Sitting on the white leather seats in the back of the Ebony limousine that chauffeurs grieving families to their loved ones final resting place, the top of my dress damp from the pool of tears that found their home there. My grandmother sat beside me, holding me close, rubbing my shoulders as I rested my head against her chest, the steady strum of her heartbeat soothing me. On the limo's sound system wafting through the air like the smoke from an incense, was Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."
Granddaddy was five feet, ten inches tall supported by a sturdy frame. He had a head full of curly gray hair that was thinning at his crown, but at 83, that was to be expected. He was a stern but loving father and he loved his wife, whom he affectionately called Rhett. They had been married 59 years when he finally succumbed to his cancer. He was a father to many of my cousins, who were also in need of a father figure in their lives. Isaac and Rhett had 14 children, with one dying as a very young child and another being stillborn. The remaining 12 were raised in Mississippi until an incident between two of my uncles and a group of white boys forced Granddaddy to send the teenagers under threat of death to Chicago to live with their older brothers. Tiring of the South's oppressive treatment of People of Color, Granddaddy and mommy packed up the rest of their children and moved to Chicago to be with their sons. They eventually brought a brand new house on a quiet dead end street in Harvey where they raised their six youngest kids, their grandkids, and a few of their great-grand kids.
"A Change is Gonna Come" reminds me of my granddaddy because is it symbolic of the journey I went through seeing someone I loved being ravaged by pain and suffering tremendously. At hearing the haunting moans coming from his room, I would try to creep past his door so he wouldn't see me and call me in to sit with him. I felt like such a Judas. Repaying his love with betrayal. "Just like the river I been running, ever since" echoed in my ear each day I bailed out on him. I think hearing it while going to bury granddaddy was a reminder of how I had failed him.
But a week after his funeral as I laid in my bed with a heavy heart, drifting off to sleep, a shadowy form stood at the end of my bed. I squeezed my eyelids together and buried my face in my pillow. The next thing I knew, there was this pressure around my upper arms and body and before my closed eyes were large veiny hands with a gold band around a ruby colored stone with a symbol I couldn't make out. Hands that had held mine countless times before I recognized and with that pressure I felt came a calming peace. My granddaddy was letting me know he understood my behavior. That for a fourteen year old whose emotions are stronger than most, escape is easier than bearing witness.
My bedroom was alight with the warm radiance of the candles in the pretty snow colored ceramic holders decorated with hand drawn and painted violet hearts that were strategically placed on the window ledge and corner nook for maximum ambiance. Throughout the space the scent of jasmine hung in the air like a cloud in the sky. Sisqo's "Unleash the Dragon" was the only cd that I had unpacked in my new apartment, so I programmed the songs that made me feel sultry inside to play on repeat in anticipation of our first night together.
Once he arrived, we showered separately, with him going first. After I had showered and gotten "so fresh and so clean", there he laid on my satiny plum sheets draped over a plush queen sized Serta, patiently waiting for me. I sauntered over to the bed, mentally trying to cage the butterflies loose in my tummy. My henna skin gave way to the tell-tale crimson of a blush as I stood before my soon-to-be-husband. With a seductive smirk he questioned my choice of bedtime attire. He dragged my ivory t-shirt over my breasts and off my head and hooked the pointer fingers of both hands under the thin lace of my inky bikini panties to ferry them from my hips, skimmed along my thighs, past my knees, until they found their way to the floor. His eyes glazed over with a look of pure lust as his eyes feasted on the naked form that was before him. As he pulled me closer "so sexual" was punctuating the activities that were unfolding in the candlelight. The songs highlighted the emotions of ecstasy and love I felt as Wayne embraced my body. With every caress my soul elated as my brain registered the onslaught of jasmine and candlelight dancing in the air as Sisqo expressed the very feelings that were taking shape inside of me as he sang "I'm addicted to loving you." From dusk to dawn Sisqo sang as Wayne enraptured my senses and I made his body play the most beautiful song. I can't listen to any song on "Unleash the Dragon" without my mind and body being transported back to that first night 23 years ago. A knowing smile made its way across my face as I wrote this piece listening to "Your Love is Incredible." In Sisqo's words, in regards to our marriage, " you can say it's unforgettable."
I first heard this beautiful song at my cousin Haneef's funeral. He was four years older than I and as children we never got along because I was always the butt of his jokes due to my full lips and thicker glasses. I would have never believed as adults we would be as close as we became. Haneef was my big brother, so loving and jovial, protective as big brothers should be, and a confidante whenever I needed guidance. If I was sad or upset, I could always count on him to do something silly to make me feel better. As a teenager I struggled with my weight and when I was dieting, he would always be the first one to acknowledge my efforts and cheer me on. Haneef was in my corner even when at times everyone else was against me. And I made sure to return the favor, offering him advice when he came to me, watching my niece and nephew so he could play basketball with his friends and making sure he had a room in my apartment for whenever he needed to crash for a bit.
Each time I hear this song, my heart breaks inside a bit because I miss him so much. He was taken from us by a cowardly sixteen year old child who chose to play with guns instead of books. A child who didn't know or care that Haneef was a loving husband and a father of two beautiful children, a son and a daughter. He didn't care that Haneef was deeply loved by his mother and father, by his grandmother, by his aunts and uncles, by his cousins, by his friends, and by everyone who spent any amount of time with him. This child who pretended to be a man made a decision that shattered my family and robbed the world of a truly beautiful soul who made everyone around him happier just by being himself. Haneef's doting mother chose "The Prayer" as a tribute to her son and every word in the song fits who he was and still is.
"I pray you'll be our eyes,
and watch us where we go
and help us to be wise,
in times when we don't know,
Let this be our prayer,
when we lose our way."
The procession to her bedroom was a long and solemn one. I heard my sister ahead of me in the line scream when she made it to our mother's bedside. Wayne held me up as my knees buckled as we continued along until it was finally our turn. The hardest thing I have ever had to bear was saying goodbye to the woman who meant everything to me. After everyone had said there goodbyes and retreated to the lower level of the house, I stayed with her, seated in a creaky brown metal folding chair, my head resting on her shoulder, holding her palm, softly tracing the protruding veins on her otherwise smooth, slender, hand. Silently I begged her to give me that faint squeeze she had blessed me with earlier in the day as she strained what was left of her voice to tell me she loved me for the last time.
The room that she and I had occupied, that I had slept in for the majority of my life felt alien to me. Her queen bed that she once shared with my brother, sister, and I as children, along with my oldest son when he came along was gone. Replaced years earlier with a twin hospital bed with silver metal rails meant to prevent her from sharing her bed with the great-grandchildren she adored. A portable toilet sat in the corner of the room, adding to the sterile hospital feel the room had taken on.
There was a Senna recliner so large that it became the focal point of the room, hiding a mini fridge and freezer combo that held the Babe Ruths and seven-ups that she loved, along with the beef Vienna Sausages that my mom would buy for her and the loaf of Sara Lee's Honey Wheat bread she ate with the sausages. Above the egg shell colored fridge is where she stored her Apple Fig Newtons that she had shared with her youngest loves. The familiarity of these items were now foreign relics of the past. And it made the sorrow of that moment even greater. Wayne had to gently pry me away from her so that the coroner's men could take her body away from the home she and I had lived in almost my entire life.
I sat alone in the senna recliner listening to Yolanda Adams voice as I replayed our life together in my mind. Thinking about how we got to this point. Recalling how she began to forget that my uncle was her son and not her uncle. Speaking to her on the phone and she would forget who I was and that she was even supposed to be talking to me. My eyes would blur as I called out to her, reminding her of who I was. I could hear her in her lucid state trying to prepare me for what was inevitable. But the tightening in my chest and shortness of my breath would never allow her to finish what she was saying because even the words were too much to consider. I was racing down a rabbit hole of despair and I tried to conjure my fondest memories to slow the descent. I tried to picture the joy in her face as she held my newborn son in her arms, feeling her palms against my swollen belly as she felt our baby kicking away. Memories of her at my school plays and my wedding beaming with pride. Of morning with her and my son, Jas drinking coffee (her drinking coffee and him drinking a milked down concoction with a teaspoon of her coffee) at the kitchen table. Of Jas stopping playtime to check on his Dea when she would fall asleep on her recliner and nights of Jas knocking on her door to let him in so he could sleep in her bed. Then came memories of me not being there for her, burying myself in my work, of our daily calls of me apologizing for not being there and her telling me there's no need because I'm supposed to be with my husband and son, that she was being taken care of. My heart disintegrated in my chest and I wanted to be with her. But she wanted me to stay and take care of the son that she loved as her own.
Allow me to tell you more about this phenomenal woman. She was actually my grandmother, but my mom gave her custody of me when I was four years old. I always say she is my soul's mother because she knew me so well, better than anyone else. She was only five feet one inch tall with beautiful milk chocolate colored skin and dark brown eyes that were rimmed with blue. She had a slender frame, with black hair that even at 90 was only partially gray. Everyone else called her Madea, but she only allowed me to call her mommy.
She was easy to talk to, never judgmental or condescending, she was full of jokes and was known to whip out her pancake flat breast whenever a baby cried to offer up her powdered milk(we joked about that all the time). Mommy raised her 12 children and most of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren too. She loved unconditionally and shared her wisdom and knowledge freely. She was patient and kind and thoughtful and beautiful. I am so grateful that I had the honor to call her mother. It's been fourteen years and not a day has gone by that I don't still cry for her. Mommy "walked with the Lord in the beauty of his light and she obeyed his word everyday and every night." She laid her all down on the altar and I know she has a special place in Paradise.
When Jas was around six or seven and my niece was three and nephew five I would play the music channel Vevo on the television and blast the volume as loud as it would go and the kids and I would dance around the room singing along in our loudest voices. Some of their favorite songs were Nickelback's "This is How You Remind Me" and Fun's "Some Nights" and "We Are Young". They knew all the words and it was immensely joyous to engage with them and see how happy the music and being with me them made me. Now that they are all older, they won't have dance those impromptu dance parties and crazy sing-alongs with me anymore. They're too cool for all that. And of course their taste in music has changed as well. Jas loves to listen to Hamilton's Soundtrack, and Kendrick Lamar songs. San will sometimes sing along when I'm grooving to my 90's Jams. And Niya and I sometimes binge watch shows.
I take whatever I can get from my teenagers and love every minute of the things they love and share with me.
Where my teenagers no longer want to rock out with me, my baby Kai will. I have shared with him some of the songs I listened to with his brother and cousins and some he likes, but he has his own taste. He likes a lot of the video game songs and songs he comes across on You Tube shorts related to Roblox and Minecraft. I love hearing his little voice singing away with me. Some of his favorites are Imagine Dragons "Believer" and "Enemy". I love Imagine Dragons too. We just found Kaleo's "Way Down We Go" and he even like James Brown "The Big Payback". They have become part of our karaoke roster. Music brings people together and there is always ways to find common ground when it comes to those melodious sounds
I'm so grateful for all my kids and the blessing they have been in my life. They have changed me and made me grow into a better person. I'm glad to share with them the songs that have played a major part of my life and I look forward to them sharing with me the songs that will be the soundtrack to their lives as they grow older and experience more of life.
Songs I create to
As a creative person music plays a very large role in my life. I have playlists that help me when I'm crocheting, one song on that playlist is James Blake's "Retrograde" his voice is soothing to me and it helps me focus so I often study to it too. Songs to exercise to like Kanye's "The New Workout Plan". One of the songs I paint to is James Brown and Luciano Pavarotti's "This is a Man's World", its beauty inspires me to try to create something beautiful of my own.
When I'm drafting my stories, I try to find songs that match the characters' personalities. For example, I wrote a story about a guy name Marcus who accidently murdered his best friend in a drug induced paranoid delusion. One of the songs on his playlist is Aloe Blacc's "Ticking Bomb" and another song that he listens to is "I Know I've Been Changed" by LaShun Pace. While in prison he started listening to gospel as a way to counter the effect of all the chaotic behaviors he is exposed to on a daily basis. Creating their playlists helps me to get to know my characters better and therefore create more well rounded individuals that readers can connect with. The characters tell me what they are listening to and I simply keep track of it all. I do this for every story I draft.