Take the Power Back

For a couple weeks now, this powerful punch from Rage Against the Machine’s song of the same name has been reverberating through my brain. That it is now officially the short month during which this country seeks to recognize the historic struggles and contributions of African Americans is not lost on me. I’m not intentionally seeking to personally appropriate a song meant as a battle cry against the forced ideals of white America and an unbelievably prescient commentary on teaching (or not teaching) critical race theory in our schools.

Now thirty years old, it is just as frustrating and loathsome now not to have witnessed enough quantifiable progress for Black humans in this country as it was when this song was bumping and thumping through car stereos at deafening levels in the 90s, when the multitude of humanity’s hues were chanting and raging the lyrics with indignant anger, though often misplaced and misdirected toward parents, religion, teachers, and other entities representing authority. Teenage ignorance masquerading as defiance, really.

“In the right light, study becomes insight

But the system that dissed us, teaches us to read and write

So-called facts are fraud

The rage is relentless

We need a movement with a quickness

You are the witness of change and to counteract

We gotta take the power back

“Take the Power Back” – Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Because I wasn’t even in high school when Zack de la Rocha was yelling these words, I cannot pretend that I understood the lyrics then. Lord knows you couldn’t Google lyrics back then. I used to record songs from the radio onto a cassette tape and then pause, rewind, and play the lyrics over and over and over until I memorized them. I can still recall every word of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by the way. It suffices to say that I wasn’t memorizing Rage Against the Machine’s lyrics back then.

In fact, those metal bands of the 90s like Metallica, Pantera, Megadeath, and Rage kind of terrified me. Those bands are what the “bad” kids listened to, the kids I had no interest in being around and, because I rarely talked to anyone beyond my family and very few friends in that time of my life, I sure as shit wasn’t listening to the music of “those” kids to try to assimilate. Motown and the Golden Oldies were what my family listened to and that’s what I liked! I’ve come to legitimately love some of those hard rock bands though and I couldn’t tell you when or how that happened. I’ll be seeing Metallica in concert for the second time in my life in a few months, and Rage somehow became the go-to soundtrack to my workouts. There is nothing as motivating as those opening, angry bars from “Killing in the Name” — you have to grit your teeth, you have to grimace, you have to growl the words through your chest — it just happens. Those songs have also been the soundtrack to more than one season of heartbreak … you know, after the sadness and self-loathing phase, when the anger pulses with such force that you just need to get it out? Yeah. I’ve been crashing on that couch, off and on, for a few weeks now. It isn’t comfortable and I still don’t sleep, but it serves a purpose on this journey back to myself. Again.

I have always marveled at the ignorance of those “bad” kids back in my hometown. Honest to g/God, they probably still bang their bloody heads off to these bass lines while screaming along. But those tough, redneck, steel town boys, now men, are also the ones who used to litter my social media timelines with bigoted, biased, conservative bullshit. Those unfiltered and appalling voices are the reason I haven’t had Facebook in years now. I do not miss it. And if I tried to point out the irony of their views and the music that molded them, they’d brush it off the same way they do any challenge to their glaring and profound ignorance.

Anyway, the lyrics of this song make me angry. And they help me rage enough to get up and get through another day. If I allow myself to not think too much about what de la Rocha is really saying, if I allow myself to just feel Morello’s guitar and thrash into the emotion, those words “…take the power back,” are a battle cry for me too. Personally. I am personally trying to take back the power —- the power to move, the power to heal, the power to take care of myself. I won’t stop fighting for justice and equity for humanity, in February or beyond, but right now, I’m fighting for me. I’m fighting to remember who I am, fighting to trust again, fighting for what I can give to the world if I’m healthy and my heart is glued back together, fighting for someone who wants to be present in the lives of people who are waiting for me to resurface (hopefully they can wait some more), and I’m fighting to be proud of that person again … once I find her.

First step: I bought myself a subscription for fresh flowers from UrbanStems. Is there anything more delicately and intricately perfect than a ranunculus? I think not.

Where we are
Where we’re going

Step Two: Found a new therapist. One who understands trauma in all its forms.

Next step: A solo vacation this week. I need Vitamin Sea (and D) and my soul needs to recharge.

I’ll be fine. I’m making progress. Sunshine will help. So does Rage.

Music for the Mood:

Take the Power Back

Killing in the Name

Bombtrack

Bullet in the Head

Rage Against the Machine (1992)

Beauty in the cold

I don’t see the point of cold without snow. Even the grey days have a bit of beauty when everything is covered in white. Sunny ones are always better. These are from my folks — not exactly my DC view. I don’t mind longing for the cold and often endless grey of this place, because it envelops me with warmth.

Remember when the perfunctory doldrums of winter were the only things I had to write about? Never dreamed I’d miss those times.

Music for the Mood: Cold Weather Music – Muddy Waters

The challenge of fantasy

A few days ago, I received an invitation to join the Fantasy Football Playoff Challenge group that I was in last year. The problem is, I was in that group with John, with (presumably) all his friends. I only recognized one other name last year and I didn’t know this person who ran the group, the one whose email the invite came from again this year.

I recognize that the invite was an automatically generated thing for anyone who participated last year when the group was reactivated this year. That’s how it works in every fantasy league I’ve ever played in. I considered ignoring but, really, what was the harm? It’s largely anonymous and clearly none of those dudes knew who I was last year either. So I created a team.

Karma’s picks … if only I held that power

This morning I sent the $25 entry fee via Venmo and followed up with an email. I let the guy know I was invited last year by John Clemons and that, if it was too uncomfortable, he could decline the money and I’d just delete my team.

As you might suspect, that guy wrote back, said he didn’t know the situation with John & I, didn’t need to, and asked me to do as I offered and delete my team. It felt a bit like a rejection letter from a job; “thanks so much for your interest.” But he was polite about it and I have no ill will toward his passive bystander lot. So I did.

Then I went for a walk on this balmy 19° day and thought about it for a full hour. Obviously it’s not lost on me that I have no business being in that playoff group, even anonymously, but it also seemed harmless. My team name was “Karma” so, yeah, maybe it wasn’t entirely without motive though, to be fair, it didn’t appear that John was even in the group (at least as of this morning). What I kept thinking about on my walk though was that, a year ago, it felt like I was part of John’s life, part of his friends’ lives, and one of the only females in this big group of 20 or so guys (I finished 4th, btw).

I wish it didn’t bug me so much but it’s all these small, seemingly innocuous things that keep coming along and tearing off scabs that have only just barely gotten a chance to start forming. They hurt. A lot.

And I can’t help but be resentful that no one apologizes to me, no one sympathizes, or empathizes, or even seems to know who I am or that I ever existed in his life. It’s so bizarre that this man stole three years of my life and yet I’m the one who is still paying. No one seems to be holding him accountable. He seems to have gotten to live his fantasy life, both of them, and come out without a scratch. I have no evidence to the contrary and it makes my brain so, so tired.

I’m not sure I know what my fantasy even is anymore. Maybe that’s the real playoff challenge.

Twitterpation

Remember the way back, in the Disney cartoon version of Bambi, when “twitterpated” was the term the woodland animals used to describe the springtime when everyone was falling in love and procreating adorable little, beloved Disney babies like Bambi, Thumper, and Flower? Way before Twitter came along and forever changed (ruined) our collective lives? Fun fact: I’ve never used it. I miss the meaning of twitter from my childhood. I miss the giggles and the color and the joy it evoked.

I’ve had a pretty solid week – one in which I’ve barely had time to think about what happened in October – with much time spent engaging with and being inspired by my students and other just really enjoyable things. In my management class this afternoon though, all that built up positivity came tumbling right down in an instant. And I’m kinda pissed about it. Pissed at myself, really. But mostly the circumstance.

One of our leaders announced that every annual cohort has had a “cohort baby” tradition and that our group is behind. She was joking, of course, when she said that someone needed to step up and make this happen for us, sooner than later. From looking at all of the other 20+ faces on my Zoom screen, it looked like everyone else was enjoying this bit of fun, at least outwardly. No one knows the invisible backpack anyone else carries, of course. And I do not blame them; I understood the jokes they were all making.

What I wanted to say was, “If someone can find me a good man who is actually single, I gladly volunteer as tribute!”

It’s all I’ve ever wanted in this life.

I didn’t, of course. That would obviously be too much information for a group of people that has begun to feel like family but that are really still strangers. And no one likes a Debbie Downer to make the record scratch.

It is what it is. I know this. I’m working on accepting it. Every bloody day. I just really wanted to be able to welcome the levity and revel in it like everyone else after a long day of class. Instead, I bit the inside of my cheek to keep the tears at bay, dug my fingernails into the palm of my hand, and counted the seconds until the chatter subsided and we were dismissed and could turn off our cameras.

Oh to be young and twitterpated!

Like a cannonball

Still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. Still a little hard to say what’s going on.

During another night of fitful sleep, I was scrolling through pictures, specifically those curated iPhoto “memories” albums and slideshows. Most are of my family or vacations. Good memories. One of them sent me searching for a photo I couldn’t find, which made me wonder if it was my memory or someone else’s. Anyway, it led me to my Instagram, the real one, not the finsta of a woman scorned. I thought I had completely purged John from that social record of my life but when I saw this from May 2020, it stopped my mindless scroll with an ache so deep, I think it was audible.

My birthday is May 12, the same day as his stepdad, Ted. I had finally gone to PA to visit my folks for Mother’s Day when, two months in, there seemed to be no immediate end in sight for the pandemic and we had all been extremely careful. In hindsight, had I known he was swapping bodily fluids with one of his roommates, not just living isolated in his basement bedroom like he said, I wouldn’t have gone home. I wouldn’t have put my parents at risk. But I was blissfully unaware. I stayed for two weeks. John wished me happy birthday while I was there and I remember thinking it was so sweet of him to remember. He was always thoughtful like that. He would always tell me to tell my family hello or ask how they were doing. Just the other day I was thinking about how he did that last Christmas but no thoughtful messages, or messages of any kind, came this year.

Originally, I was to return to physical work on May 25, so I came back to DC that weekend in 2020. John surprised me by showing up at my door that very day with flowers for my birthday and saying he missed me. I’d never received flowers from a man in my life. I was beside myself. I also remember another gift he gave me, suddenly and without warning like the alpha males of my fantasies; he took control, bent me over my kitchen counter, and got down on his knees. It was the hottest fucking afternoon of my life.

But seeing this photo last night just reminded me of that text he sent a few minutes after I told him I had discovered that he had a fiancé in October of this year. He said,

Those words still cut me now as they did then. So cruel. So cold. Abrupt? Inaccurate? There should be a lot more to say.

It makes my mind churn and my heart hurt and my stomach roil. The what-did-he-actually-think-a-one-night-stand-is of it all. Maybe don’t buy flowers for the other woman on her birthday? Maybe don’t be around for three of her birthdays? Just one of many, many decidedly non-casual details and events and time spent together that John seemed to have selectively forgotten in his desperation to tell his then “roommate,” now-wife, that I was just sex. (As if that is any more acceptable to a fiancé?)

Or I assume that’s what he said. I have no idea what he told that woman or anyone else. I know what I would have told her had I known she existed. Then again, had known she existed, all of this would be moot because there never would have been a “John & I” to speak of.

Note that this day was May 2020, an indelible memory for me nearly two years into knowing him, but also just a month after they were apparently supposed to have originally gotten married in Mexico? Remember, he left that contract on my computer too.

Ah. Today is a hard day, y’all. They ebb and flow, wax and wane. I couldn’t get back to sleep last night after that memory. And I’ve been ruminating on it all day. It’s challenging to hide this mood from my family while I’m still here visiting. An extended holiday because returning to my tiny home filled to the brim with John’s ghost is about as appealing as pulling my own fingernails out with pliers. So I’m fortifying myself here with people who have to love me, and I declined to go on a walk with them this afternoon because I was barely keeping it together and was worried I couldn’t fake it much longer. The moment the door closed, I cried. Wailed, really.

I realized that in the now two months since this happened, I haven’t been able to really let it out. I have cried, sure. A whimper here or there. A few tears in the shower or in the privacy of the single-stall restroom at work, or one might slip loose when I have hugged a friend goodbye after a dinner or HH where I haven’t said a word about what I’m holding inside. There’s something about the physical contact with another human and then the absence of it that has become almost too much to withstand these past weeks. So, yes, although my head is now pounding and my eyes are burning, it felt a bit good to cry it out with reckless abandon, without fear of the neighbors hearing through the wall or a coworker or passerby seeing the sadness. Maybe the burning eyes will help me (force me) to sleep tonight?

I hope that one day sooner than later none of this hurts anymore. That the disbelief and anger and resentment will fade. That the desire to know that karma has come for him will cease to fuel me. That the words of Damien Rice won’t echo through my skull on a loop. That courage might teach me to be something more than shy and that love will teach me anything but how to lie. But more than anything, that one day, no bits of John will be laced with my doubt.

“It’s not hard to fall, when you float like a cannonball.”

Music for the Mood: Cannonball – Damien Rice