When they sweep you under with their eyes, it is truly because there is no place for you to exist in their world. The shockingness of being left out, on the line, left out of the conversation, left out of your rights to feel connected as a goddamned human being. What are we saying? Are we allowing this to happen because our generation of raising kids and raising one another was a bit different in the 80’s or 90’s? Who bought you lunch and then got up and told you to eat alone? That same person is the one who won’t give you time because they don’t want to, but they’ve got money, no? Stop allowing time to manage you. Be present.
We’ve become undecided on how we react to including others. We choose to criminalize those who aren’t criminal, while the criminals’ families are begging with their bloody money to let them free but *we* are absolutely alright by that because every single person is a different story. Each light, a different switch. But when you dare to toxify the eligibility of one’s purpose, you’ve decided to exclude them. There is no worse way than to feel excluded for unknown reasons.
I had a situation at school when I was in the seventh grade. I was being barked at and constantly bullied by a white girl, who had a problem with not only people of color, but she loved to bark at me, bark bark bark. Do you know that most of the time, the seventh graders that surrounded me would usually lightly chuckle? How do you lightly chuckle when someone is barking at you because they assume you are lower than human because of the color of your skin? It traumatized me (and really bothered me) in a lot of ways. She was always finding people to gang up on me and if it wasn’t for my sweet friend who stood by me, I would have crumbled, but, not many stood by me or even up for me. I’d sit in class and she would throw shit at me from the back section and people let her actions be cute. They allowed it. Perhaps some didn’t see it, but to me, everyone fucking saw it. She swept me under.
She single-handedly allowed her actions to degrade my existence and when I would ask for help with the situation, I got the, “kids will be kids” talk. Oh, kids will be kids, yes of course. She spits on me. Her saliva on my face, my hair, my skin. Oh, kids will be kids. She drew in black sharpie on her hand, an anarchy symbol, but with a B instead of an A, you know, “anti-black”, but, you know, kids will be kids. She tried to set my backyard on fire, but the police officer assured my mother and I that I had probably sparked something inside her to make her that angry. So, the color of my skin and self-defense. Whew, that’s a lot to hurt someone with. You don’t understand how sweeping someone under can affect their ability to grow as a human. How are we dehumanizing children across the world? We need to advocate for those who cannot and do not understand how to advocate for themselves because they are children. When she sent me a friend request on Facebook a few years ago, I was angry. It was apparent to me just how unimportant her actions were. She didn’t care how she had treated me, I bet she may have even felt a little bad now, now that she’s a mother. But she didn’t even have the courage to apologize after all these years. We are more than twice our age of the time, now. We must stop sweeping people under, each one matters.
So at what point are we going to stop allowing people to take away from each individual childhood experience? At what point is one more important than the other? I’m highly confused by how we are treating children and allowing them to repeat a cycle of history that has been proven not fucking OK. When I get involved with my son at his school, I often find myself watching how the children interact with one another. It’s the same way you do at the park when you’ve got a field of new kids running around, how does your child interact? How do we help them to be friendly, but strong? My son was running around, one cloudy afternoon. One boy about the same age, kept pushing him and hitting him at random moments and saying things under his breath to my son, that I couldn’t hear. Actively bullying. It took everything in me to stand back and let them handle it. I’m involved, do not get me wrong, but I wanted to see how my son handled the situation, so I let him. The kid kicked my son in his back and then smiled, looking down at me from the slide. Okay. His mother was close by, but she did not see what was going on. So when my son came down the slide, he told me, “Mama, that boy kicked me and I don’t know what to do, he’s not being nice”. He wasn’t crying, he wasn’t scared, he was not sure what to do. So I said, “go ask him to please not kick or hit you, that you don’t like it.” “Okay, mama”. He walked up to the little boy and before he could tell him anything, the little boy pushed my son. So, now, I’m all up in flames, right? I walk up to a five or six year old and… he is five or six… ok? I said, “please, don’t treat other kids like that, it’s not cool”.
The kid decided to change lanes and went to kick another child who was younger in the back of the knee, causing them to fall down. Well, well. I thought. Now his mother and father were standing in the middle, in the middle of the playground, but not watching him at all and this just kept on and on. My son has a little accent, because he was born in New York, and speaks Spanish now, and English, often times together, turning heads. It leaves him in a vulnerable place at school and on the playground, but it doesn’t stop him from playing, yet. His first year at school, the kids didn’t know what to think, and at that age, forming a bond with “like” kids is normal because parents do the same often times. You never know why a bully chooses you, but often times it’s personal.
There was a fighter light in me. I wanted to go to his mother and pull her hair, you know? I did not do that. There are so many incidents that happen when we are paying attention. When we are not paying attention, “everything is fine”. Do not sweep under the things you cannot see. Yes, focus on what you can control, don’t stir yourself with the things out of your hands, okay, but please. Courage up, for us. I wish I could have called someone when I was in the 7th grade and said, “Hey, this person is making fun of the color of my skin and there’s nothing I can do to change this color of skin I’m in, can you please keep an eye out for me? Maybe sprinkle some other colors into my class, so that I’m not the only one? Perhaps you could talk with her about how black people do matter?” It was too much for me then. For the kid who can’t seem to get in line because someone won’t “allow them” to. Take damn good ownership of how we treat one another, teach it and be it, too. Embrace diversity, because believe it or not, the little world we live in, it’s diverse and if you don’t see that, I recommend ya put the broom down and stop sweeping. Get out of your comfort zone and be mindful of the dirt you can’t see. Being bullied for the color of your skin, it hurts, it’s being told that you don’t matter and silently, being swept under to a place we don’t gotta go again. Especially in a time like this right now, where we are watching children be brutally bullied, for the color of their skin, let’s stop raising these types, get better and smarter kids to run an office, a playground, a city, a support group, you know, let’s work with the ones with good-hearted hands who don’t bark and dehumanize others.
I’ve come a long way. Physically and mentally. I was born in Modesto, California. I was one of a very small population of African-Americans, (creole and with some native american indian works). It was alright, just a mere 4% of us there, hanging out in Modesto. I remember being at school, being made the clown for the color of my skin. I was neither black enough or white enough and the red of my cheeks where my Native American stamped me, were misunderstood. It was a long way down, understanding how to fight for yourself. I fought off my father. He was abusive and neglectful in many ways to my family and I. He still smiled though, even though the burning never ended. He died some 15 years ago and I was okay with it. Oh, I’m sensitive to it, but I’m not broken by it.
When I left Modesto, to live in San Francisco, I thought that I was doing pretty well. I was nineteen, had a good job and my dad’s old car. I was doing mighty fine for the mess I’d been in. It was hard to leave my mother and sister, but they understood. I went. San Francisco to me was the gold of California. I didn’t have to explain my story there. I didn’t have to walk in shame for the color of my skin. It was then, the most beautiful place in the world to be broken and free. If you were there in those years, you would understand. If you couldn’t understand or felt threatened by it’s heavy, then you misunderstood what it was to be a fighter amongst the bravest. Me.
I left San Francisco some years later with my best friend. We drove across the country and I hadn’t ever been to many of those northern route states. It was wild in ways that you could absolutely imagine for a couple of young, tattooed women, different skin colors (if you’re from the bread parts of the sandwich of the USA, you dig.). City folks dancing with the middle of the states crevices can be beautiful together, if we are indeed, dancing together without the middle finger flagging around. Entering New York was perfect. I cried like a baby once I got through the NJ turnpike, but it was heading in the right direction even though we were mostly lost on a Saturday night without a road map. My point is, it was lovely. All of my nine years in New York were lovely. I was working non-stop around the clock, each paycheck able to fly me home if need be or even if I just wanted to go home for a short weekend, I did. Being broke was only for a few days at a time, or weeks, but there was always flush around you to work it out and payday was quick when you’re doing Industry Time. The bartending life. The cafe life. The restaurant life. The nightlife. The bands, I had a few. The music world. It was all gorgeous, I loved it. I loved being so busy that I couldn’t even see straight and to be honest, those days were a mix of things that allowed me not to see strait anyway. The party was always a call away, or a step down the stairs and you had your favorite person with you whenever you needed them to be there. Perfect.
When I got pregnant, I wasn’t scared, wasn’t worried, nothing. I was happy, excited. My fiance and I knew that this round of pregnancy would be okay, healthy and that I would Mom good. My birth plan didn’t go well, or how I had wished for it to. I was triggered badly in the hospital. I felt that I had so many doctors, none of which were listening to me (yeah, I know, they were, but it didn’t feel like it and I felt abused by the condescending tones of various night nurses who rolled their eyes at my pain, yes, rolled.) After I had my son, two days after back labor and three epidurals after having my water broken manually by the largest mans hand in the world, after the induction meds not working, then a knocked out c-section, I got to hold him for the first time and I was so happy, you know, right? That moment? Even if you don’t know that moment, please imagine your happiest moment and holding onto it. I rubbed my son’s little, tiny back with the tips of my fingers and the palm of my hand while his nose kissed my neck and the nurse told me, “he doesn’t understand that pattern or feel, it’s best to just pat his back”. OKAY lady, you didn’t have to talk to me like that. I could barely breast feed and ended up having to formula feed. It. Broke. All. My. Heart. Things weren’t moving along the way I had wanted. I had lots of perfect mothers tell me how I was wrongly breastfeeding in the comfort of my own home, mother’s who were better than me, you know. I luckily had an online group of women Mom’s who did not shame me for my troubles, you know, real good people who actually cared and supported one another. I struggled as a new mom and I did not talk about PPD or none of that. I went on about it mostly on my own and did not try to hide, but also didn’t try to ask for much. The very same way I went on after my childhood.
When I moved to Argentina, I got to take a bite of time off from working full time and got to stay with my son and work on our house. Something I never imagined could happen. I began to see time differently. I began to see myself differently. I didn’t know anyone really, other than extended family, so my heart eventually began to reach out to those friends who I held close to for the duration of my entire life. A handful of good people who kept me safe through the years and who I could hold onto. I found myself writing more music, found myself wanting more from life. Learning how to do things with my hands, work, real hand work. I had to work on my guitar to find my next new thing. In NYC, I didn’t need to work on guitar because I had the best one working with me. I was spoiled a bit.
I tried to write an album about my childhood history last September. I couldn’t get it out though. It hurt. It was painful and it was dramatic. I hated it. I hated it so much that during the week of my father’s death anniversary, I got sick. A mental breakdown of fear, disgust, triggers, name it. I had all the hell on my tired hands. I sat down to write and I didn’t stop writing, bleeding pages from one to the next and while the process was more than I’ll share here, I want to say that it opened me up to a real place of healing. I began to see myself as a person. I saw myself as an actual person, a woman, excuse me, a WOMAN. Who deserved. I began to believe that I was capable of doing and earning more. I was ashamed of my past, my history, my lack of understanding. I was ashamed of a lot of things. When I finished the memoir just before New Year’s Eve, I was able to write that album. In a couple of months, my band already began to work on it. Soul Murder.
Now I’m writing, yeah, you know, you’ve heard it, seen it, watched it, maybe even have been confused by it. I don’t hold much back. I wanted to share my journey a bit, as I have never even written that in this blog I created last year. I have been working hard, I am working hard. I’m writing. I am working on my second chapbook of poems while I continue to edit the memoir. I’ve been working on a script. I’ve got another album being worked through and I have to tell you, I’ve never felt so much freedom after having written the dreary pages of the memoir. It has allowed me to write about other things and has shown me how to be kind to myself, even if others cannot be. We struggle to find our voices. Often times, the ones who were abused as children are the ones the either make or break their life cycle. I have dealt with many emotions, but I know one truth of me, it’s that I’m really strong (Thanks, Mom). I am really, damn strong.
I have work to do, but if you don’t know me already, this was just for you. Keep on keepin’ on. Find your outlet. Merry, merry your way. Try to fight the hardest fights within yourself. When you fight with yourself, you begin to see a greater picture of what your life has been. Hell, maybe you even find that you’re missing out. Don’t miss that. Go fight. For them and for you.
Photo by Hugo Ramos (Buenos Aires, Argentina)
You either do this or you don’t, you made a choice to grey the won’t
I’ve gotta find the path to my light, you either do this or you don’t
That field, where the evil comes up broken isn’t your meadow of purpose,
It’s the truth I’ve spoken
Here’s a chain for your crutch, go on and shake me down
I ain’t pinned to your fate, I won’t be around
If I stumble while I reach for my sky, can someone please hold me, while the sun turns night
And if you see me with my head down, know I’m alright,
It’s just that I’ve spent my life running from the cry
Bring down the rain, New York City made my name,
Wash down the evil, Midtown kept me sane
Ain’t no tomorrow greater than that flight, have at me, it’s all worth living through tonight.
Song: “You Don’t” © by Bethany Saint-Smith 2018