She never had it easy, but she lived easily. Perhaps this is why you could also find a toothy smile on my mothers face. Slender and curvy, La Toya would light up a room with her presence. I loved watching my mother. The way she could seduce a man by simply being in his presence–somehow make him want to give her the world–and thriving from the attention like a sunflower, reaching full bloom in August. She didn’t need them, but their affections, attentions and notings of her beauty didn’t hurt. A woman was supposed to loved, and while I don’t know how healthy that love was, my mother was a master a harnessing the strangest, most enduring types of loving. Men of all classes, masculinities, physiques and dispositions could not resist her laugh, her freckle-dotted peanut butter skin or the way she moved her hips after a few glasses of Brandy. Momma was a force smart men knew not to reckon with.
I was her first love. That’s what she told me–and I believe her. She had me because she wanted unconditional love, and even as a 5 year old I knew this. I loved to dance with my mother, after she was a little tipsy. With eye-brows squinted, arms and fingers pointing to the air, we’d belt out Mary J. Blige hits of love lost and love deceived…building up to the chorus of “I’m Goin’ Down.” She wept as often as she laughed, often together. I was never sure what to make of it, besides to join her. I think these were my first acts of solidarity. I felt with and for her, not knowing why, just knowing she was down and I loved her, so with her I went.
Momma loved hard and often. When she loved, she loved for life. She was a country girl, but she gave and received “Hood Love” (see Mary J. Blige track). I learned how (not) to love from her. Watching her heart break, wiping her tears, holding her at night and fixing her hair made me fear it. I made no separation between the love my mother received from me and that which she gave to her romantic interests. Their slaying of her spirit resulted in a brokenness in me, a childhood filled with emotional roller-coasters of confusion and affection. I grew up quickly without much time for reflection, feeling old and weary without reason. I saw love as an enslavement, an unbecoming of oneself, a boogey-man always hiding behind the beautiful faces of those closest to you–waiting to pounce and still your joy, your happiness, your freedom, your you. I did not want that. So at 8 years old, I resolved to never love romantically and create a wall between familial duty and the emotional availability exhibited by mother, grandmother and the women of my family. I saw love–instead of patriarchy–as their undoing, not knowing more as a young father-less boy. Therefore I ran from it. Better to learn from their mistakes than live life as an intergenerational, broken record.