It’s been 20 years since my Mom passed. For anyone out there who has lost a parent, you know it doesn’t get any easier. I go through my own personal Ides of March every year, but as time passes, I’m able to reflect and recollect on the memories that have shaped my present existence. This is why I implore us all to have a sense of urgency, because when life is gone, it’s gone.
On March 13, 1988–Mom’s birthday, I had to work at 12 midnight and woke from a nap around 8. My sister and I were sitting on my bed laughing hysterically at something or other before Mom called around 8:30. I was in a giddy mood considering I’d tried to reach her earlier and wish her Happy Birthday to no avail. I fell asleep worrying, so when I finally heard her voice, I was noticeably relieved.
“Can you and Gina come see me?” Mom said in a pleading voice I took for granted–especially after just laughing so hard.
“Mom, I gotta be at work at 12. I can’t”
“Mom, I really can’t.”
“Mom, what did you say?”
“Nothing, can I talk to Gina?”
“Yes Mom. we’ll come up tomorrow after work.”
I handed my sister the phone.
Did my Mom just say she was disappointed in me?
She’d never said anything remotely close and the moment definitely gave me momentary pause.
I turned the shower on and thought nothing more of it until later.
I’d missed a day of work the previous week. My boy, Cameron and I, were hung over because Wednesdays were traditionally “Grog Nights”. We’d banged a couple six packs each of Red Bull–not the popular pick me up of today but the malt liquor–and spent the entire next day recuperating.
Hey I was a kid.
I worked the midnight shift at the Post Office since August of 1987, and was not yet used to working nights especially while all my friends were partying somewhere…anywhere…everywhere.
So when my Mom called, I was still exhausted from wrecking shop in the streets ever since my birthday five days earlier on the 8th.
The job was so monotonous but paid really well. I was an LSM operator. I pushed these piano like green colored keys–depending on the zip code–as a piece of mail passed through a window. The mail then subsequently fell in the corresponding bin in the back of the machine. We had to key around 96% or the boss, Sherry Wiggins would get in ya something serious. She was a beast supervising, but was truly a great person. There were twelve seats to a machine and you couldn’t key for more than 45 minutes–two rotations of four people and two of three.
Since we worked overnight, folks would fall asleep with their heads nodding all over the place while their fingers still moved. It was funny to watch.
Around 5 o’clock a.m., it was time to rotate and clear the mail from the bins for dispatch. As I’m walking, I looked up and had the strangest, but relatively chill feeling. I had no idea of knowing obviously exactly what this feeling was, but I knew it was something I wasn’t imagining.
Very sobering feeling. One that woke me up enough to finish out my shift.
Around 8:50, the next morning, I returned home and rushed to open the door of my apartment because I heard the phone ringing. I noticed the answering machine picking up so I no longer felt rushed–relaxing to put some groceries in the fridge I’d picked up on the way home. My step-father Yusuf was leaving a message and I remember feeling so embarrassed. I left these raps for my friends to make them smile just in case they missed me while I worked.
I was a teenage clown having difficulty transitioning into the real world because I spent so much time at the post office. At that particular time, we worked six twelve hour shifts a week.
Most of the greetings I left were entertaining and rapped over whatever track was the hotness of the day. People would complain they were played out after a couple of days, so I changed them weekly. In this case it was Gittin Funky by Kid and Play rhymed in Chuck D like style:
“Gittin funky…this is what I’m sayin, on the mixxx…this ain’t no game son. Hit the Kid ‘N Play while your on the phone…leave your name and number as soon as you hear the tone.”
Yeah goofy now, but in ’88? It was the shit.
Well, after he had to endure my temporary foolishness, Yusuf was leaving this message as I entered my bedroom:
“Michael about the time you get this, you’ll already know.” His voice a complex mixture of urgent but strained resolution.
“My Mom is dead.” I thought to myself. That feeling that washed over me last night was in fact, real. I knew it! I remember needing some air to think about this, but it honestly wasn’t a shock.
Hearing the dial tone, and as my thoughts crept back to the night before, I walked through my living room to go outside. As I’m opening the door, simultaneously the bell rings. “OK, now this is getting weird. What the fuck is going on?!” I thought to myself. At the door was the fam. My sister had a sad expression on her face and not knowing what to say, my father, who appeared scared but fatherly firm at the same time and my stepmother, who had a look of typical concern.
“I’m sorry.” My dad finally mustered.
I pushed past everyone, but glanced over to my sister to make sure she was alright. I walked out into the hallway, looked out of the window and simply said “Mom what happened?.”
These moments in life are about as unique as you’ll ever experience. Hours can be dissected frame by frame, for moments are slowed to December molasses. Not really knowing what’s going on around you, you’re mindful to make sure the time is documented to decipher later on.
I immediately circled back to the time I called out of work getting trashed like some drunk ass whino. It wore heavily on my brain because if I didn’t miss that night, my sister and I would have been able to take off and shoot up to Chester, PA (I lived in New Castle, Delaware which was about a half an hour away…especially how I drove) and see our Mom like we’d done so many times before.
My mother was manic depressive–bipolar in this day and age–and was taking lithium to control her rage just enough to ease back. One time in particular, I’d drove up to see her unannounced after getting off work. I’ll never forget the song that played on the radio on the way up…Cameo’s Candy…
That was my shit.
It put me in a good mood to see Mom. I didn’t know what state she mentally was going to be in, but I was good for a minute until I pulled up to her block.
Her and Yusuf lived on the bad side of Chester in a little apartment above a store not far from the Commodore Barry Bridge. When I walked up the steps and knocked on the door, the door was ajar.
I saw my Mom talking to someone but no one was there. I walked over to give her a hug because I missed her so much since I began working, going to school full time and coaching baseball.
I just wanted a hug.
She looked over to me and with this motherly smile merely said, “Michael, this is not a good time.”
I then said what every kid would have said at that moment, “But Mom.”, my voice cracking out of concern, frustration and of course sadness.
“Michael come back tomorrow. I’m sorry.”
So I got in my car and left–without the hug. I was crying my ass off. It didn’t help Brenda Russell’s Piano in the Dark played on the way…
This was hard to go through. My sister had been staying with me because of problems she was having with my folks and it was good to have her there. That’s when we got close and was almost a foreshadowing of things to come.
The day after Mom passed, I had this unbearable guilt from her last words to me. I played the conversation over and over and over and over again in my mind. I even searched through the answering machine tape just to hear her voice and found one message where she was expressing how proud she was of me and my sister.
It was all I had left of her.
I called my boss, Kenny Tate who already knew the news and he gave me off for the week. He also said the job raised some money that was stolen initially, but everyone chipped in for a second donation.
Damn Post Office.
You definitely find out who your friends are when people close die.
I was seeing technically two women at the time. One was this stunning Bahamian lovely named Claudette. The other was the beautiful girl I was in love with whom had my heart forever if only she wanted it. Jocelyn was my best friend who had an amazing spirit and was intelligent enough to place second in our entire class of over four hundred. She was studying engineering at the General Motors Institute in Michigan and would come home three months and then head back to Michigan for the next three.
Since my birthday was the 8th of March and Jocelyn was the 12th, there was an incomparable bond we would share after high school. We did everything together. Think of the movies Brown Sugar and Love and Basketball as points of reference. I chased her around for four years from the time she said to me “Who are you?” so brutally honest the first day of Magnet for gifted kids in eighth grade. I was done after that. Jocelyn was all I thought about, but she wanted nothing more than just being a friend. It didn’t matter if I had a girl. I was straight up geeked for her and could not hide the infatuation no matter what chick I was seeing. Everyone knew I had a thing for this girl–even my teachers. It was so ridiculous.
I called and told Jocelyn the news and she was openly concerned. She expressed to me I had to try and get past the guilt because it wasn’t my fault.
She was seeing someone, but we stayed very close. She helped through those early times by just talking me through the pain and emptiness (the emptiness is the worst part). It was one of those things where we knew we eventually would be together, but not until I was ready to mature.
On the 14th, we talked all through the night after she drove home from Michigan. I really appreciated her doing this because it proved she really cared, while other “friends” were no where to be found.
While we were finishing up with our impromptu therapy session, Claudette called because I’d left a message on her answering machine telling her I had some bad news. She said,”Mikull” in her heavy Bahamian accent, “Come over Mikull. I’ll cook you some fire engine (corned beef and spices).” I loved to wash it down with Campari and grape fruit juice.
It was around 4 in the morning or so and Jocelyn was very tired and leaving so what else was there to do? Gina was home with my Dad and step mom, and I didn’t want to go out of my mind, so I walked Jocelyn to her car, gave her a delicate kiss on the cheek and closed the door. As I got into my car, Jocelyn just gave me this look and shook her head with this little sexy ass smirk and we both began to laugh at the same time. I looked over to her and shrugged my shoulders as if to say “What?”.
Even though we both were involved there was still a lot of envy going on. I reluctantly drove off knowing full well I’d rather stay and be with her.
I pulled up to Claudette’s and took a deep breath before getting out the car. We weren’t seeing each other like we used to because I couldn’t handle the non-stop intimacy she needed. It was just too much. I didn’t care how much of a dime she was, there’s a limit to everything.
She’s the reason why I feel in love with Phyllis…
She used to sing this to me after we broke up. I’d just turned 19, but at 5’10”, she was 28 years of long braids, a sick catwalk, a body that made you say “What the fuck!” and this chocolate skin that well…tasted like French chocolate. The relationship was definitely sexual more than anything, so I knew what I was getting into when I hung up the phone.
So as I approached her crib not feeling exactly good about what was about to go down (yeah right), she opens the door looking very sexy and had the house smelling just as good. I must admit, the girl could burn something crazy in the kitchen. After cleaning my plate of every morsel of food, I told her the news–tearing up a bit–before she grabbed my hand and led me to the bedroom. We made love for what seemed like hours unto it hit me like it never had that my Mom was actually gone. I guess I was in shock up until that point. I just stopped and began to cry “Mom…Mom”.
I let it all out like I needed to. I was just a mess around this time, so I just got dressed apologized to Claudette and left. Claudette was hot, but she understood. She went back to the Bahamas the next day and I never saw her again. I heard she married a NBA player…lucky cat.
Lucky, lucky lucky cat.
I had Jocelyn on my mind the entire ride home. I was so confused. I called Jocelyn “Woobles” (Wuhbles) and thought I just cheated a friend by having sex with another.
I opened the door and fell on the couch exhausted. I then had the dream that has inspired this book, The Son of Melancholy Jazz. It should be completed in a couple of months.
I woke up very much discombobulated to my Dad’s phone call detailing the funeral arrangements.
The funeral was going to be very very difficult. My parents split when I was seven and it was admirable of Pop to take charge of all this.
So as the day arrives, I remember how packed with cars the blocks around the church was. There had to be hundreds of people paying their last respects to one of the most beautiful people they’ve ever known in their own personal way.
The doors of the church were closed, but you could hear the organ playing and the choir singing I’m Going Up to Yonder.
Before we had to do this, I looked down to my sister and asked her if she was ready and she simply nodded. I knew she wasn’t ready. Hell I wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how I was going to react.
I opened the door for my lil’ sis and she waited for me to get in before we walked arm and arm up the aisle. Gina and I saw the casket the same time and she slumped to the point I almost dropped her. I kept my head high to make sure everyone in attendance knew I was going to be strong for my sister even though I had the worse feeling ever in my soul. I had to do this for Gina. Nothing else mattered. Not family, not friends, not girlfriends…nothing.
The church lost it. I’d never heard a collective death cry so loud, so close.
It was his church, so my Uncle Linwood Rideout was handling the funeral procession. It offered my sister and I a modicum of comfort. It was very cool my uncle did the entire service with a smile but…
When people tell you their loved ones are beautiful dead in a casket it’s a bunch of bullshit.
Because of the strength swelling up in my spirit leading my sister to get through the toughest moment in our young lives, I began to get angry. I began to think. Did my mother kill herself…
This is a poem I wrote last year. I’m posting all of this in hopes of helping someone who is guilt ridden. It doesn’t help, you will never be the same until to get rid of it. The questions will never be answered, so move on.
I miss you Mom
A hug, a smile, a chuckle, goodness…any advice
Damn Mom, anything with you here with us would be so, so nice
Your spirit forever resonates deep primitive in my melancholy soul
Wish you were here for my children and niece to hold
Why did you do it Mom?!
The thoughts suicide…something too tired to hide that we could have helped you forever push aside
“Why have you forsaken me”
Almost to the tune of hating thee
Frustrated emptiness and orphan like amiss
I would be remiss not to tell the world all of this
Please people, none of these for me
Embracing thoughts and love for your Mom is what I truly want to see
Do not take ever take your Mother for granted
If you sincerely want a life of love and happiness enchanted
Miss your Mom!
Yeah, it’s been so hard without the lovely searching grace of your most beautiful face
Gina and I have had to do it alone
If it wasn’t for either of us, I just don’t know
There was no path easy to help our consciousness grow
Pulling my hat down in the snow as I baby boy cried
Flintstone hickey bumping my head running through the house as I smelled the Mom chicken you fried
Christmas and Thanksgiving smiles that made Gina and I too…smile wide
Leaving your house and seeing you wave
Until your beautiful image resembled people being rain window viewed, high in the sky, reminiscing from a plane
I miss you Mom
Hard to get over the sadness
20 years later ever so often the days become the crying same
Whenever I think or hear your name
Tear drops become Salt seas
And dreams of The Son of Melancholy Jazz
A friend’s March 12 born kept me from March 13 similar scorn
Yeah, the world became blurry
Growing up in a hurry
Became a flurry of thoughts scurried hence common sense was temporarily buried
Tillery children are here exclusively because of your wisdom “What Dreams May Come” and “what ifs” are both cognizant reminders as your grand kids live
They all have your eyes
Eyes that sky spirit wide making my tired soul cry
Talented JRT they are three
Thanks for the confidence you instilled in me
Their lives futuristic develop the memories that take me ’69 Chevy Nova and Philly outskirts back
This life and societal flaws Mom I guarantee you, I will attack!
Your heart, your smile, your flaws, your love
Lord, I’m so envious she is with happily smiling with You above
As a small child and even later after my folks split, there were two songs I’ll always remember. The implications of these songs will forever resonate as long as I live. Respect your parents because you know not what makes their hearts heavy. Love and honor your parents and your children will in turn love and honor you.
The female Northern Cardinal sings, often from the nest. The song may give the male information about when to bring food to the nest. A mated pair shares song phrases, but the female may sing a longer and slightly more complex song than the male.
Although the migration of Blue Jays is an obvious phenomenon, with thousands moving past some points along the coast, much about it remains a mystery. Some jays are present throughout the winter in all parts of the range. Which jays move and which stay put? Although young jays may be more likely to migrate than adults, many adults do migrate. Some individual jays may migrate south in one year, stay north the next winter, and then migrate south again the next year. Why do they migrate when they do?
Two songs at the opposite ends of the spectrum huh? You have to fight for love. Go get it like it’s your last breath.
Life is too short (something else I wrote of my Mom). Past failure can always be transformed into life sustaining success.