Walt Disney lied! Society and my family lied too. They each convinced the younger version of myself that I should:
- Be treated like a princess, because I am one;
- Find a prince to take care of me;
- Marry no later than age twenty-four;
- Carry children in my womb;
- Sing around the house as I do chores and cater to my prince charming; and
- Have my shit together by the time I’m thirty.
Neither has proven to be true. Though, it appeared my mother and grandmothers willfully held down their forte, I openly struggle. No part of the Disney model fits into my idea of success. Most disturbing, I’m five years removed from thirty and I’m more fucked up than I was at twenty-one. The twenty-one year old Beatrice had nothing standing in the way of her dreams. She was happy, carefree. The thirty-five year old Beatrice is a taboo ball of energy. I care more about my career than I do being married. And though I love my four-year old more than anyone on the planet, I stay at a level five on the stress-o-meter. Thus, the bane of my existence falls within the lies I’ve been force fed. I’ve learned there is no happily ever after, there’s only happy is what you make it. Suck it, Walt Disney!
I knew from the time I could pick up a pen that my calling was to write for the masses. I told people that I was born with a pen in my right hand and a notepad in the other. It was true. Composition books hold countless diary entries and short stories, often littered with the names of old boyfriends (and chill buddies).
Ladies are taught to keep their secrets in the dark and to stay meek so they can nab a husband. All part of the elaborate scheme society and Walt Disney put into little girls’ minds. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, nor the other over-glorified Disney women had a career while managing a home. The closest woman to that would be Cruella De Vil who skinned the fur off of young pups so she could make a fur coat. Okay, so she killed the dogs, and yes, that’s inhumane – but she had a plan of action. I didn’t see any of the other women portrayed in Disney do anything to get money, or be happy, except fall in the arms of a man, in particular a rich prince. Society pushed this idea upon us little girls, except my skin is a smooth shade of brown. And there are no Disney stories of rich black men whose sole purpose is to adorn a woman. So where are the role models for my black male counterparts? That’s an entirely different subject in itself.
Growing up in a two parent home helped shaped my idea of what success looked like. It fit the Disney model. My parents, married for thirty-six years now, seem to have it figured out. They never argued in front of me, and my mother playfully chased my dad around the house. To this day, her heart fills with joy when she caters to him. In turn, he provides for her. It was my model for what a successful relationship should look like. I think Disney and society would agree.
I have always been the overachiever. My first grade class won a “Write a Book” contest; I like to think it was because I contributed my two cents. By middle school and throughout high school, I was doing almost everything my parents asked. My dad’s order of expectations were clear:
1) go to school,
2) listen to my teachers,
3) do my homework, and
4) go to college.
5) …Oh, if you want to have a baby, do that after you have a career and get married.
The bar was set high and I put an insane amount of pressure on myself. Though, something in me was innately on hyperdrive. I graduated in the top five percent of my high school class. After I was rejected from Spelman, I attended Hood College. My mother paid the twenty-two thousand in tuition from her retirement fund. But I didn’t excel in the private college setting. I could barely keep up with the rigorous coursework. I transferred to Bowie State University my sophomore year. This was the first time I was pricked by a thorn in my scholarly rose garden. I bandaged myself up and kept it moving. No prince needed!
I completed my Communication studies at Bowie and graduated with a 3.41 GPA. My GPA would’ve been higher, if I had not struggled in my studies at Hood. By the time I graduated, I racked up at least seven Who’s Who and National Dean’s List features.
At twenty-one, I interned as a board operator for Radio One. I ran the board for the Joe Madison “The Black Eagle” show at 6am and the Brian Higgins show at 10am. The program manager, LaFontaine Oliver, whom gave me the internship based off of a random conversation he had with my mother on the subway one day, offered me a full-time position. I turned it down when my twenty-five year old colleague confessed the position paid around $9 per hour. He had been a board operator for six years and still lived with his parents. Though I enjoyed what I did at Radio One, I didn’t want to live in my parent’s basement longer than I needed. I had to get this career jump started if I were going to buy into the idea of a husband and children. Besides, I was aspiring to be an anchor on the morning news. This was my real destiny.
I wanted it all, and I thought everyone would want me. Surely, there were higher paying positions available for women like me. My academic accolades were higher than many I knew. My resume reflected internships at both Radio One and the DC Superior Court. Since I hadn’t reached number five on my father’s checklist, I was the perfect candidate to stay late, take on extra assignments, and travel. I felt as though I could walk through the door with one-up on my older, more settled competitors. I just knew someone was going to pay me! I could taste the successes of being one of the top anchors in the city.
My hope in journalism was lost when I botched an interview with WJLA in Arlington, Virginia. The program manager neglected to respond to the – at least three – follow-up emails that I sent. I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she didn’t respond to the colorful email background, even more colorful font, and the African American-themed clipart I embedded. Surely, I was showing her that I was creative, jubilant, and really good at communication. After all, I thought we were sistahs, black, educated, and in the communication field. It was only years later that I realized, I was not as ready as I’d thought. Alas, I started to see my dreams crumble. The pats on the back throughout school didn’t prepare me for the real world or the corporate grind, especially in the DMV (DC, Maryland, and Virginia) area.
By twenty-four, I was married and teaching at a Title I (low income) school in Maryland, ironically located behind the Redskins stadium. My communications degree was put to use only to qualify me for the teaching position. I enjoyed working with the students. Seasoned teachers couldn’t understand my jubilant outlook on life. After the second year, I understood why they were so run down (hint: it comes from the top). Since I didn’t want to have anything to do with journalism, I turned my attention to what I knew – writing. I started writing pieces of my first novel, Diaries of an Emotional Prostitute, during my lunch breaks and planning period. I used the chalkboard to storyboard.
My outward prim and poise masked the juicy and invigorating stories of lust and love that lied beneath. Being a writer and a bitch in heat made way for good storytelling. Since a lady never tells, I twisted those secrets inside a fictional tale – based off of real experiences. The guys littered throughout old composition books became faceless characters with fictional names, mere shadows that helped bring my stories to life. Okay, let me pause. Get your mind out of the gutter, I’m no freakier than you. Disney never revealed the woman that has lustful tendencies, so you judge me. You are forgiven. Anyway…
My marriage didn’t last long enough for it to feel the affects of my late night, early morning writing ritual. Though, his mother got a hold of an early draft of the first two pages and nearly flipped her lid. She was appalled that I would write such, according to her, filth. I felt ashamed of my work and even considered writing under a pen name. I went back and forth between Jahnavi, Bea, or Fatima (my middle name). I didn’t want the rest of the world to judge me for being free. Especially since I didn’t write cutsie wootsie fairy tales that depicted a woman trying to keep her faithful man. Kiss my ass, Disney!
I wrote Diaries of an Emotional Prostitute all throughout my short-lived marriage. I even wrote while I was going through a very painful divorce (as if any divorce is pain free). I even worked with a literary agent on editing and ideas. But her edits crippled me. My work wasn’t good enough. My ideas weren’t strong enough. Maybe this writing this wasn’t for me after all. I put down the pen.
By twenty-seven, I began writing again. At twenty-nine, I published Diaries of an Emotional Prostitute with the help of a Ghanaian friend. Since he had an entrepreneurial mindset, he taught me some of his tricks. I was single, no children nor obligations except the ones I set. I stayed up late and got up early. Most times I worked on three or four hours of sleep. I ate, breathed, and slept “the project.” Sometimes the feeling of loneliness overwhelmed me, but nothing compared to being single and chasing a dream!
At thirty, my best friend and I were in the early stages of producing Uncover 2 Discover, a Youtube series that depicted a few minutes of girl talk. She was starting her career as a poetess, I promoted my novel. Her boyfriend was an aspiring rapper. We were the perfect trio, each respecting the dedication it took to nurture our crafts. We attended poetry nights and local hip hop performances. We supported one another, sometimes offering up writings for an upcoming project. I sat in on readings at Busboys & Poets in DC and sold my novel at book fairs. I felt that I was making a slight breakthrough in the industry. I had my novel, I networked, I started a blog, I was becoming a mogul (in my mind). Life started to come full circle and I could give a damn about that WJLA interview I bombed years earlier.
Alas, a month into production, I met my (second) husband. One year later, I was pregnant, another six months and I was married…again. Within two years, my world of I became we, and we became three.
This is where the Disney movie usually ends and the words Happily Ever After or The End scroll to the top. I think this is where it should read Halt! What happens to a career driven woman after she gets married and has children? No one really tells us that she went on to be successful. A man and child usually end her story. Our mothers’, grandmothers’, nor Disney promote success after a woman settles down. I use the term settle because it’s essentially what we are taught to do. There may be a method to Disney’s madness in why he never dove into the forbidden happily ever after. We may find out, there’s a sequel, one that is grittier than before. What if his studios started telling girls the truth about marriage and motherhood? Rapunzel cuts her hair in a tirade, Cinderella starts drinking to cope, Princess Tiana gets fat from stress, and Snow White becomes a boisterous, bad ass.
The picture painted in society is not an accurate portrayal of how things go. Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keys were my creative role models. I noticed a shift in each of their their work and work ethic after they became mothers. As a mother, I understand. There’s a certain duty that you owe yourself and your child once you create life. That duty does not involve “self.” There are a few that do make it over that bridge, and kudos to them. They probably have nannies, or will live with a lot of regret. Please don’t use this as an opportunity to send me spam mail reminding me that “Beyonce is doing it.” Read between the lines.
The more I tried to fit into Disney’s princess model, the more I realized Oprah may be the real shero. Not once did she have to deal with a husband asking her to spend less time in the office or a child invading all of her privacy, killing all of her zen.
Let me be clear, I love being a mother. My son is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Now that he’s here, I would not trade any of the experiences I had with him for a second chance at life. With that said, confliction exists in my truth. I feel guilty for even admitting that I am a career driven woman, who is fortunate enough to experience raising a kid. I feel that society says you can’t do both, you must pick your poison. In many ways, it’s difficult to do both, but when you are passionate about two things that require equal amount of dedication, conflict arises. I wonder how Disney would spin one of those pretty little princesses when she’s faced with these issues. If she’s able to keep it together, I will be the first to call bullshit.
When I stopped writing before, it was out of disappointment and anger from the literary agent’s critique. This time, marriage and the hassles of being a new mom stifled me. I couldn’t even pick up the pen. I stared at blank pages or sat at the computer until frustration forced me to move. I could feel the sparks trying to connect, but no juice. It was the first time I felt suffocated, not by my own accord. The words didn’t come and I feared, I’d lost my talent. I feared that I would never write again or feel the euphoria that comes with it.
For five years, I could not write. Early on, my time was spent with my son and husband. Frustration ate away at me as I tried to morph into the Disney model. When my husband asked questions that started with, “Why don’t we…” it bothered me. Why couldn’t we become me? Maybe if I had more time for me, I’d be more interested in we. A part of me became resentful.
I yearned to rekindle the flame that dwindled within myself. It was a living hell for me not to be able to write. I often thought: Is it over for me? God, please don’t let it be over for me. I want to do so much more. Please, God help me! I’m dying inside…slowly!
I morphed into a woman that I barely knew. I nearly resembled women that I despised, unmotivated and unhappy. The lustful, playful, loving Beatrice was lost in a hollowed stain across my chest. My perky eyes, were dimmed. Aspiring to be a Disney princess suffocated me. I bought this to my husband’s attention one day and his response, “I don’t understand why you aren’t happy. You have a husband, a career, a house, a kid. You should be happy.” I cocked my head sideways and scrunched my eyebrows. I wanted to ask, “Did Walt set the standard of happiness for you too?” But I made a mental note, we aren’t built the same. Maybe the order of my DNA is different, and it’s perfectly fine by me.
I wanted to write stories that involved new love, new experiences, but I couldn’t even remember what living felt like. My routine stifled me. The days happy hours after work and writing all night were over. My dusty, old composition books had more life in them than I did.
Get up. Fight morning rush hour. Deal with bullshit for eight hours. Take a deep breath. Drive like a maniac through afternoon rush hour. Pick up son. Feed son. Bathe son. Entertain son. Acknowledge husband. Put on a happy face. Put son to bed. Watch an hour of TV to regroup. Feel guilty about not being able to do more. Bed.
After coming so close, was this my contribution to the world – a woman whose existence is consumed with marriage and a kid? This couldn’t be my reward for working so hard, having dreams, or busting my behind. My contribution to society felt much like Princess Fiona’s in Shrek, get married and have kids. No one cared about the identity I left behind. No one asked, “when are you going to dive back into writing?” I watched the thing I nurtured and loved the most be put on a shelf. Not even the front of the shelf, my writing was pushed to the back, where dust collects and dust mites breed. In a way that bothered me. It was as if my identity was now tied to a man and a child, (which I guess it was) but I had to remind myself of that constantly. It didn’t come naturally.
No wait. There was someone who never stopped encouraging me to write. James (Jim) Hopewell. He was like a grandfather to me. Our relationship began when he called me thirty minutes after I dropped my resume off to his office in 2003. I was a sophomore at Bowie, looking for work. Jim was a tall, Jewish lawyer in his late 50’s with wild blonde hair. His office was on the outskirts of DC. Jim and I hit it off instantly. He was a talker and I was a listener. During my evening interview, he talked to me for an hour about how he felt the CIA was listening to his conversations. He was not odd, or strange. Jim was fearful of the government’s capabilities and skeptical of technology. He filed papers by hand and had me assist him with everything technology-related. I started as his administrative assistant, but soon became his right hand paralegal.
I worked for Jim from the age of twenty to the age of thirty-one (2003 to 2014). He treated me like a partner. He was a workaholic, I was one too. We each worked long hours, six days a week. I worked full-time and came to his office for a few hours each night. Saturday mornings, I opened the office at 6am and met with clients before he came bouncing in around 9:30am. I left by Noon. I had no real life outside of working, writing. I was free to come and go as I pleased. I enjoyed every moment.
Jim never married or had children. He had plenty of brown skin girlfriends along the way. He witnessed my first marriage, second marriage, and the adjustments I undertook in being a mother. When I asked him why he never married, his response was “Kid, so many divorces come through my office, I’m turned off by marriage. Besides, I’m too much of a workaholic.” He was right. He damn near lived in the office. With the overwhelming demand of my household, two jobs diminished to one. The tug of war of being a mom and wife stripped me of all workaholic tendencies. It was another farewell to my identity. If you think I was angry before, just imagine the rage I felt after leaving Jim for reasons other than “writing.”
Jim not only read Diaries of an Emotional Prostitute, but he was in my life before I started writing. When the novel came out, Jim was so excited that he told every client that came into the office, “Hey, you know she wrote a book?” Then he would look at me as if he were handing off the conversation, but I was too bashful to talk. So he did it for me. “She created her own publishing company and everything. You should read her book.” When the clients left, he would always ask, “Have you started writing another book yet, Kid?” Every time, I replied, “Not yet.” He had no idea that my family life took its toll on my talent.
A few months back, I came in contact with a muse who sparked creativity. All of that energy led to stories in my mind, creative visuals that I could storyboard. The bitch in heat is back! I’m writing again! I knew very little about my muse, but I wrote anyway to capture the energy. Fearful and careful not to break my vows and duties to my family, I kept it to myself. I was trapped between the woman I let go and the woman I had become. That energy was the inspiration behind everything I wrote, and who cares why. Today, I have plenty of new material; pages upon pages, ideas upon ideas.
Jim called recently to thank me for the vegetable slicer I sent for his birthday. Now in his 70’s, Jim has early dementia and was forced to retire. He recently sold his Maryland home to move back to his home state of New Jersey, where he has family. Jim never focused on my family life longer than a few moments. He focused on my talent and lit up whenever he inquired about my writing. During our recent conversation, he asked the usual question, “Kid, have you started writing another book?” I replied, “Yes, I’ve started writing again.” He wished me well and encouraged me to move onward with it. He ended the conversation with, “I mean it, Kid. You’ve got talent and you have to get it out there.” He made me feel like an individual and I was thankful. He reminded me what he knew of himself and what he knew of me (work hard to achieve a dream). I pray Jim lives the rest of his years in health and peace.
Pause. I should state that the most outspoken people about my novel are older, Caucasians. Real talk, I thought my audience would be black women, like me. At any rate…
Beatrice 2.0 needs to be mindful that her decisions now impact a bright-eyed four year old. I still wrestle with the idea of what marriage and mothering is supposed to look like, in particular for me. Do I model the life that Disney and society want me to model? Or do I follow the path that is deep within? My ambition steers me the opposite direction from what Disney and society want me to believe.
I’m a rebel, now more than ever. I thrive in experiencing new love, feeling free, enjoying life, and answering to no one. There may be reasons behind Halle Berry, Janet Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mariah Carey’s multiple marriages and divorces. These women may be like me. They are headstrong and determined to keep moving, keep grinding. It takes a special type of person to understand and live under those conditions.
I’ve been stripped of my identity once, shame on me. Try to take it again, well…shame on you. My obituary will read “Writer. Mother. Lover.” In that order. My legacy goes well beyond what society or Disney had cooked up.