Are You Sure You’re in the Right Place?

One afternoon, the day after a particularly bad storm in Berlin, the clouds began to open up and the sun shone into my living room. As I exited my apartment I commented to no one in particular, ‘It’s so nice out’. Fast forward twenty minutes later, as I rode the tram towards my destination, I looked out the window as it began to down pour. There I was wearing only jeans, a sweater, and a light jacket, with no umbrella or even a scarf to use for cover.

I got out at my stop and waited underneath the awning for shelter thinking the rain would let up soon and I could continue on my way. Another ten minutes passed, heavy rain still fell, and I was trapped in the same spot. Instead of continuing to wait I decided to take my jacket off, cover my head, and make a run for it. After I made it across the street I stopped under the balcony of one of the buildings to check my phone after it alerted me of a new message.

The person I was supposed to meet would be thirty minutes late due to transportation delays. It was bad enough that I was beginning to freeze because my legs were soaking wet and my body had no coverage because I had taken my coat off, but then I’d have to find something to do for the next half an hour. There was an ‘open’ sign flashing at a bar, cafe combination nearby so I figured I could order a coffee and sit inside for a while to warm up.

As soon as I walked through the door, the eyes of every person in the room were focused on me. I had entered a classic locals haunt, a Berlin smoking bar, with walls filled of paraphernalia from around Germany and no sign of the cafe part that was advertised outside. While I made my way to the bar top to order my drink everyone’s eyes followed. Quickly I realized I wasn’t going to feel comfortable sitting down and enjoying my drink so I would just take it with me.

It also dawned on me that this place probably didn’t get many tourists so I ordered my drink in german. “Haben Sie Kaffee für take away?” The woman behind the bar snapped, “To go?” In the past, take away and to go implied the same thing but I simply replied, “Ja, danke.”

I set my backpack down on a bar stool to remove my wallet and I noticed the two men sitting at the bar watching my every move. Seconds later the man seated closest to me leaned towards me with a half smile on his face and asked me in English, “Where are you from?” I told him, “The US,” the look on his face seemed unsure so I added, “near Washington D.C.” He was satisfied with my response.

“And what are you doing in Berlin?” After I informed him that I was a resident he replied, “For how long?” I told him, “One year.” He continued, “And, it’s okay for you…living here? You feel okay?” He wasn’t asking out of genuine concern for my satisfaction with the city I resided in. “Yeah, it’s fine,” I answered. Then he quipped, “You should learn German.”

As the woman behind the bar handed me my coffee, I threw in two splashes of sugar, unable to stir it because she gave me no utensils, and quickly walked out of the door without saying another word. While the exchange between myself and the man at the bar was unpleasant and undercover hostile, I recognized what he was implying. Because it wasn’t the first time during my year of living in Berlin that an elderly white man asked me if I was “okay”.

A few months before I was dog sitting for the weekend and took the mixed breed puppy for a walk on the main road by my house. I was meeting a friend after our walk so I wanted to make it brief. As I pleaded with her to hurry up and use the bathroom a man, who was seated quite far away from where I was walking rushed over and stood directly in front of me.

My german isn’t that great now but back then it was even worse. When the man started speaking in german I politely asked him if he could speak in english. He smiled and struggled to find the words he had just rambled off. I figured that he was lost or looking for a particular place. But in actuality, he thought I was the one that was lost.

After also starting with the question of where I was from, he continued on with “Are you comfortable here?” At first I was taken aback by the question but I answered that I was. He looked so confused, almost hurt, as if he had taken a pill that was hard to swallow. As he shook his head he said, almost to himself, “Before the wall fell, there wouldn’t be any Black people walking here, walking their dog, it just wouldn’t happen.”

I couldn’t figure out the purpose of his line of questioning and given that he was standing so close to me, I wasn’t sure if I should be afraid or not. He didn’t seem to approach me out of malice, early on he told me that he had lived in the States for a period of time, but regardless of his intentions, I was incredibly uncomfortable.

These interactions are the equivalent of going to a store where they sell expensive things and having an employee of said store come up to you and ask you if you’re looking for someplace else, because obviously you’ve stumbled into the wrong store. When you assure them you’re in the right place they follow you around because they are suspicious of your existence. You stand out, you don’t look the part, you don’t belong.

There are many times while on the street, in a bar, or public transportation where people stare at me. Most of the time I think nothing of it, going about my day without a care in the world, then there are these times where I’m confronted about ‘what I’m doing here’. It’s a common question thrown around which, to me, means, “Why are you in this space where you don’t belong?” Whether the offense is intentional or not, the impact is the same.

Granted, I am a foreigner in this country and I don’t look the part, being Black and all, increasingly who looks like what from where ever looks less standardized. At the same time, these inquisitions are like a fruit fly that doesn’t adhere to being swatting away, annoying yet harmless. It’s nothing compared to having the n word called out at you on the street or not being able to get a job because of the color of your skin or the style of your natural hair, or the systematic precedent holding back people of color in the United States.

Whether I live in the US, in Berlin, or most other places, I’ll get confronted about where I’m from, judged on the way I speak, and at times, be made to feel like I’m in a place where I shouldn’t be. So if anyone wonders if I am comfortable being in a place where I may look out of place, I hold my head high and assure them that I am because no matter where I am in the world, I have built enough strength to stand tall and be comfortable in my own skin.

Photo by AtlantaBlackStar.com

 

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It’s Not a Matter of If

Last week, I happened to check the social media inbox designated to filter messages of those who aren’t approved to contact me. There was one new message. After I clicked on the name I realized that it was the man who sexually assaulted me in high school. He had invaded my personal space almost two decades ago and now he was invading my online presence.

I wished that in life I could filter out unwanted intrusions against my person. As a woman, I grew up feeling like my body wasn’t my own. In school I was chastised for wearing tops that exposed my stomach, I couldn’t wear shorts or skirts unless they reached past the tips of my fingers, I was told what were and were not appropriate ways to move through the world with my body: I had to cross my legs like a lady, I shouldn’t sway my hips too much, I should be conscious of how the exposure of my skin or the accentuation of my shape in tight clothes made people around me feel, specifically men.

Simply being a woman, standing still, not looking at anything in particular made me a sexual being. My lot in life was to minimize that by covering up, walking plainly, and always being aware of my physical presence. So when a man invaded my personal space to touch me in a way that I didn’t desire by grazing his hand against my breast or behind or always feeling the need to have his hand on my lower back as he spoke or grabbing my arm as I walked by, I took those attacks against my body because I was a woman, my body wasn’t mine. In a time not too long ago I would be considered the property of my parents until they could turn me over to a proper suitor to be ‘his’.

When that assault occurred in high school it wasn’t done by a man, he was a boy then, from my math class, a student from a Spanish speaking country whose English wasn’t fluent. I couldn’t recall us ever speaking before that day other than maybe hello or goodbye. One day, out of nowhere, he asked if I would help him with his math assignment because he was having trouble understanding the material. I said yes because that was the kind of person I was, always making an effort to make things easier for someone else. He told me that he needed to get a notebook out of his locker and asked me to walk with him. Again, I agreed.

Minutes later we reached a bank of lockers that looked abandoned. I found it strange that the school would assign a single locker to him in that location. He opened one but there was nothing inside. Before I had time to react he pushed me up again the lockers and starting kissing me. First on the face and then my neck. I immediately attempted to push him off of me. Apologizing, of all things, because I felt that my mere existence as a woman gave him the impression that I wanted him to make a sexual advance towards me, but I didn’t. And he didn’t stop. He held me there as he licked and kissed my face while I attempted to push him away. Then he reached into my pants and my body felt like it was going explode with rage. I aggressively used every ounce of strength I had to stop that invasion of places that should’ve been private.

Even though he had walked me down to that area under false pretenses. Even though he had touched me without my consent. Even though he didn’t stop after I repeatedly asked him to. I initially thought, maybe it was all just a misunderstanding because of the language barrier or mixed signals I was unaware that I was giving off or because I was simply a woman.

That wasn’t the first or last violation of my body or the first or last time I tried to rationalize being violated. In college almost the exact same thing happened where an initially innocently encounter of a man offering me a place to sit inside, out of the cold, while I waited for a friend, quickly turned into him forcing himself on me. The entire time I spent trapped beneath his body I tried bargaining and reasoning with him to stop after saying “I don’t want this” wasn’t reason enough for him to stop grabbing my breast, kissing and licking my face, or trying to force his hand down my underwear. All I kept thinking as tears rolled down my face under the pressure of his body was that I somehow did something to get myself into that situation. Was it the top I was wearing? Was it the amount I had to drink? Or was it just my womanly wiles?

As I have tried to navigate through life with my head down, avoiding eye contact, moving throughout space without trying to draw attention, there have been countless times where men have used their bodies to block my path as I walked down the street, grabbed my butt as I moved past them in a club, or tried to expose themselves to me as I waited for a train. With each violation of my ears, eyes, or body I’ve continued to keep my head down, avoid eye contact, navigate spaces without enticing some man with my given body parts in the hopes that I will make it out unscathed, unscared.

There are even times when allowing a man access to your body isn’t enough without them feeling the need to take ownership of it. A friend of mine discussed with me a consensual sexual encounter she had. The two of were having a fun and flirty evening, which progressed to enjoying the exploration of each others bodies, then they made the mutual decision to have protected sex. In the middle of that intimate act, something felt off. Moments later she realized he had removed the condom without telling her. The access to her body wasn’t enough, he had to take it a step further and violate her boundaries as if they didn’t exist because he wasn’t the one who created them.

The force field of protection we think covers our minds, bodies, even souls gets chipped away with every unwanted, unexpected, or forceful encounter. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of if this will happen, it’s a matter of to what degree. As I read through the messages from the man who committed the first violent attack against my body, apologizing and admitting fault for what he did almost two decades ago, I realized how far I had come. How over those years, despite the chips in my armor, I had taken back ownership of my body. I no longer let it be ruled by societal expectations, or feared ridicule from those that didn’t agree with how I used it, and wouldn’t allowed anyone else to dictate how it would be handled.

I stopped apologizing for being a woman in spaces where men felt they owned the rights to. What happens to my body should be my decision, anything that wasn’t shouldn’t be an excusable offense. I am not a bitch because I respectfully decline being touched or ask someone to stop blocking my path in order to let me pass. I am a woman and I have great breast depending on the bra, wide hips too wide for most jeans, a small waist, and a moderately round behind. I have ownership of all of those things and everything in between. I will move my body the way I want and adorn it with as little or as much clothing as I please. I can not help who it entices or appeals to.

I will not apologize for cohabiting the same space as a man and wanting to be left alone. Because as more women are born and raised, my hope for them is that they will no longer have to guard their beings for fear of someone invading it. They will be able to move freely throughout the world born with the expectation of their bodies being their own. One day, it won’t be a matter of if someone violates them, there will be no threat to their bodies at all.

 

Image: telegraph.co.uk

Following Your Heart or Chasing the Ring?

They say that those who can’t do, teach. Since I am unsuccessful at dating and relationships, I write about them. Along with having conversations with friends or people I encounter through friends or on dates, I watch TV shows centered around  relationships. (For the sake of research of course.) One of my not so guilty pleasures is watching The Bachelor franchise.

While the success rate of relationships ending in marriage from the show are low, I feel like the more I watch the behavior exhibited by the participants, the more I can recognize and change similar, unfavorable behavior within myself. Recently the season finale of The Bachelorette, notably featuring the first Black woman as the one handing out roses, aired.

It was down to two men. One who had professed his love for her after only one date and constantly campaigned that he was ready to propose from there on out. With the other, their connection was instant and consistent, their similarities and chemistry became more intensified as the season went on, and even in their final moments together she stated her love for him and that she wasn’t ready to part ways. So why did she?

Because he wasn’t willing to propose after having a total of 6 solo dates with her over 3 months.

Granted, that is the premise of the show. You date someone while they’re dating 15 to 20 other people at the same time until you’re the last one standing and are expected to get engaged. However, for this suitor, he wasn’t quite ready to pop the question but still wanted to pursue a relationship after the cameras stopped filming. For the Bachelorette, his postponement of an engagement triggered memories of a previous long term relationship that ended in empty promises.

So she chose the other guy. As someone looking from the outside in, I can’t speak on the love that developed for the guy she ended up choosing (however I’ve never been more skeptical of a couple not making it to the alter). The happiness and love she exuded for the man she sent packing was far more evident than the man who ended up offering her a ring, but that was her ultimate goal, to get engaged, possibly regardless of who the man was.

It was painfully clear that something was unresolved within her based on her defensiveness with the man she let go. As she shouted out that she was currently “living her best life” but instead came off as exceptionally rude and unnecessarily boastful about her current relationship. But for me, the tell tale sign of a crack in her ‘I’m over you campaign’,  was when she made it a point to downplay her emotions for the man she professed her love for just months earlier. Making it seems as if he didn’t cause her tears, her past did.

It’s like when a guy comes up to you and ask for your number, when you respectfully decline, his rebuttal is, “You aren’t that cute anyway.” Obviously I was cute enough for you to approach me but now that your feelings are hurt because of a perceived rejection, you’re trying to downplay your interest in me to make yourself feel better. As if being mean to us will somehow put us in our place.

As the finale continued on and the Bachelorette made it to the finish line to receive her proposal, the center of attention wasn’t their love for each other, instead it was all about the engagement ring. Before it even had a chance to come out of the box she exclaimed, “Yes! Give it to me!” Then once he lobbed it onto her ring finger they chanted together, “Show ’em that rock!” I’ve never before seen such a glorification of the ring itself over the the couple finally being able to say how much they loved each other.

Her emphasis on getting engaged by any means necessary made me think about the goals I’ve set for myself when it comes to relationships, and more importantly what’s the motivation behind those goals. Ever since I was a kid, watching Family Matters as Urkel chased behind Laura, or saw Martin fight to keep his relationship with Gina by proposing, that’s what I wanted for myself. A man who’s love for me never wavered.

I wanted the full package: for the man I loved to propose, walk down the aisle at our dream wedding, then pop out 2 -4 kids by the time I was 25. As other couples were meeting in college and getting engaged, then meeting at work and eventually getting married, I remained single. As year 25 came and went, I began to feel like I was doing something wrong.

Maybe I was too focused on settling down with the man of my dreams and needed to settle for the man who could sell me the dream. It wouldn’t be ideal, but I would get what I wanted: a ring. That was the goal right? Love and marriage.

As the years passed and the dating pool got smaller, it felt like a race had started but I was still at the starting line. So what do you do when you feel like you’re falling behind? You try to take a shortcut to catch up.

That’s what I feel like the Bachelorette did. I watched her turn away a guy who was in love with her because he wasn’t ready to propose. She wanted to cut to the chase, so she chose the man who basically walked in the door with a ring in his pocket. Seeing her pitted against undeniable love or a ring made me take a hard look at my own desire to get married.

Was I in love with the idea of being in love or in love with the fantasy of walking down the aisle? These days more couples are choosing long term relationships without marriage and aren’t any less fulfilled. Marriage shouldn’t be an untimely ultimatum, it should be a welcomed choice by both parties. With engagement rings growing so large that they need a personal handler but those engagements never reaching marriage, the bauble isn’t the answer. Simply receiving a ring doesn’t necessary equal a lifetime commitment.

Research suggests that the older you are when you get married, the higher your chances are staying together. By the end of the year, the Bachelorette and I will be the same age. While my goal is love, hopefully marriage, and kids, at what cost am I willing to have those things? If my partner is perfect for me but doesn’t want to get engaged, does that mean I should let him go? Relationships come in all shapes and sizes these days. Maybe the focus should be more on building the relationship that’s best for you instead of checking some goal off a list. Because at the end of the day, the ring itself has no value if the relationship isn’t built on love.

Just Me and You, Without the You

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Mom,

Today is your 51st birthday but before I can celebrate you, I have to tell you about this really terrible nightmare I had: I flew from Berlin to Maryland to be with you after your knee surgery and the next morning you passed away. There was no way that hours after I landed you could be gone so it had to be a terrible dream. It didn’t make any sense, you only had a simple procedure because your knee was hurting when you got in and out of your work truck or went up and down stairs. I remember telling you, it’s just knee surgery, everything will be fine. But it wasn’t fine.

We only had a few hours together before you were taken from me. You even sent me that text when I was on the way from the airport, “Just you and me” then all of a sudden it was just me. Since I was born, it had always been us two, doing everything together, so there’s no way you would leave me after only a few hours.

That morning on the way to your physical therapy appointment I was fussing at you about taking my car to the shop. That couldn’t have been our last moment together. We were supposed to go to the movies like we always did. We were supposed to go out to eat at our favorite restaurants, I even made a list in my phone so we didn’t miss anything. We were supposed to laugh and take photos and videos together. We were supposed to have more time.

I remember watching you out of my side mirror as you walked into the doctor’s office and saw the door close behind you. You didn’t have your crutches, you were barely limping, and I said to myself, “Look at her, she’s fine.” I knew you were coming out, it never crossed my mind that you never would.

I even went to get us coffee and breakfast sandwiches but when I ordered the sandwiches they only gave me one. I just figured since it took you so long to come out, it was good that it wasn’t sitting there getting cold. I would just get you one on the way back home.

I waited for you outside the doctor’s office for two hours. When I got too hot outside I went in to look for you. But you weren’t there. Something didn’t seem right. When I got  my phone out of the car I saw grandma had called. Almost a dozen times. But still, I knew you were fine. I even said to myself, “She’s probably looking for mom, I’ll have her call when I find her.”

Instead she told me, “Your mom collapsed and she’s in the hospital.” I thought it was because you took your medicine and didn’t eat breakfast. That was my fault, I should’ve insisted on getting your sandwich before your appointment. When grandma, poppy, and I headed to the hospital to see you I began to panic because I called you and you didn’t answer. You always answered.

I let them to get out so they could be with and I parked the car. As soon as I found a spot I rushed in, I brought your coffee even though it had gotten cold because I knew you would still drink it. But instead of being with you, they were standing outside of a private room. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I knew that’s where they went to tell people the worst news of their lives.

When the doctor told us you were gone, a sound came out of me that I didn’t know I could make, it was the loudest I had ever screamed in my life. I couldn’t believe him. This had to be a terrible joke, a mistake, an accident. I came all that way to be with you, you couldn’t be gone. Even though I came there because you needed me, I needed you just as much.

Then they asked if we wanted to see you. I didn’t. Because if I didn’t see you then it wasn’t real. But I had to see to be sure. When it was time to go, my feet wouldn’t move. They slid across the floor as poppy pulled me closer to the door of your room.

As soon as I saw you I fell to the floor. So hard I had cuts on my knees. I couldn’t hear anything but my scream. I felt like a piece of me had been ripped out of my body. I felt robbed. I felt wronged. Someone took you from me and it wasn’t right.

This couldn’t be right. I knew that day would come but it wasn’t supposed to be that day. You were supposed to live long enough to walk me down the aisle when I got married, to play with your grandkids, to get your passport and come visit me in Berlin. Sometimes I thought you would outlive me because you were so young at heart.

Everyone you met knew how special you were, but no one knew that better than me. I may have left your womb almost 32 years ago but I was always apart of you and you continued to give me life. You never stopped being my protector, my greatest supporter, my biggest source of love. I depended on your daily nourishment like I depended on food to keep me going. We were never apart, no matter how many miles were between us.

You had always been my best friend, I could talk to you about anything and everything. In fact I did, I would call you every morning when I made breakfast or at night when I was leaving a bar. When I got off work, even though you had to be up early, you would sit on the phone with me until you I made it home safely. It was always the two of us looking out for and taking care of each other.

Everyday I sat alone and cried. Sometimes I cried when I wasn’t alone because I couldn’t help it. Whether my eyes were opened or closed I was back in that waiting room at the hospital. I relived that day over and over in my mind. It was like a movie that didn’t want to watch kept playing and I couldn’t turn it off. The shock of your loss never got any easier. I felt the impact of losing you every single day.

I’ve never felt so alone, so lost, so hopeless. I wanted to call you because that’s what I always did when I was upset or felt lost or lost hope. I couldn’t focus on accomplishing anything because you always kept me focused. I couldn’t find my way because you had always been my guide. I didn’t want to keep going because I didn’t have you there to tell me everything would be okay. You prepared me for so many things in life, just not this day.

No matter how people tried to comfort me, it wasn’t you. I wanted you. I wanted to hear your voice, laugh about some silly post on Facebook, cry to you about some stupid boy, hear you great people while you worked. Everyone keeps telling me to be strong, remember the good times, stay positive. Those words in the face of constantly being exhausted, unable to focus or stay motivated, crying constantly, physically feeling empty and heartbroken, haven’t been able to console me.

You know what’s worse than having such a horrific nightmare? Not being able to wake up. I’m still waiting for you to call me and say, “You forgot about me?” As you did if we hadn’t talked in a few hours. I’m still waiting for you to post a selfie or some news stories so I can tell you, “You post too much!” I’m still waiting for the day when I feel happy and whole again.

Sorry to tell such a terrible story on your birthday. And I know that it’s your day but I have a few wishes I’d like to make. I wish I was treating you to egg whites, turkey sausage, and cheddar grits at Ted’s Bulletin. I wish we were at grandma’s eating the strawberry cake you always requested on your birthday. I wish I could hug you or hear your voice again. I wish I could wake up from this nightmare.

Love you, forever and always,

The other half of “Just me and you”

Dating and Sex Tips from an Expat

Prior to moving to Berlin I considered myself an open and knowledgable person when it came to dating, relationships, and sex. By no means would I consider myself an expert but I went around saying crap like, “You can’t surprise me, I’ve seen it all”. Little did I know, I had a lot to learn while navigating dating and mating while abroad.

While on dates, among friends, or in social situations I’ve always liked to discuss with people their experiences, preferences, and habits when it comes to matters of lust, love, and sex. Sometimes people enlighten me and other times I surprise myself and discover clever tips of my own.  Over the past few months I’m grateful to say that my thoughts and experiences have been broadened. Here are some of those gems of knowledge.

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Don’t expect men to do all of the work

Social interaction while in Berlin has been something quite confusing and has required a bit of adjusting. When asked about flirting tactics that I’m used to in the US, I describe it as one word: aggressive. Whether I look interested or not, whether I make eye contact or not, whether I even knew that this guy existed before he came up to me, it didn’t matter, men usually made the first move. It could end up being a welcomed interaction with someone engaging or a pesky nuisance that I would have to escape from.

The expectation for men to always be the initiator does not apply in all places. The men in Berlin will catch your eye, maybe smile, or sometimes stare but will almost never speak. This could go on for a while because they don’t think the first move is their to make. From what I’ve gathered, the women here don’t welcome men approaching them at bars or while they’re out and some may find it offensive or intrusive. Unlike in the US, or in Italy where apparently the women only make the first move once they have liquid courage, the men here are well aware of women’s boundaries and respect their space.

So as a female, if you think a guy is interested, you better get off your bar stool and say something because he will let the moment pass by. This also means that you may want to come with your own funds to buy yourself a drink and even offer to get his. While women have set spacial boundaries, they have also made it clear that they don’t need a man to pay for their things. Days of a man coming over and saying “Can I buy you a drink?”, the equivalent of saying ‘Can I offer you a drink in exchange for conversation?’, is few and far between. We said we wanted equality, right?

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Just like your age, your partners ain’t nothin’ but a number

I’ve had a friend say that he wouldn’t date someone if they had sex with more than a handful of men, all the while he was using dating apps to hook up on a weekly basis. For a long time I’ve seen images of the male bachelorette painted again the female slut. The behavior of both could be the exact same but men were praised for their behavior while women were branded with a scarlet letter.

What always got me was if someone said they had slept with 1 or 1,000 people, how would you ever be able to verify that number? It’s an arbitrary figure that causes people to react. The amount of partners that someone has doesn’t make them any less worthy of love or respect.

The largest adjustment I’ve had to make while living in Berlin is to stop making judgements about others or my own sexual activity. It was quite liberating to stop watching what I said, wore, or did for fear of being looked down upon. Sex between two consenting adults should be celebrated not chastised. To stop overthinking physical acts made life a lot more enjoyable and carefree. However you get it or how often you get it doesn’t matter, as long as it feels good.

Time to Make Sex Magnificent! By Julie Sibert Article

The D Clock

The other night, after having way too many beers, I became very passionate about a particular concept that had suddenly dawned upon me. I drunkly yelled my theory at two of my friends, three guys we had just met, as well as everyone at the bar who was within earshot. Even though I came up with this elaborate thought process on the spot, all of those involved agreed that I was spot on. I affectionately call it: The D Clock.

Men and women have varying degrees of sexual relationships. Such classic and well known terms such as ‘friends with benefits’, ‘booty calls’, or ‘one night stands’ among others are used to describe such encounters. Whether you’ve dated someone but decided to call it quits, you met in a bar and decided to go home together the same night, or from the beginning you’ve had an understand that your relationship is purely physical, things aren’t as simple as writing a suggestive text and hitting send. Timing is everything.

At some point during the day you may scroll through your phone contacts or maybe you get inspired by a post on social media and you start the process to set up your rendezvous. You may be going out with friends or have a work dinner to go to but you want to secure someone for later. When you start this process has connotations attached to it.

Let’s say you split a clock into quarters. If you’re discussing having sex with someone from 6 am to 9 pm let’s face it, you’re in a relationship or at least you should consider it since you’re lusting after this person during daylight hours. After the sun sets is when the most decoding needs to be done.

Those earlier hours of the evening are when you consider who would be most enjoyable to have in your bed. From 9 pm to 12 am is the prime time for you set up sex.  This consist of, let’s say, your starting lineup. Given that you have options, you go down the list until you find someone who is free and interested. Once the right guy hits you back, you’re set.

If it’s after 12 am you still haven’t secured the D, you slide into the 12 am to 3 am time slot. There isn’t necessarily a need to panic but you need to take into account that during this slot, the creme of the crop has been secured as someone else’s first round D pick. The closer to 3 am it gets and a guy is still DTF then you may want to flatter yourself and say he was “holding out for you to message him” but more than likely it’s because he’s just a 2nd round D pick.

Once the clock strikes 3 am and you are still digging into your archived chats, social media DMs, or checking the clubs or bars for stragglers, you may want to consider throwing in the towel and waiting the next day for some fresh meat. Those who jump at the chance to jump in your sheets after 3 am is like going for the expired poultry because it’s marked down. Sure, it may get the job done but you take the risk of it being poor quality.

After speaking with those of opposite sex they asked if I thought this clock went in reverse if women were on the receiving end. For example, if you hit a girl up at 3 or 4 am, and she is available, does that carry more significance than if you hit her up at 10 pm and she’s down. There is a variable in which a girl is waiting on one particular guy to hit her up and if she says yes during the wee hours of the night, then that guy is you. But more times than not, the same theory stands that she just hadn’t found anyone else yet.

As with every other thing I write or say, these are my opinions gathered from my experiences. I will never attempt to impose my way of thinking onto others. All situations have different variables to consider (like the clubs in Berlin close at noon the next day while in DC last call is at 2am so maybe you are messaging someone at 9 am for sex). At the end of the day, we are all individuals and we should live our lives that way. With that, our dating and sexual adventures should be tailored to suit us as individuals. No one should ever take away your ability to live your life the way you choose, whether it be your family, friends, society, or especially the person you’re dating or sleeping with.

Mother’s Day Without Mom

Anyone who knows me or has ever seen my social media knows how close I was with my mom. We’ve only been on rocky ground during my two week teengage rebellion phase where I would act out because that’s what all of my friends were doing. I quickly realized my unnecessary behavior was hurting my mom’s feelings. So instead of continuing to act out, I let my mom in and from then on we weren’t only mother and daughter but the best of friends.

My mom and I lived together until I moved out on my own at the age of 24. Looking back on that decision I could’ve stayed with her much longer but I was itching for independence. Despite living separately we spoke on the phone every day and saw each other at least once a week. We had become so inseparable her own parents would frequently call us each other’s name.
When I made the decision to move to Germany last year I was going to be missed by a lot of friends and family but none more than my mom. She asked me, “What am I going to do without you?” We had never lived more than a 45 minute drive away from each other so a 13 hour flight was going to be a huge adjustment. After my move, the only thing that changed was having sleepovers and going to our favorite restaurant to order the same meal every week. Regardless of the time difference or a couple of hefty cellphone bills we still spoke to each other everyday.
I would call her while I was cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, on the way home from a bar or date. Not too long ago I told her, “I’m the most productive when I’m on the phone with you,” because I got the most writing or research done when we talked. When I would get quiet she would ask, “Are you writing?” We would spend up to two hours on the phone at a time. She would put her earpiece in while she was working so no one would detect she was on the phone. Many times I would call her and she would say, “How did you know I was on my break?” Because that’s how in sync we were.
As with any best friend, I flew home to be by her side while she was recovering from knee surgery. I had so many plans for us to go out to eat, chauffeur her around from appointments to my grandparents house, and maybe even catch a movie because we hadn’t been in so long. A friend picked me up from the airport, I headed to my grandparents’ house, and rushed my mom to get her stuff together because as usual, even though I told her when I would arrive, she wasn’t ready.
Early the next morning I peeled myself off the couch and told her I would drive her to her first physical therapy appointment. “If you’re too tired I can drive myself,” she told me. I had flown all this way to spend time with her, I could sleep later. As I watched her walk into the doctor’s office I said to myself, “Look at her walking without her crutches, she’s fine.” Then as the door closed I drove off to get us breakfast and coffee.
A few minutes later my mom collapsed inside the doctor’s office and never regained consciousness. Unknowingly I sat outside waiting for her to come out for another hour and half until I walked inside and didn’t see her. That’s the moment I knew something was off. We were so close, I felt like I should’ve known sooner, in my gut or my heart, that something was wrong.
When my grandmother got ahold of me and told me that my mom had been rushed to the hospital I thought maybe she was lightheaded because she hadn’t had breakfast. There was no part of me that even considered I would never see my mother alive again. Until they took us into the room without windows outside the emergency room.
After a prolonged explanation of what happened, when the doctor told my grandparents and I that my mom had passed I let out a scream like my insides were on fire. I wanted him out of the room because now, to me, he was evil. He was somehow responsible because he’s the one who told me this unbearable information. He offered to leave but first asked us if we wanted to be with her.
I wasn’t ready to face it. I couldn’t accept that this was my life. Despite knowing that this is how things will end for all of us, I couldn’t imagine a life without my mom in it. As my grandfather dragged me down the hall because my feet wouldn’t move and the doctor showed us into her into her room, when I turned the corner I let out another gut wrenching scream and fell to the floor.
What kind of cruel world would take the life of a beautiful 50 year old woman who worked hard, loved everyone equally, volunteered and advocated for missing children, and had finally found love? My mother was robbed of her life and I was robbed of my mother’s love. I didn’t know how or why but this was an injustice. My family and I demanded answers because we needed someone to blame.
The next day, we realized whatever the answers were,  it wouldn’t bring her back and it wouldn’t ease our pain. We were forever changed and no medical or spiritual explanation would reverse that. My grandparents never thought they’d have to bury their child. My uncle had lost his only sibling. And I had to face a life without my mom and best friend.
I had been irrevocably changed. Nothing looked, felt, tasted, or smelled the same. What I went through was trauma to me. From watching her walk into the doctor’s office to only a couple of hours later being told she was gone forever to seeing her on that hospital bed. Those 24 hours replay over and over in my mind as I think about how different my trip was supposed to be.
Instead of finding different restaurants to eat at I was finding funeral homes, burial plots, and the last outfit my mom was ever going to wear. I went from daughter to beneficiary which required dozens of calls and forms. After the worst day of my life there was never a moment of peace.
The stages of grief are a real thing. I went through denial for a few days then settled on angry.  I was angry at people who told me ‘she’s in a better place’ because my mom’s better place was with me, her family, and friends. I was angry at anyone elderly because I didn’t understand why they got to live so long and my mom didn’t. I was angry at my friends who said they were going to be there for me but in my mind somehow fell short because my mom never fell short. No matter what day, time, or place my mom was always there for me.
So I wanted to be there for her. Seeing someone just after they pass, gives you this illusion that maybe someone made a mistake and there’s still life in this person. But seeing someone as they are about to be buried is an entirely different experience. When I saw my mom at the funeral home I asked my grandma, “Who is that?” Because that wasn’t my mother, my mother was full of life with a smile that brightened every room.
I had made the decision early on to do my mom’s makeup for the funeral. Looking down at the body that my mom’s spirit used to occupy, and never having touched a body with no life in it before, the love I had for her helped settle me and guide my hands so that I could make her look more like herself.
The sudden loss of my mom was unimaginably painful. Add to that being weeks away from Mother’s Day where every place I entered bombarded me with images and text of ‘Celebrate Mom’, ‘Show mom how much you love her’, ‘Moms are your best friend’. Everyday was Mother’s Day for my mom. She always knew how much I loved her and I did things for her without needing a reason.
I would give everything I had for my mom because she did the same for me when I was born. I’m still angry that my mother isn’t here for Mother’s Day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the stage of anger. Some people say, “Talk to her, she’s still with you,” which I believe is true. But for someone who feels robbed of time and experiences with their mother, it’s not good enough.
If you’ve read through this, you’ll notice I never use the ‘d’ word to talk about my mom. It seems so cold for someone who was so warm. My mom was my everything. She gave me life, then as I grew she gave me purpose, and no matter what encouraged and supported me. For those of you who are blessed to still have your mothers around, please cherish them. Not just today, but everyday. Because now that my mom is gone, I find comfort in the fact that she knew how much I loved her.

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy

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While there are many upsides to living in Berlin, there is one consist gripe from newbies and authentic Berliners alike: the weather. The summer months, albeit brief, offer ideal weather conditions however the longer felt winter months includes primarily cloudy, rainy weather. Even in May there’s still a chill in the air.
Since the lack of sun and warmth, along with some bureaucratic stress, was giving me the blues I decided to take a trip to Cagliari, a small city in the south of Italy that seemingly no one I knew had ever heard of. Although I’ve been to Italy before, I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing the coastal region. I contemplated traveling to a country I had never been to before but the weather in most of those countries would be just as cold as Berlin, and that would defeat the purpose of my cold weather escape.
One of the many perks I wanted to take advantage of while living in Europe is the ease of traveling to a totally different country within a couple of hours. There were many places I wanted to see but also wanted to be conservative with how much I paid for a trip. So before I decided on this city, I had to narrow my travel options by searching for flights first.

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There are many European “budget” and “no frills” airlines that supply you with nothing but a seat, seatbelt, and storage for one modest sized bag en route to your destination. For a trip of a few hours or less that’s all you really need. My airline of choice is usually EasyJet simply because I’ve downloaded their app but there are plenty of others.
I choose my destination solely based on what cost the least and what days the airline is offering flights. Since I don’t have a job with set hours, flexibility works in my favor for cheap travel. After searching several countries, some of which didn’t have flights during what was then considered “off season”, I decided on Cagliari because I had never been, it was sunny, there was a beach, and the round trip flight was under €140.
Before booking my flight I also needed to consider where I would be staying. So with my flight app open I switched to my Airbnb app. Many travelers moving from country to country prefer to stay in hostels because they’re cheaper and it’s an easy way to meet people to accompany you around a new city. I have been traveling by myself for over 10 years so having my own space to sleep, eat, and do whatever I wanted in my free time so my own flat would always be my preferential accommodation.

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It’s always good to do a quick Google search of what the city you’re traveling to has to offer. Is there a particular area where there is a large amount of attractions near each other? How well connected is their public transportation? When looking for a place to stay I try to balance price with convenience. Usually you can find a place where you won’t have to travel far to see the sights or at least there will be a short trip to some form of transportation.
When staying in a sunny, beach city I’d like to have a nice view of the water. After including that criteria while also narrowing down my price and room preference and adding wi-fi, which is a must when traveling to a foreign country, I found a room for €27 a night. So once I confirmed my flight, I requested my room.
The upside of traveling to a lesser known city in a foreign country is that it isn’t full of tourist crowding the streets, the downside is that less people there may speak English. While my most valuable spending is done on traveling, it would also pay off to learn some new languages. Unfortunately, I’m only currently fluent in English with German being my next language to master since I’m living in Germany. Armed with no knowledge of the Italian language in Cagliari, while everyone was very nice and helpful, our communication was limited and relied on a lot of hand gestures.

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Being the solo wanderer that I am, the lack of interaction didn’t bother me. It gave me more time to see the city on my own and to take in the crumbled buildings, graffiti, ocean views, and innovative architecture alike. With my Canon in tow, almost everywhere I looked was picturesque.
Many European cities are very walkable. Luckily Cagliari had an easy and frequent train and bus system. One way to and from the airport was only a €1.50 train ride. The bus from the city to the beach was €2.10 (including a €.60 activation fee) and the rest of the time I traveled by foot. There’s never really a need to rent a car or take a taxi unless you’d like to travel outside of the local system. But even a train ride to Rome was less than €40 and took less than 40 minutes.
The only other thing I had on my itinerary was to eat. Sure there’s pizza and pasta everywhere but not like in Italy. When it came time to look for good eats, it seemed that Cagliari was late to rise. Most places were closed for the day when I arrived on Sunday and the kitchens of restaurants that were open didn’t start serving food until noon or 1pm. As a lover of breakfast I was given the choice of a pastry or starvation. However, espresso was available anywhere at any time.

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By the time I made it to a restaurant with a functioning kitchen it was time for lunch. I sat outside in the sun then ordered a pizza and a glass of Italian wine, perfect first day food. Then as I saw the pizza walking towards me it was so large the entire thing couldn’t fit on the plate. I got a pizza as big as my body for only €5. With large portions and low prices, eating good and plenty doesn’t have to eat away at your funds.
Whenever I travel I try to do everything that I want, whether it be a bus tour in Barcelona, or a boat trip from Rome to Capri, but instead of wasting money on impulsive purchases, I research the city and find the best way to maximize my experience at a minimal cost. Seeing the world is a very obtainable goal. I recommend that everyone travel to a different country, take in a different culture, and do it all without stressing about the financial aspects.
All photos by Serita Braxton

F for Friendship

I’ve seen this meme floating around for a while that goes, “Shout out to low maintenance friends who you don’t talk to for months because you’re both out living life but when you meet up there’s nothing but love.” I find this to translate to, “I don’t make our friendship a priority in my life and you should be ok with that.” Every one on earth is busy at one point or another, but does wanting someone to put effort into your relationship mean you’re high maintenance?

This is a tale as old as time, people using other excuses to justify why they don’t make time for you because they don’t want to say, “You’re just not a priority to me.” They’re busy with work, they’re tired, their family is in town, their kids keep them busy, they were abducted by aliens as soon as they were about to return your phone call. While all of those may be true, it’s been proven tried and true that people make time for the things that are important to them. So as a matter of deduction, if they don’t invest time in your relationship, you’re not important to them.

Our relationships fall somewhere on a scale of ‘I don’t know her’ to ‘Until death do us part’. So there are some people near one end of the spectrum that we don’t really care to keep in touch with such as a person who only calls to asks for money, the person who keeps sending you chain messages on Facebook, or maybe the coworker who always wants to stop by your desk to make an inappropriate joke. Then there are the people who you take vacations with, you know each other’s entire family, and you’ve spent several evenings together drinking shots of tequila and sharing your deepest or most embarrassing secrets.

We live in an age where you no longer have to coordinate schedules to find a time to be by your rotary phone in order to talk to your friends. Not only can you send them a text message but every single social media platform we regularly use has a messaging feature. Which means that there’s really no excuse not to communicate with someone.

From speaking with Europeans about their perceptions of Americans there’s a consistent assessment. While Americans are very friendly upfront, they invite you to their home or to join them at events, they want to share stories about their lives with you and always show you a good time but in the end there is no substantial friendship that comes out of it. After a while, you never hear from them again or when you really need them, they’re not there.

The quality of our friendships at times can use more substance. Now a friend just means that you are friends on Facebook, follow them on Instagram, and like most of the post that they share. But outside of that no time is invested in truly getting to know them, being there for them emotionally or physically, or making sure that your friendship withstands any amount of time or distance.

By moving to another country I’ve made it considerably harder on my friends to keep in touch with me. There’s no more meeting up for brunch on Sundays or drinks in the evening and add in a 6 hour time difference which may delay our response times to each other. But I’ve realized that for many people, if I don’t message them, they don’t message me.

Friends that I’ve had for years I haven’t talked to in months. People that I’ve laughed with, cried with, or spent time with each other’s families for celebrations and holidays. When I’m having a bad day or have exciting news, I no longer include them. While I can go weeks without talking to someone and that doesn’t tank our relationship. I’ve realized that some people don’t have a genuine interest in you as a person, your friendship is a matter of habit.

Relationships are like plants. In order for them to grow, you have to water them. You water them by caring for them and making sure they get enough sunlight by brightening their day. It doesn’t take a grand gesture to show someone you care. Instead, the tiniest of gestures can make an even greater impact. The value of a simple, ‘How are you doing today?’ can go along way when you actually care about the person’s response. So if you can’t spare the seconds it takes out of your day to type a message, do you really consider yourself friends?

I believe in showing people how much you care about them while you still have the chance to do it. No matter how tired or busy I am, even if I have things going on in my personal life, I make it a priority to make sure that my friends know that I support them. While I may not always ace it, I do my best to make sure that I don’t get a failing grade in my friendships.

An artist’s struggle with expectations

For years, my creative self was trapped inside the body of someone who spent their time chasing a more “sensible” life. Ever since high school I had been interested in writing and painting but left it behind to follow a path I didn’t really want to go down. I moved to because being here inspired me to explore and build my artistic abilities but deep down inside I was also running from the pressures of where I was expected to be as a thirty-something-year-old woman.

In school, my artwork was always praised by my art teacher and he believed in me so much that he pushed to a higher standard than most of his other students and eventually submitted my work for different contest, one was selected to hang in our county’s school superintendent’s building. I wrote poetry before I even started painting and my work was selected as apart of a published compilation of poems. When I left high school I wanted to attend college to study art but doubt of that not being a “stable and consistent” profession influenced me to study the only other thing on earth that interested me at the time, Criminal Justice.

Fast forward a decade and a half and a hand full of jobs covering different sectors later, here I am, back where I should’ve been all along: exploring and improving my painting and writing abilities. Although I didn’t go to school for it and, prior to starting an internship at the sole English language publication in Berlin, I had no tangible experience to show for it, I wanted to follow my heart instead of a hunger in my pockets. But as much as my heart wanted it, my brain didn’t truly see me getting past a girl who used to paint in high school.

After I arrived, when I should’ve been getting art supplies and seeking out workshops, I realized I wasn’t taking myself seriously. I thought, ‘People like my writing, people like my paintings, but without a fancy degree, apprenticeship or large portfolio, will that translate outside of my inner circle?’ There are many successful people without professional training whose raw talent alone afforded them opportunities, but did I have what it took to be one of those people?

What if I had taken a risk only to be knocked down even further than where I started? Not only were there these expectations about where I was supposed to be professionally at this point in my life but also personal achievements I was supposed to have. I did want a family, a healthy relationship, a house to call home and the ability to travel or buy whatever I wanted without having to stress about whether I could sell enough art to do it. What if I end up spending the next two, five or ten years trying to establish myself as an artist that I miss out the opportunity to have a family?

Then someone said to me, “Right now is the youngest you’re ever going to be.” While I wish I had done things differently two, five or ten years ago, the only thing I can control is what I do right now. I could let fear and uncertainty push me back to my old life. I could find some office job with benefits and a regular schedule and go to happy hour every other day and take up painting classes on the weekends. Then I could find some nice guy to settle down with that covers maybe 75% of the things I actually want in a partner. But that wouldn’t make me happy and I’ve spent enough time settling for this idea of what I “should be doing”.

There comes a moment in one’s life where they look back and think about all of the things they would change and make a promise to themselves that things will be different in the future, whether it’s about career choices, the partners they chose to date, how they treat people, how they treat themselves or how they utilize their time. Although it would’ve been nice to have followed my heart all along, if I did, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. A person who has lived a lot, loved a lot and learned a lot.

If I doubt myself now, I can’t imagine what kind of nervous wreck I would’ve been at 18. I now have the self assuredness that I didn’t have ten, five or even two years ago. I stopped caring (as much) about what people thought about me, I realized that I don’t want to put off what I could do now until later and that life is unpredictable but it should be a beautiful, challenging and fulfilling ride. It doesn’t have a roadmap, there’s no directions at all and no two paths will be the same.

In life, you may (or not) be able to have it all but what’s important is to focus your efforts on the goals that are important to you, whatever they may be, no matter how unattainable or difficult they may seem to achieve. Being creative is important to me. I can’t say what the future will hold but I would rather be doing something that makes me proud, something tangible that I can hold in my hands and say that I created, something that can last long after I’m gone and am no longer here to stress over things I can’t control.

Ghosting

Somewhere on some social media platform I said that I didn’t have a New Years resolution. Now that I’ve had a couple of weeks to think about it, I’ve realized that I have a major flaw that I need to address. I am a ghoster. Not just occasionally, but with reckless abandon.

I would get so irritated, annoyed, confused, and hurt after I started talking to a guy, maybe even gone on a date with them and then they went ghost or in simpler terms, disappeared. I would stress over why. Did I do something wrong? Was it something I said? Was I giving off the wrong energy? Did I offend them? And I could curse them for being so rude as to not just say, “Hey I’m not interested.” Or “I met someone else.”

Now look at me. Guilty as sin of doing the same exact thing I would be disgusted at someone else for doing. (You wouldn’t believe the names I’ve called them.) But I recently realized I’m no better and maybe even worse. I met a guy from a dating app and when I walked in I was disappointed to see he was a good 20 lbs heavier than in his photos. He wanted to talk about Trump, race, politics all extremely disinteresting and uncomfortable topics for a first date. Then when I told him I needed to leave to meet a friend he told me it was rude of me not to set aside my entire night for him.

As I stood in the bathroom, miserable, contemplating sending my friend a SOS text I knew what I had to do. I went out, looked him in the face and told him… Sure, I’ll have another drink. Then I proceeded to tell him we would hang out again and gave him my real number.

Instead of having the balls to say, this date isn’t going well and I’m going to leave I lied and bargained my way out of it. As he text me after I left, I had another opportunity to be honest but instead I just blocked him so I didn’t have to deal with it. That same night a guy followed me out of the bar of my horrible date and accompanied me to my next destination. He grew drunk and obnoxious so instead of dealing with him I left while he was in the bathroom.

Yes, as I type these words I realize how horrible I sound. Yes, I know that I deserve to be called every named I’ve called guys who ghosted me in the past. It’s not an excuse but I am an avoider. Unless I’m emotionally invested in you I don’t feel like addressing why we shouldn’t talk anymore. If we are on a date and you can’t tell that I’m not having a good time then why should I bring it up? I have spent hours with a guy, maybe even over multiple dates, and then realized I just don’t want to spend anymore time with them and POOF I’m gone.

I don’t set out to ghost guys. I really just don’t like telling someone why I don’t like them or being in uncomfortable situations. I would rather tell you I’ll talk to you later, leave, then block you on every social media platform, Whattsapp, Viber, Skype, MySpace and my personal cell phone so you can’t contact me.

After ignoring text messages or in some cases blocking them, I’ve had guys find me on Instagram or Facebook and message me like “Hey how have you been?” As if I hadn’t been blatantly ignoring them for several weeks. You may think the effort is endearing and I would respond to their messages but I don’t.

In my head, I think, don’t worry this guy probably did it to someone else and this is his karma. But what about my karma?? I’m tired of being a ghostee. If I meet a guy and I think things are going well but he doesn’t I want him to have the decency to tell me things aren’t going any further instead of falling off the face of the earth. So I owe any guy I date that same decency.

So here is my pledge for 2017 and beyond. I will no longer go on a date with a guy and at the end assure him we will have another date unless I mean it. I won’t text my friends during dates telling them to call me so I can bail. I won’t instantly block someone just because I don’t want to go on another date with them. I will maturely tell them it was great meeting them but I don’t think we are compatible. If I can make this change, maybe I can offset the cycle of ghosting in some small way.

But maybe I should still keep the option to block them if they’re annoying?