Guess Who’s Coming to Ohio?

My lady love and I are, that’s who!  One of my friends, Kylee, got hitched a while back and is having her reception in the good ole Toledo, Ohio.  It’s the first time I’ve been back home in a long while-since at least March and it is the first time I’m brining Mirs along with me.

We’ve been dating for 28 months and we’ve only met a few of each other’s family members.  Actually, now that I write this down it has occurred to me that she’s met more of my family than I’ve met of hers.  Still, meeting the parents is definitely a big one.  It means that we’re serious.  Things are serious.  Our relationship is serious.

When we first started dating her parents came into town and she casually asked if I wanted to meet them out.  We’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks, perhaps a month or so, and it seemed way too soon to meet her folks.  I politely declined the invitation and waited impatiently for the long weekend to be over so that I could come to her house or invite her over for that really hot first-few-months-of-a-relationship-crazy-sex phase.  Since neither of our parents have come to NYC the chance to meet again hasn’t come up.  When the invitation for Kylee’s reception came in the mail I asked Mirs if she wanted to come up and the way her face lit up is still imprinted on my mind.  She was genuinely excited about the prospect of coming home.

Now, with only a few days to go, the nerves are kicking in a bit.  After eating an amazing dinner of veggie enchiladas that she prepared and a bottle of wine we started to unwind in bed.  She asked me what she needed to know about my mother, my father, what to expect.  I answered her questions willingly but was sort of puzzled at her sudden concern.  I told her that there were thing she could expect from both of them, but mainly that they were warm and welcoming people.  We talked about what we’d bring them, taking them to dinner and sleeping arrangements (my parents are painfully old fashioned.  No bunking unless you’re married).  When we snuggled under the blankets and started to watch ProRun it dawned on me that this was a big deal for her.  I’m going home and bringing her along but she’s getting a crash course into our family with all of its ups and downs.  Completely out of her comfort zone, she will be the lone white girl in a black household and she’s nervous, rightfully so. 

Her mother extended an invitation to come home for Christmas which I politely declined.  I’m not sure how I’m going to tell my own parents I won’t be home for Christmas and it will have nothing to do with my Judaism.  There’s no way they’d hear of my flying down south to spend an important holiday like Christmas with another family instead.  But when my time comes to visit her home I’m sure I will be an even larger bundle of nerves.  She’s a southerner coming to Yankee land but it’s no comparison for this Black girl going below the Mason Dixon into a white Republican household.  Thank G-d I’ve got the Jew card in my pocket to play.

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babies, conventional foods, insomnia, cable television and vodka. lots of vodka.

I’ve been home since Sunday and I think I may be losing my mind.  I spent the early morning hours last night talking to my 3-year-old nephew on the toilet while he took a crap.  Yup.  That was my evening.  My mother retired early as did my 4 month old nephew and my 3-year-old nephew.  I was settling into some History Channel on cable television when my sweet little guy came out into the living room to “whay on the couch with me”  We snuggled under the crocheted blanket for a few moments before I convinced him that we should both “whay” in his bed.  After a sip from his cup, after debate on which side we’d sleep on we settled into sleep.

Then he tossed.  From his right side to his left.  Then from his back to his stomach and on his stomach he squirmed himself from the middle of the bed to the top of the bed.  From the top of the bed to the middle of the bed.  He pulled his knees to his chest and laid for a while with his butt in the air before turning back on to his back and saying in a whisper, “my tummy hurts, can you whub it?”

I “whubbed” his belly for a few moments and asked him if he needed to go potty.  He declined my offer and tossed and turned again on his back for his belly to be “whubbed”  I whubbed it again and felt his little belly grumble (too much information?) we whubbed a bit more before he conceded and went to the bath room.  Usually when Jullian is going number 2 he asks for privacy.  I think his exact wording is, “get out of here!”  Instead I was invited in the bathroom and encouraged to carry on a conversation with my little guy while he took a monster dump.  We talked about race, his nana and his mommy and how when he was done going potty we should watch some TV in his bedroom.

That was my evening.  My day consisted of wandering around Toledo looking for organic food.  You know what I found?  A lack of organic food.  That’s right.  In the great city that is Toledo, Ohio there is little organic food options and if you’re a meat eater there are zero organic options.  You read that correctly, ZERO organic meat options in the city.  I went to three different grocery stores and after a tip from a friend I went to place called “Fresh Market” where it seemed I would have some success.  I found some organic Kale, organic Sweet Potatoes, Organic fruits and veggies.  I was so enamored with the produce I didn’t even look at the dry foods aisles.  Instead, I went directly to the meat section in search of lamb and chicken.  I looked in the cases at the red flesh and noticed “Fresh Steak” but not “Organic Fresh Steak” and absolutely no place of origin mentioned.  Great.  I asked the guy behind the counter where in the city I could find organic meat and I was informed that there was no organic meat to be found in Toledo, Ohio.  If I wanted it I could visit the Whole Foods or Trader Joes in Ann Arbor, MI.  There’s no way on gods green earth that I’m going to drive 45 minutes to get organic meat so I purchased conventional meats and the rest of my produce that I probably won’t eat tomorrow for Christmas dinner.

On to insomnia.  I’ve done the math and in past 4 days I’ve only had a total of 14 hours of sleep-if that.  The very early morning I arrived in this grand city I got exactly one hour of sleep.  That night I got about 5 hours of sleep (6)  The night before last I got about 5 hours of sleep (11) and last night I got about 5 hours of sleep so I suppose I lied, I’ve slept for 14 hours in the past 4 days. 

Now, Cable TV.  There’s something that I can praise.  I’m over joyed, elated, enthusiastically fascinated by this marvelous invention.  To think that you can turn on an electronic box, press a magic button and like magic before your eyes you are privy to an endless array of tv shows, news broadcasts, programing!  Can you imagine?  Have you ever experienced such a thing?  Well I haven’t.  Rather, I don’t because I refuse to pay for cable television in Brooklyn.

Lastly, ode to Vodka.  Did you know that you can purchase a liter of Tanguray Vodka for under $15 when you’re outside of Manhattan?!  Well, you can.  You can get the better shit-Belvedere and Grey Goose for under $25!  I opted for the pseudo “bad” vodka and paid only $11.99 for good vodka and am currently on my third cosmopolitan watching SATC dreaming of my city on the Hudson.

heading back to OH-IO

Yesterday my father purchased my round-trip tickets home.  I’ve committed myself to over 5 days in Toledo and I’m a little nervous about that.  The last time I went home was for my grandfather’s funeral.  I was there for a long weekend.  The combination of family stuff coupled with the short amount of time and my undeniably adorable nephew made the time seem to fly by.  There wasn’t enough time for me to realize that I was smack in the middle of, well Middle America.  Land of churches as far as the eye can see.

Have you ever been to Toledo, Ohio?  Have you ever heard of Toledo, Ohio?  You may have.  We have a few claims to fame.  The newest, and some would consider most notable is Katie Holmes.  I actually attended high school with the girl prodigy turned Scientologist.  We also have Jamie Farr-he has a golf tournament in Ohio dedicated to him.  He was also on the TV show M*A*S*H which I never watched as a child.  Most of the glass in the United States is made in Toledo.  If you look at the bottom of any of your glassware in your cupboard I would venture to guess that half of them has a small script capital L inscribed.  That L Stands for Libbey.  Libbey Glass is made in Toledo, “The Glass City”  A lot of Jeeps are made in Toledo, too.  Toledo has its own minor league baseball team as well as a hockey team.  Toledo has a lot of malls, too.  And a lot of churches.  The street I grew up on as a child, Collingwood, has on average two churches per block in certain parts of the street.

Folks in Toledo are pretty conservative for the most part.  They’re pretty Christian, lots of them are Catholic.  There are pockets of Muslims and Jews and a fairly large “Hispanic” culture.  I use Hispanic in quotations not to make small of it, it’s just that there’s no defined Cuban, El Salvadoran, Dominican, Mexican identity celebrated there-most ethnic groups tend to be all lumped together.  This is why for a long time I have refused to refer to myself as “African American.”  In Toledo black folks and white folks use “African American” just like “Hispanic”  those who are black are “African American”  when you move to NYC and have friends from Ghana you soon realize that they are African Americans.  Or on the other coin you meet a black girl from Jamaica or the DR an accidentally refer to them as African American and are quickly reminded that they’re Caribbean or black Latinas.

When I first moved to New York I was shocked by the need to label.  Since my African American post 1920’s Literature class in college I stopped calling black people “African American” and started calling us black to the dismay of many classmates.  So coming to NYC I was shocked that my answer for my racial identity wasn’t sufficient to the mass majority of people who wanted to know.  They’d ask “Where are you from?”  and when I said Ohio they wanted to know where my parents were from and their parents.  I realized they weren’t looking for states but a rather a county of origin.  A country I unfortunately couldn’t give them.  Like so many blacks in the US-living outside of the very culturally diverse Metro New York area I have no idea where my “people” are from.  For all I know I could be Jamaican or Dominican.  When you’re a black person and a descendant of slavery your identity is completely lost in the lack of paperwork.  We can look, we can try but the task at hand will be very difficult.  I’ve been told that I have “Chinese” eyes (from folks in Ohio, of course who still refer to most people of Asian decent as Chinese).  A New Yorker would be more direct-you have Korean eyes, or Japanese eyes.  I don’t think my eyes look Asian at all but that’s what I was told as a kid…I know I’m bashing my home town.

Truth be told there was nothing blatantly fucked up about my childhood.  There wasn’t anything overtly horrible or racist that happened to me.  (although there are a lot of confederate flags on bumpers there)  That said I would never in a million years even consider spending more time there than necessary.  Like going home for the holidays.  I usually try to limit my time there to 5-7 day periods of time.  Like next week.  5 days.  If you pray, pray for me.

Wait…So You’re Gay!?

It’s the question that I’ve been getting on Facebook for the last week or so. The beauty of sites like MySpace and Facebook is that you can reconnect with people from your past. Old school mates, old friends from grade school, high school, and college all sort of come out of the wood work, so to speak, on these sites. I’ve found so many people from my past on these sites.   It’s good to see them.  No, it’s great to see them. One friend, Leslie, is one of my absolute favorite people off all time. He’s amazing. I’ve missed him dearly. But when you decide that you’re ready to leave a place like Toledo, Ohio you sometimes leave the people behind as well.

So much of my life has changed. I’ve said it before in previous blogs, and I’ve heard it echoed in blogs that I follow and through conversations with other people who’ve move away from home to start their lives in big cities. I’ve changed in many ways, many ways that people back home just don’t understand.

My hair, for instance. I stopped relaxing it, mainly because I got my hair cut, relaxed and styled at a salon on 5th Avenue that I was referred to by a co-worker at J. Crew in SoHo. I loved my new look, it was amazing. It was bouncy, flowing, and the cut was phenomenal. Not $300 phenomenal, though. I decided that instead of spending money like that relaxing my hair straight, or taking the Dominican route so many black people in NYC take, or doing it myself that I would just let my hair grow out of my head in it’s natural state.  Some people call it Nappy, I think those people don’t have natural hair pride. I call it curly…very, very curly. It was a long process, it took a lot of patience and three years.   After letting Mirs cut my hair a few months back, I’m wrestling with the idea of taking it short, very short.  I love my hair; it’s texture, it’s style, the ability of it to do whatever it wants to do-no matter how much I try to coax it.  It’s not revolutionary or even neo-Afro, it’s just my hair.  
On any given day I can see a dozen black women with natural hair in NYC, it’s just how we do, I suppose.  When I went back home for the first time with my natural hair I felt like I was on show.  Everyone was ooing and ahhing, and I wanted to smack the third person who asked to touch it.  Really?  Yeah, really, in Toledo, Ohio.  It was shocking to me how many black people asked me what I put in my hair to make it curl; what product, what chemical.  I told them, quite matter-of-factly, that it’s how our hair grows.  I told one woman, what do you put in yours to make yours look like that.  Another woman had the nerve to ask me why I would chose to not relax my hair-my response was, why not?  
My hair was just the beginning.  Since my move to the Big Apple, I’ve really let my hair down and allowed my true self to shine.  My natural haired, tofu eating, big, gay self.  The gay thing is still taking the Toledoans a bit more time.  I had someone ask me rapid fire questions- did I have a boyfriend?  A husband?  Was I married?  Kids?  Is that really what life has come to?  Boyfriends, husbands, and kids?  I responded that I didn’t have a boyfriend, but a girlfriend.  That I wasn’t married, because I couldn’t, and that I didn’t have children, yet.  Although my girlfriend and I do want them in the future.  Pretty direct, right?  She responded with, “So, wait, you’re gay?”
I felt that my description of my life was pretty clearly gay-but further clarification was needed.  Yup, I’m gay, I said.  No response.  I’m not sure what it is, exactly, that’s so hard for those folks from Ohio to understand.  Some people are gay.  Take me, for instance, gay.  When my sister finally heard me tell her that I was gay, she asked if I was super gay.  I asked her what she meant, and she said, “You’re, like, totally gay, aren’t you?   Like, you do gay things with gay people.  I bet you already have a group of gay friends and are in gay activist groups and shit, aren’t you, Erika.”
I confirmed her thoughts and she said she expected nothing less, that I do things “all out.”  My cousin who lives in Maryland thought it was a phase.  She told me I went through a white-black girl phase and this was my gay phase.  She is … interesting.  It was an interesting assessment from a woman who barely knows me.  She is correct, in many ways, I’ve always been told that the way that I speak and the way I was brought up wasn’t “black” enough.  My dad told me that a lot growing up.  “Erika, you need to be more black”  Last time I was home he offered me $500 to relax my hair.
I’m black and gay and I don’t relax my hair.  I’m 29 and came out only a year ago.  I spent the majority of my adult life pretending to be, rather molding myself into something that the world wanted me to be.  I didn’t fit into that mold.  That mold is in Toledo, Ohio.  I often wonder what would become of me if I would’ve stayed there.  Would I have gotten married to a man and lived my life as a lie?  It’s hard to say.  I can’t imagine living my life in any other way than I’m living it right now, because for the first time, in my entire life, I feel like I’m living my life on my own terms.  It feels amazing.  I sometimes wish that I could step back and look in on the life that I lead.  I’m always blown away by so many aspects; I live in Manhattan, I have an amazing woman who I’m planning to spend the rest of my life with.  I’m happy, happier than I could have imagined, so much so that I want to pinch myself to make sure it’s all real.  And it is.