Op-ed: How to Shed Your Armor
In a holding cell, waiting to be arraigned, a man who was arrested five days earlier for allegedly assaulting his wife with a deadly weapon told me, “Trust no one. You’ll get further in life.” Looking back on it two years later, taking advice from a man I spent a mere 23 hours with wasn’t the smartest move. But after being arrested and spending nearly a day behind bars, those words rang true.
I turned to him and uttered, “I won’t.” There I was, in a New York City jail facing countless charges for crimes I didn’t commit. Over a person I finally learned to love.
It was two days after my EP The Love Rocker Project was released, a very exciting time for me professionally and artistically. I had just gotten off a promotional tour opening for Deborah Cox, my EP was on the front pages of iTunes, my music video was on MTV, and I had two shows in Brazil the following week. Instead of going to the Hamptons with my boyfriend, I decided to stay in the city. Like any other day, I walked to Starbucks to get iced coffee and the newspaper. I smiled the entire time and walked back to my building and greeted my favorite doorman. I went into my apartment and took a shower. In my gray marble bathroom I lathered Kiehl’s Pour Homme body cleanser over my new summer tan.
I wrapped a white towel around me and lit a Diptyque Feu de Bois candle. I put on a pair of Comme des Garçons charcoal-colored shorts, a Madonna T-shirt, and plopped on my bed. The TV in my bedroom was playing Theophilus London’s music video for “Last Name London.” I turned the TV off and opened the newspaper. Before I could get through the arts section, I heard my front door open. There were four large men in all black, with vests and shields. I thought there was a bomb scare, but I was quickly informed that I was under arrest.
My equally puzzled arresting officer asked me to repeat my name, as the cops expected someone far worse than the 5-foot-8, 150-pound 24-year-old who stood before them in a Madonna shirt. He was nice and allowed me to walk into my closet to put on shoes and get my wallet. It wasn’t funny at the time, but I spent a good five minutes in my closet deciding which shoes to put on. I settled for an unworn pair of dark blue Lanvin sandals with a brass buckle I’d just bought from Barneys. I opened the light blue shoebox, took the sandals out of their dust bags, and grabbed my wallet and keys.
Inside the van I sat in handcuffs in the middle row with two men in front of me, and two behind me. As we turned south on Ninth Avenue, Kanye West’s “All of The Lights” played on the radio. I bopped my head as I recited, “I slapped my girl, she called the feds.”
Then it all hit me — this was happening, and it was scary and it was real.
At the precinct, my arresting officer asked if I did it. “It” being a plethora of violent crimes. I sat in my holding cell replaying everything in my head. Then I figured my boyfriend battered himself and labeled me as the culprit. I thought about a scene from A Thin Line Between Love and Hate when Lynn Whitfield’s character places an orange in a stocking and beats herself in the face with it. In my holding cell I kept thinking, This can’t be my life. But it was.
He and I shared a smoke outside of the courthouse downtown. I overheard a phone conversation with his wife where he promised he wouldn’t miss his daughter’s recital in the morning. He stayed by my side the entire time I was being processed. At that moment I found solace in his presence. He refused to leave my side. He gave me tips on what to do if I had to stay the night and I joked, “Don’t let the Madonna shirt fool you. Count my charges.”
We laughed, but the light moment was short-lived when we discovered it was too late to see a judge. We had to come back in the morning. I felt horrible. Not because I had to spend the night in a jail cell, but for my arresting officer’s daughter. His promise to attend her recital was now broken because of me. That’s my thing. I have issues with abandonment, which negatively affects my ability to trust people.
I was born with drugs in my system on January 5, 1987, to a woman who was not only a drug addict but also a prostitute. My grandfather wanted to raise me, but he was too old to do so. A friend of the family knew of a woman and her husband who were eager to be parents. They came to visit and fell in love with me. Even with my medical complications, they were still adamant about adopting me as their own. Early on, I recognized this sacrifice, leaving me guilt-ridden for years.
Nonetheless, I had a fantastic childhood. I excelled in scholastics and was enrolled in a language immersion program at age 5. But I fell in love with art and creation when I was placed in fashion shows and catalogs for Donna Karan, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Versace. Occasionally my biological mother, who was always in and out of prison, would want to visit me. My mom, never wanting to keep me away from her, kept that door open. Aside from my biological mother leaving me at train stations, crack houses, and grocery stores, things were looking up for me.
Suddenly I was busy enjoying the many perks of being an only child in a large family that loved me. My grandmother, who would hum songs with me while tapping her fingers on the kitchen table, would insist that I “listen to the rhythm. Listen to the rhythm.” Aunts and uncles begged me to sing another tune. My cousins were always willing be the Sonny to my Cher during impromptu living room performances. My mother put all my artwork on display, high on the walls of her office.
Yet with all the love and support, I always subconsciously feared my family would find out I was a hoax and eventually abandon me too. They would find my songs ordinary, my paintings juvenile, my eccentric personality a nuisance. And like my biological mother, they’d leave.
My fears heightened on my way home from school one day when I learned my biological grandfather had died of a heart attack. Even worse, my biological mother was out of prison and was believed to have caused my grandfather’s heart attack after a heated argument. I blamed myself. If only I hadn’t caused a rift through the adoption process, this would have never happened. If only I wasn’t being a selfish spoiled brat and enjoying my new life with my new family, I could pacify my biological mother and I would be all she needed to stay out of prison.
A few months later my mother’s husband was sent to prison for 10 years for allegedly raping a woman. I blamed myself for this too. My mom’s husband had taken a lucrative job in another city to help pay for the new home they had just bought. When we went house hunting, I was the one who begged my parents to buy it so I could have two rooms on the second floor. A bedroom and a second room for me to paint, draw, and play. Along with a balcony, because at the time I was obsessed with the massive balcony Princess Jasmine had in Aladdin. If I hadn’t forced them to buy this massive home, he would have never left and been sent to prison.
It wasn’t until I was older and in therapy that I realized I had a hard time trusting people because I was afraid of people leaving. My biological father, whoever he is, was never around. My biological mother gave up on me during birth. My grandfather died, and shortly afterward the man I considered my father was sent to prison. Everyone left. As a child, it’s hard to process these things. I had no idea these were their demons, not me. But at age 8, I saw myself as the root of everyone’s problems; everywhere I went, I caused destruction. Nothing about me was special enough to keep anyone around. I started to internalize that. I started to believe that if I floated through life with one foot in and one foot out, everything would be fine. If I could create a world where everyone is kept at arm’s length, no one could ever leave. No one would be allowed in.
After being arraigned and facing a court date, I went home and lay on the floor. I contemplated how to call my parents. I had just spent the entire year explaining that my boyfriend, who they were so weary of, was a good person. I was ashamed to tell my parents I let my emotions get the best of me and I trusted someone. Remarkably, my parents were strong and levelheaded. They encouraged me to deal with what was important first. My uncle hired my lawyers, my aunts prayed for me, and we fought the charges.
A few months later, when everything was over, I called my mom, vowing to never trust anyone again. I was angry. With my armor on and my walls built higher than ever, I was ready to fight a war with anyone who came too close to me. Sympathetic yet supportive, my mom simply replied, “Hopefully one day you’ll call to tell me you laid that armor to rest. Too much on will keep the love away too.” As I’m a stubborn Capricorn, her subtle advice hit my deaf ears.
During the following months, I became really dark. I turned off all my emotions and stopped feeling. I reflected everything that was done to me onto others. The loving person I used to be was dead and gone — he was stupid and immature for trusting people.
I guess I was caught at a vulnerable time. I was longing to be loved when my ex came along. He was 44 and I was 23. I was expressive; he was reserved. He was a millionaire; I had an overdrawn checking account. He was in a relationship and I was single. I was too busy writing songs and painting to notice, but I was sad. After months of ignoring him and refusing to date someone who was in a relationship, I caved in and fell in love, quickly and intensely. I think with my abandonment issues and a dwindled self-esteem, I felt anyone who was willing to love me, deal with my craziness, and stay was good enough. Stop being picky. You don’t need a balcony. You’re not a princess.
He ended his 17-year relationship and gave up half of his fortune and property to be with me. I felt this immense pressure to stay with him — anyone who was willing to do that to be with me must love me.
Did I love him? Immensely. He was the first person I ever loved. I had never been able to let that wall down for anyone else, before or after him. But people with abandonment issues often place themselves in relationships they know won't work. When my grandmother was alive, I overheard her saying at the kitchen table one night, “When you marry a man who leaves his wife, you marry a man who leaves his wife.” It only took several years, but I took her advice.
Back to Writing
With everything that happened, my family and friends were shocked at how easily I moved on. I never shed a tear. I never resorted to drugs, alcohol, or bad behavior. In fact, I was resilient. Stoic, even. I channeled my energy into my art. I decided to focus on what mattered to me and what made me happy: writing, producing, and recording music with other artists.
While I started writing songs for my new album, I discovered my dormant emotions led to a writing block. It stalled the project. Everything I wrote was elementary and lacked passion. I couldn’t find the words to describe what I was going through, because I couldn’t feel anything. I was too busy telling people how unaffected I was that I didn’t realize I was traumatized.
One night I decided the only way to ride the ebb and flow of my emotion was to let my guard down. With the help of two bottles of red wine, I drank myself into oblivion and wrote to a simple piano chord. I cried. I yelled. I even got mad. That night I wrote my song “The Way We Were.” When I woke up the next morning I read the lyrics out loud and knew I was back but still had a long way to go.
No More Armor
Yesterday it all clicked. Yes, people left me, and some never returned. But more people stayed by my side. When my biological mother was high on drugs when giving birth to me, my mom rescued me, shuttled me to and from the hospital, and made sure I had health insurance before the adoption was finalized. When my grandfather died, she was there. Even when she was divorcing her imprisoned husband, she was there for me, making sure I continued to paint, draw, sing, dance, and create. When I was living in New York, lying on the floor of my apartment scared, even 3,000 miles away at home in California, my mother was there. So were my stepfather, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. And while my grandmother is no longer with me on earth, she was there too. And still is. Her confidence in me and her encouragement to let me be myself still live on within me. When I’m in the recording studio tapping my fingers with no music playing, there she is reminding me, “Listen to the rhythm. Listen to the rhythm.” I spent so much time fearing that people would leave, but the ones who really loved me the most never left.
My biological mother’s struggle with addiction, my mother’s ex-husband’s prison sentence, my grandfather’s death — none of these things were my fault. But I will take responsibility for wasting countless years of my life being afraid to love and not understanding that I deserved love.
This morning I woke up and drove to Starbucks for iced coffee and a newspaper. When I got home, I finally took off the armor I’d been wearing for years and laid it outside my doorway. For the first time in years, I lit a Diptyque Feu de Bois candle and took a long shower with Kiehl’s Pour Homme body cleanser. I dried myself off with a bright white towel and read the newspaper in bed. With the scent of the candle and remnants of my shower lingering into my bedroom, I called my mom and told her I was tired of fighting.
She replied, “I was praying you’d call to say that. Get some sleep. And tomorrow, write about it.”
SOLOMON’s single “Swim No More” is available on iTunes. For more, follow him @omgsolomonwtf or visit Solomon-Music.com.