so we can wake up and rise.

Tonight, my mother pulled a bag full of overripe bananas out of the fridge, prepping to make akara for tomorrow’s dinner. My stepdad curls his lips and my mother simply responds “when you grow up without money, you learn to work with what you got.” Earlier in the grocery store, watching my mom navigate the crowded aisles and calmly place her items on the conveyor belt amidst the chaos, I thought about how amazing it is to have my mom here. I remember my trip to Sierra Leone where she walked down the street that she lived on, pointing to her little house with a tin roof — my mom and her six siblings made space and made due with what they had. My mom, here, did it all for her parents and siblings.

Tonight, a cousin that I haven’t seen in almost eight years surprised me with a visit. We talked about how I spent every weekend, summers even, at their crib playing video games and tagging along as the adopted fourth sibling, until one year, my dad informed them that I wouldn’t be there that summer. My cousin tells me this and I try hard but can’t remember it, but the tone sounds all too familiar. I remember divorce ripping my aunt from me and sending her to another state. I remember my cousins moving away one by one, until our seeing each other was purely by coincidence.

Tonight, I talked to my favorite auntie on the phone. I don’t call her enough, my mom reminds me, and I know it, but feel so comfortable in that space where the love is still there, despite my contact; I don’t want to disrupt this. My aunt tells me about my cousins and how the day before, they couldn’t stop talking about me coming back home. The same cousins that are truthfully the only reason I come home in the first place. My aunt was not always my favorite aunt; I was riddled with jealousy when she left Africa to come and live with us. She was pretty and light-skinned, couldn’t walk me to school without cars stopping to beep at her. Six year old me couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting attention, why I wasn’t born pretty and light-skinned. I blamed my aunt for my own immature insecurities for a while until I slowly faded out of it and into a place of love. My aunt’s love is so real, and I feel that love through her kids, my babies.

Tonight, I thought about how I won’t be spending Thanksgiving with my dad and tried to journal the guilt away.

Every Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have a family like mine. We’ll eat, talk shit for hours, my mom will blast her oldies in the living room and I’ll loudly complain, to no avail. In the past few months, this familiarity is what I’ve been craving to make myself feel normal again, but something about this trip home feels different.

My lack of emotional stability in the last few months has drastically shifted me into introspective mode, trying to figure out what the root of my hurt is. My phenomenal family dynamic cannot shield me from the very real fact that my family springs out of a history of hurt. Colonial conquest, moving across oceans for a better life translates itself to aunties moving far away to escape their tyrannical husbands. I am connected to my family on the African continent only through half-hearted Whatsapp messages and Facebook likes. I couldn’t distinguish my birth grandmother’s voice from the voices of all the other African grandmothers I claim. There are so many intricate pieces to my village, and so many of these pieces have us grappling with questions we make not even find important enough to answer. We bring in abuse for the sake of holding our unity together because we are all we have. We cry tears holding years of pain watching Oprah specials. We heal fast because our families back home depend on us.

My family is filled with some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wonder if they often have “those nights” like me. Who do they turn to when their burdens reach capacity? When their knees are sore from unanswered prayers?

Tomorrow, I’ll pray the dinner table into a space for healing for all of us.

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