(permanently) a work in progress

in two hours, you turn twenty-six
(four years from thirty, not that you’re counting).
when your mother points out the “flaws” in your figure,
(breasts that can’t be contained by button-up shirts
& hips that never widened during puberty)
laugh & remember that
her spitefulness is only rivaled by her jealousy.
when you trip in front of the crowd
on the train platform & feel twelve again
(the era of an almost mullet & headgear)
look in the mirror & remember that
you’re not an awkward tween.
when a former party friend suggests
that falling in love rendered you weak,
(being the instigator of wild times
was the mark of a badass)
roll your eyes & remember that
you found strength in accepting yourself.
you are (permanently) a work in progress.

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“What are those things under your shirt?”

As a teenager, I babysat rambunctious boys. They destroyed everything in their path. They brawled to resolve arguments. Their parents laughed, “Boys will be boys!” when I described their aggression.

When a couple down the street asked me to babysit their demure five-year-old daughter Ana, I was relieved. Playing with Barbies and reading stories would be a welcome break from the chaos of babysitting boys. I wouldn’t have to stop fights or put valuables in unreachable places.

After going over Ana’s bedtime routine and their contact numbers, her parents left for their date night. We had pizza for dinner and played hide and go seek. (Not as difficult with two people, she discovered.) Before bedtime, Ana insisted that we have a tea party. We sat at her pink table and sipped invisible tea out of matching teacups.

“Samantha, how do you like my tea party?”

“It’s the loveliest tea party I’ve been to, Ana. Thank you for being a gracious hostess.”

“What are those things under your shirt?”

“You mean…my bra?”

“What’s in your bra? My mommy said those are called breasts, right?”

“Uh — ”

“My mommy and daddy are doctors. They say you should use the real words for privates.”

“Scientifically speaking, I have breasts under my shirt.”

“When will I get those?”

“It depends on when you go through puberty.”

“What’s that?”

“When your body changes — actually, you should ask your mom about it, not me.”

“My mommy and daddy aren’t regular doctors. They talk to people to make sure their brains are happy. What’s that called?”

“They’re psychiatrists.”

“Why are they white and I’m brown?”

“…”

“My hair doesn’t look like my mommy’s either.”

“This tea party has been a fantastic one, but it’s your bedtime, Ana.”

“Already?”

“Teeth brushing and pajama time for you!”

“You’re not making me sleep early because I ask lots of questions, are you?”

“Not at all!”

While Ana slept, I decided two things:

  1. I would rather broker peace between battling brothers than field more awkward questions from this observant little girl.
  2. I would never babysit for a couple of psychiatrists ever again.

My boss likes to give unsolicited life advice.

When I started working at the firm two years ago, I made an unfortunate discovery — my boss likes to give unsolicited life advice.

My boss is clueless in a Mitt Romney kind of way. He grew up and stayed in Buckhead, one of the most bourgeoisie neighborhoods in Atlanta; his brothers and parents’ houses are also on the same street. He’s never lived in an apartment.

Since my boss got his driver’s license, all of his cars have been new BMWs — that’s forty years of driving nothing but BMWs, y’all. Aside from a few of us people of color at work, he’s insulated from diversity. I’m the first Filipino person he’s ever met.

I had been working at the firm for several months. On a Friday afternoon in September, my boss called me into his office.

“Sam! Have a seat.”

I sat in the chair in front of his desk and fidgeted nervously.

“You’re not in trouble — don’t worry!”

“That’s a relief, sir.”

“Whadda y’all young people do for fun these days? Like, this weekend?”

“My boyfriend and I are going to the Music Midtown concert tomorrow.”

“Didn’t know they were bringin’ that festival back! I went in the ’90s when I was single. Who all’s playin’?”

“A lot of indie bands — I’m looking forward to seeing Walk the Moon, The Joy Formidable, and Young the Giant. Coldplay is headlining, though.”

“Never heard of any of ’em, ‘cept Coldplay.”

I suppressed a laugh. “What are you and your family doing this weekend?”

He sighed in exasperation. “Prolly somethin’ lame like takin’ the kids to the park or some shit.”

“That should be fun!”

“Nah, it’s borin’ as hell! Lemme let give ya the biggest piece of advice that anybody’s gonna give ya.”

I gestured for him to continue.

“Put off gettin’ married ‘n’ havin’ kids as long as possible.”

“I’m twenty-three, so I’m not in a hurry.”

“Good. ‘Cuz everybody says the day yer kid’s born is the best day of yer life — they’re lyin’.”

“…”

“Not to say kids aren’t great — ‘cuz they can be. But they wear ya out and are a money pit.”

“…”

“Forget about doin’ what ya wanna do — yer life’s gonna revolve ’round them ‘n’ their schedules.”

“…”

Enjoy yer freedom. Y’all hafta live it up for the rest of us who’re stuck with our balls ‘n’ chains.”

I glanced around, waiting to be dismissed.

My boss nodded, grinning. “Glad we had this talk, Sam.”

“Me…too…”

Jogging isn’t a euphemism.

Last Sunday, I went jogging for the first time in over a year. As if Mondays weren’t terrible enough, I was incredibly sore. Though I was moving extremely slowly, I got to work on time.

My coworker Charlie walked into the kitchen as I grabbed my coffee cup from the cabinet. He’s in his sixties but wears a Michael Jordan-style earring and a chain. His kids aren’t much older than me, so he’s more informed about music and technology than most of my coworkers.

“Mornin’, Sam!”

“Good morning, Charlie!”

“How was your weekend?”

“Pretty good.”

I waddled to the coffee machine and shifted uncomfortably as my coffee brewed. Charlie gave me a knowing look.

Mm-hm. Seems like it was.”

“I went jogging!”

Sure ya did.”

“My legs are dead because I haven’t gone jogging in a year!”

“I ain’t hatin’.”

“But –”

“At least someone around here is gettin’ some!”

“Jogging isn’t a euphemism for getting laid!”

“No need to be embarrassed! You’ve gotta enjoy your youth!”

“It’s not that, I –”

“Once ya hit menopause, you’ll rarely wanna go jogging with your man!”

“These guys sing so fast, I can’t understand them.”

My boss is hard of hearing. Against his doctor’s orders, he only wears his hearing aids at court or on a conference call. This leads to frustrating conversations where you have to repeat yourself frequently. But there are three instances when this has worked in my favor.

One
“Hey Sam, can you take a look at this for me?”

“Definitely!” I flipped through the pages. “When do you need this by?”

“Before lunch would be great.”

“I’ll finish this email and edit this next.”

My boss paused at the doorway, straining to listen to the music playing quietly.

Poppin’ that pussy’s a dance for the ladies
Straight from the south, into the 90’s
Freaky bitches are the ones I like
In g-strings in the middle of the night

“These guys sing so fast, I can’t understand them. Plus, the beat’s so loud — it drowns out the words.”

I laughed awkwardly. “This song is by 2 Live Crew.”

“I’ll look ’em up.”

Two
Like many of my older coworkers, my boss is a fiscal conservative who reminisces about President Ronald Reagan’s “glory days.” He knows that I was heavily involved in Young Democrats in college, so we don’t talk about politics much. One afternoon, I was listening to Killer Mike and cranking out a particularly tedious set of reports, when he popped into my office.

“How’re those reports comin’ along?”

“I’ll have them done in an hour.”

“Great, thanks!”

I’m dropping off the grid before they pump the lead
I leave you with four words, I’m glad Reagan dead
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan

He beamed. “This fella’s singin’ about President Reagan!”

I winced. “Um…yes.”

“What’s his name?”

“Killer Mike. He’s from Atlanta.”

“It’s real cool that he’s got a song payin’ tribute to The Gipper!”

Three
Sometimes, I’ll stream music from certain artists’ stations on Rdio. (Rdio is a music subscription service that predated Spotify.) That afternoon, I was listening to the Lil Kim station and working on billing.

“I sent you an email about a pre-bill — could you re-run that for me real quick?”

“Sure. Do you want a hard copy or PDF sent to your email?”

“Hard copy’s good.”

My neck
My back
Lick my pussy
And my crack

“Listenin’ to lady singers today?”

I discreetly turned the volume down. “Yeah, this is Khia.”

“I should start wearin’ my hearin’ aids around the office, so I can hear this hip music you young folks listen to!”

Comfort in the quiet

I used to loathe
(stretches of)
silence,
convinced that
awkwardness grew
with each passing second.
I would interrupt
the stillness with
meaningless chatter
(or nervous laughter).
Now, I find
comfort in the quiet
(moments).
Mornings when we
walk to the train station
(hand in hand).
Afternoons when we
read our respective books
(beside each other).
Evenings when we
hug tightly
(after a long workday).
I appreciate
these wordless moments
as much as
lengthy speeches.

“Who’s that broad Molly?”

I try not to write about where I work very often, for fear of my boss finding my blog. As mentioned in my poem yesterday, my office is in Buckhead and as I wrote in my rant about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case, many of my coworkers are conservative white men (the majority of whom are middle-aged or older).

Most days, my coworkers’ offhandedly sexist or slightly racist comments frustrate me. However, there have been several hilarious occasions that have made up for it. (I’ll be sharing one today and others in future posts.)

Silence is the ultimate productivity killer for me, so I need to have music on while I’m working. When I’m chugging through tedious reports, I either listen to hip-hop or obnoxious dance music. About a month ago, I was listening to Trinidad James’s album when Old Jim walked into my office.

Old Jim is a brusque yet friendly man who’s close to retirement age. (The other Jim in our office is Big Jim, since he’s a huge man who acts like The Hulk during tax season). Old Jim usually asks me about pop culture so he can have some common ground with his kids.

Trinidad James was rapping in the background.

Pop a molly I’m sweatin’ (woo!)
Pop a molly I’m sweatin’ (woo!)

“Who’s that broad Molly? All the rappers talk about her. She must be pretty popular.”

“Molly isn’t a lady; it’s a drug.”

Old Jim pondered this for a moment.

“So can you smoke it like dope?”

I was too busy dying inside to reply.