There have been times in my life when I’ve been in a place where The Spirit was present. The Spirit wasn’t necessarily high, but surely present.
The setting may have been church or some familiar place. The occasion may have been a funeral, a birth, or a holiday.
Another woman could’ve been reaching her strength capacity, and I just happened to be there.
Maybe it was a moment with mom.
Maybe we fell into a hug that was supposed to be quick, but somehow we got stuck.
When this sort of thing happens, it usually starts out as a light touch, me being in accordance with prayer ritual, love, or support.
Then, that touch becomes a hold. A desperate need for connection with someone who seems to know how roughly you’ve been handled.
From a simple touch, she seems to know every heartache. Every loss. Every sacrifice.
I remember saying one day I would have a powerful touch…the ability to connect with another so that they– we both– could experience release…a bonding through story as we absorb one another’s tears.
You come from different places, but you and the black woman who touched you are made up of similar things.
Ntozake Shange discovered the thing that bonded every black woman. She knew we were all missing something…
You played with Barbies and watched as little boys gawked at Cindy Crawford in a Pepsi commercial.
Your teacher suggested The Babysitters Club, “Kristy’s Great Idea” for your book project because it was heartwarming, not um…controversial… like The Bluest Eye.
You watched The Cosby Show and knew you wanted to be that kind of black.
You were eating grandma’s field peas and okra when you got your period.
Mama was at work.
Your body changed immediately and grandma gave you a girdle.
You stayed lookin in the mirror hoping your ass would catch up to your chest and hips.
It never did, not on its own.
Sophomore year, he let you wear his letterman.
It was warm and smelled like November.
He never let anyone but you wear his letterman.
He told you he loved you.
You didn’t know a man could ever do that.
He would take back the number 7 when y’all hated one another.
Back and forth, the jacket began to smell less like autumn and more like alcohol and meat.
You were in the McDonald’s bathroom when you got one line and a faint.
You cried into your chicken nuggets.
You told your best friend and her mama who’s cool.
Then, cool mama told you ’bout Mrs. Poole…
He said he would come, too.
But he brought you somethin to eat afterwards.
You left home after graduation.
Your mama had to work graduation day, and the day you moved away.
Grandma put a rolled up one hundred dollar bill in your hand for gas money and groceries.
You got a job on campus.
He needed money and you would take care…he hated that you could do that.
You hated going home, and seeing him reminded you of how much you hated yourself.
So, you changed your look.
You found a college best friend who got you into places you were too young to be in.
She’s better than your old best friend who’s been actin real funny.
You hate her cuz you hate you.
And she hate you cause of that thing with him.
You say she pulls you down every time you get elevated.
But you high more than you elevated.
(High, drunk people don’t keep their scholarships.)
Your school daze become filled with nights you don’t remember.
And now, you goin back home.
At least you tried.
One day, you’re gonna finish.
Friend was like, I told you.
You had white liquor in you that night, and you fought her.
You looked at yourself in the McDonald’s bathroom mirror and didn’t like the scratches, or your nose, your eyes, what the perm did to your hair, your dark skin, or the fact that you flunked out of college.
Maybe your mama waz right when she called you a dumb ho; that was before she got in bed with her best friend’s man.
You hate everything about yourself, and your mama’s probably right about you bein a dumb ho, so…
You sleep with him again.
He tightens his sweaty palm around your heart.
You remember the baby.
This time, you won’t need Mrs. Poole.
Two healthy babies later, you’ve changed your look again.
People wonder what’s different.
They don’t wonder what your new hurt is. They just know you’ve got babies by him, and so does your best friend.
But you’re the main one cuz he looks at you just like the boys looked at Cindy Crawford.
You haven’t seen him since y’all got into it at his mama’s house.
You’ve been texting her cause she helps you understand him more…she cares about you more than your own mama…more than your best friend, who loves him, too.
You finally talk to your mama about him, and she hugs you. Apologizes and says things can only get worst.
His mama said he’s becoming like his daddy.
You realize that absent in one place means present in another.
There’s a new woman…
You consider going back to school.
You re-apply and get in.
He sees you trying to move on without him, and it gets really bad really fast, like your mama said.
You pray, cause every time your grandma prayed, things got better, and people would even come back Home.
You didn’t confirm with admissions, but you keep a record of dreams in a spiral notebook.
You were working part time at the library when you came across for colored girls who consider suicide when the rainbow is enuf in the return vault.
You experienced it and realized somebody was missing what you were missing. You realize that you were born with the capacity to love yourself, and that changes the way you look at your daughters. ⚫
Ntozake Shange, may she rest in power, taught me about a laying on of hands. She helped me see that no matter how different, I am One with every colored woman and colored girl. I was introduced to her choreopoem in college and didn’t have a spiritual encounter with her work until grad school, which is when I wrote the above story. The impact continued as I moved into academia and found myself teaching her literature through my tears. This literary angel will continue to live in and through me.
Clinnesha Sibley is a wife, mom, daughter, and friend, who is moving to the end of her own rainbow.