All 2018, I practiced intentional self-care.
It was intentional because I had to force myself to do it. Self-neglect, too much bad food, not enough attention to my hair and skin, and my depression caused weight gain( and I mean, A LOT of it... like jiggling when I walked up the steps weight gain), patchy dry skin, a sad little afro, and low self-esteem. I've written about it on Facebook, but one day I looked in the mirror and was almost shocked at how bad I look. Just raggedy. Unkempt. Unloved. Struggling.
That day, I wrote in my journal that I was gonna get myself together. Looking bad made me feel bad. It made me unproductive. It made me cancel plans, stay in as much as possible, and avoid the mirror and the scale. When you feel a mess, you tend to look one. Why would I put effort into feeling cute when I feel ugly and fat and frumpy? Keeping it 100, even my personal hygiene suffered. I work from home, so I wasn't offensive in public, but... still. I called myself "Pigpen." No cap. I am also kinda worried about aging. I mean, not really. I have good genes. But I need to help them along, you know? And I don't know how easy damage is to reverse once you've passed a certain age. In my 20s, the weight just melted off. There were no laugh lines around my eyes. I had about 73 fewer moles. Shit was different, you know? And I don't want to be doing damage that I can't easily reverse, especially now that I'm closer to 40 than I am to 30.
That day, I wrote in my journal that I was gonna get myself together. I listed a weight loss goal. Not a number goal, but I "I wanna fit that black dress and those red jeans in the closet again" goal. I committed to a facial once a week, a mask on Saturdays, more bubble baths, regular mani/pedis, bi-weekly deep conditioning, more respect and appreciation for my body, and a better diet-- more water, less alcohol, and leafy greens and organic things.
I was hard at first. Self-neglect doesn't happen overnight. It comes as the result of days and weeks and months of self-neglect. It comes after poor practices every now and then grow into poor habits. Self-neglect comes from low self-esteem and no motivation to do better. So I had to be intentional about it. I set alarms in my phone for turmeric masks and clay facials. I set money aside for nails and toes. I forced myself to get up and shower and get dressed every day whether I had anyplace to go or not. The eating better/losing weight part was harder to embrace, but one day, in April, I just decided I was gonna do better, and I did.
And I kept writing in my journal. I kept writing about those red jeans and that black dress and glowing skin and a popping ass halo of glorious natural curls. Every day, I tried to pull it together. Some days, I didn't. But more days than I didn't, I did.
Trying made me feel better. Feeling better made me do better. Made me excited about taking care of myself. Conditioning my hair and taking care of my skin became these dope acts of self-love and adoration. I started looking forward to my mani/pedi as a time when I sipped my favorite coffee and lost myself in a book while My (that's his name) goes to work on Myra feet. (Or watched rachet shit on Netflix. Same difference.) Doing better made me look better.
A glow-up beyond what I expected.
I'm about 8 pounds away from my goal weight. A new goal weight I set once I got into that black dress and those red jeans I wrote about. My curls pop every day. My skin is dry because it's 4 degrees outside, but it's not patchy anymore, so there is that. I feel healthier. I eat less. I don't drink the liquor (almost ever). I do drink a lot of water. I've been upgrading my wardrobe and getting excited about putting on clothes again. And it all happened because I made up my mind to get my shit together... and I did. All last year.
I started 2018 feeling embarrassed and ashamed of the way I look, hiding my misery and my size 14/16ness from the world by staying in the house as much as possible. I ended 2018 with blown-out hair that fell far below my shoulders in red lipstick and size 8 jeans. And better self-esteem. And a healthier self-concept. And a feeling of worth I'd been missing for a couple of years. I made a choice. I decided to be intentional. Which, for me, took a whole lot of effort, but was well worth it in the end.
I said all that to say--
Don't be intimidated by the amount of work and effort and energy a task will require from you. Just make small steps. Small steps in the right direction will give you the motivation and the validation you need to take bigger steps. Bigger steps will yield bigger results. Time passes anyway, you know? Why not pass the time by really deciding you're gonna be intentional about accomplishing something and making it happen? I'm so glad I didn't spend all last year wishing I was different. I just made one small difference at a time until I looked in the mirror and saw something I am proud of.
Don't be intimidated by how bad you let it get, or how much it's gonna cost, or how long or how much work or how much effort it will take to accomplish it. Just decide you're gonna do it... and do it.
Make 2019 that year you're so glad you had when 2020 starts.
So. I'm standing in line yesterday at Rite Aid.
The line is obnoxiously long... rare for the middle of the day... and there was a gentleman standing behind me who decided to pass the time by striking up a conversation... with me. (I'm always the lucky one...)
The guy is maybe... mid sixties. Grey. Kinda balding. He looks like a pretty regular guy though. Nothing particularly special about him... but nothing telling me to dig my earbuds out of my purse and act like I can't hear him, either.
He's holding a receipt and an unopened box of Odor Eaters, those things you put in your shoes to absorb foot odor.
"All I need to do is make a return," he starts. "At this rate, the refund deadline will come and go before I make it to the register."
I laugh politely. The line is long... but that joke was wack tho.
"I bought these things a couple days ago," he continues holding up the Odor Eaters, "because for the life of me I could not figure out why my feet smelled so bad. I'm a pretty clean guy, you know? But no matter how many showers I took, the smell just would not go away."
At this point, the alarm is going off in my head. Boy, did I misread this one. I immediately go fishing in my purse for those damn earbuds.
"Who knew," he said, "that you had to actually wash between your toes with your rag to get your feet clean real good? You would think all the soapy water running down your body when you rinse would be enough, but no! You actually gotta scrub them. I wish I'd gone to see the doctor BEFORE I spent all this money on these things."
I'm kinda... stuck at this point. One, I'm appalled at this man's complete willingness to share this much personal information with a stranger. Two, I'm sad that this man has lived his whole ass life never washing between his funky ass toes. Can you imagine? Sixty some odd years of shower dirt runoff and sadness all jammed between his toes, causing funk so bad this man had to see a doctor about it...
...only to be told to wash between his toes... and then have the courage to tell me, a complete stranger, about his dirty ass feet and his complete unintelligence in this area of grooming.
He's staring at me, waiting for a response. Meanwhile, my face looks like this:
Luckily, at that moment, the register becomes available, and I have never been so eager to spend money on shit I don't actually need in my entire life.
He and I finished our transactions around the same time (my lucky streak continues. yay.), so being the gentleman that he was, he held the door open for me as we walked to our cars. As I reached my truck, he says, "So, you think I could take you out sometime? Or..."
Before I finish the story, I have something to say.
LISTEN TO ME.
The Innanets have convinced us that people give a shit about the intimate details of our lives, and so we have become a culture of overshare. Some of you post pictures when you travel, when you go out, when noteworthy things happen in your lives, when you look goof af and think Instagram needs to see your 'fit... and I love that. Social media is a place where you share the parts of you that are dope. The parts that are interesting or honest or uplifting.
Some of you, however, share too much.
You give us all the intimate details of the stuff we have no business knowing. Social media sites are public platforms, but please, use discretion and common sense. Facebook is not the place where you share the discomfort of your constipation, beloved. Ask for prayer and keep it pushing, Literally... and figuratively...
We love seeing the pictures of you and Lil Ricky when times are good, but baby listen. You and Lil Ricky are fighting... again.... and you're just gonna take him back... like you did the last 12 times. Stop sharing that shit. We are tired for you. Love him. Leave him. We don't care at this point. Just please, shut up about it.
Just take a second and consider what is for the internet, and what is better shared within the confines of your group chat, in the pages of your journal, or whispered only when you have a little talk with Jesus. Social media is not the place for your overshare. Know why?
Because you get so used to oversharing on social media that you start doing it out loud in real life. And then you're the balding gentleman in the Rite Aid line talking about your foot odor and how your dumb ass never thought to floss some soap and water between your toes with intention every now and then.
I blame social media for the lack of tact people have developed in sharing the way-too-personal details of their private lives with the world. Some people do it for attention. Others, for validation. This culture of overshare is amazing. This man really thought that, of all the things he could've said to me, that was the thing he thought I should know.
Don't be this guy. Exercise discretion when you share out loud or online. Have some boundaries. Leave some things to the imagination (or to my nightmares, you old stinky foot ass man).
Back to my story. About his proposition--
Turns out he is also not interested in being my sugar daddy. Oh, well. You miss 100% of the shots you never take.
So, ladies and gentlemen, what did we learn today?
Some things are better left unsaid, folks. They should also be untyped, unTweeted, unFacebooked, and unInstagrammed. Untexted. Some stuff you should only say when you pray... silently.
Jesus cares for you so much that he died for you. I'm sure he'd love to hear all about your smelly feet. Tell Jesus. Tell your mama. Just. Don't. Tell. ME.
Because EYE don't care.
I should've just dug up my nose.
“In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” I still remember saying this, in unison with my classmates, in 2nd grade social studies. We were learning about how Christopher Columbus was a hero because he discovered America. I listened, wide-eyed and interested, at stories about how Columbus and his brave men fought the angry seas to discover what would one day become the land of the free and the home of— listen… I can’t even bring myself to type that shit… but you get the point.
Lemme tell the story the right way, though:
What really happened is that Columbus and his band of merry men got lost at sea. They happened upon the Americas and mistook one continent for a completely different one. Not only did Columbus have a bad sense of direction, he was an idiot. Just… not smart at all. And we have to assume that, as the Captain, he was one of the smarter men on the vessel. Already this voyage is about to be some bullshit.
They got here and found natives thriving. These people had villages and communities, languages, systems of government and agriculture, schools, and religion. They lived off the land, raised their families, and minded their business, and all was well for them before Columbus and his goof troop found them.
You’d think they would be respectful of what they found already well-established when they got here, right? I’m assuming his mother didn’t teach him to leave things better than she found them, which means she was an idiot, also. Poor dummy never had a chance. But let me continue.
The first day he encountered the natives (Oct. 12, 1492), this asshole wrote in his journal that the “savages” would make good servants. He took 6 of them back to Spain with him and paraded them through the streets as if their existence was somehow something he accomplished and deserved recognition for.
I think this was the beginning of white privilege. He stole shit that wasn’t his and demanded that people celebrate him for it. And people have been doing it ever since. (I'm looking at you, Justin Timberlake.)
One day, Columbus tried to humiliate the Taino into being subservient. When his attempts failed, and his little feelings were hurt, he responded by killing all 1.1 million of them… all because his ego was bruised. He extinguished an entire group of people for refusing to submit to him.
The story gets worse, as most horror stories starring white men do.
Columbus and the dummy crew enslaved thousands of natives and exported them to Europe as, in his words, “beasts of burden.” The ones who weren’t lucky enough to be sold were used for the sexual gratification of Columbus and his crew.
He would go on to spend the rest of his life promoting slavery. He and his soldiers killed and enslaved with impunity every time they arrived in a different place. They raped, tortured, and killed the natives, using 20 attack dogs and sneaking into villages at night, killing thousands of people at a time. Everything they wanted, they took. People, riches, land… Everything. And the people who were not captured or killed were so desperate to escape Spanish rule that they committed mass suicides and infanticide.
Despite what my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Britt, taught me, Columbus’s most significant contribution to history was not his sailing the ocean or discovering America. In fact, he didn’t discover anything at all.
Columbus took the first slaves from the Americas and sent them to countries in Europe. Eventually, people would expand on his blueprint.
What Columbus DID do was create the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which was four centuries of white people stealing brown people from where they live and thrive and forcing them to be beasts of burden… for no reason other than because some pale-skinned idiots made the decision that they were somehow superior than everyone else.
It is estimated that between 25 and 30 million people were deported from their homes and sold as slaves.
But this man has a national holiday in his honor?
And lemme do you one better:
Christopher Columbus was a liar. He rewrote history to reflect accomplishments that were not his to claim. He took credit for things he never did. He destroyed the lives of people who he deemed himself better than. He built his riches on the backs of brown people who thrived before he got to them. He sexually assaulted women. His decisions set actions in motion that would negatively impact lives for many generations. He was a white man consumed by white privilege that is honored as a hero by other white people for doing absolutely nothing except being a liar and an idiot and a rapist and a bigot and an all-around piece of shit.
Now… watch this.
Donald Trump is a liar. He rewrites history to reflect accomplishments that are not his to claim. He takes credit for things he never did. He destroys the lives of people who he deems himself better than. He’s building his legacy on the back of the black man (and far superior President) that served before him. He sexually assaulted women. His decisions set actions in motion that would negatively impact lives for many generations. He is a white man consumed by white privilege that is honored as a hero by other white people for doing absolutely nothing except being a liar and an idiot and a rapist and a bigot and an all-around piece of shit.
Columbus Day is some bullshit because it serves as a reminder that absolutely nothing has changed in this country. In 1937, Columbus Day was made a federal holiday because Americans felt this man should be honored. In 2016, Americans elected a man exactly like Christopher Columbus President of the United States.
Enjoy your day off, beloved. Kick it. Take them babies to daycare and flourish. But don’t fall for the bullshit. Christopher Columbus was no hero.
The only Christopher I acknowledge is Wallace…
…and if you don’t know, now you know.
Today was a lot.
I adulted at levels beyond what I thought possible today, so at the end of a very long day of errands and obligation I made my way into the liquor store for a much-deserved bottle of wine.
I'm walking out the store and this man, who is sitting in front of the store in a car with another man, decides to have a conversation with me that ended much differently than I'm sure he thought it would.
Old guy: Heeeeeeey girl.
(mind you, I'm tired at this point, but I try not to ever be rude--)
Me: Hi. (I'm responding, but I'm still walking)
Him: You married?
(well. way to get straight to the point.)
Him: You want a husband?
(as I'm thinking to myself, IF I did, sir, you would NOT be my choice)
Him: You want a friend?
Me: No. (and then I pause in the middle of the street, turn around to face him, and say) But I am in the market for a sugar daddy, though. What's good?
(I'm standing in the middle of the street, holding my bottles of wine-- because today was real enough for two bottles-- waiting for him to respond)
Him: *grumbles something under his breath and rolls his car window up*
Works every time. Tell folks they gotta pay to play and you'll be astounded at how fast they lose interest.
That's how you flip it on a dirty old man. Try to hit up his pockets and he will change his mind... quick.
If that doesn't work, just dig up your nose.
(as seen on Facebook, after several days of silence and some not-so-gentle nudging from friends)... and because a good brain dump helps you make space for stuff actually worth thinking about
1. I didn’t say anything about Kanye and his “keep my wife name out ya mouth” antics because one thing Kanye will do is Kanye. Nothing he does surprises me anymore. This is not about the validity of the claims Ye made against Nick Cannon, Drake, or Tyson. At all. But so many people mocked Kanye for coming to his wife’s defense. Not because you thought what he said was wrong, but because you didn’t believe his wife was worth defending because she has a “past.” Like your raggedy ass been saved since you left the womb.
2. I think this gripe may be two-fold. First, the American justice system is racially biased and extremely flawed. Justice is blind, but people aren’t, especially not the ones who make the laws that govern our country. There are a disproportionate number of black people in jail serving time for crimes that their white counterparts walk free for. Saying that, there are FAR MORE MEN than Bill Cosby who have even worse allegations against them who continue to walk free, while Bill Cosby sits in jail. These are the facts. Wienstein. Rosen. Lauer. All gross white men who lost their careers but not their freedom. Is it fair? No. But the entire justice system is unfair. And it will be until we elect leaders who give a shit about us.
2a. However, Bill Cosby is a rapist who should not be exempt from being held responsible for the crimes he committed against these women. I’d feel the same way if he was white or green with purple polka dots. Some of you argued that Cosby should be free because other white rapists are free. Basura. Any man who violates a woman should face the consequences. Period. Race notwithstanding. And yes, you can hold on to the part of your childhood that loved Heathcliff Huxtable. Dr. Huxtable wasn’t the rapist. Neither was David Anderson or Mongo Slade or Wardell Franklin. Bill Cosby was. I get the nostalgia, but let’s not be obtuse here.
3. I don’t know whether or not Carter V is better or worse than other Lil Wayne albums because I haven’t listened to him with any interest since Carter II, which dropped when I could still listen to ratchet music while Michael was in the car because he was too small to repeat or snitch. But I do know this. I had posters of Wayne on my wall when he was a Hot Boy. I used to tear him out of Word Up magazine. (I’m OLD old.) I loved me some Lil Wayne in 1998. There is something to be said about an artist who is still creating a buzz and still relevant and still dropping much-anticipated albums two decades later. That’s some dope shit. Does that make him a legend? I’d say he is… even though I ain’t a FAN fan…
3a. ….because Wayne makes drug addict music.
4. I’m tired of drug addict music. Lord. But my parents were tired of drug dealer music, and flipping bricks is all I know, so…
5. This whole Brett Kavanaugh craziness: *deep breath* I watched eight hours of testimony yesterday. I listened to every word. I believe Dr. Ford. Not because she’s a woman, but because she seemed more credible. More believable. Kavanaugh seemed insincere and mawkishly emotional to me. And I was feeling sad this morning because of the implication that confirming Kavanaugh would send to women who have been victims of sexual assault. But then I started thinking about this from an objective perspective. Emotionalism aside. This seat on the Supreme Court means the Republicans sway the tide of this country for an entire generation. Lifetime appointment, right? So let’s be all the way real— Kavanaugh means nothing to them beyond being in the right party to hold that coveted seat. Not confirming him before midterms would be a HUGE blow to the Republican Party because the Democrats could win the majority and block any other appointments until 2020. That’s why this is so messy and rushed and ridiculous. They don’t care about what’s right or wrong. Their only concern is power. And then, when I started thinking along those lines, I got mad.
5a. Really mad.
5b. The Stupid Salamander ordered the FBI investigation be reopened, but even if they DO find something against Brett (which, beyond a doubt, I believe they will), I have doubts that it’ll ever come to surface. I don’t think there’s any end to the treachery… and everybody has a price. I think no length is too far for them to go to get this Supreme Court seat before November. The hypocrisy makes me so, so angry.
6a. Like. Seriously. Go vote. Because the same men who railroaded Anita Hill in 1991 (Hatch and Grassley are collectively a million years old) did the very same thing to Dr. Blasey Ford yesterday because somebody keeps voting for their old asses. These are men who served in these positions since strange fruit hung from poplar trees. Get them the hell out of there. NOTHING WILL CHANGE FOR US until they are obsolete. They are public servants in elected positions. Get these people tf outta here.
7. Social media gives everybody an opinion and a voice. Which is a good thing and a bad as hell thing. Mostly a bad as hell thing. We are all free to think whatever we wanna think. But. If your opinion is ashy, abusive, disrespectful, racist, sexist, homophobic, or stupid, don’t share that shit with me. I lost respect for so many people this week behind their opinions. I don’t generally block/ unfollow people on social media because I am grown but this week, I had to get some folks up out the paint. The ability to speak and have an audience and formulate a thought isn’t a privilege that everyone has. I implore those of you who have it to use it wisely… or stfu. The world is already complicated enough without your baseless opinion floating around. Silence is golden.
8. I’m also ass-itchy because of all the incorrect information that is circulated. Take a second, beloved, and vet the links you share. If you share incorrect information and somebody tells you it’s wrong, be responsible enough to delete/ recant/ edit the posts. Y’all get all emotional over wrong shit. Information ia easily found if you’re actually looking for it. LOOK FOR IT. Takes just a second.
9. Mayor Bowser wants to make speeding tickets worth $500 in DC. Fuck Mayor… Oh. Nvm.
10. Guard your mental spaces, y’all. The fuckening can be overwhelming. I know because I’m overwhelmed. But unplug if you need to. Have an edible. Light a jay. Get yourself a drink. Or several. Don’t let the heaviness of the world infiltrate your headspace. It’s almost scarves-and-cardigans season, some good ass music happened today (Logic, 6lack, Wayne, Lupe), and there is always something to smile about and look forward to and celebrate. Relax relate release this weekend. Do hoodrat shit with your friends. This week was long and hard. Party longer and harder this weekend.
I think that’s all I got. And I don’t really feel like arguing any of this, so don’t even bother.
August was, for what it was worth, a month I really needed that I had no idea I needed until just now. It was a really, really good month. I celebrated some great things. My son turned 16, and we celebrated his birthday in New York City- his first visit ever. My best friend bought her first home and we celebrated her birthday by her allowing me to cook the first meal in our— um… her new kitchen. I fit easily into my goal jeans— some red size 8s that I never thought I’d fit again. Actually, that’s a lie. In On February 18, 2018, when my life and my body and my weight and my skin and my hair were a mess and my self-esteem was in shambles and my cholesterol was high I wrote in my journal that I would fit them again, and in August I did. So I did think I’d fit them again. In August I guess I learned the learned the true power of intention and of journaling. Wow. And I didn’t realize that til just now, either. I also saw my doctor for a physical and my vitamin D is low but my cholesterol is normal. I kicked my caffeine habit. (That one was a bitch to surrender, I tell you.)
In August, my workload slowed to virtually nil.
And when I say nil. Listen.
I wish I could show bank statements, but I don’t want to introduce that kind of negativity into your lives. I had no work. So I had no choice… but to sit still.
Correction. I read an excellent book I’ve been wanting to read for months. I discovered that I’m really, really good as baking things. So fat I’ve mastered several cobblers, banana pudding, (lemon) pound cake, red velvet cake, cupcakes, the most amazing chocolate frosting I’ve ever tasted (no, really), and buttercream frosting. All from scratch. I cleaned. I REALLY cleaned. I rearranged furniture to shift energy. I got rid of old things. I fixed stuff. Hung pictures. Got Hendrix a bed. Soaked in the tub. Gone to the zoo. Visited New York City with my kid and watched the wonder of the city through his eyes. Watched my baby turn 16. Geez. I hung out with my mother. I cried with my best friend as we celebrated the end of a long journey that was totally worth it. I reorganized my kitchen cabinets. I’m doing some gardening next week. I’m even gonna (get this shit) repair the zipper on some pants I thought I’d gotten rid of that I can fit again. I’ve learned to be kind to myself, to celebrate the stuff I never thought I’d enjoy because I never really took the time to do.
All because I had no work.
In August, I learned some sucky (really REALLY awful sucky) money lessons. But I had a change to stop worrying. And give my energy to things with products I can be proud of. Maybe even discovered another stream of income, because my baked gods? Y’all. Amazing. I’m serious! So instead of worrying, I found outlets for my nerves… and found some dope shit. And I started this blog to whine about how much August was the worst because I didn’t make any money.
Ha. Fooled my damn self with this one.
I’m ready for September.
I am ready for the rest of this year. I took August to figure out what I really wanted. I wrote things out. Set some intentions, you know? Bought some candles. Mastered my twist-out. Even found myself an academic planner… the ones that start with September. The start of Michael’s school year has always been the beginning of a new year for me— probably because I spent so many years teaching. I’m getting to really know this person I am, and with self-awareness has come improvement.
I wasn’t frantic about work, because there was none. And because there was no work, there was life. My prayer is that I learn balance when my workload increases, well, as it continues to increase. I really hope I stop to breathe and bake and be. And write and sing and love my cat and cuddle and laugh.
I found the most fantastic gift in what I thought was a void. And I didn’t realize that until just now.
Maybe I finally figured out how to manifest something other than shit to worry about.
-journal excerpt, 8/31/18
It's story time. And listen, it's taking all the energy I can muster to even sit up and type this, so y'all better read the whole thing.
One part of adult responsibility that alludes me is taking frozen meat out of the freezer in the morning so I can cook it for dinner that evening. I'm one of those "It's 6pm and everything is frozen" kinda people. Every day. (Don't be judgy. He's almost 16 and still alive so obviously I get it right sometimes.) I had two options. I could've either gone to the grocery store and bought something to cook (yeah right) or grabbed something quickly and called it a night. What do you do when it's late, you got a family to feed, and all your meat is frozen?
Well. I'll tell you what NOT to do.
I don't care how hungry you are, or how in a rush you are, or even how good it smells when you drive past, DO NOT get food from the Popeyes at the intersection of Marlboro Pike and Brooks Drive. EVER.
Last night, I was holding on to the toilet for dear life, my head in the commode, asking forgiveness for every phone call I did not answer, for every little white lie I've ever told, and for whatever it was that I did that was bad enough to deserve the hell I lived through last night.
Ate the chicken around 8. It settled in my stomach like a brick. Just feeling all kinds of gross. My stomach hurt and I was feeling kinda sick, but I had no idea what was to come. Honey, around 11pm, I swear I thought I was about to earn my wings and fly up outta here. Y'all know my stomach is janky, but y'all. I've never experienced the kind of pain and desperation and anguish that I experienced last night. That chicken damn near took me out, y'all. And I didn't even eat all of it... I had ONE old dry (and lemme not be brand new now... that shit was delicious) chicken breast and half a biscuit and now I know what Jesus must've been feeling when he took on the sins of the world while hanging on the cross. Because last night while I was damn near crawling to the bathroom to dry heave (because after the 4th time there was nothing left in my stomach but regret), I just knew that God had chosen me to show the world the consequences of shitty food. Last night I was the fake Messiah and I rose from the dead this morning to tell you this:
That Popeyes is the work of iniquity. I should've known better. Nothing good ever comes from Marlboro Pike, dammit. I went to that Popeyes once in the middle of the afternoon and they were completely OUT OF CHICKEN. Why didn't I learn? A chicken store that will remain open when there's no chicken to sell is not to be trusted. But what did my simple ass buy last night? Smh. Whatever you do, avoid that place like the plague. I do NOT want (most) of you to experience what I lived through last night. Take heed.
All night I writhed in excruciating pain. And I threw up food I ate in elementary school. Today, my throat and stomach are sore. I didn't sleep last night. I think I finally passed out from the shock of the pain around 5am. And, to add insult to injury, when I finally woke up this morning, guess what I saw first when I opened my eyes?
You guessed it. That Popeyes box. Taunting me. Reminding me of my trauma.
If you eat from that Popeyes, you get what you deserve. You've been warned. Don't be like Alisa. Cook your own food... at your house.
Or don't. But whatever you do, don't eat at that Popeyes.
I'm still half damn dead. Right now.
So... I had my 36th birthday on June 1, 2018.
I am usually incredibly reflective at the onset of my New Year. I think about all I did (and didn't) accomplish the year before and all I'd like to accomplish in the coming year. I write something incredibly insightful and introspective. But not this year. This year, I'm listing the 36 things about me that make me who I am. 2018 has been about self-love and self-acceptance for me, so I'ma list the shit about myself that is what it is... and you can accept it or not. Either way, it's still who I am. This is Alisa... at 36. Enjoy.
1. I still don't know how to wear makeup. Anything beyond mascara and lipstick is Greek to me.
2. I still blast rachet music at inconsiderate rates of volume with the windows down in my car. Y'all gonna get all this Lil Kim coming through my speakers. Like it or not.
3. I still skip wearing a bra whenever I can get away with it.
4. I traded pizza for kale. Under duress, but my waistline thanks me for it. Kale also doesn't give me indigestion from the firey pits of hell either, so there's that.
5. My son is taller than me, so I have to yell a lot so he remembers I'm still his mother.
6. I became a cat person. Hendrix is the love of my life. She's shady as hell, she only deals with who she likes, and she cuts a mean side eye. She's my kindred spirit.
7. Everything makes me cry except the shit that's supposed to.
8. I carry Tums and Pepto Bismol tablets in my purse. Shit gets real sometimes. Pun absolutely intended.
9. I have no patience for impatience. Wanna test me? Honk your horn behind me at a light as soon as it turns green. See what happens.
10. I don't believe in "late." Whenever I arrive, I'm right on time.
11. Yes, I will still watch you calling my phone and then send you a text saying "You need something?" as soon as it stops ringing. No, I still don't believe in answering my phone.
12. When I was 25, I bought a Camaro because it was red and I could drive it fast. At 35, I bought a Jeep because of the cargo space and the durability. My, how our priorities change.
13. Coffee is still the nectar of life and the key to my being able to adult properly.
14. I have absolutely mastered procrastination. There's an art to effectively bullshitting and still getting stuff done on time. When it's done right, it's a beautiful thing.
15. I text back in my head now. I'll read a text, respond in my head, and close the app. I don't do it on purpose, but if you sent me a text and didn't get an answer, I'm likely not ignoring you. I responded. Just not to you. *shrugs*
15a. I said I'm "likely" not ignoring you... because sometimes, I am absolutely ignoring you.
16. "Righty tighty lefty loosie" still gets me through tough situations.
17. I will still leave my house if certain insects come inside. They can have the house. I have shit to do anyway. *goes outside to vacuum the sidewalk*
18. God's grace and favor still cover my whole life except when I eat something I know I'm not supposed to eat. Then God be like, "You got it, girl. You chose to eat it... now you suffer the consequences." Petty.
19. I lecture my son about the value of good music... and MAKE him listen to the greats. Ain't no Lil Uzi in my car... We gonna listen to Rakim... and you're gonna love it.
20. I still don't separate laundry. F*ck it. Does my white shirt get any less clean because I washed it with the darks? I don't think so.
21. For me, convenience > the price of convenience. IDC. Hello, Peabody, Molly Maid, and UberEats. *heart eyes emoji*
22. I still look for an adult to call in difficult situations because I've not yet realized that I am the adult.
23. I'm still planning what I wanna do when I grow up. Nevermind the fact that I'm almost 40... and good and grown.
24. I'm still going to see the new Incredibles movie this weekend... whether my kid decides to come with me or not. Judge your mother.
25. I don't wear heels anymore. Period. Tipping along on feet that hurt is not the bid. You gonna get these cute flats and shit the hell up about it.
26. I still hide the good snacks in my bedroom. "I don't know what happened to the rest of the Oreos, Michael. Eat some granola instead."
27. I show up for the people I love. Even when I'm a little MIA on a day-to-day basis, if you are in crisis and you need me, I'm there. Period.
28. I have everything I could ever need in any emergency in my car. A blanket. Water. A flashlight. Lotion. Blun-- I mean... um... Gum. I always have gum. Like I said... Any emergency. I'm ready.
29. Paper mail > email. A handwritten anything is always the key to my heart... unless it's a bill for something. In which case, f*ck you.
30. I will online church in a minute. I can pay my tithes via PayPal. I even take notes. Church in my pajamas is my whole entire jam.
31. Kanye West is still my favorite artist. I threw Kanye the Person in the trash after his "slavery is a choice" stunt... but you don't throw out the art with the artist... especially if it's good art. All his albums get heavy play from me. Fight me.
32. I have 18 tattoos. And I'm still not finished, much to my mother's chagrin.
33. What the hell is a speed limit?
34. This is new-- I brush my teeth, wash my face, and floss every night now. Bad skin and dentures haunt my dreams. So do sagging tits and cellulite... but being fat and braless are both the bid, so...
35. I'm glad I'm almost finished this list. Tryna think of 36 of these was exhausting.
36. I'm still me. Absolutely me. I'm spoiled, I can be irrational, I'm moody, I am prone to depression, and I can be absent-minded at times. I'm also incredibly smart, fun to be around, and I usually smell pretty nice. And you know what? I like me. I like the woman I am at 36. I worked so hard to become who I am... and I'ma love all of me. And so are you, dammit. You gonna love all this Gemini madness.
There you have it. Thirty-six for thirty-six.
*sips herbal tea* (but only because I have no liquor and it's too cold to leave my house)
So I chose to wait until tonight to write this blog because some things are just... scary. As much as I love to write, and as easy as it comes for me, some shit is just... difficult to say. I imagine that, after I get it all out, I'll feel some sense of cathartic relief. Either that or immense embarrassment. Maybe a combination of both. Either way, I'm saying it... because my podcast is big of a 'what' to omit the 'why.'
So many of you reading this have known my journey since the very beginning, but a quick recap for those of you who don't quite know me yet-- I left a nine-year, relatively successful teaching career to chase a dream. That's really all the backstory you need.
This is really where the 'why' starts.
A few months before I left teaching, I started doing EXTENSIVE research on entrepreneurship. I began my research with-- you guessed it-- Instagram.
It's okay if you're rolling your eyes. In retrospect, I'm rolling mine, too-- hard.
I began to browse social media and I identified Black women after whom I could pattern myself. I studied their habits. I took their master classes and published their digital content. I drank their podcasts, listening to them for hours on end. I read all the books they suggested. Think & Grow Rich. 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. The Power of Habit. The 4 Hour Workweek. I bought expensive planners and colorful pens. I made vision boards. I learned the Law of Attraction. I watched these women win and I convinced myself that I was just as smart, just as talented, and just as capable as they were of winning.
When the opportunity presented itself for me to leave my job, I took it. In a very and unexpected strange way, through a series of really difficult events, I was allowed the opportunity to become an entrepreneur, and when I saw the opening, I took it. I'm the only child of very supportive parents. I thought I was armed with a dope, airtight support system. I was actively involved in my church of 30 years. I had some money in savings. I thought I was ready. So, armed with my Instagram mentors and everything I learned in the books and blogs I read and the podcasts I listened to, I started my writing business. I called it Alisa Writes. I was a writer for hire. I hung my "open for business" sign and I waited for the followers, the friend requests, and the funds to start rolling in. I just knew I'd be successful in no time.
In reality, I would go on to experience four of the shittiest years of my life.
I looked up one day with not one single penny to my name, no church home, very few friends, no work, stacks of unopened bills (why open them? I knew I couldn't pay them), and no hope that things would get any better for me. That was the day I realized I needed to get help, so I started researching therapists in my area.
I first walked into my therapist's office on February 3, 2016, and the very first words I said to her were, "I don't think I can survive too much more of this." It took only three sessions for my therapist to diagnose me with severe depression and a generalized anxiety disorder. Here I was, three years into a master's of mental health counseling degree, and I had never once considered how dark and how deep depression could really go until I lived in that place myself. Week after week, I'd go, and I'd sit on my therapist's couch, and I'd cry. I'd talk about how much of a failure I was. "I don't understand it," I'd say. "I'm saying my affirmations. I'm reading positive books. I'm praying. Why won't this feeling of failure go away?" I asked her one day.
My therapist looked at me. What she said next changed the trajectory of my life. "Why are you failing?" she asked.
Over the next several months, my therapist helped me discover that the reason why I felt like I was failing as an adult was because I wasn't adulting in ways that worked for me. I was adulting and businessesing and grown woman-ing in ways that worked for other people, but I completely lacked the self-awareness necessary to figure out what I needed to do in order to succeed in my own life.
Basically, I didn't know anything about myself.
This is when shit got real.
My mission in life became learning who I was. I had to muddle through all the lies I told myself, all the excuses I made, and all the flaws I tried to hide from people. I had to learn to love myself, because I'd convinced myself that I wasn't good enough. This is so trite, but I was comparing my flawed behind-the-scenes footage to the filtered, edited highlight reels of others... and beating myself up for not being them. You would think, considering how low my self-esteem and self-concept already was, that being real about my flaws would devastate me. You'd think it'd be the nail in the coffin. I was already holding on by a string here... What good would it do to see all my ugly shit live and in living color?
It changed my life.
What I discovered was a whole, complete person... with flaws and with faults, but with a fierceness that I didn't know was there.
As I was doing the work to discover myself, I also discovered my purpose.
#AlisaExplainsItAll is my life out loud.
It's me talking about my shit... and about how understanding my shit taught me to use it to my advantage.
It's me talking about my struggles as a single parent of a teenager. It's talking about how I am not a morning person, about how I don't manage money well. It's me talking about how unorganized and absent-minded I am. How I flake on my friends. How I found hope in therapy and how underrated mental health and happiness are. It's me sharing what I learned about myself during the lowest times of my life... and how I turned these flaws into the foundation of something really, really special.
Of all the books I read, and podcasts I listened to, and webinars I watched, and networking events and seminars I attended, I didn't experience any measure of success in my personal or professional life until I learned myself... and learned to love myself.
Along the way, through lots of trial and error, I learned how to build a brand and how to run a business.
My hope is that through honest, very candid discussion about myself, I can help someone who may be feeling like they're not doing anything right. I want to help someone who feels like they are failing. I want someone to use my struggles and my stories as their strength. Because if I, with my jacked-up ass, can get it together, my hope is that I can inspire others to stop trying to be perfect and just live with purpose.
This podcast is where I will share my truth. The long and short of it. Even the ugly parts.
Maybe I'll even inspire you to share yours.
"Somebody check on his mic," the producer said. "We need to make sure he can be heard clearly without any feedback."
Kyle sat nervously in the chair, trying his best not to fidget. He watched as the film crew ran around checking the lighting, and making sure everything was ready for the cameras. The young woman came by again with her makeup kit.
"Kyle, you have to relax. You are sweating, and messing up your makeup. Do you want to be all shiny in the face when you make your television debut?" she joked, dusting his nose for the umpteenth time. Kyle laughed and took a deep breath. When she finished, she looked at him and smiled. "Aren't you handsome?" she asked jokingly.
Kyle shrugged and blushed and watched her as she scurried off the set.
There were a few more camera tests and sound checks, which made Kyle even more nervous about this interview. Finally, after what seemed like hours, everything was in place. The producer came over to Kyle and shook his hand.
"Mr. Sherman, thank you so much for agreeing to this. Please, just be candid and as honest as possible. You'll be allowed to speak without interruption. Just tell the whole story exactly as it happened. Do you have any questions?"
Kyle shook his head. This would be his first time on television and he was anxious. He wanted to get everything right so he wouldn't look foolish. "I think I'm good," he told the producer. "Just ready to get it over with."
"That's understandable, Mr. Sherman," the producer said. "Okay. We are gonna start rolling now. Whenever you're ready, you can go ahead and begin."
"Where should I start?" Kyle asked.
"From the beginning," the producer said. "Start from the beginning." He walked off to the side and took a seat. Everybody in the room was silent and watching Kyle, who cleared his throat and began talking.
"The beginning? Okay, well... My name... Uh... My name is Kyle Edward Sherman. I am 34 years old. I am a husband... well... I was a husband, and I'm a father of three boys. Their names are Edward, Robert, and Kyle, Jr. I have three sisters and a brother, and my parents have been married for 43 years. Life for me has always been pretty simple. I enlisted in the Army after high school and did two tours in Afghanistan before I tore my ACL and was honorably discharged. I came back to New York, got married, and I became a C.O. a few months after my oldest son was born. I've been at the same job ever since.
I was a correctional officer at the Fishkill Correctional Facility in Beacon, New York. Beacon is a really quiet town in upstate New York, away from the crowds and noise of the city. I've lived in Beacon for my entire life, and it's strange seeing people I've grown up with, people I went to elementary school with, people who lived on my street and played basketball with me, now incarcerated and under my command in this prison. It's sad, actually.
I liked my job okay. I mean, it's not the most glamorous thing in the world, but it was steady, the benefits were good, and it was close to home. I made decent money and had lots of opportunities for overtime. Who can really complain about making money? My wife whined that I needed to work fewer hours and spend more time at home with her and the kids, but I kept trying to explain to her that there isn't much opportunity here in Beacon, especially for people like me who didn't go to college. Every time it came up, there was an argument. Just a few weeks ago--"
"Mr. Sherman?" the producer interrupted. "Can we stick to the story? The real story? The reason why you're here this morning?"
Kyle frowned. "I'm sorry. Was I rambling? I'm sorry for rambling. Should I start over from the beginning? Or can I just pick up--"
"Just pick up where you left off," the producer said patiently. "You were talking about your job. What else can you tell us about it?"
"Oh, right. Okay. Well, as a C.O., it's basically my responsibility to make sure the prison runs smoothly. I make sure the inmates have what they need, and that they aren't putting themselves or others at risk of bodily harm. I make sure they're processed properly, that they get to and from their work details in a timely manner. I talk to them, too. I try to pour into their lives, give them some positivity. Help them understand there can be life after prison if they play their cards right.
That's my favorite part, talking to them. There's so much you can get to know about a person when you just listen to them. A lot of people write these guys off as bad just because they end up in prison, but I don't always think that's the case. Some guys are just down on their luck and trying to feed their families, and that's how they end up here, you know? Some are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I like to make the inmates here feel like they matter, like they're not just societal castaways. So I do my job, but I also listen. I find out about them. I treat them well.
Anyway, I know you're all here to hear about what happened between me and Calhoun, so I'll get to the point.
Calhoun was processed into the jail on one of my days off, so I didn't have an opportunity to meet him and feel him out during intake. He was already on the yard, assigned to a cell and work detail by the time I saw him. During an inmate's first few weeks in Fishkill, I like to watch him, see how he acts, how he fits in with the other inmates, how he sleeps, whether or not he eats, or cries, or begs to go home. I like to see which inmates have their eyes on him, you know? The thing about Calhoun that surprised me most was that he was always unbelievably calm. He didn't come on the yard running his mouth, acting tough like so many of the other inmates do. But he didn't cry and hide and cower in the corners either. He had a very quiet confidence to him, like he wasn't trying to make any noise, but he wasn't really one to be fucked with, either. Wait-- Can I say fucked? Am I allowed to curse?"
"It's okay," the producer responded. "We'll edit this interview before it airs. Go on, Mr. Sherman."
"Okay. So like I was saying... He had this confidence to him, and the other guys could sense it, so more or less, they just left him alone. He didn't seem to know anyone, and he wasn't associated with any gang or group, and I know he wasn't from Beacon, because I know pretty much every family here, having lived here my whole damn life. But as I'm looking at him, there is something so familiar about this dude... Something I recognize from somewhere that I can't put my finger on, you know? Anyway, the first few months Calhoun was in Fishkill, he was alone.
He was assigned to laundry detail. He was ridiculously meticulous about his work, and he never talked to the other inmates on laundry. He didn't watch tv or play cards or dominoes with the other inmates, either. He'd just... Sit. Off to the side. Not staring off into space, but he'd be sitting there watching the other guys, or reading. I always sensed he was getting a feel for who was who and what was what in Fishkill. From the moment I saw Calhoun, I knew there was more to him than what most people noticed. I decided to look into his file to see what I could find out about him.
Calhoun was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, which ain't all that far away from Beacon. Maybe a half hour, tops. He graduated near the top of his class in high school and accepted a baseball scholarship to Syracuse, but for some reason, he didn't go. Three years after he graduated from high school, Calhoun was arrested for petty theft, and he did several short stints in Otisville, Great Meadow, Bare Hill for small crimes. Petty theft a few times. Low-level drug offenses. Auto theft. Nothing real serious, you know? And he'd serve a few months, a year or two, and come home, and within a few months, he'd be right back in jail. The time between his last stint in jail and when he ended up here in Fishkill was the longest he'd been out since his little crime wave started-- 5 years. He came to Fishkill on aggravated assault and armed robbery charges and was given an 87-month sentence-- just over 7 years, the longest sentence he ever got.
What struck me was how does a kid graduate at the top of his class and get into college and get collared for such small, insignificant crimes? Calhoun was so... Weird. He wasn't new to prison, but he didn't fit the profile of a typical prisoner. I took a special interest in Calhoun after I read his background. I was determined to figure him out. See what made him tick, you know?
Anyway. Months passed and Calhoun was still off to himself, doing his own thing. After about 6 months on the yard, something changed. Calhoun had been a loner. He sat alone, ate alone, exercised alone... But one day, I noticed another inmate, Jenkins, sitting with him at his meals. A week later, two more inmates joined them. The week after that, there were three more. In a month's time, there were eleven inmates with Calhoun at meals, at HIS table, meaning they sought him out, not the other way around. He was clearly the smartest of the bunch, and the other guys that sat with him seemed to gravitate toward him in a major way. They hung on to his every word. Eventually, they were getting his meals for him. Doing his work in laundry. He was the boss, see, and they were his subjects. The eleven grew to twenty real quick. Soon, Calhoun and his boys became a major concern to us C.O.s. They'd become one of the biggest cliques we had on the yard, and I still never figured out how. Despite their size, though, they never got into fights. They never caused any problems. They never made any noise.
One afternoon after Calhoun had been in Fishkill for about a two years, I overheard him in the TV room talking about his girl, the girl that he'd left at home. This was the first time I'd ever heard about a woman from him; he shared very little of his personal life. The only visitors that ever came to see him were his mother, his brother, his sisters and his nephew. There was never a woman. Anyway, he was talking about this girl, and I overheard him say her name-- Tootie. He called her Tootie. He didn't go into a bunch of detail. He just said he missed her. Changed the subject and started talking about something else.
I'm standing nearby kinda baffled, because my wife's nickname is Tootie. Her mother gave her that nickname when she was born. Small world, I thought. I ain't think anything of it.
A few weeks later, in the TV room again, Calhoun mentions Tootie again. This time, the fellas were all sitting around talking about their girls at home and what they did for a living, to see which of them had the smartest woman, you know? Calhoun says that Tootie's a nurse, that she's smarter and prettier than any of their women. A nurse? My wife is a nurse, too. I'm not the smartest man in the world, but things were a little bit too coincidental. I thought maybe he was fucking with me. It's easy to find out personal information about C.O.s, and inmates often use this personal info to fuck with us, to expose our weaknesses, to get under our skin. I left it alone. I mean, it ain't hard to find out I'm married to a woman that everybody calls Tootie that's a nurse. I chuckled, shrugged it off."
"Mr. Sherman," the producer called out. "We need to take a second to adjust your makeup. You're sweating again and you look shiny on camera. Kristen!! We need you on set!"
The makeup girl came running, brush and powder in hand. "I'm certainly getting my salary's worth of work with you today," she joked. "Relax," she whispered, "or I'll have to take you into the trailer to calm you down." She winked and ran off.
After adjusting the lights and doing another sound check, the producer said, "Okay, Mr. Sherman. You were saying that Calhoun knew your wife was a nurse, but you didn't bite. Continue."
"Okay. Almost a year passed before Calhoun ever mentioned Tootie again. They were in the dining room having breakfast when one of the fellas joked that Tootie sounded like a name for a stripper and not a nurse. Everybody's laughing, you know, and Calhoun says, 'Her real name ain't Tootie, you dumb prick. Her real name is Nicole, and she's got a rose tattooed on her hip.'
This stopped me in my tracks. Knowing she's a nurse and her nickname is Tootie but her real name is Nicole is easy stuff. Common knowledge. But that rose tattoo? Toot never wore anything that revealed that tattoo. Very few people knew she had it. She went and got it when we first got married seven years ago. It's a rose with her cousin's initials, R.H.C, next to it. This was her favorite cousin that died when they were kids. She wanted to have a way to remember him always, so she got the tattoo. This was way too coincidental for my liking, but I didn't want to cause a big fuss, not with Calhoun's flunkies all over him. So I decided to wait and talk to him privately. This is eating away at me like crazy, and I need answers, you know?
A few days later, I managed to catch Calhoun by himself in the TV room. His friends were all playing cards, and he was off to the side, reading. I go and I sit next to him.
'So tell me more about Tootie,' I said.
Calhoun starts grinning, wide. Ear to ear. Almost like he couldn't wait to tell me all about her, you know? He puts his book down and starts talking.
'Well, Tootie, or Nicole, she's a nurse down at St. Luke's in Newburgh. She mostly works nights, so she don't visit... She got kids at home to attend to, and she's important at her job. But she's real pretty. She has my initials tattooed on her hip next to a rose. R.H.C.-- Robert Henry Calhoun.'
So by now, I'm clenching my teeth, you know? And I got my hands balled into fists. Coincidence is one thing, but this was just too much. I'm silent, tryna decide if I wanna say something else, and he continues.
'Tootie's a great woman, you know? She's a real cougar in the bedroom, too.' And then he winked at me. The bastard actually winked his eye at me! And I'm trying so hard not to lose my cool, because so many other C.O.s fall into this trap with inmates, and I refused to let Calhoun get the best of me. He keeps talking.
'There's a blue armchair in the corner of her bedroom, and she likes to be bent into all kinds of positions on that chair.' Nicole and me... We have a blue armchair in our bedroom. He goes on to describe our bedroom, down to the smallest detail. He knew she kept her hairbrush on top of the antique jewelry box she inherited from her grandmother. He knew that we have one pillow on our bed that's bigger than the rest of them. He knew all about my wife's sexual preferences. He's talking about her like she's the greatest lay he's ever had, like she's not my fucking wife! Can I get some water, please? It's hot as shit sitting here!!"
The producer jumped up. "Can someone get Mr. Sherman some water? Let's take a quick break. Kristen! Makeup!"
Kyle gulped water from the bottle that was handed to him and took several deep breaths. "Just tell the story," he muttered to himself, trying to calm his racing heart. He agreed to do this interview, but he hadn't anticipated it being this difficult. Kristen runs on set and wordlessly reapplied his makeup, doing everything she can this time to avoid eye contact with him. After a few minutes of deep breathing, Kyle said, "I think I'm ready now. Let's get this over with."
The producer nodded. "The cameras are rolling. Please continue."
Kyle scratched his beard. "So Calhoun describes all this stuff to me, and I'm just kinda standing there. I'm stunned, because I never had Toot made out to be a cheater. She's a really good wife, you know? A good mother. She's a family girl. My mind is playing tricks on me. I'm thinking, how could this man know all the details of my bedroom? Maybe he knows one of Toot's friends, somebody she talks to a lot. Somebody feeding him information, you know? I'm trying not to jump to conclusions. I can't let this fucker think he has me by the balls, but I'm mad as fire inside. And he's not yet come out and told me that the woman he's describing is MY Toot, so I'm giving all the benefit of the doubt. I try my best to look cool, like he's not getting to me, you know?
By this point, it's time for the inmates to leave the rec room to prepare for lights out, so Calhoun and I have to cut the conversation short. That night as I'm driving home, I have a million questions going through my head. Nic's at work, so I can't bother her, but I'm so curious. Does she really know this guy? Is he just pulling my leg, or has he really been inside my house? Inside my wife? I've seen other C.O.s snap and lose everything all over some inmate who paid someone on the outside for personal details just to fuck with them, so I'm wary. Cautious. Calhoun didn't say anything to me that he wouldn't have been able to get from someone else, and, like I said, he's from Poughkeepsie. We live in Beacon. Nic works in Newburgh. Everything is so close together. There ain't no way we don't have mutual friends. I decide not to mention it to Nic. I don't wanna upset her if it's not true, but if it is true, I don't want her to know that I know until I have all the details and I'm absolutely sure. I go home, go to bed, try to forget about it.
A few weeks go by and everything at home and at work is business as usual. I don't make any noise about it. Nic is acting like herself. Everything seems okay. I do my best to push the whole thing out of my mind, and I'm almost successful, until one day, I'm standing on the yard while the inmates are exercising and Calhoun comes up and stands next to me.
What he says next changes my entire life."
Kyle closed his eyes and clenched his fists, as if the mere memory of what was said is too much for him to handle. He opened his eyes and spoke slowly in a low tone, so that everybody in the room had to strain to hear him.
"Calhoun walks up to me," Kyle said, "and asked me if I've ever wondered why my middle son doesn't look anything like the other two, who look exactly like me. I don't answer. I'm just staring at the guy, trying to decide on my next move. He continues, 'I know you wanted to name the kid Ricardo, after your father, right? But Tootie insisted on naming him Robert. Interesting, right?' And he walks away. And I'm standing there dying inside. My middle son, Robert, who is 4, doesn't look a thing like my other two. Robert is several complexions lighter than both Nicole and I, and he has gray eyes. And I remember the argument Nic and I had over his name. For months, she insisted we name the kid Robert. Months. She was so adamant about it that I just gave in and let her give the kid the name, you know?
So I take my phone out, and I scroll to the most recent picture I have of Robert. And it hits me like a ton of fucking bricks-- the thing that was so familiar about Calhoun when I first saw him. Those gray eyes. Calhoun and my son have identical gray eyes. Nobody in my family has those eyes. Nic's family either. I'm weak in the knees at this point. I run over to a corner of the yard and I throw up. I'm sick. I can't see straight. I'm pissed. But I know I gotta stay cool, right? Because this is my livelihood, and I can't just be going off. So I wait out the rest of my shift, and I drive home. By this time, Nic is on her way to work, and she's dropped the kids off at her sister's, so instead of picking them up like I usually do when our shifts overlap, I call her sister and ask her to keep them for the night. She agrees. I go home, shower, and sit in the living room, and wait the eleven hours until Nic's shift ends.
She walks in the house the next morning all shocked to see me. 'Where are the kids?' she asks. She comes over, sits on my lap, kisses me like she usually does, only I don't kiss her back. She stands up. 'Is everything okay?' she asks. And I tell her everything ain't kosher, and ask her who the fuck Robert Calhoun is to her. And for a split second, I see something in her eyes, you know? Horror. Panic. I don't know what it is, but it ain't normal Nic, who usually has everything under control, you know? But the look is only there for an instant. And she goes back to her regular self. She looks me in my eyes and says, 'Robert Calhoun? The name doesn't sound familiar. Was he a patient at the hospital or something?' And then she walks off into the laundry room and starts folding clothes. She just worked a 12 hour overnight shift. She is usually dead on her feet by the time this shift ends, but this day, she goes in the laundry room and does housework. She's nervous. Visibly shaken. Fidgety. So I walk in the laundry room after her and stand in the doorway. I ask her again.
'I don't know anyone named Robert Calhoun,' she says, as she tries to push past me to leave the laundry room. I know her. For years, this woman has been my everything. I know when she's telling the truth, and I know when she's lying. Right now, she's definitely lying. I took my fist and punched a hole in the drywall. She screams, starts crying. I don't yell though. I just look at her again, and ask in my normal voice, 'Who the fuck is Robert Calhoun? Don't you fucking lie to me, Nicole.'
By now, she's fallen to her knees, and she's sobbing. So I sit down on the floor next to her. 'Just tell me the truth, Nic,' I say to her. 'I'm your husband. I can handle anything except you lying to me.' And the truth all comes out."
Kyle stopped talking to take a sip of water. You could hear a pin drop in the room. Despite all the people crowded into the small space, the crew with all their equipment, the makeup artists, everybody was absolutely silent and staring at Kyle, obviously enthralled with his story. He'd never had the attention of so many people before. All eyes stared at him, begging him to continue. So he did.
"My wife met Calhoun when she was 14 years old, a freshman in high school. He went to Poughkeepsie High, but came to Newburgh Free Academy, Nic's school, for a baseball game. He was one year older than her, a sophomore. From the moment he saw her, Nic told me, they were in love. Inseparable. They did everything together. They had big plans after high school, you know? Nic planned to go to nursing school, and Calhoun was set to play baseball in the major leagues-- he was that good. The summer before Calhoun was supposed to leave for college, however, Nic found out that she was pregnant. She still had a year left in high school, and she was devastated. As soon as they found out about the baby, Calhoun called Syracuse and let them know that he would not be accepting his scholarship, and instead, decided to get a job on the railroad in order to support his small family.
Nicole and Calhoun had an apartment together. Calhoun worked on the railroad, Nic was a part-time secretary and full-time high school senior. Sometime during her eighth month of pregnancy, however, she noticed that something didn't feel right... the baby had stopped moving. So she went in to see the doctor, who informed her that the umbilical cord had separated from the baby and the child was dead inside her. Nic was rushed from there to the hospital, St. Luke's, the same hospital she works at, and her labor was induced. She delivered a stillborn baby girl.
Nic told me that, after their baby was born dead, their relationship really took a hit. It was too late for Calhoun to accept that scholarship, but Nic went on to graduate and was accepted into nursing school. She left him to go to college, and his life took a turn for the worst. He became a heavy drinker, messed with drugs, and he and his brother Greg started with their string of petty crimes. Maybe he became a criminal because he was bored. Maybe because he hated the way his life turned out. Either way, his life turned to shit. Despite all they'd gone through together, though, they still had a thing for each other, seeing each other while Nic was home on breaks and when Calhoun wasn't in jail.
Nic graduated and gave Calhoun a chance to clean his life up. They moved in together and everything, but he just couldn't stay out of trouble. She kicked him out and vowed to move on with her life without him, and two weeks later, met a handsome young man in the grocery store who was struggling to push his cart while hobbling on crutches. He'd just been discharged from the military and had a bright future ahead of him. She knew she could settle down with him, have a family, and live a normal life.
That young man was me. She married me, but she loved Calhoun, and despite her vows, she couldn't stay away from him. According to her, on six different occasions, she slept with Calhoun in our home while I was at work. She even admitted that Robert was Calhoun's son. That crushed me... Just hearing her say those words. I mean, it's not like I didn't know, but hearing those words, 'he's not your son,' had a whole different effect on me, you know? I sat there and watched her cry, listened to her beg me for forgiveness. 'I owe him,' she sobbed. 'How could I say no to him? He ruined his life for me!' She told me that Calhoun was her first love, but she loved me, too, and would be willing to never see Calhoun again if I agreed to stay in our marriage. I love my wife. She's beautiful, and smart, and an awesome mother. All she wanted was my forgiveness."
Kyle stopped talking and stared off into space for a few minutes. He seemed to be in a daze of some sort. Finally, after several minutes, the producer decided to give him a little push: "Mr. Sherman? What happened next? Did you forgive her?"
"No," Kyle said, matter-of-factly. "I killed her. Wrapped my hands around her neck and choked her until she turned blue, until she stopped fighting me, until wasn't breathing anymore."
Kyle took another long pause, as if he were truly contemplating his actions. The producer said, "Do you regret your decision to kill your wife?"
"No," Kyle responded immediately. "I don't. Listen. I understand cheating, right? Because it happens. Stepping out on your marriage doesn't make you a piece of shit. That's forgivable, right? What's not forgivable is having unprotected sex with some felon in my bed, getting pregnant by the fucker, naming the kid after his sorry ass, and allowing me to raise the kid, thinking he's mine, attributing his gray eyes to some long-forgotten relative or something. What's not forgivable is not giving me the option to decide whether or not I wanna raise the bastard child of your high school loser ass boyfriend. I don't regret killing her. I regret marrying her. I regret loving her. Killing her? Nope."
Kyle paused again, took another sip of his water.
"So, I killed Nic, and then I went upstairs, put on my uniform, and reported to work. I clocked in, got my cup of coffee, shot the shit with the fellas. Per my usual. When it was time for my shift to begin, I walked out on the yard. Supervised work details. Stood around chatting with the inmates during their meals. Even played a game of dominoes with Calhoun and his gang, which was kinda fun. Hadn't played dominoes in years. When Calhoun got up to use the restroom, I followed him, and as he was using the urinal, I walked up behind him. Asked him, 'Why did you give me this information? What do you expect me to do with it?' Calhoun finished doing his business and turned to look at me.
He said, 'I could've been like you, man. Made something outta myself. I gave up everything to be with her, to make things work with her, and she left me. She up and left me to follow her dreams, even though I sacrificed mine to be with her. I stopped loving Tootie a long time ago, to be honest. When I found out that you worked here, I thought long and hard about how I'd play the hand I'd been dealt. I watched you, studied you, figured out what kind of man you are before I said a word. I'm stuck in here for seven years, but Tootie? She's on the outside, enjoying her life, when she's the reason I'm in here in the first place. I should've been in the majors. This ain't personal, Sherman. I promise it ain't. This is between me and Toot, and I needed you to do my dirty work, since I can't. You get it? I needed her life to be destroyed, just like she destroyed mine.'
So Calhoun and I are staring at each other in the bathroom, man to man, eye to eye, with the weight of all he said hanging between us, and the tension in the air was so thick it could be cut with a knife, you know? And all of a sudden, this fucker starts laughing. I mean, not just a chuckle. A full-on belly laugh, tears running down his face, the whole nine. And it hits me like a ton of bricks: He used me to get revenge on Nic. I did what he couldn't do. I destroyed my life-- I'm definitely going under the jail for killing my cheating wife, my kids are about to be without both parents, and this asshole gets to walk away, all this destruction in his wake, with clean hands. And I'm standing there watching him get a good laugh at my expense, and I figure I might as well finish the job, you know?"
Kyle balled his hands into fists and clenches his teeth. There are tears in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall.
"So right there, in that filthy prison bathroom, I wrapped my hands around his neck, and choked him, too. He used me. He baited me and I took the bait. Before I met him, I lived a quiet, normal life, you know? Worked a simple job. Had a peaceful marriage. Enjoyed spending time with my kids. He came along and took all that from me. All because he couldn't let go of the past. I choked Calhoun until he turned the same shade of blue as Nicole did. Choked him and made sure he'd never laugh again. I left him on the bathroom floor, walked up to my supervisor, gave him my work badge, told him I needed to call my lawyer. Informed him that Calhoun was dead in the bathroom and Nicole was dead in our laundry room. I took a seat on the intake bench and waited. I wasn't thinking anything. Wasn't even mad. I just felt... Hallow, you know? Empty.
I thought about pleading insanity. Did you know that before Fishkill became a minimum security prison, it was the Matteawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane? I could say that I was possessed or something. But there was nothing crazy about what I did, you know? I did it because they both played me. They both took advantage of me. My wife betrayed me in a way that I didn't think was possible for her. Her lover played me, like my life was a game of chess. He won. Checkmate."
Kyle stopped talking. He noticed that Kristen, the bubbly makeup artist, was quietly crying, her sniffling the only sound in the room. Everybody else was staring, open-mouthed. When Kyle agreed to do this interview, he did so only because his story had sparked national attention. So many people thought he was some awful monster, but just as many people sympathized with him. He'd been offered book deals, exclusive interviews with top journalists, and even a movie deal. But all he really wanted was the opportunity to share what really happened, to clear his name and be honest.
He reached down and scratched his leg. In all his years as C.O., he'd never paid attention to how itchy and uncomfortable prison uniforms were, because he never had to. He looked down at his orange jumpsuit, NYDOC printed across his chest, the shackles around his ankles, and the handcuffs around his wrists. He shook his head.
"My name is Kyle Edward Sherman," he said, "and I am 34 years old. I am an inmate at the Downstate Correctional Maximum Security Institution, located twelve minutes from where I grew up, in Fishkill, New York. My sons aren't allowed to come visit me, but I don't want them to, even if they could. There is a nasty custody battle happening right now for rights to middle son, who really isn't my son after all. His grandmother, Sandra Calhoun, believes she belongs with him. I don't have the strength to fight her. How could I?" He held up his shackled hands for emphasis. "I'm a little tied up at the moment." He laughed despite himself, but no one else in the room did.
"I killed my wife and her lover. I will probably spend the rest of my life in prison for my crimes, although I was urged to plead not guilty and am currently awaiting trial. I agreed this interview because I want the world to know that I am not a monster. I am a man who loved his wife, who was devoted to her, who would've done anything to see her smile. I am a man who was played by a woman I would've given my life for and the man who was so driven by revenge that he didn't care who else got hurt. I am not a bad person; I was just dealt a bad hand. I played it to the best of my ability, but in this game, there were no winners."
Kyle looked around the room at all the faces staring back at him. To his surprise, he saw no disgust. Nobody looked sick, or angry. All he saw was sympathy. All he felt was exhaustion.
"That's it. That's the whole story," he said.
"It's a wrap," the producer said, rousing the crew from the daze they were all in. "Thank you, Mr. Sherman."
I write because a lot of what I have to say is too crass and inappropriate for me to say out loud.