Saturday, October 13, 2012

Hearts on sleeves.

graffiti in Tel-Aviv, Israel, image from here.

Been walking my mind to an easy time, 
my back turned towards the sun.
Lord knows when the cold wind blows 
it'll turn your head around

 Well, there's hours of time on the telephone line 
to talk about things to come.
Sweet dreams and flying machines 
in pieces on the ground

~ from James Taylor's Fire and Rain


One of Isaiah's good friends is moving away. And not just away as in across town or to another school but really, truly away. Far away. As in a different country away. Which, no matter how you slice it, seems more away than any other kind. 

I received a kind note from that friend's mother. Inviting Isaiah, along with a handful of others, to a going away gathering. And admittedly, this was the first I'd heard of this transition. Of course, it had been in the works for some time, though. When I called the friend's mom about it, she quietly told me some details about what was an exciting opportunity for their family. . .but that all of it had been hard. So hard that her child wasn't really talking about it much because that just made it all too real. "But please," she said, "I'd love it if Isaiah could join us. He's been a very special friend." And of course I accepted the invitation because her child was one of Isaiah's special ones, too. 

But there was a problem.  I was pretty sure that Isaiah wasn't aware of this. He couldn't have been because this is the kind of thing that would have come up on the way home from school or just before turning off the light before bedtime. 

And so. While Isaiah was eating a bowl of cereal the other day I casually mentioned it to him. Slipped it into mundane conversation about what things were yays or nays for his lunch box. And funny. I said it and then braced myself for what I knew would come next. 

And trust me. I knew what would come next.

This picture is so Isaiah.
Just look at this face.

That Isaiah? Lord have mercy. That boy is his mother's child if there ever was one. His heart is pinned right onto his sleeve and it beats hard with the kind of emotion that no one has to ever fight to discern. So, yes. First I braced myself and then let my feet walk over to him because I knew he'd need a hug. 

True to form, his eyes widened like saucers. He asked a few questions to clarify it all and then, like clockwork, he started fighting with all of his might to blink back the tears quickly filling his eyes. And just like when this happens to his mother, it was futile. 

"I'm so sorry, sweet boy. I know how you feel." And he wept straight into that bowl of Cocoa Puffs, slowly chewing and trying his best to swallow the emotion right along with the breakfast. 

Yesterday, I had a similar moment. I went to spend time with my friend David M. as he packed his last knick-knacks and taped boxes closed before his big move on Monday. I have wanted to write about him, talk about him but every time I do, it all gets too real. I understand how Isaiah's friend must have felt when choosing this as a coping mechanism. 

No. He's not moving out of the country. But he is moving all the way to Philadelphia which removes the spontaneity that has made our friendship so special. So yeah. I've tried my best to push it to the back corner of my mind and pretend that it wasn't so much a "good bye" but more of a "see you later." Even though deep down I know the real impact of these little shifts in life.

Yesterday I could no longer avoid it. There were boxes stacked all around that told me how real it was even if I didn't want to accept it. 

I sat on a bar stool drinking Trader Joe's two buck chuck and cracking jokes about how unhelpful I am as the friend-who-only-watches-but-doesn't-help-you-pack. And he laughed out loud with his normal hearty laughter saying that what he wanted from me was exactly what I was giving him at that very moment. 

So he packed and we talked. Every so often he'd pull out something really old and show it to me. Things like book reports from high school and term papers from college. Why he had these things I do not know. But he did and something about looking at his careful, looping cursive on three-hole punched notebook paper made me feel even closer to him. 

"Lord. Look at this one," he said while handing me a stapled stack of papers. The cover was bursting with juvenile creativity; the kind that wreaks of adolescence. 

"This screams 'before there were computers!" I chuckled at the stenciled title sheet and the Crayola marker-colored image on the front.

David leaned over and squinted at his handy work. "Uhhh, I'm thinking it screams, 'Hey everyone. I'm gay. Helloooo?'" He waved his hands and started laughing. He looked back down at another one of his little masterpieces and shook his head. "Lord. They should have looked at this one and known something was up. Waaaaay too creative to be straight." 

Other friends that I realize I'd come to know through David were also in and out and about the condo. Something about that made me feel even more melancholy. I recognized that I'd known them all through him. Bernard. Cordell. Some others, too. I'd seen each of their faces over the last decade because of our mutual love for David and I wondered how and if I would again now that he was moving away. That got me to blinking tears. Blinking fast and hard and trying to hide behind the surprisingly good shiraz that I was drinking from a plastic Solo cup. 

Bernard, David and Cordie

Cordell (David's former roommate) must have somehow sensed that I needed a smile because suddenly he yelled out to me from the bedroom. "Lawd! Kim! You have to see this!" Before I could even scramble off of my seat, he was already fanning out all of these old pictures of a young David on the counter in front of me.  

"OM-EFF-G, Cordie!" I was already squealing and clapping at the sight of them.

I stared at his chiseled face and examined his steely gaze. "Dayum, David!" I fanned my face and laughed out loud. That was just enough to break up my emotion. I was glad for that. 

Next, David handed me a picture of him from some kind of prom or dance. Him and this beautiful cocoa-complexioned girl wearing the kind of extremely unfortunate asymmetric haircut every it-girl of the time had.

I looked at the picture and curled my lips. "Mmm mmm mmm. Po' thang. How was she to know that she wasn't your type?" 

"Bless her heart!" David added. And that made every one of us laugh hard enough to fill that entire room with a lightness that was very much welcomed. 

I looked across the room at David and he looked back at me and smiled. I thought about the day we met and the twelve years that we'd worked together at Grady. Kindred spirits from the start--unapologetic for who we were and learning together that being that way welcomes the same for others. Him, the same-gender loving brother from New York with the mannerisms and bravado that confused straight people so much that it had become one of our favorite jokes. And me, the black woman from L.A. that openly talks about things like going to the hair salon, ashy skin and hip hop music in front of any and everybody. 

I remembered the heart-to-heart conversations. The day I burst into his office to tell him that I'd met who I thought was my husband. Him dancing and celebrating with us at our wedding. Harry shaking David's boyfriend's hand when David brought him by the house one evening--and Harry not looking the least bit uncomfortable afterward. Me walking off and leaving them all chatting like it was no big deal. Because it wasn't. Me and David giggling and calling Dave "the straight man whisperer" for how far he brought Harry in his acceptance of different lifestyles. 

I reflected on our professional accomplishments. Him getting his first NIH R01 grant and me winning my first teaching award. Both of us feeling a different kind of happy for one another because on some hard to explain level we knew that how far we'd both come was a big deal. We knew that we were standing on the shoulders of giants. Now I know that, on many days, we were each other's giants.

The two buck chuck was about to start making me feel giddy and I could feel it getting late. I knew that I could no longer avoid it--it was time to say good-bye for real. And I reached right over and grabbed a stack of napkins. That gesture was identical to me bracing myself for Isaiah's emotion because, like his, I knew it was coming. 

My friend David got up from the couch because he knows me well enough to have braced himself, too. 

And so. I said good-bye. Then I wept right into his shoulder. I wept and wept telling him how much I'd miss seeing him and having lunches and dinners with him on a whim. I told him I was sad that our wonder twin powers would no longer be able to activate at Grady Hospital because I always believed that something about us being there at the same time was more powerful than us being their separately. 

And then I just took a few moments and cried without saying anything else.

Some of David's friends came and hugged me, too. And I appreciated that because I would miss those guys right along with David. 

After all of that, I patted my raccoon eyes with a napkin and took a deep breath. "Okay. Let me get back cute, y'all." And that made us all laugh all over again which we needed. So it was good.


Yes. Isaiah and I are emotional types. We love hard and think a lot. We're missing the "restraint gene" when it comes to crying about people and moments and life's seismic shifts. . . . and that's okay. In fact, I think it's more than okay. I told Isaiah that the world needs people who express a lot of emotion like we do. And it also needs people like his daddy (who allegedly cries only on the inside) because they help balance things out. And he got that. 

Something reminded Isaiah of his friend again this morning. I could tell because his face went long and he was just sitting there looking pensive. Even though I knew what was going on, I went ahead and asked him if he was okay.

"I'm really, really going to miss my friend."  The right side of his mouth kept making this tiny quiver. The kind it always makes when he's trying to fight against his mother's genetics.

I grabbed the top of his head and pulled him into my chest. I hugged him tight felt a wave of emotion from the night before washing over me. Next, I pulled back, looked at his face, and tried to smile. I could feel my mouth quivering, too. 

"I know just how you feel," I whispered.

Isaiah reached out his hand and swept the tear from my cheek. Because he got that, too.

Happy Saturday.

Now playing. . . Something about James Taylor's voice singing this song has had my mental iPod stuck on it all day. Isaiah and I listened to this song together tonight and it paradoxically made us happy. Maybe because I told him that it was it was one of my favorite songs of all time. (But also maybe because J.T. is freakin' awesome and the kid knows good music when he hears it.)


  1. You know, Kim, as I figure this life out, which I'm constantly trying to do, of one thing I'm sure: Our relationships with others, and how our lives are puzzled together, is the only lasting thing there is, the only thing we take with us into eternity. When spirits are connected, physical distance ain't nothin but a number.

    1. Nancy, I really appreciate those words today. I really, really do. Thanks for your insight--I know it comes from a place that knows this to be true.

  2. I agree with Nancy's conclusion one hundred and fifty percent; hell, I believe it to the infinite power- And might I add, as a person who tends to be more of the crying on the inside ilk, I am learning more and more each day, how very much important it is to express emotion. Emotion is transition / progress/ catharsis manifested-and I am rambling officially. I will, however, add that this here post of yours brought this inner crier close to the edge of outward tears-I FELT what you wrote.

    Maria, fellow Meharrian

    1. Thank you, Maria. I appreciate you.

      Kimberly, Fellow Meharrian

  3. My heart is on my sleeve these days too, and I'm done apologizing for it. Most of my tears are born of love, not sorrow, just like yours.

    Isaiah will miss his friend as much as you do yours, but we live in this magical world of phones and skype so even though you can't just hang out like you used to, you can still talk and laugh and see each other. My best friend and I moved apart in 1987, at first a few states away, now a country away, but we haven't let that stop us from talking and laughing and being a part of each other's lives.

    I have a feeling distance isn't going to change your friendships much either, only deepen them and make them more precious.

    And by the way, your posts run about 50% for making me cry, because they are so bittersweet, lovely and so true. xo

    1. Ha ha. Someone said I needed a button that said "crying" instead of "smiling" because I'd get more checked boxes. I appreciate that you read and comment. I hope you know how much I do.

      xo right back at you.

  4. Dr. Kim (cause that's what I call you),
    I don't comment often, in fact I think this is only the 2nd time. I'm a faithful follower though. I sat here this Sunday evening in Germany, thousands of miles from family and friends (my husband deployed) and boohoo cried reading this. You know, I've been doing this military thing for 12 years....and saying goodbye NEVER gets easier! What makes it better is the spontaneous trips meeting up with old friends and reminiscing the good times! I hope good looking David as a happy transition. I'm quite certain you'll be making trips up there to visit. Also, if you've never read it, there's a book called Who Moved My Cheese. There's one for kids and I think it might help Isaiah with this transition, Cheers!

    1. I know and love "Who Moved My Cheese." Also liked his follow up book "The Present." I know that we will always stay friends and that I'll get to see him in Philly. But I also know that a season has ended and that makes me sad. Either way, with intention any relationship worth keeping stays alive. I know ours will.

  5. "Thump!" (Me passing out from looking at the pictures of that gorgeous man!) Here's wishing you the BEST, David!

  6. Philly is nice! Come and visit. Or tell me where David will be and I will look after him for you. What kind of research does he do? An R01 grant is a big darn deal so congrats for that. I am falling right after your mom..those photos are gorgeous.

    1. I love Philly so yes, I will be visiting. His research is in HIV and black men MSM (men who have sex with men.) He has done lots of very important work and YES an R01 is a huge deal. I'm so proud of him.

    2. Let me know when you are coming to Philly. I want to take you out for a drink or dessert or something. David,too.

  7. you're making me cry! ouch i know you will miss him! and poor little Isaiah... my kids have a lot of leaving to deal with too- all the time people from there school are moving back to whatever country they started in..begging the question.. "mom? when are weeee going back?" to which i say, "only the Lord knows!" and it's the truth. i miss you!!

  8. You know I loved the pics of sexy Dr. David M.!!


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