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My Apologies to the President

Dear President Obama,

It is with much contrition that I write you this sincere letter.  While I do owe you an apology for some things that occurred during your special event, I would like to preface that apology with this: Some of these unfortunate occurrences were not totally my fault.   As a matter of fact, my shameful behavior this past weekend can be explained, if you listen with kindness and tolerance in your heart.  I hope I have read you correctly these last two years and that you will listen with an open heart and not judge me.

Some things happened during your inauguration.  These things could not be avoided…most of the time.

I would like to apologize for harboring malice in my heart during a weekend when every American was exploding with deep jubilance.  Malice toward an elder, who only wanted to celebrate in this moment as much as I and the other two million Americans who jam packed the National Mall wanted.  I know you are the president who stands for unity and civility and all, BUT…

See, what had happened was…

My friend had four tickets located in the “silver” section of the mall.  Two were supposed to go to her brother and sister in law.  This left two tickets.  Now, let me say, President Obama, I naturally assumed that I would not be granted one of the tickets.  This friend had graciously opened up her couch to me for four nights just so I could see you become the first Black nerd president.  I was more than happy with the free place to stay.  I assumed that my friend and her husband would naturally take the other two tickets.

But, then her husband mentioned that he had to be in Chicago the day of your inauguration.  He had some sort of interview that he couldn’t get around.  I still didn’t make any false assumptions, though. It would be too tacky to “suggest” the final ticket be handed over to me.  I merely woke up early the next morning and made breakfast for everyone. Not because I was brownnosing, Mr. President.  But, because I was grateful to be alive during this moment in history.  To be in D.C. amongst so much happiness and hope and extra silver tickets just lying around waiting to be offered to a helpful house guest. I also helped get one or two of the children dressed one morning.  Again, I would have done this even if there was not the question of “What to do with this extra ticket?”

My friend, with no pressure from me, implied that she might be able to hook me up with a ticket.  Can you blame me, Sir?  Can you blame me for then assuming I would have a good spot on that Tuesday morning?  If you were me, wouldn’t you have gotten excited that you might actually SEE the new president being sworn in?  Not just watch it from one of the jumbotrons, but actually be able to see the outline of this blurred figure as he took his oath of office?

Well, Mr. President…

Let me just say it wasn’t fair!  I put in two days more than Aunt Henrietta!  Granted, she had been my friend’s aunt for almost 40 years and had taken a plane in from England, I, President Obama, had made eggs and grits for four grown ass people and three loud children who ran around too damn much!  I brought humor and intelligent conversation to that house days before Aunt Henrietta strolled in, crying her crocodile tears and going on about how unreal this moment was for her and how she just found herself so overcome with emotion that she had been crying on and off for days.  Yeah, right, Aunt Henrietta…

I should not have entertained thoughts of chugging Aunt Henrietta’s boots in the lake behind the house or sneezing on her fragile older person immune system.  It was wrong, I’ll admit that.  But, it should be noted that Aunt Henrietta won the silver ticket by fighting dirty.  Very, very dirty, I might add.

How could I compete with stories like this:

“I remember when George Wallace stood in front of those doors of that school and denied my girlfriend the right to go to school.  I was amazed that he would actually tell  a person who wanted to go to school that she wasn’t allowed to just because she was a black girl.”

I mean, come on!  How could my stories of my students demanding I bring them back pictures of you compete with I-knew-the-girl-who-fought-George-Wallace anecdotes?  By the time she started regaling the room with stories of marching on Washington and being spit on at sit ins, I knew it was all over.  I would be forced to “sit” with the masses…I would commune with the commoners at your inauguration.

I am ashamed to admit this, Barack, but I thought of the B word once or twice.  Not the good B word I used in the last sentence…but the other B word.  The one rappers use a lot.  Trifling, I know.  Trifling.

I am sorry for not allowing my emotions to take the higher ground.  You would have, I’m sure.  But then again, you, Sir, already had a good seat, now didn’t you?  (No judgment here.  Just an observation.)

Since I am in this atonement mood, I feel inspired to apologize for one other unfortunate incident.  You know that concert that Beyonce, Usher and Stevie and a whole bunch of other artists held in your honor.  The one that about 500,000 people showed up to?  Well, I had every intention of being one of those 500,000 people, but…well, some things happened.  Things that could not be avoided.

My friend and I had only planned on stopping by Target for a few minutes.  The kids needed stuff.  And the husbands were “supposed” to spend the time we were at Target actually feeding and dressing the kids.  Well, who could foresee the “Inauguration Sale” at Target (Assets body shapers were only $10!) or the slow pace of the husbands back home?

We did come, Mr. President.  With rambunctious kids bundled up in parkas.  Strollers, snacks, cameras, cash…we DID COME.

But, why did the concert have to be so short?  When we checked the schedule online, there were like a million performers listed so it just naturally seemed like it would go on for like 6 or 7 hours.  

WE DID COME.  Just a little late.

I was inspired by the last two minutes of your remarks.  And Beyonce’s song.  I was so touched by your speech and Beyonce’s song that  I was all hyped up, waiting for whatever was next.

And then I saw the credits rolling on the jumbotron.

You don’t have to say it.  I know it is trifling to show up late to the inaugural concert celebrating the first Black president.  It is beyond trifling, really.  But, things happened. These things were out of  my control.  

I am sorry for missing most of your concert.  I really am.  But, I would like you to remember the sentiments of your inaugural address.  You said that it would take time to put this nation back together.  It would take patience and hard work to repair the damage to our economy, educational system and a host of other things.

Well, Sir, please remember that it will take time for all of us Black folks to free ourselves from the crippling clenches of CP time.  Please be patient with us.

Again, I’m sorry.  When you are reelected, I promise to only have love in my heart during any ceremonies I attend and to show up on time to all events.


A Fellow Black Nerd

On the Night Before History…

Let me just say this: Occasionally, I can be a little “slow.”  Although I am, for the most part, intelligent and quick, there are times when I am just a sprinkle of blonde.  It takes me a minute to get what is oh so obvious or I say something that makes people suggest, “Uh… maybe you should have kept that little question in your head as just a thought.”

Having said that, I will admit this: I had been underestimating the IMMENSITY of the event scheduled for January 20, 2009.  I knew it was huge.  A black man (who’s middle name is Hussein) would be sworn in to the nation’s highest office.  This black man was virtually unknown to many Americans as recently as 2004.  This black man held the attention of the world on Nov. 4, 2008 as every human across the globe waited with baited breathe to see if he had won the gig.


But, for some reason, I underestimated this.  So much so that  I found myself amazed by little hints leading up to the official inauguration.  And no, I am not even referring to the 2 million people who crowded the National Mall and how that one visual shakes you out of your slow realization that you are alive during one of the most significant moments in American history.  My moments of “Whoa…this is something” started on the  Saturday before the inauguration.

Hint 1: The stow-a-way

So, I arrive at the greyhound bus station at 7 am on Saturday morning, with the intent of getting on an 8 o’clock bus.  I do get on this bus.  Surprisingly, at as early as 8:30 a.m.  Smug in my brilliant idea to leave for D.C. several days before the big event, I peel off my gigantic coat and ease into my seat.  I look out of the window at the long line of other brilliant people who are leaving early and wonder if they all will fit on the measley 15 or 20 buses I see parked around the lot.

The bus quickly fills, each person who enters grinning as if the lotto ticket had the numbers they had dreamt up the night before.  Actually saying, “Yes!  I got a seat!”

At some point, another jubilant lotto winner gets on the bus and starts that last-person-on-the-bus slow dance down the aisle.  She looks into each set of seats and when she sees a person in it, moves on to what she thinks is an empty seat.  She does this several times until she is at the end of the bus.  She looks anxious.  Annoyed. Afraid.

She goes to the front of the bus and tells the bus driver that there aren’t enough seats.  He seems incredulous, explaining quite plainly that he has 45 seats and only 44 tickets.  Therefore, he has to have an open seat left.

The lady does the slow dance down the bus again.  This time she yells from the back of the bus: “Sir, I’m telling you there aren’t any empty seats.”  I think this woman was very excited to be a part of history because she immediately became frantic and turned into a cranky New Yorker.

“I bought this ticket two months ago,” she explained to the bus driver.  “I got here early just like the website suggested,” she seemed to explain to everybody on the bus.  “Somebody is going to get up out of MY seat.”  That last statement scared many of us.  And, with the exception of one of us, we were all on the bus LEGALLY.

I held onto my ticket and pulled my driver’s license back out of my wallet.  A little voice whispered in my head: “Something ’bout to happen up in here.”

The bus driver turns into a middle school teacher the day before Christmas break.  He rolls his eyes and sighs heavily as he gets out of his seat.

“Look,” he chastises with his voice and his eyes.  “I have 45 seats on this bus and only 44 tickets.  Who doesn’t belong here?”

Shockingly, no one speaks up.  I try to help out the bus driver and scan the faces of those around me, looking for eyes turned downward or random rummaging through bags so as to hide guilt.  No one flinches.

The bus driver repeats his question.  He doesn’t wait too long for an answer this time, though.  

“Alright,” he announces.  “I’m going to call out the tickets.  When you hear your name, raise your hand and your i.d. in the air.”  

This is something.  Folks mean they are going to this thing.

The bus driver calls the first name.  A lady raises her hand and the bus drivers walks over to her and CHECKS both her ticket and i.d.  He calls off the next name.

I start to feel bad for the stow-a-way and jokingly advise him/her: “Yo, you may as well do that walk of shame now.  Imagine how bad you’re gonna look when the driver points at you and KICKS you off the bus.”  A few people around me chuckle.  No one gets up. 

At around name #5, the bus drivers gets agitated because the stow-a-way still hasn’t taken the high road. 

“You mean, you’re not going to get off the bus?,” he asks the air.   He tosses the tickets on his chair.  “Well, I’ll go get the cops and maybe THAT will convince you to do the right thing.”

And the bus driver (who is admiringly dedicated to fairness and ethics) sulks off the bus.  

Everyone starts to get uncomfortable.  We all exchange looks.  Looks that plead, Would Barack be happy with us right now?  Is this really what he wants…folks sneaking onto the bus because they waited too late to buy a ticket?

Folks start grumbling.  The lady without a seat reminds the grumbling folks that she bought the ticket months ago and got up early to make sure she had a spot on this bus. Amidst the minor melee, I notice a tiny figure quietly hunch her back and scurry off the bus.  Right when I notice this, I turn to the lady next to me.  I want to point and whisper: “Look, it’s the stow-a-way,” but there is no need.  She looks at the tiny figure trying to appear casual as she walks back to the greyhound terminal.  We both shake our heads.

“A damn shame,” she mutters.

“I think this inauguration is going to be HUGE,” I counter.  She gives me that look that makes me want to explain how sometimes I can be a sprinkle of blonde.

Hint 2: A “broke” ATM

The night before the inauguration I am at Union Station, D.C.’s version of Penn Station.  Having spent most of the day out, I no longer have cash.  I do what every American does when this happens; I go to the nearest ATM.

I insert my debit card into the machine and press in my PIN.  And…

I get this bizarre, nonsensical message from the ATM.

I don’t have any money.  Sorry, slim.

I sort of look at the screen and wonder what I did wrong.  Maybe I pressed in the wrong PIN and the machine checked somebody else’s account and not mine.  So, I insert the card again and the machine reminds:

I. Don’t. Have. Any. More. Money.  Stop bothering me, please!

Huh?  I am at the ATM in Union Station.  It is a major tourist trap.  There are several pricey restaurants as well as a variety of fancy, overpriced retail shops all around me. Who forgot to put money in the machine?  He/she should get in trouble.  What a screw up.

While I am standing there, trying to figure out why the ATM is not giving me the money I asked for, a kind passer by reiterates, ” Oh, mam, that machine has been out of cash most of the night.  I think you may need to go down the street to Citibank.  I did that earlier.”

I hear what this nice person is telling me, but I am having a slow moment again.  I look bewildered when I ask no one in particular, “How come it’s out of money?”

The kind person looks like she wants to pat me on the head.  She is patient, however, when she slowly answers my question with one of her own: “Why are you here, Baby?”

She sees the answer in my brain.  Before I can share it with her, she nods proudly at me.  “Yep, that’s why all these other people are here, too.  And probably why there isn’t anymore money in the machine.”

This inauguration is going to be HUGE.

33…Is that right?

Age is a bitter sweet component of womanhood. It is like weight and dress size; an “evolved” woman intellectually knows that neither number holds much significance in the scope of a life, but her “evolvement” does not preclude her from being acutely aware of those numbers regardless.  So aware of them that she could rattle off either number quicker than she could cite the number that appeared on her most recent checking account statement.

I am becoming more aware of my age. I do not lie about it or anticipate “counting backward” once I hit 35 or 40 or 50 as I’ve heard friends joke. I am proud of my age most of the time.  I am awed by it all the time.



When did that happen? No, seriously.

When did I transform from a happily delusional 22 year old with a futon, a second hand car and semi-regular encounters with men who only guaranteed a few hours of fun memories into a 33 year old almost-grown woman with a mortgage, a JOB with a capital J and complex relationship problems that get resolved and re-hatched with no true resolution in sight? Did it really happen over a period of 10 to 15 years or did it happen in about 25 minutes. It feels like the latter.

I know women who have these moments of incredulity on birthdays or when they have to check off their appropriate age demographic on any number of forms.  Me, however…my awareness of the number 33 has some rather unlikely triggers.

I punch in my time limit on the treadmill.  I punch in my weight.  The machine asks: Age?  And as I punch in 33, I pause, thinking…already?  Didn’t I just press 27 on a similar treadmill in another gym in another city just yesterday?

I jokingly explain to a student why I am incapable of engaging in a discussion about whether or not Bow Wow is sexier than Chris Brown.  “I’m 33, Sweetie.”  When I say it, I get the same feeling of disbelief I experienced while setting up my treadmill at the gym.  When did 19 year old boys cease to hold my intense fascination?  When did I cease to know every tiny detail about whatever heart throb was fueling the young adult commerce machine?

I watch a movie whose premise revolves around adult children dealing with an aging father.  The father, who is at the beginning stages of dymentia, is cursing out his nurse in the most creative and hysterical manner.  His daughter walks in.  Without skipping a beat, he croaks, “Who the hell are you?”

The daughter appears to be about 43.

I am 33.

My father had surgery for prostate cancer the summer of my 33rd year.  My father was hospitalized for  minor dehydration the winter of my 33rd year.

Although I began watching this movie because it starred one of the most brilliant actors of our time, I become less aware that Phillip Seymour Hoffman is playing the aging father’s son.  I am very aware that I am 33, which makes my father approximately 70.

Again, I can not explain how this happened.  I can not explain how in between my visits home, odd things happen to my father.  His hair greys or thins.  His stroll slows; it  becomes laborious.  His once extensive household activities lessen.  The dogs go unwalked; the gutters go uncleaned.  The grass gets cut by my 35 year old brother every other Sunday when he can spare time away from his 38 year old wife, their 15 year old daughter, 10 year old son and one month old baby.

I watch Philip Seymour Hoffman crudely scream the truth at his 43 year old sister.  “Dad is going to die!  Soon.  Death does not come with the same pretty scenery that these nursing homes put in their brochures.”  I watch his sister crumble.  It is an exquisite unraveling.  She does not shed a tear.  She does not shake uncontrollably.  But, she unravels right in front of her brother.  Silently.  Assuredly.   For 10 full seconds she crumbles into a terrified, helpless mass of flesh, begging to be delivered from what she, intellectually, understands to be an inevitable reality.

I wonder if she saw this moment coming when she was 33.  I want to poke her and ask her what, in this brief moment, has become a question I desperately need answered.  What did you do when you were 33 to prepare for this muted meltdown?

And Then The Condom Broke…

I am a 33 year old black woman who reads way too much literary fiction.  I live in New York City.  I subscribe to The New Yorker.  I campaigned for Obama.  I voted for Obama.  I have spent more than a few Saturday nights sipping red wine at moderately priced restaurants holding court with other black New Yorkers who subscribe to The New Yorker and read way too much literary fiction.  We talk and talk about world religion, the hypocrisy of fundamentalist christianity, Junot Diaz’s slightly misogynistic, yet brilliantly crafted fiction, the audacity of Prop 8, the absurdity that lies in a group of tax-paying citizens having to fight such a blatantly discriminatory law with such intensity (STILL?) in the 21st century.  We commiserate about how women like us seem to be still longing for something more even as we live lives our mothers could not even fictionalize in their most imaginative girlhood fantasies.

In other words: I am a liberal.  A black nerd.  Which automatically makes me a feminist.  Which automatically makes me tolerant.  Which automatically makes me “progressive.” Which automatically makes me a believer in certain “truths” that we tolerant progressives who still answer to that seemingly outdated label “feminist” defend with all of our might.

I not only believe in a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, but I also hold fast to the notion that it is a right that every woman has the potential to exercise if she is one of the lucky ones who has sex on a fairly regular basis.  Although I have never had to make the difficult choice of whether to abort a child or carry it to term, since I am who I am I do understand why it is CRUCIAL that the right to make that choice remains legal and unquestioned, don’t I?   Because I am a heterosexual woman who is an active member of the club,  it is likely that I could find myself faced with an unwanted pregnancy?  An impossibly difficult choice?

I assumed that I already knew, that I already lived the answers to these questions.  Yes and Yes.   Any woman who is of the child-bearing years lives with the possibility of pregnancy – wanted or otherwise.  Any woman of the child-bearing years, therefore, risks a “slip up.”  An unintended little fetus that she worked tirelessly for many years not to create.  In my logical, educated and tolerant mind, I knew that a woman who found herself faced with the option of abortion was no different than me.  Just another gal of the child bearing years whose body let nature take its course – without her consent.

And then the condom broke…

The condom broke exactly 11 days after the start of my menstrual cycle.

The condom broke while I was with a man whom I utterly adored, but whom I had only known for about 3 months.

A broken condom told me who I really was.  What I really believed.

It told me that I did not believe in the “accidental pregnancy” theory.  It was the excuse of careless women who did not truly understand the immensity of motherhood and entered into it with cursory indifference.  It was something that happened to silly teenagers who were so captivated by what their boyfriends’ inexperienced penises could do to them that they thought of nothing else when he offered up his “manhood” on prom night.  Slip ups didn’t happen to grown women.  “Ooops, the condom broke” was not a sorry ass response women who were over 30, happily childless and committed to strict birth control were even capable of uttering.  Yes, of course, abortion should be legal and unquestioned, even if some gals abused it.  It was a choice that I might have to make some day?

I could recount all the thoughts that scurried through my head as I sat on the toilet the night this abstract “right to choose” threatened to become something much more tangible.  There were many realizations.  Aside from realizing that I really did not have any desire to squeeze a wrinkly, screaming child from my special place, I also learned that I was a smug “feminist” who believed that women who actually exercised the right I was obligated to support were beneath me.  They were women who were flawed.  Reckless. Impractical.  And here is the kicker: dumb.  Not for deciding to get an abortion, but for ever getting knocked up “by accident” in the first place.  Besides Rachel Greene, what grown ass woman actually produces a baby by way of the broken condom?

“I’ve never been in this position before,” I looked helplessly at my pseudo-boyfriend that night.

He returned my helpless look with one of surprise.  “Really?  You never had one break?  Ever?”

I felt like a true nerd.  Having to admit yet again that I was so square I never smoked/lied/stolen/cheated…the list goes on and on.  What protocol does a woman follow when a condom breaks during sex that is taking place dead smack in the middle of ovulation?

Pseudo-boyfriend didn’t know.  He said we just had to wait and see.  Even though we did experience a birth control defect, there was still a very good chance that I could not be pregnant.  My gynecologist said the same thing.  He actually took a test that thankfully turned out negative.  He did reiterate that the real answer would come when my monthly “friend” did.

So, I waited.

And thought.  A lot.

Was I really embarrassed that this happened to me?  Was I really so self-righteous that I truly believed that I could never in a million years be a woman who really did find herself knocked up despite her commitment to the almighty condom?

I thought about Sarah Palin.

Did I really think of her as a hysterically funny idiot and not the dangerously conservative oppressor she was?  Was she really just perfect fodder for Tina Fey’s comedic brilliance and not potentially the next vice-president of the United States?  A vice president who did not believe I had the right to end this pregnancy, if there was one to end?  Suddenly, the possibility (one that was much more likely than liberals like to acknowledge) of Palin and McCain being in the White House frightened the hell out of me.  Even though Obama and Biden had kicked their asses only weeks prior.  Suddenly, it became clear to me:  Sarah Palin would make me keep this (could be) baby, probably chastising me for “being so careless” in the first place.

I thought about women whose thoughts were much more intense in this situation.  Women who made it pass the broken condom stage and had moved into the five-days-late stage.  How crippling this must be?  How consuming must this notion of “what to do if” be for them.  How can they function while they wait to see if they have to make a choice that can never be the “right” one?  The options suck.  Period.

Why did I think I was immune to this?  

And the most profound epiphany that came via the broken condom?  I. Am alone. In this.  The woman who is in her early 40’s and has a loving husband and two almost-grown kids is alone in this.  The teenager whose asshole boyfriend is not returning her phone calls is alone in this. I, who have a pseudo-boyfriend urging me to calm down and not be so hard on myself, am alone in this.  No matter there were two parties involved in this slip up, only one party will truly bare the weight of the decision that is made.  Even if that decision is to carry the slip up to term, again it is one party alone whose entire being will be transformed.  Her sacrifices will, no doubt, far outweigh his.

The condom broke two months ago.  I have not had to make any difficult decisions as a result.

I have had to think about how honest I am with myself, though.  Not only about the harsh judgments I make on other women, but also about the comfortable delusion I allow myself to live under.  This delusion that  if the world has, in theory, progressed over the decades, so, too, have women’s options.  No, we are not our mothers.  We only have a thin layer of latex separating our choices from theirs.

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