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Fork in the Road
"I chose my own fate. I drove by the fork in the road and went straight." ~Jay-Z
As I stared at my luggage, I realized I was homeless.
In my sweaty palm, I clutched five pieces of paper that would forever change my life. They weren’t even big pieces of paper. No unique embellishments or fun colors. Though small, with predictable type on them, they were my tickets to freedom. I had exchanged my stable life and home for these pieces of paper that were one-way tickets across three continents and five countries to places I’d only dreamed of previously. The terrifying part? Not one of these tickets was a return flight back to the United States of America. I was in the chilly airport yet sweating because I was departing on a journey with no determined end date.
I exhaled, reminiscing about the events that had led me to this moment. Here I was, a black chick who grew up in the Glenn Hazel Housing projects in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—the best projects on the planet, might I add—before moving to a middle class neighborhood in middle school. That girl was about to globe-trot the world, alone. I didn’t come from a lot of money; I worked for everything I had. But what I did have was worth more than gold—the biggest cheerleaders in the world.
My mother programmed me to believe I could do anything. Even now, I can still hear her voice singing the same prayer over me daily my first couple years of life. It sounded like a melodic chant: “I shall be blessed, anything I touch shall prosper, and favor will follow me all of my days.” Then there is my stepdad who lights up anytime I come into the room; he taught me how to change tires and car oil, but by example showed me I should never have to. Growing up, I had a close family and extended family friends who were confident that I could do whatever I wanted in this big world. I was crazy enough to believe them.
These folks were used to my wild ideas and big dreams. I hosted and promoted shows in my grandmother’s backyard, charging a dollar entrance fee when I was seven. By the time I was thirty-three, nothing that came out of my mouth really shocked them. That is… until I told them I was leaving to travel to Europe, Africa, and Asia by myself.
I had already traveled around the world through books, documentaries, movies, and daydreams. When I was young, my dad would take me to museums and historical sites where I’d get full dissertations on various subjects, especially when we would visit Washington, DC. My love for museums carried into my teenage years. You’d find me at the Carnegie Museum at least once a month, right down the street from my beloved Schenley High School. I would devour the many exhibits but always made my way to the Walton Hall of Ancient Egypt. Observing the artifacts, admiring the mummy they housed behind the glass wall I wanted to pierce through, and imagining what ancient Egypt was like played like a movie in my head on a continuous loop. No matter how many times, it never got old. It was finally my chance in 2015 to have tactile experiences and feel the energy of these places first-hand.
There was only one word to describe what I was feeling before boarding that plane: énouement. The bitter-sweetness of having arrived in the future and not being able to tell your past self how everything unfolds.
You see, I could write a movie that would play on the Lifetime channel about the things that transpired leading up to me traveling the world. I’m going to leave out most of the details, giving you the bare bones so we can get to the good stuff. But it’s important that you know it was in my darkest moments that I saw the light. Not an external light, but a light within. When I tuned into it, I realized that I’d had the answers all along.
Twenty-Two Months Before the Grand Exit
I was being fed lies as smooth as the sweet organic maple syrup gliding down my throat, dripping from my favorite pancakes, not knowing it was laced with poison. My on-again-off-again boyfriend for the last decade, Kamau, was in town for the weekend and pleaded his case for us to “make things right” over breakfast. We were headed to Hawaii for my birthday in ten days, and I was in denial, knowing it was supposed to be the end of the end. I forced myself to believe his declarations this time. I told myself this conversation was different than the others we had had, so I should give things another fair shot.
I mean, this was the man who had helped me become the go-getter I am and had been one of my greatest teachers up to that point. Anything he wanted to achieve, he figured out a way to make it happen, and he taught me everything he knew about getting things accomplished. Being around that level of ambition every day and mixing that with my strategy skills lit my fire in a way I could never repay him for. I always joked that it was as if he was preparing me to take over the world, even without him in case he died. Well, Sunday November 17, 2013 was that day he had been preparing me for metaphorically.
I dropped him off at the airport after having an amazing weekend, but something felt completely off in my gut the entire time. I didn’t know what it was exactly, I just knew the agitating whisper wasn’t departing, and it made me uneasy.
Then I got my answer. An hour into his flight, I received that email no woman wants to receive, from a young lady “coming to me like a woman,” letting me know she had been sleeping with him. I was reading the contents as the air left my lungs, my stomach was dropping, and my chest was getting tighter and tighter. My blood was boiling! I couldn’t address or question him because he wouldn’t be able to receive calls for another three hours until his flight landed. She waited until she knew he’d be en route, which was clever on her part and a blessing in disguise.
Knowing that every single word that I was deciphering was true but in complete shock, I took a moment and regained my composure. I was ready to explode. To make matters worse, this was happening the day before I was starting a new position at a substantial increase in pay and for which I needed to be 10/10.
I was angry, devastated, hurt, and at the same time... relieved. I had not followed my instincts. Instead I had ignored the whispers telling me this relationship had served its purpose years ago. I turned a deaf ear to the signs when they came in regular tones, telling me to trust my gut. Now the universe had no choice but to scream it at me clear as day to get my attention. GET OUT! I was now at full attention like a soldier reporting for duty. The mirror was in my face and on the magnified side. She knew about me the entire time, but I chose not to focus on either her or him. This was about me. Someone had to hand me the scissors on a silver platter to cut the cord and get me off autopilot. The autopilot of being comfortable and doing what was safe in every area of my life.
I digested my ego’s need for confrontation, even though my chest was still tight and I was aching to speak my piece. Do not engage, I thought to myself. Chess not checkers. I simply forwarded him her email and let him know I would be going to Hawaii alone. I needed boundaries, so I cut off all contact and start trying to make sense of it all.
I felt a piece of me dying a slow and painful death. For some reason it felt freeing and liberating; an energetic disease was exiting my body through the pain. I was aware and knew that the pain I was experiencing, which felt so intense in that moment, would eventually dissolve. I gave myself permission to feel it all with no judgment. Every single range of emotion that naturally came up, I allowed to cycle through my being, and I simply acknowledged it. I had housed the trauma of lies making me think I had crazy illusions made up in my head. But now I could clearly smell the odor of infected flesh that represented those lies, turning into death, finally. I didn’t open the window, I allowed the stench to fill the air so I’d always remember it, and one day appreciate it. I told myself I’d visit the graveyard whenever I needed to be reminded that I am connected to the universe in such a way that I should never question it when it tells me something.
Stay soft, I told myself. But take no shit!
There was no escaping the fact that living off the fumes of a past reality that no longer fueled any part of me was a recipe where I’d eventually run out of gas if I didn’t fill up. I had to fill up. There was a reason I never wanted to marry him or move across the country when he got a promotion, even when he would bring it up. But something about the familiarity kept me rooted in a previous version of myself, even though internally I was not the same person.
Kamau felt safe, but then I asked myself, what is safety, really? In this case it was just a mask for my own fear.
I didn’t want to hold resentment, so I decided to forgive him in that moment. I reminded myself that he is living out his own human experience, and he has lessons he has to learn as well as his own karma to live out and pay. I needed to figure out what in me needed healing that allowed me to stay with someone far past the expiration date. We were no longer aligned in a variety of ways that had nothing to do with the actual particulars of this circumstance.
I wondered, why did I choose to stay somewhere where the depths of my soul couldn’t be seen? What am I afraid of? I looked at this relationship as a mirror, no matter how much I wanted to believe Kamau was at fault. There was something in me that attracted this situation to teach and expose things within me that couldn’t be exposed any other way. We don’t get to decide if we learn the lessons we need; the universe will make sure of it. We only get to choose how many times we have to get the same lesson, even in different situations, before we learn. So I took personal responsibility and did not become a victim.
As I began my exploration, I uncovered my subconscious belief that I had to earn love. I believed I was only worthy of that which I could earn. And what better way to earn love than healing a hurting person? I thought if I squeezed enough, I could get apple juice from an orange. Eureka! That was a breakthrough.
Throughout the years, constantly exposing myself to emotional and energetic toxicity was a violent act upon myself, not a noble one.
I realized I had been in a toxic relationship... with myself.
A small piece of freedom was on the other side.
By killing this piece of myself, it meant every other area in my life was now fair game for an audit and reinvention. Everything was an illusion. I was broken open. Being open was the only way I could receive.
The Day After On my way into my new position the next morning, I knew it would be a test. I was peering at life in a new way. Nothing was safe or off limits. I gave myself permission to change my mind about whatever I wanted, even if that meant making irresponsible decisions. I had built a cookie-cutter life, working the same job for eight years, living without a Hell yes!in sight. My attitude had been, Oh, that’s kinda cool, and it reflected in my kind of dope but nowhere-near-magical existence that I knew was available for me. I would only take big leaps from now on, and I would learn to be okay with being uncomfortable. The universe knew it had to pull the rug from under my feet, and now I had the figurative blue and black marks to prove the fall. I sashayed into my new position like I owned the world. It was a job I could do in my sleep—and that was actually problematic with my new zest for life. By the time Thursday rolled around, I felt stuck in a web of complacency, and the question kept entering my mind, Am I settling? My new director felt my unease all week. He had just spent the last two months convincing me to take the job, so he was trying to make everything as utopian as possible. It didn’t matter. Now that I was awakened in a new way, I knew I was not where I was supposed to be. Friday arrived, and I was listening to a Wayne Dyer talk on my way to work as I sometimes did. He was telling the ancient South Indian monkey trap story that I had heard a hundred times before. The tale goes, when the villagers wanted to trap a monkey, they would get a coconut and cut a hole in the shell, hollowing it out precisely big enough for the monkey to put his hand in and out without any problem. They would then put rice inside the coconut and tie it to a stake, knowing the monkey would put his hand inside to grab some rice. With the monkey’s hand full of rice, he would struggle and struggle to get his balled fist back out of the precisely-cut hole that was only big enough for him to remove his hand if it were empty. At any point, if he let go of the rice, the monkey would have no problem removing his hand and getting away. Even knowing someone was coming, and that he might be in danger, instead of letting go of the rice and easily removing his hand to run, he would not let go! The monkey was under no physical restraints... only mental ones. He couldn't, or better put wouldn’t, leave the rice, even if it cost him his life. He was so tied to the idea of having the rice, he wouldn't drop it. That’s how the trap worked perfectly every time. I had a come to Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Krishna, and Osiris moment as it dawned on me that I had just let go of the rice in my left hand and dropped the coconut when I cut contact with Kamau, but I still had a fistful of rice in my right hand stuck in another coconut: More money and this job. I was a college counselor who poured my soul into pulling out the greatness, dreams, and potential of my students. Fixing things, putting out fires, addressing logistics, remaining inspirational when I was having a bad day, and getting others to tap into their deep-seated dreams are skills I mastered in those eight years. The problem was, I had gotten complacent and wasn't tapping into my own dreams as I inspired thousands of others to do. I had gotten comfortable. From the outside looking in, my life was pretty damn good. By society’s standards, I should’ve been happy; I was right on par with checking off all the hallmarks of being "successful." I had strived my entire life to get what I wanted and always had the mentality that I could figure everything out. So why was I settling now? “The lust for comfort murders the passions of the soul,” wrote Kahlil Gibran. This was not the life I wanted to live, and having given myself permission to be reckless, I quit my job that day and figuratively dropped the rice. The second I got my right hand out of that coconut, I literally threw up the deuces with my newly freed fingers. I got several calls and emails from the director trying to convince me to stay, but my mind was made up. No rice-money was worth me not living my best life. I was starting an internal revolution. My birthday trip to Hawaii was a few days away, which was exactly what I needed. I couldn't wait to get away from everything I had just quit, which seemed like my entire life as I knew it...
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