“I’m gonna move back to Maryland.”
We were walking back from the Post Office. I’d asked [Redacted] to help me carry a package. I’d probably ordered a bunch of stuff online and needed to send it back by a due date.
I carried what I could downstairs. When I went to push open the door, someone was sitting on the narrow step. It’s like three inches wide. I respectfully asked him to move. He schooched over an inch.
Me, full Brooklyn with base in my voice: I’MMA NEED YOU TO MOVE SO I CAN GET OUT OF MY BUILDING!!!
I hate having to be that chick. But it’s effective. You can’t be polite here. Or decent. It’s taken for weakness.
I wait outside for Redacted, who eventually makes his way downstairs with the packages. We walk to the Post Office, probably talking about what to do for the day. It’s my birthday. I don’t want to do anything. I used to treat my birthday like an event, or a series of events. A party in the backyard, a trip, and a cake with sparklers. This year, again, I have no plans. What am I celebrating?
He hasn’t made plans either. The previous year he did, and I laid in bed most of the day. He convinced me to go out to dinner and I put on a pink, striped dress and we went to some Tiki Bar with mocktails in Williamsburg. By the time the food arrived, I was crying so bad, we had to ask for it be wrapped up. I was miserable. I knew I'd f—-ed up my life.
A year later, I was even worse off. My life was one really long Ask Demetria question. I’d stopped answering those questions. I couldn’t deal with other people’s ish and my own. I’d unofficially left him once already. I’d gone back because I wasn’t sure I exhausted all the options. Had I lowered my expectations enough? Had I tried hard enough? Was it really that bad? (Yes.)
Week Two of my return, I was at dinner with Penelope and I noticed my thumb was swollen. When I woke up the next morning, my right hand had broken out in small, painful blisters that eventually burst. I bandaged my hand with cotton balls and Band-Aids until the pain became unbearable and I went to the emergency room.
A doctor immediately diagnosed me with shingles, an extraordinarily painful nerve disease that usually occurs in people over 65, or younger people under extreme stress. (FYI— is you’ve ever had chicken pox, you have the potential for shingles. Same virus, manifests differently in adults. There is a vaccine. It’s only given to people over 50.)
“You’re clearly not 65”, said the doctor. “Are you stressed?”
Doc. You have no idea.
He put me on two weeks worth of Percocet for the pain, and warned that I couldn’t operate heavy machinery, like a car, and I shouldn’t do public appearances because I’d be high AF. I backed out of speaking engagements. I skipped TV segments.
I didn’t tell my parents about the shingles, initially. They knew what else was going on, in detail. My parents have been married 41 years. Ain’t a lot that surprises them. My mother was still biting her tongue. My father had recently stopped.
The last time I was home and heading back to New York, I dragged my suitcase thru the living room, in front of the Lay-Z-Boy where he watches MSNBC incessantly. “Going back again, huh?” he asked.
Me, avoiding eye contact: yeah.
“When he coming? Cause I see you...” He motions back and forth with his finger. “You coming and going. I ain’t seen him yet.”
Me: It’s complicated.
Dad: It really ain’t.
High is an understatement. I didn’t feel sh—. As soon as I felt an inkling of pain, I’d take another pill. I didn’t care about sh—. I couldn’t if I wanted to. And I didn’t want to. I laid on the couch for two weeks watching Netflix. I might have taken a shower once. I only moved to eat and go to the bathroom. I totally get how people become addicted to painkillers. I sat on my kitchen counter and sobbed when my meds ran out. I’d been blank for two weeks and my vacation from my feelings was over. I had to deal with life again. Fuggggggg.
We’re standing in the Post Office, and whatever we’re talking about, he shushes me. People are listening, watching us, he says. Someone could tweet, or record, or blog or... Jesus H. Christ, the paranoia, the expectation to be “on” all the time was driving me nuts, on top of everything else.
And for the record: no one gave AF. It’s Brooklyn. But I shut up because I didn’t want to argue, again, and not on my birthday. I did that a lot. I shut up and I stayed in and I shut down. I played small.
We went on a press trip once. I was trying to keep the peace. He was doing what had become his new normal. In public, I pretended to be fine. In the suite at our 4-star hotel, on our VIP trip, I slept on the couch every night. I came up with excuses and I apologized when he decided at the last minute he wasn’t going to show up for a scheduled dinner. The trip organizer pulled me aside to ask if I was ok. I said I was fine, and apologized again if I was disrupting the flow. And she was like, “nah, I’m asking, ARE YOU OKAY, SIS?!” She thought I was being abused.
WTF? Everything was f—-ed up. I thought I was hiding it better.
Me: Nahhhhhhhh. I’m good.
There was a chicken bone on the sidewalk. Someone had just discarded their meal. I looked up and there was the guy that had tried to follow me into my building the week before. All of Brooklyn was gentrifying and getting cleaned up for the colonizers, except for my block.
NYC was once the dream. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But it had become a city I didn’t recognize. That was tolerable, until my closest friends moved to LA.
Penelope had landed a dream job that doubled her salary. She said, “I’m leaving” and two weeks later, she, a NYC native, who had sworn she was never going farther than Jersey, was gone. Super B did the same sh—. She said, “I think I’m gonna move to LA”, went out for a week and found a job and an apartment just like that. POOF! She was gone too.
They were the hold outs. Most of my other close friends had gone West the year or two before. It was a gold rush of jobs in entertainment. Decent paying, high profile jobs. Another friend, an actress/comedian, had done the NYC hustle for years with moderate success. She’d left too. Within, a year, she was on a hit show, performing everywhere and being profiled in The New York Times.
I had no one to go out with, and few places to go. My favorite boutiques were gone, replaced by corporate brands that could afford the sky high rents. My favorite restaurants were closed. I’d go to parties sometimes because I’d come up with all the people throwing the good ones. But other than them, I didn’t know anyone anymore. And everyone looked so young.
When I left the house on weekends, I preferred Long Island or New Jersey. I missed malls and parking spaces and The Cheesecake Factory. I couldn’t tell if I hated the city. Or my life.
This was not the plan. It was never the plan. And because I never planned for this, I didn’t have a plan to get out of it. Fuggggggg.
I missed space, and silence, and cleanliness and the prevailing likelihood of safety, and grass and Central Air, and not carrying groceries up flights of stairs and a laundry room and more than anything, I missed me. I’d turned into someone I didn’t recognize. I didn’t like. I was embarrassed to be her.
I met up with my mentor once. He’s known me since I was 21. He’s in his 50s now. I laid out the whole long story of where the marriage had gone awry.
“You changed,” he said.
Me: “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Him: “It means you changed. Not good or bad. Just changed.”
Me: “I feel like you mean something by that.”
Him: “It means I need to get to know the new you better. The Demetria I knew would have made different choices.”
Him: “Is this Demetria happy?”
Me: “You know the answer.”
Him: “I do. And you should do something about that.”
I stepped over the chicken wing and we kept walking to our building, up to the doors with the bars on them. Redacted and I are walking up the steps, and I announce, “I’m gonna move back to Maryland”.
He sighs, and says, “really? You’re doing this again?”
I let it go. Because I don’t want to argue, again, and it’s my birthday. I’d said it ten times before, and never did it.
I go upstairs and get in the bed because the ten minute trek to the Post Office and back, and our interactions, have drained me. I don’t want to deal with life. This was 37. And now 38 too. Different year. Same sh—.
Redacted announces he’s leaving since I don’t want to do anything. I wait to hear the door close. I’m relieved whenever he leaves. I sigh heavy, and prepare for the worst, whenever I hear his key in the door. This is my life. I hate my life. I pull the covers over my head and cry.
I’d been having suicidal ideations for over a year by then. I’d go to Maryland, back home, and after three days, I’d be fine again. I’d return to New York, and I’d have to park and pull myself together before I could go in the house whether I was returning from 95 or the nearby coffee shop. I’d park, and sit in the car and listen to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” and tears would stream down my face.
You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere....
Anyplace is better
Starting from zero got nothing to lose...
Me, myself I got nothing to prove
I cared what people would think if I left. I cared about my stuff because I’d sacrificed a lot for it. Friends, family, self, love. For my sanity, I wanted something to show for the sacrifices, the emotional scars, the patience. The stuff was my pay off. It was also baggage.
I watched this Iyanla episode once about a First Lady with a husband who was a whore and if I recall, had at least one outside baby with a member of the congregation. Iyanla asked the wife why she stayed. She liked being First Lady. She liked her special privileges, a parking spot with her name on it. Her big, First Lady hats. The status.
Iyanla was like, so you’re staying with a man who cheats for a parking spot, some hats and a status that no one regards highly because everyone knows he’s cheating?
I was staying for an apartment I didn’t own and the opinions of people who didn’t give AF about me. Anyone who remotely cared wanted me to be happy. I coulda stayed. For sure, I’d be dead now. And absolutely no one would have said, “well, she OD’d, but at least she kept her vows.”
I was long past thinking God was trying to tell me something. The shingles. The suicidal thoughts. The constant sadness. I was just too scared to act. In my defense, I was long past losing it. Something had to give.
I decided this wasn’t just my last birthday like this; it was the last day. I gave myself two options: I could overdose on Tylenol (there was a Costco size container in the kitchen that I’d bought when I had shingles) or I could leave. Either/or in equal measure, but I was getting TF out.I lay there thinking about life or death like I was choosing between butter pecan or mint chip.
My dad called to wish me a Happy Birthday. He asked how my day was going.
I took that as a sign.
Me: um... I’m gonna move home. For good. Is that cool?
Dad: Ok. I’ll tell your Mama to change the sheets on the bed.
Dad: You cool?
Me: I’m cool.
I got up. I washed my face. I put my shoes on. I found my sunglasses. I grabbed my keys. I walked a block over to the moving place to buy ten cardboard boxes, five medium, five large.
A tumultuous week later, I left Brooklyn after 17 years. I left my house, most of my stuff, my dreams, my marriage and my life as I knew it.
This is how I ended up back in the Technicolor world of the DC suburbs. It is NOTHING like Brooklyn. There are no sidewalks where I live. The main roads are littered with deer carcasses. When I fall asleep, I listen to crickets, not sirens and people yelling, cursing and fighting. People form orderly lines in the CVS here and intentionally make eye contact and speak. They talk about going to Wegman’s, a grocery store, with the enthusiasm of an opening night show on Broadway. I have to sit by the window to talk on the phone because my signal sucks. They play go-go on the radio. The humidity makes my hair big. The pollen count makes my nose bleed. The men talk slow and move fast.
Welcome to A Belle of the ‘Burbs.