I never thought I’d live to see the mass destruction of all things different–but here we are. As many reflect on the6th anniversary of the Pulse shooting where 49 people were gunned down and killed while 53 others had been wounded, I am sitting with my thoughts on just how insane the world in which we live has become. At the age of 42 and as a Black woman who is bisexual, and also lives in the South, fear and I are “kissing friends.” We have a relationship where she pulls at my hair and I slap her hands away assertively yet with just a bit of caution, too. We are warped bosom buddies–our lives entwined for decades because this has “become the norm.” I can’t slip out of my skin to appease the majority, however, if you asked them if I can, they’d rebut, “Yes, it can be done.”
Someone has poured some type of creamer in their coffee that deteriorates brain cells and as my friend’s mother used to say, “Something in the milk ain’t clean.” Who are we to cast down or out those who do not look, act, agree with, or follow our beliefs? Who are we to denounce a community because we do not understand their lives? Who are we to harbor hate for those with different socioeconomic backgrounds, upbringings, and work ethics? Everyone is so busy playing God they’ve forgotten just who God truly is.
If God IS love, why are so many who claim to follow him displaying the opposite? I want to be a lasting voice. When I am gone, affix my words to my tombstone–compile a few of my most vulnerable pieces and share them with my hurting loved ones. When my body is ash, spread me along the Savannah River, purify its depth. I do not want to be remembered as someone who was merely existing during a time when all hell broke loose and lifted herself in phases because living in whole parts had become too exhausting.
Living now is exhausting.
And it pains me to reflect on the past, observe the present, and admit that I do not want any parts of the torturous future ahead. Not if there aren’t serious changes. I am one voice. I say to you now, do not let yours go silent–do not allow yours to be stunted. Pull whatever morsel of goodness you have dwelling within the pits of your belly out, and spread it all over this world.
We are dying by the hundreds. We are hurting by the thousands. We are struggling by the millions. And soon, if we do not become wise, we will all be dead without forgiveness.
Feeling the lows and the highs and learning from them
I have had an okay week — some lows and some highs — some things I am learning from and enjoying the journey through them, but life is still life. Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of embracing a friend/old co-worker of mine in an actual hug for what felt timeless. We both needed it. I hadn’t seen her in six months, and her visit was one that had been planned, but we switched up what we wanted to do because of the high temperatures. I had been in the process of finishing an early Memorial Day dinner when she arrived, so in my heart — in my mind, I knew I’d either feed her or send her home with a plate of food.
Weekends have always been the days I’d spend trying to attain some downtime, but they usually become days for running errands, getting stuff done for Jernee (my 14-year-old Chorkie), visiting a few family members, and anything else that needs my attention. But to host someone I care about, someone I love, in my home for a few hours reminded me of the Before Times. Pre-COVID, I made it a point to feed a friend or loved one occasionally, to allot space and a place for them to rest when they visited, and to experience all I could with them while they had been around.
The visit had been what I longed for — a few hours in the presence of a kind-hearted person who is a brilliant conversationalist and has worked in the medical field for a few years more than I have. We talked about life, how we’re managing this on-again/off-again global pandemic, and what we’re doing to take care of ourselves.
The week also brought about time for me to work on some writing. And during this time, two pieces of poetry, one work of flash fiction, and an essay had been produced. My younger cousin (Chrissy’s daughter) visited as well. Connecting with her — being around her — simply listening to her did my heart good.
Through every moment of this week that sent me spinning out of bounds a bit, I circled back to where I needed to be — in the center. I am here now.
Feeding the heart and not only the mind.
It is a blessing when you can provide a home-cooked meal for someone. Cooking is an essential part of life. If we can, we do it. And if we are good at it, we probably do it more often than others. The process — the creating and preparing and pairing of ingredients is an art form. One could get lost in the dance — in the rhythm of maintaining the flow if one is not careful. It is my aim whenever I cook for someone to cater to not only their stomachs, but to their hearts, too.
Above is the meal I gingerly packed and handed to my friend before she left my home; barbecued beef ribs, potato salad, and collard greens. We began our afternoon releasing — sharing what we needed to share with one another, and by the end of her visit; I had an overwhelming calmness stirring within me. She gave me more than just her time — she gave her heart too by coming directly over right after work to sit awhile with me.
I think we are at the stage in our friendship where moments such as the one we shared are a welcome occurrence. We search for these moments with others, and some can provide them — some cannot. I am grateful to have allowed food, faith, a pleasant conversation, and some tears to restore me.
The writing comes, it always comes.
And I sit with it when it does. Something moves me. Something shakes me. Something pushes me to create and use this incredible thing we produce by taking vocabulary and painting it firmly on the canvas of our lives. The tragedies of the last few weeks have had my stomach in knots — my spirit is completely defeated. I felt anger. I felt pain. I felt an undeniable sense of wanting to run away from my country to be somewhere else, anywhere else, but here. I wrote about it.
I find it disturbing that as human beings; we are moving from what can connect us to what almost always causes a further disconnect, and we settle there until the next best thing comes along to do more of the same. Words still move me. They have a space in my heart, and that will never change. I can use any genre of writing to express what I feel. And the beauty of this alone should be cherished — should be pedestal’d. I wrote about that, too.
When prompted, I spill over from the fullness of fiction and I birth characters who are fully formed and come complete with their own cores with whom my readers can and often connect. A prompt word, “shadow” landed me in the lane to create the third part of a mystery/thriller flash fiction series I have been nursing. It came to life.
I also wrote about the power of a home-cooked meal and how it is not just food we are transforming from its raw form to a cooked form for consumption, we are transforming the lives of our friends, family members, and acquaintances when we can give them our hearts in a meal. If I cook for you, you are in my heart. I want you to be well. It helps me to be well.
Building bonds and strengthening hearts.
I had not seen my late cousin Chrissy’s daughter since she was twelve years old. Nearly twenty years later, we hugged as though our lives depended on it. Her life abroad, distance, and everything else that comes into play to throw a kink in plans occurred. But now, there are no excuses for us. With her in her 30s and me in my 40s, we are forming a bond I know her mom dreamt up and sent to us cosmically.
To hold her tightly and say, “I love you” repeatedly as she said it too, almost drew more tears from me. Happy tears, though. At one point, I said, “When I let you go, I am going to miss this — miss you.” Taking a brief road trip with her to take her where she intended to go for her visit to North Carolina had been the link I needed.
I did not know my Saturday — this Saturday would catapult me back to a high point — one that I won’t soon forget. I no longer have Chrissy, but I see her living on in her daughter, and that — that is an amazing thing to witness. Through her child, I will respect her existence. It has been a gift showering down on me over the past few months.
Love is a wondrous thing. If you have it, whenever you have it, keep it close.
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. — Richard Bach
Welcome to The Grieving Room. I am here. You are here. We are not alone in this.
On Sunday, May 29, 2022, I began cooking a meal I prepped on Saturday evening. It was a meal I had not had in a few months (maybe longer) — one that had become such a staple in my home — one of comfort. I smiled as I mated the beef ribs that had marinated for 16 hours with the crockpot. I glowed — I beamed. Everything in me felt magically conducive to my existence, and this all came from a meal that I would savor 6 hours later. The art of cooking is one I thought I had lost, but I am happy that the beauty of performing the act is still second nature to me.
Washing collard greens is a song — a powerful melody. The water rushes over each leaf, my fingers gently smooth over the pile of collective goodness, and dumping the dirty water signifies a cleansing. This is a ritual. If you have “cleaned greens”, you know exactly of what I speak — it is fulfilling. It is captivating. A few minutes become an intense love ballad — a walk amongst the clouds. Losing oneself in the act is almost inevitable.
And when they have been cleaned to perfection and seasoned to taste, cooking them is a slow and steady process — a somewhat divine intervention between you and the outside world. While you wait for them to change from green to a darker version of green, and simmer completely down, the smell birthed inside your home is heaven. I wouldn’t say it’s a fragrance I’d bag and sell, but it is definitely one I could see being used as a calming solution — an antidote for the crippling disease we now know as continual pain and suffering.
Finding the time to create a home-cooked meal for myself and also for others is entering once again in my life, and it feels so good. These meals are an act of love — an act of care. They are a way for me to gift a small piece of myself to someone else.
How I learned to cook.
I started cooking at a young age — age 9. My dad was the “cook” in our tiny family and he had learned from watching his mother and grandmother. Recipes he’d grown up with laced our home with their smells. Crab casserole was a weekend excursion into intense flavor and the soul of the sea. Tuna macaroni salad was a flavorful party that could take place any day of the week. Barbecue chicken and an accompaniment of string beans and potato salad would show up on some Sunday afternoons after church, and I would lick my chubby fingers clean — thrilled to consume such a gift.
My dad was not the type of man to shoo me away when I would enter the kitchen. The kitchen was his haven, yes, but he welcomed me into it. He would show me how to dice onions and bell peppers. We started off slowly and cautiously. I was often in awe as he worked his way around the appliances and cabinetry of our kitchen. He had been a performer, and I was his audience. Our kitchen . . . the stage. I spent many hours watching this man provide home-cooked meals for us, and I am glad I did.
I did not know the lessons would be so short-lived. By the time I was twelve, my parents divorced. My mom was not the best cook. Her style was more of a boxed presentation of pre-baked goods and items, sprinkled with a hurried dash of “eat this or nothing”, and I knew I’d rather have nothing or cook for myself. And cook for myself and my brothers, shortly after, I did.
I took what my dad had taught me and carried the lessons of his love language with me into every year of my life. And now, these lessons are helping me with the grieving process — they are opening my eyes up to a love I did not recognize when I was younger. My dad cooked for us because he loved us. He showed me how to cook because he wanted to pass down this kind of love to his oldest child. It is an act of pure love that many of us take for granted.
At 42, I can testify that cooking has pulled me out of some dark places — the comfort of knowing my hands created something delicious and sustaining is an assurance that I will have with me in my elder years.
If I cook for you, you are in my heart.
Sunday also found me entertaining an old co-worker/friend of mine. We made plans to meet up and do something productive, however, the heat that came along with this day of rest was unbearable. When she called me to see if our plans were still on, I informed her it was too hot to do any outside activities, and most places are too crowded on Sunday afternoons to be safe, and her response was, “Well, I’ll leave work, swing by to pick me up some lunch, and come to your place if that’s cool.” And it totally was.
Before she called, I’d already cooked the greens, and the potato salad was also done and getting what we call “a chill on it” in the refrigerator, and the ribs were still mating with the crockpot — almost at their most tender. I walked Jenee, my dog, cleaned house, and sat down to reel in a sense of comfort before her arrival.
This friend, I had cooked for more than once. When we still worked together in the last department at my job — a prominent radiology imaging center in my area — I would bring plates of food to work for her so we could have lunch together. She would also do the same. We had grown to know and love the various aspects of each other’s cooking and our differences and styles, too. Having her visit not knowing that I planned to send her home with food, was the high point of my day.
As the time neared for her to arrive, I sat in my kitchen. I braced myself. I had not seen her in six months and this meeting would be much longer — trapped excitement almost caused me to burst. She was walking toward my building when I looked outside my window. I walked swiftly down three flights of stairs to meet her. We embraced and held onto each other and rocked from side to side.
Hugging for Black people isn’t just hugging. We can take it to a whole new universe. It is a method of healing — a practice we had been shown before we could speak or walk or fully hug someone else. It is a pull you into a safe space and not let you go until you know what the other person is feeling. It’s deep love. It is a language we had been taught to speak and we do it beautifully. And I need this language now more than ever.
After we hugged, we trekked up those same three flights to where she could find rest and comfort at my kitchen table while she ate. We talked, we reminisced, and we cried. The two of us have had some heavy things happen to us in the last year, and the trials keep stacking up, yet we are still taking on every single day — braving them and finding our way through.
About two hours passed, and she had to leave so she could take care of her mother and family. I said to her, “Let me fix a plate of food for you to take home.” I cannot describe the smile that lit up her face. I have no words for it right now, just know that I saw my friend shift moods and my mood changed because of it. The giddiness was there — the power of love was there — the relief of not having to think about what to make for lunch the next day was there. All because I love her enough to feed her — to make sure she could cater to herself, too.
Food is a pathway to connection.
Being able to spend some time with my friend and cook for myself and provide some sustenance for her, too, was exactly what I needed. Food is the start of lifelong connections — it can create everlasting friendships that will see you through the roughest times of your life. If you begin a friendship with food or take it even further — by making that meal yourself — the enrichment of your life is paramount.
There are so many ways we can gift love to others — some simple, some extreme. I know one way I will continue to show the people in my life that I love them — that I truly care, will always be by providing a home-cooked meal for them.
Because if I care about you that much, I’m not only trying to make sure you’re full, I am feeding your heart too.
Rufus was the town postman—employed for thirty-six years before he had a heart attack on his route during a blazing hot summer.
Died on the spot.
His manager, Paul Scheltz, had to identify the body, call his wife, and drive the mail truck back to the distribution center. EMS wasted no time hauling his bloated body to the local hospital, where he was officially pronounced dead.
All their potential life-saving efforts stood before them laughing—making fun of the ten minutes they had pumped the man’s chest. He was deader than dead, and there was nothing they could do about it.
Sylvia arrived at the hospital. Her heart weighed a ton. They’d just taken out a second mortgage, and their youngest was about to enter college. All these thoughts raced through her head as she stared at her dead husband—body as stiff as a board.
They buried him underneath the Jane Magnolia tree in their backyard four days later. No other family was there other than her and their three children. No friends except for Paul and his wife. Sylvia sang, “The Old Rugged Cross” while tears waterfall’d upon her face.
“May he rest in peace,” she said afterward.
May he rest in peace.
— This is in response to a challenge request from fellow Simily contributor Rod Gilley where he challenged me by stating the following on my previous post: “I challenge you to write a Flash Fiction (1,000 words or less) on the subject of that tree (any genre). That is a beautiful tree – eager to see what your imagination can come up with for a story about it.”
The inevitability of life ending should not end you
We moved through several tornado warnings yesterday in my area and all I could truly think about was seeing the sun once again when it peeked through the clouds. How odd, isn’t it? To wish for the sun in the middle of a torrential downpour with looming tornadoes lurking in the distance? I guess I can describe it as odd, but when I take a step back and look at the entire picture, perhaps not. I feel as though I have been escaping several tornadoes of my own — lifely tornadoes.
It is my belief that we, as human beings, have been programmed to wish for the light in the middle of darkness. We prefer happiness over sadness — a great outlook on life instead of a painful one — a successful career as opposed to a flighty one that leaves consistent income as a mere thought and not a reality. We want these things to be near the positive end of life’s spectrum, yet we often forget that in order for there to be balance, we need the downs and the ups. We have to brace ourselves for the lows in order to find ourselves on the high end once again. This is the way of life.
Death is inevitable — we can never stop it.
I recently lost my aunt, my mom’s older sister — on the tail-end of losing a writer friend — on the tail-end of losing my older, favorite cousin. There has been a death of a loved one each month so far this year except in January. When one pulls all this information and losses in order to register them properly, it’s hard to digest. On top of these not-so-happy experiences, the average workday still had to occur.
On Tuesday, May 3, 2022, I took a bereavement day. I had phone calls to make on behalf of my mother — people to “fill in” regarding the news. I checked on my grandmother and my uncle to see if I needed to take on any of the tasks to lighten their loads. I kept up with my mom, (who is dealing with this oddly) to be her sounding board and listening ear. Plainly put, I had things to do — death did not stop me.
“The irreversible cessation . . .” Although death has taken place so much it seems recently, life continues. There are things that have to be done — need to be done and without these things, I cannot live the life I agreed to ensure for myself.
Take a break when you know you need to.
I found it best to take a temporary leave away from social media and writing platforms. A clear head was what I needed. I wanted to be readily available for family and friends and of a sound mind if I were called upon. I was. And this meant more to me than something I am sure I can log in to check from this point forward. There was no emergency online — nothing that needed my immediate attention. Everything likened to some form of interest to me is still here — still thriving.
It had been of the utmost importance for me to pull away, listen to my heart and mind, and sustain myself at all costs. The weight from the heaviness of multiple losses has no description. There are no words. I am reminded of my father — an Episcopalian minister/elder who says about death: “Baby, death is a life coming to its end, and there’s nothing that can be done about it.” No truer words have been spoken. We can try our best to stave off death or stare it down in its face as long as we have the willingness to fight it, but if it is time — your time — my time, it will happen. On this, you can be certain.
You fell. Get back up.
The fall came before I could measure it. I used to call it “The Downing,” when I was prone to slipping into depressive states. But it came. This time, I am unsure if I should credit growth, overall satisfaction with my life, or the understanding of more things now that I am older, but I did not stay knocked down. I lunged my body upward, shook myself stable, and soldiered on with what feels like a higher purpose.
I refused to let the inevitability of life ending end me. Each of these people are lovely, and I have wonderful memories of them. I have photographs, stories, email exchanges, visits, and phone calls, and every single one of these memories is now filed in my mental log for future recollection. I am, however, taking baby steps. I am not running at this point, no . . . I am walking casually along this path while I allow myself to grieve wholeheartedly.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” — Jeremiah 29:11, NLT
Welcome to The Grieving Room. I am here. You are here. We are not alone in this.