No one will ever tell the poor Black woman living in the hood that she needs to drop everything and care for herself. No one will ever tell her that America will work you to your grave and, if you’re lucky, someone will eulogize your existence by saying, “Yes, she was a strong Black woman. She worked two jobs without insurance, graduated college with honors, raised six children, loved her spouse of 14 years through rough times, was an activist in her community, AND…didn’t kill any racist white folks in the process. Now pass the hat so that we can pay for the repast and rent for another month in her absence.”
Most assuredly no one will ever ask her, “Have you ever wanted to be free? Have you ever wanted to drop that sopping mop or perfectly marinated pot roast in the middle damn floor and go running into the streets, screaming at the top of your lungs, I’m out of this mutha and bet not nobody try to stop me.”
Well, I’m here to trigger “SOS”, wave the white flag, and throw up the deuces. Ladies our freedom’s compromised. Whether we consciously or unconsciously gave it up through marriage and becoming mothers, or maybe you, like me, never had it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the fact that we have done ourselves a major disservice. And yes, I know that what I’m saying is controversial. I mean what woman posts on a public forum and says that, at certain point in her life, she’s felt a lot like Django right before he goes crazy and start beating white slavers.
Aren’t we supposed to love our spouses for better or worse and didn’t we decide to birth those little darlings from our vaginas? Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all. “You know you should be grateful that you have people who loooove you” and “you know those children didn’t ask to be here” or “there are plenty of women who want to have children and can’t.”
This is all well and beside the point that I’m trying to make, which is; When we willfully neglect ourselves we do ourselves, and our families, a great injustice because we are not whole beings. This portion of me goes to the family, this portion goes to the community, this goes to my job, and this small portion is saved for sex on Saturday night in the hopes that it might make me feel good enough to do all of this foolishness again next week.
So freedom came for me on a nice warm summer day. Oprah calls it an “Aha moment”, but if you’d been there, you would have called it my moment of mania. My partner has dubbed it the time of my wild eyed, I’m breaking the hell out of here, mid-life crisis. Poor thing, she didn’t know whether to be scared or excited. Anyway, I heard the call to freedom just as clear as you are hearing my voice as I stand in front of you. It went something like this, “Yoohoo! Yeah you mami – with the bad hair, brittle nails and shotty nerves – the one who gave up her dreams and wild child imagination, my name is freedom. Do you remember your name?” It was then that I started planning my getaway year, my spirit year, my NEW ORLEANS YEAR!…well it was more like nine months but who’s counting and I could have easily used more time.
When the time came for me to board that plane from Chicago to New Orleans, I was visibly shaking. The last people pleasing nerve that I had left had kicked in and I started questioning myself. LAWD! Woman what have you done? What woman leaves her kids and spouse in Chicago and goes off? Would they be alright? What would people think of me if something happens and I’m not there?
Internally, the real problem was that I knew that this day would be a game changer, that I’d have no excuse to release and deal with myself. I also knew that once I was done with my stay, I wouldn’t be the same when I returned to Chicago. The radical mission that I’d chosen to accept was to actively heal myself, to learn the art of loving myself.
I won’t pretend that New Orleans doesn’t have its own problems, or glorify it as this mythic place; however, there is something to be said about going to a city where there is massive healing going on and, well, it is one of the most spirited and haunted cities on the planet. When I stepped off the plane, my ancestors spoke to me on that sacred ground and said, “You are here, you are safe, you can heal.”
Hell, that was all that I needed to hear. I gave myself permission do things that I hadn’t done it over twenty five years or in my life. On Sundays, dance became my prayer and worship service as I two stepped through the streets of New Orleans to second lines and performed my version of the Bomba to the drums in Congo Square. I biked in the rain, ran at sunrise, and sang loudly at the moon around midnight. I made offerings of molasses and honey at Lake Ponchatrain to the Orisha Yemonja and Oshun. I took red wine and cornmeal to entrances of cemeteries to Oya and ward off death. I allowed Mambos, Iyawos, Witches, Light Warriors and my Egun to help me heal. Bit by bit, I began to now my name, to call my name, to reclaim myself from between the spaces of societal hatred and self-neglect. I awakened in me, the free woman who lay dormant for far too long.
I’ve since returned to Chicago, not as a new person but as a better me. I am still the woman who cares for others, but I now know to care for myself first – without exceptions, without guilt. When I love myself, it causes an expanse of love that covers all around me in my bliss. When the Ancestors check in with me and ask, “Keesha what does your freedom look like, smell like, taste like, and how does it sound? Is it orgasmic?”
I say, “My freedom looks like the splash of my cowboy boots attached to my feet as dance in mud at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, smells like fresh cut lemon grass after a summer rain in Chicago, it sounds like Black and Brown babies in my neighborhood asking me ‘Ms. Keesha how many miles did your run today? Then the sound of their voices as they say “woooooow” after I tell them, five, ten, and thirteen miles babies.”
Ancestors my love for myself taste the healing salt water of Brazilian beaches, sweat and tears. And is it orgasmic? You can bet your sweet brown spirit bottoms it is! Because, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.