I honestly debated whether I had the time or energy for a blog when my friend, musician Ian Brown suggested it. I thought I’ll pacify him by saying I’ll start one and I just won’t do it. No one would be the wiser because I surmised that no one would read it anyway.
Then, today rolled around and I realized I had so much to say but no words to say it. I was screaming on the inside, dying to be heard, and yet all I could do was plaster a stupid smile on my face, make flippant remarks, and continue my day as if everything was fine.
The problem: nothing was fine. I awoke today brimming with nervousness and excitement about the first official book signing for my new non-fiction title: I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. When I speak of it, I often leave off the subtitle because I think by mentioning that it features single, successful black women somehow women from other ethnic backgrounds and races will automatically assume the stories don’t apply to them, even though they do.
Anyway, so I was thinking about what to say when I stand exposed in front of a room full of people, or the few that bother to come to the signing, about I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married. I scripted answers about my motivation, about my feelings on marriage, what I learned about women, why black women have a uniquely high single rate and what’s the overall message of the book. I had everything worked out too.
I knew exactly how the day was going to go. Coming off of five hours sleep, I would drag into work, put in a full day, leave a bit early, hop into a cab and bear my sole so that a handful of strangers would shell out 14.95 to help further my dream. And, when I began lifting weights at 8:15 this morning, everything was right on schedule.
I got to work early enough to catch the early bird rate at the garage, a feat in Manhattan, so life was good. I sat down at my desk, cranked out a few stories and then my phone rang. Now, it’s never unusual to hear from my mom, especially at work. But, I had just spoken to her for Mother’s Day so I knew that this wasn’t an ordinary call.
With a few soft spoken words, my day, outlook and priorities changed. She said my uncle George had died. He just died. He was found dead, alone in the bathroom of his studio apartment in Brooklyn. She said my father was on his way out there to do what he does best, take care of everything for his family so he wouldn’t be back for my book signing. She then assured me she’d be there rooting for me as usual, she just thought I should know what was going on.
I wondered: what is going on? I didn’t know where I should be. Should I cancel the signing and rush to my father’s side? Or, should I go and do what he’d want me to do which is to follow my passion. I really didn’t know at first and then I thought about my uncle, the man who was suddenly gone from my life.
My uncle George and I weren’t particularly close but he was always there. He as at family barbeques in the Summer, at as many holiday dinners as my dad could stand, and he was in my car the day we drove back from my paternal grandmother’s funeral. In fact, I‘d just seen him two Fridays ago at my book launch party. I would later learn from my dad that he skipped a hospital appointment for treatment of his emphysema to be to see my latest book.
Anyway, I wondered if he would want me to stop in my tracks, wallowing in sorrow for a man I barely knew. Of course, it only took moments for the answer to hit me. No, he wouldn’t want that. He was always about living life, finding a reason to let out his raspy laugh, finding a way to escape the harsh realities that plague us all and more importantly, about never growing up, which was his dream. He died at age 68 but when you’d ask him he’d always say he was 17. I don’t know why. I never asked him really. I know it was the year before he went to jail for the first time, before he had five children he barely saw, before his abusive marriage, drug addiction and family estrangement. It was the year when his life was still simple, good and fun. And while all those things would seem to add up to a bad guy, my uncle truly wasn’t. He was a lost soul, never comfortable in his own, without a dream or a focus. He was also the man who loved me enough to risk his health so he could share in my dream. So, I know he wanted me to follow my dream to be an author today; a successful, prosperous author who entertains and enlightens the world. I did that to the best of my ability, posing for photos, signing books and discussing the topic as if all was right with the world. I looked out at both of my parents sitting in the front row, knowing that my dad too had figured out my uncle’s wish, and I had a bittersweet smile. Finally, we understood my uncle George too late to tell him but soon enough that we could honor him by getting on with life.