Every Heard

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In My Hood

 West Philadelphia.  

                                  31 years old.  

                                                        One month single. 

                I told myself to keep an open mind.  Watching my old classmates post photos of their weddings and children; I heard a friend’s advice echo in my mind, “If you really want to be a musician, let go of what you weresupposed to do.”

                Whether I liked it or not, letting go was my only option.  In every devastating moment before, my usual reaction would have been an episode of depression and suicidal ideation.  By this moment, I understood allowing myself to fall down that pit of despair again would mean another hospital visit, medication, and perhaps most alarming; time away from my guitar.

                Instead, I persevered; spent time with friends, wrote new tunes, and performed.  Between visiting client homes to deliver speech therapy; I wrote in local coffee shops, went to the gym, and avoided the void of loneliness that would greet me each night.
             And each morning.

                I told myself to celebrate the loss of appetite that inevitably accompanied the breakup.  Lucky me; less money I had to spend on groceries, less groceries I had to carry from the store, less… Suddenly I changed my perspective on the world.  I told myself, If you thought everything was good when you were in an unhealthy relationship- “Unhealthy” as confirmed by his therapist, then try the opposite now… Start loving the life you have!    

It was night on Larchwood, and I was walking around the block to where I had parked my vehicle.  As I came down the sidewalk, I saw a group of four or five young black boys, 

          all

                no

                     older than 12.  

                                For a moment the thought crossed my mind, “They do not live here.”

                Here is a relative statement.  West Philadelphia is a very diverse part of the city.  However, there is a distinct difference between the 40-something numbered blocks and those they lay beyond in the 50’s and 60’s.

                I could hear the boys murmuring, plotting, as children do.  Then suddenly, they were running.  One boy broke from the pack, yelling, 

                                                                    “I’m not gay!”

                As he came up behind me, I braced myself.  I saw the other boys running away in the other direction as I felt it… The lone boy smacking me on the butt as he ran past.

                I paused.  Initially, feeling a parent’s anger, I wanted to give chase and spank him over my knee!  Taking a long deep breath, I realized I would never catch up in the heels I was wearing.  Besides, in another decade, I would look back at the moment as flattering.  

                           A small grin  crept up my face                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        as I approached my car. 

                                                         “Did those guys assault you?”

                I turned to see a Caucasian man with a long white pony tail step out from his front vestibule.

                Wiping the smirk off my face, I admitted, “The one smacked my ass.  Just young kids, daring each other.”

                “I’m calling 911.”  He was already dialing.

                “It was just kids playing pranks, really,” I insisted.

                He was not listening to me, “You have to report them.  The police don’t protect us unless we tell them we’re not safe.”

                The boys were waiting within eye-shot, curious to see what would happen next.  We could hear them murmuring again as I listened to him tell the operator his series of events.  I was a young defenseless girl, going as far as to claim I might be as young as 21.  They were a gang of hoodlums, planning to assault us again.  We were indanger.

                I was trying to leave, but he was urging me to stay; “They are targeting Asians, you know.  Holding them up, especially the Asian men- Because they don't go to the police.”

                I thought to myself,  "Probably not.  They can be pretty proud."  Then paused to question if he had expected his sympathy for Asians to help his case, “They were just kids being kids.  Somebody ought to know their parents, talk to them,” I told him.  I provided speech therapy to families in the 50’s and 60’s, and I understood the disconnect.  This man did not know his neighbors beyond the 40’s.   He was from here.  They were from somewhere else.

                The families here do not allow their young children to be out by themselves after 10 PM.  The thin line between families with new cars and day jobs versus those taking the trolley who were more likely to work third shift lay somewhere between the parents.  Whenever I turned on the radio I would hear both sides blaming each other.  Depending upon what time of day I tuned in, either side of the pole was complaining about something... 

                                      Voting.
                                              Charter school admissions.                                                                                                                           Gentrification.

No one speaks on the radio to accept responsibility- 

      Unless they are running for office... and no one likes politicians.  

No one is trying to take the blame- 

      Unless they like pain...  and no one likes masochists.  

Everyone has a solution, and very few are interested compromising with creativity.  

      Except maybe comedians... and no one likes a comedian.  

                                                                          It's why they kill themselves.               
 

                When the police did not show up, he called campus police.  Although we were just outside University City, where the majority of Drexel and University of Pennsylvania students reside, we often saw their bike officers enter our streets.  This time the pony-tailed man handed me the phone, “Can you give them a statement?”

                Reluctantly, I took the phone, “Hello.”

                “Hi.  You are the young lady who was assaulted?”

              Releasing a heavy sigh, I welcomed the opportunity to correct the misrepresentation, “Some kid smacked my butt.”

                “And you are a student at which university?”  the operator inquired.

                “I’m not a student,” I answered.

                On the other end, the lack of concern was evident without a word.  “We don’t usually get involved in disputes outside of our area.”

Suddenly, I felt irritation arise within my chest, “Wait.  What?”  At that moment I put aside whether I had an actual complaint.  Instead I was thinking of how I politely greeted the bike officers everyday outside my coffee shop, one block from where we were standing.  “So you don’t care because I’m not a student.”

“I can take a statement for a report, but-“

“Fine,” I sighed.  At least there would be a record of the actual series of events from me rather than the my aspiring good Samaritan.  I accurately explained the details, 

                                                                         handed the phone back, 

                                                                                    and waved goodbye. 
With the butt-smacker and his peers still watching, I was urged to wait for the police.  
         As I started my car, all I could think was, 

This. 

This is HOW

black boys

get shot in the street

by cops.

No wonder they don't want to answer your calls.

What if they’d believed you?  Ran to rescue me?  
I can’t be your damsel in distress…

What a horrible thing to think… 

Like a joke nobody wants to hear.

                 My confidence gained a boost after a steady stream of successful gigs.  I tried to hang out with friends, learn to live unattached.  If "fear of abandonment" was code for "relationships are your poison", than I was going to learn to be alone the fast and hard way!  Mistakes gave me more instant gratification than patient practice.  I let myself live inside-out.  I lived the way I did when I first fell in love with an unlikely beau and lost all my shame.  Once more, I became the fool, unafraid of being transparent for the amusement of others, if they bothered to listen at all...

                                                                       It is how I found my way onto a stage...

                                                                      since that leap, my feet have not found the floor.

 It was an exciting week!  Miracle money had found me within 24 hours of my praying for it so that I could take my good guitar making friends to the $30 per ticket gig I was playing at World Cafe Live.  It was only one song, but I was going to make it the best- AND be my friend's "The Price is Right" showcase girl in the process!  It felt rude to invite the guitar without its family.

             A new-found friend and fun dobro player I had met through Philly Folk Fest captured a video on his cell phone.  Although I record myself so often for practice at home, I was so grateful and excited to watch an actual big performance! 

On top of everything, I was a guest to two other fabulous shows that week at the same Northern Liberties venue, Johnny Brenda's: Califone and Upholstery.  I was feeling pretty sassy when I texted my landlord for the third time in over a week to ask about when I would have a laundry room key.  As I flicked my thumbs over the touch screen, I stopped myself... "Running out of what?  You always say underwear.  You can't say underwear to your landlord!  ...What's like underwear?"
 

Shocked but amused, I read it aloud to my friend.  He made a face of uncertainty, "That's kind of creepy, right?"

             I thought back on the way the landlord had showed me through a total of five apartments before I haggled my rent down $25 a month; how he had brought his sister to the second showing and his two little girls to the third, final showing.  "Nah.  You gotta meet the guy.  He's a character!"

             Seeking someone who might share my sense of humor, I quickly blocked out the the identifying personal information and posted a screenshot to Facebook.  Instantly, the "Likes" started "blowing up my phone".

Not bad... I'd never broken 100 before my liberating body-painting experience a couple months prior! 80 with just words ...and I didn't even have to take my clothes off.

Living out loud had become a preoccupation... It was keeping me busier than the job I was doing to earn money.  Music was boiling in my veins.  My mind's eye was brighter than either of what the two eyes in my head could see... The world had become beautiful.  It all still felt backwards and opposite, but who was I to complain?  One can spend it laughing or crying...  I chose to laugh.

I was amazed by how so many people were eager to attack the man 

and how few seemed to notice the response in their comments.

On this wave of attention and flattery, months passed... September melted into October... Friends and acquaintances came and went, turned into crushes and heartbreaks.

My friend, Sue called one day to inform me my ex had contacted her to return some of my things.  My heart paused to look for its pain and found only irritation.  "Why can't he be an adult and contact me?"

Afterwards, she told me he seemed disappointed that I was not seeing a therapist.

"A therapist?  I have not considered suicide since we've been broken up... for the first time in- ever?  He is the one seeing a therapist now,"  I sighed.  "Do you know how many months I've been trying to find one that would take my insurance?" 

I felt more reassured than ever that it was over.  However, I wanted a doctor's note...

           One that would say, "Just so you know, Ev's not really crazy anymore.  Now she's just crazy.  It's who she is.  There are others like her.  It's not a bad thing." 

By November, I finally found a therapist.  She took my insurance, but the co-pay was still $75 per hour.  Setting our initial appointment up over the phone, I was honest about my intentions, "I haven't been suicidal, and I think I'm utilizing the strategies I learned in therapy and from reading.  I really just worry because I hear BPD patients frequently refuse treatment.  I think I'm okay."

She reserved her opinions during our first session... Seeing the pink streaks and feathers in her hair, I instantly liked her.  

Over the week between our first and second sessions, my path started to have a few more bumps in it; drama, unrequited romances- in either direction, experiments...  As I sat on her couch again, unraveling the long yarn, she tried to politely keep track of time.  

A little past the half way point, she interrupted to inquire, "You're telling me a lot of things about other people and things that are happening in your life, but where are you in all of it?"

I looked around inside my mind, "Where am I?  Here... There's so much going on, and this is what I do with it- I breathe it in and pour it out as music and writing and art.  That's who I am."

She rephrased her question, "I want to use your therapy time effectively.  I hear you, excuse the term, venting... and you don't have to pay me to do that.  You have friends."

"I do."

"So, what goals do you want to target in therapy?"

I stared at her gorgeous black knee high boots, speechless.  

We went back and forth for the remainder of the time I had paid for, concluding that I was "exploring".  She assured me I could call whenever I needed to make another appointment... and I left with a mental doctor's note I promised not to lose.

....

Thanksgiving.  

I quit my job.  I stopped going to work until I had to admit it.  Unable to face my family as a single, unemployed, barren, 31 year old, cat lady... I opted to volunteer at the local women's shelter.  My friend, Alex had just gotten a job in the kitchen there.  It seemed like a good way to spend the day...

In reality, there were more volunteers present than women and children to feed.

"If only people would come other times of the year," Alex sighed.

"Right?  I will... We could bring these kids some music,"  I grinned.

Instead, I believe I was there to meet someone.  As we enjoyed plates of turkey, lamb, mac'n cheese, potatoes, and greens; I started a conversation with a woman who teaches basic computer skills for adults returning to college.  I was fascinated with her passion for preparing them for the real world.

"When they give their presentations, I tell the men to at least wear khakis and a button shirt.  They don't have to wear a tie, but it doesn't hurt.  The ladies can wear a skirt or nice slacks and a blouse.  It doesn't have to be a suit,"  she explained.  "I don't care if they go to the thrift shop.  Usually you find better things there than most people can afford.  I tell them to look in their mother's closet if they have to.  I want to know when they get a call for an interview that they're going to have a least one outfit to pull out." 

I informed her of my women's artist collective.  We exchanged cards.

That would have been enough, but then I had to visit my BPD therapy friend who decided to spend her holiday alone when her family went away without her.  I didn't ask how this happened.  Any possible reason did not seem worth bringing up.  I took her a plate of the gourmet Thanksgiving feast from the shelter.

Part of me wanted to stay with her for the evening, but I had accepted a invitation from the guitar-building folk to be their plus-one at another dinner.  Somehow, as much as I wanted her to feel better, I knew I had to take care of myself first... and I wanted to go to the party.

My first time visiting a stranger's home in New Jersey on Thanksgiving, sure... Little did I know, not just a chosen-family of old friends.  When I first saw her walk in, there was a scarf around her neck, a hat on her head.  The only thing I was paying attention to were those fantastic black knee high boots.  I even asked her for her name a second time, and her face still did not register.

After a few minutes of greetings, I wandered into the kitchen to find my friends when I saw the lady wearing these boots... Her name and face met instantly; She was my therapist!

Nonchalantly, I smiled and maneuvered into the next room where I find my friends.  I was nearly bursting with laughter as I revealed our fellow dinner guest's secret identity to them.  The one made a point to comically admire her "Jersey Girl" qualities.  The other asked about her profession and immediately feigned shock, "Oh, really?  Therapists scare me!  I'm always worried about how they'll think I'm acting around them!" 

Meanwhile, I watched my therapist, her husband, and their closest friends drink bourbon and tease one another.  All the while I told myself, "Just watch.  Take it in.  If this is normal, I have to see it."

Later in the evening, I found myself playing a handmade guitar in the living room with my therapist's husband.  We played special songs... The songs that made us feel the songwriting pass through us; songs that came in one serving, one sitting, a single occurrence.  ...That was when it became clear; all the dinner guests were members of a band, and my therapist's husband was the leader.

Oh, the irony was a beautiful hallway of warped mirrors, a ride of continuous circular motion, a performance of unbelievable fetes; I had arrived.  I had found myself in the carnival again.

Well, apparently there are no authorities to depend on- I might as well read tarot... or the weather.

December... Reality started seeping in.  Although I tried to avoid it, the news was everywhere.  Without turning on a television, radio... avoiding the headlines and internet... It lingered in the atmosphere between people.  It was heavy on everyone's hearts... and I kept thinking of whether those boys who had crossed my path only a few months prior were still wandering around after dark unaccompanied.

I had resolved to write it all down so many times, but I could not bring myself to revisit the story in its entirety... Until I found myself at its ending:

I spent a great deal of time with a new black friend.  I learned about jazz; about how to sense the music from different perspectives, textures, and measurements, how to appreciate exquisite imperfection.  I observed the layering of three, two sided drums; the meeting of three minds to create a unified beat and sound.  Bata drumming.  I watched forms of dance and movement very different from what I had learned- and ached for confidence to join in...  I learned how a 6 foot 3 black man, older and more mature than myself could seem like a child who needed his hand held to walk down my street, when he saw the University bike officers crossing our path after dark.

I learned how to let go again with the same naivete I had had when I wrote my first song before knowing how to play the guitar.  I forgave myself my mistakes... Resolved to love each day knowing there will most likely be another one tomorrow to love even more.  I took the pain I can not escape having happened, the scars I can not deny... and I poured them into a song that did not come in a single moment... A song that had been singing to me since September.

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