Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Learning to love my "KAYE"

"Sometimes the most abusive relationship that you have in your life is the one you have with yourself..."
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio. The weather was cold…the sky was dark. The people were hard…the women were strong. The economy was depressed and sunny days, both literally and figuratively, were few and far between. I can remember walking back and forth to school with my mom on snowy days. My little boots making puddles in the dining room floor when we returned home.  I can remember being bundled up so tight that only my nose peeked out and soon even it became burned from the cold. I can remember my mom and I shoveling our way out of the house on winter mornings and me crossing my fingers praying for snow days. I remember a lot about growing up in Cleveland, the cold darkness especially....
(taken from Spike Lee's School Daze)

But one of my most vivid memories is of someone who has come to be one of my closest friends, we met when we were 9 years old, let’s call her…ummm…. “KAYE”. So in 3rd grade, “KAYE” had a crush on a boy named Brandon. A very popular boy that could have had any little pigtailed 3rd grader he wanted.  But 9 year old “KAYE” wanted him to want her. So one day after mustering up the courage she asked him, via intricately folded note of course, whether he liked her too. Brandon was hesitant. He wrote back that he was still weighing his options on choosing a gf and that he would be willing to tell her who all the contenders were…he said he would tap each girl (in order or cuteness) on the shoulder. “KAYE” watched with baited breath as he tapped Myeasha, Iman, Tiffany and THEN….(4th and Last)…"KAYE”. “KAYE”’s heart dropped into her shoes, and her face cracked into a million pieces. “KAYE”, with her chocolate skin and wooly hair, was a stark contrast to the brightskinned, spiral haired little girls that had been chosen before her. Was she really the 4th cutest girl in the 3rd grade!??!!! The thought of that hurt….bad. “KAYE” was unable to synthesize what was happening in this moment. The concept of being “pretty” had never occurred to her…less known the concept of ranking prettiness. She knew how to rank spelling ability, or scores on social studies tests. She knew that her name as always listed first on the Honor Roll list. Or that she was the first to be called to do a speech at school. She knew that she had had breakfast with the principal more times than other student... but she had no clue, that cuteness could be measured and ranked and that NOT being number one in this category would make her feel so low. …so sad…so undesirable  Unfortunately, however, while this was the first time she had felt the sting of rejection based on looks it wouldn’t be the last
The progression was as follows….
In elementary school, she was the 4th cutest
In middle school, she was teased because her “press and curl” would only stay pressed and curled for 2 two days while all the other little girls all were all bouncy and beautiful for at least a week.
I high school, she finally got the hair thing under control, (and by under control I mean she got a perm) but she was still the brownest of all the other little brown bears and was told that the only reason she was attractive was because she HAD long hair and a big behind.
I college she as told that she could only join the service sorority, because only pretty girls could join the other one. (Not that she even wanted to join the other one…buuuut she didn’t like the idea that she didn’t look the part).
 In the midst of all these experiences there was always some butterscotch beauty that was held up as the ideal. “KAYE” was just the smart accomplice. The girl in the background, with the great sense of humor and that fat ass. Boys never told her she was pretty but instead commented on her curves, her personality, her intelligence, her sex appeal. And while “KAYE” enjoyed the attention from men…all she ever wanted was to be beautiful enough to be noticed for something besides her ass and her mind.
It took almost 15 years after the faithful day in third grade for that to happen. But it did. Upon moving to Atlanta (and realizing she was a lesbian) she met a remarkable woman.  A woman who loved her for her deep brown skin, chestnut eyes, and thick puffy hair.  Ms. Remarkable never missed an opportunity to tell “KAYE” how beautiful she was inside and out. It WOULD have made “KAYE” feel great….had she only believed it. But what Ms. Remarkable didn’t know was that 15 years of internalized inadequacy is not easily turned around.  And for “KAYE” the damage had already been done. So, instead of honoring the love and commitment of Ms. Remarkable and believing that she deserved to be loved like all the girls she had secretly envied her whole life…she did the exact opposite. The attention made “KAYE” self- conscious and even angry at times. This must be some sick joke. Of course there was some prettier girl that Ms. Remarkable could and SHOULD date. Surely, “KAYE” was not good enough. “KAYE”’s insecurity ultimately led her to seek solace outside of the relationship. She begin to feel that if she could obtain a woman as pretty as she wished she was…maybe she would feel good enough to deserve all that Ms. Remarkable as giving her. So she launched “Operation Beautiful Bish Collection” she sought to collect as many pretty women as friends or more than friends, praying that their presence in her life would somehow fill this hole that had been festering in her soul for years.  On any given day, you could find her lurking around your local strip club, or party, romancing and charming every creamy complexioned lady in the place.  It made her feel good that they liked her. The only problem was that Ms. Remarkable felt like this whole flirting with, spending time with, and on occasion sleeping with pretty ladies was a bit like cheating. She didn’t see this as a healthy form of therapy for “KAYE”. Needless to say. before long, she left “KAYE”…alone with her “trophies” and low self-esteem. I should…I mean “KAYE” should add that she also took the shiny diamond “promise” that had once encircled “KAYE”’s ring finger with her. It was over and “KAYE” was left with exactly what she thought she deserved. NOTHING. And NO ONE.
Initially, “KAYE” wasn’t even mad that Ms. Remarkable left her because in her heart of hearts she had learned many years ago that she was not good enough to be anyone’s first choice (even though someone already had chosen her). Being second, third, fourth was all she could expect. She shoved her feelings deep beneath her exterior and kept rummaging through strip clubs and bars collecting “beautiful things”. 3 years passed and all “KAYE” had to show for “hobby” was free admission to every club in the city and a drinking problem. Her self-esteem was still fractured and there had been no one since Ms. Remarkable that was willing to take on the responsibility of “KAYE” and her “dark-skinned….nappy head” issues. Of course, “KAYE” was good enough to be the best friend with benefits, the chick you called after the club. The chick you trusted with your deep dark secrets…but the main chick? The wifey? The one you introduced to the family? Absolutely not.
That was until the summer of 2009 when “KAYE” came upon a young lady who turned out to be more emotionally compromised than she was. The young lady, in truth, was beautiful but after years of being abused and passed over because of her weight she had no clue how beautiful she was. She was mean…angry, resentful and incredibly volatile. She hid her insecurity under the guise of being a diva..constantly belittling and insulting everyone around her. As a result, their relationship was just as ugly as they both felt. Fighting, cursing, both trying to hate each other as much as they both hated themselves. It was then that “KAYE” realized that at the root of her experience was her belief system. Just like everything else in the universe…what you believe you manifest.
20 years ago, “KAYE” had made the choice to believe that she wasn’t pretty and therefore didn’t deserve to be loved, respected, cherished, honored or chosen. As a result that last 20 years of her life and the subsequent relationships only reinforced what she already believed about herself. How could she expect anyone to see beauty in her, if she was unable to see beauty in herself? Beyond that who said she couldn’t be all things she had always been told she was and STILL be beautiful. Couldn’t she be smart and beautiful? Sweet and Beautiful? Thoughtful and Beautiful. Natural and Beautiful?. DARK Skinned AND Beautiful??
Was she really willing to accept that there was only ONE type of beauty? Only the kind conceived in the mind of an 8 year old boy???  Living in a cold dark city…hoping to turn away from anything even remotely cold or dark??? (THINK ABOUT IT).
Which is more, was she comfortable believing that because she didn’t possess this type of beauty she as was not worthy of love and commitment? Did she want to grow old trying to extract her self esteem from women she had only casual relationships with? Didn’t she deserve more?
She realized that the whole “you’re not pretty, you’re not worth it thing” was an agreement that she had made many years ago….and as long she agreed to keep this belief her life could continue to reflect it. She sought out to change her beliefs…to see herself that way GOD saw her... perfect in all her in imperfections… 
I tell this story about my close friend “KAYE” because it’s a constant reminder of the damage we do to ourselves with our thoughts and beliefs. Perhaps you don’t have dark skinned nappy head issues like “KAYE”, maybe you were the fat girl, the skinny girl, the only average student, the one with the lisp, or who stuttered. Maybe you were the one who was never noticed for your mind, because people were so busy telling you how pretty you were. Who knows what you’re struggle is or IF you even have one. Maybe it was the abusive relationship, or the overbearing parents who were always ever so careful to point out every flaw you had. The point is all of us have a “friend” like “KAYE”, it’s the part of us that tells us we can’t… the voice of negativity that keeps us from running without fear towards our dreams. She’s that little voice that makes you take off that new skirt that you bought just for tonight…but “KAYE” tells you look fat in it. She’s the doubt that creeps up in your stomach when you decide you need to walk away from Mr. or Ms. Not-so Remarkable because they don’t you treat you right. “KAYE” tells you that this may be the best you can get…and that you should be thankful that SOMEBODY wants you with your lisp, bowlegs, flat feet, hairy ears or whatever flaw you think or have been told makes you less than the next person . “KAYE” is why you stay in bad relationships, unfulfilling work situations, and dead-end friendships. She is why you overeat, why you drink you too much, or gossip about people. She is childhood negativity all grown up---living and breathing AS YOU!
Now, when you have a “KAYE” in your life (like most of us do), you can do one of two things….you can believe her or you can love her anyway.  If you decide to believe her, you agree that you are unworthy, non deserving and so on. You decide that you because you didn’t finish college you don't deserve to live a certain life. Or because you have big eyes you really DO look like a deer in headlights all the time…just like the kids told you in 2rd grade. The second choice is to love “KAYE”. To have compassion for her. To understand that “KAYE” did not pull her beliefs out of her behind. She developed these views because of what she was told and what she experienced. “KAYE”’s attitude is the result of the pain in her life so her healing can only be facilitated by love. “KAYE” needs to know that you love her anyway…with all her “imperfections.” She needs you to love all those parts of her that she has been told make her less than. She needs to know that you love the gap in her teeth and the fact that her fingernails just won’t grow. If she believes that you love her…maybe one day she will learn to love herself? All she needs is a little attention.
It has taken years for me to accept my “KAYE”…and there are def moments when I can hear her talking to me, teasing me, taunting me about my skin or my hair texture. But I tell her as gentle and as patiently as I know how…I love you “KAYE”…all that you are and all you aren’t…you are a part of me…more beautiful than words can articulate, more lovely and divine than poets can describe. It’s not your fault, that kids are cruel or that the world can be one-sided and unfair. I love “KAYE” because she is a part of me, she is all too vivid memory of a troubled and painful past, riddled with teasing and feelings of rejection. But “KAYE” also reminds that sometimes beauty is fragile just like 9 years old hearts…if you don’t handle with care spirits can be broken at the hands of one person’s preference.
Now “KAYE” and I are down like “Brandy”wanted to be in 2002. Sometimes we argue. She thinks my hair is nappy, I tell her it's thick and strong. She thinks my skin is too dark, I tell her that the SUN favors me, that’s why I get so much "shine." She thinks I’m heavy; I remind her that Nicki Minaj paid to have a body like mine. But at the end of the day we work together to create the being that is me.  Not too ashamed to admit or confront her past, but not na├»ve enough to accept is as my current reality. “KAYE” keeps me on my toes and for that I am forever in her debt….
How can you love the “KAYE” in you?

All of our love,
 the thick AND fine, Beautiful AND Brown, Naturel AND pretty... Kenya and "KAYE"


  1. LOVE this. Such an important reminder. :)

  2. How moving! Thank you for sharing this intimate and cathartic piece. It means a lot...

  3. Great story, and I relate to it in almost all its parts. Thank you for sharing this, Kenya. And you are pretty!