It is my birthday. I am five. Mommy throws a big party for me. No one comes. I eat my cake in one of the corners of our living room — tears fall. I don’t care, anymore. I don’t care. Mommy says she’ll always love me — she’ll always be there. I know the love of my mommy. I don’t of anyone else. I want to. I really, really want to. Right now would be a good time.
I cherish this picture of my brother and me. It was so long ago. We were inseparable. I remember the day I told him I was bisexual just like it was yesterday. The look on his face crushed me — the words that left his mouth soon after will always haunt me . . . “You’re no sister of mine.” It is a reminder of the love I had and the love I lost. I didn’t know one’s heart could break more than once. And now, I know.
I am “It” to people. “Is it a boy?” or “Is it a girl?” No one thinks about me as a person. My family is ashamed of me. I hate feeling what I feel, but I feel what I feel, and I can’t stop it. I love my sister’s clothes. I love my mother’s dresses. I like having my hair teased and feathered. My brother kicked me in my stomach the other day — that was followed by a swift punch to my nose. I’m gaining thick skin from all of this — thick skin. It’s the reason I can still smile.
“Young people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) enter the child welfare system for reasons similar to those of other children and youth — that is, their birth families cannot provide a safe, stable, and nurturing home. In some cases, families reject, neglect, or abuse young people when they learn that they identify as LGBT or are questioning their romantic/sexual orientation or gender identity. According to one study,1 about 26 percent of LGBT 2 youth are forced from their homes because of conflicts with their families of origin over sexual orientation or gender identity. Physical violence is also a concern for LGBTQ youth.” —Youth.gov
Author’s Note: We must come together as one — if not for ourselves, for the children of this world. They need us. But we are often too blind to see this. I pray this will change one day soon.
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.
*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.
A friend of mine sent a text message on New Year’s Eve stating Betty White had died. Suddenly, it felt as though a galaxy found its way into my body and exploded. I was not prepared for something as heavy as Betty’s death to sit on my chest and pierce its way into me. Granted, I hadn’t been feeling my best — having had a booster shot pumped into my bloodstream earlier that day. No one tells you the autoimmune or invisible illness with which you’ve been saddled will shape your life in a way you never planned. They don’t tell you that an overgrown virus once thought to be efficiently combated by two doses of the vaccine of your choice is now one they could not have predicted and instead of just one booster to further ensure your health — you will also need another.
Now, with the news of four different mass-produced pharmaceutical marketed vaccine visits lumped together on my vaccination card, I can’t breathe. What an odd day to die, I thought . . . And at ninety-nine, too. When I am given information I find hard to dissect, I start reading about it — I start researching from where did it originate? You cannot pinpoint a person’s death before it occurs. And why do I think I should be able to do it?
There is the possibility that knowing a friend of mine who recently pulled up a seat to the table of my heart contracting the Coronavirus, COVID-19, is pressing me harder than I thought it would. The next day — found out her toddler and mother are both positive as well. The same week — a cousin, then another, then another, and I just . . . am so fucking tired of it all. I want to scream, but no one will hear me. I want to lash out, but at whom?
I promised myself 2022 would be different.
The week before all this insanity, I toyed with the idea of emailing a friend, not friend — a love, not love, to begin the process of us. This sounds like a business transaction — a potentially lucrative investment, doesn’t it? I’d been sitting on what I would say for years now and instead of every word being lodged deep in my throat, they were slowly creeping upward — daily; I feel nauseated. If I love this person as much as I feel I do, why is this so hard? I’ve made mistakes before — thought what I was feeling was validated, confirmed, but it was not. I have spent many years trying to understand emotions — feelings — the intensity of it all. And I am better at it than I was before, but I still worry about loss.
And loss keeps me from moving forward. However, I will be the bearer of awkward news. I own it. I won’t ever deny it. I have played paragraphs in my head, formed them without blinking, and now, all I have to do is push them from the inside out — all I have to do is load them up, review them, and send them off. And as sorted as this all may sound, there are things that can go wrong during the process. It is not a carefully constructed assembly line. There is no one to test the structure or its faults before I engage in putting my heart on the line . . . I’ll just be out there bare-assed, waiting . . . waiting for a response.
I can take it, I tell myself.
Whatever happens after I do this, I can take it, is what I am telling myself. I have been tested — I’m tried. I’m true. But I am not battery-operated, so I will feel the magnitude of this — whatever the outcome. It will be a part of me for years to come. Once you have lent your true feelings to the ether, there is no going back — no 360 turns you can take to lasso what you sent back to its birthplace. It will be. It is. And you will have to deal with it in whatever shape or form it takes.
The moment came, and I typed my feelings onto the screen. He’s aware. He knows. Just as I am aware of his — I know. One of us has to be less scared — less threatened by what could be and just jump into what might be. I pick up the weight — secure it to my shoulders — settle it evenly on my back, and type as fast as I have been taught to. I don’t miss a beat. I am mindful of the verbiage used — it’s carefully selected. I breathe. I pace myself.
You’re doing it, I say. Holy shit, you’re doing it! And as I see myself taking these steps — diving into the deep end, I notice the dog is stirring. She will need a walk soon, and I won’t be able to overlook this. It builds anxiety within me. I’m anxious to be done, but I also still want to be careful — cautious of what I say. Once I am done composing and I send it, there is no turning back.
And as I watch my words carry themselves into the depths of an ancient email account — obtained during Gmail’s beta period, I breathe a sigh of relief. I did it. I shared a burden — unpacked the heaviest pieces of my baggage, and tossed them into the waste bin of life.
My wild-haired love sits comfortably in our space. I stare at her — globes for eyes, a song for a heart . . . she gifts me life. I haven’t had to search for a love stronger than hers in thirteen years — a milestone.
No one can compete. No one can compare.
She is a constant reminder of all things good in this world, and I breathe fresher air when she is near.
The new year tiptoes into sight, carrying unknowns along beaten paths. I will bask in the peace that is the comfort of a lap dog’s patterned pants.
I am safe. I am free.
With family struck ill by an overgrown virus, my stomach is double-knotted as worry sinks itself into my veins. I am prayerful. I am hopeful. They will all survive.
But if death comes knocking again, I’ll plead with him to leave the babies alone. I may get my wish. I may not. But at least I’d state my case. At least he’ll know how I feel about his existence.
A day off from work to spend wisely with a four-legged gem who doesn’t need me to be anything more than I am is a present daring to be opened daily. I unwrap it knowing underneath its covering is and forever will be happiness . . .
And a look of captivation and admiration from an animal who doesn’t speak my language but understands everything I say.
*It is my hope and prayer each of you will be safe and connected in some way to family and love as you usher in a new year. May it be a happy and prosperous one. Peace and blessings.