23, and 24 – I had to take what I had learned in all of those counseling sessions, so I could counsel myself, as that was the only way I could afford to take care of myself, to survive. I met with a therapist as much as I could when I finally attended graduate school at 25 and 26. Something astounding must have happened at 27, which might have resulted in my unpacking at 28. My counselors saved my life; I wonder if I am capable of saving my own. They are rescue and salvage ships.
In therapy, and in reflecting on therapy, I have come up with two allegories befitting of my life. I told my therapist that, one: I imagine my life is a room with all of my stuff sprawled onto the floor. Going to therapy is like picking up each item I own, examining each facet of the item closely, and deciding if I am going to need it in the house of the next room of my life. I don’t want to be alone in my house.
I also told my therapist what I told my friends from Los Angeles who visited me on my birthday, two: I feel like there is a fistfight inside me. Each one labeled ‘stay’ and ‘go,’ I wonder if I am capable of fighting and winning. In each allegory, I come up against my own unwillingness to act and react. In therapy, my fingers and knuckles free up a bit. The white of my tensions brown, become tender, become ease. It was only in therapy that I first believed that I would be okay, that I could live without guilt or fear. It was only in therapy that I first believed I could live.
Today I am 28 and I write: How many women leave themselves in relationships for people other than themselves? I think about many women who’ve meant a lot to me, but may not have meant as much to their partners or the people around them: my mother, artists and musicians I loved, my best girlfriends growing up, my cousins, my best girlfriends in college, myself – many times over. I wonder when who I am and what I have will be enough. ‘Enough’ is a monster I have been wrestling and embattling since I was fifteen or sixteen. In some ways, I know these monsters better than I know the concept of self-love. It is no wonder why some of us walk into the water. We know our demons, fears, and unwarranted narratives for much longer than we have known or searched for our true selves.