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A String Of Lights

I have had a rough few months here as I have tried to organize and sift through my brain, my heart, and my spirit to find some semblance of sanity. My forces have been so scattered and I felt a need recently to try to “get it together” so I can move forward and get on with life. It ain’t been easy.

The past six years of my life have been fraught with pain, uncertainty, life altering changes, and I have been slammed from pillar to post emotionally. One evening as I was doing what I do every weekend, sit or lay across the couch and do nothing, I asked myself why? I made a vow to myself, I would get up and get out of the house and do something, anything, I didn’t care what I did just do something and I did. I went out and settled on sitting on the patio at Starbucks and opening myself to the experience of people for the first time in a very long time. It was liberating. It felt good chatting with a woman I hadn’t seen in some time who always visited this Starbucks on Saturday evenings with her little Cocker and fluffy white something. The single guitarist filled the air with music and reminded me of the joy of living. Somewhere in this bohemic experience I felt a finger point to my soul and say “there you are.”

I returned home and pulled every journal, printed every dream or journal entry which had not been bound, turned on the stereo I had not played in years, and read the story of my life. I found a woman inspired by art, music, poetry, God, spirituality, miraculous wonders, and, in the end, love and the ultimate loss of love. The one thing I both coveted and feared was love and I found it, unexpectedly, in someone I never thought I could love but did.

I advocate keeping a journal. I’ve kept a journal for many years, in fact, before I knew what journal was I kept a daily scribbling of words on paper when I was a child. I found it easier to convey my feelings through the written word than I could verbally. I believe that was due, in part, to being ridiculed as a child by my peers. I, a little Black girl, growing up in a Black community, was always ridiculed when I opened my mouth because I was told I talked "White."  My mother was told she “talked White” as well. As I got older, I not only “talked White” but I also “acted White,” did “White things” and participated in activities that only Whites would be interested in. When I auditioned and was awarded a spot in the All City Chorus in high school, oh was I taunted, teased and ridiculed. I was downtown with all those “White folks.” Thank God my Choir director at school was proud of my accomplishment.  She announced it in the school newspaper, at every performance where the school performed, I was quite the star and oh so hated. Out of the six who auditioned, I was the only one who made the cut. In my journal, I talk about the pain of being ostracized because I made the cut, was in the All City Chorus and my picture was in the paper and oh, how I hurt.

This is why I keep a journal; I can talk about things privately that I dare not say aloud. I remember talking with an intimate friend of mine once and telling her “being Black is hard honey.” Her response was “you ain’t never lied.” She and I were talking about growing up Black in Black communities and between us, we couldn't count the numbers of young Black boys and girls who were killed or injured by Black folks in their own community. I remember Eddie, at 13, killed by other 13-year old boys who resented him because he was well liked by a lot of girls in school, including me.  He was such a nice guy who also “talked proper” and one day, while walking home for lunch, these boys took a brick to his head and killed him. Eddie had been offered admission to Lindbloom High School in Chicago. Lindbloom is a high school for students with high scores and great potential – I missed Lindbloom by five points. I could tell dozens of stories like this one and I found several in my journals.

Growing up, I needed someone or some thing to hang my hopes on otherwise; I could see myself falling into a pit of despair and hopelessness. I went to books and looked for every Black person I could find who excelled or found success. I started with Harriett Tubman, moved on to Phyllis Wheatley, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and on and on, finding those who had survived slavery, former sharecroppers, educators, teachers, actors, activists, those who grew up in the ghettos of Chicago and Harlem, I looked for everyone I could find. I became a walking encyclopedia of Black folk. My mother could come home and ask me “have you heard of so-and-so” and I would say “yes, he went to school here, he entered into this, he found that . . . .” I needed these people to overcome what I was going through in my own community and for what I was yet to encounter throughout life as an adult.

I hope you’re getting a glimpse at why FemmeNoir exists today. We need sheroes too. It is what Christine and I talked about for three years or so before her death.  We wanted a way to build bridges between communities of lesbians who are invisible to one another. Now, I must say this – I was just as uncomfortable around Christine’s friends as she was equally uncomfortable around mine.

Christine often said I was a “consummate arrogant asshole,” whose mother “raised to be a White girl,” who went to an “elitist college,” and I was a “bougie Negro,” who liked doing what White folks did (golfing and skiing), I was “proper” talked like a “White girl” and sometimes I was “prim and proper with a flair for the dramatic.” Christine also used these words to describe some of my friends. She thought my friends phony, too corporate and did not talk about any real issues. At least her friends were intellectuals. I thought her friends were too intellectual, so much so they had intellectualized themselves right out of the community to the point they neither recognized the community they were supposedly trying to help, nor did the community recognize them. I saw myself as a member of that community and found the door was closed to me.

One semester, I took a class at Columbia with the late Ouida Lindsey, who was then a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. Her class explored racism and racial stereotypes. The class was packed because Ouida did not believe in turning students away. We were on the floor, the windowsill, in the doorway, the hallway; we were on top of each other every Tuesday afternoon. One day, Ouida put a chart on the board of every racial group, Italians, Irish, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, everyone. She asked the class to provide her with racial stereotypes for each group. In the end, every stereotype provided for each group could be interchanged with another. The moral was we judge by assumptions and not facts. We judge an individual by their condition without giving any time to get to know the individual.

A friend of mine and I were walking up Wilshire one day going to a restaurant. She looked up and saw a young woman with about eight kids around her. She said “now that’s a shame and I bet none of them have the same father.” The woman ended up in the same restaurant with us and, to make a long story short, two of her children belonged to she and her husband, the others belonged to her dead sister. She and her husband did not want to break the kids up so they adopted all of them. The woman looked about 22 or 23, she was actually in her 30’s. My friend made an assumption based on what she saw, not what she knew. If we had not found the truth that day, my friend would have probably gone home and continued to perpetuate a lie by telling her husband about the young girl she saw earlier, with all those kids, who was probably on welfare, and I bet none of them had the same father.

Christine actually developed a good relationship with one of my friends and did some business with her. They were both about the same age and developed a nice little friendship. I teased Christine one day and said “I thought you said she was phony and lacked substance.” Christine responded with something like “okay, so I was wrong.” I was wrong too. I did get along with Christine’s friends, one I found I could actually have a “girlfriends” kind of conversation with. The same kind of conversation I was accustom to having with my friends.  Through our conversations, we found we had taken our past negative experiences and applied them to our new experience without first getting to know the people.  We both admitted and conceded how wrong we had been. 

I miss my friend who I loved, who I could cuss and discuss issues with, argue with, and laugh with. We saw through our differences and, in the end, we realized we were very much alike. I remember the day I believe Christine really “got me” – sometimes I didn’t think she did, but this day, I think she really got it when, while picking at me about something, I told her my mother did not bring me up to be White. My mother wanted me to have an education, and she wanted me to have a trade because that would get me through. But, more importantly, she taught me to “own yourself.” She did not want me to be defined by anything or anyone. I learned to not define myself by clothes, material things, titles, or status in life. I wish only to be defined by the content of my character. Christine really looked at me that day and she said she too was accused of raising her son to be "White."  Her son rebelled because the peer pressure was too great for him to take. 

I no longer was the “consummate arrogant asshole,” I became the woman who knew what she wanted and went after it and damn those who didn’t understand. Christine always wanted me to be more aggressive, talk back, drop the “please and thank you’s,” and I told her, I could be everything you want me to be and it won’t make a difference, you’ll find something else to talk about. Ironically, in the end, Christine would repeat these very words to me.

In my journal dated May 5-6, 2002, Christine asked me the following question: “what are you willing to give?” I asked “give for what?” She then said, “you can strive to be the perfect daughter and it won’t matter. You can give all you have and people will say you didn’t give enough. You can sacrifice your soul and people will still say negative things about you. You can be everything people want you to be and it still won’t matter. What are you willing to give for your soul?” There was a pause as I felt a crying spell coming over me. Then, she looked at me, laughed and said “keep being an asshole, it works for you and continue to do what your mother taught you “own yourself.”   At Christine's memorial service, Rev. Frieda Lenoix said Christine said the same thing to her. 

In January 2000, the same month I started harassing Christine about her health, which I think shocked her and possibly made her think I knew more than I was telling, she addressed a letter to me she never sent. I found this letter, after her death, on one of her computers.  In the letter, Christine apologized for all the hurt she caused me, for the things she said.  She stated, in the letter, that she actually did like those qualities in me. The letter goes on to address other issues which will remain private, but for me, it was nice to know she did understand me and did not let the prejudices I faced most of my life, which she too was guilty of perpetuating, get in the way of knowing me.

Watching someone you loved, kissed, made love to, embraced, held, cried with, laughed with, argued with and talked with daily – watching her die was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Christine was my strength, my courage, my confidante who listened to my rants and raves about all of the things I went through these past six years; I couldn’t bear life without her. I really did not think for a time there, I could survive this loss. I knew how to get up everyday and go to work. I knew how to take care of my business like clockwork, but I did not know how to survive this loss. She’s no longer here to help me now and I’ve been so hurt and so sad without her. This loss tossed me into a deep abyss of despair.

Through reading my journals I realized the path I started out on in 1989, the people I met and the things I did along the way, were perfectly designed to lead me directly to Christine and it was meant for Christine to leave this world knowing the person who sat next to her in that hospital room, that morning, was someone who truly loved her for her. This “consummate asshole” was not enamored with her title or stature in life; did not care whether she called herself an intellectual or not; did not care what kind of house she lived in; was not a respecter of persons, places or things; did not care if she made a lot of money or none; did not care if she was large or small; I cared only for her and the content of her character was splendid. God deemed it so that Christine, after all she had been through in her life, would have something she always wanted, and that something was to be loved. She left this world knowing she was loved – that’s why so many tears.

We were destined to come together because, through Christine, I would enter another level of soul work and embark on yet another lesson for life. I learned my greatest fear was falling in love. I feared love and thought it was something awful and painful. I was afraid to give my heart, my soul, my love to anyone because I feared being hurt. Christine was the same way. What we both found was love and we found love does not hurt, love is never jealous, love is forgiving, love does not find fault, and love heals. Love’s purity, caught us unaware.  She just reached in and hung a string of lights around my heart -- then, I knew love. 

Her love for me was such, she wanted to find someone for me, she didn't want me to be alone and oh my God, did she do everything she could, including one something I found shocking, but I ignored her.  I had the best, and I cannot settle for anything less.  Before I share my heart – or my bed for that matter – with anyone else, they will have to fit the same size shoe or greater and trust me girlfriends, she had big feet.

This month’s edition of FemmeNoir is about activism. Christine was a true activist. In spite of our differences, in spite of my being the “consummate arrogant asshole,” raised to be a “White girl,” or “bougie Negro,” Christine and I could still build bridges across our differences and meet each other at the core of who we were, looked for answers and solutions, and built a meaningful relationship based on a foundation of love. I will always hold in my heart a great deal of love and admiration for this great woman.

“There is often as much heterogeneity within a black community, or more heterogeneity, than in cross-racial communities. An African-American woman might find it much easier to work together with a Chicana than with another black woman whose politics of race, class, gender, and sexuality would place her in an entirely different community. What is problematic is the degree to which nationalism has become a paradigm for our community-building processes. We need to move away form such arguments as “Well, she’s not really black.” “She comes from such-and-such a place.” “Her hair is…” “She doesn’t listen to ‘our’ music,” and so forth. What counts as black is not so important as our political commitment to engage in anti-racist, anti-sexist, and anti-homophobic work.” Angela Davis, speaking on “Building Coalitions of People of Color” at University of California, San Diego, May 12, 1993.













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