With her flirtatious spirit, summer is nearly here, and the dog and I trot up the hills–pacing with matching breaths. I wait for her to catch up with me–her old limbs slowly bending in the direction of our journey. She is cautious but she is carefree. She looks to her right and to her left, stops to sniff the grass, then uses every thistle as her personal licking buddy. I know not of what she’ll find. I stand patiently waiting for her to join me once again.
The sun hasn’t fully awakened–its eyes not yet focused on our backs, so we walk toward the wind. I smile at my neighbors, nod a “Hello,” and gently pull Jernee closer to me. I take no chances. Some people love to approach dog owners, and usually, I am okay with company but the pandemic’s ongoing stay has me even more skeptical of allowing space. We circle the block, breathe in and breathe out, and welcome our home away from home. We finally made it.
a long morning walk with my old girl by my side escaping summer
If you’ve ever felt trapped in your own home (Hello! … to probably all of you reading this newsletter) and got out to take a quick road trip by yourself during this pandemic, you’ve probably benefited more from it than you know. This past week has been a topsy-turvy one. However, it has not been one I couldn’t get through without a few short breaths and prayers to God to remind me I am still alive — still “movin’ and groovin’” and making this thing called life work for me.
After only visiting my mom, cousins, and a few friends and teammates here and there throughout this pandemic, I ventured out to a small town about 45 minutes away from where I live. Perhaps you’ve heard of Mount Airy, North Carolina, the birthplace of Andy Griffith? Many have stated the town is the blueprint for Mayberry on the Andy Griffith show. And let me just tell you — you know you’re in the country when a tractor pulls out in front of you to take over the road — never mind the fact you were there first.
Excuse me, Mr. Man on the tractor, please have at the entire highway strip — my pleasure — I do like my life.
During the trip there, I also saw a man riding an ATV 4-wheeler on the highway. No harm, no foul, homie. Please do you on this highway — on your 4-wheeler. I was in a zone, listening to Wale via Pandora, and neither one of these people was going to kill my vibe. I had one thought in mind — make it to my friend/co-worker’s home in one piece, and make it there in one piece, I did.
Friendship — what a beautiful thing.
I pulled up the rock-covered road to my friend Sarah’s place, put my car in park, got out, and embraced her for what felt like at least two minutes. I had not seen her in a year and eight months. I then hugged her mom, whom I probably haven’t seen in just over two years — then her dad, and then I gave my full attention to her sweet Golden Retriever puppy, Lily.
Dogs are amazing beings. If they instantly take to you, this says more about you than it does the dog. And I was truly happy to make Lily’s acquaintance. The excitement she had for me during our first meeting matched how Jernee reacts when I come back home to her. I was putty in her paws, and I believe she knew this.
After I settled into loving Lily a bit, we ordered food, went to pick it up, and came back to my friend’s place to eat, chat, and enjoy each other’s company. I love being able to communicate with people freely — love it when there’s no filter and everyone can be expressive. Sarah and I have always been this way — at work — and outside of work. Her mom is just the same — salt of the earth people who do not bite their tongues, but have enormous hearts, too. It is in the hospitality offered. It is in the words spoken. It is in the love that is felt.
We then toured the city, which did not take long. We drove “Downtown” so I could see some of the major sites, the Andy Griffith mural, an old theatre, and plenty of people outside taking advantage of the beautiful weather today lent us. I am truly wary of crowds even more than I was before the pandemic, so this tour was in my friend’s car as we cruised her city without the hustle and bustle of the craziness a Saturday around hundreds of people can bring. I still like my space and I don’t want many people around me.
Time flew by so quickly, I headed back home to be with my own little monster. The trip was well-deserved and definitely long overdue. I needed it.
It comes and goes. I understand now.
I had a moment of wanting to text Chrissy some photos or send her a brief note that said, “Look, cousin! Look at what I’m finally doing,” and it’s almost as if I have to reset my brain every time this happens to me. I know I cannot talk to her anymore. I know I cannot send text messages to her phone number that I simply cannot bring myself to delete from my phone. I know there will never be another hug, kiss, or trip to Florida to bask in her presence. My mind knows this. It does.
My heart cannot catch up. It can’t. But I am still giving myself grace. I am still being gentle with myself. There are better days ahead and getting to them consistently again will take time. It will. I am patient with myself. I owe it to myself to be as patient as I am being — it is necessary.
But I understand now how grief can come tapping at your shoulder when you least expect it. I wave hello to it — offer it some coffee, break out the good china, and allow it to sit for a moment with me. I will play some music for it, cook it a good meal, take it for a walk, but I refuse … at this point now to allow it to drag me down. Could it be Chrissy speaking through me? I know it is. And I am listening.
You must go on adventures to find out where you truly belong. — Sue Fitzmaurice
Welcome to The Grieving Room. I am here. You are here. We are not alone in this.
I am exhausted — running on fumes. I often feel like there is nothing in me left worth sharing — worth contributing to this world, and I know I am not the only one.
There are grim reminders everywhere — we have one life — just this one life, and while we are out here trying to live it, someone else is figuring out a way to take it from us. All of us. So when the craving hit me completely out of nowhere like a wrecking ball slated to crush into its next assignment, I pushed my weary body up from the chair, threw on a t-shirt, some pants, socks, and slides, and drove to the nearest Harris Teeter. I was taking a chance — betting big, and the stakes were high. The stakes are always high.
I searched for the one thing I tend not to allow myself to have, waltzed over to the self-checkout lane, paid the tab, and walked hurriedly out of the store, and swiftly to my car. I made it inside and back outside, unscathed — alive — but still fearful.
It could have been me, it could have been you.
This is my thought process of late. Oh, please don’t get me wrong, I have lived with this line of thinking for years, but after the recent deaths of my cousin, my aunt, a writer friend, and a few other people who were near and dear to me years prior, I hate feeling like I’m rocking the boat — testing the waters. I don’t want to live in fear. I shouldn’t have to live in fear. But you take a global pandemic, mass shootings, an infant formula shortage, the harassment and outright killing of people of color, and finally, you have a goddamn scaredy-cat in your midst, and that scaredy-cat is me.
When I think about the tragedies that make up this nation’s current events, I am overwhelmed with sadness. It could have been me, it could have been you. Although I count my blessings daily, it angers me that so many people will never again hug, kiss, and be with their loved ones because of the mindless and heartless acts of those who lack something they need or want or just want to take.
When did we become so incredibly selfish? Can anyone remember? It dates so far back. I am sure I’d get the timing wrong, but help me out — throw me a damn bone. When?!
I will forever have this thought in the back of my mind whenever I venture out to any store within a 10 mi radius of me. I will forever be reminded of children so violently taken away from their families when my little cousins and nieces and nephews leave home in the morning. I will shudder just a little if ever I set one foot back into my church. I will force myself to bite my tongue instead of rebutting when a privileged angry, White man feels the need to flaunt his arrogance and ego at the gas station.
I am surrounded by things that scare the hell out of me, yet I am obligated to move forward — to continue as if none of these things ever occurred. So yeah, you damn right, I bought the slice of cake.
My dog is old, going blind and deaf, and clings to me like a second skin.
For fourteen years, I have had a fur baby who has been more than the beauty of a noon sky to me, and she is moving through this aging phase of life in a way that is breaking me down. I don’t have the words. There are none that can properly describe watching her deteriorate right before my eyes. Perhaps you’ve read about Jernee, perhaps not. There is only so much I can share in an essay without going over the word limit most people care to read, so I won’t waste your time with any of the fat — we’ll just get straight to the meat of the situation.
Jernee has cataracts, she is losing her hearing, and has a cystic tumor on her back right paw that the vet feels he should not remove because it requires putting her to sleep, skin grafting post removal, and a ton of other off-the-wall things that would cost me both my arms and legs and she may not even wake up from it all afterward. Yet, if you saw this sweet baby, you would not know much of what I detailed unless you spent more than a few moments with her.
I have had to think about the inevitability of her death — it is imminent and in the near future. Many of our lives could be described this way, but I have spent much of mine caring for, loving, and being with her. I envision scraping my limbs up from the floor and removing anything remotely close to my living self from the dumps I will probably meet once it takes place. Death comes for us all — it has to come for her, too.
She is still eating — still enjoys a little exercise — still likes to be cuddled and kissed, but all in small doses. If we go overboard with any of these things, her breathing becomes labored and she will sleep for the entire day. Since I have been working from home for the past 19 months, separation anxiety is an understatement.
She bites her paws or attempts to harm herself if I am not within earshot or directly in her line of view. I’ve begun placing an e-collar around her neck and putting her in her crate if I need to run a quick errand or spend some time away from her enjoying someone — anyone else. It hurts like hell, but I am protecting her from her, and how do you explain this to a senior dog who just wants you to stay put and never leave her?
Well, you don’t. You can’t. It’s just life, and it’s the part of life no one ever mentions to you when you look for a companion to keep you sane enough to stay alive.
So you see, that’s why I bought that slice of cake.
We have been through enough, and there could be more on the way.
Even though we’ve waded through the murkiness of the rough waters, we’ve placed ourselves on lockdown and in quarantine, we’ve worked when we should’ve rested, and we’ve fought for our voices to be heard, there could be more of the same on the way. No one can know. We can all sit back and pretend we’ve been through the worst of it, but the state of America will only fester and become an even crueler and more aggravating boil on our collective asses if something drastic and onboard with positive change does not occur soon.
I have met my fill of deaths. I have cried rings around my eyes and lost my voice. I send text messages to friends and family as check-ins. I stop by my cousin’s place to make sure she and the little ones are okay. I call the elderly in my family to hear their labored breaths on the other end tell me, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King.” I live in 15-minute increments because 24 hours is too long to pray for continual life.
I have been eating home-cooked meals catered to me and my loved ones, drinking more water, exercising (walking holes in the soles of my shoes because of the frustration welling up within me), and I have lost 12 pounds. I’ve done all of this and I intend to do more. However, will America let me live? Will you see my name pop up in your feed this time next year? Will you even be around at that time? We don’t know. We can’t know.
Because your local grocery store could be your memorial site. The nearest gas station might be the place you land a black eye and multiple bruises. Church on a Sunday morning with family and friends may end up being a crime scene. And you may count 19 dead children and 2 teachers in your sleep.
Sure as shit, I deserve this slice of cake, and I dare anyone to tell me otherwise.
I wake up when my left leg starts to ache, the shift from night to morning takes no time. I feel the sun before it even peeks through my curtains. Rainy days offer me tension and tightness from an old injury, and I stretch and stretch and stretch until I feel loose.
The dog pats away at her crate, ready to be released. I slip out of bed, slip into some “for people who’ll see me” clothes, wash my face, drink a bottled water, and harness the dog for our morning walk.
We brave whatever nonsense stands before us willingly at an early hour. We are no strangers to strangeness, yet nothing comes that is out of the ordinary, at least, on most days. But we’re ready just in case.
Twenty minutes later, we are rejuvenated and awake enough to think coherently. I feed her, take a shower, eat breakfast, drink 8oz of water or almond milk or orange juice, and brush my teeth.
With my body full and my mind ready, I endure a workday or a Saturday or Sunday full of more of the same or is it more of the sane? Time will tell, it always does.