“Ma. She passed away.” I heard what my daughter said. We were on FaceTime. I was stuck in the moment. I couldn’t move. I heard the words. I saw the expression. Felt all of it. But it’s as if my eyes were asking, begging her to please just tell me I had heard that wrong. That longing, the need for what was said to be a mistake, an error that elicits “oh my goodness, that was close! I thought I heard you say that such-n-such died!”, followed with a deep sigh of relief and returning to the norms of life.

I have never experienced that relief. But immediately after I hear that a loved one has passed, that’s where I go. Waiting to hear the mistake. But that part never comes. Just once, I’d like for it to come.

I stopped breathing for a minute or so. I recall taking a hard, deep gasp in. I realized that I was just sitting there, phone still in hand. I looked back at the camera and she nodded her head. That nod. When they don’t have the words to confirm it again. I’ll always remember the nod. Every time.

I made a quick mental note ~Add the following to the list of things that mama didn’t prepare you for: When parents start passing…. When your adult daughter is the one bearing the news.

Pulls at me a bit because it’s the sign of a particular change. The ultimate transition. The Crescendo. When the parents of your friends pass away. The dread of it happening to you. Final phases of life evolving right before your eyes. It’s a heavy hitter. The people who literally watched us grow from girls to women, boys to men. Our friends folks were our secondary parents. You knew the rules of their house just like you knew your own.

Special occasions and celebrations, there was no question that you were invited. It was expected. Aunts and Uncles became yours, greeting you with big hugs and cuffed palms, whispers of, “here’s a little something for you for graduation too”. Milestones were shared. Losses supported. They too, remember when we got our licenses, getting our first jobs because we likely worked in the same place as our friends. They recall when we had bad breakups and they saw us sprawled across their sofas with tears and hurt feelings. I can remember getting advice at 16 and thinking how I wished I could be that candid with my own mom. They didn’t involve themselves in nonsense either. Me and my girlfriends could be carrying on with each other terribly, not speak for a few days or so, and not once did I ever re-emerge from the drama and catch any shade at all from their parents. They paid our hormones no mind.

When I became a grandma for the first time, she showed up at my door with a stack of packages from my friend. When the kids were young and I struggled to keep up, she’d often show up with bags and bowls of food for us. My mom had waited to tell me the day before my daughter’s first birthday party that I could not have it at her house. Guess where I had it? In her basement. No judgement and never any words about whatever was going on with her daughter and I. She was always so good to me and my babies.

Their homes provided comfort for us. Our friends homes and families become our safe places. Your favorite foods get added to family menus. Their cousins are yours. So many firsts intertwined.

Even though the hurt dug a little deeper than usual over the loss of this dynamic lady, I got myself together and thought about this other thing that was gnawing away at me. I hadn’t talked to my friend in years. Over something so trivial. Just stopped talking to her, just like that. That’s my mode of operation and not a very healthy one. I won’t excuse it, and an explanation would require a warm blanket and a therapists’ couch, but I’ll give it a stab. It is a space that I actively work in. I have to, because when you’re raised in a house where every conversation led to knock down drag out fights, you find different ways of expressing your feelings. You don’t.

But I still was avoiding what was gnawing at me.

Whenever I task myself with doing shadow work, I’m a pissy bitch for the first few weeks. I go into battle, still battling myself. How psychotic is that? The first phase that I enter is denial. I’m the way that I am because of what everyone else has done to me. Woe is me, pity party turn-up. It’s tiring to spend so much time denying that any of what I’m experiencing is of any fault of my own.

Victim-Ville. Ego Land, the personality my cousin and I refer to as “Victoreen.” Ms. Victoreen shows her ass, hunny. But I also have a inner grown woman who’s with the shits. She doesn’t play with me. Sis is so bout it-bout it that she is nameless. She’s the one who says without hesitation, girl this shit ain’t about you! None of it is about you! She’s wise and serious. She snatches me together, keeps me grounded.

While I wish I had discovered this wisdom years ago, it wasn’t the time. I wouldn’t have understood it if it slapped me in the face. I had to go through some things, experience some shit to cultivate it. I had to lose some people, experience error and folly. I made a lot of irrational decisions because I didn’t feel comfortable using my voice. My inability to communicate forced a lot of people who mattered out of my life. I say mattered because there are just some connections that I no longer desire to have. Some people should just be experiences, another lesson from wisdom. But for the people who are deeply woven into your life’s tapestry, a thread that flows right next to your bloodline, you just don’t go out like that.

Chomp-chomp-gnaw-gnaw. I caught myself about to create the bullshit in head. “Why hadn’t anyone told me?” Here we go! There it was, this is what was scratching at my core. Knowing how close we were, why wouldn’t someone reach out to tell me? Although we no longer kept in touch, we still shared a few mutual friends. Did they think that I didn’t deserve to know? Aren’t these bitches too old to be thinking like that?? That was my friend, my close friend and while I hadn’t been in her life for the past ten years, no one thought of me??

Janell, girl. In the deep, painful throngs of one of the worse losses a human can experience, the loss of someone’s mom, why in the fuck would anyone be thinking of you?

I sat in the shame of that for a good while. The stink of entitlement made my head hurt. But this part was different. I was actually acknowledging my bullshit before it went any further than my head. It is not about you. It is not about you. It is never about you. Ever. Even in the worse situations, with fucked up people, it still ain’t about you! It’s about them. How they chose to move, what principles they operate from, how they sleep at night. It’s not about you.

The thing that we have to keep in check, the demon that I am constantly wrestling with is perception. The roots of my perception were not watered with clarity. They weren’t free and they were not tended to. Tangled and deep, no matter how I learned to manage my branches and leaves, my blossoms were pretty on the outside but full of skewed perception.

Everyone is out to get you or get over on you. Hurt is to be expected from everyone. Envy what you don’t have. Don’t believe a thing that you hear. Don’t trust actions. You are only as good as what you can do for someone. These are the ideals that shaped and molded me. That’s what watered my seeds, grew my roots. As much as I liked to tell myself that I had overcome all of that, did away with that distorted mindset, I couldn’t. I was well on my way to creating that familiar mental drama. How could I untangle this messiness for once? We’re all familiar with the saying, when you know better you do better. I knew better. I was determined to do better.

I thought about several relationships and how I had abruptly severed ties without warning. I mastered the art of disappearing. I despise confrontation, viewed most conversations as a potential argument. That’s all I saw, all that I was use to. As a child, I had never witnessed rational conversations or peaceful resolve. Everything was knock down drag out. You didn’t talk. You screamed. You broke things and then you sulked and shut down. Everything that was wrong was ridiculing. You made a mistake and the whole family knew. Any discoveries, from periods to punishments, everyone knew.

I remember when I first started creative writing. I got into it real heavy during my junior high years, it provided the perfect source of escape from the immaturity and ignorance of 7th grade idiots. I could be anyone, do anything on those pages. I wrote plays, short stories and even raps. I kept the notebooks under my bed, right next to a box with all of the raps and my diary. I came home from school one day to find my mother and my aunt in the living room reading through page after page. My mom attempted to hide the box and notebooks but finally resolved to making me feel as if she had found my dirty secrets. I was clearly upset and she taunted me. “Ain’t no secrets in this house, I look at whatever I want.” I hated how it made me feel. So violated and dare I say a word about it. She later came to me and complimented me on the raps and said she had even shown them to a local producer. I wasn’t happy. I was mortified. I felt so small and insignificant. She had invaded my peace and I honestly believe that she was trying to fix it at that point but it just added to damage that was already done. One of many lessons where I learned to stay mute.

My friend’s response to something had hurt my feelings. I never told her how, or why. Never considered how she felt. I just vanished and pretended that it was all her fault, when she probably still doesn’t know to this day why I stopped speaking to her. For so many years, I didn’t acknowledge the wrong in that. Continued to blame it on the environment that I was raised in. What a pitiful explanation to offer, especially with gray hairs in your head. I’m not telling that story anymore. The only explanation I share, if needed is that I am still learning some very beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable things about forgiveness.

And here we are today. Older, much wiser. So much stronger. Educated in ways we never knew were even possible by Life 101. Shit happens. I find that I look forward to saying, “But what happened after all of that?” when I come across someone like myself, who sometimes gets a little stuck in the stories, sharing and telling the woes but shying away from sharing the wins. I want to know what happened next with everyone who survived hurt. Those whose not so ordinary experiences turned them into extraordinary individuals. I want to be there for what’s next for everyone in my life. Even the tragedies, because the what happens next is always triumph. I was talking to a friend the other day, he was sharing some pretty painful stuff. There was a quiet pause and I interrupted it and asked, “So, what happens next?” He said, I remember to keep breathing. Ahh!

What happened next for me is that I quieted the familiar but silly ass voice in my head. Reminded myself that no one owed me anything. If I wanted the privilege of receiving information on former friends, than maybe I would’ve worked a little harder at maintaining a presence in their lives. How about that? Or. Because there’s always an or in my world. Or, I could accept that while our season has passed, there is no lingering animosity. What I knew for certain is that life had been everything that I would hoped it be for her. I also know for certain that she wished the same for me. There is no such thing as loss where there is love.

I reached out to my friend to offer condolences. Our exchange was so comforting. The peace. We are in different places, doing different things but in the shadow of grief, there was light between us. Big, bold light. A light that showed me no matter where we are in the world, there is someone who will always make me put my hand over my heart when I think of them. Our friendship represents an era of trial and growth in my life. I will always, always be grateful.

I dedicate this post to the life, love and memory of her mom. The epitome of grace, beauty, and no nonsense. Chef, dancer, baker, deep sleeper -because we stayed stealing that car! She was beautiful. And you know what she made look even better? Later love. She married the love of her life in her 40s if I remember correctly. Whenever I’m tanking on the dating front, I think of her and I’m reminded that whenever it does find me again, it’ll be right on time.

Be well.

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