I stopped praying the day after my cousin, Carlos, was buried. It’s not that I stopped believing in God, nor because I stopped believing in the power of prayer. To be honest, I can’t really give a specific reason as to why I’d stopped. Could it have been that for almost two weeks straight I’d been talking to Him non-stop? Maybe I felt like I’d been bothering God too much. Maybe I stopped praying because I couldn’t deal with the intensity of events that had occurred during those surreal two weeks. Maybe it was because I was so emotionally drained by the time that everything was over that my first thought was not to pray but, instead, to rest.
So I did. And have been resting ever since, it seems. Somehow during this “rest” period, I seem to be losing my motivation, my hopes, and my will to keep on a happy face when the air around me is so desolate and at times suffocating. I’m ready to breathe again. But what will it take for me to breathe more easily?
When I first returned to America on February 12th, I had so many dreams, goals, aspirations. I brought them across the Atlantic with me when I left London. I figured that the relative success I’d experienced over in the UK would accompany me through Customs and sit with me and my family at dinnertime. But I should’ve known that leaving London, I was leaving the future. (Literally…Brits live 5 hours in advance of those of us living on the East Coast). So after taking my journey into the past, it would become evident in the months to come, that focusing on my future would prove even more difficult. Here’s the crux of why:
In London, I created a family out of friends. They may not have been blood, but damn if they didn’t contribute to and help change my life. More or less they made my life more amazing. In Virginia, I have my family, and very little people I can call my friends…well…just a couple from my childhood. They haven’t been as privy to my life as (per se) my mother has been. Through hearsay, they’ve soaked in my triumphs…but I’m sure they’ve never heard of my failings. Then again…there was always one family member who knew what I was going through and made the effort to get to know me and accept my journey in this world. You see…it’s one thing to be proud of your family. It’s another to love them unconditionally and be present for their ups and downs. My cousin, Carlos did the latter…and it hurts me to my soul to no longer have him on this earth…It was just over month ago I was watching him in action, being the king that most men only wish they could be.
I can’t believe it was just over one month ago…
The fight, the commotion, the gunshots, my fear. Blood. Sirens. Tears. God, the tears. The montage would occur every single night for two week before allowing me a less chaotic sleep. And each night, I unashamedly made the ugly “trying-to-stop-your-tears-from-falling-out-your-eyes” face because I just couldn’t understand why this situation had to occur in the first place. In my life, I’ve only heard about confrontations that “spiraled out of control” as cliché as it all sounds. To witness such spiraling up close and personal is something I never want to experience ever again (and I know I’m not alone in that desire).
What I got to see, firsthand, was the aftermath of gun violence. This was not my first time losing a family member to gun violence. When I was eight, a cousin of mind was killed by a gun. He lived about three more days afterwards and then he died. I was too young to understand the circumstances or situation that lead up to his shooting, but I did understand that my cousin was gone for good.
From a young age I was exposed to death more than a kid should’ve been. That exposure showed me that life eventually ends, and the world keeps going. But then again…so does grief. At this point in my life, I’m certain that grief never dies.
Nor does shock.
I could be wrong, but I have a feeling that pure shock may’ve been the emotion that hit the surface first. I mean…how else does one respond to his first time of seeing someone draw a gun with clear intentions to shoot a person?
It was just an argument, initially; something that you might see on some VH1 reality show where females, who don’t know how to handle themselves with words, decide that each other’s faces would look better on each other’s knuckles. Well, once that skirmish turned into all out war at my Aunt and Uncle’s 30th wedding anniversary dinner, a deadly threat came out of nowhere. Fearing that the threat would become a promise, loads of us ended up outside. I, among many, pleaded for peace. Nearby a struggle to keep a hand down was lost and that same hand possessed the instrument which would spark fear into a group of people dressed in formal wear who were, only moments ago, celebrating a milestone of love. The hand holding the gun fired into the air.
PopPopPop. They sounded like fireworks, but there was no glittery cascade. Only the crescendo of screams. Then the scattering.
I remember vividly seeing the gun. And upon hearing the first shot, I turned away from what would be the scene of the crime because 1) I knew that if I stayed, I’d be in the line of fire. 2) my mother and her bestie were nearby and all I wanted to do was protect the two women I came to the function with. 3) If I were to be hit by a stray bullet, I at least wanted to make sure I knew my mother was alright. I kept thinking to myself (while I was running back into the venue shouting from the top of my lungs for people to “GET DOWN” and “GET BACK INSIDE THE BUILDING”) ‘I don’t care if I die as long as my mom is alright.’ Who knew that nobility would be a quality both me and Carlos also shared.
Gunshots continued behind me, along with the screams and the clacking of heels and dress shoes, as I ran into the building, mother in tow. We were safe. But bullets can come through walls, so I tried to get as many people to go into the main dining room as possible. I became frazzled. What do I do next? How do I remain calm? Is anyone hurt? Tommy, stay calm. Has anyone called the police? Tommy, fucking calm down? I’m calling the police!
I turned around and saw one of my first cousins: the daughter of the bride and groom. And I’ll never ever forget hearing her say:
“I’ve been shot”
My mind went blank, but my body didn’t. I breathed and couldn’t believe I was seeing blood trickle doen her leg. When my synapses decided to work, I thought…she’s been shot in the leg. She’s alive.
“Someone get me a cloth or something to tie her leg up with. I need to stop the bleeding!!!” The voice was from a woman who had already started some first aid on my cousin.
I grabbed the first thing I could see: the ribbon from the back of one of the chairs in the venue. Another man donated the shirt off of his back. “I don’t need it,” he said.
I think I muttered the word “shit” so much that night that it became ineffective. I muttered it as I called the police. I muttered it as the phone rang. I segued into a quick interlude of “why the fuck am I on hold” when the police dispatch didn’t pick up. My refrain of “shit’s” picked up once more when I went outside and was informed that Carlos had been shot. All cursing ceased when I saw him lying motionless on the ground; his lovely wife with him, devastated. His parents, my Uncle and Aunt, torn up with emotion. No one thought that a night that had been dedicated to love and celebration would end with casualties and an arrest (Yes, the shooter was caught).
I could spend pages elaborating on the hospital visits and the doctor & surgeon updates…but I won’t. Each day was like being on a see-saw. Emotions went up, then dropped. Patience was tested. Tears came and went. Faith was strong. Sometimes…it was barely there. Life went on.
I filmed an episode of a TV show to days into the hospital period. In it, I played a young gang member who robbed people at gunpoint…and also shot people at point blank range. I’d played men who used guns before, but as an actor I could at least justify why the character felt the need to use one. In this series, I played a person who showed a blatant disregard for human life. A cold-blooded killer who saw nothing wrong in what he was doing. I felt strange (absurd even) to be playing a killer, having witnessed two days prior what guns actually do to a human life; how a tiny metal bullet can cripple and utterly destroy internal organs, shortening the duration of time one has left on this Earth. Still, like a professional (who gives a flying fuck about professionalism at a moment like that?) I powered through, occasionally finding moments to smile.
I spent the hospital period thinking heavily about the myriad of people affected by my cousin. (Hell, they were showing up in hoards at the hospital.) My Aunt and Uncle were always on my mind. So were my other cousins, his siblings. I mean, his oldest sister understood his pain. She would eventually walk again, warrior that she is, but she understood. I next thought about his wife, the woman who I only heard about before returning to the states. And I thought about his son: his contribution to this world. And that’s when the pain hit hardest.
Let me tell you something. I may not believe in true love for myself, but I will say that my cousin chose wisely and very well. His wife is one of the most graceful queens I’ve seen walk on this earth. I knew from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet that he chose the love of his life so watching her deal with this situation really touched my spirit. And my little cousin, his son…to lose his father? I never understand it when God decides to take a parent away from his child. That more hurtful than anything.
Eventually, I would think about my mother’s relationship with him. It was a special one. He loved being around my mother and would visit sporadically and call all the time. He loved my mom and he stood in place for me when I couldn’t be there for my siblings. He was a mentor to my older brother and truth-teller to my sister. But what did he mean to me? Well…
My history with Carlos is both long and brief, it seems. I feel that during childhood, I only remember my cousin from important events: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Birthdays, family reunions, maybe a theme park trip? We weren’t necessarily the closest growing up….but who’s really to blame for that?
Then something happened. I went away to private school. And while my relationship with my oldest cousin (his older brother) began to decline, Carlos made himself more present. I would hear word -through my mother- that he was asking about me and wanting to check up on me. We eventually exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.
When I went to college, he came to Philly to see me perform. Not only that, he also hung out with me and got a chance to participate in my “actor’s life.” We had drinks. We chilled. He met the people in my life who made me happy: my college friends. I was merely happy to have a family member in my age range hang out with me and be privy to what my life what about. Yet, nothing tops him giving me a hand when I didn’t know where to turn.
I was in Scotland, and I’d just signed with my agent and I viewed my first and only flat in East London. I knew it was where I wanted to live, but I had to make a decision fast. Even before moving down, I was booking castings left and right and remaining in Scotland would’ve been counteractive if I didn’t act soon. But I would never have afforded my security deposit or rent on my retail salary. My mom gave Carlos a call and no questions asked…he helped invest in my future. I don’t even think that he knew how much he was contributing to my life experience by doing that. Indebted to him? Yes. I am. Forever.
“Cuz” he would say. “You are doing a good thing with your life and I’ma support it. Besides I know once you get big, you got me!” He would express his support for me all the time. Still, anybody can express support. My cousin showed it.
I was fortunate enough to support him on the very day I returned home from London, February 12th. That was the day of his wedding dinner. He married his lovely wife the next day. People who know me know that I’m in a conflicted place about love. I don’t truly believe it’s an exclusive emotion, but in m€y life, I am randomly shown that it does exist exclusively for some people. Additionally, when love is genuine and it truly works, it shines. Both Carlos and his wife lit up a room when they entered together. Their union was one of the most perfect matches I’ve seen in a long time and to top things off, they have a wonderful son. I was very proud of my cousin for having it all and for handling his duties as a husband, father, brother, cousin, and friend.
The moment in which I was most proud of my cousin happened about 30 minutes before the chaos that ensued. We were on the dance floor at the wedding anniversary, me trying my best to dance but not sweat out my rented tuxedo. A younger cousin of ours was also on the dance floor and my cousin spoke to her in front of me. A sort of apology was occurring, it seemed. Some misunderstanding had occurred and my two cousins were making amends. But one of his statements to her was “You are too good for him. You are too much of a Queen for me to allow anyone else to treat you like that. You gotta know that about yourself. I don’t want nobody treating you less than the Queen you are.”
And just like that…my heart was warm and I knew that Carlos and I were of similar ilk. What a poignant thing to say to a young woman who needed to hear it. To be honest, what woman doesn’t need positive encouragement from someone who believes in her? That was the last time I had the privilege of seeing his light shine so brightly. But his final act of leaping in front of a bullet to save a life was when his light was at its most brilliant. The Warrior I had come to know had become a Hero. Just like that.
My thanks and gratitude should be extended to every single person who showed support during that time. My family wasn’t aware that I had the world praying for my cousin, but I did. What was most endearing was the outpour of love from friends near and far, strangers, and even Twitter/ Instagram randoms (yes, I asked for prayers wherever I could get them). Still, though the power of prayer was both electric and palpable, it didn’t have the energy to keep my cousin alive. I. however, have never been so proud of the love and humanity shown by others. I have been fortunate enough in my life to experience the kindness of strangers. My hope was that that kindness would extend itself to others who also deserved it. Luckily, I’ve not burned too many bridges in my life. I think that’s a quality I shared with my cousin, whose death has left a bit of an empty space in me.
But I’m being selfish.
I didn’t lose a son. I didn’t lose the love of my life. I didn’t lose a father, or a mentor. I lost my cousin. So why do I grieve? I lost one of the few family members to have ever been privy to the artistic side of my life. To have been privy to what made me happy in this world: my dream. I lost a family-friend, someone that I do feel is truly difficult to find. And I feel selfish for speaking about how much he meant to me when he was clearly many things to numerous people. Those who know me know that among the things I value most in this world are my friends and family. When you are my friend, my loyalty to you is unmatched. I’m sure it was the same with Carlos. Also, Carlos was a young black male who actually loved me. Not saying that other male members of my family don’t, but I can honestly say that I felt it from him. That makes a difference to me. In a world where people do not tell each other how much they mean to them, I had a cousin who always let me know “ I love you, Cuz” and “Whatever you wanna do, I’m with it. Just let me know so I can support you.”
Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a loved one. No matter how many losses you may have experienced beforehand. Each death is the end of a specific chapter. And it’s an ending that it completely out of our hands. But whatever lesson it is I’m supposed to learn from this situation…I just don’t know. All deaths make people want to love more. I try to do that every day. But it is hard to accept that an innocent life was snatched from this world. Not a day will go by that my family and I won’t yearn to see Carlos once again. He’s left bit of himself behind, though. Through his son, he lives on. Through pictures, he lives on. Through memories, he lives on!
I have a confession, before I close this entry: I’ve not deleted his phone number from my iPhone, nor his final text messages. We discussed his son and how inspiring his innocence was to us as adults. We discussed plans for a summer trip to Busch Gardens. I told him I’d just booked the lead in an episode of a crime-drama show called Wicked Attraction. His final reply to me was “ I’m proud of you cuz.”
To a Hero (and now Angel), I say, as I’ve said many times before: “Thank You, Cuz. I’m proud of your entire life.”
Your birthday was one month ago today. You would be 26. We all miss you down here…and like I’ve said before, Carlo, I’ll never ever forget the King you are. Love you, Cuz!