214 days ago........these words poured out:
Thursday, July 7, 2022
I’m over it.
Today marks 10,743 days since I last seen you alive. Ten-thousand, seven-hundred and forty-three days have passed since that Saturday in February that would forever change the course of my life journey. I remember them telling me that ‘time heals all’…and I think it’s finally time to admit to myself that there’s little truth in that. The concept of time is tricky, to say the least. After 30 years of grieving and wearing a mask to conceal my pain, today feels like an old wound has been reopened all over again. Today, my PTSD has been triggered.
And I’m over it.
I’m literally over everything right now. I feel sick and tired. I feel resentful. I feel angry. I feel misunderstood and undervalued. But most of all, I feel compelled to finally express myself to you – after putting this off for as long as I can remember. There’s been this voice in the back of my head, one that sounds like my inner child, telling me to write this open letter to you for years. Today I’m being forced to listen to my spirit and release – something I’ve been hesitantly afraid to do out of fear of being judged by those who claim to love me the most.
Today, I woke up and realized that my fear holds no power over me. This letter is for you, Mama – not those I fear being judged by. So, I decided to dive into this headfirst and face the emotions that have been haunting me since early puberty. I don’t really know where to start, Mama. I guess it makes sense to just go with the flow of my feelings and thoughts as they come. Forgive me, because I’m sure I’ll be all over the place.
It’s been a rough week, Mama. But 2022 has been an even rougher year, perhaps the most trying year since you’ve been gone. This year has been filled with ups and downs…a true reminder of how the universe exists in duality; for there are no good days without bad ones to help balance our appreciation. I know you’ve been watching over us from heaven, because that’s what we were taught since birth. The purest parts of my soul still believe in this concept and I know everything happens for a reason. But that didn’t stop me from waking up bitter and jaded this morning. Some days are better than others – but every single day has one thing in common. Every day that I wake up, I have to remind myself that you are no longer here.
In those first few moments of coming out of a deep sleep, sometimes it takes the brain a second to catch up with reality from the dreamworld. For me, it never fails. There’s always a few milliseconds where I somehow forget that you’re resting in peace. It’s weird, I know. You would think that after 10,000 days that I’m used to waking up and not being able to call you and hear your voice. I mean, after all, that was never our routine before you left. I was barely 14 when that dreadful day happened and had never been away from home to even have to call you for daily words of encouragement. In those days, you were right down the hall in your bedroom; it was easy to just walk out of my room and hear you fussing at me and Shauntay about leaving our toys everywhere. I’d give anything to have those days back. Today, I know I took those days for granted.
It’s almost like God wanted to remind me this week about how much I’ve taken for granted in life, in general. Right now, I feel conflicted about it. I’m biting my lip as I write this out, full of anger and resentment. Is there ever a point where God stops teaching me lessons about being grateful? I know I shouldn’t question God…but Mama, I’m over it. I’m tired. I’m tired of everything around me. I feel completely burnt out.
I’m burnt out on being strong. I’m burnt out on being resilient. I’m burnt out on having to be the level-headed one. I’m burnt out on all the toxicity surrounding me. I’m burnt out on the family feuds. I’m burnt out on the unresolved trauma. I’m burnt out on the fair-weather friends and the narratives they create about me. I’m burnt out on being misunderstood. I’m burnt out on social media culture and having to constantly entertain through the pain. I’m burnt out on creating content to carry the company named after you. I’m burnt out on the rocky relationship with Shauntay. I’m burnt out on her legal situation keeping me up at night. I’m burnt out on not being the perfect big brother to my siblings. I’m burnt out on not being the ideal frat brother to my Kappa affiliates. I’m burnt out on having to repeat myself to my wife. I’m burnt out on trying to be fruitful. I’m burnt out on grieving in solitude. I’m burnt out on being afraid to lose the next loved one. I’m burnt out on thinking I’ve failed in continuing the family legacy. I’m burnt out on our generational curses. I’m burnt out on the lack of unity and love in the black community. I’m burnt out on the absence of value in education and spirituality. I’m burnt out on being consumed by negative energy and evil thoughts. I’m burnt out on facing my demons while others make excuses for theirs. I’m burnt out on the way society attacks masculinity. I’m burnt out on the war on women’s rights. I’m burnt out on hypocrisy and the inconsistencies of the world. I’m burnt out on everything.
I’m over it.
Most days, I can hide it. Most days, I can adjust my attitude and smile to not make others around me uncomfortable. Today is just…different. I think we both know why, Mama.
Today I was more triggered. And this last week has been a chain of events leading up to it…I can see that now. It’s like God is reminding me of my journey – with things that I usually block out from my memory. Yet today, I woke up being reminded of what it feels like to be dying of thirst. Today I woke up in that same nightmare we used to wake up to daily for months that last year you were alive. Mama, today…I woke up to no water in our home.
Dear Mama, I’m over it…
It was the summer of 1992.
I know you remember this as vividly as I do, Mama. I’ve only ever discussed this with a few people over the years…but never with you. Even in the few instances where I tried to talk to you in spirit – I’ve never had the courage to confront you about these days and vent in totality. Like I said, I usually block this from my memory.
We were staying in downtown Saint Louis, in that duplex apartment that we received as part of graduation from that detox program you were in at Grace Hill Women’s Shelter. The apartment unit felt like home up until that summer of ’92, only a year after we had settled in. Do you remember, Mama? I know you do. How could any of us forget?
I remember how right before the spring of ’91 – you and Grandma Flo got into that big argument after you left me and Shauntay at her house for a whole weekend without checking in on us. Grandma Flo was fuming mad when you finally came back to get us – I’ll never forget all the yelling and cursing y’all spewed out at each other. I remember me and Shauntay being upstairs, shivering. It wasn’t the yelling and cursing that frightened us; we were used to that. It was the two of us knowing at a young age what the fight would lead to. What those infamous mother/daughter fights always led to – Grandma Flo telling you that you can get the f*** out of her house again.
Sure enough, Grandma Flo did just that. And sure enough, you responded how you always would when people talked to you like that. You told her, ‘Gladly, b****!!! Me and my kids don’t need yo charity!!!’
Of course, Grandma Flo replied the way she normally would when you would say that. She yelled out, ‘Oh, b****, my grandkids ain’t gotta go nowhere! They can stay, but you need to get yo black a** the f*** from around me, heffa!’
I remember the look of sadness in Shauntay’s eyes as we listened to this scary exchange. We both loved being over at Grandma Flo’s – her house was the only place on Earth where we felt safe and secure. As hard as you had worked the previous 4 years to get back on your feet after the separation from Pops…unfortunately our lives had been nothing short of turmoil – living in multiple spots for short periods, and never being able to stay enrolled in the same school for more than a couple of semesters. Moving back to Saint Louis had become a nightmare for us and we were burnt out on staying with your friends at times; even more burnt out on staying in homeless shelters with other crack-addict single mothers and their bullies for kids.
I remember how even before you screamed, ‘Nah, f*** that!!! If I gotta go, my kids are coming with me,’ – Shauntay and I knew it was time to pack our things up. I remember the tears in her eyes and me telling her to toughen up. We were beyond accustomed to this routine, and, as the oldest at 12 years old, I knew there was nothing we could do to change it. Grandma Flo would call you ‘petty and stubborn’ as usual…and you would come stomping up the stairs to tell us how we were getting put out again. I knew there was no telling where we would be off to this time, and I just remember hoping it wasn’t somewhere with your abusive new boyfriend, John. More than anything else in the world at that time, Shauntay and I hated John.
My memory gets blurry after we packed up and left Grandma Flo’s that day. But I’ll never forget when we finally ended up at Grace Hill shelter, where you told me and Shauntay that we would be staying there for a while. That part of this flashback is always easier to remember than anything – because it was at that moment that you told us you found out you were three weeks pregnant. You told us how this new shelter had a program to help single mothers get off of drugs, and that you were serious about kicking the crack habit this time. This shelter would be different than the previous ones – this time the three of us would have our own private room with our own beds, instead of the usual big open room with multiple cots. We wouldn’t have to worry about others stealing our food or belongings, and this shelter would be much more comfortable. Then you told us the best news about this new situation – after completing the program, Grace Hill would find us a stable apartment to call our own and complete the new start.
Shauntay and I were both excited to hear all of this, as we were accustomed to making lemonade out of lemons by now. I think the news of you expecting was the most joyous for us, though. Despite the fact that you were pregnant by John, and that this new addition would be a half-sibling for us, Shauntay and I felt like new life and opportunity would go hand in hand. It really felt like this was the beginning of better times for us, even though we were too young to properly express as much.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The two of us were silently upset that you were having a baby by another man…and it didn’t matter that it was a man we despised. The situation was bittersweet, if nothing else. We both knew that it was further confirmation that you and Pops would never get back together now, and that the stable life we had prior to the separation was all but forever gone. But after what we had been through following the breakup, you being pregnant serving as motivation to finally leave the crack alone meant the world to us. The promise of finally having a place of our own after the six-month detox program sounded like an answered prayer.
Mama, you do remember how that apartment was anything but that – right? I know we’ve never talked about this before now. But surely, we can both be real about the situation now, right?
Remember how when we first moved in, you kept cursing out those teenage kids who wouldn’t stop hanging on our front porch? Well, maybe it wasn’t a full porch – more like a stoop with stairs. But do you remember all those bad kids? They had to be high-school-aged, right? It only took a few nights before I realized that those kids were slanging crack in front of our home. And it only took a few days before I understood that we were in the heart of the hood in downtown Saint Louis – surrounded by drug-infested crime and madness. Surrounded by the same things we were trying to get away from…the same temptations that a recovering addict had no business being around.
We adjusted, though, didn’t we? I was proud of you during those first few months, Mama. I had gotten used to the ‘clean’ you. Yeah, I was only 12 – but Mama, even at that young age…I had long known that you were on crack. I had long known that you and Pops’ marriage ended partially because of the mutual drug addiction. For a long time, I hated you for leaving him and our household in Kansas City…only to drag us from San Diego back to Saint Louis with constant broken promises about getting clean. But Mama, you had finally kept your promise to us!
In those first few months, I didn’t care that we didn’t have a house phone or cable TV like over at Grandma Flo’s. I didn’t care that the duplex was in the heart of the ghetto and we didn’t have central AC. We had a home. A three-bedroom apartment meant that you, I, and Shauntay would have our own rooms – something we hadn’t had since before you left Pops. Even with those terrorist teenagers always hanging around, it felt like a safe space for us. I remember feeling relieved in those first few months, finally having my own quiet corner where I would read as many books for as long as I wanted to. I remember pulling out my notebook for the first time to truly work on my dreams of being a writer.
For the first few months, it felt like an answered prayer.
Then reality set in. For most of the time we were staying at Grace Hill shelter, we didn’t see a lot of John. I think part of me was hoping that this new start meant that you were done with him. Wishful thinking at best. After a few months in the new apartment, John was right back in your bedroom again – bumming off your new situation. I remember convincing myself that you must’ve needed him around again to help out, since you had been struggling to find a job again now that we were out of the detox program. I mean, John was working as a driver for that trucking company, right? But the older I got, as I replayed this in my mind over and over, I always end up with the question that I can never answer: if John didn’t have his own spot to lay his head, how much could he truly have been helping out?
Nevertheless, at the time, I was convinced that it had to be a good thing for you that he was back around. Maybe he did love you, in spite of all of the physical abuse. And you were almost eight months pregnant with his kid – I mean, a man should be around to care for the mother of his child…right? So, for a while, I tried to see the silver lining in him being back around.
John coming back around was the beginning of the nightmare that I’m triggered about today, though, Mama. I know you probably wouldn’t agree, but from my perspective, that’s where I link all the bad energy and karma that would soon follow. Months after you gave birth to our little brother, Dominique, what felt like an answered prayer eventually started to fall apart right before our eyes.
It wasn’t the teenagers dealing drugs on our stoop that turned the tide. It wasn’t all of the fighting with the neighborhood kids that me and Shauntay had to deal with while making new ‘friends’. It wasn’t even the gas being cut off for us being behind on the utilities, because after all, we still had an electric oven so we could keep the house kind of warm. That first cold winter was harsh, but we survived that, Mama. It was early the following summer where everything started to hit like a ton of bricks.
That summer of 1992, when Domo was only 5 or 6 months old, was when we found out the apartment we had moved into was owned by a slumlord. Now, just to be clear, Mama – when I say ‘we’ in this instance, I mean me and Shauntay. I’m sure you found this out long before we were able to put it together. But at any rate, I remember the summer of ’92 starting off with you and the neighbors of the duplex talking about how y’all hadn’t heard from the landlord in weeks. I remember shortly after that…the water company came and disconnected running water to the entire building.
There were 4 total units affected by the disconnect, with our duplex being next to another owned by the same now-missing slumlord. I remember that at least one of the units was unoccupied, but you and the other single mother in one of the units were fairly close. Overhearing that exchange between you two was horrifying. Immediately, I started thinking that this meant our new start was coming to a screeching halt…and that we would be back at Grandma Flo’s again.
Part of this made me happy since we hadn’t seen much of Grandma Flo’s over the last year – with you still being stubbornly determined to not need her for support anymore. I can still remember how you and her would fight after we found our own place and how quick you were to remind her you didn’t need her charity anymore. But now you had 2 young kids and an infant in a unit with no gas OR water. Surely, this meant that you would be swallowing your pride and taking us back to Grandma’s…right?
But Mama, you didn’t. You and our neighbor decided that since our building was across the alleyway from a fire station, we could simply use their faucet on the side of the building for a steady water supply. Y’all had been using the payphone at the fire station whenever y’all needed to make phone calls…and thus had a good rapport with the firemen stationed there. So, to y’all, it seemed like a no-brainer to simply stock up on empty gallon jugs and fill them up with faucet water to get us through the summer.
And that’s what we did. Shauntay and I, along with the neighbor’s kids, would spend time throughout the day walking across the alley with bottles, cooking pots, and whatever else we could transport water in. We would carry the water-filled jugs in through the back door, empty them on the stovetop where you’d have multiple pots boiling hot water for our baths. We’d fill up every bottle we could to have drinking water in the fridge. We kept small bottles at the kitchen and bathroom sinks to wash our hands. We would empty water in the septic tank so we could flush the toilet after using the restroom. We quickly learned the ins and outs to this system of living without running water, and we adjusted to the living hell.
But Mama…even then…I was over it.
Those months we lived like that was a pure nightmare. Lying to the other neighborhood kids about why we were always filling up bottles of water was embarrassing enough. But I think the most difficult thing to deal with was learning just how much water we use on the daily, just living. Having to adjust to the concept of ‘using water wisely’ is something I will forever be scarred from. I know we were making it work, Mama. I know you always taught us to count our blessings. I haven’t forgot how one of us would be in the tub and have to wait on you to bring in more hot water from the stove – to have fresh rinse water. I could never forget how loved you made us feel, as you reminded us that we were all in this together. Even during days like that when we struggled the most, you still made us feel like everything would be ok one day soon.
But Mama, it was hard. It was hard having to ration out water daily like that. It was difficult to get used to our faucet handles no longer working. All of the times where I had to use the restroom badly, and momentarily forgot that I couldn’t flush the toilet without making sure the tank was manually filled first. I can remember as the summer was coming to an end – all of the anxiety I was having about starting 8th grade like this. How was I going to have time to keep up with my schoolwork and recreational reading…if I was going to spend most of my time home from school making constant trips to the fire station for water all night???
I remember vowing to never go back to those days, Mama. As life passed on after you passed away the following spring…I told myself that no matter what, I would never go back to living without running water, something I had taken for granted up until that summer of ’92.
And then this morning, over 30 years later, I woke up to news that a water main in our suburban neighborhood had broken and that we would have to live without running water until 10am. My wife had called the water company the night before as I slept and was told as much. She informed me that she was working from home today and headed to the store to buy a few gallons to hold us over. I found myself instantly stuck – and couldn’t find the words to tell her that a few gallons wouldn’t last but a few minutes. I started shaking…and then just as quickly, sat frozen as my wife left for the store run.
When the car drove off, my throat felt dry. My legs felt numb. When I closed my eyes, I could see that alleyway all over again. I got angry. I wanted to scream, but again, my throat felt parched – as if I hadn’t had water in days. My heart fluttered as I remembered that I couldn’t call you to talk me through this again. I wanted to escape my reality. My head started spinning, and I couldn’t get out of bed. I hid under the covers and forced myself to go back to sleep until after 10am. I refused to deal with this again without you, Mama.
When I woke back up, it was after 11am. My wife was in the bathroom fussing about how she was going to have to go back to the store for more water to flush the toilet and make us tea and green smoothies. That’s when I suddenly remembered that today was a fasting day for us, and that we wouldn’t be eating throughout the day. That gave me slight comfort, as I remembered how much water we would have to use just for basic food prep. But then, it registered what time it was and I screwed my face up. Reading my mind, my wife told me before I even asked that the water outage was now estimated to last past 4pm, instead of 10am like originally predicted.
Dear Mama…I’m over it. Completely freakin’ burnt out…and over it.