The Nature of Horrible Things

And how they still sneak up on you sixteen years later

a man looks down into an almost empty glass of beer
Photo by Jimmy jimmy via Pexels

We meet the afternoon chill in the air with our bodies tucked further into warm clothing. Jernee steps out before I do and I hear my neighbor briskly skip down the stairs. The faint scent of liquor speaks to me before he does. I nod — say “Good afternoon,” and attempt to mind my business by watching Jernee search for a proper spot in which to relieve herself. He is the type of person who does not understand personal space. He comes closer to us and, unlike Jernee with him, she growls under her breath. I step back from him — putting at least three more feet between us.

I recall the time and it’s just barely 1:45 p.m. He is home on his lunch break. He smiles. He sends his “Heyhowyadoin’” to me within seconds of stepping on the final stair. It’s all mumbled together — glued, yet I am fluent in slurred speech. I know this speech just like I know the smell. I know the smell. I know the smell. He has tried to hide it with Old Spice and two gulps of water but to no avail. I cock my head to the side and whisper to myself, this cat is drunk and is going back to work. Hell . . . naw.

He tells me his grandchildren have been staying with them. I know this. I speak to his wife — to their little ones. I see them as they come and go. They are beautiful mini models of their mother and father — his son and his son’s girlfriend’s children. He says as erratic as a functioning alcoholic can, “They get up at 4:30 in the morning sometimes, see. And you know, I don’t get up until 6:30 and that throws my day all off, you see?” I do see. I understand. One’s sleep is important.

He steps closer again. I step back. He holds up one hand and quickly says, “I ain’t gon’ keep ya. I know you gotta walk ya dog.” I thank him. He wanders off toward his car and away from us. His wife knocks on my door five nights later. She has a flier in her hand — an invitation to her church for some sort of celebration. It is the same church she drags him to on Sundays. And I understand — I get it. She is looking to God to save her husband. Just like I was looking to God to save my mother — to save me.

I don’t have the heart to tell her I do not do large gatherings — even if they’re outside. I do not do well in crowds nowadays and neither would I want to. I take her flier. I smile at her. I tell her to have a nice night and to be safe. She smiles back and thanks me.

I ran to the church for so many reasons in my early twenties. I ran even harder in my mid-thirties. So much of me wanted to heal my mother and so much of me needing healing of my own.


I drank because I couldn’t get my mother to stop drinking and doing drugs. I drank because I was afraid of coming out. I drank because I was going through a series of harsh breakups and couldn’t find the answers why. I moved out of the townhouse my best friend and I shared. I left. I gave no reason — only a 30-day notice and paid my half of the utilities and mortgage for the next two months, or was it just the following month? That detail is foggy.

She faced me the day I told her with tears in her eyes, asking me to please talk to her. And I couldn’t. Here was a woman who would cause me to stop drinking. It would occur several months after I moved out. The night I knew I wouldn’t drink anymore, my best friend and I had attended a work-related party at a small pub near her place. Her colleagues — her comfort zone. I am told I had too much to drink. I am told, on the way home, she had to pull over to the side of the road so I could vomit. I am told she had to help me up the stairs, get me into some pajamas of hers, then help me to the toilet so I could vomit some more.

I awakened the next morning in her bed and could not remember what had happened and why I was there and not at home. She was sound asleep, but her expression had seeped in worry. I got up to use the bathroom, and this caused her to stir. I asked her what happened, and she told me. She calmly said, “I was not going to take you home where I could not keep an eye on you. You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And that was my “A-ha!” moment.

When a person loves you enough to ensure your safety in your inebriated state — when they care enough to make sure you’re not sleeping in the clothes you upchucked in the night before — when they clean you up, change your clothes, and guide you to their bed so you can sleep; there is nothing else that can match that. Cold turkey is what they call it, yes? I stopped drinking.

I could not imagine what she must’ve been feeling to do all of that for me and not completely cuss me out, as I had done so many times with my mom. She cared about my life — she showed me. I don’t think no one ever had before then or I had forgotten it if they did.


A year and one half later, I brought Jernee home. I was determined to shield myself from the past evils that attempted to drag me down with them. I needed this four-legged creature to keep me safe — to give me joy. I had something to do when I awakened — something to train, to feed, to nourish . . . to love. I had a feeling of purpose again just barely two years before — I felt I hadn’t, and I did not want to go on.

So when I see my neighbor and he is running away from whatever demons chasing him — I understand. I may not know the cause. I may not know exactly what’s beating him day in and day out and pulling him toward drowning his sorrows in tempting liquor mid-day. I don’t even know why he feels the need to talk to me — to step into my space, but I can listen.

Had it not been for my best friend, I would’ve been following the paths of my maternal great-grandmother, grandmother, great-aunts, aunts, and uncles — my mother. I understand because I can still see the bottles of Hennessy and Tanqueray and Old English my mom kept stored in her home. I can smell each one of them while they’re still locked in their casings. I can see her struggling to piece back together a broken home — a dysfunctional family — unruly boys.

I see myself trying to find a way out. I hear my best friend’s voice . . .“You were pretty fucked up, Tre.” And I understand.


*No one’s shit smells like roses and honey, baby. Everyone has a stench.©My late maternal grandmother.


Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.

Clover

Flash Fiction

Photo by nappy via Pexels

Hi. I’m Clover. Clover Daniels. No middle name. Who are you? Lemme guess. Mama says our family gonna be coming over soon and I’ve gotta get my act together and clean house but . . . I can spare some time to speak with you.

That’s right! I’m guessing who you are . . . Are you the guy coming to interview my daddy, Linden Tillman or something like that? I bet you are! He ain’t here right now. My daddy’s got big plans for us. We’re supposed to be moving again. This time to someplace called Hopeulikit, Georgia. You ever heard of such?

Daddy says this place is an “unincorporated community.” Of course, I didn’t know what that was so I asked him to tell me. He said they don’t have to do the census. When my mama heard this, she sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes, and said, “Great, Paulie. Another place where we won’t be counted.”

I ain’t no fool. My mama keeps me on my toes. I know I’m Black. I know I’m a girl. I know we’re poor. And I immediately know Hopeulikit, Georgia probably ain’t a place for this Black, poor girl.

Daddy’s got people who left some land to him in Bulloch County so the move there is supposed to be a significant shift in our current status, but I’m not convinced. Mama says ain’t no amount of land worth moving to if you’re gonna be invisible.

My daddy’s a dreamer. Always has been — thinks he’s gonna build that land into something amazing; something that’ll cause the world to recognize who we are and what we can do. I wanna have faith in him. He looks so happy when he talks about his plans.


I’m his good luck charm. That’s what he says. Daddy named me Clover because I brought him luck. When I was kicking in my mama’s womb, my daddy got a promotion at his job down at Amtrak. I don’t know much about the ins and outs of money and what’s good or bad but he said he went from making $8.50 an hour to $12.00 an hour.

His whole face lit up; from his eyes to the corners of his mouth. He told me about his boss — about the day the offer came his way and how he and Mama were invited to his boss’s home for dinner. He gave me every little detail, including the sound the chandeliers made when the front door opened or closed.

I wish you could’ve seen him tell me this story. It was like . . . It was like some newfound energy snuck into his heart and lifted him outta sadness.

My mama’s a shopkeeper — has her own boutique with fancy-schmancy antique jewelry, clothing, shoes, and the like. It’s called “Clara’s Place: Antiques for the Soul.” I like going to the shop with her on the weekends. I help her open the store and sometimes she lets me greet the customers.

Business was booming five years ago, now . . . Mama can barely make $300.00 a day. And my daddy thinks us moving hundreds of miles away to a place tucked behind tick marks on a map is going to shift our luck.


Mama is tired. At this point, the complaints fall on deaf ears. My daddy’s mind is made up and that’s that. She’ll go along with this new venture because she loves him — because she knew she married a dreamer passionate enough to follow his dreams and well . . . “You’ll never know unless you try” rings just behind her ears. It’s what Daddy says every time something new to do circles around in his head.

Mama’s thinking about using a portion of that land for a garden: tomatoes, collard & mustard greens, cabbage, squash, and potatoes. She sees a future with us being completely farm fresh without having to depend on anyone else for our growth. Daddy loves the sound of this — loves to hear Mama thinking positively.

You listening? I see you jotting down what I’m saying from time to time but are you listening? This move could make or break us as a family. I can tell. I sense it. If it doesn’t work out maybe Daddy and Mama won’t anymore either and I just can’t stomach that.

I look around at all the cardboard boxes we’ve got stacked up and I know a change is coming that’ll call my girlhood into question. I’m just ready to see what this place offers. If Daddy is so hooked on it, something about it has to be right.


“Clover, baby. Who are you talking to?”

That’s Mama. She’s gonna ask you if I’ve bent your ear too much. It’ll be nice if you’ll let her know I didn’t, please.

Clara glides from the kitchen to the foyer of their home where Mr. Tullis and Clover are standing. She slides by some of the packed cardboard boxes in the hallway — casually making her way closer to him. She extends her hand for a brief introduction.

“Oh, you must be Mr. Tullis? I’m Clara. Paul should be home shortly. I see you’ve met Clover. Has she disturbed you any?”

She doesn’t wait for a response.

“Please, come right on in and have a seat. I’ll bring out the refreshments.”

Mr. Tullis nods his head with approval at the mention of refreshments and takes the advice from Clara and makes himself at home.

Mr. Tullis, you’re all right with me. Thanks for not telling on me. I like to talk is all — love people. I like to observe people. You know, you can learn a lot about a person by watching them read a book. Have you ever done that?

You’re here to survey this house, right? See what it’s worth . . . See if we’ve been keeping it up and if it’s good enough to sell? Listen, the best spot in this house is the attic. There is a treasure trove up there you wouldn’t believe but Mama doesn’t like me up there playing around so I don’t go up there as much as I’d like. And she’d have a conniption if I went up there now — there are boxes everywhere! Our lives follow us around in those boxes.

But, back to details of the attic . . . It can be anything. A hide-and-seek space, a guest room, a studio . . . You name it! You got kids? If you do, I bet you five nickels your kids would love it up there too! Oh! I think I hear my daddy’s truck pulling up. You’re gonna like him. You will. You’ll see.


“Clover! Come on in here and give me a hand, baby girl.”

Clover gathers herself hurriedly, shakes Mr. Tullis’ hand, and wanders off into the kitchen to her mother.

I gotta go now, Mr. Tullis. Remember what I said about the attic — it’s the sweet spot.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

2020, I’m Not Sad to See You Go

But I appreciate what you taught me

Dear 2020:

I could start this letter by saying “I’m glad you’re leaving,” “I’ll hold the door open for you,” or “I’ll even grab your bags, walk you to your car, and make sure you get home safely” happily but I’m choosing to let you know even though you have nearly taken me out, I am still here. And many of us can say this.

You tried, you almost succeeded, but we’re powerful enough to deal with you.

Coronavirus COVID-19 is raging with a significant increase every day of those who have contracted the virus. Pharmaceutical companies have introduced rushed vaccines for a thing that constantly mutates and brings about different strains periodically to shoot into faithful believers of being protected against it. Government officials delayed help, knowing human beings were suffering, had been suffering, and were going to continue to suffer, then threw loose dollars for us to catch.

Racism, divisiveness, bigotry, and an overwhelming number of things that paint hatred and insensitivity corrupted you and you allowed them to fester; to dig in deep into the hearts of man, burn their spirits, and press upon their minds. We learned that you harbored endangerment and only waited until now to show us your true colors.

I remained steadfast. I knew my place. I had support. I was not alone. You did not defeat me.

We learned that you harbored endangerment and only waited until now to show us your true colors.

2020, were you lingering in the air waiting for the perfect moment to swoop down on us and attack at will? If I were to question you professionally, would you answer truthfully about your hand in what has been the demise of thousands upon thousands? I would bet you will not confess openly and if you did — you’d lie through your teeth like a certain someone still trying to hold on to a presidency that is quickly flashing by before his eyes and continues to throw temper tantrums because his way is not the way.

You came with everything you had. You thundered into our lives in the beginning with hopeful appearances and a grandeur we had not seen before, and lo and behold — you rocked us by stabbing us in the back. There are many of us who are fighting. There are many of us who are conquerors. There are many of us who will ready a proper shoe and place a swift kick upon your ass sooner than later to get you out of the door.

We want you gone.

I remained steadfast. I knew my place. I had support. I was not alone. You did not defeat me.

Although you came for us with fire in your clutch, we are persevering. We are standing strong. You have taught me I have far more fight in me than I believed I did. You opened my eyes to a vast number of people who will take care of others and give their last to a fellow human being in need. You showed me that even when the depth of the belly of the beast is staring us straight into our eyes, we can overcome, we can stand firm, we can press forward.

You aimed to kill at will and you have succeeded — we have lost so many all around the world with thousands dying each day by your hand, however; you have not bested us. I have learned, am learning your weakness lies in the beauty togetherness can bring — the strength of a people immovable even as they fear what will be next.

2020, you came . . . You rattled us. You shook us from within ourselves. But you have not won.

We won’t let you.


Originally published in CRY Magazine via Medium.