By Cairo Amani
As the Year from Hell ended and things started looking up, I found myself trying to figure out how to maintain. I had the clarity to know that just because my hard work was paying off, didn’t mean I was completely out of life’s line of fire. I don’t know where that clarity came from but I’m eternally grateful. Despite my new job, my rekindled friendships and my relationship smoothing out its wrinkles, something still didn’t feel right.
What was I missing?
As 2014 began, I replayed the events of 2013 with heavy focus on my faults and their origins. I had been a stiflingly clingy friend to someone — why was I so afraid of losing her? I had been a paranoid and inconsiderate girlfriend — why was I so selfish? I had gone months without writing –why was I so lazy? And these things trickled down to the real question: Why didn’t I love myself to achieve my true potential?
Y’all, that question is so personal I offended myself by asking it. Personally, I thought I adored myself. In many ways I am the poster child of my old neighborhood. I grew up in the projects, both my parents were absent and on drugs and I was raised by my grandfather, a widowed veteran. With hard work and a bunch of support by adopted family members, I went to private schools, an excellent college and bam! Here I am working toward my dreams. I’ve never been pregnant, never done drugs, never dropped out of anything (although I had a few close calls) and I moved out of my neighborhood. I beat all the stereotypes. I’ve done all but buy my dad a house! And what does that mean?
Nothing. It’s shallow. Just an outline for a memoir.
Thirty years from now, I could have Toni Morrison level swag complete with hella degrees, a Nobel Prize (do they give those out in Science Fiction?), a slew of well written, thought-provoking novels and weekly shout outs in O Magazine. I could also be a horrible person and then none of that would matter. Somehow I had to ensure that I could continue to improve myself not only to have a successful relationship and career but to be a good human being. I needed Spring Cleaning for the soul.
I started studying Buddhism, in an attempt to learn to let go and live in the moment. Some of the practices, particularly meditation and the idea of trying to understand one’s suffering, really spoke to me. It spoke to what I needed: encouragement to look inward. I began to clean up my humor and stop body shaming people, hetero and bi-shaming people and generally stop voicing negative thoughts. I taught myself compassion. It is something so easy to forget.
Around this time, I was locking my hair. Even though I did it with extensions, that proved to be a spiritual experience as well. I’d been transitioning to natural and cutting my hair frequently for nearly three years and I really wanted to stop, let something grow and learn to take care of it. In effect, I learned to take care of myself. Growing locs came with a slew of good habits, like taking more time for myself, eating healthier, meeting other people with natural hair, and surprisingly, thinking a lot about what I wanted out of life, which led me to my next decision.
I changed my name.
It was a really simple thing that brought it all together for me. At birth, I was named after my grandmother with no regard to whom I might become. So I spent years with a first name that meant “Bound” and and a last name that meant “Son of Richard.” I shortened it, used initials, rarely told people it in full because I hated it so much. I was so happy when people called me “B”, because it was as Black as my name would ever sound.
I picked a name that felt right and tried not to overthink it. The legal process was a messy waiting game full of paperwork wherein the people in a Brooklyn courthouse came to know me very well. But no matter how many hours I spent holding numbered tickets, sitting on hard wooden benches, I had a grin that wouldn’t quit and butterflies in my stomach whose wings could rival thunder. I was so happy. I was erasing all the things that had been written on my body and claiming it as a space of my own. I felt relaxed, reborn, rejuvenated and so ready. The name changed was just a stamp, signaling me winning my fight for inner peace. After I picked it out I discovered Cairo Amani means “Victorious Peace.”
The universe has a sense of humor.
2013 was the worst year I’ve seen in a long time and I couldn’t be happier it happened. I really do believe in “finding yourself” because society makes it so easy to lose or give yourself away. It takes courage to be introspective and it helps to have a support system of friends, family and everything in between. And even though it sucks to be waist deep in your own wreckage, it is a gift to be able to pick up the pieces. It is worth it to be able to wake up, smile and say — to no one in particular or everyone — “I’m here, y’all.”
Cairo loves moleskin notebooks, considers Scrivener a godsend, and enjoys reading, dancing, and board games that involve doing silly things for points. You can find out more about her here: about.me/cairoamani.