I understand you caught up with my girl . . . Iesha. She’s the shit, right?! I love her so much. Listen . . . Iesha is the main reason I have this gig at this place, you know. And she’s also the main reason I want to continue to work here and get that supervisory position in a few months. This isn’t the end of the road for me — working at this place, no, but it could lead me to some other big things. I’m pretty good with my hands — know how to keep my bike up to par and will have the range to work on my car when I get it, too.
So I’ve been thinking I’d do this gig for another three to four years after I become a supervisor, then I’ll look into getting some night classes in so I can become a mechanic. My cousin Harper has a sweet gig at our Uncle Bubby’s place. These are my pops’ people. I gets down with them a little bit, but I am not as cool with them as I am with my moms’ people. Uncle Bubby always seemed pretty shady to me, so I try not to cross paths with him. But Harper loves the work he gets and the hours, too. I’m thinking about the future — with my baby girl on the way, I want more for all of us, and I aim to get it.
I’ve got two more months left in school and then I’ll be nineteen. Winter is coming, and I want us set up in our own place before baby girl gets here. Moms keeps telling me I don’t have to rush about things, but I know we can’t all cram up in my parents’ place. I don’t want any tension — not that this is a thing now. I just know when spaces get tight, people lose themselves a little. I mean, I had to share a room with my kid brother in our last place, and lemme tell you, I was so close to laying that little man out on several occasions. I just don’t want anything out of the ordinary for my girls.
It gets cold as hell here in Columbus. The place my cousin owns — the housing building. He’s still offering it to us, and I am going to jump on it. Gotta call him this weekend. He said, all we have to pay is $350.00 upfront, a month before we move in, and then our monthly rate of $925.00. We already have that and then some. I am also meeting with Amar’s uncle Khalil this weekend too. I’m taking my uncle Rick with me so we can give this vehicle a proper view. I hope this cat doesn’t try to stiff me. If so, my uncle Rick will step up to the plate.
I can handle my own — but Unc won’t let me. Not with my elders. He takes over then.
With our own roof over our heads and a proper vehicle for Iesha and my baby girl, and me soon-to-be-done with school, a lot of the stress will disappear. We’ve endured many winters here in Columbus, but this’ll be our first out on our own, and with a baby. I keep telling you I’m scared, but I’m also just ready to see her — to hold her — to take care of her. I don’t want any bullshit around her and I’ve let my pops’ people know. They are a bit on the crazy side, and I don’t want that shit around my baby girl.
I don’t want her head filled with any nonsense, and I mean that.
Iesha ain’t having it, either. She may have seemed cool, calm, and collected to you, but don’t cross her. You hear me, man? Her ancestors are liable to help her out and they will outnumber you. It’s why I stay on the straight and narrow. I know I have a good, strong woman, and I don’t need anyone to tell me. I see it every single day in her. She amazes me. I don’t want anyone else on this path with me. We’re young, but I assure you, we ain’t dumb.
You know the drill — I gotta get in here and make this money. This wind is picking up too. Get yourself to a safe and warm place.
Managers within my department know my work ethic–they can count on me–I have what they’re looking for; overachiever, can’t turn it off, even if I wanted to.
Author’s Note: This is a burden at times. I’ve gotten better about setting boundaries on what I will and will not do as requests completely out of my job description, but when folks know you can do something and do it well and are responsible too . . . Well, many tend to use you for what you can do.
*Readers, the following story details murder and death graphically, abuse and neglect of children, and a family’s indescribable pain.
We don’t talk about Daniela. We don’t reminisce — don’t share our memories — don’t even flip through the plastic pages of our favorite photo albums. We can’t say her name. We don’t. We don’t. We don’t. But my sister Alexandria does. She chants it. She brings up the past. She draws in the days of old and begs us to dance with her. She shouts the name. She spends it around her fingertips and blows a kiss to us with it. She is enamored by it, dressed in it, locked into it, and we . . . we can’t get her to stop. We want her to stop. We want her to start. We don’t know what we want. But we don’t talk about Daniela.
We don’t talk about that night. We don’t look into the eyes of her sons and wonder what happened — why they lived — why she didn’t. We don’t ask for answers. We don’t wait for answers. We stopped looking for answers. But my sister Alexandria does. She spends hours on the phone with private investigators — works overtime to pay meaningless dollars to an overweight, flighty man who lives at his place of business — too focused to go home — too greedy to know home. She is submerged in the knowing — the yearning — the need to find answers. We wish she would stop. We hope she won’t stop. We can’t get her to stop. But we don’t talk about Daniela.
Alexandria picks at the paintings in my mother’s home — asks, “Who’s this? Who’s that”? and she knows every face. She knows our family — our dead — our ghosts. My mother does not respond. I stand statue-like, still in the presence of my sister who won’t let go. I want to be like her. I want to talk about Daniela — our youngest sister. I’ll try. I think I can. I think I can. Will you listen?
My mother has soulless eyes now. They have been drained of tears. She is hollow-boned and sunken — dry. Nothing moves her. We exist. We still exist. We are here, Mama.
Daniela was the reason for the word beautiful. She had golden eyes. Did you hear me? Golden eyes! Her voice was a velvety sing-songy lullaby. The smartest in her class. The light in every room. The undeniable work of art God created, stepped back, and announced, “It is good” . . . She was thirty years old when that night happened. Thirty years old. Thir — Alexandria was on her way to see her — she had all of their favorite snacks. It was a Friday evening and the roads glistened with the first sprinkles of summer rain. Luther Vandross’s Never Too Much played on her radio. And she sang along. She sang along. She sang along.
Alexandria says, “As soon as I saw her house, something felt off. Something wasn’t right.” That’s what she said. That’s what she says. She got out of her car approached our sister’s home. Her stomach fell to her feet. Tears pummeled her eyelids. She couldn’t move. She wanted to. She couldn’t. She found our nephews tied up in their bedroom — removed the muzzles from their mouths, and listened to their screams. How does one cut their own sister down from a spinning fan? Her neck bruised — eyes bulged from their sockets — breathless. Who did it? Who did it?! Who did THIS?!
An overwhelming feeling to shelter our nephews — at the time, ages seven and four, tapped at her, and Alexandria guided them to the family room, closed the door, and called the police. She was advised to leave our sister hanging — to watch her sway — to not tamper with evidence. Is this right? Was this okay — to allow someone you loved more than the full-bodied moon to just . . . hover lifeless in your presence? It didn’t feel right to Alexandria. It wasn’t right. She took a chair from the dining room, placed it under our sister, and butcher-knifed the rope in half. The two of them fell to the floor.
She held her — smoothed her hair away from her eyes — rocked back and forth. Every tear was a testament to the days she would search for her killer. Every breath was etched in pain. She rocked back and forth. She rocked . . . The boys beat at the door. They kicked. They raged. They wanted out! She rocked . . . she rocked . . . She held onto our sister. She cried. She cried.
Sirens blared in the dark — the slick road announced the officers’ arrival. The hushed trees swayed in the distance — they announced the ambulance’s arrival. The sky opened up and showered down its heaviest rain. It announced the local fire department’s arrival.
Alexandria says, “It was the worst night of my life. It was the worst night of their lives. It was the worst night of her life.” Her being, Daniela — the name we don’t say. The one we don’t talk about. But I’m trying. I — I really am. When I heard my sister’s voice that night, there was a feeling deep in my gut that told me to be quiet — to just listen. I don’t know how she did it — how she told me every detail of that night after holding our dead sister. After embracing our nephews. After answering question after question and catering to authorities performing half-assed duties. I don’t know how she did it.
A suicide — that’s what it was called. Really?! Alexandria slapped the authorities with their own words. Our sister would have never tied up her sons or abused them or beat them in any way. She would have never managed to hang herself or physically bruise her own body prior to this. Who did it?! Look! Search! Do something, damn it! Question the boys. Ask them! Ask them! They know . . . They know . . . They know . . .
Someone had to tell our mother. Someone had to be the one. Someone needed to let her know. How do you tell a woman her youngest child is no longer alive? How do you tell a woman who nearly lost this child in month four — she’s truly gone now? How do you tell a woman she is a mother of two — not three? Someone had to tell her. Alexandria drove to our mother’s home after our sister’s body was removed from her house. The boys sat silently in the back seat. In hushed whispers — intermittent tears fell. She drove faster. She drove faster. She had to get to our mother.
Mothers know. They always know. Alexandria says, “When Mama saw me covered in Daniela’s blood — her sweat wrapping my body — the boys’ tears staining my clothes, she knew.” How Alexandria thought our mother would react was not how she reacted. She sat stoically on her couch, smoothed the silk pajama pants she had on — cleared her throat — closed her eyes. Alexandria told her. She told her. She let her know.
The boys stood by her. They clung to her. They let the woman who birthed the woman they called mother love on them. They allowed her to hold their hands — kiss their cheeks — ease their pain. And it has been like this for the last five years. It’s that way. This is the way. It’s her way. And why we don’t talk about Daniela.
We don’t talk about Daniela. We don’t reminisce — don’t share our memories — don’t even flip through the plastic pages of our favorite photo albums. We can’t say her name. We don’t. We don’t. We don’t.
But my sister Alexandria does. She does . . . To her, Daniela was what we wished for — our shooting star in a land of fallen stars. She will never stop talking about Daniela.
Let me guess . . . You’ve been talking to Deidrick, this is why you’re here now, huh? I don’t mind talking to you if you don’t mind me snapping a few shots of this venue for a friend of mine. I dabble in photography — on the side. I graduated early — this past June. Deidrick’s coming out this year — late baby. I take a few art classes up at the rec center every other weekend. Other than that, I work at a local ice cream shop — you know, Dinnizzo’s Gelatos & Things? That’s my second home. By now, I’m sure you know, I’m Iesha . . . Iesha Selah Ndiaye.
My family is from Senegal. I’m the first one to be born here in the United States. Ugh. I hate saying that, but it’s like some base form of introductory etiquette, so it’s ingrained in me. The few things my parents wanted for me were to get an education, ascend to heights they could not reach prior to moving here, and become a doctor. Well, I’ve crashed all of those things, except for education. I excelled in all of my classes since elementary school and even graduated from high school with honors.
I am also taking classes online with a local university to get a degree in Early Childhood Education. I have fourteen months to go and I will have my degree in hand. After that, I have to do an internship at a school in my community for at least three months before I can begin working professionally full time.
“Everything happens for a reason,” people say. I met Deidrick when I was fourteen. It was my second year of high school, his first. We hit it off instantly. I’d like to tell you it was his charm that roped me in, but really, it was the way he always seemed aloof around me — sort of like he just couldn’t calm down long enough to simply be. I adored that about him — he didn’t try to macho up or subdue it.
He was natural — we flowed into each other from the start.
Of course, we didn’t plan on becoming young parents. I don’t think anyone ever really “plans” on becoming young parents. We’d always been careful when we were intimate, but the one time I forgot to take my birth control pill is, of course, the time the condom tore. . . and here we are. I never thought it would upset Deidrick — it never crossed my mind. He’s a sensitive young man, caring, understanding, and his parents did a great job in raising him.
I calculate my menstrual cycle. You get into the habit of doing this when you’re on birth control, so when it didn’t come on at least three days past its date, I worried. This was on a Wednesday. I’ll never forget it. Saturday morning I was nauseated. The smell of my mother’s Ndambé sent me running for the toilet. I panicked — heavy breathing, blood rushing to my head, the whole nine . . . I called Deidrick, and I told him I could be pregnant, but I was going to buy a kit from the store up the street and go through the motions later to know for sure.
He never floundered. He said, “Babe, if we are, then we are. And we will be great parents.” I was flabbergasted. I mean . . . I was happy, but I was also taken aback. Again, I never thought he’d be upset, but I didn’t expect him to be as calm as he was, either. I bought the test, took it, and well . . . you know the rest.
For the last few months, my mom and I have been attending my doctor’s appointments on schedule. I take prenatal vitamins; I walk two miles every morning, and I meditate and do breathing exercises. My mom’s a Doula, as well as a Herbalist, so . . . I am well taken care of if you can imagine.
Deidrick and I have been tossing names around for our baby girl. I’m dead set on Aida Lily-Grace Miles and he wants Aida Désirée-Grace Miles. It’s not too far off, but there’s just something about “Lily-Grace” that sticks with me. I can’t let it go. I have a feeling, though, I’ll be moved to compromise as time gets closer.
Welp, that’s the last shot. My friend is going to be pleased with most of these, I’m sure, but I have a lot of editing to do now. Then, I’ve got to work this evening. This was a nice chat.