at the bar. (carry your people.)

walkerjo lee
Jun 30, 2017 · 14 min read
(creative commons.)

you know how much i want to cry sometimes?

i don’t. but you can. i can take you where you will have privacy if you need.

that’s the difference between men and women. you can cry right now and no one would think nothing of it. people would probably try to come and help you fix it. but i can’t cry. i haven’t cried in years but i want to.

you can’t cry or you don’t cry?

both. you know how it is. little black boys gotta man up before we’re even teenagers. there’s no tears allowed in our childhood.

it’s not that much different for little black girls. not when i was growing up. i did all my crying in dark closets.

sometimes, i wonder what it’s about? where is it all leading? why we get to be the super humans that can’t express feelings. i’m sitting in a bar wanting to cry surrounded by people who want to get drunk and have a good time.

i doubt that’s entirely true. a lot of people are here to keep from crying too! it’s easier to mix tears with a shot, ice it and top it off with a lime than it is to face what is truly ailing us. it’s easier to drown it.

i’m tired. i’m so tired. i can’t even think about how my ancestors did anything. we’re supposed to have it better right? maybe, it’s good to know where you stand when you’re born. we’re born thinking we got a chance. hoping in something we can never be. we’re pushing through all these doors only to one day see that the whole time, we’ve been stuck in a revolving door. i wake up in the morning and i’m wondering, “why do i keep doing this?”

what you come up with?

what choice do i have? we don’t come from a people that just kill ourselves when times are hard.

there’s some truth to that.

and times not hard for me. i can pay my bills. i eat everyday. i’m not cold. i got one degree and now i’m working on my master’s. time’s can’t be hard, right? so why do i feel overwhelmed with pain? i can’t go anywhere without being watched. everyday, i leave my house like i’m never coming back to it. i carry my identification. i leave notes around the house. i got my passwords to my bank account and social media accounts posted on the fridge so if i don’t come home, facebook don’t keep announcing my birthday when i’m dead.
physically, times are not hard for me. i went to visit family a couple weeks ago, i got a decent seat on the plane. on the shuttle bus to my rental car, i didn’t have to sit in the back. times not hard, right? but i’ve been stopped by the police over ten times in the last five years. each time, they come up with nothing. they give me a stern talking to like i’m a child that’s done something wrong. at least five of those times, i was walking. i’m so scared i can’t even reach in my pocket and get my cell phone to turn my music down so i can hear them telling me to get on the wall. now, i don’t walk with music on at all. times not hard, right?

i do believe times are hard. more than anything, i believe we are living in a very painful time. it’s always been hard. it hasn’t been as painful for so many people as it’s been recently. it’s scary. we’re all afraid. we’re all afraid of each other.

i just want to cry. and i’m upset that i can’t.

i’m sorry. i think you’re allowed to feel what you feel and emote in whatever way your body deems necessary.

well, i can’t cry at your bar.

i’m not so sure anyone would notice. people who do notice, they may pretend they don’t. we’re all pretending we don’t see each other.

you ever see a black man cry?

yep. i have a big family. that means a lot of deaths. i see them cry at funerals, at the grave sight. they are mourning.

i feel like i’m in mourning.

i think you are.

what do i have to mourn? my life is good, right?

not if it doesn’t feel good to you. sounds like you’re mourning yourself. you’re walking around as if you’re already dead. you’re mourning you.

they’re killing us off.

i won’t debate that. your experience is vastly different than mine. i’ve never been stopped by the police and i don’t tend to get harassed by them either. i don’t fear them in the same way although, i am aware, my skin is as much a target as yours is. i feel a different kind of fear and i do fall into mourning myself. i sit and cry until i can do nothing but sleep. it’s hard. i know that much. i know what’s on the screen, the bad news that seems to revolve around the kind of people we are. i know. there isn’t much i can do about that. when i feel like hiding in my apartment because i’m scared i’m going to die alone on some random street not able to call my mother, i look for the good. sometimes, it’s just the stars or the moon. i sit at the lake. it helps me. i watch stupid cat videos. i shouldn’t have told you that. well, it’s out now. i draw. i journal. watch stand up comedy on netflix or disney movies. meditate, i don’t know. that’s the reason i couldn’t cry as a kid. i wasn’t allowed to stay in a place where i could keep crying about the same thing. i was told to pull myself together. my father used to send me off by myself to get it together. i did. i had no choice about it. since i’m here, i may as well keep going. maybe you can cry. and when you do, you keep going.

to where?

i don’t know. i don’t know your story nor your destination. that’s up to you and your god.

you believe in god?

in a round about way, yes.

what does that mean, in a roundabout way? you either do or you don’t, right?

i don’t believe in that brimstone and hell fire god. i would have already burned with that god. my god is the god of my mother’s and her mothers before her. i pray to my ancestors, the sun, the moon, the stars.

isn’t that idolatry?

could be. can’t be no worse than people wearing crosses around their neck with a dead man on it or burning candles on an altar with the virgin mary and her newborn babe in her lap waiting on redemption to come from glass and wood.

it’s symbolic.

could be. it’s not the way i see my god so in my opinion, the way i perceive my god to be, is not idolatry to me.

i suppose all religion is idolatry or some form of worship. you consider your way of worship, religion?

no. there’s no duties, no rigidity, no rules or structure and no accountability. i don’t have to take my shoes off, face the east, pray in the name of the son, confess my sins in a booth, show up on a sunday, dress this way, not eat this or that. nature is free. it is not controlled. it not confined. it exists as it always has. the wind is always the wind. the fire is always the fire. they coexist together. the fire doesn’t hate the wind for blowing on it and making it bigger. i try to make sure i’m connected with my spirit and nature. my way of life is peace, praise and respect for the things and the beings that are already here.

even if it doesn’t respect you?

it probably doesn’t respect itself if it doesn’t respect me. seems the problem would be bigger than me.

that’s almost noble. it could kill you.

it probably will. i don’t feel like i die from whatever ‘natural causes’ mean. i try to find ways to keep moving.

i guess we all need something to believe in.

why not believe in yourself? if you are made in the image of your god, wouldn’t you be a reflection of what created you? wouldn’t that be enough to say, ‘i’m worth more than this?’ i think believing in yourself goes hand in hand with believing in your creator. you can’t love your god and hate yourself or think less of yourself than you think of your god. that seems to make no sense to me. it’s imbalanced.

think of myself like i’m a god? like i’m equal to god?

if you are made in the image of your god, why wouldn’t you also be equipped to believe in and love yourself as you do your god? you come from your parents, aren’t you equally both parts of them? you are made in the image of your god, wouldn’t your god be in you? a god that you are made in the image of, your creator, it wouldn’t make you a lesser version of itself.

isn’t this some kind of blasphemy? i think you’re on the edge of blasphemy.

i’m always on the edge of blasphemy, in opinions other than my own. obviously to me, it is not blasphemy. i grew up in a native american family on my mother’s side. blasphemy to me is minimizing your god to fit your understanding of it. it’s limiting. it’s pretentious to make your god as small as you perceive yourself to be, to make you feel more secure and safe as a human. instead of dealing with the bigness of the world, it is made just as small as you are. seems like blasphemy to then worship yourself and make everything about you as just one of many species living in this space.
my elders, praised nature. we didn’t pray. you sit and just be. you learn very quickly that there are some things bigger than you are. it’s freeing and humbling early on in life. i learned to be respectful and to be grateful.
it’s a process.

i wish i had your upbringing. i would miss church sometimes.

i had church. on my father’s side, my great aunt, she’s a famous bishop. i had no choice about church when i was a kid, when i visited. i watched them build their church from a storefront shop under the old el train way back when. church felt like a scolding, telling me that i can’t be free and to obey. i do love gospel music.

you hated church then?

no. i didn’t hate it. but i didn’t love it. i like seeing the people. i respect the history of it in our communities. it seemed like a lot of self denial. i’m not sure we need to deny ourselves of so much to have a good and happy life.

is happiness the point?

ah, there’s the real question.

the only time i can cry is when i listen to gospel music. not in church, but when i’m home on a sunday. i know i should be in church but i feel like i worship better at home.

well, i’m the person that says you are made in the image of your god. your god is in you, not waiting on you to come through the doors on a sunday morning. that’s a people thing not a god thing. so, have your gospel music on any day of the week. mend yourself. heal yourself. put yourself back together, over and over and over again.


why not? you’re still here. what reason would you have to remain broken? that makes life a lot harder than it has to be.

i don’t get it. i keep trying to understand it all.

maybe, there’s nothing to get. one day, you will be an elder. even if you have no children you’re responsible for more than yourself. maybe, it’s to see that you’re connected to other humans. maybe, you just pass on knowledge and wisdom. i don’t know. i don’t have the answers. i know how painful it can be. it feels stifling at times. i know we have to keep going. you can’t get stuck in things that haven’t happened to you. you can’t make you a victim when you are walking around perfectly fine, physically. you affect your own energy. shift it. do something about it. demand more. if you are made in the image of your god, risk demanding more. but if you demand more, more will probably be required of you.

what’s required of you?

i write. i have these voices that will wake me up out of my sleep to make me listen to it. and it just goes on and on until i write it out.

you’re a writer?

yeah, sometimes.

i’m an actor.

oh, nice. what is being required of you?

a one man show. i wrote it already. it’s a black lives matter type of thing.

i gathered. you should do it.

of course you would say that.

if i had a one woman show and that was my thing, i’d get it done somehow, someway. i made a deal with the ancestors. i’m being held to it.

what deal?

to do the work. all i have to do is make some sense of what i am being told. i don’t know if what i’m writing is happening, has happened or will happen. if all i have to do is write it, i should. i agreed to do so.

it’s the last thing i want to do.

you know, i get that. i didn’t love it at first.

then why do it?

i have no choice. i’m putting this puzzle together and it’s only at the end that i realize what it actually is. when those voices got something they want to tell you, you don’t know what you’re getting into. you don’t have a choice but to listen and do what you’re told.

you love it now?

no. i understand it better than i did before. i fight it less. i see more of a need for it.

i wrote this piece and i love it. took me a few days to write it. i don’t want to share it. writing was suppose to be an escape. i’m writing the very thing that i’m living. i have a good life, right? writing that piece feels like complaining. times are not hard for me. i’m walking around everyday, trying to pretend that i’m okay. inside, i’m not. it doesn’t feel fair that i wrote this. and what happens when i perform this show? will i be the angry black actor? will this be the only roles i get from now on? will no one ever see my degrees or all the other work i’ve done? it’s heavy. that show is heavy. i’m not heavy. all i ever hear about is race lately. i’m tired of it. but now i go and write it. it’s hard for me to want to share it.

if you weren’t sitting at this bar telling me your story, i wouldn’t know it. you got post it notes all around your house concerning your fear. if you die right now, for whatever reason, no one will know what’s that all for. you’ll just seem like some obsessed dude. now more than ever, you need to use the voice that you have. you owe yourself that. i can’t say whether you perform your show or not. to me, it seems like you should. it looks like that’s half the weight you’re carrying around with you. battling with your own spirit. you’re human. you’re allowed to feel angry as a black man. you’re also allowed to feel grateful that you’re able to live the life that you want, as a black man. you’re free to feel whatever you need to feel. no one has ever had control of what you feel. i think you owe it to you to use this moment to tell your story.

because i’m a black man?

yes. i feel the same about all people’s of color though. we’re losing our voices. our stories are being distorted, erased and retold without us in them. we’re not owning our stories and we should if we’re still here. tomorrow comes and we have no idea what we said yesterday. the voices never fade. they blow in the wind. but if you never say, no one ever hears. then it was like you were never here. the only way we know anything truthful about how history truly affects people is through art. this is your art, this is your voice. don’t silence yourself.

i don’t want to go home.


because i’m scared to walk down the street at night.

everyone is, actually. we’re all afraid of each other. now that we got that out of the way, walk in your goodness. if you know it, own it. all you can do is keep going. don’t do it in fear. you can live for another twenty years, you’re going to regret all this mourning you’re doing right now if you do.

there’s a lot of people being killed. i’m mourning them.

i doubt any of those people took their last breath wanting to be mourned in this way tho. they probably wanted someone to fight for them, for their name. they wanted to be remembered, surely. remember, some of them went fighting to live. they were forced into death in the most brutal ways. there ain’t no way they’d be okay with living in fear.

can i have another rum and coke?

you sure can. i’m off the clock tho. let me get you a bartender.

all this time, you’ve been standing here talking to me, you’ve been done working?


i’m sorry.

don’t be. i saw you walking and you looked like you needed someone to help hold you up. i don’t mind staying. i’m glad i could be here.

i’ll be alright.

i know you will. tell me, that you’ll think about doing your show?

i’ll think about it.

good. also, uber or lyft yourself home. you don’t have to walk in fear. cry if you want to. turn your gospel music on and wail to all of your gods, for you and all the people that you will never forget. then keep going. remind yourself of your goodness. even if nobody else sees it, it’s enough that you do.

you walk in that goodness?

i try to. my ancestors have told me i will have a long life. plus, i don’t fear death. i come from some very cool women.

i don’t know my grandfather.

you know, maybe it only matters that they got you here. when i think of what it must have taken our ancestors to make decisions that kept them among the living, to make a way, i don’t need to know all their names. they are a part of me and i them. i carry them with me wherever i go. there’s a lot of people that i don’t know. i don’t appreciate what they did any less. they could have killed themselves and i wouldn’t be here but they didn’t.

you sound like you’re having a good life.

eh, i could do better, honestly. a customer had fresh sunflowers earlier. i was almost mad that it was pulled from the ground but i got over it. her dude bought them for her. she let them sit on the bar for over three hours. made me feel good. i love sunflowers. there’s some goodness to be had. i keep trying to look for the good.

i’m sorry. i’m keeping you here. you’ve been good for me. but i don’t want to keep you. it’s getting later.

you’re fine. since, i’m here and no other bartender is, let me make your drink and get out of here. this one, is on me. work on that show, dude. and then work on more shows. use your voice. everyone you’re mourning, carry them with you. you can be their voices too! they would want you to go on with your show.

thank you. i’ll try. i will really try.

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