The Boy from Virginia Finds a Place (The Concrete Chronicles)

September 2012

            At the start of the month, my sub-letter had returned and I was still without a new place to live. Being the person I am, I hate overstaying my welcome anywhere and I had the unfortunate feeling that I would be overstaying for a few more weeks. Luckily for me, the sub-letter was a gem of a woman, and she and her roommates (who had made my acquaintance before she did) became the first “sort-of” family I’d made in the city. Having been in New York longer than myself, they seemed to uderstand my plight and excused my housing delay. Excusals aside, I still needed to find a place  and ASAP.

            Finding a decent place to lay one’s head comfortably in New York City is among the more difficult life-tasks I’ve ever taken on. Period. Not only is it tedious, strenuous, and merciless…I’m sure it’s a rites of passage for aspiring New Yorkers that truly separates the boys from the men. (To feel my pain, click here)  With no potential roommates and no decent leads on the horizon, I was back to being a boy. So where to start on this second go-round?

            I’d put up a status blast on Facebook saying that I was looking for housing and/or roommates and for people to contact me. I received two private message replies from people I knew, but we’d wanted different things; some people wanted Brooklyn, some wanted Washington Heights, but more importantly, our pockets also wanted different rent amounts to pay. I was still craving Harlem, but I felt I wouldn’t be able to afford the area considering the epidemic of gentrification it’d gone through.

My bro, Ray.

My bro, Ray.

Then I’d received a surprise message from a young man from my past. He was an actor I’d been in contact with for four years but our only interaction was at his movie debut back in Philadelphia in the summer of 2008. Somehow, I’d remained on his radar and he’d made the selfless attempt to reach out and assist me in my search for a place to live. I conceded that this might be the only true helpful gesture I’d receive, so I made plans to have him help me.

It’s not that I couldn’t find a place in New York. It’s just that I couldn’t accept the very first one that became available. Shopping around for the right place to call home was a good idea. I’d turned down a small place in Washington Heights at the end of August because it was the first place I’d actually seen and I didn’t want to just say yes. I also turned it down because the renter was all too eager to pressure me into being his roommate. When he explained that his former roommate had just…left one day and didn’t tell him he was leaving; though I felt sympathetic, I also felt there was also a reason behind that guy’s sudden departure. Red flags told me to consider other options.

It was funny however that I’d ended up in Washington Heights, yet again, to link up with my friend. He’d told me that he had success with a room rental company. They would charge a small finder’s fee, but I’d be able to hopefully find a place in two weeks or less. Catch was, I’d be living like a boarder in a room in someone else’s house and the renter’s might’ve only spoken Spanish, but there was a possibility I would luck out and ended up somewhere comfortable. It worked for him.

The agency (if I should even be allowed to bestow such a  legitimate name upon them), was one of those “hidden-in-plain-sight” type of places that looked like it could double as a tax office/ immigration office/ job centre, (etc.), but when we got there, the woman who was responsible for housing placements wasn’t there. No one could seem to contact her either, but I was assured that she knew what she was doing and was good at her job. I thanked my friend for his help and we planned to meet up again if I made any further progress.

The next day, I decided to go at the search alone…silly me.

After ending up at another room rental agency, and sitting for about two hours after they took $150 from me as a finder’s fee (when they hadn’t even found a room for me yet), I was supplied with an address on the back of a small business card. I headed to the location and ended up…in. a. fucking housing. project. Lies and deceit? Not this time.

 The room I’d been sent to was on the ninth floor of a building with an elevator that decided it would take the Lord’s day of..on a Thursday. I skipped steps up those nine flights, occasionally passing elderly people who were wondering why I was taking the stairs and then I ended up outside of the apartment that was written on the business card. Even before I stepped in, my Tommy senses were tingling. The door opened and I was greeted by a man in a wheelchair. A man who looks as if he hadn’t bathed, who was in a wheelchair. There was also a woman present (His mother? His nurse?) who seemed to care less that I was there. There was a bed that looked as if it were stolen from a hospital, cold dull-looking tile floor, a box fan in the window, and a television was playing…Who gives a fuck what it was playing because in my mind, I felt as if I were in a hospital ward. The man in the wheelchair did his best to sell me his apartment, and while my heart felt like it was being sliced and diced by that box fan in the window, I tried to maintain my dignity (which had spun on its heels, sucked it’s teeth and headed back down the stairs). Thank God I’m an actor because I was able to remain diplomatic, take a deep breath and say things like, “Hmm…well…I..have…some other places to see, but I’ll get back to you. (insert forced smile) I’ve seen all I need to see here.”

And then I rushed down the stairs of the projects and rushed to work, all while my brain was being mangled to death by confusion and the feeling of being swindled.

I went to work my shift and I couldn’t even function. All I could think was, ‘I was sent to project building. I. was sent. To a PROJECT. To live…(OK, yes they are livable spaces, but I’d had my healthy dose of underprivileged living as a child. I didn’t need a reprise…back to my thoughts)  And I can’t get my $150 back. I’m a fool. I’m alone in New York. And I’m a burden to these wonderful women I’m staying with.’ My insides were debating whether or not they wanted remain inside of me, and it seemed my tears were doing the same. As I swallowed everything back, I couldn’t help but think the worst.

‘I’ve lost favor with God. This is punishment for what happened between my sister and me. I’m no longer one of his chosen people.’ Had I ever really been chosen to begin with? I mean, here I was crashing on a couch; my luggage (though neatly stacked) littering a living room that wasn’t my own, and my growing despair puddling the carpet. I wasn’t completely down and out, but I was definitely around the corner from it. Or was I?

Though I was discouraged by the small amount of people who stepped up to help me in my situation, I had to give a hand to all of the co-workers on my job. The ladies all offered their assistance to me in some way, whether it was offering to bring in a lunch, or to provide money, or to even shelter me for a bit. And my actor friend also came with me to try and get my money back from the people who’d taken it. He went with me to view more rooms, and other (much better) options I’d found from Craigslist. People -not the ones I expected- were subtly showing me that I mattered and that I deserved to be in New York, just as much as anyone else. I was immediately humbled. My heart hadn’t planned on being in NYC, but people wanted me to succeed here.IMG_1237

That subtle encouragement was more help than I’d given to the burn victim who’d lost his nose who begged me for money on the train. It was more help than I offered the family who was kicked out of their hotel room whilst visiting the city for a holiday. It was more help than I could give myself, because I’d even forgotten how to do that effectively. The job I did was so rooted in helping others, that I didn’t know how to pamper myself. Instead, I worried myself. I stressed myself. I had started to hate myself for being -what I considered- incompetent and inefficient. What was my purpose?

What was worse…I was beginning to crave the city where I faced the most challenges, and yet felt the most loved: London. Would I ever return? Had I given the Big Apple enough of a chance? I felt like it was biting me instead of the other way around, and I could tell I was becoming bitter to the taste.

To pull myself out of the funk that was beginning to waft through my brain, I decided to join one of my current roommates at an event called Sundae Sermon. There’s nothing like an outdoor picnic full of Harlemites, House music, and high spirits to completely turn your mood around. In the span of 5 hours, I’d felt free and as if I were being introduced to the pulse of the city. Sundae Sermon is where I met two wonderful people who would become my “friends of the moment” (you encounter many of those temporary types in New York). And it was under their wings that I got completely shit-faced drunk (as you do, when you feel free).

That Sunday was only a temporary relief to what needed to occur. I still needed to find a place and I was determined that I was NOT going to remain a lodger on a couch for another month. So it was back to Craigslist. I’d abandoned the agency, and my chances of getting my money back so whatever methods I used this time would have to work. Or else.

I’d courted the idea of moving to Brooklyn. I’d even gone all the way out there from the Bronx to view a place. The renter of the apartment was older than me, but well put together. The room was spacious and the entire place would’ve only been the two of us. So far so good. There was a pool on the roof of the building. Great! I don’t swim, but great, nonetheless. The commute was lengthy, but I was excusing that for the pool I’d never use. Hmm…I could see myself here….

But the goal was always to move to Harlem. I couldn’t sell myself so short…or so long-distance.

Just when my focus became clearer, I came across two listings for places to live in Harlem. Both about 10 odd blocks from one another. One option was a two bedroom that I’d share with a Turkish man. I loved the place…but you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. …Interesting setup… but a small price to pay. I thought I marketed myself and my intentions well. But I was informed that he’d get back to me.

The other place was right in the middle of everything. I was three blocks away from Sylvia’s -overrated- Soul Food restaurant (I mean, it’s good, but it’s not down south cooking), There was a grocery store across the street from the apartment, I was four blocks from 125th street (one of the most iconic streets in Harlem) and to top it off, I was in a decent building with a doorman. Granted, it wasn’t a real doorman like you see on films about people who live downtown, but it’d suffice. IMG_1407

Only thing…I’d have to share this place with four other people. But after having interviewed with all of them, they seemed nice and one of the guys was originally from England. To me this was an omen. Even if I could just live around this man to hear an English accent, I’d be fine. I equated his accent to feeling like I was home. Like the Turkish man, they told me they’d be in touch soon. They were and they informed me that I was their second choice. If the person who they’d chosen decided not to take the room, it would be mine. But I’d have to wait three days to see if I got the place.

The other Harlem apartment I was interested in had a second round of interviews to which I went and encountered two other guys who also wanted the place. It was as if we were on a TV show competing to be the Turkish man’s Next Top Roommate. I didn’t mind this process, but I just thought to myself that the next time I went apartment hunting it would be with people I knew, and people I could trust.

Two days later I’d gotten notice that the first person decided to pass on the apartment, and that I could go ahead and move into the Center of Harlem if I was still interested. It was the final week of September and I was happy that I wouldn’t be entering October on anyone’s couch. I passed on living with one other person to live with four because the rent was most definitely in my range and my room had an actual closet. That is a true luxury. (You have no idea the multitude of places in New York have no closets at ALL…which is NOT okay)

After receiving that news, I also found out that I’d booked a small part on a new show for NBC. Revolution, it was called. Though I knew nothing about it, I was happy as hell to be able to do some actual work on a major primetime television production. But everything in my new New York life was complicated, of course…

I booked the job as a local hire. What did that mean? That meant I was hired because people thought I still lived in Virginia. Where were they filming this show? In North Carolina, a good 5 states south of where I now lived. An obstacle? Yes.  I knew I was going to get my ass to that set if it killed me, but I had less than 24 hours to plan a journey back down south. This would mean trying to find someone to cover my shift at work and also trying to find a cost-effective method of getting to North Carolina.

It was a Tuesday, I’d need to film Thursday, and somehow, be back in New York on Friday for my shift. No one wanted to over for me, and I didn’t want to get written up on my job. But I decided that I’d somehow make filming work…and I’d also make work work…and I’d do this by going into the money I’d saved up for my deposit and first month’s rent on my new place. My rationale: I’d get it back once I was paid from the show.

Wednesday morning came. I was packed and ready to go to the Port Authority Bus Station when I got off work at 4:45. I managed to catch a $64 bus (very last minute) to Richmond Virginia, then transfer to an $80 bus to Wilmington North Carolina; a journey that lasted a total of eighteen hours. Because NO buses would be headed back to New York at the time I needed one, I had to book an early morning ($188) flight to New Jersey, where I’d eventually catch a shuttle back to Manhattan. I was beginning to worry about my money big time.

 Once off the bus, I walked to my lovely hotel, which had been negotiated by my Virginia talent agency, and I promptly fell asleep. Once I’d awakened and after a lovely self-date at Buffalo Wild Wings, I made my way back to the hotel and caught a van to set. It would be a late night shoot. Working on any film set is exciting, but seeing your first on-set explosion has to be the best thing you’ll ever see (unless you catch fire). I never tire of seeing how many people it takes to put on a production and this was no different. I’d had my hair and make-up done and gotten in my costume and sat. IMG_1376

I sat.

And I sat.

 I ate at craft services. And then sat some more.

At 4am, (after arriving on set at 7pm the night prior), I geared up to yell my one line in multiple ways. But because I needed to be back in New York by 5 the next day, the crew rushed through my performance (or either I hit my mark and got it right the first time, who knew?) and I was hurried back to my hotel to prepare for my flight.

I’d arrived back in New York at around noon on Friday. I was proud of myself for accomplishing a hell of a lot in a small amount of time. I’d also had the help of my mother through what could’ve been a messy process, but overall, things kinda of worked out. I was back at work, though I felt a bit underappreciated because I’d gone through hell and high water, (and money I shouldn’t have touched) to return to a job that was paying me a fraction of what I made in 10 hours. Regardless, I’d ended my month with less woes than when I started it. Soon enough I’d be off a couch, and in my own room in Harlem. With no worries and no stress.

 

Yeah, fucking, right…

Advertisements

The Boy from Virginia Starts Over

Final two weeks of July 2012

My impromptu, yet necessary trip to New York had been more than successful and I came home with both dread and anticipation in my heart. Dread because I’d have to figure out how to navigate being in a house where negative energy had become a tenant, yet I brimmed with anticipation because I would soon be away from the familial shenanigans. It also helped that I had a gig that would help make the time go smoother as an extra on adocu-drama about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

Me as an "uncredited" Union Soldier in Killing Lincoln

Me as an “uncredited” Union Soldier in Killing Lincoln

During that small job, however, I said a tiny prayer to myself:

“Dear God, I ask to never play another slave or underprivileged antebellum man again. We both know there are more stories to tell that are more interesting than being on the periphery of someone else’s history. Please and thank you!”

 

            Once that gig was finished, and once I’d handled all of my paperwork for my job, it was time to hop another bus to the Big Apple. My only regret was leaving on my mother’s birthday. Having not been in the country to celebrate it for the previous 3 years, I’d wanted to at least plan a huge outing or give her a  huge gift, but her celebration money soon turned into moving money and next thing I knew, I was saying “I love you and I’ll call you when I arrive at my new place.”

            Nine hours later, I arrived back at the Port Authority (a station that was becoming more and more familiar to me) with larger luggage, a backpack, my smaller wheelie luggage…and no one to meet me upon arrival. One of my new (temporary) roommates has texted me the information I would need to find the place in Bronx, and lucky for me, I had my map app on my iPhone, but I was still hoping that someone could assist me with my luggage. The last thing I wanted was to let go of my bags for a second and have them snatched away from me as quickly as I let them go. Little did I know, I had nothing to be afraid of, except blocking the doors of the “2” train, which I couldn’t help given the size of my luggage and my not wanting to over exert myself in the sweltering heat.

            I enjoyed what little dribble of A/C the train decided to distribute and ended up at Intervale Avenue. It was when I departed the train that I realized there were no elevators here…and the escalator was broken, and that I was way too dressed up for what looked like “the hood.” (No lie, I was in dress pants, a button down shirt, dress shoes, and, if I recall, a tailored button down vest) ‘I guess I won’t be fitting in today’, I thought to myself. After a deep breath –and a prayer- I dragged myself and my luggage down the stairs and huffed and puffed…about three blocks…in the wrong direction. It didn’t take me long to call my new roommate and ask her to meet me (something I felt she should’ve done, anyway. But hey, I was in New York, from here on out, I wasn’t expecting any hand-outs or any manners).

            A girl with a Texas accent greeted me and though I couldn’t get an immediate read on her, I knew we’d get along as she led me in the right direction to the apartment and to the room which I’d sublet for the next month. I spent the evening trying to get acquainted with the local bodega (which closed a bit too early for my own liking) and then I slept as work began the next day.

Sunset view from Intervale Avenue station

Sunset view from Intervale Avenue station

 

August 2012     

            For the month of August, I would accept whatever hours were given to me as well as take other shifts if no one else wanted them. I just wanted to keep busy and re-learn the art of selling soap and lotion (among other things). Coming back to a job you thought you knew well can be daunting. I constantly found myself knowing that I was capable of doing a fantastic job, but feeling like I wasn’t quite up to par, given the differences between working for the company in the US versus the UK. All I could do was compare what I’d done overseas to what I was doing on home soil. Still, I’m a hard worker and I wanted to make sure I could actually do my personal best, regardless. If I can recall, I believed I worked 8 days straight with no complaints, just a strong desire to make money and refocus myself.

            It had been the end of a week of long shifts, acclimating myself to Manhattan, failed attempts at apartment/ roommate searches, and to top it all off, I’d discovered some news that made the ground tremor. It had come to my attention after my final shift of the week, that back in Virginia, I had been disowned as a family member. Actually, being disowned would have been a privilege. I was told that I did not exist. A source close to me informed me than an uncle on my father’s side claimed that he didn’t know my mother had any children, though he’d met me on multiple occasions when I was young. What baffled me wasn’t the fact that he could say this with conviction. I wondered how he could’ve brought himself to deny that I was alive because I’m sure it’s not something he came up with on his own.

Then it hit me.

The only way that anyone could jump on board with saying that I didn’t exist was if the seed was planted by another source: a familial source that could’ve been angry with me. That source had to have been my father, who I’d not spoken to since before returning to the United States. It only made sense considering he was none too pleased when he learned I had arrived back in the states and hadn’t contacted him. (That was due to his lack of help when I needed him most back in January 2012 when I was basically being detained in Britain and had exhausted all of my funds trying my best to return home.) If, indeed, he had disowned me, and succeeded in having others jump on board with this foolishness in which he would deny his own progeny, then I guess I’d have to follow suit and continue not existing in his world.

I tried to be nonchalant about the statement, but it vexed me. I thought to myself ‘Wait a minute. People who I’ve known, but may not have dealt with much, are saying that they do not acknowledge me as my father’s son? Better yet, they state that they, indeed, know who my mother is, but are convinced that I’ve not existed over these past 27 years? I’m HERE! And I’m sure those people I interacted with have the factual knowledge of my being a product of my mother and father’s love.’

Obviously love wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough to keep my parents together and it wasn’t enough for me to “exist” after all these years.

The news shouldn’t have been as heartbreaking as it was, but I couldn’t help but feel jilted by this man I used to champion for his charm, joie de vivre and genuine loving nature. Who knew he would grow to become so dilapidated in his mindset and disdain for me; his blood, who has only done his absolute best to do right in this world?  In the aftermath of that news, I was beyond disappointed in this man who, at that point, would hold no weight with me beyond the circumference of where he grew up.

I’d have to ask God for healing, to grant me the power to forgive, and to push me to be greater. I promised myself not to subscribe to poor examples of leadership. Then I thanked God for the many powerful men that had been placed into my life; some older than me, but the majority of men were my age, who I’d met in high school, college, and overseas. If you can’t emulate your father, the only solution is to emulate the Holy Father you see in the spirit of others. Thank God, I’m blessed with many fine examples of men who love, uplift, and inspire and who acknowledge my existence.

Patriarchal tangents aside…

On my days off, I had to reward myself with things that would make me feel like a competent human being. On one day off, I linked up with a friend from high school and we managed to go see Valerie Simpson perform live under the stars. Nothing like a bit of old school to make one appreciate the good things in life.

Brandy

Brandy

On another day, I swapped shifts with a young lady at work so that I could go meet Brandy Norwood (my absolute favorite vocalist) in person at BET’s 106th and Park. Despite feeling like I was way too old to sit in the audience of that show, I was happy I waited in line for 2 hours with the 18-24 year old fans (called STARZ), to see an artist who I respected and admired for her never-ending desire to be what God made her: a supernova of positive energy and light. The highlight of that experience was getting the chance to see Brandy debut her first video in years, “Put It Down,” and having her push a fan aside so that she could hug me. I’d hurriedly yelled to her that I traveled all the way from Virginia to see her (this is a true story) and she left the person she was with and gave me the hugest hug saying “Thank you so much for coming. I appreciate you so much.” If I ever get fans in this lifetime, I’ll have to keep in mind that appreciating them at all times is how you keep them.

 On other days off, however, when I was frustrated with myself for thinking that I wasn’t good job at my new job (or led to believe so by some in the all-female environs I was in), I found another activity to bring me peace: Walking.

            I’d had bad day at work and it was the customers who were giving me a hard time. But I was so incensed at feeling like I was perpetually doing something wrong that once I left work, I couldn’t go home. So I commenced walking downtown. As the numbers on the New York streets decreased, my heart sank below my ribs, past my abdominal organs and sauntered in tandem with my trudging feet…until I trampled upon a smidgen of joy: The Donut Plant in Chelsea. I thought to myself, ‘The people in this section of town probably don’t even eat donuts. Probably trying to watch their figures. Well, fuck them; they aren’t in need of gourmet salvation as much as I am.’ Uncharacteristically, I didn’t indulge in my donuts immediately. Instead, I allowed myself to be lead to the Chelsea Piers, which would soon become my favorite place in the city. It was where I  eventually devoured my donuts. It was, also, where I found the most peace. IMG_1115

            Open water. Something about it soothes the shit out of my soul. Can’t swim a lick, but boy-oh-boy, I can listen to lapping, waving water for hours. I imagine that it’s God having a conversation with only me. Once the conversation is over, I imagine mermaids reassuring my existence with their serene smiles…and then I envision an asshole of a prankster pushing me into the water and me drowning. This drowning is further aided by the appearance of an octopus which suction cups me to death and drags me deep into the ocean-y abyss. (Yes, that is how quickly my spiritually enlightening situation turned ridiculous because my imagination ran wild.IMG_1118Once I pulled myself out of Imagination Land, however (looking around suspiciously to make sure no one was trying anything sneaky), I walked back into my New York life, from Christopher Street to 72nd Street. From there, I took the “2” back to Intervale Avenue.

            The final two weeks of August I decided to be more proactive in my apartment search as my month of subletting was rapidly coming to an end. Looking for housing in New York has to be one of the most frustrating, strenuous, and unsatisfying acts in the world. Things started well. I’d found two potential roommates online via one of those “We’re artists and we’re looking for roommate/sub letters” groups on Facebook. Everything started fine. We all got along, and we were looking for various apartments in various places together. We were mainly looking to stay Uptown, and in or near Harlem. We saw a perfect apartment, but at day’s end, the price range was completely astronomical for our artistic budgets. Also, there was the little thing about guarantors, and filling out an application that was longer than a work application. “Tedious” isn’t a good enough descriptor for what we went through.

Eventually, one roommate decided he’d want to live in a different environment while the other lucked up and had her leased renewed for the same low price she’d been paying…and I was left with no one to live with. I had no leads on affordable places to stay and about 5 days left before my sublet was up. Had I been given a false sense of security about my circumstances? Was I truly working hard enough to survive in this city? Where was my focus? How had I allowed myself to get to this point with no safety net whatsoever? Was my beginners luck coming to an end? By the final day of September, my clothes were packed and in the living room of the sublet, but I hadn’t moved out because I still had no other alternatives…and that was after seeing roughly fifteen different options and almost being scammed by one Craigslist posting. Things were not looking good…

Waiting on the train...

Waiting on the train…

The Boy from Virginia Expresses Support

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!

Image

The Boy from Virginia and the Heart Episode

I remember feeling like I was being pulled in a multitude of different directions. There was meeting after meeting to attend, and a very important business party that I needed to get to ASAP. All the while, my family had been repeatedly trying to contact me. I figured they could wait since I was in town for once and not a million miles away in London as I had been for the previous three years. So I made a mental note to call them back as soon as possible. Until then, I would handle the business that would move my career in the next direction. It was finally all happening!

I remember being all smiles as I managed to achieve all of my goals for the day, so I was going to bring a bottle of the best champagne home to my family to show them how much I loved them and to show them that I’d finally advanced to the next level. But when I’d arrived home, it wasn’t quite the welcome I’d expected. Faces that usually uplifted me were cast downward. Every eye was red and puffy and when these eyes clocked me, they became daggers. My family -comprised of a sobbing, heavily pregnant sister, a boiling brother, and many disappointed cousins (their children in tow)- gave me a look so disapproving that it pierced my spirit to its deepest depths. I caught my breath.

The reason for their anger at me: my mother’s death. And it was my absence that killed her. I’d avoided every call from my family members when I should’ve taken time out to address the real issue. But no, I was so selfish and so absorbed in trying to succeed, that I only managed failure. I dropped the champagne onto the driveway, and as I parted my lips to speak –knowing that no words would form- I felt tremendous guilt. I felt so much guilt that when the bottle smashed onto the ground, I felt that I should’ve reached into my chest cavity and thrown my heart down there to shatter alongside it. Instead of ripping myself to shreds in front of my grieving family, I did something else. I woke up…

September 21st

…and I glanced at the clock. The time read 4:blurry a.m. I turned over in my double bed and faced the person who’d run over at the first sign of distress; a friend. A true friend who’d literally dropped everything to come over and just be present. I turned back over and tried to replay the events of my life that brought on that awful dream. It didn’t take me long to recall what had kicked off my nightmare.

September 20th

Only 6 hours prior, I’d received a call from home. I’d been at the cinema but the voicemail I’ve received told me that my mother had been admitted into the hospital. Hospital news always worries me, so I called my mother asap to figure out what the hell was going on. I ended up on a 3-way call between my mother and my sister.

“Hey Ma,” I said. Then sprinting to the point. “Why in the world are you in the hospital?”

“Go ahead and tell him,” My mom told my sister. She sighed. Her tone of voice was of someone’s who’s jig was up. Like she was throwing her hands up and saying “I’ve been caught.”

“Mommy had a heart attack,” my sister sniffled. At sixteen years old and with a baby on the way, my sister still managed to make me see the seven year old version of herself. Of course a myriad of questions bubbled onto the forefront of my mind, but all I could think of was how to remain practical and level headed.

“Well…(Say something that show’s you’re in control) Do we have a history of heart problems in the family?” I figured that was an adult enough question to ask. It made me sound official instead of panicky.

“Tom, I don’t know.” My mother was clearly exasperated with me. Maybe that wasn’t the most productive question to ask, but I damn for sure didn’t want to ask ‘Are you feeling ok?’

But then, as my mother tried her best to explain to me what was going on, she cried out. I could hear how sharp her pains were in her voice.

“Oh. Oh.” I envisioned her wincing and clutching her chest. Her following sentences were rushed. “My heart rate is dropping again. (To her husband, I assume) Ring the nurse. Tom, I gotta go.” The monitors crescendoed to a dramatic level as the phone went dead. I heard sobbing and remembered that my sister was still on the line. She’d done her best to informed me of what had happened, yet it seemed all she could produce now was tears. I attributed her emotionalism to her pregnancy, all while wondering why I wasn’t freaking out a bit more. I guess because I wanted my sister to remain calm. So I did my best to reassure her that everything would be alright (clearly unsure of that fact myself), and then when I hung up the phone, I stood in my kitchen stunned.

At that moment, my mind was a cluttered attic of thought. Practically, I thought ‘Tommy, you are in a different continent. You can’t do anything but hope and pray that she’ll be fine. Go pack your bags.’ Another part of my brain was concerned about how I would managed to pack up my entire room in one night and move to a new flat the next day (as I was coming to the end of my lease). Another part of me wanted someone to talk to so I did what any sane person does: I hurriedly logged onto Facebook and posted a status asking all of my close friends for help, or a phone call, or anything. I needed to round up the troops and my crappy, cracked-screen Nokia wasn’t the quickest way to do so. However, I only received three responses from the 1,400 something friends on my list (proof that Facebook is a load of crap). And one phone call came immediately.

“What’s happened?” I told my mate the details as I knew them. “I’m coming over.” It was a declarative sentence, which mean I couldn’t dispute it. So I didn’t. I just needed to wait for him to arrive so that I could talk to someone about it.

Until then, I spent time thinking (which is really bad for me if you know me personally), and I came to the conclusion that the universe was sending me a message to love my mother more than I already do. Goodness, I thought I loved her enough. I definitely appreciate her to the fullest extent of appreciation. But I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to lose her.

Earlier that evening, I’d gone to see the critically slammed film “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (judge me at your own will), and I found it very ironic that after seeing a film about a woman who managed to do it all, that I would be in danger of losing my very own ‘woman-who-does-it-all” and has been doing so since I was born. I remember watching the film and thinking, ‘yeah, my mother isn’t some high end business woman, but I tell you one thing, she gets stuff done, and manages to make it look simple.’ And she didn’t need to have Sarah Jessica Parker’s wit and bewilderedness to do it.

Then my mind flashed back to the previous week, when my mother called me to say that she’d sent me a card, just because she was thinking about me. When I got the card, I cried because it was so perfect. It was such a perfect expression of love that it couldn’t be topped. The text of the card is as follows:

“I love you my son…

Forever, for Always and No Matter What

 

From the moment I first held you in my arms,

I knew you were special.

As I cuddled you, I was overwhelmed with love…

But suddenly anxiety swept over me.

With all the potential I felt

Radiating from your little body,

How in the world was I going to raise you to be the man I knew you could be?

 

Now, so many years later, I stand in awe before

The extraordinary man you have become.

Your compassion and generosity

Are a testament to your greatness.

I wonder what I ever did to deserve you.

 

You are my son…and I will forever love you”

            My mother did not pen those words (someone at Blue Mountain Arts did) but she somehow found the appropriate text to display her feelings, and she was so proud of the card she’d sent me. I heard pride illuminate her voice when she told me it was on its way. All I could hear now was the doubts accumulating in my cerebral attic as well as the beating of my own, healthy heart. ‘Why was I blessed with such a healthy heart? Maybe we’d had heart issues in my family that I knew nothing about? My grandmother kept going into cardiac arrest before she’s passed away and we all knew it was a heart attack that took her out of the world. Or maybe my mother’s heart was too big. She was always doing for others instead of herself. Was it possible that having such a huge heart could cause a heart attack? No, of course not…Stress from caring too much about others can cause a heart attack.’ I was thinking too much. I had to do something…so I started boxing up the items I’d accumulated whilst living in Scotland and London.

I was in the middle of packing when my friend called me to let him into the flat that I would soon be leaving; the flat I’d spent the last year turning into my home, the only place I could ever call home besides Virginia.

My mate came upstairs and I immediately became aware of the kind of person I am when I’m in trouble: a domestic OCD nutcase. I started washing dishes, offering drinks and a bite to eat, trying my best to stay active as I was incredibly fearful of what would occur if I stopped and just allowed myself to feel what I was feeling: dread, fear, and most of all, panic.

While my friend kept saying what I already knew (that I couldn’t do anything from London, all I could do was live my life, I was probably imagining things worse than what they actually were, etc) I just kept thanking him for being kind enough to drop whatever he was doing to come over and listen to me talk, of which I did a great deal.

As I spewed forth details of my life, he became aware that this wasn’t the first incident where I’d almost lost my mother. I told him that she’s almost died when I was about nine or ten years old. She went in to outpatient surgery to have a bowel obstruction procedure and ended up in a coma for weeks. The procedure left me with a mother I could only visit in the hospital, while I lived with my grandparents.

I can remember praying to God every single night asking him to keep my mother alive because I needed her. I asked him to watch over my entire family, and I promised to always be good if only he’d keep her alive. I needed her to get well so that my cousin , who lived with my grandparents as well could stop bullying me (at one point, after chasing me around the house with a butcher knife, he’d locked me in the basement and when he finally let me out, I sprayed air freshener in his eyes. Clean Linen Glade was my revenge). People at church kept saying that prayer worked and I wanted to make sure it did. I was relentless in my praying. I didn’t want to live with my grandparents forever, not because I didn’t love them, but because they weren’t my mom. And my everyday routine was supposed to include the woman who birthed me. I remembered going to school every day and loving it because school was where I was the happiest. School was an emotional necessity, not just a mental one. Learning distracted me from what was soon to become my evening routine; sitting in a hospital from about 6pm until 9pm reading library books, old copies of Reader’s Digest and basically learning how to make the perfect cup of Folgers instant coffee (despite rumors that it would stunt my growth).

Of course, my mother, the fighter she is, pulled through. She emerged from her coma after 2 weeks and was eventually sent home. However, the wound she had from her surgery left her with a hole in her stomach that the family had to watch heal gradually on its own. It healed nastily and was a constant reminder that she was on the threshold of death at one point in her life.

My friend listened intently and kept the head nods and the reassuring smiles coming. Then I told him something that I’d only just realized:

“If I lost my mother, then I’d lose what love is.” She’s the only woman, my goodness, the only person in the world who loves me unconditionally, and if she left this earth, I would never know what that feels like again. Because she’s truly loved me, flaws and all, and she and I have truly grown together. There were times when I was growing up where we had nothing. I didn’t realize it until I got older because my mother didn’t allow me to live knowing that we weren’t privileged. But that’s what a mother does right? She always kept hope alive in me.

Some weeks prior to the card she sent, I’d showed her my previous blog entry. And we’d had a very candid conversation about its content and what it would mean if I published it and the truths that emerged from that session between us was immense. She and I had crossed yet another bridge which pushed our relationship as son and mother even closer. We ended that conversation filled with new information and filled with understanding of one another. So when news of the heart attack interrupted my life, I was feeling that we’d only scraped the surface of what’s yet to come of learning from each other.

During my talk with my friend, I suddenly found it harder to breathe as another epiphany hit me.

“Before my grandmother passed away,” I told him. I could feel my throat tightening up and the involuntary tears begin. I tried to swallow it all away. “…Before my grandmother passed away, she said to my mother ‘I can go now because you are in good hands. You have everything you need. You have a husband who loves you, wonderful children, and a home to call your own. You don’t need me anymore.’” And then tears gushed forth as I said the following:

“I can’t lose my mother because she needs to say those same words to me. I need to be in good hands before she goes and I’m not.” I cried into my shirtsleeves and turned away. Then I caught enough breath to say what was at the root of losing my mother. “If I lost my mother, I will never find anyone else who will love me as unconditionally as she does. And that fucking sucks. Because this kind of love will never exist for me again” I let the tears warp my vision as I was wrapped in a bear-hug.

During the embrace, the following came to me: if the doors on my mother’s mortality closed before my heart opened itself to actual, true love…then I’d know for sure that I’d never find someone to love me with the same fervor; someone who’d never give up on me even when I gave up on myself, someone who’d understand and excuse all of my idiosyncracies.3

Never in all my life has a truth hit me so hard about myself. I can’t fall in love unless it’s with my mother’s blessing. And I don’t want her to die without me being successful to the degree of having found love, whatever that means to me. But I’m hoping that whatever love I find will be as genuine, as diligent, as long-lasting as the love I have for the woman who birthed me. More importantly, despite the struggles, and the fights, and the losses and the gains we’ve made in our lives, she has managed to transform me into a prince. I’ve always known where I stood with her. And I’m lucky to be able to still have her in my life. It was in October that I found out that my mother’s heart episode might have been a one-off. She doesn’t have any signs of heart problems or anything and she is in the best of health. God hears prayers, and God knows that her work isn’t done. She still has lives to impact and she still needs to see her son grow up and thrive in his career and maybe…in love.

If I’m honest with myself, I want to eventually end up with someone who will take me from prince to king status. But now that I’m a lot older and I look back on my life so far; past all of the failed attempts at dating, the constant rejection from those who I hoped were worthy of my heart, and my general confusion about the emotion I thought I knew so well; I find myself wondering big time ‘When does real love begin? How does one spot its origins?’ I see a lot or people who are in it, and I recognize the genuine lovers from the superficial ones, but it seems I’m entering that stage of life where I’m constantly asking “How do people end up with one another? Why is someone willing to take a risk on just one person and hope that they will be their everything, when there are so many people in this world to choose from? More or less, will it take the death of a person for me to find love in another?

One of my best friends in the world recently called me out on something. His words were as follows:

“Tommy, I know that you hate the idea of falling in love. But I’m just going to say this to you and don’t take offense. You know what I think? I think that underneath all that ‘I’m never getting married, never falling in love’ bravado…you are actually desperate for love. You need it more than anything. I just wish you felt that you deserved it.”

Real friends stab you in the front and my best mate definitely did that with his words. He was the only person I’d told that I didn’t feel I deserved to be loved. Well, that’s not true. I told him I didn’t deserve to be in a relationship with anyone. When I think about it…if I think I deserve to have friends (which is a type of relationship), why do I think I’m not entitled to deserve love? Maybe because I still, somehow, feel that to give your all to one person means eventual disappointment. I’m bound to fuck-up and I can’t stomach the repercussions of fucking-up (as a former perfectionist). I can’t afford to disappoint others because then I feel guilt and I feel like I’m failing myself. And if the faces in my bad dream were any indication of what letdown looks like, I don’t want to be responsible for those faces, ever.

But then I think I look at love in a different way than a lot of people. I love my friends to death. I feel that I’d never fall out of love with them. Even those who aren’t around me all the time or even in the same country as me still find ways to bring a smile to my face! I have loads of memories with people who have touched my life and vice versa that show me that love exists in more than one way. I’m still in love with my friends. With one-on-one love, there is the danger of falling out of it…and if that occurred, I’d see myself as a time waster. Romantic love is a bridge I may have to cross one day, but when I do, it’ll be with the blessing of my mother and the friends who have loved me even before I found “the one” who might potentially love me unconditionally. But right now, romantic love will remain an uncrossed bridge and I will focus on making sure that my new niece has all the love she needs in this world. The last thing she needs is to grow up looking for it elsewhere, when she’ll have it at home all along.

December 19, 2011

I remember when I said that I would never write about love. Then I made history. And I did.

The most important person in this world to me!

The Boy from Virginia Emerges from the Grave (The Hiatus Series)

“There’s always another chance. Another chance to make a change, to make new choices, to say sorry, to offer and accept love, to embrace responsibility, to understand, to create  romance, to make amends, to escape, to break the chain, to see the truth, to tell the truth, to reassess, to rebuild, to be reborn. Give yourself a chance to live. Give the world a chance to be wonderful” –Rikki Beadle-Blair

Last Friday, I performed a small interpretive dance piece about fair trade gold for Africa Fashion Week. The next day, I cut off my hair and went into work for a Burlsque night in central London. Then, on Sunday, I began my new job as a waiter in a restaurant. Only two and a halk weeks ago was I sitting in my room feeling as if I couldn’t move. Now here I am, moving as much as I possibly can. Things do turn around, don’t they?

The following was originally written on August 3rd

What a hiatus gives a person is the following: 1)serious time to think, 2) a clear head to figure out what’s next, and 3) a refreshing feeling that no vacation has the power to give.

So I thought. A lot. And I tried to pinpoint the root of my problem with God and with my situation and it boiled down to something quite simple. I wasn’t angry with God because I didn’t get a role in a play. I’ve NOT gotten roles before. Instead, I lost faith because all I wanted was a job that was going to help me get out of financial debt before leaving London. I lost faith because I figured that getting a role was such a small thing to ask God for. But He couldn’t do it. Or better yet, he chose not to do it. He’d rather give the rich even more riches and keep the poor, struggling no matter how hard some of them fight to make life better.

So I questioned him. I questioned Him hard. And it made people very mad I feel because of some unspoken rule that says He’s not to be questioned. Here’s my theory:  I don’t think God punishes negative thoughts. He doesn’t reward them, obviously, but why punish when he has bigger fish to fry? The world has tons of negativity. Instead, he tends to show you what he has in store. The more I questioned, and the more insecure I became, the more I began to care less about God and His miracles. But then, calls came in and doors opened and I figured that it would be stupid of me not to put in work to make good things happen for myself (which is why I now have a couple jobs to help me for a bit). So from now on, I will say, “Question God,” because he will definitely show you His answer. I think a cowardly entity would just refuse to show up at all.

I think God showed me an answer through a death. You see, it was Amy Winehouse’s death that made me think, this isn’t it for me. I still have a legacy to leave behind, and a mark to make on this world. To just quit my career (which is what I was considering) would be a testatment to failure, and people who know me well know that I only fail at relationships, not my career.

I love my job waaaay to much to just give up on it. Moments like the one I experienced are considered a “scuffle.” Like any other relationship in which you love something, you are bound to get hurt, and you need to recover from that hurt in your own way. This industry is something that most people love and hate at the same time. To be able to love/hate simultaneously shows the depth of my involvement in the craft. It’s like family; Only real family members know how to piss you off, and then make you smile 5 minutes later.

This is a journey that I am constantly on and the only relationship I know how to manage. I wouldn’t be surprised if I feel the exact same way about the industry in later years. Yes, I recognize how specific my situation is to me yet, for those who’ve forgotten, I write my blogs not just for myself, but for those people who aren’t near me and want to know how I’m living my life. That includes being candid with my readers and not stiffing them on the details that make my journey a real one. Not everything I write will be comfortable, nor understandable to some. Remember, regardless the emotion, the essence of me doesn’t change.

One of my favorite lines of any movie is in Scream 2 where Sidney Prescott says “I’m a fighter.” Her graying drama teacher looks at her with a hint of challenge and disdain and says not once, but twice “I don’t believe you.” She looks at him with a combination of determination and fear, and says with more than enough internal power, “I’m a fighter.” This is how I feel every single day of my life. I start my days with question marks about the things I believe in the most, and by the day’s end, or the next morning, my questions marks have turned into periods or exclamation points.

My personal plea to my friends and family and readers is this: Know me well enough to know that I’m fine and will always pick myself up of the concrete when knocked down. I’m not a hopeless case who will end up in a hospital somewhere for slitting his wrist. That’s too played out. People are remembered most for their actions, how they persevered and lived through even the worst of times.  However, also know me well enough to know that my hiatus was a form of rebellion. I don’t get to rebel often because people think that I am happy and together all the damn time. It seems selfish for people to want meto be happy for them as opposed to myself. So if feeling sad for a week, or a month, makes me feel happy, respect it.

For a time, during my hiatus period, people were suggesting all types of ways to diagnose my “problem” and I kept wondering if they knew that my problem was merely financial. If they had a get rich quick scheme, then I would take that on in a heartbeat. But the question of problems remained. Do I have a problem?, I thought. Yes, I do. It’s called “feeling too much.”  When I get caught up in something, I feel it to the nth degree. But funny enough, there is nothigng wrong with that. Most people don;t feel or care enough. I don’t want to be one of those people no matter how foot-loose and fancy free they appear to be. From my personal experience, I’ve come to realize that being considerate of others is rewarding, even thought it can get a bit stressful as well. Therefore, I need to find a balance between giving and not giving a fuck.

But a word to the wise, when it comes to me, I ask my friends to let me come to conclusions on my own. I have to live with myself 24 hours a day and no one knows me like I know me, so don’t try to solve me as if I am some sort of emotional equation. I can usually solve myself with silence, some well thought out words, and my laptop.

Sidewak drawig at the Southbank