This post is not about death

I believe that there are instances of our life that happen like pictures.  With or without a camera those incidents are daguerrotyped into our brains and we’ll never completely get them out.  One of those pictures is of my first kiss. Another is the scene in my 3rd grade classroom when a girl got a hold of my journal and read the entries aloud. One that just happened is the face my grandfather made as he collapsed to the floor.

He’s been falling a lot lately and I don’t have anything in my toolbox that can help. I’m not a doctor. I can’t research his symptoms and prescribe adjustments that will result in him living longer.  If I could. I don’t know that I would.  He’s been ready to die since his wife died two years ago.  He wants it to be over and yet his life continues.  Well, some version of his life is in the works, but it’s not the whole one. Unfortunately, it’s not even sliced into neat pieces that are conducive to an orderly existence.  His mind is split into pieces that leave him calling me by my cousin’s name, calling his daughter by his mother’s name, and calling his sons by names I don’t recognize.  Sometimes when his computer tries to reboot itself he is left standing blank in a doorway or just in front of the sink.  If my aunt or I recognize the symptoms soon enough we can prevent fall. It’s not always possible.

A few days ago friends of the family, whom I’d never met, were visiting and asked me to describe him in one word. I chose ornery. It was, apparently, a harsh descriptor because everyone looked around the room and silence ensued.  But he is ornery. He is stubborn. He is mean. He is sweet. He is loving. He is my grandfather and I am here for him. I quit my job for him. I am living in the basement of this house for him. And me. I couldn’t remain 3,000 miles away, hear about his deterioration, and be okay.  I couldn’t be forced to deal with his death from a distance as I was my grandmothers’ and a former student’s. I needed to grieve up close for him and that’s what is happening.

I grieve for him slowly as I walk behind him bracing myself for his fall.  I grieve for him in pieces when I have flashbacks to the vibrant grey-haired man of my youth.  The one who would scrub my skin so hard in a Jamaican bathtub that I felt as if my whole self would peel off.  The man who loved me in my youth but allowed me to be abandoned by his son. The man who always had a drink in his hand, but never seemed to be drunk.  The man who loved my grandmother but cheated on her anyway.  The man who never said I love you. The man who loved me.  I grieve for him in whole pieces when I am away and hear his voice on the phone.  When I hear a great crashing sound as I go to bed and run back upstairs to care for him after he has fallen, if he has fallen. The man who I help get in and out of the shower. For whom I sometimes hold my breath as I walk into the bathroom to flush the toilet.  The man for whom I adjust old sweatpants that are too big and need to be tied extra tight to satisfy him.  The man I sit next to as he stares blankly through windows and relives his hauntings.  I grieve for this man constantly these days.  I am living in a state of grief.  It’s not always as hard as it was today.  But I saw his face as he fell and he was so afraid. I was too far to catch him and didn’t see it coming.  I will never get the sight of his fear out of my mind.

This post isn’t about death it’s about grief.  I want the grieving to be over.

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*Revolutionary Suicide

Revolutionary suicide does not mean that I and my comrades have a death wish; it means just the opposite.  We have such a strong desire to live with hope and human dignity that existence without them is impossible.” – Revolutionary Suicide p. 3 Huey P. Newton

I’ve been trying to read more during this break.  Yesterday I watched The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 on Netflix.  This post isn’t a review of that although I endorse it completely.  I am, instead, sharing what I wrote as an indirect result of watching it.  A few hours ago I started to read Huey P. Newton’s Revolutionary Suicide, got a page and a half in and realized my discomfort.  My clothes were too tight, I was attune to every extra inch of flesh on my body, and my skin started to itch.  So I wrote:

“I want to talk about Blackness.

It is that Blackness which reaches into the timepiece of me and takes advantage.  I have respect and empathy for all struggles, many of which are familiar.  Born woman and Black and poor and odd I am all too familiar with the struggles of many.  It is however Blackness that heightens my sense of ill-fitting clothing and too many sweets.  Causes me to tear at my cotton casings and seek relief.  My Blackness is the item so old it’s on sale because the world has grown tired of its advertisements and needs the shelf space for newer issues.  The spaces on shelves are served from the struggles that “fit us all” and lumps many into 1 and every into 99 and I am left in the back with an orange sticker marked 50% off.

I NEED to talk about my Blackness.  My part of this disease is consistently discarded because of the color of my skin.  Only this in utero
“malfunction” prevents me from  drinking from the same water fountains  accessing the same mortgage rates and dodging gentrification. It also leaves me alone and hidden in the apartment procured on the sly.  Because I am too angry after reading Huey’s words, too hurt by Kanazawa’s studies, too broken by the imprint of the system, and too tired  of being alone to feel anything else.

My Blackness does not mean African American.

Even saying that feels like a curse because I should be happy that “we”  have our own section in book stores, our own movies on Netflix, and a shelf for our hair care products in some sections of some grocery stores in some cities.  “But “I” am not “We.” “We” refers  to those who descended from  the slaves who were kept on board till America. I am a descendant of those kicked off in the Islands.  The Caribbean.

I need to talk about my Blackness because it is different from the Blackness referenced in the law.

I need to write about my Blackness because it may be the only time I see it in print, and history will forget me and mine.

I cannot bear the thought of being forgotten.

It’s hard enough to live and not be seen.  It is harder still to die and not be remembered.”

*Repost from October 2012