MY MEMPHIS BLUES

Skyline Bridge

Hey Fellow Peeps,

I hope you all have had a great week!! This quarantine has definitely brought a wave of emotions for all of us. Most days, I feel fine with this, but some days are a little unnerving. Stay encouraged and prayerful during this difficult time.

I’m sure we have all been longing for the companionship and camaraderie of family and friends. I miss the hugs and seeing familiar faces regularly. Since we have been quarantined, I have literally only seen my two roommates. Whew! One good thing is that I have gotten to know my roommates much better during this time. We have had so much quality time and that has been a blessing. I have also seen the faces of my students daily and that has brought sunshine to my days. They can be super funny and I enjoy working with them. I have called family and friends on the phone and that connection has been nice. On Sundays, I have been asked by the pastor to sing one or two hymns for the church on Zoom. I have been able to share my gift with the congregation and learn new hymns to prepare for service each week. I only have six weeks left at my current job and then I go home to Memphis to visit at the end of June. I haven’t been home since December 2018, so it’s time. I have lived in NYC since 2016 and I have only been home twice. Coincidence, sort of, it was somewhat financial, but also sort of by choice, a combination of the two. Since my mom is a performer, I have seen her more than twice because she has performed in New York three times since I moved here.

Memphis and I have always had a strained relationship, if I’m honest. I was born in Hampton, Virginia, but I might as well have been born in Memphis, because I spent my whole life there until I was 26, almost 27 years old. I went to college in Murray, Kentucky, which was about three hours away from home. I remember wanting to leave Memphis when I was a kid. I just never felt like I fit in there. Funny thing is, people always asked me where I was from all the time, even though I was raised there. It was weird, strangers would ask this question because they said I spoke differently. Excuse me!! My whole family is from Memphis, born and raised, so why I am I always getting this insane question.

Secondly, I got the white girl label from family and friends, which kind of annoyed me, but I let it go. There was no denying I was different. I was a nerd who loved school, reading, and was socially awkward. I was super sensitive, which was not cool in the black community. I cried often, but don’t ever really remember being comforted when I was little.  I spoke properly and had no street smarts whatsoever. I grew up listening to R&B music, but never really listened to much rap. I was not athletic at all, and most people didn’t even know I could really sing until I was in college. Then, I started singing opera and musical theatre, which is obviously a mostly white entity.

I felt ostracized by black people at times in Memphis and felt like sometimes I was more accepted by white people.  Let’s be real though, I wasn’t always accepted by white people either. In the fourth grade, this little white boy in summer camp, told me he wouldn’t play with me because I was black. This was my first encounter with this. However, I do remember that I was initially uncomfortable with transferring to a predominantly white elementary school in the 1st grade. At that time, I had only been around black people until 1st grade. 

Thirdly, I love my family, but if I’m honest we were never that close. I talk to my mother almost daily, and I have always been super close to my grandfather and aunt. Other than that, I rarely saw my relatives more than once a year, sometimes even longer and we only lived between 5 to 20 minutes from each other.

When it came time to apply for college, I only applied for out-of-state schools, but my mom told me I had to apply for the University of Memphis and I did. However, if I lived on campus at U of M, the cost would have been more than Murray State. I did THE MATH! Since I didn’t go on college visits, I had no idea how few black students attended Murray State until I arrived for school in the fall. I got a four-year academic scholarship and there was  a tuition discount for people who lived in Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois and Indiana. So MURRAY STATE IT WAS!!! However, Racism reared its’ head again in college. I went to my friend’s dorm room freshman year, and there was a girl there who was clearly uncomfortable with my presence. She just keep staring at me and it was strange. Junior year of college, I moved in my dorm and met a white roommate. She seemed nice, but the next day she moved out without saying anything to me. I think she was super uncomfortable with my race. I mean I have lived with people many times and I have never had any complaints about me being a bad roommate. I’m pretty quiet, neat, and keep to myself mostly. Murray was like my first home though and I loved it. There were a few cringe moments though, but we’ll save college for another blog post, lol! 

Furthermore, I had observed that most of the people I encountered in Memphis were extremely negative. If I had an idea about something or thought outside of the box, it was shot down immediately. My college professor was one of the first black people that I had met with such a bright, bubbly personality. I am super bubbly, but I felt like people didn’t really like it growing up and maybe they thought it wasn’t black enough to be bubbly. Most black people that I was around were in survival mode, which now I know is systemic. I guess when you fear for your lives daily, then you would be pretty negative too. When you have only had your civil rights for about 50 years with significant limitations, then I guess you wouldn’t be so bright and bushy tailed either. I get it now, then I didn’t. RIP Ahmaud Arbery.

When I graduated college, I bought a ticket to NYC and wanted to never return to Memphis if I could. However, I moved back after about three weeks, not because I was homesick either. I stayed for three years until 2016. I didn’t really experience Memphis fully until I lived there as an adult. It really is a cool place to live. It is super affordable and people can be positive if you look outside of your front door. I met some amazing friends during my last years in Memphis. I joined a church and my church family became closer than my real family. I still keep in contact with them to this day. They were all very positive and innovative thinkers and it opened my eyes to the fact that there are some beautiful gems in Memphis.

So why did I move again? JOBS, JOBS, JOBS, they are far and few between in Memphis. This is one of the reasons why I moved the second time because if you want to make more money or get a better job, your options are limited in Memphis. Most people there work in education, government, the airport, health care, offices, or warehouses. Fedex is one of the best job opportunities there. I applied there and got no response. I went to the Clark Towers and offered my resume to offices on all 33 floors and asked if they were hiring. I did get a catering job out of that, but it wasn’t consistent enough. I tried to get an office job, but even the temp agencies didn’t help me get a job at an office or even a warehouse. I was working multiple jobs and I still couldn’t afford to leave my parents’ house. I sold insurance with AFLAC and didn’t make a dime. My first real paycheck after college was from performing in The Color Purple at Playhouse on the Square. Crazy I know, who would have thought that my first payment after college would have been in theatre of all things. I did work at a private school part-time, worked at Cracker Barrel part-time and taught vocal lessons, while still performing in shows around the city of Memphis.

I love the theatre experience that I gained during those years and I loved my church family. But I still wanted out, badly. I decided in 2016, to get another job at Olive Garden in addition to my other three jobs, so that I could save money to move somewhere, ANYWHERE else. I saved money and sold my car and was out by August 2016. I found a job within a few weeks, a full-time job at the Disney Store in New York. In Memphis, you can be potentially out of work for months and even when you find a job, you don’t get enough hours to pay any real bills. Minimum wage is still $7.25. Yes it is affordable to live there, but you can’t live off of that, even full-time, let alone part-time. Initially, I didn’t plan to go back to NYC. I was looking at moving to Atlanta, Minneapolis, or Boston. Then, I got into AMDA, so I chose New York. Memphians looked at me like I was crazy when I said I was moving to New York, especially since I had failed the first time.

Lastly, Christmas 2015 further prompted my decision to leave Memphis. Yes I had my church family, but I was still so disconnected to my family. I went to Christmas dinner and just felt so alone. I didn’t have the connection the way the other family members had with each other and I was closer to them when I was younger. My family knew little girl Dominique, but not adult Dominique. My family didn’t even know I could sing until I was grown. I was a complete stranger to them and I felt really sad. I remember crying in my car because I felt so alone, even though I was in my hometown. But Memphis never felt like home to me because I never felt understood and I felt like I never fit in, EVER. This was telling to me because if I feel this alone at home, then what would be different about moving somewhere else. I seemed to make better friends anyway. In this moment, I told myself, you have to leave and 2016 is going to be it. When I first moved to New York, I didn’t miss home for like a year. I didn’t go home for a year and a half. I missed my church family more than I missed my real family, even to this day. My family has lived in Memphis all of their lives and never wanted to leave, including my mother, but for as long as I can remember I wanted to leave. A few relatives have moved away, but very few. I just found so much freedom by moving here and I am finally coming into my own. NYC is not perfect, but once my mother and grandfather are gone, I see no reason to visit Memphis. Yes we are getting hit hard with the pandemic, but we also have a significantly larger population in NYC.

I know this was super raw, but it is my truth. I don’t want offend or condemn anyone, but this is my reality. Memphis is a great city and I made my peace with the city when I lived there for three years after college. Family is blood, but I always feel like I need to protect my mind, body and spirit and family can be complicated. I don’t think it is as cut and dry as people think it is. I have no ill will towards anyone, I want success for everyone and I love my family, but from a distance. I have made connections with my cousins in Connecticut. I am trying to build a bridge there because I don’t have much family left. I’ve been to their house many times and I have spent two Christmas  holidays there and I prefer it. My cousin’s wife’s family is more welcoming than my own. She is Dominican and I think family is super close knit for them. She says that they have had their problems, but at the end of the day, family is top priority. With my family, I don’t know if anyone’s first priority was family. They say it is, especially if you mention leaving, but I don’t know if they mean it.

Do I get lonely here? Yes, but I would rather feel lonely in a place where I don’t know many people, then feel lonely in my own hometown. I wrote this because I think this is reality for many thirty somethings. If you aren’t married with your own family at this point, it can be hard if you are not connected with your extended family either. Many young people that I have encountered in NYC, have cut their families off completely, which is shocking to me. See, I would never do that, but for some people they do it for their own protection. I’m writing this to let you know that forgiving people doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be super close. Just because you are family doesn’t mean that you will always be understood. There is this misconception that all families are super close and it’s horrible if you are not close to your family. People assume you must be doing something wrong, if you are not close to your family. Truth is is that friends can become your family and be just as supportive if not more supportive than family.  I reached out to many family members, but it is not always reciprocated. Yet, I still reach out. I have gotten more calls and messages in the last few months from friends more than anyone else. I’m here to let you know that this is more normal than you think and it is okay if you feel isolated from family. Welcome to ADULTHOOD! I will leave you with this, if you want to connect with your family reach out to them first and don’t wait for them to reach out to you because you will be waiting forever. Just Kidding, sort of, LOL! Seriously though, continue to reach out whether it is reciprocated or not because you never know, you may get surprised one day. Most importantly, reach out to God if you believe, because at the end of the day, your Heavenly Father is your most important family member!

Stay safe and prayerful!!

 

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