When Birthdays Are Mourning Days

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My mom and her sister were born a year apart. So, it only seems right that they would have children whom were born a year apart! I was born in June of 1981. My cousin, Nathaniel, was born in August of 1980. When we were little, we would joke that through July, we would be the same age.

It has now been 13 summers since Nathaniel Brian Jones was murdered on the streets of St. Louis. The most troubling thing about his death was the thing I mentioned earlier:  in July we would be the same age.

I remember the funeral, the internment, and having to celebrate my 25th birthday the next day. It was from that point, that I decided I couldn’t celebrate my birthday anymore:  we were both going to be 25. It was at my birthday which marked every year he was not in the world. I remember not going around my aunt because I felt like a death omen. Every July, and every August 5th, I think of him.

I think of the little boy that played with me. That ate bugs. That told me he would never leave me. I think of the young man that grew to utterly dislike me when we got older. Whom I no longer felt protected by. I thought of the young man and the immense potential that Oak Grove Cemetery inherited. This is the mystery of grief and sorrow:  you wrestle with the memories of what is, versus what could be!

Nathaniel as we grew up became a man I did not recognize. Who was mean, lost and unrepentant. He became a man that I wouldn’t trust to watch my purse! In that frustration, I stepped away from him. As much as we were told and taught family was everything, I gave him over to the life he wanted. In that giving over, I decided to separate that identity which was wrapped up in our birthdays, and our ages.

As I focused on me, education and writing, I could only shake my head when told of his criminal exploits. Of getting shot. Or refusing to leave the city after being shot! When his mother threw his bed away–meaning he couldn’t come back to her house!

When he wouldn’t listen to anyone.

I am unsure, even right now, if I had already considered him dead. I know that there was a visceral dislike for him, and with his death? That dislike? It became a breech.

There was no remedy.

There was no closing the gap.

I had to deal with him leaving the world after he promised me he wouldn’t.

During the month of July, we would be the same age. 

It is almost like being haunted. He was eternally be 25, while I am headed towards 40. We would be headed towards 40! What I grapple with this year, is this idea of my life being half over; while his being over. I mind myself of this fact on darker mornings; contemplating my own mortality and eternal destination.

I think of what it means, or would mean to die at an age he would which he would have never seen. I think of who will be there to remember all those who the world has forgotten. I think about the what-ifs, the why-comes and the would-bes. Most of all, I wonder if we would have gotten back to that place where time no longer could or does matter.

The fact is, I am aging.

The fact is, Nathaniel never will.

Funny thing? The darker irony of this is perfect! Why? It’s fitting for a boy that never did want to grow up. I suppose even dark wishes can be granted.

It’s Not Just Danai: The Casual Erasure Of Black Women

 

The utter uproar comforted me.

The original Avengers Endgame poster, though our beloved General Okoye was pictured, the dynamic Danai Gurira was not credited. I was comforted by the reaction that Twitter and all of social media had in regards to this. With that outrage and pushback, the poster was corrected. Marvel Studios clearly thought this was an oversight.

Aight. I’ll allow it.

A Black woman was erased, in front or our faces, and the world damn noticed.

I wish the world would keep this same energy when it comes to the presence of Black women. I wish that we were noticed, and when we vanish–even before the eyes of millions, that we are missed.

It has become so easy to miss Black girls. It becomes too commonplace to notice (or not notice) our broken bodies. Too often seen as victims. As the steady suffering. As the mules of the entire world.

This past week, I was in a debate with a dingy Becky that thought the new Iggy Azalea (I cannot stand Clifford Harris (T.I.) for making this damn dame relevant!) video was the best thing ever. I watched it when the sound off because adding sound to that travesty would have caused me to cry. Not only is this dame in a funeral setting, she seems to be rejoicing because a Black woman has died (!!!) and is doing a Second Line!

The whole damn video is an appropriation. The whole damn thing.

It is bad enough that our shine as Black women is stolen, swapped and swagger-jacked on a daily/minute-by-minute basis! The killer part to all this–no one seems to notice this isht but Black women! The capitalist-consuming world wants everything Black, except from Black people.

The natural endowments I have as both Black and woman can be seen as obscene until on someone else (vanishing). My skin tone is what some White girls aspire as a tanning option (erasure). My style and fashion sense can be used as a window display or on a blog and not even given proper credit (paying attention yet?).

It’s not just Danai. It won’t just be Danai.

We know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but sometimes? The best thing you can do is give honor, credit and merit where it is due.

And I mean this with all my St. Louis, Missouri accent–“You see me, mane. Don’t act like you don’t.”

 

 

The Chore Girl (short short story)

​I only came back to St. Louis because my sister was dying. I didn’t want to ever set foot in God’s muddy footprint again. I remember I got off the plane, relieved and terrified, looking for my luggage in Lambert St. Louis International Airport. I smoothed the back of my tapered pixie cut remembering to breathe. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the soft hum of the baggage belt. “Renee, you know you gotta come home. Halle keeps asking for you.” I remembered cursing under my breath. I remember thinking why did it matter if I came back, even if I stayed!

​I left this place on the first thing smoking. I worked so hard from sophomore to senior year to apply to whatever college I wanted. I wanted as many states between me and the Mississippi as I could count. There was rub against me, and I shot the young man a look. He was dressed in a dark red Washington University hoodie complete with cap. His green eyes looked sad and apologetic. “I’m sorry, I was just grabbing my suitcase.” Grabbed a hunter green suitcase, and walked away.

​I scanned the baggage claim looking for my luggage. I adjusted my carryon Louis Vuitton GM on my shoulder. I wanted my black suitcase with my monogramed luggage tag, so I could get my rental car and go. Seeing the luggage, I moved to retrieve it, bumping into what might have been an oak tree. “I’m sorry.” I managed, shifting around him to reach for my suitcase. “Not a problem.” I meant to turn around and walk away, just as he began to speak. It felt like someone had put a hook in my back. I looked back and saw this man whom it fought the urge to unwrap. He was ebony dark with deadlocks and I thought I smelled YSL L’Homme on him. I felt the smile creep over my lips. I reminded myself to breathe and where I was. He wore a dress shirt, and jeans and Jordans. He looked like he stepped off a magazine cover, reminding me of Malcolm Jamal Warner.

“I’m Renee.” I said, answering the question behind his eyes. “John.” He reached into his wallet in his back pocket and gave me his card. I took it, studying his top lip. “Thank you, John.” He smiled brighter. I remembered had to pick up my rental car from Avis which was on the other side of the airport. “I have to go, but I’ll call you later.” I reached in my purse and found my set of cards. “Renee Waller, Esq.” I gave it to him, still grinning, his scent and ernegy wrapping around me. “St. Louis is small, I hope I see you around.” Turning towards my new direction with luggage, I didn’t turn to see his face. I thought if I turned again, I would melt. “I’m sure you;ll see me around!”

​My heels clicked to towards the Avis counter, and I got my reservation from the kisosk, grateful I didn’t have to talk to another person. I got the receipt, and went to pick up my keys. There was a red-headed girl at the desk, whom looked at my paper with her black Avis shirt and told me to enjoy my stay in St. Louis. I managed a week smile, and walked to my black Jetta I was assigned. ​My went to my car, keys firm in my right hand as I lifted the trunk lid with left. I only planned on staying here a week. My mother told me Halle didn’t have long, and I had even less time. I had cases on my desk. I was building clients. I had a life in Chicago. I had things I had to do. I didn’t want to be in St. Louis longer than needed.

​In driving, I remember the route towards North St. Louis without the help of GPS. Getting on 1-70, I let my mind wander. I exhaled as I left the radio off, and didn’t want to turn my phone back on. I thought about the house I was going back to. I thought about my older sister. I thought about my grandmother whom passed away about five years before. I thought about the cancer that was crowding the life out of my sister. But I thought about the elephant in the room. I thought about how these people only call me when evictions are happening, someone is in jail or when someone is about to die. I am what my best friend’s mother calls a Chore Girl. I’m always cleaning something up or fixing something else.

My mother was more frantic even thought my sister had already made her plans and last wishes known. Halle wanted to be interred in Oak Grove. She wanted our father to do her service. She had already talked to her husband and kids. I had no idea why I was here. I came only because I was summoned, not even asked. When I saw the letter in my mailbox in my Chicago townhouse, it might as well have been a subpoena.​There was something the matter. Something was going on, and it was beyond my older sister dying. The Chore Girls always have it harder. We have to find out what it is, and solve it. These people are going to get tired of treating me like God. I cannot fix anything. One day, God won’t pick up the phone.

[originally written 10/14/2018]