Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A.D. (After Deanna)

"The only advice I can give someone about when you lose someone like that is you won't ever get over it. And the more you know that and embrace it, the better off you are."

~ Billy Bob Thornton


The Day before Ides of November, Year 5

It's been five years since the day before she left us. For me, they all kind of run together but there's always something about November 14 that stands out. That was the day before things shifted. Now? I will always see my adult life as November 14, 2012 and before-- and then everything after that collectively as A.D. -- After Deanna.

A giant line was drawn in the sand of my life that day. All that was before that day seems like it was so simple, man. Even when it wasn't simple. See, what was simple was that you could trust the day to be what it was. Happy would be happy. Sad would be sad. Lumpy would be lumpy. But it was what it was, you know? I mean, you could walk into that day or that month or that week believing that this is what it will be. And trust it to be just that.

And up until then, I mostly felt that way. I did.

But then came November of 2012. It started off so seemingly normal. The sky bursting with this extraordinary blue and the leaves on the Japanese maple evolving into the most painstakingly beautiful shade of bright red that it seemed like they weren't even real. Just two weekends before the day she departed we sat together on the bleachers screaming and cheering at a pee wee football game. Deanna had painted a poster for Zachary's team by hand and he was so, so proud of that. So proud that he refused to let the team run through it because he didn't want it to tear.


My text exchanges the days before were about Thanksgiving week. I had to work for part of it. She had the week off. She offered to help me out with the kids but only up until Wednesday because she had plans to attend the Turkey Day Classic football game in Alabama that day. She loved our alma mater Tuskegee so her being unavailable to me so that she could be available to Tuskegee made sense to me. All of that was cool with me. Yeah, man. It was.

I have read those text messages no less than 1,000 times. I scroll back as far as I can and remember the innocence of that time. How my fear of bad things like sisters suddenly dying were mostly hypothetical and outlandish and not the kinds of things that could affect me in real life. That is, until they actually did affect me in real life.

So that November of 2012 was pivotal. It shifted my view on life and the world I live in and what is promised to me. What is sure is right now. Not even today but now. And so what happens after something like this is that you start to really, really look at your now with different eyes.

Does this even make sense?

For those who have lived through one of these moments, you already know. You know that you can start a Tuesday thinking it will be just the day after Monday and nothing else. But once you experience one of these knock the wind from your chest moments? You know not to fully and completely trust Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or any day completely. Negative sounding, I know. But that's not how I mean for it to sound. I'm just saying now I understand that there's always some piece of what will happen next in a day that is impossible to predict. So you learn to keep a tiny piece of yourself "woke" just in case that day pulls a fast one on you. And no. That doesn't mean live in fear or don't appreciate it. I guess, to me, it instead means savor the piece of it that is before you. The slice right in front of you sitting on your plate. Savor it. Dig into it with your fork and close your eyes when you take that bite. Yes. Taste every bit of it that you can. Because something could shift and make it where you can't.

Sigh. Rambling, I know.

I think what I am realizing is that every day could be the day before November 15. Which, in a way, makes me both happy and a bit scared at the same time. But mostly happy.

Here's why:

The day before Deanna died was just about as perfect as a day could get.  I had given a lecture that afternoon at Grady that she'd helped me with. It was something that called for courage because it was so different than most standard medical lectures. And, at first, we had some glitches in the AV equipment. But then it worked out and went wonderfully. So great that I have given that lecture several times and even in several different states. I called Deanna in the middle of that day and told her how great it was. How really, really great it was. And, like always, she said that she knew it would be. That was one piece of that day. Later on, she picked up our kids and when I came home she was doing crafts with them on the dining room table. There was glitter everywhere and everyone was so happy. I'd come in with a handful of groceries and started making some dinner. Spaghetti. 

"Join us for dinner?" I asked.

"Sure, why not?" she replied. 

And I cooked while they kept on sprinkling that glitter. She listened as I rehashed every single detail of my lecture and the kids screamed and made as much noise as possible. Harry came in and all of us just laughed and talked and ate and hugged until well after 9PM. And I remember thinking how awesome it all was. How happy I felt that we lived in the same city and how grateful I was that she was there to help me with my kids. I even recalled that moment just a few weeks before crying while telling her all of this. Sitting at the kitchen table weeping and saying how truly, truly, truly grateful I was that she was there to help me because I needed it. I needed her to help me raise my kids and to be brave. And she would just smile and say, "You do need me. You're a mess. But you got me so it's good." 

Then we'd just laugh and laugh. 

I am laughing and crying while typing this because she was so right. I was and am a mess. And I still need her. I do. The cool thing is that, while I know she isn't here in the flesh, I know I still have her. I can hear her when I close my eyes and sit very still. Her strong opinions, her unfiltered advice, her favorite pet name for people she loved "Pookie." And, as crazy as it might sound, the parts of me that are a mess without her are a price I'm willing to pay to honor her. 


Man, oh man. I had no idea that the day after the great glitter and spaghetti night that she'd be physically gone. Just like most people who live through such a thing feel, you know? But there is such a tremendous comfort in remembering how wonderful that November 14 was for us. That she would think to stay late on a school night even though she had to work and that we laughed out loud and did the most ordinary extraordinary things. I love that I was given the gift of discernment in that moment, too. Like, that I knew to think "this is a great day and a special moment" right then and there while it was happening. That was a gift, man. A real gift. Which is a very, very good thing to hold in my heart A.D.

It is.

And so. Now I'm really into trying to do that more. I want to  feel my life and experience it all in high definition. I want to see it and touch it and savor it. Each hug, each laugh, each kiss. Fill it all up with the people who bring me joy and not anxiety. And permit myself to be okay with not giving that precious space in time to those who don't. Because I'm never fully sure if this is the day before a day like November 15. And some piece of me is always praying that, since I never can know what is coming around the corner, that I will live with enough intention to have very few regrets. I'll know I loved hard and was wide awake for it all. 

And I get it that the intensity of it all probably sounds exhausting. And no. I'm assure you that I don't get it right a lot of the time. But you know what? Damn, do I try.

Damn, do I try as hard as I can.

I miss my sister every single day. And I hope that I always will. 


Be intentional with your days, okay?

This resonated with me. I get his melancholy and don't see it as a bad thing. Some piece of me will always be sad and I'm okay with that. It's okay.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Twenty for Twenty: Number 7

image credit

After School Special

"You sound like an after school special." She snorted and laughed at the same time. Her eyes lids were at half mast and she settled her back against the back of the chair.

I just twisted my mouth and didn't say anything. This was just some attempt to throw us off of the conversation. I at least knew enough to see it for what it was.

She was old enough to remember "after school specials." That alone made me sad about this predicament she was in. It did. Then again, no matter what the age, this was a sad and bad situation.

All of a sudden she popped up in her seat and leaned toward me with a pointed finger. "Wait. I take that back. You sound like that lady that be with Oprah. Iyanla. The 'fix my shit' lady." That made her laugh out loud. Hard.

"Maybe," I replied. "But I still mean what I said. You don't deserve to be hit or grabbed. He can be a strong person like you said but not hit you. It's not okay."

"Well. Just don't go getting any ideas. You know that last time the police came to my house I told them I was good. I'm a private person. I don't want no drama like that."

"Would you like us to help you with finding a safe place to go? Like somewhere that you could be besides there? No one has to be in your business when we do. There are folks we are connected to and this is their jam." That last part made the corner of her mouth turn up on one side. I went on. "Like, it could be super low key until you sort things out."

For a few moments, she didn't speak. It looked like she was thinking--like maybe we were about to get somewhere. But then her phone rang in her purse and she snapped out of her thoughts. Before I could say more she was looking at the phone and, since I was sitting right across from her, I could see that it was him. Because "YOUR MAN" came up on the screen. In all caps, no less.

Not even kidding.

"I'm good," she said with a tiny smirk after silencing the phone. "Yeah, I'm good."

"But you have bruises on you. And you told me how you got them. And--"

"And you guys have called police and sent people and if I don't cooperate, it don't matter do it?"

I swallowed hard and felt my eyes prickling. "You. . .it. . . I wish you would accept some help. You are a beautiful and--"

"Here we go. Iyanla is back." Her chest rose up in a big sigh. "I got the message that you care. I'm for real. And what you need to know is that when you come from where I come from? You learn how to handle all kinds of shit. Trust me on that."

"They are stronger physically."

"Well. You just need to know that it ain't as simple as it look on the after school special, okay?" She could see that her words were hurting my heart. "Look, here. People think everything can be like the Huxtables for everybody. But that ain't how it work." Another throwback pop culture reference. Which again made me sad.

"I get it. I just feel scared for you. Maybe we can give you some resources? Have some people check on you in case you change your mind?"

"I guess."

"That's better than a no."

"It's not a no."

I smiled. She smiled back. And we just sat there in silence.

Until her phone rang once more. She pulled it out again and looked at the screen.


"I gotta take this," she finally mumbled.

I didn't say anything. But here is what I thought:

No, you don't.



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Twenty for Twenty: Number 6

His voice sounded like music. Rolling up and down in these soft, lulling rhythms telling of lands far away from Georgia. It was so beautiful that I had to coach myself not to get lost in it and to, instead, pay close attention to his story.

"It started with a bit of nausea first. That lasted most of the day. The pain in my abdomen and actual vomiting didn't start until that evening. I had been in queue at the grocery store and thank the good Lord that I was able to make it out of those sliding doors."

"You vomited as soon as you got outside?"

"Indeed I did. It was just terrible. I did feel better for a beat but not even thirty minutes later, back it came. I was home by then."

Abdomen. Queue. Indeed. A beat. This was not a native Atlantan.

 Eventually we got to the bottom of it all. A fairly straightforward, albeit inconvenient, case of gallstones complicated by a mild pancreatitis. He had been started on pain medication and was resting his bowels. With that and the fluids, he was feeling better. That's when I knew I could ask.

"You aren't from Georgia," I said.

He smiled. "You aren't either."

"You're right."

"Want to see who can guess where the other is from first?"

My face erupted into a grin at the suggestion. I squinted one eye playfully. "Game on, sir."

He narrowed his eyes and sniffed once. "Big city. Not the south." My eyes widened. "Not a northerner." He looked me up and down and twisted his mouth.

"Caribbean?" I asked. He deadpanned. "Well?"

"Yes. Well sort of. Depending upon who you ask."

"Okay. Then I know."

"I doubt it." He laughed at me when he said that. "California. Los Angeles." My face gave it all away. "Bingo."

"Man," I said. "You're good."

"Your turn."

"Caribbean depending upon who you ask, huh?"


I tapped my lip with my finger for a beat. Then I smiled and nodded. "Guyana, South America. Final answer."

He sat up in his bed and leaned forward to give me a fist bump. The sides of his mouth turned downward and his chin jutted out. I could tell that he was impressed.

And you may wonder how I knew. I knew because I was taught by another patient a few years back.

And I listened.

Within two days he was feeling better and ready for discharge. And in those two days not only did I learn much more about him but more about Guyana, too.

Guyana, South America, that is. Not to be confused with Ghana in Africa. Or French Guiana. Or anything else.

And that's just one more thing I love about working at Grady. Every day we learn something, too. On this day it was geography.