I hadn’t slept. By the time I stepped up to the microphone to deliver that speech in front of 80,000 people, I had been awake for over 30 hours. I was anxious. So much was going on in my life. Bills were months behind. The engine in a car that was about to be repossessed had given out. Deadlines for the book needed to be met. My toddler, after a long night’s nap, was up and climbing on my shoulders; it was 4 am. My man and I were on uncertain terms.
So much was weighing on me. I found myself alternating between crying, rocking and praying. And then there was the speech.
Not long after the election, I was contacted and asked to deliver a speech at the Women’s March. In the frenzy of all I had on my plate, I said yes--not fully understanding what I was agreeing to.
Everything was just yes. “You want to come speak at our summit?” Yes. “You want to run a workshop at our staff meeting?” Yes. “You want to be a guest on our radio show?” Yes. “You want to come speak at the Women’s March?” Yes.
I had no idea what it was. After agreeing to it, I started hearing talk about it everywhere. How it was a Million Woman’s March, initially. And then, because of backlash from black women, how it was changed to the Women’s March. I read that it was a march against Trump, which intimidated me. All I could imagine was being required to stand on some stage spewing hate with spittle and foam coming from my mouth. That wasn’t me. I didn't want it to become me. And then I read the national agenda. I read the unity principles, the mission and vision. I was sold.
So I started writing, just to discover how little I knew. My perspective was limited. I needed more information.
I polled my over 1,300 friends on Facebook. I asked random people on the street what was important to them. I made phone calls. I surveyed people I met with for business. I read blog posts from black women who were not attending the march. I listened to them on Facebook Live. I had conversations. So many different thoughts to manage, the competing ideas, the extremes...and then there was the time constraint. I had FIVE minutes or less--the preference was on the “or less” part. A lot had to be accomplished that day. People didn't need to be standing in the cold listening to long-winded speeches. I got it. So taking into consideration all that I had--the messages, the blogs, the videos, the time constraints, my own limitations of not being a politician, my humanities wheelhouse (I'm a literature major), my audience, myself--I started back writing.
It was Saturday morning, the day of the March. And I had no ending. But more than that, I had no speech. I had the speech, but it wasn’t in my hand. The printer was out of ink that I couldn’t afford. Six weeks earlier, I asked my guy to buy a new cartridge. He dallied around and never did. We are both owners of new startups. Money is an issue. If it came down to putting gas in the car, buying a pack of cigarettes, buying some food or buying ink, ink was sacrificed. So there I was, six weeks later, still inkless and now no ending. Geez. No ending.
I went to the campus library hoping to print the speech--and to complete it. I sat down clueless about how to finish. I played with a couple of finales. I even asked strangers for their input. And just when I felt I was closing in on something good--with about 20 minutes left before the actual March was to begin--the inevitable happens. I pressed too many buttons in the wrong combination, and somehow an army full of strange characters invaded my words...our words.
Diamonds, hearts, question marks were everywhere in no recognizable pattern. My work had become unrecognizable.
Of course, this had to happen. In the same way that, on the day I graduated with my bachelor’s, my eyebrow got shaved off, and my hairstyle was left unfinished until the final moments (my braider had ran off to drink or smoke or fight--or all three)...the same way my heel had to break. It was just the process. So there I was, broken-heeled, one eye-browed, last-minute-haired hobbling across that stage--a hot, beautiful, accomplished mess. A perfect mirror of my life. And there I was again--10 years later--in the last minutes before it was time to deliver a speech that was originally intended for 8,000--then 17,000--trying to pull it together.
A hot, beautiful, accomplished mess.
Seven minutes left now. Less diamonds, less hearts, less question marks, but still less than perfect. Still no hard copy. Still no resolved ending.
Two minutes left...It was now or never.
I left the library, found some organizers, and allowed them to usher me to my fate. How in the hell was I going to pull this off? I was just going to have to read from my phone. The less than perfect version was saved in Google Drive. I had practiced enough to be able to fill in any gaps. The words had become a part of me.
I could do it.
Granted, I needed my phone not to die and my data to not run out. Granted, the ending was new and uncertain. But it really was now or never. And it had to just be now. In front of all these people.
I have always been bad with estimating and sizing things up--always overestimating...sometimes under. Numbers are hard for me. But even still, something about this just didn’t feel like 8,000 or even 17,000 people. As I stood on the sidelines waiting nervously to give this five-minute talk, frantically asking random people about how I should end--I kept thinking, “This is a huge 17,000.” From the sidelines, it seemed huge. Marching with them and then running alongside and then outside of them, it seemed so huge. To stand in front of them, it was breathtaking. So this is what 17,000 people look like? A beautiful picture of unity--overwhelming, unimaginable. The tears came involuntarily. Lord, just please don’t let the ugly cry show up. I kept thinking, “Pull yourself together before it’s too late.” Besides, I only had five minutes, and I didn’t budget time for tears.
But crying was inevitable. It took so much for me to show up. I'm broke and black and female...a single mother. It just takes more. It's more fights with dirty laundry. It's dealing with more attitudes from more hormonal, pubescent teens. It's more bad credit, more slammed doors, more frustration. It's more impostor syndrome, more questions, more doubts. It's more commitment: If I don't show up, the embodiment of unlikely extremes--black, baldheaded, single mother of six children by four fathers...PhD Candidate, entrepreneur, woman--who will? If I don't show up vulnerable, who will? Who will inspire women like me--the baby mamas, the single mothers, the women living outside of "respectability"? The uncertainty of these questions meant that I had to show up. So I did, and it was beautiful. The unity, the love, the peace, it was all so beautiful, so humbling.
And then a pang of guilt came over me. As beautiful as all of it was, I was going to begin with some sobering truths. I only had five minutes. No time to explain, back paddle or give context--just the speech, just the truths, just the interruption of all those good feelings. I was apologetic for what I was about to do--not for the words I needed to say, but for the interruption I was about to make. Maybe the tears was about that, too--they were about the fact that I was going to be the party pooper who showed up with these concerns and questions and an unresolved ending that did not feel good, an interruption of warmth and fuzziness.
So I rocked. I cried. And my prayer became, "Lord, just give me a chance to make it beyond these first lines. Let them hear me out." I was going somewhere, and I needed them to let me get there--they did.
I don’t know if they, like me, just trusted the process or if they were just blindsided and dazed by such an unexpected opening. Whatever happened, we made it through, together--all 80,000 of us--a huge 17K.
And then it was over. As quickly as the tears and the spades and the diamonds and the interruption of good feelings with sobering truths came, it all ended--the tears, the spades, the diamonds, the interruption...the sobering truths. My time was up. The speech was over.
I walked back to my friend's car, nauseous and tired and dry mouthed. It had been over 30 hours since I slept. The bills were still behind. My man and I were still uncertain. Book deadlines were still waiting to be met. And I was finally about to get a little bit of sleep.
It was just the process.