i have lived in new york for 11,479 days. a concrete jungle where dreams are made of + deferred. a place where i have learned how to navigate subway systems and poverty. i know what it is to live off of food stamps and thrive off of side hustles. at the start of early mornings came blue + red lights against white walls to wake me. come nightfall were stories about skipping school on tomorrows from black girls outside windows that would put me to sleep. residing here for 31 years, 5 months, and 3 days came with perks like learning how to write poetry—observing how brown women perform street dances when we maneuver the advances of men in crowds. there was an art to what my granny called “switching” when we walked that exposed the depth of our cultures.
i am grateful to us, to new york, for the introduction to identity.
the grandiosity of the city from the lens of a kindergartener were the courthouses that lined the streets, adorned with addicts and attorneys, hot dog stands and mr. softee trucks. i became a storyteller by way of my mother, listening to her lace experiences on eviction notices at four. when she stitched the realities of single motherhood, full-time employment, and a collegiate career at an ivy league institution as a high school dropout together, she made struggle sound sweet. twenty-something years thereafter, i would know it to taste bitter. but before our stories would intersect, photographic memory would take shots of her using her hands to convey frustration, fear, and faith before a judge.
i am thankful to her, to new york, for the gateway to God.
because of the city, i understood the resilience of children—watching them scrape knees and elbows in an attempt to make it home before street lights illuminate dangerous blocks. or away from officers who incited more fear than mommas screaming from 3rd floor windows about getting their asses inside. cops and robbers, and freeze tag would transform in meaning. “fast” would differ in context between boys and girls, and i would later come to know why it was that i laid with men who held childlike energies—the city aged us beyond our years, and we were not yet developed. we ran all the time and tired ourselves. for ice cream trucks, from trouble. in the direction of phone wires used for double dutch or discipline. towards train doors and job opportunities simply not crafted for our kind and closed in our faces.
what an privilege it was to sit in the chairs of African hair braiders and Dominican hairstylists and hear narratives and novelas on why we were so fortunate enough to be here instead of there.
i had lived in a room for 90 days. i have lived in my first and only apartment for 9 years. in a span of 9 weeks, i let go of all that i knew and transitioned from new york to maryland.
an evolution of home.
i clung to spaces that restricted growth because for me, this city would help my sons how to build a toughness only these streets could teach you—even if i did see how much it was destructing their father; even if i knew how important it was for boys of color to maintain a softness that may dissipate over time; even if Lesandro Guzman-Feliz weighed on me every time i allowed my children out the house. this was home and surely there was no other place like it, but sometimes when i’m scared of leveling up, i have a habit of holding on to what i know is no good for me. with all of that, i realized that i seized fear and suffocated our future.
i asked God for answers on how to quiet the noise in my mind; i came across an article from a navy seal on mastering fear to acknowledge that i was once again, my own obstacle. this particularly hit when reading it:
“A friend of mine from the Philippines tells me how they trap monkeys in his country. They dig a hole, place a coconut in it; the monkey reaches in, grabs the coconut, and his fist is now too big to pull back out. He’s trapped. All he has to do is let go of the coconut. But he won’t do it. Why not? What keeps that monkey’s fist clenched? Fear. He’s afraid of losing what he has. So he keeps the coconut – and loses his freedom…Mastering fear starts with a decision, then proceeds through rehearsal, so that you’ll be as prepared as possible to make that jump into the unknown and take action in the face of your fear. But nine times out of ten, when the time comes to make the jump, something keeps people from actually doing it. Something they’re holding on to.”
the signs couldn’t have been more clear: my mental space was in sync with my living space. i thought a lot about how attached i am to all that is here and yet, connected to nothing. the convenience that is in-laws around corners, friends one city over, and lovers nestled in easily accessible areas couldn’t comfort me when life became too busy. they were the coconuts.
so when the Universe presented a condominium that doubled our living arrangement, gave us greenery and a sense of community, i had to let go. then the numbers started to reappear and the dots started to connect.
on the 5th of march, i purchased my first car. with absolutely no clue on what i was doing, but a tiredness in my spirit in servicing others and not to myself. this was my identity. this was my independence.
on the 5th of august, i came home from a retreat that first presented to me our new place of residence, and told my family that we were moving. with absolutely no job in place and no immediate family in the area, but an urge to uproot where we have all been planted. this was fear and also faith.
on the 5th of september, i registered my vehicle in the state of maryland + made the move official. five days later, i would be offered a job position that i was initially denied on.
i’ve transitioned from four—a number of being—to five: a number symbolizing equilibrium, personal freedom and manifestation.
God had his hand in everything the entire time. my childhood experiences set this up for my own children.
this is the end of the familar. a continuation of a story about how i am learning to master the art of unraveling. the start of new chapters away from the place i called home for 11,479 days.