“Wherefore let no one glory in men. For all things are yours.” 1 Corinthians 3:21
“For I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18
“It kinda seems like you feeling some type of way.”
My voice trailed but my eyes remained glued to the road, only glancing over long enough to notice that you had clenched your jaw and chucked up your hands the way you do when you aren’t sure of what to say.
“I mean,” you sighed, “I don’t…feel good.”
And in a flash of defense I retorted, “Okay, but I don’t understand why. We’re not actually together yet—
“—I know that.”
“Right.” I sat up. My back, tall in aggression; my shoulders rolled in retreat. “So then you know I’m just waiting for the right time.”
You didn’t respond. Instead, you looked out of the passenger seat and left enough air between us to fan the fire my insecurities had started.
“Mark.” I wondered if you could hear me choking from the smoke. “I literally just need time.”
“Bridget, you don’t want us to leave the party together. And we’ve been doing this for like a year.”
There was a pause. Then nothing. Then everything.
The year you spoke of fought to play out in my mind. Controlled and slow, then wildly like most rebellions. In it, we had found a constant God, lost our former objectives, and curiously poked at a revealed connection between us. A couple months into locked gazes and passion filled free falls, I pulled away asking for a pure friendship, more time to move on from my last relationship and more space to walk through my journey with Christ.
And you agreed.
“Like I said…I just don’t want to answer any questions or explain things that I’m not really sure about.”
But I was sure.
I was sure about you. I was sure about the irony in your eyes in that they were large and weary, but that they shrank fears and restored life. Sure about the way they hung on to me, sometimes desperately, as if to say that this affection both liberated and scared you. Sure that they hummed “iloveyous,” over, under, into and unto me. Sure that they noticed when my eyes hummed them back to you.
Uncertainty, however, had hipped its sloppy and weakly supported frame between what is and what was. It poked and prodded at this sudden reality and it used my old fantasies for the basis of its reasoning. “How?” it asked me. “How did we get here?”
And by “here,” uncertainty implied that I had arrived at the wrong destination. “Here” was not the original plan. I, Bridget, the well-dressed, successful and fully put together bad bitch was supposed to land over there: in Ghana. My man, the color of sweetened cocoa, would sweep me off my feet with the coolness of his pidgin, matched success, style, and reputation. We would get married and he would me fill my belly with beautiful babies and the lifelong security of knowing that I had achieved the perfect picture. But “here”, wasn’t quite that.
On the axis, I had actually landed right back at home, in the Bronx, with my parents. My career path, having to be completely reset after a year of unemployment, ran parallel to deferment. My physical presentation made weird angles with awkwardly fitting outfits and a grown out fade. My heart, full…lay perpendicular to yours.
My spirit leapt whenever you walked into a room. In your arms, I felt both lost and found. In your kisses I felt both naked and covered. But instead of what I imagined, your beautiful Caramel skin smelled of Caribbean waters. And your mind relied on my descriptions of coconuts and kelewele during rainy season in order to understand my experiences in Ghana. Your style—so simple and street, excited me but rang foreign to the Ankara prints I knew. And your career, like mine, had yet to figure itself out.
“It hurts because I don’t have a Plan B. I want you, Bridget. Today, tomorrow, and for the rest of my life.” You were looking at me now, again with those big and desperate eyes, searching me up and down perhaps hoping to find out how something so clear for you, wasn’t so clear for me.
I had no way to explain in that moment that the doubt I spoke of went far beyond you and I—it was better described as my unfamiliarity with my sense of self. I had grown accustomed to the brown girl who met my gaze in mirrors. The girl that played with pretty mental images and had mastered the art of deception with her ability to show everything but what she truly felt. She, I knew. She, I could control. But she was no longer who stood before me.
In her place, the reflective frame attempted to capture the fullness of the new woman I was becoming. She, in all her divinity, did not mind teetering between complete and unfinished. She did away with looking through pictures, and so she lived in moments. She was unconcerned with making things appear any different than what they truly were. And she did not ask anyone’s permission to be, and just be.
Despite her obvious glory, her hasty arrival disrupted much of my current and future plans. This woman did not fit in well with my friends, my clothes, or what I had identified with for so long. Instead, she hung out less, took bigger risks with her outfits, and felt that phrases like “bad bitch” were too small to describe her. She felt bored at parties, alive during Praise and Worship, and spent her time reading, writing, and praying to soothe her growing pains.
And she loved you.
In the same breath, what this woman required of me felt too big, and too uncomfortable. Though she promised freedom and peace, it would cost years of figuring it out, honest conversations, losing touch with friends, letting go of the pictures I believed completed me—and I was simply not ready so I responded:
“I’m sorry,” before shifting the gear into park and slamming the car door.
I walked through that party and the next few months carefully, never coming too close to you or this foreign woman. I tried to wear what I used to like, go places I didn’t want to go and beat myself up when I couldn’t do either. I spoke less about you, my love of God, and my sudden spiritual awakening in hopes of becoming palatable to those I thought knew me best. I tried to be anything but free.
Somewhere along the path of denied truth and its inherent misery, however, came grace and its epiphanic arms. It held me close while it whispered painful lines of liberation and possibility. It released the corset hold of restrictive and fleeting external labels and identities. Then it draped a more comfortable cloak of newness, maturity, and individuality.
My walk with God has unmistakably begun to reveal my truest self. I have been forced to learn who I am without the bounds of my blackness, my pain, culture, or any other self-attributed contexts. I have had to accept the awkward and insecure journey of a woman unsettled. And I’ve had to care a lot less about the ways this journey and I are experienced by others.
In it, I find quirks and ugly belly laughs. I see healing and resolve. I taste a native sexiness. I feel a longing for you. And these moments, they offer rest to the frustration I often feel during this process but they also convince me to keep going.
Who I am today, perhaps would not have asked that we leave the party separately—but what remains true is that I need time. Loving you is worth letting go of pretenses that have otherwise never allowed me to be as happy, but it is not worth my self-discovery or my time with my God.
So, like the patient and loving man that you are you waited for me after the party and through this past year, respecting my boundaries and need for space. You weakly smiled when I told you I needed another year to figure things out and told me you would wait forever. In the instants that I’ve wanted to give in to impulse and desire, you pull away from my attempted kisses and remind me of the future you want for us both. You prophesy into my potential, support my now, and offer room to unload my past.
I am not naïve to the difficulty of this walk or its rarity, but I do know it is right for me. And though I hope you’ll wait, I know that I do not need you to because I am waiting for myself. I love you, Mark. I love you in full. I do not know what the future holds for us but I am completely grateful for who and what you’ve been. Your friendship has shown me the emancipating nature of unconditional love.
After the party I skipped, almost intuitively to the car to meet you. I saw the stings of our earlier conversation on your face. And though I wanted to pretend as if I didn’t, the big woman in me dropped the performance and stood solidly before you.
“I’m sorry,” I croaked.
You looked deeply into me, with a sureness that I’ve never seen. A sureness that knew that this time, my apology was not for my truth, but for the ways they have and may continue to impact you. A sureness that forgave my inconsistent courage, but accepted my unwavering honesty. A sureness that said you loved me through every stage of my evolvement.
You pulled me in and held me the way that you do. And in your arms, even if just for the moment, you helped me unravel the rest of my packaging. You untied my pretenses and showed me what it could be like if we raised them up, like ribbons, to fly freely.