Threaded Chapters

I will miss her sunshiny presence, but I am happy she will have a new beginning

Photo by L.A Co. on Unsplash

My neighbor is moving. It appears I say that phrase now more than I care to. Since the rent has increased in my apartment complex for many of us by $115.00 to $250.00 (depending on the type of unit you are leasing), the choice to leave is easier than the choice to stay. Some have found their new homes in cities right outside ours — shifting from one county to the next.

They are doing this, from the outside looking in, without fear — without a pressing feeling to remain planted where they are — without wondering what they will do in the next town.

She lives (lived) across the breezeway — directly from my unit on the third floor. She is soft-spoken, sweet, and very much a talker. She cannot remember Jernee’s name, and oddly enough, I have not been able to remember hers. But I have “Yes, ma’amed” and “No ma’amed” her for nearly five years and I do not want her to move.

And this is a dilemma of mine — fear of change — of adjusting to the differences that lie ahead. My therapist says, “You just have to run straight through it, Tre. It may not be as bad as you think it will be.” And I know she’s right — I know she has seen more than I have — I pay her for her expertise and the connection we have built over the last three years.

Back to my neighbor. I will miss her sunshiny presence, but I am happy she will have a new beginning. She is excited about the move — about the city where she will be living. She found a place for senior citizens that will cost her $275.00 less than what she was paying at our apartment complex.

And as she told me this a couple of weeks ago to prepare me for the move, I couldn’t help but say, “Look at God. He found a place for you that isn’t too far, and is also less expensive.”

She smiled at me and said, “And He will do the same for you, too.”

And while I believe her, I both want to leave this place and I don’t want to leave this place, and if I do, the mountains are calling me — they are calling me home to them.


Everyone is moving, the community will not be the same

This scares me — what keeps me inside most days and away from new people who do not exchange “Hellos” and “How are yous?” They are too busy walking briskly to the mailbox or shoving themselves into their cars to recognize one’s presence. They have some business to attend to, and you are not it — you’re a blip in their time zone, a speck to be brushed away at the right moment.

You could pass out in the middle of the street, and the one thing they would probably focus on as important is the color of your shoes or, even worse; the color of your skin.

The people in my building talk — we share our workdays with each other, our experiences. The people across from us and next to our building — it is the same. We have built up our community and look out for one another, and with all the new people moving in, I see less of this, and it hurts me — hurts me truly to my core.

I foresee it being more of a selfish thing, as they fill the vacant units to the brim with people simply looking for a place to stay and not a place in which to live. (Let that sink in for a moment.)

We are losing our elders. We are losing the single mothers who look forward to you wrangling their kids along for them. We are losing men willing to shovel your hatchback compact vehicle out of your parking space after an overnight snowfall.

And I am not settling well with this at all. But I guess I will have to, and soon.


She’s not gone just yet, but she will be

She tells me she is paying rent at her current place and the new place because her lease is not up until January. The catch is, if she did not jump on signing the lease with the senior citizens’ spot, she was going to lose her unit there. Her sons can help her these last two months — they will help her.

I say, as pleasantly as I can, “I understand that. You had to get to it while the getting was good.” She smiles and shakes her head in agreement. She then tells me, “So, I’ll be back. You’ll see me coming in and out — cleaning up — getting the place in order. I’m not gone just yet.”

And a small piece of my heart releases the strain it automatically pressed upon me.

I always wonder who my next neighbor will be when someone moves. Will they be kind? Will they be considerate? Will they understand we live in an apartment building and not their own home with a backyard and all their customized trimmings?


We live in threaded chapters, turning the pages of each other’s books

When the day comes that she says her last goodbye, I want to have a housewarming gift for her — something she will look upon and remember me and Jernee. I am having a hard time figuring out what that should be, but I know I will select the right thing at the right time.

We live in threaded chapters — connected by time and space and community. Some of us are more apt to pick up each other’s books and turn the pages and learn something about each person as we move forward.

And as I look up from my laptop, I see another moving truck back in. Two people exit and then pull up the truck’s door. The bed of the truck is empty.

I think to myself, “Who is moving now” and I close my blinds and shake my head.

And just like that, I have another book to read.


Originally published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.

I am Tunde Johnson

How watching The Obituary of Tunde Johnson awakened repressed feelings

Actors Steven Silver and Spencer Neville as “Tunde Johnson” and “Soren O’Connor” from Out Magazine

Nothing prepares you for the triggers of life — things that have been repressed and only dug up when the nights are cold, and a biting tongue and eager ears want you to confess.

I had not been feeling well late last week and into this current one, and one of the ways I gifted myself peace was to watch The Obituary of Tunde Johnson. What I did not prepare for was how intense the movie was, what it would stir up within me, and how hard I worked to bury some memories I thought would never be exhumed.

Tunde Johnson is a gay Nigerian-American teenager who is in a secret relationship with his school’s white lacrosse champion Soren. Soren is closeted and officially dating popular girl Marley, Tunde’s best friend since childhood. The day of Soren’s birthday, when the two boys have planned to come out to their families, Tunde is stopped and fatally shot by a police officer. Following his death, he wakes up the previous morning and becomes trapped in a time loop, forced to relive the day of his murder, which keeps happening in different ways no matter how hard he tries to change it. — Wikipedia

As I watched Steven Silver, the actor who played Babatunde Adesola Johnson, in the movie, I gasped. I inhaled and exhaled broken hearts, defeated conversations, and intense pain. I know what it feels like to keep a secret because the person you love cannot (will not) announce they love you, too.

However, my experience was slightly different.


I am Tunde Johnson

She was like no one I had ever met — a Scorpio with a vast vocabulary, dimples so deep they appeared when she breathed, and a soft and welcoming voice. Words connected us. They were our saving grace, and in them, we toyed with more than just language.

In my 20s, I never thought I would ever fall for a woman who was almost engaged, then engaged, then married, and who became a mother.

We let words on a screen pull us in, caress us, and provide comfort and care when no one else was around. I skipped college classes to communicate with her. I took trips to where she was to see her. We hid in the shadows to be close — skin to skin — to love without thinking of consequences.

But there are always consequences.

Fighting to remain in her life as a demoted figment of a sentient being, I clung to the title of “best friend,” and amongst the loss and shame and hurt of dealing with a drug addict for a mother, the intensity of the workload for classes, and a woman I would never be first to, I began drinking.

I lost myself because I only wanted to find myself with her.

And in the end, I had to realize there was no US. There never could be. She had safety in someone else — she always would have. And I would go back to the shadows alone.

We would not be that happy couple, smiling during dramatic throwback arguments, and married by 30 years of age.

I had to swallow my pride. I had to move on. It took sixteen years before I recognized my worth — sixteen years.

Tunde could recognize this sooner than that.


As a Black bisexual woman, Tunde’s story speaks to me

I know I am not alone in this. After Tunde is stopped (for what, had not been disclosed, but one can quickly gather it is racial profiling — the hideous culprit) by two White police officers when he is on his way to Soren’s birthday party. Watching it as it played out, I immediately knew what would come next.

A gunshot. A fatally wounded Black man. Dead. Why? He was reaching for his cell phone.

The fear of being pulled over by police officers for many of us who are Black and trying to live is real. I am always eyeing my rearview mirror. I tense up when I pass by a squad car. I say quick, breath prayers and move past them as carefully as I can.

I could feel every gunshot as they flew toward his torso. I teared up, watching him fall to the ground.

And every single day, Tunde relives his death, but in a way that many young Black people have died years prior to the inception of this film.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, Trailer.

One moment that stands out for me is when he meets Soren’s father, Alfred O’Connor, who is a television host centered on his ill-informed beliefs and says to him, “You have a television show,” and he shakes his head. This comment comes after they have discussed Alfred stating his words and expressions can label him as a racist or a bigot, and he seems to not have a voice in the world.

Ironic, right? He’s a television host with his own show. His voice is louder than many of ours.

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson creeps in, strips itself naked, and rains down on all of us the pain of what it feels like to live while Black and queer in the United States of America.

It puts on screen the sort of looping coverage Black communities go through regularly, watching unarmed Black folks die at the hands of police on the news or social media time after time. — Mikelle Street, Out Magazine, February, 2021


I thought I had moved on. I really did.

And I imagine, some of you, should you opt to watch this movie, will find bits and pieces of your life tangled up in it as well. I thought I had buried enough of that part of my life away that I would not allow the tears to fall.

Sure, I have written many poems for this woman — she was, and I will bet, still is amazing. But, those are fleeting moments — visiting for a few minutes here and there, and then they find their hiding place once again.

But watching this movie and leaning into the depths of Tunde’s reaction after every death silenced me. I sat with my heart in my hands, my mouth agape, and my soul on pause.

We die many deaths while living and we are expected to bounce back from these deaths continually.

Some of us are walking, unhealed calluses of ourselves, never to recover, yet they advise us to shape up or ship out. The proverbial ship will set sail without us.

Maybe I needed this, though. Maybe I had to be reminded of my past, from something that is present, and probably will be a part of my future in order to fully heal.


To be Black (and queer) and alive in America is a death sentence

Babatunde Adesola Johnson knows this, and with every death, he died, he had been given a chance to remain alive in the end.

To think of those who did not survive, will not survive, and have yet to become a statistic, my prayer is that we defy the odds.

I am Tunde Johnson. Are you?


Originally published in An Injustice via Medium.

Cleveland

Part III: Searching for a new home

Flash Fiction

A black and white image of a Black couple standing back to back.
Photo by 1MilliDollars on Unsplash

We are tasked with finding another temporary residence while my building undergoes renovations. His parents are kind enough to usher us in on such short notice, but I don’t feel welcome here. I know we won’t make it for the next eight months. That’ll be impossible.

I see the look in Cleveland’s eyes — the intensity — the strain. He wants more than anything for us to be in our own place without the looming gazes of others beating down on our backs.

I want that too.


To say that I am blessed to have Ruthann would be an understatement. She’s been by my side for the last three years, and if I had to do them without her, I don’t think I could. My folks whisperin’ behind our backs. I can hear my father wake up in the middle of the night and press on our floorboards with the weight of his body — pacin’ back and forth. Pacin’ . . .

We ain’t causin’ no trouble. We’re just here — just here, tryin’ to make it. Ruthann’s been searching for a place that’ll house us for the next eight to nine months. We are hopeful her place will be done by then. While she searches and works, I work double shifts at my job and save up some money.

Her pops beatin’ down her cellphone with his text messages. Some of them happy. Some of them sad. Some of them angry. Ruthann just shakes her head, sends a simple and respectful response, and keeps it movin’.

Between the two of us, we’re gonna make it. We don’t need them. We got us.


Cleveland hasn’t been himself lately. I know this struggle — the one of us searching for yet another place to stay is overpowering his strength. He hates imbalance. He is always centered. He is the only man I know who meditates before the sun rises and runs two miles before he showers, kisses my head, and rushes off to work.

When we talk, we have meaningful conversations. He is fluent in expressing himself about various artworks; both literary and visual, music, construction and engineering, and the current state of our roller coaster economy.

Being that I spend most of my days conducting research on authors, science, and the best way to make our library stand out in our city, I love delving deeper into things outside of this realm. Cleveland gives me that.

I think I may have found the perfect temporary spot for us. It’s a place not too far from my oldest sister. She sent me the landlord’s information. I’ll meet with him tomorrow after I talk to Cleveland about it tonight.

I am crossing my fingers and toes for this space. It would be a ten-minute walk to the library and about a fifteen-minute drive to Cleveland’s job. Talk about convenience! Wish us luck!


Before I started dating Ruthann, I dated an older woman named Val. She may have been older, but she was not wiser. And her folks loved me! Her pops took one look at me when I first met him and said, “Now, Val, if you can’t stick with this one, what are you going to do? Come on over here, son!”

Her folks instantly accepted me. I didn’t have to jump through any hoops — didn’t have to mourn my dark skin while I’m still livin’ — didn’t have to constantly prove myself.

We didn’t work out. And it had nothing to do with her folks, nah. She had other plans for the future — plans that didn’t include me cuz she started messin’ around with her mechanic.

After I shook the weight of that relationship offa me, seven months later, Ruthann appeared. And here we are.

It’d be my demise if Ruthann dogged me the same way Val did. That’d be the kinda wound I wouldn’t be able to heal from quickly.


I just got a text message from Ruthann. She may have found the perfect spot for us. She sent some photos my way — place looks great! I’m excited to see it. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be out of my folks’ place soon and into one we can call ours — if only for a little while.

The stink of being unwanted is travelin’ along with us and lemme tell you, it’s not a welcoming stench.


Originally published in Lit Up via Medium.

Part I and Part II

Carrying a “Male” Name

Musical Selection: Kanye West (& other Lyricists)|Monster

An audio-poetic rant

Comic Strips Tre. Photo by my cousin Alex; tweaked and enhanced by Tremaine L. Loadholt
Carrying a “Male” Name by Tremaine L. Loadholt

People have been “misgendering” me
before calling it out was a thing.

I carry a “male” name; one that typically
appears before I do.

I cannot tell you how many times
I have said, “But I am a woman,” or
“It’s actually Tree•Maine.”
If I had a dollar … You know the rest.

I’ve lived a life of correcting people
about who I am and how I exist
before I was old enough to vote.
Before I was old enough to
sort out who respected me vs. who
just wanted to enunciate two syllables
the way they wanted to.

There is no patience in
learning one’s name or the
person tasked with enduring it
until the grave embraces them;
not in this country.

Here is something I’ll share
for free; if a person asks you
to pronounce their name correctly,
do it.

If a person asks you to use
their nickname, do it. (Chances are,
they’re tired of correcting you.)

If you have assumed the person
is whatever gender you’ve envisioned
for them before meeting them
because you thought their name
will lend you someone else, 
“That is a YOU problem.”

Fix it.
Today.


**An earlier version of this piece appeared via ACG’s Instagram “stories.” Published in A Cornered Gurl via Medium.


Explicit lyrics|content warning, “Monster.”

**I am NOT a Kanye West fan; Nicki Minaj & Jay Z’s verses are my favorites.

Coupling of a Different Kind

Photo by Mpho Maponyane on Unsplash
Coupling of a Different Kind

I’m the person who makes her feel better.
and it’s light and airy and innocent …
there are days that pummel her
into submission, and I sense them.
I am ready with a “Hey, are you okay?”
and the response is an honest one — 
one that lets me know, she’s holding 
on, too.
“I am trying to be.”

I know that place.
I live in that place more than
I care to admit,
that place is a place where
we find ourselves lost and
wandering aimlessly through
time and actions, and if anyone
is available to save us, we’ll
run straight to them.

she doesn’t need saving, though.
she needs a listener.
I listen. 
I crack jokes.
I talk about the things in life
that make no sense and we agree
as we work and she monitors
my time on calls and I shift
from one aspect of work to another.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” I say. how we can
struggle together and open up
long enough to let the other in?
she agrees. we can chat for
hours about things that crush us.

I know where she’s been. 
I know how I got through it,
how I am getting through it, and
we’re both walking different paths,
but it feels like our destinations
aren’t too far from one another.
I offer her a ride.

“Since we’re headed in the same direction.”

there was a wall there — there was.
I have always had a knack for chipping
away at them and sliding through 
undetected, and before you know it,
one’s bare before me — their past becoming
one with mine.

it is an amazing thing to see someone
walk away from themselves, pull up
a seat next to another ailing heart,
and release like there will be no tomorrow.
she’s so beautiful when she’s fragile.
she’s even more so when she’s strong.

the hard exterior comes through
on days when patients have gotten
their full fill of long hold times and
the glitches of shoddy software can 
eat through the cores of our patience.
I can see her falter — lose her sense of peace.

And I step in — “Are you going to make it?”

a simple question returns a simple answer.
and we move on from that place
that can turn into darkness if
I do not send enough light, but I do.
and she waits for it.

and even when my darkest days
salsa right before me, I can 
remove my stilettos, slip my
gown over my head, sling my 
jewelry across the room, and
invite her to get naked with me.

and there in the most silent
of silences, we stand — free 
of inhibitions, wary no more, 
aware that whatever else may come,
we have the tools to
conquer it.


Originally published in Intimately Intricate via Medium.