Warning: this post may change your entire opinion of who you think I am.
My last post left me thinking about the six years that I spent living with the unstable white woman that I call “M”. I’m not interested in protecting her identity; I just don’t want to write her name. I know that that sounds harsh, but I never got to process the pain and hurt that she personally–and quite deliberately–put me through. I have forgiven, but I have not forgotten. I didn’t realize until now how much I needed to do this for my own healing.
Yes, I have to emphasize that she was white, because despite the few things that we had in common, our racial/cultural differences were the first thing that got in the way. There was too much to stop and explain to her, like “You don’t get to speak ‘ebonics’ to Black people when you’re white!”, and “You’re not scoring points by quoting Steve Harvey’s standup routine right now.” We ultimately could not get along, cohabitate, or stay friends. We were unequally yoked.
“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6:14 KJV
This Scripture usually gets pulled out when people are talking about marriage, dating, or “shacking up” between Christians and non-Christians. I have never had a real romantic relationship, so I apply it more broadly, to include my long-term friendships. Simply put, when you are yoked–connected, bound, soul-tied–to another person, the two of you have to be about the same things and want to go in the same direction, or the relationship is not going to work. I have learned that anyone who does not know and respect God the same way that I do will only get so far in a relationship with me.
I learned that from M.
M and I met at a social club that I was active in on the back end of my “wilderness” season. She was reserved, like me, and soft-spoken. We instantly connected as friends, and things went well. We had the kind of relationship where limits had to be discussed upfront. I was very clear about what I wanted, what I did not want, and what was NEVER going to happen. This was never going to be a romantic/sexual relationship, because I was celibate (and still am). Among other things, I required communication, honesty, trust, and respect for my faith. I wasn’t interested in converting her; I just wanted to create an atmosphere where we could coexist.
M pretended to be all right with everything that I was telling her. She was not.
It took me a year to give up my apartment and move in with M, but she’d insisted that this would be my home and that I should make myself comfortable. My finances were pitiful, and M was offering me a room, three floors of a house to put my stuff in, and no pressure to get a job (“Stop looking for a job! I’ll take care of you!”) I wasn’t stupid; I knew that a hidden agenda came with that kind of deal. Our original relationship was based on a platonic fantasy, but I knew the reality was that I was living in her home, on her charity.
I did continue to look for work, but the well was DRY. Nothing permanent. Nothing full-time. You know how some people are a paycheck away from homelessness? I was an argument away from homelessness, and I could NOT go home to my mother. So I learned to keep my temper in check and bite my tongue whenever M tried to pick a fight. And one of her favorite pastimes was trying to pick a fight.
M’s instability started soon after I moved in. All of her rules changed: I don’t want this, let’s not do that, let’s clear our schedules to go to this thing that I nagged you about all month so that I can back out with an attitude at the last minute. Very that. My mind demands logic, so when someone stops making sense, I disengage. God does not force Himself on people, and neither do I. The more irrational that M got, the more withdrawn that I became. Eventually, M ended our original agreement, saying that she preferred us to now be “equals” and “friends”. She also emphasized that she did NOT want me to move out and that she would still cover my finances.
Dodged a bullet there. Equals and friends? That was totally doable, because from my vantage point, that’s what we’d been doing since day one. Every part of our relationship was based on what she said that she wanted. The issue was that she was never consistent about what she wanted. It drove me insane.
Meanwhile, God and I were getting deeper in our relationship. Jenise and I spent more and more time together launching her dance ministry, and M and I spent less and less time together, because we now had less in common. M had been raised Methodist/Catholic and hated both. Christianity may as well have been Kryptonite. She didn’t want to be included in that part of my life, which had become ALL of my life. She was uncomfortable inside of the churches that we worked in, probably because she was frequently the only white person in the room. She often mocked our expressive style of worship, and she just plain freaked out at how we prayed.
Black people don’t pray, praise, or worship like white people. Let’s just leave it at that.
What bothered me most was that there was no way to have a positive conversation with M. Religion was definitely off the table, but there was no subject that we could talk about without her becoming snarky, disrespectful, offensive, or combative. We couldn’t even talk about our favorite TV shows anymore; she was suddenly disgusted by all of mine. Around my friends and colleagues, she introduced herself as an “atheist” or “pagan” to beat back any discussion of faith or spirituality. And to piss me off.
It worked. I stopped talking to her about everything. I lived, worked, and ate in my bedroom. Never again will I eat instant mashed potatoes.
Then her rules changed one last time.
By then, I was focused on full-time ministry. M would make many attempts to distract and provoke me by coming into my room uninvited, randomly dictating what she wanted me to do with my décor. “You need to move this”, “You need to get rid of that,” and “That’s not going to stay in here!” My belongings in other parts of the house were also “in the way” now. Cleaning up any area was M-speak for “get your stuff out of my sight”. One of said belongings was a professional-grade garment rack that she’d bought me as a gift to coordinate the dance ministry garments entrusted to my care. She shoved my garment rack to the center of our craft room to make room for a second craft table that she never used. I didn’t like how she mishandled our garments, so I moved the garment rack into my bedroom. Problem solved, right?
When I tell you that she freaked TF out… there’s no other way to put it. She came into MY room, pointed at MY garment rack, and asked, “What the F@#! is that doing in here?”
It was the first time she’d ever used that word in my presence, and it sent me from zero to who-do-you-think-you’re-talking-to. She wanted an argument with me; she got a good one that night. EVERYTHING that I’d been holding back came out in that argument, and she was not ready for the full brunt of my anger.
Angry Black people scare white people.
Nothing that came out of M’s mouth surprised me: “You should have discussed this with me first!” “I pay for everything, and you pay for nothing!” “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just move out?!”
Conversely, everything that I said back to her made her face explode: “I don’t have to discuss anything that goes on in this room with you.” “I never agreed to take orders from you.” “Is that what you really want?”
That last one was a bluff in the heat of the moment. I had absolutely nowhere to go, but if she’d said yes, I was prepared to leave. It was clear by that time that M did not want us to be “equals” or “friends”. That crazy white female wanted to own me. And I’d just let her know that that was never going to happen, either.
Fortunately, M fell for the bluff and replied “no”. We cooled down and ceased fire that night, but things were never the same after that. Not for me. My days were now numbered by the month. I just needed a little more time to find work, but no one wanted to hire someone who wasn’t coming from another job. Seriously. I was told that to my face.
Interviewer: “Why haven’t you worked for so many years?”
Me: “Because no one gave me a job!”
Yes, I said that–and I didn’t get that job, either. It’s not that I wasn’t qualified; at the time, I had over ten years of office experience. It was that I’d been jobless for more than two years. I couldn’t get work because I was jobless. Does that sound stupid to anybody else?
Okaaay….back on track, back on track.
The day that M slipped the note under my door that “it’s time for you to find someplace else to live, and yes, this is what I really want”, it didn’t surprise me. However, I still didn’t know how to respond, because I’d never been thrown out of someone’s house before. If there’s a manual for this, I’ve never seen it. So I just cried on Jenise’s shoulder and then started packing my stuff.
It was November of 2011, and M had given me 3 months to move. Because I wasn’t talking to her during that time (what the heck was I supposed to be saying to her?), she then decided–in true white woman style–to be in fear for her safety and demanded that I be out by New Year’s Eve, when she would change the locks.
Really, M? That’s what the demons in your ear have brought us to? Okay.
No argument. No drama. No begging. All I wanted to do was to leave there in peace, since I could not live there in peace. With Jenise’s help, I got a storage space for my 15 years’ worth of stuff, but there was no way that I could move it all in less than a month. Mind you, I still had nowhere to live. Jenise lived with her mother, who hated my guts, so that was not an option. My pastor dumped me on a pair of deacons; one told me to go back to my mother, and the other gave me the address to a nearby homeless shelter. As Jenise’s Artistic Director, I was organizing our third Dance Conference, which was scheduled for April of 2012. Me in a shelter for five months was also not going to work. The best plan that I could come up with was to live in the storage unit, which I am sure would have killed me.
December 26, 2011. Five days before I’d be officially homeless. I got the call that morning from my aunt that my sister Traci had died in her sleep. I remember screaming and not being able to open the door when M knocked. I remember the door (which I’d locked) flying open, and M standing in front of me. I remember saying, “She’s gone! My baby is gone!” And I remember M hugging me while she cried beside me on my bed.
Yes, I still had to move out, but M mercifully gave me till February, because I was the one handling all of Traci’s arrangements. She paid for Traci’s burial gown, printed up the programs, and read Traci’s obituary at the funeral. When I thanked her for her help, she said, “You know that I still love you, right?”
I’m still trying to remember what my response was. Pardon me, God, for not feeling the love.
A couple of months after I moved back under Mom’s roof, M texted me: “How are you doing?”
As far as I was concerned, M had forfeited her right to ask me about the situation that SHE put me in, but, trying to remember the God in me, I replied, “Everything’s fine.”
One of M’s most infuriating habits was to ask me a question and, if she wasn’t satisfied with my answer, would repeat the question over and over until I gave her what she considered a satisfactory answer. Maybe it was her professional training, but it plucked my nerves. Three times, she asked me “How are you doing? How’s everything going? Are you okay?”
After giving her the same answer twice, I reminded myself that I no longer cared about hurting her feelings. Then I reminded her that I wasn’t her (bleep!)ing child.
“I am in HELL, M! I am back under my mother’s thumb, where I swore I’d never be again, and she has declared war on me for not being the daughter who died! I NEVER wanted to be back here! I have no money, no job, and I am grieving the death of my baby sister, which is impossible in this house! And I still have people depending on me to put a conference together. No, I am NOT okay! Are you satisfied now?”
There was no reply. That was the last time that M contacted me. I guess she stopped feeling the love as well.
There’s a happy ending to the story. After witnessing six months of my daily torment, Jenise decided that it was time for the two of us to get our own place. And we have been yoked together ever since. The next time I set foot in my mother’s house was after she’d been declared dead–seven years later.
As for M, the last time that I Googled her, she had fallen seriously ill, her mother died, she’d gotten fired from her job, and is now living in Bumblefuque, Iowa, trying to start her own practice. No website, no social media activity, no updated Internet presence whatsoever. Mm-kay. I don’t like that she went through all of that by herself, but I cannot be sorry. No good comes from doing dirt, especially to a child of God.
“Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.”
1 Chronicles 16:22 KJV
The really happy ending is that in September 2012, I got free of being unequally yoked (to M and my mother!). I finally had privacy on an adult level. I could pray out loud in my own home. I could listen to my music. I could fast without a debate on the subject. I didn’t have to explain every move that I made, because Jenise and I speak the same language and come from the same world. Oh, we have our moments, but God is always in the middle of it, making sure that we don’t stay mad at each other over dumb stuff.
And that makes a BIG difference.