Tuesday, May 26, 2009

MyBrownBaby Presents asha bandele: She's Something Like Beautiful

I’ve met author asha bandele only once in person, yet we've gotten on the phone a million times and talked for hours about everything—our daughters, collard greens cook-offs, bullies, Spades—as if we’d known each other a lifetime. She’s easy like that—infectious. I’ve loved her forever—first as an author, freelance writer and poet who penned the astoundingly haunting, The Prisoner’s Wife, and the richly moving novel, Daughter, and later as a terrific friend. Every conversation with asha is deep, funny, spiritual, crazy, a little nutty, a lot smart, and I always hang up the phone so very glad to be counted as her sister friend. I’ve gotten to know her better through her memoirs, and of late, I’ve been thoroughly engrossed by her lasted work, Something Like Beautiful: A Single Mother’s Story. A follow-up to The Prisoner’s Wife, asha’s memoir about falling in love with and marrying a prisoner she met while working in the system, Something Like Beautiful is a fitting, beautiful testament to the life she’s built and the struggles she’s endured as she raises her daughter Nisa, alone. I asked her if I could share an excerpt of Something Like Beautiful here at MyBrownBaby, and she graciously obliged. Here, asha’s lovely words (yes, this is a long post, but every word is worth it, I promise you):

This is the hour I live for. This is the hour I live. I am here in the hushed dark and I am watching my daughter sleep. I am watching her deep, full breathing, her arms outstretched, her face wearing the look of peace and content. And her face, the one I can stare at and lose myself in. I lose myself in the smooth and round and beauty of her face, buried and breathing now into my breast.

The day has been long, it has felt impossible, it’s felt immeasurable, but it was not and we are here, survivors on an aching planet, but both us and the planet. But both of us are still pulsing with life. And in this hour and in this moment with work and school and plans and lists, and everything, everything that was to be done actually done, we are here, and we are together and we are at peace.

And peace is what I always feel when I am with her, with Nisa, the clown, the freely affectionate, the lover of strawberries, sushi, spaghetti and ginger ale (though not in that order).

Nisa whose sense of joy and mischief could be marketed.

Nisa who is silly and bossy and demanding, although she does work very, very hard at sharing. She really, really tries.

Nisa, my little Aries, my fire sign who spits fire, born as she was in the Year of the Dragon... Nisa, my self-defined abstract artist and singer in the tradition of Beyonce, Nina Simone, Hannah Montana and the Cheetah Girls depending on the day, depending on her mood.

Nisa who loves cotton candy, cucumbers, Coney Island and being from Brooklyn.

Nisa who wants a dog and who does not understand “lease provisions.” Her, that girl.

She is never my problem, never the struggle, never the one who disturbs my peace. I tell people that when they offer assistance, offer to watch her for an hour or two. She is not my problem. She is my joy.

People say, and I believe them, How can I help? I say nothing. It’s not that there isn’t any help I can use. But who would I or who should I turn to when my stress is born of a sudden 40% increase in the cost of my rent and no concurrent increase in my income level?

Who can hold me down if the bottom line is this: I need to work outside the home just a little bit less so that I can make dinner for my daughter just a little bit more?

Who am I supposed to call about… a healthcare system that was just affordable and accessible? If someone wants to make me an offer, then be warned: these are the things I could really use help with... perhaps a public education system that doesn’t take a one size fits all approach to teaching children; or operate on a fear-based discipline theory even when who they’re scaring are people who are five and six years old, seven and eight and nine years old.

I would like a nation of school houses that actually look like school houses and not detention centers where even now, today, too many first graders are walking into their schools and their initial encounter is with cops and sometimes with metal detectors and so in case those children didn’t know it before, they know by the time they’ve walked through years of detectors, been watched by years of police officers, seen years of bars on windows, that whatever anyone told them, dreamed for them, they know their real destiny in this world is to one day be a prisoner. I could use that change.

I could use a country where no child really ever did get left behind. I could use an end to the war in Iraq, the conscription of children into armies, the genocide in Darfur and the persecution of women in Afghanistan. I could use police who cared about my well-being and the well-being of my children and the well being of children of mothers I know and I don’t know… I could use a grocery store in my neighborhood that sold organic foods. I could certainly have used a different response to Hurricane Katrina.

I could use a media that reflected in relatively real time the world it claims to cover. I could use a little more courtesy when I’m out in public. I could use far less concrete. I could use my daughter’s father home from prison. I could use many fathers and mothers home from prison.

I could use an end to child abuse and rape and sexual harassment and male domination and white supremacy and all the other isms that keep us hobbled and hurting.

They disturb my peace, those things do, but not her. Never my Nisa.

Even on the days when I have sat there just stunned watching her, Nisa, launch into a third straight hour of talking, of jabbering, on and on about absolutely nothing, but the sound of her own voice delights her even if it does make my eyes water up and cross. Even on those days, those endlessly noisy exasperating days, she does not disturb my peace.

If I have any peace at all it is because of those days and these nights. And this is what I’m thinking as I stroke her hair lightly and watch her as she sleeps and then without warning her small body jumps. She jerks in her sleep and I am suddenly afraid, my fears are so constant, so present, even in this hour when I think I’ve banished all the negatives away.

Put to the test, I go right there: Something terrible must be happening inside of Nisa’s head and I am waking her gently but urgently from the nightmare that I’m certain has gripped her sleep because too often they have gripped my sleep and before I can remind myself she is not me, my experiences have not been Nisa’s experiences and they will not be, she may never have nightmares; before I can tell myself any of that I am calling her name, I am whispering it into her, Nisa, Nisa baby, wake up, wake up.

I am asking her this as her eyes open slightly, then shut again tightly. Nisa baby, what are you dreaming, what are you seeing when you close your eyes? Are there monsters, is there something wrong, you jumped in your sleep. And she pauses before she answers, this child who is free and I swear I do not want to put my stuff on her, my hurt, and I curse myself for having just done it again and I make another silent promise that I will stop. I will stop right now. And as I am making this promise with my arms around my child, Nisa says to me quietly but deliberately and just like this:

I’m dreaming of rainbows Mommy. Go back to sleep.

Excerpted from asha bandele's Something Like Beautiful: A Single Mother's Story. Please consider supporting asha's work; click HERE to read reviews of her books and to purchase her work.

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  1. Thank you so much for sharing asha's excerpt. What a beautiful selection! It made my day!

  2. Denene, get out of my head! I just read Asha's essay in the new anthology "Happy Family" and I have been thinking about her and reading about her ever since. I have "Something Like Beautiful" on my to-read list. I have heard that people loved the book, but the criticism is that she did not delve enough into how and why her marriage to Rashid dissolved. Either way, the story is too compelling for me to not read.

  3. Gorgeous words. I must read more....

  4. Beautiful words. I'm heading over to read the reviews and to find the book close to home.

    Thank you.

  5. She is something special and looks as warm from the pictures. Thank you for sharing this lovely and inspirational lady with us.

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  6. i heart asha's writing. her novel inspired my pseudonym when i found myself in the unlikely situation of having my love incarcerated. her words are so clear, so visual, so appealing to every sense i can hardly stand it. i can SO relate to this. my son & i have many of these moments when he's just so cute and open, all i can do is smile.

    i must read this book. been slacking off. will read it for sure very, very soon.

  7. Her words are beautiful, and even though I'm not a single mom, they are a reminder that all of us live and breathe for our children in the same way. I'm definitely putting her on my "to buy" list :)

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