My mother and father never taught me that ‘forever love’.
I learned a temporary love from them. The kind that lasts minutes, lingers on a perfectly timed kiss, falls off, fades to black. I learned how to put up my hands in defense of love. How to cherish its memory. I knew love by ubiquitous reputation, but it slipped through my fingers in streams of smoke. Again and again.
Hell, I didn’t even know love could be a tangible thing. I thought it was just an idealistic fairytale. Something you thought about before you drifted off to sleep next to someone who sufficed, with whom you lived some asshole sufficient life. Holding love now feels like I stumbled into a room I don’t belong in — that I was never invited to. That I’m dressed all wrong for. Afraid to touch anything.
I look around the proverbial room at my peers and wonder if we’ll all figure it out.
But we are the leap children of the 80’s, stuck in a paradox of two realities. We do not know how to love, but we desperately want to love. We want to hold hands on street corners and make beautiful brown babies who exist in a world full of light and possibility. We want to live our dreams and have partners who help us grow into better versions of ourselves. We want these things so bad we can taste them.
Our negro noses are pressed to the glass but our minds are still back in our childhood. We may remember being the last priority on a single mom’s list of things to do, because we are a generation raised by women with two jobs and no patience. We may remember seeing drugs rip holes through the hallways and in and out of the windows that bordered our closeted worlds. We may not have been hugged enough, we might have been touched too much by hands that didn’t belong there. We may have been told by too many people that we should learn to sit still and be okay with abuse. Or maybe we felt like an afterthought.
Now we make our feeble attempts at adulating and sometimes crash and burn. Because no one ever taught Black kids from the 80’s how to love the way you have to love if you want that forever shit, that good love. The patient kind, the kind that isn’t jealous because it’s sure and content. The kind that doesn’t want what shouldn’t be had and never crosses boundaries you may not return from. The kind of love that lays on your skin and protects it and sees that you grow more and age less.
Despite the crack epidemic, The War on Drugs, our men being mistaken for animals, and the society being perversely fixated on our contour and melanin and culture, we still want the things you’re supposed to want when the world finally rests at your feet.
In the late 90’s there were over half a million Black men in prison.
One of them was my father. I sat in hair shops on the South side listening to Black women talk about love in all of its various forms and it sounded like a box of tacks shaking in my ear. Good men paid child support. Good men proposed after a year. Good men didn’t go to jail. Good men didn’t look at other women as they walked by. Good men paid the light bill. Good men pulled their pants up and had a steady pay check.
Good men looked good on paper and will still ruin your life but you should be okay with it. Because your mom was okay with it and so was her mom. Because when the nation is built on your back you have bigger problems than trying to understand your partner’s love language. Or making sure your child’s sensitivity stays in tact by lovingly validating all of their feelings.
Fuck 40 acres and a mule. Every Black person in America needs therapy.
We need to sit in a circle and hold hands and sing kumbaya and hug and cry together. Because even while basking in our own glory we’re still damaged. Ill-equipped and armed with snippets of love, filling in the rest with hope and faith and saliva on fingertips. It takes more than just a generation and a Black president to heal these kinds of wounds.
And maybe we see our scars as beauty marks now but that doesn’t change the origins. The fact that some Black men only see what they didn’t get from their mothers when they look at Black women. That some Black women live in total defense of themselves at all times. That being unapologetic is even something that must be acknowledged. That Black families sit on generations of guilt and secrets and things unsaid. That most of our grandmothers were raped. That most of our fathers were beaten. That only a few generations back we were kept as machines made of flesh and bone. Now we’re sent out into the world as the first generation to try and create the New Black Family out of good intentions and Black Magic.
I wish someone had reminded me I wasn’t a whole person before I got married. Warned me that I would look at my husband and see my father and feel like my mother and say and do the things she should have done but never did. That he was still 8 years old inside and would be silent instead of aggressive and aggressive when he should have been silent. And who could blame him? No one ever asked us if we were okay. No one ever asked our parents and grandmothers if they were falling apart inside.
But they probably were.
Everyone knows love — any kind of love — starts from within yourself.
That if you don’t see yourself clearly and live and accept what you see, you can never truly offer anything to anyone else. No one’s perfect. White love ain’t perfect, but Black love is magic because look around you. If on our worst day, bound by our pasts, hindered by hatred and low expectations we can rise as high as we have, I can’t help but imagine how far we can go, how far we will go, if we could only just heal.