I lost my Mama, Sina, in the last days of 2017, to cancer. She fought very hard, and I did my best to care for my her, be there for her, listen to her, and provide for her emotional, personal, and physical needs in her time of illness and transition. I am happiest, that we lived together for those months, and that we said good-mornings and i-love-yous and sleep-wells, every morning, afternoon, and night. I always had someone formidable to look up to, and now she is my only idol.
(Crying break concluded)
In my life, my mother strived to do her best (a much higher echelon of ‘best’ than I can currently muster) to provide for all the emotional, personal, and physical needs of both myself and my brother. Of course, she was just elite with it. She escaped a devastating war, and overcame so much hardship to claim her own success and happiness in a country where people can often hold your ‘otherness’ against you. She provided so much, and worked so hard. She paved a path for me before the souls of my feet had hardened, before I even knew how to walk. She pushed herself constantly and it gained her people’s respect and admiration. She loved the arts and culture and politics, and impressed upon my brother and I the importance of critical thought.
… And she looked damned good while doing it all.
Her illness remains very traumatic to me, and I felt very isolated for various reasons throughout. I got a lot of support, but I still felt isolated; there are just some things no one can do, but you. Particularly in the end, when one may wonder if one did enough, or expressed enough love and admiration before it was too late.
You want to process your feelings, but you must conquer the logistics of a traditional funeral, and a crowd of mourners. It feels cruel, like other’s get to process their emotions, and experience a kind of ceremony, gaining some closure. But your own grief has yet to peak, ebb, or flow because there isn’t any appropriate time or space for the amount of grief you have. By the time things have slowed down enough to feel, others have somehow moved forward without you. It can be jarring.
Life without my beautiful Mama has been… challenging… to say the least. Some days are excruciating; the devastating kind, where you can’t help but feel it all, all over again. Maybe because its a mutually important day like a birthday or holiday, those days need extra fortitude. But maybe, it’s something maddeningly minor, a flitting reminder of your loss, or feelings of isolation… merely an unrelated sensory experience; and you start painfully reeling.
Some days are just kind of empty; like the sounds your shoes make on the pavement, are the only proof you exist. I don’t know if I’m friendlier now as a choice, or because I feel kind of beat down and too tired to deal with confrontation, but I’m definitely smiling and my voice is a half octave higher than usual. I get a lot of work done these days, but I’m not in the moment. These kinds of days are chances to be more present the next time.
Some days are bullshit. Nothing goes right. You make a mistake, or forget something, and begin to doubt yourself. You see something on social media you didn’t like. You haven’t eaten in hours. Someone is asking you to meet their needs without thinking of yours. So now you’re just raging around the freeway, and the grocery store parking lot, and the gas station. Some random driver cuts me off, for the third time today. This grown man, driving a stupid raised pickup truck, wears Oakley sunglasses, blasts music with no bass, and I am ready to Fast & The Furious-style-launch myself into his car to ask him nicely, why he’s being so rude and disregarding my safety, and then some. I think these days I feel super isolated, chemically off-kilter, and alone. It’s just the type of day that I’m so glad I have a therapist. I can deal with this kind of bullshit instead of unraveling.
[Shit, back in the day… I didn’t hesitate to be a vigilante, seeking my own justice. I don’t think many kids, felt pressure to stand up for others growing up, the way I did.
I got into fisticuffs with one, two, maybe several maniacs in the public school systems of Antioch and Fulton counties. My brother was in special education, we were Muslim Afghans in the South during and after 9/11, and middle school and high school boys and girls are ignorant ASSHOLES. So you can imagine how they targeted him… me… any Brown kid. I got into so many brawls protecting people from just plain and simple bullies. For perspective, I would have been anywhere from 9-13 years old, jumping into fights with whichever Neanderthal high schooler that chose to pick on the autistic kids that day. What can I say, I’m nosey and sensitive and I don’t have that survival instinct that makes people run when they sense trouble. Who knows, maybe I’ve been missing out on my real destiny in the WWE.
I had my pacifist reformation a little later, in high school and college, where I feel I honed my verbal and mental game to a sharp enough edge, that it was just as dangerous as any other tool. We all need an awakening. Mine came from literature, dance, art, and music. Learning to play a few different instruments, building my skill set with a future in mind, really rerouted my focus.
I think I open-hand slapped ONLY one white supremacist in high school, who during an assembly made a teenaged Vietnamese immigrant, recounting her harrowing journey to America, cry on stage because he yelled at the top of his lungs, “GO BACK TO VIETNAM YOU GO-K!” He had some stupid white boy from The South name, like Colonel or Krampus or Kuklux or Collier— or something. He was disgusting, we exchanged customary white supremacist-Brown equalizer pleasantries. He got quaintly slapped, I got daintily shoved around, we both got lovingly suspended… all was equal in the world again. And of course, like I said before, I am mostly reformed now and violence is so passé (albeit imperatif). I have been saved by our collectively agreed secondary lord and savior, INTELLECT.
Its weird how people find stories about boys being young scrappers charming, and girls under the same pressure… uncomfortable and inappropriate. You are lucky you were a girl or a boy who didn’t ever feel threatened, who didn’t have to fight for the people and ideals that matter to you. I did... so I DID. ]
Some days are generally a triumph! You get shit done! You maybe even do something that’s going to improve your life and takes into account your future! You eat regularly and healthily. You exercise! You chat with a friend or loved one. You only cry once or not at all! You are in a positive and problem-solving mood. You make family dinner on time AND its yum! You paid all the bills, AND you’re not broke for the month! You wear your Mom’s old shirt, which on you is like a crop top because you are a giant, and your favorite soft sweats. You get to sleep on time, and tell your lost loved one you miss them in your prayers (you only shed zero to 3 tears)! Wake up early the next morning, and make sure your amazing brother gets to work on time, has his meds, he needs this job and you need him to have this stability! And you go off and have a great day at work yourself.
… Those days are awesome, and regardless of what anyone may think, you are allowed to be proud of yourself on any day, but especially those days.
Some days are all of these things in one. I don’t want to spend too much time talking about my Brother’s Aspergers because it’s only a small part of a big whole. For him, he has had his own journey, discovering himself and the world around him through his own lenses. For me, it just means I have learned so much about true love, kindness and intelligence from my big brother. I may also have always had extra responsibilities, and now ever more responsibility, but they are responsibilities to a person I love very much. He has to put up with me (and I’m batshit, needy, intense, weird, I sing, dance, and rap ALL the time, everywhere… and I’m a poet so surely I force him to listen to my rambling, poor man!) too. So its a two way street in some ways.
But I’m also done with acting like its easy, straight forward and simple to be someone’s Person, and be your own person. It’s not.
A mission is never impossible, but some roles cannot, and should not be replaced, rather respected. I cannot fight all the fights for all the people. I cannot replace my mother. Not for myself. Not for my brother. Not for others. I cannot find someone to replace her. Not for myself. Not for my brother.
I can only emulate all the amazing qualities she exhibited in life, to my best ability, and above all else… be myself. Cherish myself as a whole person. Pursue my SELF and my future, and do what my amazing Mama always told me to do… ‘do everything you want, but dedicate yourself to what you are most passionate about, and don’t let anyone dull your instincts.’
We bring more to the table than we think. Each generation a new hybrid of what was and what could be. While we don’t fit any molds or rely on the same systems as our foremothers, we can still share and springboard off of, the many ideals, innovations, and platforms they have provided us.
The position un-assumable. We cannot get them back. We cannot recreate them. So, build something new, and put an altar up when you are done building, wherever you want, but primarily in your heart.
True, we have to create so many things anew, but let me assure you, I have been happier and healthier, creating what’s new, than slumping over the bits and pieces I attempted to salvage from my muddled past.
Thanks for coming to my TED Talk.
Tune in next time for more griping, grimacing, and grinning, from me.