You Are Beautifully Whole.
May 31, 2020.
There is something about Anita Baker playing in my apartment on a Sunday morning.
Her soulful voice vibrates off of the ceiling. I pour my coffee and add milk and honey. The spoon dances around the side of the mug. I take a sip.
“And I wanna make my dreams comes true… but I’ve got to know, oh, body and soul. That you’ve got no doubt, inside and out… we are whole…”
I place the coffee mug on my bedside table. My cheeks are wet and I can’t control it. I lay there and weep. There is a heaviness in my soul that shook me this morning. And I wonder, do tears ever taste like anything but salt?
You wonder if you did enough. Even as you stutter, remember that is still a complete sentence. Rage in spaces like these is only heard when it is eloquent, polite, and not accompanied by emotion. Best with email etiquette. Even better with a signature block, professional email address, and a clear, direct subject line.
One day I will tell my daughter of the necessity of learning how to express anger in a professional setting. This must be your forte. The words racism or sexism must not escape your lips, instead, lead a person to that conclusion. Never mention the color of your skin, yet, lead a person to see you. I will say to my daughter; how do you expect to become strong if you do not encounter a challenge? How will you learn to use your voice if you do not first develop your whisper?
At night you will cry alone. No one will come for you, but the sun will soon tap on your window.
My daughter, if you want change, you must make your bed in the morning.
Learn how to advocate for yourself and for others. What is your ask? Understand how to utilize and piece together your words, yet stand tall, and do not cry when you speak. If your voice shakes, take a breath, and keep going. And if you finally lead a horse to water and it sticks out its tongue, make sure there is enough to drink.
You will take back your power.
And management will see you. In Juarez, you eat Subway sandwiches together at lunch and feel heard. Another opens his office door to tell jokes and share stories. In the bright yellow office upstairs, you will explain yours. At 7:45AM, several meters ahead, your colleague from Juarez that always makes you feel right at home says, “Buenos días. Como estás, Tianna?”
But it’s still challenging.
You attend potlucks with women that inspire you. Your neighbors across the street teach you how to knit and always offer you a safe space. A couple will teach you how to do yoga and how to design any building you can possibly dream of. She will hear you and share personal stories that still taste the same in your mouth.
Colleagues will become your friends. At the beginning, one will excitedly meet you at the border to welcome you. Another will smile at you as you walk by her desk near the window in the morning. The group will share their experiences, laughter, and trials over Sunday night dinners. One will reaffirm you and invite you to their bright home filled with laugher and scented candles. One will read your letter and tell you that you are an excellent writer. You hold on to this forever. One will make you curry and find a rosemary tree in your backyard. Another will sit with you in the cafeteria with a glow-in-the-dark spoon. They will listen, but they know.
You hope the situation will be handled, that you can rest, and know that people have been contacted about your case. However, the situation does not change. You keep sitting on that metal bench. How is it so difficult to enter the land where you were born?
You will realize that their hands are tied. Is it their fault?
What can they do in a system that was not built for you?
In Mexico City, NIV management will genuinely want to know how you are. They don’t mention Juarez. They open their doors and interview applicants when the clock ticks close to lunch time and when the team is overworked. You will talk through cases over morning oatmeal, always feel welcomed to sit on the couch in their office, and laugh with them at Friday happy hour socials. You will eat a delicious pizza dinner in their home and share stories collected on a journey around the world. They see you and they may not understand fully.
Eventually, the dust will settle and you will realize that you cannot create change within a system designed to reduce you to madness.
And you desperately wish things would have been different.
Human Resources will inform you of a financial obligation since you’ve been at post for less than a year. It feels strange to be at war within your body and be told there is a fee to escape. You tell your career development officer that you have considered suicide.
Your medical clearance is revoked.
You jump through hoops of burecratictic bullshit, meet a friend for coffee near the flower shop on Homero, and order Rappi delivery when you can’t make it to your kitchen for a meal.
“Here are separation documents to fill out.” “Paneling is only on Tuesdays, so you have to wait.” “The Director General has to review your case and the process could take a few weeks before we could approve you.”
Your job only qualifies as an overseas assignment, so when you return to the United States, you return unemployed.
And on official documentation, it will be called an involuntary separation, as if you had a choice.
You tell your boss that you can’t do it and October 25 is your last day at work, say your goodbyes, and send out an email to explain what is too much to do face to face. The lengthy checkout sheet feels like an impossible scavenger hunt. It will be weeks until your travel orders are issued, until your packout is approved. You finally admit to yourself that you can’t focus on your graduate school classes this semester and withdraw. Human Resources warns that if you leave Mexico, you may not be able to reenter. You clean your apartment and give your keys to a friend.
And then, you give up and reach in your bank account to buy a plane ticket home.
You sleep on your parents’ couch for a little and celebrate Christmas with family at your new apartment. You buy a set of silverware, one pot, and two pans. Thank goodness you packed a towel in your suitcase and put some money in your savings. You get a few job interviews and things start to look better. You sleep on a mattress on the floor for three months until your personal effects arrive from Mexico. Your car arrives in January. Your bed frame arrives in February. You are no longer sleeping on the floor anymore and you start over.
You are finally back on your feet.
You receive a job offer with a salary that is half of your previous job, but hey, atleast you have a job, right? You’re officially reenrolled in school and you will graduate with your master’s degree soon. The new job that you were excited about will be a complete disaster. You’re back on the job hunt again. Covid hits. You file for unemployment. And when people ask you how you are, you have no idea what to tell them.
But you still got out.
This morning I woke up to an explosion of comments, emails, messages, reposts, text messages, Reddit threads, blog posts, and WhatsApp messages. My blog post “What Do I Want from White People? (An Illustration of Being Black in America) was read over 26,000 times in 191 different countries since I posted it yesterday.
I hear you. I feel incredibly loved and admired and humbled and blessed to know people like you. Your words resonate with me. I see you. I am still processing your words and will respond when I can.
The thing with trauma is that it weighs on your soul.
You share your story and now what? Do you choose to remain angry, disenchanted, hurt, sad?
Do you choose an optimistic approach as you continue to rebuild? Or do you realize that maybe, just maybe, there was a greater purpose? Your little brother will read your story with tears in his eyes and call you on Facetime to tell you that he’s lucky to be your little brother. Or maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe, you can be sad, disappointed, and you can still inspire change. Maybe someone else will come forward and tell their story. You can feel conflicting feelings all at once.
And maybe that is okay.
I turned 28 the other day. A new year, a fresh start.
My little brother gifted me a black beaded necklace with small dashes of gold. Attached to the necklace was a card, which said, “I am whole. In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is bound back together with gold. Similarly, life can shatter us and leave us feeling damaged and less than, when in reality, the transformation and healing can lead to the best version of ourselves. You are not broken. You are beautifully whole.”
This is how you see someone.
This is how you love someone.