In my 20s, I remember the pounding in my heart as I contemplated the idea of being a writer. I'd wonder what my life would look like--would I struggle? Would I have a family, and how would I manage a creative life with another human being in my life? I'm sure that men don't have equal hesitations when they seek their dreams, and the truth is--neither should women, but the demands of motherhood and companionship usually divert our paths. This is not criticism; just an obvious observation. Somehow, I looked up one day, and there in my lap, rested all of these pages. I decided to share these pages in Doris Jean Austin's creative writing class, and the focus was on fiction.
She and Terry MacMillan were best friends, and even though I was petrified--I became willing to share these writings. What made it so fearful was that these women were veterans. There were mature women who had lived. Waiting to Exhale was still jumping off of the bookshelves across America, and I didn't care if it was Doris or Terry herself--these women knew about writing.
Doris was thorough, and she was vibrant and a bit animated and I loved it. She was the first African-American female writer who was published that I had ever been around in my life, and I was in total awe. I remember how she used to buy nail polish in different colors, and add white to them to make light blues and greens on her
manicured nails. Her openness and fearless honesty made me shrudder, but I'd keep coming back. I was so green, and just waiting to be grown while I did grown up things, like pay bills.
We developed a love/hate relationship. She'd fuss at me about rewriting; I'd tell her that that was what I had to say. She'd mark up my papers, and I'd tell her that she was changing the meaning of what I meant to say. Finally, I did my best to get it, but what I never got a chance to tell her was what was really going on in my life--I was afraid.
Back then, I knew something was wrong because I lived in Brooklyn and commuted to class everyday. I'd have challenges, like the sexual assault, and challenges are a part of living. Still, I knew that there was something else. A secret that I didn't know about, or a shadow close by. I hadn't come to understand, or even realize that I had been trafficked. As a matter of fact, the very apartment that I lived in had been a railroad to Do or Die Bed-Stuy, but being me--I found the love.
Doris and I had a spat after class finished. She gave me a C minus, and I thought I was going to die. I always felt short changed in my grades, especially during the core requirements but I didn't complain--I pressed on. Finally, I began the big lectures with professors like Kenneth Koch, one of the most brilliant poets to walk the planet, and he gave me something to hold onto to. I went to see him during office hours, and I was so frightened of him that I couldn't speak and I'd shy away from him. He wrote on my paper, "You're a poet." I still have it to this day.
I stress these events because I was always afraid of the people who I could learn from. No one had ever taken an interest in me, since Mrs. Hogan in the 4th grade. I can't remember the exact time of year it was when Doris Jean Austin died, but what I do remember was that for some reason, she was heavy on my heart. When I got the news, I was speechless--they said she died of liver cancer. I knew that Doris wasn't a drinker, and she smoked cigarettes like so many writer do, but liver cancer?
Leslie Woodard was also in that class that I had taken with Doris Jean, and I have recently learned that she has passed for reasons that are unknown. Leslie was always ambitious, and much much more mature than I was. I admit now what I couldn't then, but now I know what happened to me. I am aware that I for trafficked from Denver to New York, and I was so young just seeking a life that always seemed impossible for me. But you never forget those that cross your path on the journey. The smiles or the frowns never leave your memory, and good bad or indifferent these people mean something to you.
I have recently discovered that I have been poisoned, periodically over the tears. The first poisoning happened in 1996, while I was still a student at Columbia and I, literally, almost made that transition. I can't help but to wonder if we were all targeted for someone's selfish gain. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I can confirm that I've been poisoned repeatedly at different times since 1996. However, I can't speak for anyone else's situation, but I can say that both of those women added to my life. Doris Jean and Leslie, since they were grown, partnered up, and I can see them in my mind's eye deep in conversation; both smoking a cigarette and strutting down the cobble stones of college walk, and not tripping.
I remember Doris Jean sharing with me and another student about her last work; she was writing a juicy story about love with a younger man. I don't know if she ever finished it; I suppose I'll never be able to find out. I'll never have that grown up adult conversation with her, here. She thought I was a spoiled Black American Princess, but I was scared confused little girl, who could hide her feelings very well. I kept my hair done and my nails did, and I was always clean. That make you look good when you're young.
I don't know what happened to these vibrant women who were full of life and who loved the written word just as must as I did, but I need them to know in the spirit, yes-- I finally got it. I didn't give up. I know what a rewrite is, and I'm not afraid of tightening up those flowery sentences of mine that read more like poetry. I did a full edit job on my first novel, and had the nerve to retitle it, and self-published again. I will miss not seeing you on campus, or Dean Leslie Woodard on Yale's campus. Yes, you both added value to my life.
Amen and Ase (please whisper in God's ear for me, tell him I'm doing the best that I can)
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