Loneliness Doesn’t Knock

Photo by Leo Kwan via Unsplash

It shows up unannounced and doesn’t know when to leave


It is not like me to forget to respond to a text message from one of my brothers. We’re close. We usually speak multiple times per week. On this day, we had been communicating during one of my breaks, and I mentioned heading back to work. His response, “Okay, sis. Text me later.” I had all intentions to do so, but then 8:30 p.m. hit the dot, and I found myself buried in a recently gifted book of poetry to ease my troubled mind, and I remembered, “Oh! I have to text TJ back.”

Loneliness had crept in without an invitation, and with her, she brought fear, pain, insecurity, and a general feeling of sadness. I sent my brother a message to apologize for my tardiness. I told him I was having an emotional time and decided to read to curb the anguish.

Naturally, he wanted to know what was wrong. I told him I was experiencing a brief bout of loneliness. It comes. It goes. Sometimes I do have to encourage her to pack her things and set up residence elsewhere, but it was early yet. I did not have to ready the sage or drown myself in encouraging prayers. He said something I would have never expected from him. “You sound like me, sis.”

I shook my head in total disbelief. My brother has never had any trouble connecting with a woman. He isn’t shy. He doesn’t show off. He typically says what’s on his mind. And from my view of being on the outside looking in, he doesn’t have to try hard. I responded, “Yeah . . . but you have no trouble connecting. I’m shyer in that area.”

Loneliness had crept in without an invitation, and with her, she brought fear, pain, insecurity, and a general feeling of sadness.

Apparently, my younger brother was struggling at the same time I was, and I had to raise my ears to the presence of sound and focus more on listening to him. Perhaps now that he has gotten older, connectivity is waning. I am nine years older than TJ, however, between us, it’s always felt like we’ve only been a few years apart. Our bond is that strong.

And he’s one out of the five boys who can really get me upset when he’s out of line. The other is our youngest brother. For some reason, these two and I are linked solidly, and the links of our chain cannot be removed easily.

Sometimes I do have to encourage her to pack her things and set up residence elsewhere, but it was early yet.


He told me he is shy when meeting new people or even trying to approach them as well, and this floored me. My brother has had some challenges, and being a young father is one of them. In my mind, the battles with loneliness or trying to boost one’s confidence cannot overthrow him.

But it can. And it has. And I wonder how many times has he wanted to talk about this but decided against it? How many times has he wanted to just talk about being lonely regardless of the love surrounding him, and felt as though it would fall on deaf ears? At the end of our conversation, we agreed I would have to attempt to be more open to new people, and he would as well.

And this did not bat off loneliness. No, she still stood strong in her stance, defiant and stubborn. But now I have a reason to believe I can kick her out earlier than I normally would. I can advise her to seek another place of refuge; this mind does not have room and will not spare its vacancy for the likes of her.

I will not allow loneliness to sit idly along with the marks of my time, waiting for the best opportunity to pummel me into submission. I will devise plans and invent ways of booting her from entry before she settles in. I can . . . I can do this.

I tell my brother I will speak to my therapist about social anxiety and the loops I have been experiencing lately. He agrees this is the best thing to do; that every step I take will get me closer to where I need to be. And I tell him I am here for him — his sounding board for when loneliness wants nothing but a stabbing chance at his heart. He knows. He says he knows.

I can advise her to seek another place of refuge; this mind does not have room and will but spare its vacancy for the likes of her.

So, the next time loneliness attempts to high-step into the peacefulness I have arranged for myself, I’ll tell her this room is full. I’ll hang up the no vacancy sign and show her the door.

She won’t get in if I don’t hand her the keys.


Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium



Musical Selection: Erykah Badu, Bag Lady

YouTube

Clover

Part VII: Soulful Legs Dance Studio has a new member.

Photo by Ratih Siubelan via Redshot

The night before my audition, I break the nail on my big toe pretty badly. It bleeds heavily on my bedroom carpet. I stand amazed at it. I don’t even feel the pain. I had been dancing for a few hours nonstop and must’ve broken it while turning. Mama notices it and shushes me repeatedly. At that moment, I had not known I was breathing hard and loud. She asks me to sit down on the bed while she gets the first aid kit. I sit. I wait. She rushes to the bathroom in the hallway, rushes back to my room, and takes out the antiseptic and some cleaning cloths.

I watch Mama clean up my toe, wrap it in gauze, then place a large bandaid over it. She is careful but she is serious. She tells me to stay off my feet for at least an hour — this applies to dancing. Then she says, “tomorrow when I come in from work, we can practice one more time before the audition.” My routine is five minutes long. Mama would have to rush home from work, hop in the shower, run through my routine with me, then we’d have to get to the studio by at least 1:50 p.m. This is what she said.

I don’t like being rushed. Mama knows this. She doesn’t like being rushed, either, but her boss had already said she could not get off thirty minutes early, so this is what we have to work with. I know my routine like the back of my hand. I can jump. I can leap. I can even do the three dances in between. But . . . it hurts so much when I come back down on my feet. My toe stings — a burning sensation runs through my entire left foot. Mama says, “dance through the pain, baby. It’s nothing big. It’ll heal.” And I guess she would know. She’s danced through a lot of pain.

Mama is home. She presses me to stand in front of her, look poised. We do my routine together one last time and when we’re finished, there’s a tear coming down Mama’s face. She orders me to sit down on the bed. She rushes to get the first aid kit again and she begins doctoring up my toe. Some more antiseptic, gauze, and another large bandaid are placed on my toe. She wraps it securely with an ace bandage and tells me to do the last three moves of my routine. I do them and I don’t cringe.

“There. You’re ready, baby. You’ve got this. Let’s go and show them who their next dance member will be.”

I started school this past week too! I haven’t even told you that, have I?! I’d been so excited about this audition and preparing for it that I forgot to mention my first week of school. Well, first half-week. I like the school well enough. My teachers are nice. I have one I don’t care for, but the others are pretty cool. I’ve made only one friend so far — Selena. She dances for Soulful Legs Dance Studio. She tells me all the things to spot and look out for during my audition. I listen and learn. I want to be on this squad so bad. I take all her information with me and use it to my advantage.


I nailed the routine! Two of the instructors were there and three of the senior dance members. Everyone loved it! Mama was in the crowd. I heard her “Hoot” after I was done, then I saw her shoot from her seat, jump up and down excitedly, and begin clapping. I couldn’t believe I’d finished the routine and landed every turn, every dance move, and all of my lines were straight and perfect. I also think it helped that I had three of the best songs on the radio as a mix for my routine: Craig Mack’s Flava In Ya Ear, Total’s Can’t You See, and Method Man & Mary J. Blige’s All I Need.

The instructors were dancing. The senior dancers were getting down! Mama was grooving too. I had such a great time. We didn’t have to wait long. The instructors talked for about five minutes, then called me and Mama to their side and told me I made it! I couldn’t believe it! I made it! We hurriedly drove home so we could tell Daddy and that’s where we are now — home.

We get out of the car, Mama locks everything up and we hurry inside to search for Daddy. He is sitting in the living room watching college football. I half-smile at him and Mama leans in for a kiss and says, “Guess what, Paulie!” Daddy looks over at me, smiles wide, and says, “You did it, didn’t you, Sweetpea?!” He hops out of his chair, slides toward me, and lifts me up into the air. I feel like I’m flying — like I can touch the sky. I am so incredibly happy!

And then, my toe aches. It’s a pain that reminds me I probably overdid it during my audition. I signal for Daddy to put me down and sit on the floor. I take off my shoe, remove my sock, unwrap the ace bandage, and finally the bandaid and gauze. Blood has dried over my toe and half of two of my other toes. the gauze is yucky. Mama sends Daddy for the first aid kit and she goes through the routine one more time. She orders me to take a bath and leave my left foot hanging out while I bathe.


When I am clean, we have an early dinner — it’s 5:30 p.m. Daddy made lasagna, garlic bread, fresh salad, and sweet tea & lemonade combined. Mama calls it Arnold Palmer. Why? I don’t even know. Every bite of my dinner is delicious. I forget about the pain in my toe again. I slip into the mood of the day and relax in front of the t.v. while Daddy rinses the dishes, loads the dishwasher, and Mama tidies up the kitchen.

They join me and Mama gets up, places a tape in the VCR, and my face appears. My music for the routine plays. And she throws a smile my way. She recorded the audition, but how! She looks at me as if she knows what I’m thinking and says, “Todd, the other senior member you did not see, recorded the entire thing for us. I wanted your Daddy to see what you accomplished today, baby.”

I look over at Daddy, he’s dancing in his chair, Mama pulls him up, and they begin dancing together. I stand in the same spot — stuck, but happy. Stuck, but honored. Stuck, but connected to these two beautiful parents of mine who made a very, very happy Clover.


Originally published in Hinged.Press via Medium.

Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV,  Part V, and Part VI

Clover

Photo by Monstera via Pexels

Part VI: All the world’s my stage

When Mama hands me my plate of food, it takes everything in me not to shovel it down my throat quickly. The waffles are perfect; nice and fluffy. I eat my cheesy scrambled eggs eagerly the entire time. Mama looks at me, smiles slyly, and nods in approval. A happy belly makes a happy Clover. She knows this. Daddy knows this. Soon, my classmates will too. I have two more days before school starts and I want to be prepared.

Mama and I went to get school supplies and a few new outfits last week. I like what I picked out. Now that I am getting older, Mama lets me select my own pairings in outfits and shoes. I like my style. Mama says I look like a cross between Punky Brewster and Meg Murry when I get dressed up.

I dance. My specialties are Hip Hop and Tap. I’ve been dancing since I was five years old. Mama said it was “essential” that I learn something to do with my body — mainly my hands and feet.

I am a ball of energy, as you’ve probably guessed. But I was once what my mama said was, “quite the handful,” when I was younger. She tells me now, “If I didn’t put you in dance, you’d be bouncing off the walls. Dancing is a great way for you to use all that extra energy God gave you.”

When I’m on the stage, nothing else matters. Nothing else is. It’s just me and the music. My body moves rhythmically and I follow the beat, focused on perfecting the choreography issued to us during practices.

One of the first things Mama did when we got settled here in Hopeulikit was to find a dance studio. Luckily, there isn’t one far from where we live. Bulloch County isn’t the biggest county around, but at least, they’ve things to keep a kid like me busy and interested.

Soulful Legs Dance Studio is the place Mama settled on. She spoke with the head instructor on two different visits, got their pricing information, talked things over with Daddy, and now . . . I will continue what I had been doing in Summerville before we moved here — dancing. She brought home two pamphlets; one for me and one for her.

I stared at the photo on the front of the pamphlet; a huge stage with so many girls and boys and instructors standing on it — posing for the photo. I smiled hard at the image because I thought of myself dancing across that stage on Friday and Saturday nights. Mama says I have an audition on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. I am going to be sure I bring my A++ game. Mama says if I’m selected, I’ll begin practice the following Tuesday evening after school. I am excited but a little nervous too.

Just a few butterflies in my belly, nothing to get all crazy about. I know I’ll be fine. I know what I can do and Mama dances with me sometimes, too. She’s still got some great moves. She glides across the floor so perfectly. Her lines are symmetrical and she doesn’t miss a beat. Mama keeps time with every song we play and I just stare at her. Sometimes I whisper to myself while she’s dancing, “That’s my Mama.” Yep. She’s amazing.


Photo by David Hofmann via Unsplash

Before I was born, Mama danced for some big-time theater in Los Angeles, California for about five years. Dad likes to talk about this — Mama, not so much. Something about tearing her ACL and being forced to quit dancing. I don’t really bring up the subject — her face sinks into itself and it seems like the whole world could get sad from the power of her feelings. I think . . . and you better not tell her, either . . . I think she feels like she failed at it, you know? Since she can’t really dance like she should and as hard as she used to that she has failed at it, somehow.

I tell her all the time, “Mama, you’re my favorite dancer,” and I mean it too. She sits back and smiles a half-smile and her eyes get all teary — gives me chills. Daddy told me one time, “Sweetpea, when your mama took to that stage, no one uttered a word. All eyes were on her.” When Daddy talks about Mama’s dancing days, he lights up — he gets so happy I can feel the sunshine leaving his body. But he quiets down a little also when Mama comes around. It’s like the stage is an awful place for Mama and well . . . every chance I get, every place I go to, I dance. All the world’s my stage.

It’s just better not to talk about it too much around Mama, is all. I’m just happy she takes the time to dance with me — to still feel the music and try her legs out. They still work. They still carry her. She can even balance her whole body on one leg for ten minutes! Can you believe that?! TEN WHOLE MINUTES! I was excited to see it the first day she showed me and you know what she said? “Oh baby, your mama used to do this for twenty minutes a long, long time ago.”

I look forward to the audition, but I’m really just ready to get it all over with and start dancing with a new team. I miss my squad in Summerville, but I think I’m getting used to newer things happening. At least, I want to get used to the new things that are happening. Mama says there will be three judges. The piece we’re working on is a mix of Jazz, Funk, and Hip Hop and we’re going to have one of my favorite songs mixed in, Craig Mack, Flava In Ya Ear. We are working very hard — day and night. We have fun, too, though.

I’m just hoping they like the routine well enough to accept me. That’s my hope — my dream. I know Mama likes that I dance, too. I know it makes her happy. I see her sometimes when I’m dancing. She looks at me like she’s missing something bigger, but she’s happy to still hold on to a bit through me. I’m going to take to that stage and rip it up for my mama.

I am . . . I am . . . Just watch!

Originally published in Hinged Press via Medium.


Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, and Part V

Writers: A Challenge

What makes you Unique? In “Five Words.”

Me and the crew. I’m missing one brother (Jontae) in this photo. It was our kid sister Bless’s high school graduation. This was nearly 5 years ago. It was the first time in an extremely long time most of us had been captured in a photo together. Left to right: Me, Joshua, Maurice, Bless, Michael, and TJ.

I was reminiscing a couple of days ago, thinking about how my sister is the last one to hit “all grown up” status in our sibling crew and it drew a few tears from my eyes. I am the eldest of seven children and I am also significantly older than all of them. No matter how many years pile on or what happens or who thinks they’re more adult-like or mature than me, I am and will forever be the first child. That makes me just a tad bit unique — just a smidgen. Just to give you guys an idea of the gap from the oldest to the youngest; I am 41 years old, my sister is 22. The boys (who are really men now but will always be, “The Boys” to us) are in the middle from 30–33.

So reminiscing sparked the challenge. Writers, what makes you unique? How are you different from everyone else? What special thing can you do that you believe no one else can do? Tell me this, but use five words only.

Here’s mine:

First born of
seven — always.


Writers, bring it! Please tell me what makes you unique? What is there so special about you that you believe is so different from anyone else? I’d like to know, in just five words.

This is the last challenge until the beginning of next year. I love you guys and how creative you all are. Peace and blessings.


And now, the music: Gabi featuring Missy Elliott from Vivo, My Own Drum

YouTube

Originally shared via Medium.

Clover

Part V: Daddy oils the door

Photo by Steven Cutler via Redshot

I wake up to the squeak-squeak sounds of the back door swinging open, then closing. It prompts me to shoot from my bed, slip on my house shoes, and chase after the sound. It’s Daddy. He’s squirting WD-40 on the hinges of our door. He’s standing there, eyes fixed on each hinge, leaning into the sound as he moves the door back and forth. I shake my head. Daddy always has some sort of little project going on. He looks the door over, gives the hinges one more good spritz, then wipes the slippery trickle away from the panel.

He spots me watching him work. I smile and wave “Good morning” to him before finding my spot in the bay window to do some reading. Mama will be up before long and I have another request for breakfast; strawberry waffles and scrambled eggs. Yummy! I can almost taste every morsel as I daydream about it. Daddy looks over in my direction and greets me.

“Hey there, Sweetpea. What you know good?”

Daddy is a simple man with many dreams. I love when he calls me Sweetpea. I like sweets. I like peas too. He smiles a full smile and circles our kitchen sink before washing his hands. I answer his question after the water stops.

“Oh, nothing. Just waking up. I heard the door in my room. How old is this place, Daddy?”

He sits with the question for a minute or two — almost like he’s nursing the answer before sharing it with me. I watch him stumble over a way of explaining something like this to me — his eleven-year-old daughter. He opens his mouth, then closes it again, then he nods in my direction before speaking.

“Twelve years. The realtor said the family before us found a bigger place in Richmond Hill, Georgia. They wanted to sell as soon as they could and since I got the new position with H.R., this was the perfect find. I’m sure we’ll discover a couple of spots in this house that need some tender love and care as we make a life here in it.”


I can hear Mama’s house shoes skip-shuffle-skip down the hallway. She’s not a “morning person” like me and Daddy. Daddy races to put the coffee pot on. He sets up our plates and puts away the clean dishes in the dishwasher. They have an agreement; they’ve always had this agreement since before I was born. Mama cooks, Daddy makes the coffee and washes the dishes, or runs the dishwasher. Mama also does the laundry, fixes my hair, irons my clothes, and any other task Daddy doesn’t usually do. Daddy also keeps up the lawn, washes their car and truck, and gasses up the vehicles too. They manage okay, I think.

Mama’s voice is a soft yet stern one. She doesn’t use much of her voice when speaking. It’s as if she saves it for something else — something bigger. She gets on to Daddy about the squeaky door.

“Paulie, was that you I heard messing with the door this morning, or was I dreaming? I’m almost certain I wasn’t dreaming.”

“You’d be right, my love. It was me. The hinges of the back door had been squeaking, so I put a little WD on them. Worked like a charm.”

Mama smiles lightly, but there’s a hint of wonder within her smile too — like she’s waiting for Daddy to say something else, something that will stir up concern. She looks at me and blows me a kiss. I catch it and blow one back to her.

“Hey, baby. What’s for breakfast?”

Ooh! I’ve been waiting for her to ask me what I want for breakfast and I am so happy to respond. “I’d like strawberry waffles and some scrambled eggs, please!”

Mama prepares everything and signals me over to help her cook. I crack the eggs into a bowl, add a little salt, pepper, and parsley, and whisk them quickly with a fork just like she taught me. I take the shredded cheese out of the fridge and add 1/3 cup to the eggs. Mama watches me as I whisk them up once again. I place the bowl near her on the counter and wait.


Daddy checks the back door once more. He is what Mama says, “incredibly thorough.” I don’t hear the squeak-squeak anymore. “The door is saved!” I shout this to no one in particular and to all of us, I guess. Mama giggles. Daddy laughs with his whole belly. And I . . . Well, I find my spot again in the bay window and wait for breakfast.

I sure am hungry.


Originally published in The Weekly Knob via Medium.

Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.