I Will Be the Bearer of Awkward News

Musical Selection: Alex Isley|Wait

I own it and I won’t ever deny it.

Photo by Liz Martin via ReShot

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.

All that’s left to do now is wait.


Originally published in soliloque via Medium.

Everyone Deserves the Benefit of the Doubt

Even if they appear to be unworthy

He is a man of few words. I see him on my morning or mid-day walks with the dog and he doesn’t wave — doesn’t make small talk — just grunts an uneven hello and shoots his eyes up toward the sky. I never pry. I don’t look for things I don’t need to find. Perhaps this is his way of survival. He walks two dogs; one, a noisy son of a bitch, the other, a genteel sweet body of patchy fur. The dog stares at them, huffs her approval, and paces off in another direction. This is ritualistic for us. Me with my limply left lower limb — she with knees that pop and ache when the weather isn’t warm. We push through the neighborhood that has shaped our lives for the last four autumns.

The noisy son of a bitch spends time on his balcony alongside the genteel sweet body of patchy fur. I guess he puts them outside to get away from them — to give them some sense of unity and comfort with their surroundings. However, we, my neighbors and I, endure intermittent cycles of loud barking. I know what it’s like to have a dog misbehave when all you want is for him or her to behave — to provide solace and peace. But a dog will be a dog, and if given the opportunity, he or she will bark. He’s speaking. He’s announcing who he is, and we all had better pay attention. But on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon, it’s the last thing I want to hear.

Nosy neighbors will open their mouths.

Someone, at one point, must’ve slid their lips into the ears of the property manager because for a few weeks — nothing. I thought the man had moved. I was wrong. He is still here. The noisy son of a bitch still barks loudly intermittently and I am growing used to it, but I wonder . . . should I? Where did the man come from and what is it in him that allows him the ability to not care about his community? Don’t get me wrong, I won’t assume he isn’t caring — I am assuming he doesn’t care about those of us not close to him in relation.

I struggle with thinking things and not announcing them when I feel as though they need to be shared. I had been partially raised by a few elderly family members who often spoke their mind and well . . . I feel like one day, I am going to just say, “Hey, sir . . . why do you let your dog sit on your balcony and cry out to us? Can you not hear him or are you just ignoring him?” It is taking everything in me not to do this. I am mindful of the times in which we live, and I do not know his regular temperament.

I don’t know how he will react.

I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. He could be a father who lost his firstborn to violence. He could be an uncle who helped raise a wayward nephew, but now has custody of his grandniece. He could be a public safety officer dealing with the struggles of every type of human being you can imagine, and at the end of the day, he just doesn’t have the energy to care. He could be just old and grumpy and unfeeling.

I don’t know.

I search for evidence of happiness or playfulness when I see him, yet his eyes just squint into two tiny specks of solemnity. At every opportunity, I offer a kind, “Hello,” and I seem to pull it back into me when it has been magically swept from his ears. He lives in seconds from what I can see — never dwells in one spot too long — rushes the dogs to relieve themselves on some misguided scale he’s balancing. One day, one of them will tip that scale. I hope I’m not around to witness it.

Initially, I thought he was just having a bad day, but this cannot be so. No one has a bad day every single day. No one is ever truly discontented every single day. I had been taught to respect my elders — to acknowledge them, to help where I see the need. He doesn’t require help. He doesn’t seem to need it. He doesn’t even seem to want to be acknowledged. I steer clear of people who I cannot get a clear read on, and unfortunately, he is one of them.

I am trying to understand my place in this.

Who am I to want to know this man’s life — to want to understand how one’s brain operates to allow him to keep his barking dog on the balcony for an entire neighborhood to endure? I am no one big and bad — I have no authority, but I pay rent to dwell in this community just as he does. I also find it an actual sense of neglect to just leave a sentient being in/on a space/place where it can continue to alert people who don’t want to be alerted.

As an Empath, I crave to first try to feel another’s pain or make sense of it. When I cannot, it bests me — defeats me. There is also this air about me to cure what ails another. I am no savior and this has been a hard pill to swallow for years, but I am not. Currently, I am trying to understand my place in all of this. Am I just the neighbor who lives two buildings down and one across who thinks this is a serious nuisance? Or am I a part of this community deserving of respect, love, kindness, consideration, and understanding?

The latter is what I choose. Shouldn’t he?

I could never leave Jernee on my balcony if she were in a barking fit or even if she began barking intermittently. My first thought would be to remove the noise so it doesn’t disturb my neighbors. My second thought would be to find out what’s wrong with the little one and try to resolve the issue. I realize everyone does not have the same thought process.

I won’t assume. I shouldn’t.

Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even when we think they’re unworthy or total assholes (I grit my teeth as I type this — some people can take you to a place of utter disgust). There is always something brewing and stewing in the lives of others to cause them to act outside of our descriptions of “normal behavior.” I won’t assume this man is uncaring of others. I shouldn’t. As I stated earlier, I don’t know his life or the makeup of it.

All I can do as a person living in the same apartment complex as him is to understand the why of it all. And later, know I am not the type of person to leave my dog out on my balcony to disturb the peace. I know who I am and I know how much I care about my pet.

In time, I hope this is enough for me to breathe in deeply and know the incessant barking never lasts long — it’s just annoying as hell.

Originally published in Age of Empathy via Medium.

Stories of Comfort. Stories of Thanks.

My Uncle Red and one of my brothers, Michael (Peanut). This photo was taken probably about 5 or 6 years ago.

Today, I am reflecting on the stories from my life that lend me peace or make me laugh or send good feelings through me. My mother’s only brother, and the youngest child on her father’s side, Andrew (who we call, “Uncle Red” and all others simply call, “Red”) is my favorite uncle. He was fourteen years old when I was born and from what I am told, extremely happy to be an uncle. I was his second niece, but I was the baby for a long time.

He likes to tell the story of him visiting my mom, father, and I one evening for dinner. I was probably two or three years old at the time. As we were eating, my uncle rehashes how I looked over to him, and announced, “Are you eating your food, Uncle Red?” And to this, he responded, “I am, baby.” What came out of my mouth next definitely indicates I had been around adults more so than children.

My uncle said I looked up at him, smiled, and rebutted, “That’s a big boy. You eat your food.” He said all he could do was laugh–not that fake, silly laugh, but a belly-full laugh, and for the rest of the meal, he had a huge simile on his face. He tells this story to his wife, to his children, to anyone who will listen, and I still love to hear it.

I believe it was the moment I knew I’d always be bonded with/connected closely to, my uncle.

Caison, the little love of my life. One of my baby cousins, and the sweetest gift my cousin Akua has ever given this world.

If you’ve been reading my work for quite a while, then you have seen pictures, read poems, and know about Caison. I have a ton of stories that make me happy when it comes to this Munchkin Man, but my favorite happened about two months ago.

I had been waiting for Caison and Akua to come back home. I was sitting in their living room talking to Caison’s grandmother and watching television. Akua did not tell him I would be “popping up” to spend some time with him. Caison had just turned four years old, and I had his birthday gifts with me to give to him.

Akua recants the story so vividly and with a smile on her face each time as she tells me how excited Caison was to see my car parked in their driveway. The conversation went a little like this, Caison: “Oh! Mommy, is that Naine-Naine’s car?!” Akua: “Yes, baby. It is.” Caison: “Yay! Naine-Naine!!!”

The babies of my family call me “Maine-Maine” or “Tree” and Caison has a little trouble with the pronunciation of “M-words”, they often come out as words beginning with the letter “N”, instead. I think it’s the most adorable thing–his excitement by simply seeing my car, and knowing I had been there waiting to see him.

It makes my heart smile and reminds me how grateful I am to have the love of a young one wrapped up in me.

My kid sister, Bless. When I was 19, this young woman became my most favorite human being–a little sister, finally! I’d had 5 brothers, I didn’t want another one. Lol!

My kid sister and I communicate mostly via text message. I’ll call from time to time simply to hear her voice. I wrote a poem for a friend of mine a few days ago and I shared it with my sister to get her opinion. I actually said to her, “Read this and let me know if it’s garbage or not.”

She read it and said she found snippets of herself throughout the poem and she believed my friend would love it. Of course, being the big sister I am, I wanted to know which snippets of herself she spotted . . . My sister’s response, although simple, got a chuckle out of me. She said, “Oh, see now . . . you want the deets, sis!”

I laughed so hard and I don’t really know why. I could hear my sister saying this to me as if we were in the same room discussing the poem and its details, and I could see the look that would show up on her face. Lol. I simply said, “Of course, I want the details, kiddo!”

The simple things in life make me happy I am living. I am thankful for family and friends and sustenance and words and love and kindness and breathing.

I hope all of you will enjoy this day, should you choose to celebrate it. I will spend it knowing I am blessed and at any moment, this could change.

Peace and blessings.

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


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.