We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
~ Ephesians 4:14-16
Last summer when the stork delivered the ill-tempered 22-year-old relative and her tag-along-friend, I was happy for the company. After our discussion the first night, I was looking forward to sharing some quintessential New York moments with a couple of out-of-towners. I’m sad to report that my gratitude for their company and hopeful outlook didn’t last long. Mostly because my house guests were exhausting. They weren’t gracious. They were dismissive of me, my time and the largesse of my hospitality (i.e. opening my home to two people I didn’t know). In short, they were not good guests. Still, I didn’t regret inviting them in. From the first day, I felt I was being tested in some way. That was the true source of my giddiness. I was looking forward to the test. Eager to embrace blessings. Not so eager to embrace the disappointment that quickly arrived to overshadow my small spot of light.
Youngin’ comes from a very vicious degenerate family. Her grandmother, my aunt by marriage, used to use words against me that left no doubt that she thought me ugly, unappealing and practically worthless – usually as compared to her daughter, Big Cuz (Youngin’s mother), who was deemed everything I was not. I never held this against Big Cuz because her mother brainwashed her in other ways and essentially thwarted her growth, development and life. I eventually forgave Big Cuz’s mother because I had witnessed how much she deluded herself, and through her self-delusion spread damage and hate throughout her immediate and extended families. Big Cuz’s mom was devoted to an emotionally and physically abusive husband who turned out to be an amazingly adept liar and destroyer. Unfortunately, her devotion and delusion stemmed from her own mother/father issues. Overall, her issues from her primary relationships were magnified and poured into her only surviving daughter – the cousin whom I have remained available to for the length of our lives. Even though we hadn’t spent time with one another since Youngin’ was around two years old, except for a brief visit when our grandmother was dying a few years ago. That’s when Big Cuz and I exchanged numbers… “to keep in touch.”
I provide this background to give insight into the history that feeds my concerns, as there remains some resentment and mistrust on my end.
I’ve never been comfortable applying all the malice and wrongdoing of her parents to Big Cuz. By the same token, I did not burden Youngin’ with the history I have with her mother and grandparents. My word to her was that she’d be judged by her own interactions with me. I’ve always hoped Big Cuz had survived her childhood whole and intact, if not spiritually, then perhaps emotionally. Unfortunately, time and very limited exposure tells a different story. Being around her daughter for a cumulative two months tells the remainder of what I need to know about the type of women Big Cuz and her daughter became.
Within a couple of days with Youngin’, I was thanking God for not giving me situations in life I had no preparation or wisdom for. I could see how the things her mother hadn’t been taught were glaring absent lessons in Youngin’s interactions with me. I could see how she mimicked an emotional hardness she had no true understanding of, a street persona she had no experience of, and a world-weary nonchalance she couldn’t quite pull off. I hoped to reverse some of that. People I spoke with encouraged me to simply live my life and allow her to see an alternative way to live. Honestly, that’s all I can do and therefore all I had been doing. Unfortunately, she closed herself to me before we ever got started. She’s actually admitted to shutting herself down and just trying to get through the remainder of the days I’ve agreed to share my home with her. As if dropping in on me and pleading for shelter without notice or grace was is a hardship to her.
At the end of her third week, she posted on Instagram an exchange with her grandmother, Big Cuz’s mom, in which she was inviting her “Grammy” to NYC in July to celebrate her mixed tape (CD) release party. She then went on to invite her whole family to the City and the party. Now as far as I know, she’s broke. That’s the premise on which she asked to stay with me. She had started a minimum wage job a week prior and had plans to move out the following weekend into a weekly rental in New Jersey. By no stretch of the imagination, based on the information she had given me, could she afford to produce a CD recording and host a release party in New York City within the next two months.
I didn’t mention the Instagram post to her. She mentioned her plans to me a couple of days later. I asked no questions. She won’t be in my home in July. She’s been insisting that she’s independent and is getting by in NYC on her own. However this venture works out, it’s her experience; she has to own it and figure it out. What I know for sure is that her grandmother will not step foot in my home. At all. Ever. If asked, I would meet her in a public place but I would not bring that unfiltered dark energy into my private space.
So essentially, Youngin’s decision to post her plans and invitation aligned her firmly with an attacker on my life and existence. The characteristics I had not been willing to fully apply to Youngin’ became undeniably obvious.
During her last week in my home, I sat Youngin’ down twice to discuss the way she chose to communicate with me. Both conversations were the result of text messages. The first text we discussed was one in which she asked to stay for another two weeks after she started working. I responded a few days later with the sit-down and a typed weekly rental contract. The second text was her snarky response to a paper note I left next to a dirty can on the counter, “rinse before recycle” on my way out the door to work. In both sit-downs she applied negative characteristics to my personality.
During the first sit-down, she said that she didn’t want to talk to me (in general) because I would “go left” (go off on her) and she didn’t want to deal with that. She had no examples of me “going left.” There are none. When I asked for further clarification, she told me I was a dictator. I asked her if she knew what “dictator” meant. She asked for a definition. I said simply, “someone who controls you and tells you what to do.” She double-downed and said, “Yeah, you’re a dictator.” I told her I had never been called that before and asked for examples. She cited the fact that she can’t come and go as she pleases. “This is my home. You had fuller access when you first came. You messed that up. Next.” She then said that my telling her that she needed a job made her anxious and she felt like she needed to please me by accepting anything. At that point, I realized she was just talking out the side of her mouth.
At the beginning of her second week with me, she had an orientation for a sales job and a second interview for a hostess post at Rockefeller Center’s Top of the Rock. I told her from her from her first mention of Top of the Rock that that would be a good place for her to work. She had made it sound like she was working in a restaurant at the Top of the Rock. I told her she would meet and see a lot of entertainment folks. She could start building a network for her music. When she was confronted with an orientation for a job she couldn’t even explain which conflicted with a job I had hyped, she asked me what to do and I told her a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. She asked for clarification. I said, an orientation is better than an interview. She asked me, “What would you do?” The orientation was 9:00am-3:00pm and the second interview was at 2:00pm. I told her I would go to the orientation and ask for an early release. If they refused, I would make a decision by lunch time on whether or not I wanted the job. If it wasn’t for me, I would head to the second interview. She did what I said I would do and she got offered the job at Rockefeller Center. She started the following week.
So… as she sat at my dining table and told me I was a dictator whom she didn’t want to talk to about her concerns because I might “go left” on her when all I’ve done is attempt to encourage her towards actual independence in New York City, I became disheartened by her very amateur character assignation attempt.
I had started that first sit-down by telling her that my struggle was staying true to myself and my faith practices while not condemning her for her choices and preferences – though I hoped she would grow out of some of her preferences. I told her that she was bringing things into my home that I had purposefully expelled from my life years ago. Though they may seem like small things, small things make a way for larger intrusions.
She asked for an example, I gave her three.
One night during her first week, she spoke about how much she depends on horoscopes. She doesn’t begin her day with them, but she ends her day with them because she likes to see how they can explain her emotions and the content of her day to her. I told her I stopped reading horoscopes years ago and don’t pay attention to them at all. I shared that I depended on God for everything and he’s been good to me. She responded that she has never needed to depend on God for anything because she has her parents. I wanted to point out that the fact that she was in my house proved her statement a lie. It was only by God’s grace that I opened myself and my home to her at all. I held my tongue.
A couple of days before Good Friday, Youngin’ asked me to look at some lyrics she had written that day. The first two lines were a refrain, “God is good. Amen n—-a.” After my eyes registered that she wrote that twice, I tossed her phone back to her. “That’s extremely disrespectful. Why would you approach God like that?”
“I’m not calling God a n—a!” She laughed as she said this.
“But you’re calling someone He created one while referencing Him. We are to approach God with reverence and respect.”
“We communicate with God in different ways, Shawnda. He understands me and knows what I mean.”
I ignored that foolishness. Maybe I went back to watching TV. She was writing for commercial gain and shock value. Her words were not meant to be an actual communication to or about God. It was blasphemy.
This exchange was one of the reasons she said she doesn’t like talking to me. Apparently, my rejection of her blasphemy had hurt her feelings.
I no longer actively listen to popular music (radio, cd, parties, clubs, etc.). I mentioned that her choice of music – with words that were offensive to women and Black people was nothing that I wanted to hear in my home. She had taken to playing her iPhone on speaker while in the bathroom. Music that raised my eyebrows in the morning, was her motivation to get going. I think I told her what she feeds her ears and mind will flow through her life – I was certainly thinking it. She agreed to keep her ear buds in going forward.
My third example was the port incident from a week prior. I stopped eating pork about five years ago. The first year was a pork fast to see if I could do it. I did it and I haven’t gone back – for the most part. During the second year I spent two weeks in Poland and I couldn’t see myself staying in Poland and not having any polish sausage. I ate so much sausage during my stay that I was over it before the trip ended. I haven’t craved pork since. During her second weekend, Youngin’ made dinner. She made baked spaghetti, home fries and salmon patties. I was out of the house when she came from the store and started cooking but I saw that she put sausage in the pasta. I asked her what kind of sausage she had used. She said pork. I said ok. She then asked if I eat pork. I said no. She apologized for cooking with pork. I told her not to worry about it. When I saw how much pasta she had cooked – an overflowing 13×9 inch pan – I felt bad for not eating any. I thanked her for cooking dinner and told her everything smelled great. She looked really disappointed, so I gave in and told her maybe I could eat a little of the pasta. She cheered up and said please do! I fixed my plate with all of her options. I picked out noticeable pieces of sausage and I thought I was doing good. So good in fact that when I packed up the pasta to freeze for her I nibbled quite a bit more. That night I woke up vomiting in bed. I have no way of knowing if it was from the first mercy bite or the last greedy bite, but I know that my body rejected it. The next morning, I told her what happened and told her that I knew better and I shouldn’t have agreed to eat the pork dish when I knew my body couldn’t handle it.
The pork incident was wrapped up the list of expelled things Youngin’ had brought back into my life. I was a breath away from mentioning her grandmother as the main thing I’ve exorcised that felt as if it was seeking a foot hold to climb back in, but I have no kind words for her grandmother, though long forgiven, I have no found memories of her; so I don’t mention her. I told Youngin’, “When you have a faith practice, or a life practice for that matter, it is imperative that you protect what is important to you. For years now, I had been removing things from my life on purpose. There was a time when I was trying to write my own horoscope charts. A time when I went to clubs and danced to the raps songs. I used to LOVE pork! Now, I’m done with those things. There’s a twenty year age difference between us. I don’t expect you to be where I am. I got here by living and making choices for myself. You will do the same. There are some things that I will say “no” to from now on and some things that just aren’t welcome in my home.”
She apologized for those instances. I assured her I didn’t think she had done any of those things with malicious intent. By the same token, I know that many people are not aware of how they are being used by the enemy. I was very much under attack. The instrument being used against me simply didn’t know she was a tool. I told Youngin’ I wanted her to be who she was, by the same token I needed to be true to myself and protect the work that has been done in my life.
A few days later during her text rebuttal of a simple instruction that didn’t require a response, she asked “Where is all this animosity coming from?” When I sat her down later that day, I began with, “This is the second time in a week that you’ve applied negative characteristics to me that have nothing to do with me. Where are your preconceived notions coming from?” Of course I knew. I thought she’d want to come clean as a sneak-attack-agent-sent-by-the-enemy.
“I don’t have any preconceived notions. That’s not how I treat people.”
“No, you do have preconceived notions about me. Have I ever “gone left” on you?”
“No, but I haven’t given you a reason to.”
I restrained from rolling my eyes. Even though I wanted to believe she was unaware of her negative impact, she was hitting former soft spots with no way of knowing these were former vulnerabilities of mine. “I don’t need a reason to go left. Have I gone left on you?”
“Yet last week you said that you thought that I would. That’s a preconceived notion. You had no basis for that comment or belief. I am not a dictator and I have no animosity in me. I am a very consistent person. I can tell you without a doubt that you could ask people about me from different time periods of my life, who have never met each other, and you will pretty much get the same description of me as a person. I know how I come across to people, because they tell me and they tell other people. I hear the same things over and over again.”
She uttered some feeble defense that made no sense. Then began talking about how uncomfortable, yet comfortable, she was in my home.
That actually hit me in the heart. I take pleasure in my hospitality and how well it’s received. I had told her during our last sit-down that her haphazard way of living put me at a disadvantage. She skeptically asked how. I responded that the two times she showed up on my doorstep asking for shelter left me unable to prepare myself or my home for her. My home is a clutter fest with piles of personal papers, documents, writing projects, photo prints and supplies covering every surface. My life is exposed to this person I know nothing about and I had no notice or time to put my home in order. A person’s mess is an intimate thing – as is their home. The only thing that made me feel less exposed was her obtuseness – her utter lack of awareness of how exposed I really was. I live in a two room apartment. I can close the door to my bedroom but the rest of the space is open (kitchen, dining and living area). “You’re uncomfortable here?”
“No one has ever told me they’ve felt uncomfortable in my home.” I paused. “I don’t think I’ve ever stayed anywhere I was not comfortable.” I was completely taken aback. She was sitting curled up in the curved arm of my velvet sofa, feet tucked to the side with my faux fur throw tossed over her lap. I wanted to ask her why she was still in my house. Perhaps the expression on my face conveyed my thoughts.
She tried to backtrack and said, “Well, that’s why I said I’m comfortable, but uncomfortable. I feel safe here, but we don’t have the same interests and that makes me uncomfortable. We like different music and different TV shows. I don’t know what to talk to you about. Each week I’ve been here, I’ve tried to adjust to how I think you want me to be. I’ve tried to stay out your way. I know you’re used to living alone so I’ve tried to give you your space. When you’re on the sofa, I sit at the table. I figure it would be awkward to sit on the sofa with you while you’re watching TV and I’m on my phone. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable in your home.”
“Are you serious?” I was incredulous. “You don’t have to worry about me feeling uncomfortable in my home. That’s not going to happen. If I want to do something and you’re in my way, I will let you know. Trying to act like you’re not here, doesn’t make it so. Do you think I don’t know you’re here when you’re sitting behind me at the table? Yes, I like living alone, but you’re here, so be here. You don’t get to know people by avoiding interacting with them. How are we going to learn anything about each other if you’re constantly changing based on what you think I want? Just be yourself. It shouldn’t be so hard to be who you are.” Famous last words….
“I tried being myself. You don’t like horoscopes. You don’t like my music or my creativity. I’m not like you.”
“So… you can’t talk about anything other than horoscopes? The first two lines of your song is a summary of everything you’ve ever written?”
“Then there must be more to talk about. You keep talking about how different we are. We both write. There’s a great deal to talk about with writing.” She mumbled an agreement.
I’m pretty amazed at the ridiculous words she sprouted. I spoke only enough to refute what she was saying. By the second sit-down I had already resolved that the agreed upon day would be her last day in my house. She would not be welcomed back a third time. I even debated blocking her number so she couldn’t reach me, but I decided I would rather know how she was getting on in the City than not.
She seems to have gotten more comfortable showing more attitude with time. I could hear in her various ramblings that she was choosing the wrong words, but even with follow-up questions and providing definitions she insisted she was saying what she wanted to say. When she first arrived to my home, I told her I would hold her to her words. Words carry weight with me. Though I don’t believe she believes the ridiculous accusations she’s hurling at my character, I do believe her intent is to inflict harm any way she can. That exposes her character and what I see is not pleasant.