How watching The Obituary of Tunde Johnson awakened repressed feelings
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.
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.
Finding peace at every turn and growing at my own pace
If I can be honest, this past week has been a great week for me — overall, one of the best I have had in several months. I am overjoyed to see these words typed on-screen. There were some stressful points at work, but the fantastic team I am a part of makes things much better. We all jump right in and ride the waves of the slew of calls we get, and everyone is so supportive.
It beats swimming alone when you know the tide will be at its highest. It beats chipping away at a mountain when you know you still haven’t reached its peak. It beats running away from something when all it takes is patience, prayer, and perseverance.
I am enjoying the drop in temperatures over the past few days. There is a cool breeze in the morning and at night, and the sun is not trying to body slam me into submission during the day.
This tells me — autumn is in the air, and I am here for it! It is one of my favorite seasons. I look forward to dressing in layers, drinking hot cocoa, making stews and crockpot soups, and cuddling under my favorite blanket with Jernee.
Peace is moving in steadily, and I invite it with open arms.
A moment to relax and enjoy a favorite pastime
Last night, Friday, August 12, 2022, I watched Dog Gone Trouble via Netflix. After I’d rid myself of the workday, walked Jernee, ate dinner, and snuggled up with the Little Monster in my favorite chair, I switched on Netflix for what has become a favorite pastime of mine — ending my workdays with laughter and animated goodness or enjoying a weekend bonanza of all things kid-friendly.
My happy place is a space for all ages, yet I am content experiencing it alone.
This movie had so many high points for me and, of course, a lesson I believe most adults could benefit from, especially nowadays. Just in case you’re interested, the trailer is below.
I will give you a bit of a spoiler — the dancing tree squirrels will have you laughing your head off with the leader’s crazy amount of phrasings, including the word “nuts.” Trouble (the dog)actually says on more than one occasion — and I am paraphrasing — “This just sounds so inappropriate.”
If you love to laugh, enjoy cartoons or animated movies, and have about one hour and 30 minutes to spare, then give yourself the gift of Dog Gone Trouble. It’s worth it.
Comfort foods and their impact
Sunday, August 06, 2022, I made one of my favorite comfort foods. There’s nothing truly special about it — it’s made with delicious and basic ingredients and will also allow you to have leftovers for at least two to three days after you have prepared it.
What is it, Tre? you ask. I call it “hearty beef dip.” You can substitute the meat for any other meat you’d like: ground chicken, ground turkey, or ground pork. After adding cheese sauce and shredded cheese, light red kidney beans, onions, and chopped spinach, what you get is a feast in your mouth as you dip corn chips into this hearty goodness.
I learned about this basic yet filling meal from my best friend almost twenty years ago. It has been a staple in my home since then. I do not have the meal often — perhaps once every other month. But I always look forward to making it. My stomach does too.
Growing at my pace and it feels good
Soon, I will partake in something completely out of my comfort zone and new to me. I am shaking as I type this very paragraph for this newsletter, but something has moved me recently to continue to step out of my comfort zone. And doing so has gotten me to a calmer place.
This cannot be a coincidence.
If I attack or stare down fear and take it head-on, the things I avoided doing seem less scary.
I have more research to do, some basic contact emails to send, and becoming one with this new venture as I learn more about it.
*Fingers crossed I will have good news in the coming weeks*
Ever since I was a child I have had this instinctive urge for expansion and growth. To me, the function and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential. — Bruce Lee
Welcome to The Grieving Room. I am here. You are here. We are not alone in this.
I used to date a boy from the West Side who went to our school on the East Side — we were both young and dumb, unattached to anything, still searching for our own scents and places to belong.
I hadn’t yet found the courage to tell young men, I also fell for — wanted — young women, but he knew. He saw me on the court, often — against girls, against boys, against anyone who thought they could cross me over and land a bucket.
My father taught me how to dribble. My cousin forced me to use my left hand — I’m right-handed. My uncle and grandfather dared the boys in their neighborhood to give me one shady look or it would be their ass … They had better let me on the court, and they did.
But back to the days of me tucking long shirts into Cross Colours shorts and lacing up Karl Kani boots while carrying a gym bag full of basketball gear — sweaty from a hustle on the court until streetlight o’clock.
He wanted me. I wanted him.
And so we were, for five years — off and on. He was the only one who could score multiple points on me; taller by a whole foot and two inches, my plan would be … relax in 3-point country and let it rain. Shooting was my saving grace.
We were the real Love and Basketball couple, scheming on and off the court. I’d lost a lot of things with him — a lot of firsts were torn down, spat on, and stunted.
I hadn’t learned that it only took 30 seconds to pierce his heart. It took 2 days for him to settle in mine.
Were we too young to be that much in love?
That was the question my parents asked us. But my father loved this boy — plotted on him marrying me, and was crushed when this did not happen. I had ruined it — that was inevitable.
He found someone else when we were in our 30s — kept in touch over the years until he proposed, then it was unholy to speak to me … I used to be happy he had finally gotten happy with someone else.
I used to be … As I got older, I just accepted it — neither happy nor sad, just aware that these things happen, and we had to lose each other in order for me to find myself.
I can’t run up and down courts anymore — my shins are bad, my lower back is garbage, and my knees have seen their last days swerving to box someone out for a rebound.
But I remember those 30 seconds. I remember those 2 days. I wonder — does he? Should he? Probably not.
Learning to love the dead without forgetting them and experiencing life’s gifts in waves
If I have loved you and lost you, I will not forget you. It is impossible to do so. But I have a bad habit of letting loss stay with me more than I think it should. I cradle it — provide comfort for it — beg it to stay for more than just a little while. And therefore, it is hard for me to live life at its highest point because there is always an air of extreme sadness hanging over me whenever I lose someone I love or was deeply connected to.
What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes part of us. — Helen Keller
When I am assessing a situation and I have my wits about me, I know how to maneuver through that situation. I can design plans to resolve issues and problem solve to the best of my ability for a considerably desirable outcome.
With the death of a loved one, though, there is no immediate resolution on how one should grieve/heal/cure the pain that pops up at all hours of the day without warning.
A favorite song can help with the aches. An animated movie can send me directly to my happiest place and distract me. Time well spent with Jernee, my dog, sometimes gives me the calming energy I need to push through the roughest parts. But I have not found the master plan to deal with death appropriately, and I doubt I ever will.
And my cousin’s death has settled in my spirit — becoming one with my entire identity, and there is no breaking away from it. Upon reading and researching timelines, expectancy dates, and most appropriate grieving process lessons, I came across something referred to as Complicated Grief.
The grieving person must travel through the grief process, and should be allowed to move through it at their own pace. For some people, the grieving process can go on for a long time. This happens more often when a person was very close to the deceased. Sometimes this leads to what is known as complicated grief.
If what’s considered to be “normal grieving” does not occur, or if the grieving goes on for a long time without any progress, it’s called “complicated grief” or “unresolved grief.” Symptoms of complicated grief might include:
Continued disbelief in the death of the loved one, or emotional numbness over the loss Inability to accept the death Feeling preoccupied with the loved one or how they died Intense sorrow and emotional pain, sometimes including bitterness or anger Unable to enjoy good memories about the loved one
And after going through the explanation and details of complicated grief, I know it does not relate to me. What I am experiencing is just good, old-fashioned grief, coming in waves. Or a continuation or replay of the stages or me getting past one stage and reverting to it unbeknownst to my doing so.
I am still learning to give myself some grace — to be gentle and patient — to feel every emotion as I should and not ridicule or belittle myself for remaining in one stage longer than I believe I should. I am getting through as best as I can, and this is the most important part.
I am protected in my happy place
Earlier this week, I watched Back to the Outback on Netflix and enjoyed every moment. It’s an animated film about several “dangerous” creatures determined to find their way back to lives they’ve never known before being placed in captivity for showcasing to draw crowds in Australia. Hence the title, Back to the Outback.
If I am watching cartoons or animated movies, I am centering myself in my happy place where I feel most safe. It is the place I never want to leave and only do so to continue with adulting.
If I could, I’d be a professional connoisseur of animated films or an animated film critic. I envy people who actually get to explore this type of lifestyle — to do what they love all day long and remain happy during the process.
It is hard to pursue life’s goals, be financially stable, and enjoy life to the fullest when most of your day is dictated by something you used to love, but only do now in order to make ends meet.
Here’s the trailer to the movie, just in case you might be interested:
My therapy sessions remind me that life is for the living
And if I am honest, this is one thing I have to link myself to.
I am alive. I should be living. I am alive. I should be living. I am alive. I should be living.
I have made it a point to say the above affirmation to myself occasionally. Sometimes, I need a reminder. Other times, I am far too busy doing things that require me to stay above water and in the right frame of mind. I drift into a removed place where I am dreaming more than I am living.
My mind is full of Do This and Do Thats and I rush to make sure I can fit everything I need to do on a common weekday. It is exhausting. This — what I have been doing for the last three years, is not living. I am merely surviving.
“You crossed my mind the other day, Tre, as I was listening to the radio and an advertisement played about a writing group retreat. I instantly thought, ‘This would be great for Tre’!” — My therapist.
And as we discussed the advertisement she heard, my heart became full of hope and determination. But my therapist can get a little carried away and excited and she does not remember the source or any contact information but stated she will have a pen and paper ready to jot it down when she hears it again.
She has been great in circling me back to key points that have been helpful over these last three years, and more importantly, these last five months. I am meant to live. I should be out there living.
Shouldn’t all of us who still have air in our lungs and desire in our hearts be doing the same thing?