How I Relate To Jhené Aiko’s Penny (Essay)

Words by Mya Abraham.

My brother Anthony* named me Penny after we met in a poetry group and had a conversation about value and vulnerability. Ant isn’t blood, but he’s the closest male to me, aside from my dad. Much like Jhené Aiko, they taught me I was plenty. Then, my dad died. I had been a relatively sheltered, incurable romantic teenager who lost a part of herself. So, I took a trip—not with drugs, but with risks. I risked my heart, my life, my body, my soul in the beds of lovers in a failed and never-ending attempt at seeking and temporarily gaining love from men who’d never love me like my father or my brother. They’d never get me like them. They’d never appreciate me and remind how great I was like them. They’d never have my best interests at heart like them. Jhené Aiko’s short film and album, TRIP, where she, too, goes by the assigned nickname, “Penny”  led me back to the Penny, the lost soul, I once knew.

I’ve been a diehard fan of Jhené Aiko since her “No L.O.V.E.” and sailing soul(s) days. The year after my dad died, I sat in the tattoo parlor to get “sailing soul(ed)” tattooed on my wrist. I was listening to “Burning Man (3:16pm),” a single Jhené released in 2013 prior to Sail Out. Listening to this, I felt free and fearless. Jhené Aiko defined the concept as, “sailing your soul is just going with the wind, and knowing yourself enough to be free, but being souled out is being honest with the way you live, having so much soul that you can do anything and be confident because you know it’s coming from your heart.” That embodied who I was as Penny.

Eventually, our poetry group went our separate ways and I saw Ant less and less. I started documenting my experiences, calling it The Grey Area. I wrote poems and started to compile it for a book, but I couldn’t finish it. Everything I was doing, I wanted to share with my father and I didn’t want to be a burden to Anthony, so I shut myself in. No offense to my mom, but the balance was off. I hated it. I hated everyone and everything. In actuality, I was empty. Nothing was good enough, and the trips continued. I had no moral compass. Jhené released Souled Out in September of 2014 and during fits of pure despair, “W.A.Y.S.” stayed on repeat. The main guy I was involved with at the time wasn’t consistent enough emotionally or physically. He was my “Lyin’ King.”

Mr. Serial Lover
I wish your mother loved you like I could’ve
That way you would’ve known how to love a woman
Mr. Conditional Lover
I wish your father would’ve stayed
I wish he never promised things that never did come true

For two years, I was a “Beautiful Ruin.” I buried myself in work and within entangled bed sheets. I kept thinking I found “the one” who’d take me away from this pain. I trusted and lusted unmentionables. My relationship with my first love ended and mourning the loss of someone who’s still alive while simultaneously healing from an irreplaceable loss is a lot for one person. I risked more in four years than ever before and had nothing to show for it but a few scars, a bruised heart and broken spirit.

It’s not my fault these men love to disappear without a trace.

I started writing again, on a mission to find peace of mind. I put Twenty88’s “London Bridge” on repeat and amidst wandering, I thought, it’s not my fault he’s fucked up. It’s not my fault my father’s gone. It’s not my fault these men love to disappear without a trace. TRIP came at a time where I was so broken; I didn’t think healing was possible. Jhené and I have been in sync for a while. I appreciate solitude. I felt I wrote nothing good since he left. While listening to “Ascension,” the opening lines made me cry for at least an hour.

What do you do it for?
What are you running for?
What are you running towards?
What are you trying to prove?
What do you got to lose?
What is the path you choose?

I met up with Anthony and evidently, Jhené and him had the same thoughts: “And fuck me for crying over spilled milk that I never planned on drinking.” How could I be upset or hurt over something I didn’t want or need? Although, I don’t want to grow up without my dad or spend my days waiting to die to be with him, looking for a father’s love in every man is a heartbreaking trek. I’m going back to Penny for them. I’m running towards freedom. He’s within me.

I took a trip… And you taught me that to be complete that you have to be empty
And free from all the miseries and energies that hinder me 
You brought me to my inner peace
You taught me it was meant for me
It ends how it begins, my friend.

From Penny to Penny, thank you for taking this trip and helping me find myself… until we meet again.