I found Maya in Reno.
I had a summer job after my freshman year in college and I was a hostess at Harrahs. There I met a girl named Molly. She was a table busser and a writer. She was always in the company of her notebooks, writing things, journaling, journaling, journaling. I instantly liked her in the way you do someone who has a discipline that you don’t have. She also could get me into bars. That was cool as well. She was also a lesbian, and very clearly not attracted to my blonde hair, pink nail polish and fluffy attitude. But, we were a fun mismatch of friends that summer, riding around on our bikes in the hot desert heat, scared of nothing, open to everything.
After one night of work, followed by drinking, followed by binge eating cheeseburgers …Molly pulled out Maya Angelou and read her poetry to me. She read Phenomenal Woman. I was hooked. I never found myself to be a poetry person, but I did love good literature, and this spoke to me. Maya was edgy. Open about her sexuality, black, had a past…so may things that I was not. This was how I found Maya. Suddenly, I was reading every book of hers I could get my hands on. She was strong, and weak at the same time. She made me feel okay about all of the things that I was not, and that I would never be. She felt like a friend that I needed. She didn’t judge me, she understood why I made a bad decision…she still loved me and made me feel valid. Maya Angelous love had no expectations or boundaries in my mind. She was what I needed. Finally, someone who showed how to love, and to love myself more importantly. How to love myself.
I got to see Maya speak last year. It as a wonderful show here in Portland Oregon, and I am glad I can say I sat in the same room and listened to her weave stories, and recite a poem, a wonderful poem that she wrote. Not many can say that, and now we will be fewer and fewer. Those of us who sat and listened to Maya speak Maya’s words.
I am a mother now. I have a son and a daughter, and I realized that my daughter will never hear Maya speak Maya’s words. But I can speak them for her. Teach her that she is beautiful in whatever form her body and face decide to take on. That she is loved whether she makes a bad decision, or always makes the right one. That she will have my love unconditionally and that whoever she is, is who I like. I will not expect her to be who I THINK she should be but whoever it is who blooms from her small, precious body. She may be barely one, but she is the Phenomenal Woman that I created, and watching her take on this world, will be my greatest joy. In her I see the future.
I don’t know when she will find Maya, but she will have all of her works waiting for her. I will not force feed them, but I will have them waiting. For that summer, when she is riding free on her bike in the desert, and Maya speaks to her.
BY MAYA ANGELOU