This morning I walked past a crime scene. I paused for a second while crossing the street with my daughter to take in what was going on. News cameras already on the scene it didn’t take long before I realized that I was standing on the outskirts of a murder investigation. I got the all too familiar chill up my spine and said a small prayer, hoping it wasn’t someone I know. My daughter of course sensing the energy of the moment asked me, “What happen?” I could only reply, “I don’t know but it isn’t good.” Death comes and goes in our life. We see it everyday in the media, we know it’s an inevitable part of life, and we know we all will come face to face with that dark angel eventually. Even with knowing all this, tragedy doesn’t come easy.
I tried to push that dark scene to the back of my mind and push through my day, but in the midst of a silly argument with a loved one a text message came through from my cousin informing me a close friend had died. We spoke his name so frequently and often, the news just didn’t seem real. I swore she was lying, swore she was mistaken, but even worse I knew before she said it that I had seen the police standing solemnly over his body this morning. I knew I had been on the scene of a double homicide that was circulating on my Facebook newsfeed with two nameless victims. This one had a name, and this time it was someone I had met and shook hands with before. This time, my family was asking the frequently repeated question “Why him, why did it have to be him?”
This was not the first death and unfortunately I’m sure it won’t be the last. There are many boys/men who made me laugh, comforted me on late night phone calls, pissed me off, and expressed unrequited affection that would exit this realm far too violently and far too young. In the last 10 years I’ve lost friends, family, or acquaintances in a variety of different ways. Drug overdose, motorcycle accidents, murder victims, suicide, and diabetes. The single most devastating fact of all of this is my experience is typical. It is just as much of the Black experience as family BBQs and soul train lines. Untimely deaths are normal in our community, so much so that we’ve become numb to them.
While sitting at my desk in my cubicle, I began to cry, I wanted to leave, to take a step back and get a chance to breath. Although I wasn’t close to this young man, my family was and they were in pain so therefore I was in pain. I wanted to take the rest of the day off to go and sit with her. To hug her and tell her everything would be ok, or more importantly not say anything at all and let her just vent her frustrations. But I was dead in the middle of my workday, and this tragedy was not close enough to me to justify a hasty exit. I had to stay and finish out the workday. How could I explain to my superiors the heaviness of Black death.
How do I explain that the same day Jamar Clark’s murderers were declared innocent, that two separate loved ones would have to deal with the weight of accepting the death of a close friend or lover? How can I tell her how their pain ultimately affected me, and made me feel a sense of loss and hopelessness? How do I express that not only are my brothers dying at the hands of police but also at the hands of my brothers?
Death is so familiar to my community, all across this country, that we tuck its effects neatly in our back pockets. We deal with it in public as passively as we shoo away a wandering fly. We drown our sorrows in drugs and alcohol to prevent from facing the reality that on any given day it could be our brothers, uncles, fathers, cousins, sisters, mothers, or friend lying on that sidewalk with a sheet covering them. We are literally numb to the most brutal parts of life, because we have to be. I have to commute an hour and half to work tomorrow and still put in my best effort when I get there. I have to check on my loved ones via text to make sure the weight they’re carrying isn’t too heavy. I have to smile and appear as unaffected as possible. Not because I don’t feel or can’t grieve but because life does not mourn fallen Black soldiers. We have to create that space when we have time, and even then we need to make it brief.
I will say prayers for both brothers who were lost today. Both whose lives happened to touch two people on totally opposite sides of my life. I will shed some tears and let my daughter see that emotions are not weak. But I can’t help but wince in pain when I hear my cousin say, “I’m afraid to go to sleep tonight because I don’t want to be alone with the reality that he’s really gone, he’s gone and they took him from me.”
(As written March 30, 2016)