In Memoriam, Miss Maxie (1998-2014)

On May 2, 2014, my beloved dog, Miss Maxie, passed away. Although she was an elderly dog, her ultimate decline was quick–less than a week. She was my companion, my friend, my road dog, and my dog baby.

One of my favorite pictures. It was cute, but I made her get out of my bed.

One of my favorite pictures. It was cute, but I made her get out of my bed.

She was a thoughtful, quiet dog, but she loved taking long walks, chasing squirrels and rabbits, and being chased. She loved sleeping under the covers and sneaking into bed with our overnight guests.

I was lucky to find a dog that fit my personality so perfectly. I adopted her from the animal shelter in January 1999. And since that time, she was never away from me for more than a few days at a time. She was one of kind–a lover of all people but picky about her canine associations. My husband and I will miss her companionship. Whenever one of us stayed up late working, studying, or “dissertating,” she would keep us company.

Miss Maxie and my mother, also known as "the dog whisperer."

Miss Maxie and my mother, also known as “the dog whisperer.”

I am still extremely sad that she had to go. But, again, I was fortunate to have had a dog like her.

 

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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.

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.

Looking for Love & Finding it in our Foremothers

Susan Bean

Susan Bean

The woman pictured here is Susan Bean, and she was a year old when she was emancipated from slavery in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Her story of hard labor did not end here, because much like many of our foremothers, she labored as a domestic in white women’s homes for many years afterwards. Sometimes they treated her fairly, and other times not so much, but she could always count on praying the rosaries.

That’s Grandma Susie, and as fascinating as her life was, it is her parents that I find myself daydreaming about. Though I never met them, I somehow want to please them. I want them to know that, as their child, I’m living dreams built on their prayers and the prayers they instilled in Grandma Susie. Grandma Susie was a praying woman, too.

State of Maryland

State of Maryland

A glance at The Slave Statistics of St. Mary’s County, Maryland will reveal a rarity in the slave system: an enslaved family, my family, living together on the same plantation.

The matriarch of the Bean family, Martha Bean, was enslaved on the Abell plantation, along with her four children: Lewis, Caroline, Adain, and Susan. I have no idea if they were all born on this plantation or if they came from elsewhere. I also don’t know if Martha had additional children who were sold off to another plantation or who died. What I do know, however, is that they were a family.

Martha’s husband, Thomas Bean, is a bit of a mystery to me. He enlisted in the military in 1861 and was discharged a year later after wounding his leg and his head. I want to know where he lived in proximity to Martha, and how often they were able to physically be in the same place. I don’t know if at some point he, too, was enslaved by the Abells. I don’t even know for certain if he was the biological father of each child, but he was indeed their father, as each child bore his last name.

What I do know is that in 1870, the first census that would have recognized their existence, Martha Bean and Thomas Bean made a choice–perhaps, the first time in their lives such a choice was theirs to be made–they made a choice to be together under the same roof as a family. And, they chose to give birth to three more children who were their only children to be born free. They were together on one more census, and then Martha and Thomas Bean vanished from public records.

I like to imagine that what existed between Martha and Thomas Bean was love. I close my eyes and imagine what their love looked like, what it felt like. Whether Thomas Bean was a free man or an enslaved man, I daydream about him kissing Martha’s calloused hands from working in the tobacco fields of the Abell plantation. I think of them loving away each other’s pain and long-suffering. It is when I think of them in these ways, loving each other during unthinkable circumstances, only then do I think about all of the possibilities life can offer me.

**Post Update: Please check out my poem, “Martha, Don’t you Moan,” posted August 6.