Americans make a big deal about independence. Of course we do, our founding document has the word right there in its title. But American feminists, even more so. Independence is this thing that we all seem to look on as the ultimate in personhood. But I question the wisdom of this idea of independence at all cost.
The day my mom had a stroke I learned what it’s like to be enfolded in the supportive embrace of one small part of the Black American community. Two of mom’s dearest, closest, best friends – Dee and Brenda – are of African descent. They both flew (metaphorically speaking) to the hospital as soon as they heard my mom was there. We three mostly just sat around and kept the patient company – the stroke left little damage other than a bit of trouble with word recall – and tried to convince her that an overnight stay was not a bad idea. That my mom is a stubborn lady goes without saying.
When visiting hours ended, Brenda and Dee suggested we go for dinner. That’s when the magic happened. These ladies are incredibly openhearted and we sat for a delicious and long dinner talking about my mom’s strength, my fears, all of our fears, all of our strengths, loving each other, helping each other… Not to mention the stories that were told around that table. I depended on those two ladies to make the situation okay, in my heart-space and in my brain-space, that night.
Black American women have an interesting relationship with dependence vs. independence, I think,* because poverty, or living on the bare edge of it, makes you dependent on help from friends and strangers sometimes just to put food in your mouth. That’s a mean place to be, given the wrong mindset. Black women, the one’s I’ve been fortunate enough to know, make helping each other such an essential, natural part of community and friendship, though, that it’s impossible to tease it apart from the rest. You may as well tell a woman to stop breathing. That I was privy to such natural help changed the day my mom had a stroke from incredibly scary to manageable.
Mothers and daughters have this indescribable something between them. When faced with the first real demonstration that one day that relationship will change forever, it’s a heavy thing to accept. I’m lucky I didn’t have to do it alone. I had these two very special ladies to help me.
That’s the first time I questioned my need for independence.
Here’s the thing: I looked it up and Merriam Webster told me that dependence is the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else. Here I’d been operating under the misconception that the very reliance associated with dependence goes hand in hand with control. Not so?
Since that time a few years ago, I’ve become financially dependent on my fiance. The thoughts of controlled by him pop up in my psyche every now and then, but I’m always able to talk myself down off that ledge. We have a partnership, he and I. [Insert cheeky remark about me being the brains and him the brawn] Honestly, though, we naturally separate when it comes to our priorities in the relationship: His biggest concerns are taking care of us physically, financially, while mine are taking care of us emotionally, mentally. Only one of those concerns requires money, and the job that brings it.
I have an ulterior motive, too, though. Because of Steve, I am able to stay at home, keep the dogs company, run household errands, and write. I have this unrelenting desire to write for a living. The issue with that is the for a living part takes a while to get going. It’s a slow process…
…But I am making progress. Maybe one day my earnings as a writer will exceed Steve’s earnings. It’s not probably in today’s readers market, but it’s not altogether impossible. Either way, our relationship works, just as it exists. Plus, we’ve weathered a couple of life-altering storms over the past five years. We adapt.
But what, again, about that dependence thing? I’m going to say it right here, right now. I am BOLDLY dependent on my man. Forever it’s been anti-feminist to be dependent on a man, right? That’s the only reason I have to add the boldly part. If I’m going to go against the grain, I damn well better be bold about it, right? Yes. That’s right.
To end this post, I’d like to dedicate it to those wonderful ladies: Dee Sewell and Brenda Whitehurst. Thank you both for bringing me through that night. Even more, thank you for showing me that bold has many faces. I am forever in your debt.
*I am a white woman, so I can only describe how I see the Black American community from the outside in. Please excuse whatever misinterpretations that might come from that fact. Feel free, though, to correct me in the comments if my ignorance is crude or leads to blatantly wrong assumptions. I only know what I know from my personal experiences.