This may come as a surprise to
some (ok none) of you, but I was a dramatic child. I would throw Oscar worthy tantrums in which I constantly questioned my parents’ love for me, ie., “If you really loved me, you would let me have that cereal/candy/toy/necklace!!!”
I also pulled stunts such as putting ketchup on myself and lying down in my large walk-in closet (a closet I took for granted then) and waiting for my mother to discover me. I would lie perfectly still and hold my breath until she came (which could have backfired). She, of course, would be devastated upon arrival and think that I was seriously hurt. Then I would see how much she truly loved me. My (Haitian) mother would instead find me and yell at me for wasting “food” and giving her more laundry to do.
As my antics worsened, my mother realized that I needed an outlet to channel all of my energy into. As avid (all day) churchgoers, she thought that letting me perform in the church talent shows and holiday programs would be exactly what I needed. It was. I was hooked. I was in every show from the age of 8 or 9 until about 16. I would recite poems and portray historical or biblical figures.
It was around the age of 15 that my Sunday School teacher introduced me to a poem written by Maya Angelou, entitled Phenomenal Woman. It became my signature performance piece. It just resonated with me. I was struggling with my weight, self-esteem and self acceptance at the time. I had issues giving and receiving love as well. So I felt empowered to be able to say:
During this time, I was accepted into a performing arts high school. It made complete sense to me to go on to major in Theatre in college as well. The sensible thing to do after that is to move to NYC, right? I was ready to come here with just $1 and a dream. Yet, after my mother’s signature side eye, I applied for and was accepted to grad school (majoring in Theatre Education).
It didn’t take long for this city to make me question myself again. After countless auditions in which I heard “Next!” or “We’ll be in touch.” (and never hearing from them), I doubted my talent, my beauty and my worth. I was also struggling financially and it just didn’t make sense to keep wasting time, money and effort on a dream that seemed so far-fetched. Even when I did “book a gig”, it paid so little or not at all.
So after a while, I started to take temp jobs as an Admin Asst or a Receptionist (which, for those that are familiar with my lack of patience, know that’s a post in and of itself). Soon, my need to pay rent and my fondness of eating kept me in those jobs more than at auditions. I eventually started teaching at a charter school and the money was not only stable, but lucrative. My “Plan B” trumped my initial dreams of stardom. I also wasn’t writing or even dancing anymore.
I thought I was fine at first. But as the years passed, I became pretty miserable. I would lash out at people, strangers and loved ones alike. I started showing up to work later and later and was eventually let go. The weight I had finally tackled with dance and exercise, began to creep back on. I tried to ignore it, but a doctor’s visit and his concern for pre-diabetes (my mother is diabetic), woke me up. The relationship I was in for over a decade became troubled and ended soon after. I had hit rock bottom.
After a period of intense mourning and self-reflection, I rediscovered my love of writing and the performing arts. My sister-from-another-mother and I did a Couch to 5K program with Black Girls Run in Prospect Park and started dancing together in a Haitian Dance Troupe named Kriye Bode. Slowly, but surely, I started to feel like myself again. I saw a woman I recognized when I looked in the mirror. I even began to love her again.
I recently heard a Soca song named Phenomenal that made me think of the beloved poem. I was inspired to read it again. Life has definitely thrown me its share of curveballs. I have had plenty of opportunities and reasons to just give up completely. But although my mother didn’t always dote on me and express her love, she instilled in me a tenacious spirit. So have many other phenomenal women I have had the pleasure of knowing over the years.
I am still here. I am still standing. I am still a woman phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, that’s me.