I met her as most Black 90's children do. I vaguely remember reading The Bluest Eye during my childhood. Navigating my own search for identity through the pages of children lost, found, loved, and known. Looking into Pecola's eyes and seeing myself there. Unraveling the delicate nature of my own trauma alongside the girl whose childhood was also ruined by parental absence. She gave me windows to myself that nowhere else ever had.
I remember sitting in the library of a small home on West 87th street. A tiny Belizean lady, Mrs. Bellis, handed me a big book with a green cover. She knew I loved to read. Told me Paradise was her favorite book by her favorite author. She said if I read it then, I wouldn't understand it, but that I'd still enjoy it. And she was right. My 13 year old mind had stilled not wrapped its mind around the privilege and pain of my light skin, though I experienced the duality of their implications throughout my entire childhood. But the words empowered me. They gave me a version of Blackness and language that deepened my passion for learning.
I don't know what led me to sign up for a class called "Toni Morrison" Spring 2013 with a teacher who I knew despised me, though I admired her. But we sat there for 4 months, reading and dissecting the entire canon of this legend. I was astounded. I was transformed. I remember reading Love in the first trimester of my pregnancy. Love's narrator carried a voice that warmly blanketed my fearful nights. I read that book over and over again. Sula and Jazz spoke to my experience as a Black, Christian woman in ways I didn't even know existed.
In the depths of the these novels, I found lasting wisdom and joy. From the soul of a woman I'd never know, I found my purpose. She taught me that I don't have to label myself in any particular category to be authentic to its ideals. My Blackness, my womanhood, my love of Jesus all work together to create the highest version of myself I'd ever hope to be. Toni Morrison taught me that in a way no one else ever had or could. Her absence from this life, my life, is cataclysmic at best. I simply have no words.