The Worst Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

There were a number of really rough moments for me in 2013, but the absolute worst moment has to be the announcement of the Trayvon Martin verdict. (See 2DS posts on “Keep Calm” and “From Don Imus to George Zimmerman”) It was really difficult for me to grapple with the reality that George Zimmerman had not been convicted of murdering this young boy, who was guilty of “walking while black.” It felt as if a heap of new injustices had fallen on black people. I felt suffocated and was depressed. It didn’t help that the verdict was followed by a number of deaths of young black women and men who were shot and killed while knocking on white people’s doors, seeking help (e.g. Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell).

The Martin verdict was announced while I was celebrating 100 years of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Angie Stone, India Irie, and Patti Labelle each took the stage, and all three felt compelled to recognize his life. As news of the verdict spread throughout the crowd, the crowd shuttered in utter surprise. We were hurt.

That night, I was delighted to see my favorite singers, ecstatic to celebrate with my sorority sisters, but in pain for the Martin family in particular, and for black people in general. So, I cried in the middle of a concert.

Da Realist 1

The Trayvon Martin case–the lead-up to the trial, the trial itself, and the reaction to it–was difficult for me as well. I wrote about it at least three times last year. No matter how many times I hear awful stories like his–and it happens far too often–I am always deeply affected by how much black life is devalued.

Da Realist1, Jesse, and me in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University's campus

Da Hype 1, Jesse, and Da Realist 1 in front of the W.E.B. DuBois statue at Fisk University

However, my worst moment was when I found out that Jesse, one of my best friends, had died. Both Da Hype 1 and I wrote about our friendship with Jesse last year. (See 2DS posts I Had Such a Friend, For Jesse, & Foto Friday: Someone You Love).

On May 20, 2013, Da Hype 1 called me crying and screaming  unintelligibly. I had to get her to calm down so that I could understand her. She was so upset because she had just received a message that Jesse had passed away. For some reason I thought she had misunderstood the message. Jesse was in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant. He’d had a surgery (for some other issue), but he was not dead. He was getting better, stronger, right? I don’t remember whether she read me her message or if I looked on my phone and saw the same message, but I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me. After that, we continued to talk. I attempted to console Hype the best I could. She was in her car, and she still had to drive home.

Somehow we managed to pull ourselves together. Hype drove home safely, and I just sat on the couch staring into space for a long time thinking about my friend. I will never forget Hype’s heart-piercing scream that day. It broke my heart.


For Jesse

“‘Was it hard? I hope she didn’t die hard.’ Sethe shook her head. ‘Soft as cream. Being alive was the hard part.'”–Beloved

Jesse looking scholarly in the office we shared

Jesse looking scholarly in the office we shared

There is something final about committing words to the screen to talk about you, my friend. Writing this makes it concrete that you can no longer make me giggle at your antics. The irony in writing a letter is that, through the process of putting together the pieces of our friendship, I began to value that our words are immortal, but our flesh is not.

Speaking of flesh, I remember when you reminded me to love myself as Baby Suggs told a community of ex-slaves in Beloved. She said that “In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it.” Through this passage, you taught me to genuinely fall in love with myself, accepting all the scars left behind by life’s experiences. I pray that you were generous enough to yourself to do the same.

I had a difficult time with your illness, believing and praying that it would go away. You wanted to talk to me because you knew I would not talk about it with you if you did not want me to. You knew that I would talk about funny things, like the time we were acting silly and I fell down a flight of stairs. We both ended up on the floor laughing at my clumsiness. Or, there was that one act of selfishness with me, when you wouldn’t share that grape soda. To be fair, you offered me my own, but you made that Fanta grape look good.

You were always so generous with your friendship, but I was selfish while you were ill. I couldn’t bear talking to you, knowing that you were hurting on the other end of the phone. So, we texted and talked occasionally about all the funny things we experienced together. I should have called more and reminded you of the time you went clogging down the hallway of our department. That story always made us laugh.

Your generosity extended to the days before you passed away. On May 14, only a few days before you left me, you sent a text: “Remember me clogging and drinking grape soda. . . . And laughing at the bottom of stairwells.”

Da Realist1, Jesse, and me in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University's campus

Me, Jesse, and Da Realist 1 in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University’s campus

Since you left me, I have had a number of well-meaning people tell me “what Jesse would want” and “how Jesse would want me to remember him.” I know you Jesse, and believe that you would want me to feel however it is that I need to feel. Sometimes, I feel like getting in the bed and pulling the covers up over my head. And, sometimes, I feel like reading a Toni Morrison novel to be close to you.

On the days that I can muster up the energy to do so, I rejoice in our friendship and I rejoice in your love. I am thankful to have known you, and I consider the pain of you leaving me the small price I have to pay for all the funny times we shared. Your love for your friends was thick, Jesse, because that was the only way you knew how to love. And, as Sethe said to Paul D. in Beloved when he told her that she, too, loves thick, “Love is or love ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”

I Had Such a Friend: A Letter for Jesse

In May, a dear friend of ours passed away. Our Monday and Thursday posts will be dedicated to him. I’ve chosen to write my dear friend a letter.

“Think where man’s glory begins and ends/ And say my glory was I had such friends.”–from William Butler Yeats, “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”

Buckroe Beach at Sunset. Photo by Michael Anderson, © 2013

Buckroe Beach (VA) at Sunset, site of Jesse’s memorial. Photo by Michael Anderson, © 2013

Dear Jesse,

You were my colleague, friend, and brother. I love you, and I miss you.

It’s hard to believe that it was only eight years ago when we met. I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. I met you and the Da Hype 1 at the the same time, and I liked you both right away. It is not often that I’ve met people with whom I immediately feel at home, but that’s how it was with us. We were like a nerdy “Treacherous Three”–making fun of others and ourselves, watching bad movies just to laugh, and discussing good books. We shared family stories, both hurtful and happy. We talked on the phone for long periods of time like teenagers and found that we were quite similar in some ways.

You were a brilliant, quirky, curmudgeonly, “crunchy,” generous, absolutely hilarious, witty, wonderful six-foot-three teddy bear. You had a prickly exterior, perhaps because you didn’t want people to get too close. But your bark was worse than your bite, and people loved you anyway. You showed such concern and tenderness when I was in an accident on campus. I called you, and you came to the scene. And when my mother was in the hospital, you drove over two hours to come and visit her, even though you hated hospitals.

One of the last texts we shared was about acceptance. I told you that my mother still talks about meeting you. She thought you were “good people,” but she was fascinated by one of your quirky habits–eating corn-on-the cob with a fork. I had shared many meals with you, especially at our favorite barbeque spot, and had never thought twice about it. I guess it didn’t seem odd to me. And you responded, “That’s b/c y’all took a brother as he is.” Perhaps only someone with such eccentricities could understand me with all of mine.

Although you had been ill for some time, I was shocked at your death. I suppose I knew it was a possibility, but for once I did not engage those pessimistic thoughts. So, I hoped and I prayed. You never liked to talk about your illness, and I respected that. You wanted conversations with your friends to be the way they had always been–fun and funny. Case and point: You sent out a picture of yourself being put into an ambulance and quipped about the vampire-like EMTs.

Jesse & Da Hype 1. Standing in front of W. E. B. Du Bois statue at Fisk University

Jesse & Da Realist 1, in front of W. E. B. Du Bois statue at Fisk University

I hoped that I would get to see you again and shake your hand. It was our ritual. Both of us were uncomfortable with public displays of affection, so rather than hug each other, we gave a hearty handshake when we said goodbye, until next time. . . It all seems so silly now. If I had the chance I’d give you a big bear hug, whether you liked it or not. I’d tell you how much I value your friendship and that I am grateful to have known you.

Even now, as I think about you, tears are streaming down my face. I know that you were tired of being in the hospital, tired of being ill, tired of being in pain. Now you are free from all of that. Rest in peace, Jesse.