On Self-Care in Dark Times

The afternoon before my sister went back upstate (and yes – I call New Paltz upstate because I’m from the city) to start the Spring semester, she insisted that I meet her and Mami at Queens Center Mall.

She first made her appeal via text at 2:51PM: “Victoria’s Secret is having a sale on underwear! We should go.”

She tried to entice me again in Mami’s neon-highlighter green kitchen (a color that should be exclusively reserved for houses in DR and similar caribbean islands) “Victoria’s Secret is having a sale on underwear!” she exclaimed in the high-pitched squeaky voice she used to speak in as a kid and returns to now when she’s feeling enthusiastic. “5 for $15. C’mon. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

This was sometime after 3PM.

“I don’t know sis,” I responded with hesitance, “I’m tired and we still have a few more stops to make before we get to the house and unpack everything.” It was a Martin Luther King Day and I had the spent the day off from work grocery shopping and crossing off all those annoying errands that tend to sit on a list for weeks at a time. “I do need underwear though…” My voice trailed.

“I’ll buy them for you.” she continued with a shine in her eye. I couldn’t help but think how adorable she was.

“I’ll text you when I get home Chiquita. We’ll see.” And with that I went about the rest of my errands.

She did not wait for my text.

Instead, she checked in with me… non-stop, like an alarm that you keep hitting snooze on. The text messages came in as follows:

Full Time Friend (3:48 PM): Hey sis, mom and I aren’t leaving soon, but just wonderin. Do you have like an estimate of when you might be done with Trader Joes?

Full Time Friend (4:13 PM): Mom and I were thinking of leaving soon, would you wanna go with us to VS? And if so, when would be good for you?

I respond this time: Just got in the house sis.

Full Time Friend (4:24PM): Do you have more stuff to do in the house or would you want to go with us if we were to leave soon? Mom and I still have some things to finish up and have to put on real clothes again so there’s light buffer time.

These are her words, not my creative ingenious at work. My sister says things like “light buffer time.”

I respond again: Just unpacking and then I have to eat something.

Full Time Friend (4:25PM): Okay cool! We’ll you updated.

Full Time Friend (4:51PM): Mom and I are leaving now 🙂

Full Time Friend (5:05PM): We’re arriving at the mall now.

I kid you not. I got a text by text update of their every move. I was tired and all I could think about was all the work I should be prepping for my caseload the next day and how I didn’t really want to leave the house.

I shrugged it all off and took my tired behind out the door, to the M train at 63rd drive and one stop away to Queens Center Mall. I didn’t stop being tired.

We started at Victoria’s Secret where they had conveniently already run out of the underwear that was allegedly on sale for the day. We somehow ended up taking turns getting measured by bra experts who I still find questionable. How does one become a bra expert? Is there a training course or a licensure? She gave us all our “new” sizes and insisted that we get remeasured every six months.

From there, we found our way at one and then two other stores. I watched my sister jump around with a joy that put spring in each step. She was so full of life. She IS so full of life.

Mami’s mouth almost fell to the floor and her eyes did a Jim Carey from The Mask when she saw a teenage boy with his pants sitting right below his butt so that his red boxers with white hearts were on display for the whole mall to see. She made me sneak a picture so she could show it to Papi.

Chiquita probably could have kept going but around 7PM, both Mami and I looked at each other exhausted and agreed it was time to go home. The five minute drive from the mall to my apartment was extended momentarily when Mami stopped at the fruit store to buy the potatoes she needed to make Jeannette breakfast the next morning. They were driving her back up to school the next day.

Chiquita turned around to face me in the back of Mami’s black Nissan Pathfinder. “Thanks for coming tonight sis. I know you are tired.” she said with affection coating each word as she looked at me through her dark purple rimmed glasses. The white in her eyes gleamed against the lens in the darkness of the car and the night.

“No problem stister. I’m glad I came.” I responded. (Take note that stister is not a typo. It is a term of endearment.)

“You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-care.” she went on and I watch her with admiration, not sure when this little girl became such a wise woman. “I’ve recently made the realization that sometimes self-care is about doing stuff you don’t want to do. For example, sometimes I get really overwhelmed and just want to be my myself and stuff, but I’ve realized that forcing myself to spend time with friends and family actually helps me to feel better.”

Well said sis. Well said.

Poet and writer Sarahí Almonte wrote a stirring piece two weeks ago titled, “the fire.” With an eloquence and dark humor that I am drawn to, she described the fire that is coming to America with this new presidency.

It does not matter whether or not you voted for Voldemort, as Sarahí refers to him. You must be able to hear the logs chafing and banging like an angry pair of hands slamming together in an argument. You cannot ignore the ember that is growing beneath all the articles and social media statuses. The people are not united. I’m not sure that they ever have been, but the divide is so clear now that you have to pick a side and surely a fire is on its way.

Not much has changed since James Baldwin wrote “The Fire Next Time” in 1963 and it is infuriating. Everywhere I look there is ignorance, violence and hate, often painted in the colors of the American flag or cloaked as “wokeness.” There is hate on both sides. I do not want to live with hate in my heart. The fire is coming and I don’t know what to do.

I know I want to do more than just survive the next four years. I WANT the answer to be love. I believe that answer should be love, as James Baldwin promoted in his 1963 publication. But I also understand the anger and the desire for a change by whatever means necessary.

I am not sure what the answer is here – today in America.

All I can really do is keep my ear to the ground and sort through the rumblings of revolution. And while I sort – I will paint love and truth and light with my words. Even though the truth may not always be beautiful, there is always hope.

And in this process I will actively engage in self-care, as we all should. Here is the list I am committing to:

1. Making time for the people that I love and miss.

2. Continuing to write, from the #52essays2017 to documenting our family history to penning thought pieces without fear of who will read them and what they will think.

3. Exercising in some capacity 3-4 times a week – even if it’s just a video workout from home. Being active is more than just obtaining a summer body. It’s about taking care of your body and helps get rid of negative energy and emotions.

4. Continuing to read, from the growing “want to read” list on Goodreads to articles about what is happening politically.

5. Scheduling social media and phone “blackouts” especially during family time. I just signed on to Facebook and felt a nausea that climbed from my stomach into my throat because it’s such an information overload.

I challenge you to make a list of ways you will engage in self-care. Try prioritizing people over things. Stay informed. Actively love yourself. There is a war going on and if you can’t love yourself, if you can’t practice self-care, then you won’t be ready. You won’t be ready and you may be consumed by the fire.


2 thoughts on “On Self-Care in Dark Times

  1. Thank you for this. I feel myself falling backward when I should be reaching out. Your sister sounds like a beautiful and wise soul. The reminder to push past the sticky energies of rage and despair was so needed.

  2. This is so true: “Everywhere I look there is ignorance, violence and hate, often painted in the colors of the American flag or cloaked as “wokeness.” There is hate on both sides.” Thank you for calling attention to this. How I want love to be the answer, too. How sad it feels to be thinking that sometimes… maybe love isn’t enough. Stay strong!

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