Music is my getaway and I've been listening to some different stuff since I moved to New York. I decided to make a collection of songs for you to groove to, vibe to, clean to, study to, or simply for you to chill with your boo.
Peace and Love
I dedicate this to all my homegirls and homeboys that's been there for me since my mother passed.
Music is my getaway and I've been listening to some different stuff since I moved to New York. I decided to make a collection of songs for you to groove to, vibe to, clean to, study to, or simply for you to chill with your boo.
Peace and Love
It’s something of a story that happened to me as a child. Something that was so frightening that I remember it very well to this day.
Come to think of it, there were two frightening things that happened to me a child and for the sake of the story, let’s say that they occurred in the same evening.
Imagine a little old girl whom the world was her oyster. Everything was bright and cheery and filled with so much love. The world could do her no harm. She was safe and life seemed like a cartoon where things always ended up quite alright. There were no sad, unhappy endings, only joy.
Well at least that’s how most of her days were growing up. There was coloring books, regular books, an abundance of toys and the only thing missing from her life was a tree house in the backyard.
That’s what she thought until she almost got flushed down the toilet.
No really, she thought that she was gonna get trapped in the pipes down in the sewer and somehow end up in New York City in a meeting in the sewer with Master Splinter and the Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.
And who knows what other types of creatures are in there! I used to be terrified of the water for a week after I saw the movie The Blob.
With all of this running through my mind, the reality was that some knucklehead had left the seat up on the toilet and me in my childish haste didn’t look before sitting down and fell in.
I was terrified.
“MAMA!!!”, I cried at the top of my lungs in horror.
It took all the little breath I had out of lungs to yell that loud while in tears hoping nothing was gonna grab me and pull me in.
We lived in a 3-bedroom ranch style house in the south suburbs of Chicago. I was all the way in the back bathroom and she was beyond the kitchen, all the way in the den.
“What’s wrong Jennet?, she yelled back with no sense of urgency.
I’m thinking in my head, “ Why are you asking me these questions while I’m sitting here about to be octopus food? Can’t you hear the distress in my voice? I am crying for my life right now!!
“MAMA HELPPPP!!!”, I cried back hysterically. She’s wasting time right now!
So of course she comes and pulls me out the toilet and helps me get my life back together. It’s time for bed and she sent me in my room to get my sleeping clothes so she could put them on me.
We go into the den and she helps me into my pajamas while the world news plays in the background.
It’s the late 1980s and there was a lot of conflict going on overseas. At the time I had no idea what was occurring but they kept mentioning this word that I wasn’t quite familiar with. Apparently it was a verb and it happened to a lot of people that day.
“Mama what does die mean?”
“Die? Dying is when you leave your body and you go and be with the Lord. We won’t be on this earth anymore. This earth is not our home. One day we won’t be here anymore. Everybody’s gonna die. I’m gonna die, your daddy is gonna die, you’re gonna die. We all gone die and be with the Lord", She said with firmness.
She just devastated me in that moment.
Not only did I find out that this all comes to an end. But wait, you mean to tell me you’re not gonna be here anymore? I mean yes we’re gonna go and be with the Lord one day, but what about here?
What do you mean you won’t be here one day?
And Daddy too?
I mean, are you gonna go before me and leave me here?
I mean, how does this work?
How can I live my life without you?
Wait. What do you mean you’re NOT going to be here anymore?
As a child I thought these things and I dreaded the day that these things would come true.
Now, here we are.
I’m crying my heart out these days wondering who is gonna pull me out the toilet now?
You became my precious joy in my adulthood. Making you happy and making you smile brought such joy to my life. I loved you so very much. You grounded me because all roads led to you. I was so determined to make you proud of me. I wanted you to see the work I did and see how I stayed on the right path because I knew that pleased you and my father and it was the right thing to do.
But now with the both of you gone I feel so very empty. When I cry I feel like I’m at the bottom of the bottom and that’s very low place to be.
You see, I did just lose my mother, I lost my friend. Quite honestly, the closest one I had. She knew me better than anyone. And I knew her. And I miss her so.
I miss her so.
What do you say to the people you love when you want to express how unhappy you are?
You don't want to complain because since you were in war you struggle with depression.
So maybe the people around you, really are tired of hearing your shit. Or maybe, they really think that you are crazy and have some type of issue or issues...
...but they have no idea what you've really been through. I mean just really.
They may not know that as a newborn you were abandoned by your mother and your grandparents had to raise you. Maybe, just maybe they don't know that you really thought your grandparents were indeed your Mom and Dad until one day at the tender age of 8 1/2 your "Mom" comes and tells you that she's not your mother and the older brothers and sisters you thought you had are really your aunts and uncles.
And those cousins that you questioned why they called you cousin when you thought you should really be an aunt to....
"Oh now that makes sense..."
This is what I say in my young mind. My next question is now, "So if this lady that I've seen and never had a relationship is my mother, then who is my father?
At the age of 33 you still don't know.
And even better you have no idea what he looks like, because you've never seen a photo and you have no proof of his real name.
But you don't let that stop you. You focus on the good and the great. Like these two parents you have that meet your every need and love you so dearly. And you press on and you're the first kid that they raised that walked across a high school graduation stage.
But it's no big deal to you because you were always college bound. You took the gifted classes in school. You always read at a 12th grade level even in grammar school.
But you suck at standardized testing partly because you're brown and your senior year high school counselor tells you that you don't have the test scores to get into the architectural engineering programs you've had your heart set on for the past 4 years.
You wanted to go to Marquette. But you didn't know how to apply to the school let alone get money for it.
So all those honors classes and thinking about taking advanced placement classes so you would have a great college application mean nothing, because higher education comes at cost. And no one in your immediate family even knows how to apply to a 4-year university.
But you press on and you join the military to pay for college.
But all of that is just water under the bridge because your next dire strait is this Iraq war that traumatized the hell out of you that makes you cry from time to time and now you have PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder.
And you feel fucked up about. And the men you date "can't handle you". You thought they were at least your friend until you start crying from being homeless and sleeping on an air mattress for 6 months and have no money. And they just sit there and look at you like you're crazy instead of hugging you.
And of course they cease from talking to you.
And then the new ones you find aren't interested because you aren't fucking. Or the "nice ones" claim they want to be your friend until the duty calls of them being a friend.
And then being a friend becomes too overwhelming and the interest fades.
And you're left alone again in a tiny apartment in New York City far away from home. You're chasing your dreams now but you're distraught because the one person in the world that you love with you entire heart is over 1,500 miles away.
And she's dying.
She's spent most of the year in a coma. Her heart has stopped several times.
And almost everyday you cry with wailing tears asking God what are you supposed to do.
And when you finally see her, it rips your heart out.
Even the thought of her being sick literally landed you in the emergency room for chest pains.
And you've been to see her twice since she stopped breathing 6 months ago and you took your last money to go see her along with the help from friends along the way.
But your friends don't know that you've literally lost 25 pounds since you moved to NYC from silly things like stress, walking everywhere, and literally not having money for food.
You don't want to complain about how you only got $16 a month in food stamps and you've ran up your credit card bills buying groceries.
And there's no way you will complain about how you've been having a hard time finding employment and that the work you really do is great but you're still working to find a sustainable wage.
You're too exhausted to explain to them how you took a job watching elderly people for $10 an hour. Yes you have a Masters degree but this job was hiring immediately and a little money always beats no money. Especially when you need funds to buy a bus ticket to see your mother who couldn't walk anymore.
Or how you thought the job was going to be easy until you had an assignment of sitting with a racist ,elderly man that was dying.
You won't even go there.
You deeply believe in this thing called happiness. You believe in it with all your heart because you do remember what it feels like.
And you spend a lifetime searching for it.
Recently, I decided to give up the life I established for myself in Chicago and pack up everything I have and relocate to New York City.
This by far is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. I don’t say that lightly. Understand that I’m an Iraqi Freedom veteran and I seek the most challenging obstacles. I often look for the thrill that will send adrenaline racing to my heart like when you know you might be bombed in the next moment. I tend to often take the road less travelled. It’s more fun, but at the same time there’s so many bumps and no map. I suppose I’m addicted to that high, that uncertainty. It keeps me on my toes.
Being an educated Black woman in my early 30s, I thought I had everything figured out. I played the game and I played it well. I often say, “I did what you people told me to do. I did what was thought to be the thing that you do in order to achieve the American Dream. But time and time again, I found that this game wasn’t fair.
No one gave a shit.
My dear old Uncle Samuel comes over and looks square me in the eyes says, “So what you’ve been working hard. So what you’ve been putting countless hours in. Your grind doesn’t entitle you to a seat at our table. Go sit over there in that corner and be quiet until we tell you so speak.”
And so I sat.
I sat with tears burning in my eyes. My tears are the only thing that stops me from reaching across the table and wringing his neck. He laughs with his homies and eat well while I continue to get up everyday and hop on my hamster wheel leading to nowhere.
Until I said to myself, “What are you living for?”
Why do you get up everyday and go to a place you vehemently hate? You live for the moments that you can surf the net without your boss watching and dream of your next vacation. You buy tickets for the latest event this coming weekend and you send a mass message to your friends hoping that they have money and time you join you.
You do this every weekend, but it fluctuates between the men you date who are having too much fun doing nothing to settle down. You do this again and again. You live for the weekends, vacations and every once in a while you feel like you’re doing something right in your career.
But honestly, you still feel trapped. The money is coming in very well but you still feel unfulfilled. There’s got to be something else to this life than waking up every day spending an hour on the train to go to job you’re always late to because honestly, you don’t want to be there.
You never did.
But you get up everyday because these bills need to be paid. You have to pay for this apartment you’re never at because you work hella overtime at your job. You get up everyday because I need to accrue vacation time for this trip out the country with your homies.
Now when I apply to jobs it’s not my lack of experience but my over qualification that forces recruiters to skip over my application. You have to pay me a higher wage because of my grad degree but you don’t want to.
"So why the hell did you lie and tell me this would benefit me Uncle Samuel?"
Oh that’s what you tell all of use because you really don’t give a shit about my advancement. The truth is you really only care about this tuition that I have to pay back with interest.
And like a fool I listen. But I’m a happy fool. I like the experience. I’m proud of my career until one day, right when I’m planning my next birthday vacation to Puerto Rico and I find out that I now need to now save my coins for rent because 7 people in my office got a pink slip.
Of course I’m one of those 7.
I take it like a big girl. Put on my big girl shoes and grind it out. It takes a couple years working jobs I could care less for but I finally land something I enjoy. For a moment, a brief beautiful moment I can breathe freely. You feel like, “Good God, all my hard work finally paid off.”
Until you get laid off again. But you get back on your grind. You’re from Chicago. You do this. Hence the method:
Job Search. Land Job. Work. Laid-off again. More budget cuts. Repeat.
More depression. More uncertainty. More feelings of having no control over your life.
The whole time, Uncle Samuel and his fat greasy rich friends are eating well drinking moonshine and farting.
Your resentment grows.
This is when I decided to create my own reality. I decided that I’m not going to allow another human being to tell me how much money they feel an hour of my life is worth. Getting paid $20 may seem like a sustainable wage but after you pay for a place you seemingly only shower and sleep at after a minimum 40 hour work week what’s left?
At this point, this “work a job and get laid off crap” is vexing. You’re in your early 30s and you thought within the next year or two you’d be buying property and meeting the man of your dreams, popping out his babies and enjoying life.
But no. Hell no actually.
So you chunk the deuces to the rat race and you give away half the shit you’ve coveted for the last 10 years and move to the largest city in America. The fact that you even did this baffles you. The simple pleasures that you were so accustomed to are now a fleeting memory.
It’s like you’re starting over. You weren’t trying to start over. You’re not a kid. You’re a grown woman. Your base, your friends, your everything that you’ve built up for the past 12 years is in your hometown.
Now you’re in this city of nearly 9 million people but you have no one to talk to. No one really knows you and you don’t trust many people because you know how hard it is to meet genuine people. All they know is this sulked person who is really unsure of life because she thought she finished the coming of age process back in her late teens and early 20s. Till one day an older women tells you that this is the unexpected transition point in your life that everyone failed to tell you about.
So here you are trying to figure out how to make every moment count. You didn’t leave your home, all your family and friends to be miserable. But you are. You’re uncertain of everything. You now realize that you really don’t have time to waste. You still haven’t utilized your uterus and you’re fearful of becoming old without ever having had the experience of being someone’s mother and wife.
And to top it off, you can’t afford to go on the next vacation with your friends because now you need all your coins to buy things like food.
You’re hella emotional, your Grandmother that raised you is sick and you don’t have the money for a plane ticket because of course she is almost 1400 miles away.
So you’re forced to look at this woman in the mirror everyday. She’s determined to figure out this new life and sustain herself. She’s determined to go back to that dingy bar with Uncle Samuel and his weak ass friends and throw a drink in their face.
You stay up late every night trying to figure out the next plan. You’re alone a lot and you often cry about your circumstances. Every once in a while, you have a friend kind enough to listen to you cry on the phone.
But everyday without fail, something in you gets up. Something in you won’t allow you to lay in the bed and let time pass by. You’ve put in too much work to give up. Plus you’re meeting kind souls every day that you know God sent to your life for encouragement.
You act on all opportunities as they come your way. You see the loopholes in the path to success and you jot them down. You study them. You’re determined to be great. You didn’t leave the city you love to be basic.
You came to New York City to be great.
Besides, your family is rooting for you along with your friends. You’ll be damned if you let any of them down. But the one person you keep pushing for is that smiling woman you see every morning in the mirror.
She keeps believing in the sunshine even when the rain turns to hail. She reminds you:
“We’ve been through worse, Babygirl. We got this.”
That is the seventh and final part of the United States Army’s core value system. Only when you truly understand the importance of your commitment to country do you possess all these values: loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and, personal courage.
Personal courage is one of the biggest challenges for veterans upon returning from combat back to a being a civilian. It can be a tumultuous struggle to dig within yourself and find that hero who was strong enough to withstand the battle and live to come home. A veteran’s definition of personal courage may be altered or lost on the battlefield because of a life threatening injury or traumatic event. Coping becomes difficult and life can be challenging but to redefine personal courage and gain it once again is ever important.
In the military, there was a team of leaders that showed us what personal courage was and how to achieve it. Now on the home front, we have a different yet similar team that is helping to shape and redefine personal courage amongst veterans. This year’s 4th annual Winter Ski Clinic in Calabogie, Ontario is the perfect example. I can attest to this because I myself being a combat veteran learned to redefine personal courage for myself over the past week.
The Canadian Association for Disabled Skiing's 4th Annual Winter Sports Clinic was a weeklong event designed for injured soldiers and veterans. This international event was host to twelve Canadian soldiers and 4 American soldiers. Our daily activities included not only learning to ski but having an opportunity to learn how to snowboard as well. I was beyond excited to be fortunate enough to attend the event so I packed my bags eagerly and heavily with warm clothes anticipating chilly weather and the unknown snowy ski slopes.
Upon arrival to Canada, I was greeted with incredible hospitality. A man with a golden smile and warm heart that radiated through his conversation named John Huff grabbed my bags for me and drove me from the Ottawa airport all the way to Calabogie Peaks, which would be my residence for the upcoming days. His passion of skiing was evident in his conversation and he’s been skiing for many years. John’s bright speech turned rather grey as he spoke about the recent loss of his dear friend Bob Gilmour. Bob was devoted to creativing adaptive skiing for us injured service men and women. When John told me all the amazing things this man had done and how huge his heart was, I immediately felt his loss to the world. He was monumental to the program in Calabogie and his spirit was evident in every person I later encountered.
When I arrived at the resort, I was enthralled by the huge ski hill. The hill just stared at me and I at it. I wasn’t completely afraid, but I knew my confidence was not where it could have been. Not only in the hill but also in meeting new people.
For the past few years, I’ve struggled with Major Depressive Disorder and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Outside of the nightmares, jitters, anxiety attacks and suicidal thoughts, I found that isolating myself from the world was an easy way to not reveal all these character defects I have as remnants of the time I spent invading Iraq with the 3rd Infantry Division in 2003.
Despite my apprehensions, I was greeted with immediate charm. Our welcome reception was full of glee and smiling faces that promised a splendid week ahead. Clay Dawdy greeted everyone with friendliness and humor reassuring everyone that they were in for a phenomenal week ahead. The Army Choir sang to us songs that included their rendition of The Andrew Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B”. We ended the night with excitement of the week to come.
Canadian Army Choir
Upon the first morning of ski lessons, I didn't know what to expect. My main concerns were staying warm and not falling off the hill into a tree. My ski instructor Geoff Cousens proved to be a wonderful instructor. He walked me through the importance of having right ski equipment and how to use it properly. My first time in the equipment actually reminded me of roller skates. This familiar sensation eased the anxiety that plagued me all morning. Geoff was incredibly patient as he was encouraging. He honestly instilled in me that I could become a great skier with determination and practice.
On the first day I learned how to stop using a technique called snowplow. I learned proper stance and balance. But most importantly, when I felt a bit of anxiety or frustration with maneuvers I found to be difficult, Geoff’s warm smile and encouragement assured me that I could become better.
Learning how to ski!
Outside of the daily activities of skiing and snow boarding, we spent one cold Canadian night playing sledge hockey. Sledge hockey is similar to regular hockey, except players are in a sledge or sled chair designed for people with disabilities of the lower extremities. A player navigates the ice using small hockey sticks with picks on the end.
In between the daily and nightly activities I was eager to attend I found that I made connection with several of the people who attended the event or volunteered to show us veterans and soldiers a new skill. When I came to Canada I held my heart open to the new experiences and new people I would encounter. However, I was cautious of my own challenges with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.
One night, I took a groomer ride up and down the slopes of the ski mountain. The groomer’s job was to fluff up the powdery snow and leave a textured surface similar to corduroy fabric for the skiers the following day. Although I was a little afraid of this, I didn’t want to turn this experience down because it is not everyday that I am afforded such an opportunity. The groomer ride however brought me back to a frightening place I was mentally 10 years ago.
The slope of the hill inside the vehicle and the sensation of pointing downward or upward reminded me of the hilly terrain I encountered while driving in Iraq. During that time, I was not only afraid of being attacked I was afraid that my 2 ½ ton vehicle with cargo would topple over one of the hills and that I would surely be crushed from all of the weight. I saw many vehicles suffer this fate and it was ever present in my mind. I knew that the groomer ride would be safe but I thought of those memories before I rode up the hill. Despite my apprehensions, I wanted to face that fear. That night I found another reason to use personal courage.
The Groomer Ride
Upon returning back inside, I linked up with a fellow American solider, Dave who invited me to come chat with a small group. The conversation around the table was one that I will never forget. We talked about anxiety attacks and how our mind processes information after a traumatic event. I often have anxiety attacks and it completely discourages me and often makes me feel very weak as a person. The simplest tasks can cause my heart to race, my vision to become blurred and uncontrollable tears to force out of my eyes. I absolutely hate this sensation, I try to repress my feelings and not let people around me see my discomfort for shame of being judged or ostracized.
Dave drew a diagram, which explained to us how thinking is altered from traumatic events. In normal situations he explained that the mind goes from one point to another in a straight line without any problems, however, for a person who experienced a traumatic event, the mind takes on a path similar to a maze trying to navigate its way through. Unfortunately, the person becomes stuck in this maze like a fly in spider web and lost in that state of panic where he or she once was when the traumatic event occurred.
I was quiet around the table because those feelings described me perfectly and I could feel my heart starting to race and a need to cry because of how often I struggle with this ailment. I seek treatment but the journey to recovery is an ever-long process. At that table, I knew that this was an opportunity to share with everyone my struggles, but I was afraid that just talking about it would cause me to have a panic attack. When I finally gained the bravery to tell everyone, I felt tons better. I felt that I could be who I was without judgment. That night I embodied personal courage through the groomer ride and letting people I was befriending know about my frequent anxiety attacks. It was a great feeling.
As the daily ski instruction progressed, I got better and better at skiing. Sometimes I would try so hard to conquer balance and technique that my muscles would nearly give out. Fortunately, we were provided lovely 20 minute massages from a massage therapist named Sarah. Her advice to stretch everyday resonated with me and also helped me with muscle fatigue.
I found peace daily as I became better at skiing and through the bonds I was making with my fellow comrades. A couple that I met on my first night in Canada named Butch and Theresa Boucher quickly became my friends as we shared many things in common from coping with our challenges in the military to sharing the same faith.
I also befriended a small girl named Heather who was the daughter of a Canadian veteran named Bjarne Nielson. One night Heather showed me two of her toys and explained to me that one of them was store bought but the other she made with one leg with her mother because her father had one leg.
Bjarne later told me how important events like the winter sports clinic were for us veterans to break out of our shells and understanding that we have more ability than what we are possibly presenting ourselves. Through him and his daughter I realized how important these events were for family to bond together.
I also befriended a newly wed couple named Manny and Yolani. Manny was a solider in the United States Army’s 1st Infantry division and sustained a terrible injury during his deployment. His wife Yolani left an everlasting impression on me of how strong a caregiver to a wounded veteran has to be in order to truly be there for them. I saw her strength daily as she cared for him and I saw how important the role of a caregiver is. Manny’s heart for veterans is as big as ever and he also shared with me how important events such a Winter Sports Clinic are to injured veterans. He expressed to me how there is a need for more events such as that one because so many of our brothers and sisters in arms are struggling.
Yolani & Manny
On my final day of our weeklong adventure, I competed in a race down hill. I had so much confidence in every thing I had learned and it wasn’t hard to bring out those skills and confidence with friendly familiar faces cheering you on. As I weaved in and out of the flags gaining speed with the crisp winter breeze in my face I felt so empowered and happy. These simple feelings have often been lost since my deployment so to feel them again is quite an experience. My only wish is that so many other combat veterans like me can also regain their definition of personal courage and not allow the struggle of readjustment to eat away at them. They must know that there are people who care about them and accept them for whom there are. Quite possibly, this love and acceptance can ignite the warrior that lives on the inside.
Last day of skiing and racing!
During our trip to Calabogie, we Americans and Canadians created a lasting camaraderie through simply learning how to ski. The personal courage that we regained is something that we can take home with us. Through events such as this, we can utilize our rebirth of confidence in our everyday lives and struggles. We can apply the patience we learned from skiing to work through our frustrations with living with visible and invisibles injuries from war. Our challenges do not define how great we can become. It is through our perseverance and promise to never give up on ourselves do we truly exist on the recovery side of our injuries.
Thank you to everyone who made this event possible!