Am I Losing My Humanity?

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Am I losing my humanity? That’s the question that went through my mind when my boss called a meeting in the newsroom and told us our co-worker, Mike Lynn, passed away. I felt numb when I thought I’d crumble.

Seconds later, my chest began feel heavy; it was weighed down by my sorrow but the tears didn’t come. My head hurt and I wasn’t thinking clearly but I knew there was no time to break down. I only had minutes until the 6 p.m. show.  And, I still had work to do. 

I tried not to think about the fact the Mike collapsed feet from where I was sitting. He too showed up for work today feeling under the weather but I was less than a half hour from going home while he wouldn’t.

Honestly, I didn’t see Mike often. He worked the overnight shift and I was on days. However, we were hardly strangers. His scripts were always filed in the rundown. I often used them as a base for my work in later shows. Whenever there was a snowstorm he worked late and I came in early. On those days, he’d stop to catch me up on his kids, office politics or current events. In recent years we became friends online. He’d like my posts, sometimes comment and occasionally send me a note in messenger to let me know he’d eaten some of my candy so he left me cash for some more.

It’s hard to believe that one of the most reliable co-workers I’ve had since the 90’s is no more. We are, or should I say we were, the last two full-time writers. Now I am alone and I don’t like it.

I will miss his wit, his humor, his intellect and his stories.  This thought made me cry on the train ride home. I guess years of covering tragedy hasn’t stolen my humanity; I still feel the pain of losing another co-worker suddenly and far too soon. 

From Fearless to Fearful and Back

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I’ve been joking a lot lately with old friends and acquaintances that the old “Nika,” the girl they knew who was quiet, sweet and naïve is dead; that she was gobbled up a long time ago, transformed by life experiences into a new woman; one that is vastly different from the one of their memories. However, I recently realized the metamorphosis I’d been kidding about has truly happened. I used to be fearless or at the very least less fearful than I am these days.

So, what caused this epiphany you might ask? Two days ago, I lost the stop guard for belly button piercing.  A simple, small thing that jolted me into noticing that for the first time in nearly ten years I was without my midsection marker.  Looking at the empty hole where my silver bar used to be, I wondered if I, the woman I am now, have the stones to wander through Greenwich Village, walk into a random shop and allow a stranger with a bone through his nose, disks in his ears and tattoos all over his body, run an upholstery needle through my stomach so I could get a hole to adorn with jewelry.  Disappointed, I came to the conclusion that the answer is probably not.

Of course, the train had left the station and I couldn’t stop myself from pondering if I could do other things I had the courage to in my youth like could I could quit my job and move to another city without a job just because I needed a change; if I could hop in the car, drive to a tattoo place in another state, drop my pants in front of room full of people and get a piece of artwork carved into my hip; If I’d hold another alligator, ride a motorcycle, climb a rock wall, go white water rafting, or learn a new sport like skiing then hit the intermediate trail at Killington on my second try.  More importantly, I thought about whether I would sit down and write my first book, Dark Recesses, without a clue how and continue to plug away at it for years without any prospect of a publisher.  I’ve also seen and helped my friends survive much of the same.

In addition to the things that have drained me, I’ve gained new responsibilities too.  I’ve become an aunt and a godmother, bought a house, a car, maintained a long term relationship, helped my brother through school, and moved up in my career. I’ve written two other books, Eyewitness and I Didn’t Work This Hard Just to Get Married, and, I’ve become a sounding board for my friends and family. I could hear her fight back tears trying not to think about losing her only surviving parent, yearning for a time not too long ago when we were young and had never known such loss.

As I heard her voice crackle, I wished there was some way to go back to take away her pain and mine. Unfortunately, I knew there wasn’t. If only, I thought, we could go back to being those fearless girls who were going to change our lives and not let life change us.  But, we can’t.  We’ve already seen how much can be lost and how much can be gained in a lifetime; how fortune can turn on a dime, turning joy to grief, love to loneliness, friendship to bitter rivalry, nurturing to care giving, health to chronic illness, prosperity to poverty and fearlessness into fear.

A wall of depression came over me until one thought hit me. Neither she nor I need to go back to overcome our fear of the future.  We need to go forward; to continue on this difficult journey together, as friends.  You see, we weren’t scared to do any thing back in our youth because we, she and I, could always lean on each other.  We still can so there is no reason to be afraid.  Love is the gift we’ve all been given to get over our fears and live fearless lives.

Grief is a funny thing

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Grief is a funny thing, not like a joke someone tells you that leads to a hearty chuckle, rather it’s an odd emotion that evokes a varied reaction in each and every person it touches.  It’s unexpectedly can paralyze some, making it hard to move, to talk or to think, unless it’s about wishing you were the one who passed away instead of the person that did. Loss can make others feel numb, like they are in a fog or a haze and their thoughts are a muddled pile of gibberish.

Or, grief can make you feel the way it’s transformed me in the last 24 hours.  It’s left me remarkably serene about my Uncle George’s passing. I know that his torment here on Earth is over and that’s a relief.  I know that in the end he knew that he was loved for exactly who he was and not for the person we wished he could’ve been. I am also a person of faith so I believe he’s in a better place and that, if nothing else, allows me to sleep easier.  However, I am peace because I have so many wonderfully entertaining stories about how he touched my life.

There’s the time he didn’t believe me when I said I only make one stop for every four hours of driving so he chose to drink a wine cooler when I made a pit stop coming from Virginia to New York.  My brothers took a bathroom break because they were well aware of my rule but he did not.  So, when we were eight hours into our trip, stuck in traffic near the George Washington Bridge, he had to beg me to pull over because he couldn’t hold it anymore.

At my father’s 50th birthday party, I had to banish him to a chair in the spare bedroom because he wouldn’t stop hitting on women at the party.  As I iced a homemade carrot cake, I could hear him calling my name, asking to be allowed downstairs with everyone else and promising he’d be on his best behavior.

No mater how many times he was put out, my father always invited him back for the next party, barbeque or holiday.

Uncle George was a character.  He was outrageous and audacious enough to be himself no matter what anyone else thought so his passing has also left me terribly curious.  I began to wonder this morning if I have these two crucial personality traits.  If I have the courage to be who I want to be and not the person others expect.

You know, I didn’t think his passing would bother me pass yesterday. That may sound a bit cold but I figured it wouldn’t since I never cried; I never flinched when my mother told me, and I just kept it moving.  The problem was his lost has shaken me and made do what all deaths do; evaluate where I am in my life and wonder if mine were over tomorrow would I have any regrets.

Being chronically ill, I’ve frequently thought about my mortality and what impression I might leave.  The only thing I promised myself when I found out I was sick was that I would try not to die with any regrets. The reality is I am not terminally ill.  I take drugs every day to make sure I can function. I’ve had more procedures now than I care to count but I am alive and kicking. Still, his death made me ask myself if I had any regrets and the honest answer is, at the moment, I have a few.  That’s probably no different than anyone else, it’s just as I mourn my uncle, and I can’t help but wonder how others will remember me.

I hope that it’s for my love of family, friends, and charity but I hope it’s also for my writing.  Okay, that may sound self absorbed but it is my passion.  It is the thing that consumes me.  From the second I wake up in the morning, I am blessed with an idea; usually a thought that often spawns a phrase, a story, an article or a book.  Putting words on paper is how I record my highs and low, work through my issues and communicate with the world and those I care for.  Writing has helped me bring characters to life and tell inspiration tales. Yet, I wondered if any of the people who’ve read my books were touched by my work touched or if it even makes a difference.

I stood there blathering on about the blog entry and my uncle for a few minutes before the topic of the chatter turned to me.  After nearly eight years of working together, I realized Diana knew very little about me personally; that I had manage to hide myself, who I really am, from someone I saw nearly everyday.  I was disappointed until she encouraged me to continue to write, to pursue my passion. I briefly wondered if my “passion” is enough to sustain me, to define me, to allow me to leave my mark on the world.  Then I realized, for me, that’s exactly how I do it.  Through writing, I reveal who I am, what I am made of and why I am worth remembering.

Bittersweet Book Signing

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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.