The Cardinal and the Blue Jay: An Excerpt of The Son Of Melancholy Jazz

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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”

“Please Michael?”

“Mom, I really can’t.”

“I’m disappointed.”

“Mom, what did you say?”

“Nothing, can I talk to Gina?”

“Yes Mom. we’ll come up tomorrow after work.”

Silence…

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.

Anyway…

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…

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**********

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

Empathy, sympathy
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

—————

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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.

47 Responses to “The Cardinal and the Blue Jay: An Excerpt of The Son Of Melancholy Jazz”

  1. Ben Collins says:

    This is amazing.

  2. Mizzo says:

    Thanks Ben. Appreciate you stopping by.

  3. Mizzo says:

    I hope all who have them honored their Mothers in some fashion yesterday. If not, then hug them for me. I appreciate it.

  4. Joelle says:

    That came straight from your heart and your writing is beautiful, because you are a beautiful soul. XOXO

  5. Mizzo says:

    I try to be Joelle…is this the Joelle I know and love? ;)

  6. Joelle says:

    I sure hope I am the Joelle you know and love!! Miss you!! Let me know the next time your going to be in DE

  7. [...] is not about me having a crush on Jemele. That’s ridiculous. She has eyes of fine wine of my Mom’s kind but let’s be real here. If My Homiez Call, I do not disappoint never ever. Plus, I [...]

  8. [...] on sizzurp blastin’ just out of the womb all hard and shit…cussin’ out their Moms without getting their lips smacked back to the channel zero they came [...]

  9. [...] since I shook his massive hand when he made an appearance at my college in 1988 shortly before my mother passed (I reference this because meeting Jesse offered me some comfort). If you go to the interview [...]

  10. [...] political process was. ‘88 was different because I knew what was going on and even though the death of my Mom derailed any passion for anything, I threw myself into the presidential election and soaked up [...]

  11. [...] The readers here know about my Mom passing. I post the link to help those out there who are suffering in death. My sister and I went through [...]

  12. [...] hate them, never hate them Just affect them with that pretty smile That will always be on your Grandmother’s [...]

  13. Mizzo says:

    Happy Birthday Claudette…

  14. [...] those baggy khakis and penny loafers…damn I pray there are no pictures of that night. Woobles do you remember? Prince is another musical genius who did it his way with no apologies. He was also [...]

  15. [...] I lost my Mom 20 years ago and you never get used to it. I can’t imagine losing my kids. I loved my [...]

  16. Damn…I’d like to add more than this in a comment, but I wouldn’t know what to say.

  17. Suzanne says:

    I want more. Finish your book. That was beautiful and you are a gifted writer. I am proud to know you.

  18. Mizzo says:

    Thanks Suzanne.

  19. [...] Mother’s would have been tomorrow. R.I.P Mom. I have a lot of friends, associates, relatives…yeah even ex loves and likes whose birthday [...]

  20. [...] Just to put the night in a personal and most proper perspective, March 13 is the anniversary of my Mom’s death. [...]

  21. [...] this site daily, doing and transcribing interviews, networking and hitting my August 31st book deadline leaves very few hours of daily sleep for this man. Sometimes it gets so bad that I get an [...]

  22. [...] Yeah, yeah it was fifth grade. Ya gotta wait for the book. [...]

  23. Brian Atkins says:

    That was cool bruh…..man’ I remember Claudette.

  24. Mizzo says:

    Yeah? So do I…

    And just so you know, Syracuse is in there.

  25. [...] Not gonna beat you all up with a serious question this week, so bear with me. As the deadline for my first book approaches, another one is being formed. I’m co-authoring a fantasy with another writer set in D.C. that should be really hot. I don’t really want to say more until the story is further developed, but on that same vein I’m thinking this question should be a travel through history. If I could be anywhere through time, there would be many possibilities: Of course I would want to be a 10 frames faster than all the assassinations, to see what happened to the dinosaurs, the day Rube Foster chose to fold the Negro Leagues, Wilt’s dime, Gary Anderson’s 1998 NFC Championship miss, Kevin Dyson’s one yard stretch and Webb’s timeout amongst other sports moments that affected me. Pac’s, B.I.G.’s, Scott LaRock’s, Aaliyah’s, Len Bias’, Reggie Lewis’ and Hank Gathers’…hell practically everyone who passed day before their last collective day including Mike, Phyllis Hyman and of course my Mother. [...]

  26. Vinnie says:

    Mike, there are no words to describe the picture you painted in my head, let alone what you saw with your eyes and felt in your heart…

  27. Maha says:

    Beautifully touching.. thank you for sharing your story.

  28. [...] transferred to my high school in the middle of senior year.  I was geeked over another girl who really didn’t want anything to do with me outside of friendship and it was peace for me [...]

  29. Ben says:

    You are a gifted storyteller, your mother would be proud. This is an incredible piece of writing. Peace.

  30. Mizzo says:

    Vinnie, Maha and Ben…thanks so much. It’s here to help those in need. Appreciate the comments.

  31. Lisa B says:

    Michael you are so talented and graceful in capturing these deep emotions and complex transitions in life. Cheers to you and God Bless your mother.

  32. Mizzo says:

    Thanks Lisa for reading and also commenting. You either learn in these moments or you don’t. This is for those having difficulty and if one person is positively impacted, I have done my job. Thanks for being a great friend shortly thereafter. You helped me get through a lot even if I never told you :)

  33. Mike, My mother passed away also. Although we spent everyday every second with her up to the very end…it does not erase all the “Coulda Woulda Shoulda’s. Your writing is spirit. The spirit of your mother. White lights surround your words. Life throws Life at us. You are embracing it and then giving explanation to help others who are struggling with this disease called “GUILT.” Our thoughts create our reality. I would embrace every happy moment with your mother. Those are the memories she would want you to hold onto. Of course I remember the day we spoke after the ultra sound. It’s funny….what I can not remember is who was with me. I just remember the spirit in your eyes. The joy of life. I felt honored then and I feel honored now. A knowing. You have this. Thank you for putting pen to paper. BRAVO!

  34. Mizzo says:

    Brenda thanks so much. I’m sorry to hear about your Mom.

    I remember that that day at Amoco like it was yesterday. Your smile helped to secure its legacy. I can’t believe that was 19 years ago. Wow.

    If you are located in the PA, MD, NJ area, please get your significant other a gift certificate to Brenda’s spa. She’s good peoples and I’m sure she’ll take care of ya lady good.

  35. [...] made the trip out to Cleveland via Amtrak to meet with my book editor with hopes of finally producing The Son of Melancholy Jazz. There is a definite sense [...]

  36. KevDog says:

    Damn Miz.

    Just got to this. Amazing work. I hope you learned a long time ago to shed the guilt. I see a lot of suicidal people in my work and some people simply cannot be saved. Sorry about your mother but it was never your fault.

  37. KevDog says:

    Memorial day 1974 began just like most holidays of my childhood. By then we lived in a neighborhood called “The Jungle.” It was named this because of the lush, tropical landscaping that all of the apartment buildings had in their front yards. It had originally been a fairly affluent neighborhood but had become run down as white flight, combined with landlords concerned only with profits and an influx of residents with too many kids and not enough working men became the norm. Still our apartment on Gelber place was a step up for us and we enjoyed a fairly nice apartment and a pool. So we set out to celebrate a holiday and enjoy the coming summer with an apartment wide BBQ. The residents would all pitch in the money for meat and drinks and each household would bring a side dish or a desert. We didn’t have much but on days like that, we felt as fortunate as the rich folks.
    Someone with the best sound system would bring it out of doors and we would listen to Marvin Gaye, Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, Stylistics, P-Funk and Stevie Wonder while everyone ate. Later the adults played cards while the kids played hide and seek, or in the case of some of us pre-teens, hide and go get it: A version that involved the first forays into real kissing.
    So as the day unfolded, there was little indication that this day was going to turn out unusual in any way except for the festivities. I remember I had spent a considerable portion of the day helping out my mother. Not that I was a mama’s boy or anything, just that on holidays, my mother tended to stress out, wanting to make everything perfect for everyone, so much so that she never had any time for herself. It is only in the past few years that this has abated.
    My brothers were in and out all that day. Keith was 18 and Cliff was 16 and, between girls, their friends and just feeling the increasing freedom that impending manhood offered, they didn’t spend much time home.
    I remember hoping that Keith would come home around the time we were set to eat. The previous day Cliff had messed with me, and Keith, as was his habit, had taken up for me and layed one on Cliff. I wanted to eat with and spend a few minutes with him. When he did come home, it was straight from the record shop. I remember he rushed to put his new single on the turntable. To this day, I can’t hear the familiar, haunting refrain from Bloodstones song Natural High,
    Take me in your arms Thrill me with all of your charms
    And I’ll take to the sky on a natural high (I want to take to the sky) Loving you more ’till the day I die (On the natural high)
    Take to the sky on a natural high (I want you to be mine) Loving you more.
    without tears coming to my eyes. It was the last record my brother ever bought and the last day of his short life.
    Keith teased me about some little girl in the building I liked. I pretended that I didn’t like the girl and that I didn’t like the attention. But deep down inside I was glad for his affection and attention and as he was known as somewhat of a ladies man, I wanted to be just like him. So even though there was no truth to the rumors about me and the little girl, Keith thought there was and it made me proud that he did so.
    There was a lot of commotion that day at the apartment, people in and out of the building and our apartment all day and into the evening. Cliff was in and out, mostly with his best friend Kevin Murphy: Hours later Kevin would be dead alongside Keith. Keith was mostly with his running buddy Charles Perry. Within days of Keith’s murder, Charles, almost insane with grief would rob a bank and would land in jail for 20 years.
    Late in the day, around 5 pm, Keith came back for a second time, this time with an older guy. He looked about 26 years old and he didn’t seem all that friendly. They came into the apartment and quickly left again. Keith seemed to
    have a strained look on his face, which I didn’t make much of at the time. I remembered it because it was the last time anyone of us saw Keith alive.
    By nightfall on that Memorial Day, Clifton had returned but Keith had not. This was not uncommon, nor surprising. My brothers often spent the night at friend’s houses without calling. It was simply part of the culture. But when the doorbell rang at 2 A. M we knew immediately something was wrong. It is the time parents fear most for no sane person would possibly wake up the entire family for something trivial. So the three of us, my mother, brother Clifton and myself went to greet the police officer who came to tell us that Keith, as well as Cliff’s best friend Kevin Murphy had been murdered.
    For the second time in my life I had been awakened by flashlight brandishing police officers in the middle of the night. Both times they had shattered my world. I didn’t know what to do. I simply collapsed on the floor. I cried then. But not like I do now. Then, I cried out of shock, fear and a sense of amazement. Now I cry out of sadness and sorrow that my brother never had a chance to live, to marry, have children, become the man he promised to be.
    At the time of his death, Keith was a mere 18 years old. He was little more than a boy, but for me, he was not only my big brother, but my idol and role model. And he was the most constant male figure in my life. His death drove me further into a world of my own, my books, music and my thoughts. And I played Bloodstone a thousand times.
    At the door that night, my mother let out a scream the likes of which I had never before heard. Later, in my job as an emergency physician, I learned its characteristics much better. It is the scream of a mother whose child has just died unexpectedly.. It seems so unnatural because the very idea of a mother outliving her child is an unnatural one. And on that night, I heard my mother cry in that way. And no matter how much she loved her own mother, she hadn’t cried like that when she learned that her own mother had died 6 years previously.
    For about a week, my mother was near catatonic. Luckily for us, our neighbors quickly took up our care. We had been fortunate in the move. We had found a similar situation to the one we had left on Ridgeley Drive. The people in the building were a similar demographic to our long-time friends in our other building. Those dear people made sure we had food, that we weren’t alone, that we had someone to talk to and someone’s shoulder to cry upon and that the bills got paid. My mother’s friend Laymon Long and his wife Pam, in particular, were rocks for us.
    There were others there for us as well. My mother’s friend Jackie and her family stand out. Those people and others rallied around my mother in a way that only people who had experienced their own hard times could.
    The person in my family hurt most by Keith’s death was Cliff. His reaction was most tragic and long lasting. He and Keith had been best friends since birth and they knew each other better than they knew anyone else, They laughed like fools together and fought like enemies and absolutely had each other’s back when faced with an assault from an outsider. I remember one time they had let one of their petty squabbles escalate to the point that they were outside, fighting on the balcony. One of the grown neighbors stepped in and told them to knock it off. The next thing I knew, they were about to fight him! Each for hollering at the other’s brother! And since Keith was more charismatic than Cliff, Keith provided Cliff with an inroads to social situations that otherwise might be closed to him. Because of this, Cliff hung close to Keith socially as much as possible. When I lost Keith, I lost my brother and my idol. With his death, my mother lost her firstborn. But when Keith died Cliff lost everything, his brother, much of his social standing, his runnin’ buddy and most importantly, his best friend. So it really isn’t a surprise, when you think about it, that while my mother and I eventually recovered from the trauma of Keith’s death, Cliff never did.
    I remember Cliff tried to act cool at first. He would, at first, use gangster slang to describe what happened to Keith. “Yeah, man, did you hear about my brother? He got off-ed the other night.”—As if the whole thing were some bit from a Jimmy Cagney movie.
    The sad truth was that, despite his show of bravado, Cliff was hurting more than any of us ever knew.
    While unmanageable before Keith’s death, Cliff became impossible afterwards. Before Keith’s death, Cliff attended school on a regular basis; maybe three days a week, and he did some schoolwork. His teachers noted that he was very bright. After Keith died, Cliff stopped going to school and never returned. He was 16.
    He had tried drugs before, a little pot here and there, maybe a beer from time to time. But afterwards he increasingly used pot as well as alcohol and PCP-Angel Dust. All of this happened before Crack came along. Crack eventually sealed my brother’s fate.
    Cliff had been prone to mood swings before Keith’s death, but soon afterwards he started showing signs of psychosis. He suffered from paranoia, aggressive behavior, possible manic behavior, etc. This was fueled by his general lack of self-esteem and increasingly worsening drug use. His chances of ever recovering from Keith’s death were worsening as time went on. The arrival of crack cocaine to Los Angeles took whatever chances he had and left them in tatters. He quickly became addicted and has been so ever since.
    As bad as Cliff responded and as devastating as the events were to his life, Keith’s best friend Charles Perry suffered even more. Although Charles had been with Keith earlier in the day, by the afternoon they had separated. We never knew for sure how they came to be apart but the aftermath of the tragedy of that Memorial Day made clear that Charles might just as well have been with his friend that afternoon. Almost immediately after the murders, in an apparent fit of rage and despair, Charles robbed a bank and then another and then another. Finally caught, he spent the next 20 years in prison.
    I spoke to him several times during his incarceration. In those conversations, especially towards the end, he spoke as all prisoners do. He was tired of being a prisoner, he wanted to get his life together, he wasn’t going to go back once he got out, etc. But I knew exactly how high, indeed, how insurmountable the barrier he faced was. He had no education, had spent the majority of his adult life behind bars in a maximum-security prison, had no real idea how to negotiate his way around our complex society, nor did he have any skills that would allow him to support himself. The idea that he was going to walk out of that prison cell and become a productive member of society was absurd on it’s face. The fact that we spend so much money incarcerating people and then let them to go fend for themselves in a society that mistrusts them- most times for good reason- without socialization skills, after making them exist in an environment that promotes continued violent behavior simply in order to survive, speaks to the incredible short- sightedness of our society and in the end, does nothing but harm all of us.
    By the time he was released, I had graduated from medical school and was suffering through my internship. He visited my mother about a month after his release. She said that he looked good and had promised to get his life together, to stay out of jail. Sadly, that wasn’t to be. He soon thereafter robbed another bank and was sent back to
    prison. The events of memorial day 1974 soon thereafter claimed another victim when Charles Perry, a funny, articulate, charming young teenager, now a hardened life-long prisoner, died in a prison fight.
    I wish I could recount the events of Keith’s funeral but I can’t. From the moment I saw Keith in his casket at the funeral parlor until about 6 months later, it is all a complete blank in my memory. I just don’t remember any of it. Not the funeral, not who was there, not anything I did or what happened in that time period. I suppose the healing I needed required the detachment necessary to forget so much.
    Because of my age, my mother didn’t allow me to attend the trial of the men who murdered my brother. I remember I wanted to but by the time I awoke from the malaise that engulfed me, I didn’t even have the energy to ask what had happened.
    Later, of course, I pursued the entire story of Keith’s last day.
    We knew certain things immediately after his death, We knew that two small time criminals named Jesse Pagan and Kurt Washington had been arrested and subsequently convicted of the murders, and we knew Kevin Murphy and Keith had hooked up several hours before the murders.
    It was not until 25 years later, after I had graduated medical school and residency and was practicing my profession that I finally conjured up the energy to ask my mother what really happened.
    Apparently Keith had been involved in some illegal activities and had come into possession of certain stolen merchandise. Among that merchandise was a gun. It was in preparation for the sale of that merchandise to Pagan and Washington that Keith and Kevin hooked up, that led to Keith being at our apartment with Jesse Pagan that afternoon and ultimately to the two murders.
    Soon after leaving our apartment Kevin and Keith were taken to a wooded area near Baldwin Hills where they were beaten, tortured and summarily executed, both by being shot in the head. The area where all this took place was within view of a row of houses, far above but still within view. A citizen in one of those houses witnessed the entire event, and in fact, called the police once he recognized what was happening. Unfortunately the police arrived too late,
    Because of the actions of the witness, the murderers were caught within 15 minutes of committing the crime. Periodically, over the years, I asked my mother what had happened to the men and she would tell me they were still in jail. But 25 years later, briefly, Kurt Washington came back into our lives in a completely unexpected fashion.
    At church, my mother had befriended a woman whose last name was Washington, Given the commonality of the name, she thought nothing of it at the time. Over the course of several months, they became friends and my mother learned something about the woman’s family.
    My mother learned the woman had long since divorced and had a daughter about 25 years old. The girl had a father who had been in prison a long time and she absolutely adored her father. Apparently she longed for the day when her father was released from prison.
    One day my mother was talking to the two women and recounted the deaths of Keith and Calvin. She was shocked as she saw the looks on the faces of the women. She later said they looked as if they had seen a ghost.
    My mother said that after her revelation, the women had one of their own. My mother’s friend revealed that she had long ago been married to the same Curt Washington who had murdered my brother and the man her daughter adored was the same one my mother had hated for so many years.
    At first they just sat and stared at each other, and then they began to cry, then to sob. Big sweeping sobs that spanned the years and the breath of the tragedy that bound them all. Against all odds they remained friends for several years thereafter.
    About a month after the conversation, my mother received a letter from Kurt Washington. He said that in prison, he had learned much. He had educated himself and had dedicated himself to Christianity. He told my mother he wished he could take back what he had done and he begged for her forgiveness. He said he knew that he could never re-pay her, and he would understand if she could not find it in her heart to forgive him. He said that he wrote the letter so that she might understand that the man who had taken her son’s life no longer existed and that he would spend the rest of his life trying to make up for what he had done.
    It is a testament to my mother’s gigantic heart, strength of character and forgiving spirit that she was able to forgive the man and put the matter to rest. I hope my brother and his friends rest in peace.

  38. Mizzo says:

    Thanks for the complimentary words Doc.

    Also, thanks for sharing your story. Your Mom must be amazing…had to be an incredibly hard time to deal with simply going about everyday life.

    This should be a book of its own. Write it. Thanks again Doc.

  39. Chevonne says:

    Wow Mike! This struck a chord with me. My sister’s father passed away when we were young and I had to be the strong one for her. I most definately feel you on that. Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a parent.

    I can’t wait to read your book. You have a way with words and that’s what you’re a fantastic at what you do!

  40. Mizzo says:

    Thanks so much Chevonne. Means a lot coming from you. Buckling down to get this published ASAP. I’ll let you know.

  41. mike wilson says:

    Mike you have made me open up my eyes when it comes to my mother. A person is never to old to learn. I also lost my mother twenty years ago. I thought the experience with my mother wasn’t very good but mother did what she had to do to raise me. As I look back she did a good job.

  42. [...] season…maybe 60% of the home games as opposed to around 85% the last three years because of the book…but the one constant is how Anthony Gilbert, Devon Givens and I interact with whatever [...]

  43. Portable Bar says:

    My wife and I are planning of spending a week together and head off the country for some quality time. We’ve been working really hard recently and we thought it would be good for us to have a break once in a while. Thinking about each other and our life in general made us decide to rest even for a brief . I always enjoy going to the mountains and stay there in a cottage for a week to have some time for myself to escape from everything. It always relaxes me and it’s the only situations when I get the opportunity to think about life in general and its importance. We just had our family get-together last month and I recalled something that our grandparents imparted to us during supper about life in general. I find that moment very precious because we were able to spend time together and value the importance of each other.

  44. Betty Moon says:

    Mike, I lost my mother 3/7/88. Didn’t know we shared that same loss!! Your writing is very inspirational!! As you should know by now, you must let go of the pass to move forward & grow!! The Mike I know has done this!! I’m very proud of you!! Now, for all the beatings I took from you on the LSM as I tried to sleep, I would love an autographed copy of your book!! Keep up the good writings!!
    Love ya!!

  45. [...] Mother was gone but less than two [...]

  46. TC says:

    Mike, just read this. Hugs to you across the oceans. I can’t imagine what that was like, but I’m sure wherever your mother of she is awfully proud of the man that you are and your kids and also of your sister.

  47. Mike and Betty…thanks. You both are the good people I had the pleasure of interacting with everyday at the gig. I appreciate both of you and miss you just as well.

    You da man TC. Thanks for that.

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