Vulnerability. God, I hate that feeling. It’s scary. It’s the reason I’ve been suppressing my emotions over the years. It’s the reason my friends don’t truly know me. It’s why I don’t cry. I’ve practiced holding it in so much for so long that even if I did want to cry, I couldn’t. It’s too hard. And I hate the feeling of being stripped, standing exposed in the rain. But it poured this year. And I wasn't ready.
April 2020. Beans. Corn. And humming. I was making chili in the kitchen with Mama when I heard the house phone ringing. My hands weren't clean, and I’m profoundly serious when it comes to cleanness, so I didn’t answer the phone. Grandma did instead. She reached the landline and began conversing with her friend, Phoebe, who is not one to readily call people. She prefers texting, which is interesting for an old woman. After three or so minutes of mumbling, I heard a beep. Grandma had hung up the phone.
She came around to the kitchen. “Frank’s dead,” she uttered.
My mouth was open, but words couldn’t seem to fall out. My mom went ahead. “Was it-”
“Covid? Yes," she sighed. “It reached his nursing home. He died yesterday, alone in his room.”
I hate the words ‘dead’ and ‘died’. They sound so… negative and petrifying. I would rather use ‘passed away’. Makes me feel like the person isn’t fully gone, you know?
My mom’s eyes were as red as the paprika in the cupboard and as wet as the asphalt on a rainy day. I don’t think the onions were helping either. I didn’t cry. But I felt all the emotions, and they burned. All the water on a rainy day couldn’t cool them down, so they burned.
Mommy retreated to the basement to grieve and pray for endurance in the pandemic. I looked to grandma and she could see the pain in my eyes.
“That’s the third friend we’ve lost so far. Is this how it’s gonna be now?” I asked.
She smiled, an empathetic one. “Come here.” She drew me into her arms. “This is the new normal, baby. We just have to learn to live differently.”
That didn’t calm the storm of emotions in me. It didn’t make me sigh in relief. I felt the same, but it was all I had.
May 2020. All three of us stared at the bright screen of the TV, feeling so much that it felt like we weren’t feeling anything at all. You should have seen us. Saltwater leaked through my mom’s eyes, I was leaning on her shoulder paddling through my thoughts, and the room was filled with Grandma’s "oh Gods".
Eight minutes and forty-six seconds for which he could not breathe. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds of thinking about your child, your significant other, your brothers, your sisters, the loss of your life in a few seconds, all the things you wanted to see and do but know that you won’t. Like seeing your daughter graduate. Like going on a well-deserved vacation. That could have been me, at the wrong place, at the wrong time with the wrong skin color.
I now understood why my mom was so protective of me, possessed by fear of sending me on school field trips, to parks, to the mall with friends, from driving by myself. For the first time, I felt absolutely terrified. What if a cop charged me for DWB (Driving While Black)? What if I ‘fit the description’? I didn’t want to live the rest of my life going the extra fifty miles so that people feel comfortable only for them to switch into reverse and backup. And suddenly, I grasped the reality. And my whole being wanted to rewind time to when I was six years old, clueless and watching Winnie the Pooh.
A tug was in my chest, and I knew straight away that I was losing control of… well, everything.
November 2020. Wailing broke out in the loudly silent Emergency Department. Every pair of eyes staring at a woman, astounded by her unwillingness to hold in her emotion.
She had inflammation all over her body, fibromyalgia (a disorder that offers pain as the main dish with extra plates of fatigue and issues with sleep, memory and mood), non-cancerous, but painful, tumors in her uterus, chronic fatigue syndrome, constipation, etc. I know because she’s my mother.
I was sitting six feet away. The hospital distanced the seats by wrapping most of them in plastic wrap and diabolically vibrant orange tape. “Pray, Mama,” I told her. A stream ran down her face, sucked up by her cloth mask.
She kept going to the nurses to ask why she hadn't been called yet. “Those with Covid and life-threatening illnesses are being prioritized,” they told her. It was the third time since this month had began that we’d been in the hospital. It was six in the morning when we were heading home, so we were in the ED for over ten hours.
I got a call from Grandma, saying that her heart was fluttering. She called the ambulance. But they brought her to a hospital much farther than where Mommy and I were.
“Do you have 'it'?”
“I don’t know,” she replied.
Three days ago. I took out the garbage, singing a made-up song to myself, “I want my grandma and mommy. I feel too stressed. I need them to calm me. To help me deal with life’s tests. I want to hug them and say, "I love you."” Grandma was in the kitchen and Mama was in the living room. I sat next to Mama, put my head on her shoulder and whispered, “I love you.” Then I had a nervous breakdown. My first ever. I tried to hold it in, but I just let it rain. I stood in the falling water till it made me calm, and I felt so vulnerable. God, I love that feeling.