Making Ageing Well.

Ruminations is a new category we’ve recently added here at The Well Report. Its content will consist of my sundry thoughts. God Bless and happy reading!

Recently, I was asked by my professor to write about what it meant to age well. After giving it much thought, my friend Sophia came to mind. Here is what I wrote:

My definition of what it meant to age well was shallow. To me it meant maintaining aesthetic beauty. Over time, I discovered it was not limited to physical appearance, but included quality of life and matters of the heart.

Sophia was an older woman I’d met in church over 25 years ago. She had a pretty face, wore her hair dyed jet black and still had an amazing figure. She was a very popular middle school teacher whose, zany persona reminded you of Lucille Ball. Sophia attracted young people everywhere she went. It was nothing for her to hop on a kid’s skate board in an attempt to ride or giggle with some young girl about a secret crush. Most of us attributed her energetic qualities to her relationships with young people. We thought this was her secret to ageing* well.

She was someone I regularly talked to on the phone.  We’d mostly discuss her many sons and daughters who were actually former students and church members.  After knowing her for about ten years, one day she said something interesting: she told me she had talked to her real daughter. She said it in a very casual way and I didn’t probe. Over the next few years the story unfolded. Sophia had gotten pregnant while in college. Her daughter Nancy was raised by her mom. On numerous occasions she would recount incidents where her colleagues discovered that she had a daughter out of wedlock.  Even though Nancy was now a beautiful successful principal at a local elementary school, these events still seemed to haunt Sophia.

Fast forward 12 years later, Sophia was still vibrant and attractive. She talked about Nancy slightly more over the years but to very few. I was who she confided in, when Nancy had been diagnosed with brain and lung cancer. She was sent to live with Sophia. She cared for her briefly before sending her to live with her brother and his wife. Nancy died a short time later. At the funeral, Sophia still worried that people would somehow discover Nancy was born out of wedlock. This made her uneasy. At the time of Nancy’s death they had not completely reconciled.

One day, I stopped by Sophia’s house  for a visit shortly after Nancy passed away.  I almost did not recognize her. Her body was frail, her skin was ashened and wrinkled. Her voice sounded gravelly and weak. She could not finish her sentences without a hacking cough. Her decline was shocking. Sophia claimed not to know the nature of her illness. A short time later she died of brain and liver cancer, just as Nancy had 17 months earlier.

Over the years she admitted to bitter and unresolved feelings and had plenty opportunities to resolve them. I learned from her the importance of making peace with your past. Doing so will prosper you on the road to ageing well.

*British and Australian spelling of ageing was used in this blog entry*

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Had the awesome privilege to be the featured blogger this week for Beyond Baby Mamas. Check it out!

beyond baby mamas

Today’s Community Blogger is Tamara D. Brown. Tamara is a social research interviewer by trade and a minister by vocation. She blogs at The Well Report. Tamara became a single mother in 1979. She was 19. She married 11 years later. She is the mother of one daughter: BBM’s founder, Stacia L. Brown.

Stacia sat down with her mom and asked her a few questions about her early single-parenting experiences. Here’s what she had to say about sacrifice, the importance of finding trustworthy caregivers, and determining your child’s love language.

1. Take us back to the day you discovered you were pregnant. What do you remember about it? 

I knew from the moment of conception. From that day on, I would not take any medication, not even an aspirin. Then when I felt the first flutter, I called you Stacia.

2. How did you break the news to my father?…

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Grapevine, Part 2

It was surreal to hear Shara’s name come out of Deana’s mouth, when I asked how she met Billy. I knew she knew of her. Who didn’t?

Once, I was on an online message board and one of the subjects was North End Landmarks. There, listed among historical monuments and turning points in the city’s history, was Shara’s full name.  She was the only person listed. I tried to email the original poster of the message but he didn’t reply. Was he a victim of her wrath? Or someone who tried to love her?

After what seemed like an eternity, I told Deana yes, I did remember Shara. And this is the story she told:

I was living in an apartment not far from here. Billy and Shara lived upstairs and Shara’s cousin Robin lived downstairs. Robin and I were really cool and I used to hang out at her place quite a bit. One day she said, ‘Shara don’t be treatin’ her man right. He’s a good man too. I’mma hook ya’ll up.’ So that’s how it all started. Me and Billy used to meet up at Robin’s place, mostly to talk. Not long after we started seeing each other, I decided to move and I asked him if he would come with me. He said yeah. I was really scared of Shara, but I didn’t let her know it. ‘Cause, girl, she is really crazy…you heard what she did to that one man, right?

I could not believe my good fortune I was finally going to find out more about Shara and “what she did to that one man.”  That became a catchphrase that you’d hear sprinkled in adult conversation. It would always be followed by a grimace or a head shake. His name and how he encountered her wrath was a mystery to everyone.

“Well, what did she do to him?” I asked casually as we headed toward the highway ramp. I had hoped that Deana didn’t noticed how perked up my ears were or that I was starting to drive faster than usual. Billy had bought Deana her dream car, an olive green Volvo sedan. It was her pride and joy. Aside from Billy, I was the only other person she had ever let drive it.

Girrrll! She lured him into the hallway of an apartment house near Cabbage St. He owed her some money, right? Once he got inside there, he said he wasn’t going to give her nothing, right? She pulled a big piece of wood off the stair case…girl it had the nails in it and everything and beat him half to death. To this day, he’s still messed up.

I wondered if he was the original poster of the message board.

Anyway, one night we were inside of our apartment, right? We had moved down to Sands. Somebody was knocking on the door, right? I looked through the peephole and it was Shara! I was so scared, right? I told Billy he had better get her away from outside my door…’cause you know I’m scared of her but I won’t let her know it.

Deana’s comments about how afraid she was of Shara would always be followed by a nervous chuckle. I couldn’t imagine Deana being afraid of anyone; however, with this, she convinced me.

“I been knowing Shara since I was a little girl. Billy went outside there and I heard her tell him to come home with her and he said, ‘Nah this is where I’m at now.” Girl, then it sounded like they was fightin’, right? And Billy came back in the house and said Shara had cut him on his face. Girl, blood was everywhere!

I remember several times wondering about the deep gash on the side of Billy’s nose. I never asked how he got it. It had this crisscross look, like a carving. It looked deliberate.

Deana said Shara called the police and told them something about Billy having warrants and he got arrested. Shara ended up leaving before the police got there, and they never saw her again.

“I had just got my income taxes, right?” Deana said still nervously laughing at Shara’s rage. ” I didn’t hesitate to go downtown and get Billy out of jail.”

Billy told Deana that night he was convinced he would be with her forever.

My mind couldn’t help but drift while Deana was talking. I could see Shara in my daydream heading towards Albany Avenue alone in the dark. It was the street where Miss Mabel’s church and the Rockabye bar were located. The avenue where folks poured out their sorrows in one way or another. I know what she did was terrible but at that moment, I really felt sorry for her. I don’t think she meant to hurt Billy when she cut him.

I believe she just wanted to leave her mark, an insignia that said, Remember, you loved me first.

Deana reminded me again that she remembered Shara while growing up and how the tales of her always frightened her. Each time she mentioned her name, she’d scan the outside of the car, like she expected Shara to jump in front of it.

She told me she knew a girl who knew Shara’s whole family. Deana said that woman told her a story of alleged abuse that Shara experienced as a child. It was said that the acts were only directed towards her. I won’t record the details of the abuse, but after hearing it, I was certain I had discovered the root of her rage.

“You know she had those other two kids, right?” Deana continued as we pulled into her driveway. It was a known fact that Shara had another set of children at a very early age who were given to some else to raise. Deana said the woman told her that it was rumored that Shara’s father, Mr. Neil, was also the father of the children.

I felt a twinge of sickness in the pit of my stomach. Hearing the news was almost too much to bear. I couldn’t help but think back to the expression on the faces of her family members when anyone mentioned her name. Now I realize, it was a look of pity and shame.

“Guess that’s how she got that way,” Deana said, shrugging her shoulders as we headed towards the front door.

I tried to share the story with Deana about how Shara had asked me to attend church with her when I was a child. As with everyone else her reaction showed indifference.

I thought about how pristine Shara’s childhood home was. I could imagine them scrubbing and cleaning hoping the secret stain would be washed away.

But like grape juice splashed on clean white linen, it was be next to impossible to remove by human effort.

I thought of times I’d watched her attempt to reach for normal. That day I understood, if these accusations were true, nothing in her foundation could ever support that stand.

For several days, the flames of Shara’s rage kept coming to me. Sometimes fire purifies; sometimes it damages.

Please stay with us for the conclusion, Grapevine, Part 3.

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Grapevine, Part 1.

Life Through Me is a series of autobiographical vignettes, featuring various people and experiences I’ve encountered. The first section, Life With Billy was about my relationship with my favorite uncle. The second section Billy’s Girlfriend and Shara’s Song explored his turbulent relationship with his ex. Grapevine is the three part conclusion to this segment. Hope you’ve enjoyed the series! 

Because my life had always been interwoven with Billy’s, I would periodically make trips back to North End to visit. My main reason for returning was because I was curious about his new girlfriend, Deana. On the surface, I had grown indifferent about my quest for Shara, partly because Billy stopped mentioning her and also because I was almost certain it was her I had seen the last time I was in town.

If that was truly Shara I had seen, when had she become someone who would deny who she was? I was disappointed in her. But another part of me was still perplexed about how she had come to be. Why was she so different from her siblings? What was the source of all her rage? Would I ever solve these mysteries?

I don’t quite remember the first time I had actually met Deana but I do remember my reaction to her. I was as befuddled about Deana’s arrival as I was about Shara’s departure. Staring at her standing slightly behind Billy that day, I tried hard to find something about her that appealed to him. Billy always liked flashy women who seemed to live life in the fast lane. Deana was as plain as Shara was ornate. She held her head down as if she was waiting for some type of approval. Meeting Deana caused me to reminisce about the day I first laid eyes on Shara.

I couldn’t have been any more than four years old, but I remember the day I stood there looking at this bejeweled woman and listening to Billy announce her name with pride. There was something strange about her, perhaps it was the full cast she had on her left leg. I think the story behind that was that she had gotten in a fight with some man and her leg was broken in the process. She strutted around in the cast almost like she did in high heels; acting as if she had known us for ages. Nothing hindered her. I remember wondering why would someone want a girlfriend with a broken leg. It was like having a damaged doll. Why won’t Billy take her back and get another one? my four year old mind wondered.

Looking at Deana the day I met her, I could see brokenness but not in her limbs. Something seemed to be broken in her spirit making her appear disjointed. It was as if she had to heal on her own. There was a shyness about her, you could tell that by the way she cocked her head to the side. Still there was something in her stance that let you know she was the gatekeeper of her soul. I could tell that Deana was a perfect blend of raw city grit and southern charm. She had created this persona and she seemed determined to hold it together.

Deana was the color of coffee beans roasted in the blistering Hawaiian sun. You got the impression that your experience with her would be strong and bitter. However, it didn’t take long to realize that she was guarded with her true personage. She reserved it like fine dark chocolate you keep for special guests. As time went on her demeanor lightened her eyes and her smile sweetened, and before long, like a great cup of coffee, she’d warm and stimulate you.

Deana and I became fast friends. I liked watching her cater to Billy. It was nice to finally see someone caring for him. He was 16 years older than her. He became the father she needed; she was the daughter he wanted. She had a girly cackle that he loved. I realized it the day she told me he had sent a clown with balloons to her job on her last birthday.

“Tahamee, you should have seen it, right? That clown came inside there and just started singin’,” she chuckled as Billy stood beside her, smirking.

Deana had a funny way of talking. She would always use unnecessary words in her sentences. It was as if she thought by doing so she’d  add strong emotions to her statements.

Theirs was a love that we all watched unfold over time. Even though their relationship was being perfected, they both seemed to be self medicating something. She was a shopaholic; he was a drinker, and they both were chain smokers. Still they were steadily becoming one of my favorite couples.

Billy was starting to lose that worried look he had when he was with Shara. Our family adored her and I liked to see my grandmother purse her lips and relax her shoulders when she’d announce to the family they would soon be visiting. She seemed pleased that her oldest son managed to find a woman who had her domestic abilities.

It didn’t take long for my friendship with Deana to progress to sisterhood. I was honored, knowing that this had only happened because she allowed it. It was through her I learned how to truly love and care for a man. Some things she told me, some I learned through observation, eventually watching Billy decide to stop drinking and marry her.

As with any bond, Deana and I shared take-to-your-grave secrets and had days of strife. If you were someone she had newly trusted, she would sulk over an offense and give you the silent treatment. She could ignore you for hours or days, periodically glancing at you, making sure you were still nearby.

Our relationship was on the mend when Deana entered treatment for a terminal illness. When I first heard the news, it was as if someone had placed a huge bowling ball on my chest. It was a crushing pain.

Soon as I heard she had started daily treatments at the hospital, I rushed backed to North End to be by her side. Though she was always a woman of faith, there was a sadness about her now. It was difficult listening to her conversations. They were always worded in a way that let you know that she had accepted her condition and was just sitting around waiting for her day to die.

I tried to do everything I could to boost the morale in their household. I would take Billy out for long drives.  Billy and Deana had moved to the suburbs so we’d ride down our old street to look at 105, which was now overgrown by weeds and had a huge sign with cement blocks, threatening trespassers.

I would get out and talk to those who still lived in the the old neighborhood. He would stay in the car with his arms folded saying, “Tam, these young thugs don’t care about us old timers anymore.” I thought visiting the old neighborhood would cheer him up, as he liked to recall his days of street life.

On the days that Deana went to the hospital for treatment, I would accompany her. After her appointments, we would take the long route home. She liked seeing her old landmarks, recounting stories of her first apartment or her childhood home. Even though it was brief, it was great to see her smile again. I tried to think of ways to keep the smiles coming, so one day I asked her, “Deana, how did you meet Billy?”

She threw her head back, let out a nervous chuckle and said, “Well, you remember Shara, right?”

Shara’s Song, Pt. 3

Closing the book entitled North End, I placed it on the lowest shelf in my mind.  I wanted it to grow dusty and old. Hopefully one day it would disintegrate.

What purpose did that place serve in my life? Why were my experiences there so ugly? So painful? Will I ever have happy endings? I thought one day.

It wasn’t hard to make new friends in the Midwest. Before long my days were filled with football games, quarters parties and trips to the mall. Almost as swiftly as the seasons changed, Junior high days turned into High school days and my social life went into high gear. I dated. A lot. It seemed that for several years straight I always had a love interest but no love.

Nobody ever sparked my happy butterfly.

A few times during my high school years, I went back to North End, although I avoided all the old landmarks. I’d heard there had been an exodus and all our old neighbors had moved to the suburbs or  the outskirts of town.

Like a cancer, our beloved building 105 was now totally ravished with drugs and crime and had even claimed the life of Mr. Doyle, our landlord. 105 was his pride and joy. We were always taught to be polite and respectful to him and his property. It was not so with the new tenants . He was lured in the basement around the first of the month, robbed, and shot, execution style. I still feel a pang in my heart when I think about it. Most of the former residents will not even go down that street let alone talk about living there.

During one of my visits to North End, I was able to catch up with Debbie. We went out one night and she told me that Derek had been asking about me.

I blinked extra hard as I felt my happy butterfly dance a jig.  “Oh?!” I replied trying real hard not to seem too eager as the last words he had spoken to me still stung a decade later.

“Yeah, girl, he said next time you come to town he wants to see you” Deb said nonchalantly. She always said things in a way to let you know there was something else on her mind. She wasn’t impressed after all; he was her first cousin and not a big deal.

To me, it was everything.

I’m not sure how it all happened but it wasn’t long before I was making regular trips back east. Billy had moved back and was living with his new girlfriend Deana. I laugh now about how I would tell Billy I really wanted to visit  but it was Derek I wanted to see.

Derek still had his boyish good looks. Even though there was more thug now than Alex Vanderpool, he managed  to maintain both images.  I loved spending time with him when I visited.  We would go to clubs and restaurants, visit friends in North End or stop by to see his family as we tried to make the most of our brief time. We were both happy to finally see what it felt like to actually date as adults. He was living with an older girl who I had met as a child. She lived around the corner from Miss Mabel’s. I never even bothered to probe to find out more about his relationship.

I was too busy enjoying my first love.

During one of my visits, Derek and I had planned to meet up downtown. Not sure why since normally he would pick me up at Billy and Deana’s place. They live in the Sands, a high rise apartment community on the outskirts of downtown. Pacing back in forth as I waited, I noticed two women who were the same height coming up the block. They stood out because they had on too many clothes for such a warm spring day. My eyes focused on one of them. She had caramel even- toned skin and a  bloated look that made it seem like if you stuck a pen in her she would deflated draw in like a raisin. She didn’t look like anyone I knew, yet some about her was familar.

“Shara!” I yelled jumping in front of her. Her eyes locked with mine. I saw fear in them.

“You remember me?… It’s Tam!”

“Uh uh.” The old Shara I knew was a quick liar. I was certain this was her. Her clothing made me second guess myself. The Shara I used to know was a sharp dresser, This woman’s clothing was dark and made her look frumpy and old.

“So your name is not Shara?”

“Uh uh” She insisted.

After interrogating her for a few minutes, she continued to deny that she was Shara. Something in her eyes was pleading with me not to ask any more questions.

The other lady walking with her, had moved over to a grassy patch under a lamp post, stayed within earshot. She had dropped her head but would occasionally dart her eyes in my direction. Her body language revealed to me that my assumptions were correct: I had indeed found Shara.

Feeling helpless and unable to come up with any more questions, I had to let her go. Moving aside, I watched as she and the other woman, sluggishly walked down the hill, to the heart of downtown. I would recall this story to Billy many times over the years, wondering if that was really Shara.

He would always intently listen, as if he were waiting for me to reveal some missing part of the story. Mentions of her would soften his face, saddening him.

As a dazzling firecracker, that lights up a summer sky, but swiftly turns to a downward fizzle, so did my relationship with Derek. We were worlds apart. He loved street life more than anything. I could see the rush in his eyes when he talked about the cops chasing him, where he stashed his wares or how he beat some charge.

I wanted a simpler quiet life, to be married one day and perhaps to have more children. I could never imagine living back in North End; he couldn’t imagine life anywhere else.

I remember our last night together. After a night on the town, we went back to Billy and Deana’s and decided to take a stroll around the complex. I don’t know if it was actually said, but we knew we probably wouldn’t see each other for a very long time if ever. With the bright downtown lights as our back drop, we paused by a  wooden utility pole. Derek removed a knife from his pocket and carved, Derek and Tam forever in the pole encasing it in a heart.

“I’ll never get married until I hear that you are,” Derek said as we headed to the front door.

I knew he was probably lying but I loved the sound of it. It was a corny line, I know, but there was nothing lame about what we felt.

It was as if Derek was determined to give me a complete first love experience. Something that would warm my heart causing my butterfly to go into a frenzy.

I haven’t seen Derek since that night. I did however receive a call from him a few years later.  I was living here in Maryland and he wanted to see if we could give it one last try. He was even willing to meet me half way, by moving to Maryland. Who knows for sure if he was really serious? He may have been sincere or perhaps just wanted to move his “operation” to my region.

I told him that I was engaged to someone else. I wanted so badly to throw caution to the wind and follow my heart, allowing my butterfly to soar like it was meant to.

I chose to stay with the man I was engaged to. Our relationship ended a few months later. I don’t regret either decision.

Through Derek I learned your happy butterfly is eternal.

There’s more, please keep reading with us as we finally learn more about Shara!

Shara’s Song, Pt. 2

As much as I tried to, I could not recall having any interaction with Shara after going to church with her. It was almost as if a scene had ended in a play I had been watching. The lights dimmed, the curtain dropped, but there was no applause.

How did this drama end? Would I ever find out what happened to the protagonist?

Over the years, I had hoped so.

Part of the reason I lost track of Shara was because we had moved back to the midwest where I found Billy despondent. I don’t know why Mom and I relocated when we did, but for me it could not have happened soon enough. My mother was in a tumultuous relationship that I hoped day and night would end, and I was experiencing puppy love which ended with me being dogged.

His name was Derek. He was the cousin of my neighbor Debbie who lived in 105. One Saturday, I was pretty bored and thought I would go visit her. There was never a dull moment at Debbie’s place. Their living room was always filled with drug addicts who were  heading to or fresh out of rehab. Some were relatives, and some were friends, who would congregate in their front room discussing court dates and methadone dosages.

“Immo get it together, Miss Sadie; next time you see me, this monkey won’t be on my back,” someone would say.

“Well, I sure hope so!” Miss Sadie, Debbie’s mom, would always reply with a sigh, as she rolled her eyes towards the ceiling. Miss Sadie used to own a bar on the avenue similar to the one Billy would take me to. She had become ill not long after opening the bar and was disabled. Now an arm chair psychologist, it seemed as if every addict or hustler had followed her from the avenue to her apartment for advice. So there I would sit for hours listening to Miss Sadie dishing out home spun wisdom. She knew every hustler, street urchin, or prostitute who had ever strolled the avenue and could go back three or four generations giving details of their family history.

Some days she would just sit, chain smoking Camels, and school me on the ways of street folk.

“Now a wino will be honest with you, Tam. When he’s drunk, he will spill his guts and admit that he is an alcoholic. But there is something about dope that makes people lie,” she said one day as her voice trailed off. We sat silently as if she needed time to think about the many times she had been lied to.

I had expected the day that I met Derek to be like any other visit to Miss Sadie’s and Debbie’s apartment. I could already hear the rumble of simultaneous conversations as I approached their door.

Once inside, I gave a swift greeting and slipped into a nearby chair like I was attending a community meeting. The visitors that day didn’t look like folks I had seen in North End before and they weren’t: at least not anymore. They were actually relatives of Miss Sadie’s. Her sister Juanita and two of her children, Angela and Derek.

Juanita and her husband Ron owned a night club on the other side of town. Determined to free their family from North End, they scrimped and saved until they were able to move to the side of town where I had visited Shara’s family.

“Oh Tam, I want you to meet my sister Juanita and her…” was all I heard Miss Sadie say that day, once I laid eyes on her nephew, Derek.   He was a slender built cinnamon colored young man with soft brown hair and a lazy eye that gave him a dreamy look. Derek was the coolest guy I had ever seen.  His clothing was preppy and polished like Alex Vanderpool’s, but something underneath that image screamed young thug. I was completely smitten.

That day it was as if I had swallowed a happy butterfly that never wanted to be free. It was content just fluttering around in my stomach.

My first reaction must have been very obvious as I caught a glimpse of Miss Sadie and her sister exchanging glances and giggling. She would tease me about that for years to come. After a brief visit, I excused myself and headed back to our apartment. I felt like if I didn’t leave soon that happy butterfly was sure to fly right out of my mouth. Plus, staring at Derek and his sister’s clothing was starting to make me  feel like Cinderella before the ball.

My pastel colored sweat shirt and jeans were no match for their attire. Derek was wearing a pair of really nice dress pants with a plaid shirt, a v-neck angora knit sweater, and a black leather  jacket.  Angela’s outfit gave her a militant, defiant look. Her huge curly afro couldn’t help but  compliment the brown suede fringed jacket and mini skirt she was wearing. Her enormous hooped earrings, choker and high heeled suede boots made her look confident and powerful. Instantly, I wanted to be like her.

Something about their apparel made me think of how they must have chosen their images carefully and how hard their parents must have worked to help them maintain those images.

Over the next few months, Derek would make several visits to 105. Sometimes with his mom but most of the  time alone. For fleeting moments I would allow myself to think that his frequent visits to North End were because of his growing attraction to me, although deep down I knew they weren’t.  Juanita and her husband had prepared a banquet table for their children, allowing them to feast on everything their new money could provide. North End had already whetted Derek’s appetite and he could not stay away.

Derek’s real reason for visiting North End didn’t matter to me; I was just glad when he did. I’d looked for reasons to be around when he was visiting but I’d beat up on myself because I couldn’t think of anything to say. Being around him made me shy and awkward. There were plenty boys who liked me in our neighborhood but none as intriguing as Derek.

Is he shy or just trying to play it cool? Does he even like me at all? Does he think about me as much as I think about him?  I’d think as I wrote our names, encased in hearts on every flat surface I could find.

Whenever he visited, we would engage in some conversation and I even think he had called me a few times. Still I wanted more of his attention but wasn’t sure how to get it. When I wasn’t pining over Derek, I would occasionally think about the girls he must be meeting in his neighborhood. Girls who sparkled more and always knew the right things to say. Those thoughts usually made me more uneasy, and it would show whenever he came around.

It wasn’t long before he stopped visiting 105 altogether. Debbie and her family had moved to a housing project across town and I hardly saw her.

One day I got a call from Debbie. “Derek is having a party this weekend. Why don’t you see if you can come over and maybe we can go to the party.” she said. I was all for it. I knew getting a ride would be difficult for us as neither of our parents had cars.

Saturday night came and as we predicted, we couldn’t get rides to the party. This didn’t seemed to bother Debbie at all but I was very disappointed. I begged her to call him. I knew I was getting ahead of myself and my emotions were overriding  my judgment but I had to find out how he really felt. Mom had already announced that we would be moving to the Midwest any day now. Before my life in North End came to a close, I wanted it to have a happy ending.

Debbie finally gave in and agreed to call. “Oh somebody wants to speak to you….Tam” I heard her say before handing me the phone.

“Hello?” I said with a nervous giggle. I could hear that the party was in full swing. The music was loud and bumping and the people were louder. It sounded packed. I had hoped that perhaps Derek would want us to come once he heard that we weren’t  able to, that he would even ask his parents or one of his older siblings to pick us up.

Quite the contrary. After a few minutes of awkward dialogue, he said these words: “I have to go! I’ll talk to you when the time comes….if the time comes!” That’s all I remember about that night. I’m not sure if he hung up on me or if I laid the phone down or told Debbie. All I knew that night was the chapter of my life that had taken place in North End was over, and hopefully, I’d never have to read it again.

Little did I know years later, I’d be compelled to.

Shara’s Song, Part 1

Although it was a warm spring day outside, there was something about the inside of Shara’s church that reminded me of autumn. It had the feel of a season where things that were once alive and flourishing were now cold and dying.

As Shara and I were walking to church, I was wondering if the service was going to be more like Miss Mabel’s church, the new babysitter Mom had found for me. Miss Mabel, whose chestnut brown skin and long shiny black hair made her resemble a thinner version of Mahalia Jackson, was what we called ‘sanctified’ back then. She attended the holiness fire-baptized church down on the avenue. I remember the day I went to her house with Mom to talk to her about babysitting me.

“Well, you have to bring her dresses…’cause we go to chuuurch,” she said as they sat there discussing times and prices. It was something about the way she said church that made me think we would be there for a very long time.

It wasn’t long before I was attending the nightly revival services along with Miss Mabel and her eight kids. We’d take up a whole row of the tiny storefront church. The hot bright lights and mahogany wood paneling on the walls and floors made the church look like the basement of someone’s home. There were no frills in the sanctuary or the parishioners, as if any decor or adorning had to be left on the other side of the threshold.

Still, the tiny holiness church spared no expense on the instruments. The state-of-the-art organ, drumset and microphones were quite similar to those I had seen in the Rockabye Bar, down the street.

We would watch the ushers “nurse,” as we called it, fanning heavy laden souls and snatching babies or eye glasses from the folks so they could feverishly dance around uninhibited. Our prattle couldn’t be heard over the loud shaking of the tambourines, or the saints picking them up and putting them down on the hard wood floors. The holy dancing sounded like the marching of a well disciplined army. They were soldiers indeed.

Eventually, without being told, I’d learn to sit still in the house of the Lord, realizing it was the place where God lived. There I’d sit in taupe colored folded chairs, watching bodies fall around me, slain by the power of God. During one service, a man fell in the aisle to my right. His glassy eyes were fixated on the ceiling as his mouth foamed, eventually muffling his hallelujahs and cries to Jesus.

“Those people have the whitest teeth. I guess it’s all that foamin’ at the mouth,” I remember Mom saying one day. I’m not even sure why she was telling me that. She had a way of telling me things that went way over my head,kind of like her comments were meant for grownups but since there weren’t any around, I’d just have to do.

I sat there, calmly peering down at the man stretched out on the floor, remembering Mom’s description but beginning to comprehend on my own what was taking place. I understood that this was one of many ways that people served and sacrificed to God. Over time, I also noticed the strength and power He gave them in exchange.

As soon as we entered the sanctuary of the church I was attending with Shara, I realized there would be a vast difference between Miss Mabel’s church and Shara’s church. Still, I knew God had more than one household and I need to be still while visiting Him.

As soon as Shara wearily sat down on the pew that Easter sunday morning, her shoulders drooped forward and she sobbed.

She cried so hard I thought she was going to break in two. Her whole body shook, especially her stomach. The tears were coming from a deep cavity in her soul that most people didn’t think she had.

She was equipped with an endless amount of tissue. As soon as she soaked through one she would simultaneously pull out another. I had never seen anybody cry that hard for two solid hours let alone be silent while doing it. She didn’t even look like herself. With her black mascara collecting at the bottom of her lashes, her sharp ebony eyes resembled muddy puddles in a rain storm.

I didn’t even know she knew how to cry.

At one point she just covered her mouth, as if she wanted to throw up.

I felt so bad for her. Shara’s church wasn’t the kind of church you cried in. It was the type where folks left their tears at home, only showing up there to prove how successful they were. Still it was the only place Shara knew.

Nobody looked at her. She was the only one crying. No usher came over to her with tissue or a hug. No minister or deacon approached her to pray. Instead Shara worked it out the best way she knew how.

Although she was not physically leaning on me, I was starting to feel heavy and helpless. It felt like the weight of her burden and the flood of her tears would eventually swallow me up.

Why didn’t I ask if we could go to Miss Mabel’s church? I thought. I wasn’t certain if that was the right place for her or not. Her passion didn’t match theirs, but any place would have been better than where we were.

One thing I was certain of, Shara handpicked me to be there with her that Sunday morning; I felt it. I’m not sure why she chose me to go with her that day. Could I have been the only one who wouldn’t judge her or think that her tears weren’t real? Maybe she saw me as someone who would use all the grey matter they could muster to try to comprehend her pain. Who knows for sure, all I know is Shara could be full of drama, but this was no performance.

This was the real her.

I don’t remember anything said in the sermon. The message and the announcements had the same tone. There was no soul stirring music. It felt more like we were there to mourn the dearly departed rather than celebrate Someone who triumphantly rose.

The only offering I remembered that day was Shara’s tears.

If any of her family members were there for the Easter service, she didn’t greet them, and they didn’t come over to her.

“Well, let’s go,” she said with a faint smile as soon as the service ended. I noticed it wasn’t hard for her to rise to her feet. She was light as a feather.

“You wanna go get some ice cream?” she said as we headed towards the door. Lincoln Dairy a local ice cream parlor was across the street. Everybody went there on Sundays. We crossed Main Street to go to the dairy never discussing the church or the service.

Once we placed our order, we sat there eating our ice cream chattering about nothing in particular. I kept trying to search her face, hoping to get a clue of what was going on inside of her. Her dark eyes were back on duty, darting around the ice cream parlor.

The only thing I remember about the walk home, was how brightly the sun was shining on us.