July 30, 2019/Rest
There is a photo of me from last year, 19 days after I had my daughter. My face is still puffy from pregnancy. You can't really tell, but of course, only I would be able to describe how my cheeks were just a little rounder than they normally are, and how there was more meat around the bridge of my nose. No one is capable of scrutinizing me like me.
My fro is little in the picture, but thick. Dark and shiny like raven feathers. Those hazy days after delivery have always been kindest to my hair. Hormones are funny. I was running on fumes and I was a jumbled mass of swollen labia and stitches and bleeding and thick, yellow breastmilk flowing like I'd never stopped nursing, but I looked bright. Hormones had me shining like the sun and had my skin clear. I'd even gelled down my edges (that hadn't yet been reclaimed by postpartum hair loss) with a little design. I never do this. But that day was a special day. I had a job interview.
A couple weeks after having my daughter, I had been scrolling the web, and saw a job opening with a local nonprofit I'd casually followed on Instagram. It was for a writing program, and all the skills they were looking for, I'd already acquired from my years working as a manager with the Boys & Girls Club. The date on the job call had already passed, so I emailed the address listed and asked if the position was still open or if they'd just forgotten to take the post down. They got right back to me and asked me to send over my info. So I did, and 19 days after having a baby, I was headed to an interview.
I remember the nervousness I felt that morning. I don't typically get anxious about things other than making sure I'm on time, but that was my first interview in over a year, and my first for a job I'd actually wanted for a reason other than earning income in... maybe 2-3 years. Maybe longer. I felt very out of the groove. And motherhood, new again, hovered as well. I dashed around my apartment to make sure my mother knew where the diapers and wipes were, and I explained that she needed to hold a cloth to my daughter if she ate because she would spit up when she burped. I had to explain how to properly warm up my breastmilk and where my oldest's snacks were and how to queue up his programs on the TV. I'm sure I was doing this while pulling up my old pants over my new stomach, grateful they fit enough that I could wear them without looking indecent. I'm sure I was doing this while wiping little beads of sweat from above my lip, while checking the time and calculating how far I had to drive, what the traffic would be like, when I absolutely had to leave the house by, and how fast I could walk in my uncomfortable ass dress shoes that I kept just for times like this.
The nonprofit was set up in the downtown neighborhood where my first job was, so the position felt meant for me, a full-circle moment of sorts. That neighborhood is, and has been Black. Everyone who perkily greeted me that day, from the director, to the head of the program, were white. But they were nice, I remember thinking. Or, I probably thought that. Or, I probably told myself I should think that, while really thinking about whether my daughter had woken up from her nap, and whether my son was asking for Goldfish crackers by now.
I'm thinking about that woman now, the version of me who went out for a job interview with some white people in that Black-ass neighborhood less than three weeks after having a baby. That period of time should be sacred. It should be filled with quiet, and reverence, and gratitude, and time to emotionally and physically rest, and heal, and process, and rinse and repeat, and rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. I remember feeling so eager to be seen by them people, so eager to win that job, snatch it for myself, so I could show everyone what all the time had been for, word to John Mayer. I was so eager to make good on the shadowy idea of my potential that had been given to me time and time again by family, friends, teachers, strangers. They all meant well, but meaning well and doing well are two vastly different things. They did not do well by me, no matter what they thought they were doing, and thus taught me to not do well by myself, either.
I went upstairs with the white folk, and we sat down, and I put on my best Interview Mal, the me who speaks in what feels too high an octave from my regular speaking voice; the one who code switches effortlessly. The me who laughs too much to appear friendly and extroverted; who spends so much effort inside her brain making sure she's constantly smiling and keeping her face open and relatable because she has resting stoic face. Interview Mal runs on auto-pilot. That me always feels gross, like she's feeding folk bullshit. I watched them eat me up as I gave right answer after right answer.
And then, I can't remember if someone asked about my personal life, or if I volunteered, but I knew, almost at the same time it was happening, that I was going to undo all the work I'd just done, because I was going to tell them I had a 1.5 year old and 3 week old at home, and that was not going to be the right answer. I knew I was not going to get that job because of that answer, and I knew I was going to commit to the truth, because the greatest thing in my life had happened to me 19 days prior. And before that, 1.5 years prior. So I told the truth, and they lauded me for coming to an interview so soon after my body had split apart to force new life outward, as if a person who would do that 19 days after having a baby was being pushed forward by anything except some desperate need.
I'm thinking about that woman, about the forces weighing down on her life that could have had her in the streets 19 days after seeing her daughter's face for the first time, interviewing for a job she was too talented and too qualified for. It's too easy to speak of capitalism and the ways it presses us down, makes us small, threatens us, tells us we ain't shit, says more more more you need more must have more feed me feed meeeee ee eeeee--
I'm thinking more-so about her eagerness to be seen. Her searching for recognition from people and titles when she'd just delivered her baby med-free, just because she'd wanted to feel connected to the Divine source of the pain and fire of new life. Just because she'd wanted to know. Them people couldn't see a girl like that. She couldn't see her, either.
Of course, the program talked to me nice and then didn't hire me. It hurt my feelings a bit, though I'd done so much growing by then, that I knew that what's for me won't pass me by. Them white folk probably got them kids writing some corny ass shit anyway. Just saying. I went back on the website eventually, and saw they hired a white girl with less experience than me, who was still in college. When I checked again later, she was gone and replaced with someone else. I checked again right before writing this, and the position I'd interviewed for was completely absent from the website. Looks like Spirit knew something I could not.
I still wish I could go back in time and tell that woman who'd just had a baby to learn to rest. Rest, chile. It's all gon' be alright. Rest, mama. You rest. She'd learn, though. She's learning.