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  • Writer's pictureRa'anaa Brown

X: The Fucking Most Tumultuous Summer

With summer coming to an end I’d like to take some much-needed time and energy to reflect on the past few months. Sure, the season technically doesn’t end until mid-September, but there’s something about the end of August that screams it’s the end of an era, the fun is over and it’s time to take life seriously again. Maybe it’s the student in me aligning my mental positionality with the start of a new semester or maybe it’s because the days just don’t feel as warm or as free anymore. Whatever the case, I want to dedicate this particular entry to unpacking the fucking most tumultuous summer of my life (to date).

Photograph of author by Isak Vaillancourt

Let me start by saying I love summer, I always have. I remember being in grade school and cherishing those two months that seemed to go on forever. Summer meant camp, it meant no school - summer means freedom. The older I got the more nuances summer seemed to carry. Suddenly summer was about short-term jobs, hanging out at the pool with my friends, and staying out until the sun rose. By the time I hit university, summer had transformed into a completely different exciting entity. Somehow it doubled in length and jobs paid more. Summer became a time to save up for school, drink on late-night patios, and the season of fun and fresh flings. Doesn’t that sound perfect?


This summer however was an unexpected beast of its own. May through August is usually the busiest time of year for me. Typically, I help out with Up Here festival, host some BLM rallies and somehow find the ware withal to travel from city to city visiting friends and family alike. This summer was supposed to be something along those lines with a few interesting additions, but as I’m sure you’ve guessed, that is not what it became. I was all too thankful when school came to an end in April. I was STRUGGLING! Sure, I got great grades, but the turmoil in my mental health was debatably not worth it. I had found myself working on a project I so desperately needed to leave and could not find and out of. It took weeks but I finally managed to find my way out of this toxic space, only to find myself absolutely drained; exhausted, de-energized, and unmotivated. Or in short, depressed.


April drew on and the sinking feeling in my gut that had grown with each week of the semester seemed to remain intact, slowly rocking in my belly and filling me with despair. My birthday passed as a momentary blip of joy, but in the back of my mind was an impending burnout that I had no time to address. May started with the filming of an awesome documentary that I’m helping a friend produce. Collective Resistance, occupied a lot of my energy that month, not that I minded. The documentary was a needed distraction from life at hand. Working on it meant I got to see my friends and develop a new skill set. I was happy, or I feigned being so. Looking back, it’s so hard to tell which was the case.



This is where things really started to get complicated. I was unsuccessful in getting a job with someone I so desperately admire, but sense may not see me in as positive a light as I’d hoped. Then, still reeling from a torn patella (at that time undiagnosed), I sprained my ankle when I finally felt strong enough to attend a queer event. Things seemed bleak. The universe was telling me that I wasn’t as hot shit as I thought I was, and that the second I’d accepted my queer identity, maybe I should go back in the closet. It was a feeling that was hard to explain and irrational, I know, but all the same, it became yet another thing for me to swallow and add to the aching gut sensation that wouldn’t go away. And then there was June… Now that month was truly awful. I have contemplated for a long time how I wanted to talk about this month (in a minute you’ll understand why). As a reminder, I created this blog as a safe space for myself to talk about whatever the fuck I want, however the fuck I please. I’m not here to start internet wars or burn bridges, but I am here to tell my truth.

Photograph of author by Isak Vaillancourt

The first week of June I traveled to Sudbury to support my partner in selling their car and likewise to take the opportunity to see my friends. Rather than have another semi-relaxing time in town, I was blindsided by the most immature break-up I have ever experienced in my life. I won’t go into all the gruesome details of how I cried for days and the exact words that were said, but essentially, while visiting my now exes’ family they decided it was the opportune occasion to share that they no longer loved me nor wanted a relationship nor wanted to remain in our then home together in Montreal.


Now if this person or their family happens to read this, perhaps they’ll be upset and I’ve decided that’s okay. I’ve gone to weeks of therapy blaming myself for things that weren’t my fault and have come out to the other end knowing that I did not deserve what happened to me. I wasn’t mad that our relationship had come to an end, in fact, I can agree that it was for the best. Instead, I was, and am still so deeply wounded by two things. First, they couldn’t say it to my face that they wanted to separate, but rather manipulated me into asking a question that prompted them to say it was “not our time.” I couldn’t agree more that it’s not our time, but that was straight-up shady.


The next key piece for my growing inner turmoil was the location. This all happened while in the comfort of their parent's home, their childhood bedroom. So here I was, unexpectedly dumped and feeling like Rapunzel, trapped in a tower. They had loved ones to talk to and wouldn’t even have a frank conversation with me. Now, I love living in Montreal, but I am still new there. And despite being born in the GTA, my heart and soul is in Sudbury. This community is my safe space. It is where we founded BLM Sudbury, it is where I began to produce my art, and it is the home of nearly all my chosen family. And they took that from me. For weeks I was scared to return to the city, for weeks this sort of PTSD and anxiety brewed within. For the first time in nearly eight years of living on and off in Sudbury, I contemplated never returning.


I was embarrassed and afraid and the mere thought of visiting made the pain in my stomach double in size. Thanks to my loved ones I was able to make a speedy exit from the situation but soon had to return to Montreal to prepare for the next stage of my summer; my Italian getaway with my older sister. This would be our first trip to Italy and together one on one. I love my sister but we both have big and sometimes opposing personalities, so I was excited and anxious for a multitude of reasons. How would we gel traveling together? What would it be like being in a space where we didn’t speak the language? Did I pack enough underwear? Not to mention, this was our first post-pandemic international travel experience. As an aside, I don’t think the pandemic is over in the slightest, I mean more post the start of COVID-19.


At the end of June, we departed for two full weeks of travel; Venice, Naples, Pompeii, Caserta, Rome, and Florence. As an architecture and art history buff, I have to say Italy is beautiful. I captured some of the most incredible shots and witnessed some of the greatest artistic marvels. However, as a Black woman, Italy was probably one of the worst travel experiences of my life. I have experienced racism and misogyny on numerous occasions while in Canada, but what we experienced in Italy was so scarring I’d be lying if I said I ever planned to return. Sure we had some lovely experiences on tours and exploring the city, but the intensity of the misogynoir was out of this world.


We would walk places and be cat called, followed, and consistently asked where we were from. Strangers would pull out their phones and take pictures of us as we walked by, an old man even sat down beside us on a bench and called for his wife to take our picture while we rested unsuspectingly. There were looks, glares, and stares, and when we’d take public transit and the majority of folks were not wearing their masks, on multiple occasions, old women would scream at us to wear our masks, it was abundantly clear who they believed was carrying diseases.


I suppose the final straw was when we were leaving and waiting at the airport. We had an early flight the next morning and our accommodations were canceled by the host last minute so we decided to spend the night at the airport. Security was doing their rounds and they stopped in front of us asking where we were traveling to. Before I knew it they were asking to see our passports and calling their main office CHECKING OUR FLIGHT DETAILS WE HAD JUST TOLD THEM! When they were satisfied that we were not stowaways or displaced individuals, they left. On the way to us, they walked by 10s of white folks also sleeping in the airport and as they left they walked by many more. Not that I have to justify this horrid tale any further but we had our massive suitcases with us and were dressed up; nails and hair done since we had primarily come to the country for a wedding.


Photograph of author by Isak Vaillancourt

I came back from the trip exhausted and not rested in the slightest, only to return to a hostile situation in my apartment and to find things missing. It seems my ex had gone to the liberty of claiming joint items without conversation, most notably our copy of Hair Love, a digital short-turned book. This part in particular I don’t care if its upsetting or ruffles feathers because what happened was straight up wrong. If you’re unfamiliar with the origins of this story, the digital short was created by Matthew A. Cherry, a former football player who crowdfunded to make a short about a young Black girl name Zuri whose father does her hair while her mother is away. This short was so imperative as it was the first one made by Black folks, representing Black folks and for Black folks. It talks about Black hair, something so contentious (due to influence by white colonial society), and somehow my white ex-partner felt entitled to remove it from my shelf of Black authors' books.


Tell me why it was an argument to get it back? Tell me why I was made to feel crazy? Tell me why it took me being on the verge of tears breaking down cultural appropriation for them to give it back? Here I was gut aching from the turmoil of the semester, still not physically healed, destabilized from being blindsided by the end of a nearly three-year relationship, unrested from the most tumultuous of my travels to date, and now I had to argue about a children’s book. Suffice it to say this was not my finest moment.

The next few weeks flew by as I scrambled to find new accommodations. My ex was my main financial support and after taking a pre-planned trip that blew a lot of my savings, I was reeling and panicking about how I would even be able to afford rent. I thankfully found a space and promptly moved out. The first night in the unit to my dismay I saw cockroaches that hadn’t been there when I viewed it. Now, if you haven’t had an anxiety attack and sobbed in your kitchen while surrounded by moving boxes, have you ever truly lived?


At that moment something inside me snapped, an inner Edna Mode grabbed her newspaper and slapped my brain, shouting “Pull yourself together!” Suddenly I was moving boxes, unpacking, and determined to set up my desk, which my ex had traditionally done for me. To my surprise I did it. The next few days I unpacked and made the new space home, each shelf reminding me how capable I was, each hung art piece a warm hug. The pain in my gut remained, but the pride from my new re-found independence seemed to drown it out. The next thing I had to do was conquer my then greatest fear, returning to Sudbury.


Thanks to the generous support of my lovely friends, I traveled to town at the beginning of August with a companion on the bus and a nice place to stay. The first day was nerve-wracking, what if I bumped into…? What if I made a mistake coming back? What if, what if, what if…? But it never happened. During the first few days in town, I worked on my first solo art installation. It was tough and didn’t go according to plan, but the final product made me so proud. The next weekend was our first Black arts festival. There were hiccups, but overall it was beautiful, we managed to create a safer accessible space in the community for marginalized folks. The final weekend was the festival I usually assist with. I opted to take a break this summer to focus on myself and healing and as a result, was able to live the weekend to its fullest.

Photograph of author by Isak Vaillancourt

The past few weeks were so hectic and exciting that I hadn’t noticed the pain in my gut slowly subsiding. Somewhere along the way the darkness became surrounded by light and although aspects are still there, it seems to have shrunk to a fraction of its size. As I sit here writing this on my train back to Montreal, all I can do is reminisce on the last few weeks and the way they changed my perspective on my life. Somehow being destabilized in June really hit me in August and reminded me I have nothing to lose. I found myself thinking back to my youth when my parents spun tales of the “perfect life.” If I didn’t drink, do drugs, or act out my life would be on track and happy. If I took school seriously and gave it my all, things would work out. If I trusted in love and was a good partner, it would be reciprocated and I’d build the family of my dreams. But that’s not what happened, in the slightest, and I came to realize the importance of not taking yourself so fucking seriously.


So, I lived chaotically and found myself doing the things I least expected of myself, believe when I tell you how liberating it was and is. I stayed out late, made on-the-fly decisions, tried new things and I’ve found myself building new connections, repairing old ones, and feeling happier than I have in a very long time, I’d almost forgotten this sensation. And so, no I haven’t magically cured all my life problems. No, I haven’t found the key to paying all my bills, resetting my mental health, or unliving my traumatic racist experiences. But, I did find out that sometimes a vacation isn’t about going away and forgetting your problems, sometimes the greatest vacation is embracing them and letting go, because how can we expect ourselves to truly live if we’re too busy and tired holding onto each and everything?!


Cheers,


Ra'anaa






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