DEALINGS WITH DEATH
At the age of seven, death started to confuse me. It scared me like it scared many. It alluded my ideals of a world filled with magic and adventure. I was made to believe, from people other than my mother, that death was a system of reincarnation. “If you are good in this life, you will come back to life in the form of a flower in a field.” I know now that was baloney. But back then what could I do but nod my head and ponder. I was a kid whose biggest conundrum was not getting a Space Jam themed binder for school the following year. Death went over my head. As I grew older, death began to show itself infinitely and I began to avoid it with every aspect of my being.
We plopped down on the couch like we did every morning. M grandma immediately told us, “Aaliyah passed away today.” Disbelief fell over us. We continued our search for the remote a little more desperate than when we first entered the room. We turned on the TV and put on the news. This is one of the few times I’ve seen Kayla cry. When someone walks through the world with exuberance and is suddenly called to GOD, you start to wonder what’s so special about you that he let you stay.
And then all hell brakes loose (2002).
I laid in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. I heard the phone ring and I knew. You always do. My great grandfather had been in the hospital for weeks now. When we saw him his spirit was high, high enough to emerge from his chest at any moment. It was early, and usually I would have ran to the living room to claim my choice of TV programming for the day but my body wouldn’t move. I was stuck to the bed sheets, my body heavy with the death of him. My immediate family and I resided in Georgia. My great aunts and uncles remained in South Carolina living in the homes left to them by him. Death is hardest for those left behind. Death tore his children apart. There were so many court proceedings and debates about property. There was money missing and name-calling. It was all a mess. And as a twelve-year-old girl all I could think was “this is your fault death.”
But Barbie Dolls Never Die (2004).
My grand aunt Ceceil moved back and forth from one of her trailer home styled dwelling to a small apartment in the Bronx with her husband and let her nieces and nephews play and watch television when their parents needed a break. I would walk a flight up from my apartment to hers and watch Moesha, Sister Sister, and Full House specials when I needed a break. Her husband was sweet to me; I called him Uncle Joe. Because I was an only child from a single mother’s womb I was as spoiled as the inside of the Evil Queens reddest apple. I got toys galore from friends and family, especially from Uncle Joe, preferably the newest edition Barbie dolls. At the time I was grateful. Looking back I was naïve. I cherished those dolls and those TV shows. Cancer took Aunt Ceceil a few years after my last doll was bought. Uncle Joe died a year after her, from heartache. I will always feel guilt for not visiting her in the hospital when I had the chance. I was too busy, what fourteen year old isn’t? Maybe I was just too scared but I will never forget the day we found out. I sat in front of the window below the space she no longer occupied and I looked at those Barbie dolls and wondered when they would die.
With A Call in the Morning Fog (2008-Present).
I’ve never had a father so loosing one was never an option for me. Even so, I know how crushing it is. I know this because every November fourteenth I receive a text from my best friend. “I have to go to church tomorrow Anya.” My best friend doesn’t go to church regularly so when I see this I think about six years ago and the crush death lent me.
I was an engineering major at Howard University. I fooled myself into believing this was what I wanted. It made other’s proud and like many young students, making other’s proud was the ultimate happiness. That first semester I was serious about my studies. I was suddenly pulled away from my engineering meeting when I received a call from my best friend back home. Her muffled voice and gushing tears could be heard clearly from my end. “My dad died Anya.” My mouth opened. I had only met the man once or twice but Maria was a daddy’s girl. His wake would be two days later followed by the funeral. Because it wasn’t the weekend and I was taking my studies serious, I couldn’t make it. I promised to come and hold her as soon as my Friday class was done. I hung up the phone and looked through the fog.
To A Death From Cupcakes (2012).
My grandmother was a big confection creator. We stayed up nights waiting for the timer on the oven to go off. So naturally my first few jobs were at bakeshops. The cupcakes at this one particular bakeshop were the size of a quarter and filled with addiction. The walls surrounding the atmosphere were white. The color of the cupcakes would catch the street glow and beam through the Plexiglas begging to be tasted. Aside from the merchandise and the cupcakes our life within the shop ran digitally and with technology come problems. Which is why we had a tech guru. His name was Scott and I adored him. He always had a joke on hand and never took work too seriously. I’d be on the phone with him so much; we’d have conversations about each other’s day. I waved bye to him one day as I left the office, his blue hair the color of frosting. That same day he had a brain aneurism; the image of him smiling back at me in farewell flashes in my head. Death was catching up to me. Scott’s death was the first time I realized that death doesn’t like cupcakes, smiles, or laughter. Or maybe he does, maybe he needs them more than we.
And yet, beware of stairs at 4am (2013).
He follows me. I scan through my news feed and I see the pictures of him smiling and jamming. I met Jonny as a camp counselor through the camp his father owned. This kid was full of light, laughter, and love. Being around him was easy. Despite his affluent family, Dartmouth education, adventures overseas, and lower Manhattan apartment, he didn’t intimidate me. I wasn’t nervous or uneasy. I didn’t label him some “snotty well off white kid living it up in the city of New York on his parents money” because from our first meeting to seeing his life on social media, I saw the love that he spread. The big ideas he had included changing the world in the most selfless ways and the most enjoyable. He’d given up a Saturday one summer to help us put together a middle school for the upcoming year. He could have been anywhere that day. It was hot, sticky, and not a lot of fun, but he believed in leaving a positive footprint, you could see it in his eyes. Jonny was twenty-three. I was twenty-three. Death was waking me up and shaking me alive.
He Will Always be; Too Fast and Too Furious (2013).
Paul Walker died in a burning car that was going too fast. He was a father, a friend, and a movie star. I didn’t know him but his death haunted me. It haunted me for many reasons. Reason’s I have trouble explaining because of our very distant relationship. I saw a man who was charitable, loving, and full of charisma. I watched him for the last twelve years on the big screen so not knowing him didn’t seem like a good enough reason not to mourn him. I saw his smile on magazines and I saw it in interviews. My smile connected with his in a way that only smiles can explain. I surfed the Internet for footage and information the day he left. It consumed me. It consumed me because watching someone who is so seemingly good, have death knock on their door like he’s asking for tea in such a violent way, stalks you. I crawled out of the hole that Walkers death swallowed me in but watching The Fast and the Furious movies will never be the same, and it’s a shame because they were my favorite.
About a week ago, Diem Brown died. I watched Diem perform on MTV’s Challenges since 2006 and I watched her struggle with cancer and fight it off like a bull in a pin. She was triumphant, she was strong, and she was smiling. Finding out about her death shook my heart. It cracked my soul. It is just another reminder that death can never be understood and while I continue to avoid it with all my might, it will continue to take others. Her unfinished life will haunt me this year; her fight will wave at me and dare me to fight as hard. Her soul stares at me telling me to go on. I want to but I am awed at death’s ability in knowing how to pick ‘em.
When Michael Jackson died I was at summer camp. Everyone was shocked and frustrated. I loved Michael Jackson just like many other fans but I wasn’t attached to Michael Jackson. The reason we mourn people in the public eye who we watch on TV all day as if they were our friends is because they are a reflection of us. We connect with them on screen and take their energy back to our homes. Our hearts become interlocked and there is no separating them, no telling them apart. I’ve heard it from many that there are people who don’t deserve to be acknowledged when they leave this earth. “They brought it upon themselves.” “They had everything.” Or “you didn’t know them.” My response will remain the same. “A life is a life, one lost is a shame. Recognize their fate and send them on their way.”
Jackson’s presence didn’t shine a reflection on my goals or me. Maybe this is why his death didn’t affect me the way it affected others or the way other deaths affected me.
I try to make light of death. I acknowledge its cycle. I promise to live for those no longer living. But truthfully, death kills me. It takes pieces of me. There are moments when I am okay and if I died in this moment I’d go whole. Then there are days I feel I am hiding from death in an alleyway; his need for a soul alluding to my need for a life.