The sun slowly rises and I feel this distinct chill burst through our old windows as I lift them up. Our block is particularly quiet, save for a few bikes–buckling knees, head forward, hands locked in almost fists, anticipating the race against time and an approaching car. It is a vision of a typical New York City morning. It is the life of a New Yorker. One minute you’re cruising; then you tilt your head, squint your eyes, and you realize: it was never a cruise. It’s a race. And we are wired as fast-paced. We’ve got to be. If you are not or simply cannot, you will not make it in this city.
So when asked if I know who I am, I feel confident in saying yes. (Pauses for audible gasps.) I’m 27, and I feel as though I have waded through that confusion of my 20s–while raising babies. There is no space for wavering. A thought comes and you sit and you chart that crap out. Conflict comes and you hit it head on. Pain comes and you cry for a moment; then dry it up, then walk out with your chest strapped tightly. There is no time for wallowing or “why me’s”; there are children to tend to and careers that are blooming and magic being made; and you are only 27, but time doesn’t give a shit. It throws it your way and you know the swings by now; left, right, uppercut, another right. You’ve got it down.
But when when someone or something steps foot into that circle, like a penny dropped from the building, and you’re left looking around like “Who freaking dropped this penny in here?!” and the room falls quiet, you pick it up and figure it’s leaky copper and claim it as yours. There’s a pause in your routined throws and you’re left a little puzzled at this tiny thing that has you questioning that confident and emphatic yes.
I sat teary-eyed across from him at our milk-stained wooden table, a blooming plant between us and coffee steeping from our cups. He asked just the right questions, and the flood gates opened. I am the biggest oxymoron: a sensitive and emotional hard-ass with a tough back. I push forward without hesitation unless you prod in just the right way. And he knows that. And so he did. “You know who you are. You always have.” These tiny blips, the leaky copper that dropped in my circle of routine, they are there to teach me and make me question; but not there to tear me apart entirely. They are there as a pause, in the form of a friend, a foe, a disruptive email, a job pulled from under me, or even something I did right that I still questioned anyway. I often get taught this same lesson, and yet, each time it comes as surprise.
My first experience was when I was in college, realizing that the magazine market was quickly plummeting. I was pregnant and had a time card on my standing days on set assisting a few stylists. From the time I could write, I did. From the time I could play around with clothes I did. And yet, when there was a penny dropped in my circle of routine in the form of a baby and a failing publishing market, it stopped me. My professor very apologetically told me, while looking at my growing stomach and seeing that naive glow in my eye, “There are no jobs in that market right now.” I was just another young pregnant black girl with no where to go. I left college for good shortly after. I knew I would find a new way. There was a pause, but I knew who I was.
That moment feels familiar as a new season of life approaches. With each morning, slow and chilly air, bigger children, and a shift in career–rather, fruition of a career–I have to sit and analyze this penny. I have to let it insert itself in my tightly knitted circle, and remember that this season of life pales in comparison in difficulty to my adolensce, because I really do know who I am. And I am claiming it as so.
(photography by Julia Elizabeth for LaTonya Yvette)