I was talking to my mother this morning about finally being a grown woman, and how long it has taken me to come to this moment. It all started from my talking about the new grown woman poems that I am writing and that led me to talking about a brother I was feeling, strong.
You know it takes me a moment to get to the point of a story, so again—as always—allow me my circuitous route on this journey to the promised land.
I should come out and say, I am working on two books of poetry, not just one. This is a secret I’ve kept for a couple of years, but now, I guess I should come clean. Yes, the first book—the book I talk about all the time—is about Phillis Wheatley, and these poems are so important to me, but they are based on research, which is slow going.
But the second book—the one I don’t ever talk about, until now—consists of poems that don’t fit in anywhere in that Phillis Wheatley book. A few weeks ago, I realized, these could be called my “grown woman” poems. In these poems, I say things that I’ve been hiding for a long time. Hiding from other people. And many times, hiding from myself.
I started talking to my mother about these new poems, and how I finally feel like a grown woman, and that, strangely, when I thought being a grown woman would give me some restraint, just the opposite has happened. I have found that I am tired of taking the high road and trying to be classy all the time.
Now, those people out there who know me from back in the day will ask, “Honorée, when did this classy moment occur? Because when I knew you, you used to go around cussing people out.”
Exactly. I got tired of being That Crazy Sister.
You know the one. That Crazy Sister that will cut your clothes off of you—clean—with her verbal switchblade. She is always ready to fight, anytime, anyplace, anywhere. She will cuss you out, starting from the beginning of your lineage down to the present. Well, that used to be me.
And then, in my early thirties, I got tired of people in my world—the black poetry world—always treating me like I was crazy. It had gotten to the point where when I walked into a room, people already knew the stories and many times, they threw me shade even before we were introduced.
Now, some of those stories about me were true, but some had been embellished. And most of the people who I had cussed out deserved it; I gotta say this. They had humiliated me—sometimes in front of those same people who were calling me crazy—but somehow, when I defended myself, I ended up being The Crazy One. The person hurting me never ended up being The Mean One.
Sidebar: Come to think of it, this is sort of like a metaphor for black folks and America, huh?
But that didn’t matter. I still had a bad rep. It got so bad that I was paranoid constantly, and so, I just would introduce myself to other young black poets with lines like, “I’m sure you’ve heard all about me. I’m the crazy one.” Which is pretty pathetic, I know.
So then, when I started making a reputation as a writer, I decided that I would let things slide because I didn’t want rumors—true or not—to get in the way of my career. I’d just be a good proverbial Christian and turn the other cheek, and that would help move my career forward so that people would see that just because my poems were sometimes angry, I was really a happy, happy, happy person.
It started bleeding into my personal life, too.
I started letting my friends talk any way to me—these are not my best friends who have stayed strong with me through the years, now; these are the come-and-go type of friends. If I was in a relationship with a man, I just thought if I was classy and wore cute outfits and fried him chicken, he would see that I was a “good woman” and do right by me.
And that went on for almost ten years, while I gained more and more weight, let my stress levels hit the roof, and let my resentment about being nice in the face of cruelty and demeaning behavior bubble up and affect my health. But I was able to hold onto my moral superiority, I thought.
Then, something happened a year ago, a few months before I started this blog. Some sort of breakthrough. I decided, later for turning the other cheek.
You know what you get when you turn the other cheek? Somebody clocks you on the other cheek. And you get a bruise. Or you get a cut lip. And then, you gotta worry, is this cut going to turn into a scar?
So let’s fast forward to my conversation with my mother, who had been telling me for those ten years while I was trying so hard to be a long-suffering, classy lady, don’t make the mistakes of her generation. Don’t let people push you around and lie to yourself about you’re a lady when really, you’re just a damned coward and don’t want to tell people the truth.
Sidebar: Don’t you hate your mother’s always right? Even when she gives good advice and that good advice finally kicks in, sometimes, I’m still like, “Why my mama always got to be right?”
This morning I was talking to her—I mean I just hung up the phone before I started on this post—and in addition to those grown woman poems, I was talking about this brother I really liked, and that we had finally gone out.
I should say as well that now that I’ve been taking care of myself, a sister is looking pretty cute these days. No, I will never get back my young, dewy moments, no matter how much shea butter I grease myself down with. But still, the lost weight, the two and a half quarts of water a day, the fruits and veggies, the daily workouts, and most importantly, the missing fibroids (that were the size of a slave ship before I had them finally taken out six months ago) have really kicked in and I’m feeling super-fine and super-bad.
Not to sound arrogant, but even with my fibroid tummy, I always got my share of male attention, and the people who know me will tell you that’s the truth. I think it’s just that my mother always made me feel like I was Miss America even before Vanessa Williams won, and that continued even through the insecurity of my teens and twenties. I just projected cute even when my body wasn’t.
I’m not saying I had a perfect childhood; people who’ve read my books know that. But my mutual adoration society with my mother has remained a constant in my life, and I’ve always known that in her eyes, I was a super-star.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I went out with that brother I was talking about. We’ve been aquaintance-friends, but that’s it, because he’s very good-looking and I had not felt that way, what with my fibroid tummy and all. That’s not to say that I haven’t had relationships in these past few years, but this is a really good-looking brother. Y’all know what I mean.
We went to the movies. I tried to pay the eight dollars for my own ticket, radical feminist that I am, but he refused. We had a nice time at the movies, came back to my house, and started talking. Then we kissed a few times, but that was it. It was a first date, and truly, the only reason I let him into my house is because I had known him for a few years. I’m not a complete fool, here.
And as we sat there on my couch, sort of hugged up, he asked me in a nice, gentlemanly way, how we might move this thing—ahem—forward. Y’all know what he meant. He meant, how could he get some.
I thought that was a bit quick, considering this was our first date, but I had known him for a while. Maybe that why he felt we could skip a few steps. Or maybe, he figured, he was sitting on my couch and my bedroom door—which was closed, by the way—was only twenty steps away.
So I said, “First, I have to trust you. Second, I have to love you. Third, you’ve got to love me. And fourth, we have to be exclusively dating each other.”
Y’all know what I’m about to say: I haven’t heard from this brother in two weeks. Not a phone call. Not a text message. Not an email. Not a carrier pigeon. Nothing.
I kissed this Negro and I have not heard from him, which is seriously impolite in my book.
I called him a couple of times and left voice mails. You know how we women are. I thought, maybe he got in a car accident or something, until I was talking to a brother-friend of mine about the situation, and he said, “You scared him, Honorée. You should have played it cooler than that. Men don’t want to think that they have to have a relationship in order to get laid. You probably won’t hear from him again.”
Can I just say, “Dang”?
I mean, have times changed so much that I have to give a man the impression that he can lay down with me for the price of an eight-dollar movie ticket, with no responsibilities on his part?
And why would that scare a man to know that he can’t get any from a woman without putting in some work and making promises and keeping those promises? I would think that would mean that he is dealing with a woman who has some pride and self-esteem, and if she has some pride and self-esteem, that would mean she is a catch, indeed.
I mean, I am Honorée Fanonne Jeffers and an extraordinary human being.
Sidebar: I told you my mama raised me to think I was Miss America.
But the issue is not just my high self-esteem. The issue is that I am looking at the world through a grown woman’s eyes. These days, I don’t care who thinks I am too forward, or too desperate, or too arrogant, or too uppity.
I guess I thought that because I worked on myself and I had changed—and changed and changed and changed—that somehow, the world would have changed with me. It hasn’t. But that’s okay.
You know how when you were a kid and you got a new toy you want to play with? That’s how I feel about my new grown womanhood and my body. I ain’t saying a sister is looking like Halle or nothing, but I am in low-rise jeans. I just have a very short window of time to wear them, though, so I got to sport my jeans immediately. Because I do not want to be that middle-aged woman you see wearing seriously inappropriate gear. And I feel the same way about my life; I have no time for foolishness. I’ve lost too much time on that.
I don’t have to cuss people out now, to keep them from taking advantage of me. I don’t even have to raise my voice. I just have to say, this is what I require because I think well of myself. And guess what? If people don’t want to meet those standards—not just men, but all human beings—they can get to stepping.
It ain’t a high blood pressure moment, neither. It’s just a grown woman’s moment.