Posts Tagged ‘family’


Seizure: being grabbed and tossed to the ground.  In an instant, I became a bucking horse, forgiven everything except this moment. In exchange for a mouthful of blackened bacon sweating grease, here is a chaser of carpet and the hail of a table’s debris.  It is unusual, to say the least, to awaken face down on a  carpet, having been mounted by electrical shocks and rendered, pardon me, dumb and empty and useless.  A man with a need for sugar and grease is of no use to anyone except the doctor or the mortician.  My morning trip to Farmer’s market cost me a leg on the coffee table that my legs violent thrashing kicked off.  The table showered me with a coffee mug, an ashtray, my laptop, half bottle of lemon water, a nail file.  The tremors stopped even as my head continued spinning and I got up off the floor disoriented like I’d had a years’ worth of sleep in a handful of seconds.  I surveyed my body from head to toe — what the hell am I doing here / what exactly just happened.  I got up from the floor, surprised by the sudden newness of everything.  I took aspirin, then unplugged the power strip from the wall seeing how the desk lamp had broken its neck and all bottles of liquid had spilled into a wet outline haloed around me.  After dropping the aspirin, I needed to lay down again immediately.  I couldn’t make the couch and chose the closest floor.  Have you ever been confused by your own body?  I was confused by more than that.  I looked across the terrain of the carpet.  The broken table, the broken lamp, the scattered ephemera  and the dumb luck of not electrocuting myself, at least.

And then, I looked up at the silent black phone.  Perhaps you would have called any number of friends or family or even an ambulance.  I had no friends or family and the ambulance was a rubber banded roll of money chocked deep down in my throat I couldn’t get up.  In truth, there is a hospital four blocks from my building… but, but, but.  I looked at my phone, useful to me now as a toaster might be, and felt deeply sad.  Right then, I felt sorry for myself.  And I thought back to earlier that morning when I’d gone to the farmer’s market where I bought eggs and the aforementioned bacon which probably led to this absurd afternoons non-delight.  Smirk now as I tell you I walked past a man shoving kale and arugula into a plastic bag and kept walking.  I walked past another man standing in the middle of the flowing wave of shoppers.  He was speaking so loudly into his cell phone it seemed like a performance.  I thought I recognized him … and did.  He is my biological brother.  And as if this might explain anything, I walked past him while he stood blindly screaming: “What?? Should I give up my freedom to do what I…” and I walked past him, unnoticed and stopped listening after losing count of all the “I’s” shoved into his sentence.  He never saw me, unable to see anything except his own issues.  How to say: we are better as strangers than brothers?  More familiar to one another in thought than face to face.  As I walked past, I realized there were no memories I wanted to volley back and forth.  There was nothing I wanted to catch up with.  We emerged from the same biological muck, brothers in the dictionary yet strangers and useless otherwise.  He had sons, a daughter, an ex-wife, plenty.  He wasn’t adopted.  He was wanted.  Somehow it was just me who didn’t match the set.  It was me to whom my “birth mother” said, “lets agree to disagree”, before handing me off like a casserole.  I walked past him and bought cookies at a booth two tables down.  I preferred sugar and the kind smile of a stranger vending baked goods and fresh pasta.

I didn’t think of my biological brother again until later that afternoon when I found myself on the floor, table broken, dishes scattered across the floor in an awful tableau.   From my vantage point, I couldn’t think of a single name to call.  The only thing I thought of was him shouting into his phone and with that, my body flattened against the rug.  Depending upon him, I’d be good as dead.  The spilled items agitated me.  I pushed myself up, stumbled to the couch and waited.  I lay on my back and listened to my body.  Adrenaline is gasoline burning clean beneath my topsoil of skin.  My heart thumped even down to my fingertips.  I was glad to feel anything.  I spoke to myself, not a prayer, but how you’d test a microphone, and I sounded okay.  I flexed my toes.  Whenever a wave of thought whitecapped I breathed slowly until it smoothed out.  I watched the adrenaline burn and turn from red to orange to blue and then ease.  The day outside was so pretty and so bright and so useless.  I reached for my phone to make a doctor’s appointment then realized the next open slot was more than a week later.  Once I could move comfortably, I called medical services to expedite my appointment.  The woman-operator on the phone cheerily asked What Was Wrong.  I didn’t want to talk to her, I wanted to speak with my doctor.  She asked: It isn’t sexual is it? I used the word Seizure then the word Stroke and then a nurse was connected on the line and quietly urged me to call emergency.  Turns out there is a hospital but four blocks from my front door.  She talked me down from even trying to walk it, alone, especially before knowing what was wrong or whether it would happen again.  She said my appointment couldn’t be changed.  I hung up the phone and stared at the wall, breathing.

The Empty Room

Posted: May 26, 2016 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

Eye of Horus

On the way to the hospital, I walk past Mosswood Park and was compelled to visit the amphitheater. Speckled key lights of sun were spilled randomly along the ground. When was the last time I was here: the late 90’s men’s group meeting? I was quite fond of those Sundays when a bunch of male artists got together to talk openly about whatever and one of the first meetings we had was here, along the stone steps. Or was I last here for a video shoot? The small stage held young dancers that afternoon and we’d set up now antiquated video cameras and lights to record it while the producer marched around hugging a clipboard like a flattened teddy bear. Today there was a man stretched out sleeping soundly on the concrete steps, his arms folded, and beneath a baseball cap he snored gently. A woman walked her 10-speed down to the first row and sat on the concrete with a book. On the ground were the ashy remnants of a fire; hunks of blackened wood freckled with bright white papery ash. I just stood to look at the place through memory, then turned and pressed on to the hospital.

I didn’t want to go and yet pushed myself uphill. I chose not to think any names of the people I’d lost to this building or the promise I made to myself how I’d never come back. I took the hill slowly, mournfully despite the day being so lovely and warm. I was here because I’ve known Say 20 years, if not more. He’s been a lifelong sufferer of Sickle Cell. For whomever I’ve lost over the years to death or indifference, his friendship has remained steadfast, even as I’m often not the best friend in the world due to my chronic introversion. But when I talked to him yesterday, he surprised me saying he’d had his hip removed. I found myself half listening while unboxing a new external hard drive as he explained he’d been released from the hospital only to be rushed back when he found his body’s new problems. Between the last time we talked and this, a distance maybe of two weeks, he’d suffered more problems and pain on top of whatever the sickle cell crisis had put him through. I told him I’d be by after work tomorrow and this is why I walked up the hill to the hospital, finding a gate surrounding and securing the main entrance. Its’ been that long, huh?

I walked around the corner then up to the new entrance. The hospital smell leaking out of the doors out onto the now valet-parking controlled driveway. As I walked up, no one was manning the area, and several cars sat quietly. I walked in, approached the desk and waited. No one was in a hurry to speak or help me. One guard patiently finished his call, (the other was talking with a female employee) then called me over. I gave Say’s last name and he gave me a visitor’s sticker and directed me to the new elevator bank. I went up to the 10th floor, down towards Say’s room and found it empty. I stood in the middle of the room. The room felt cold and empty — so desperately empty– even with me in it. The bed was unmade, the sheets like frozen waves of snow. The pillow wasn’t on the bed, but rather on the chair across the room. There was a table swung away from the bed and near the window. His dinner sat sealed and sweating in front of his open laptop, the wallpaper image of an Egyptian eye of Horus. I looked back to the open door and the hallway where no one and nothing moved. Silence. No nurses, no sounds of TV’s in neighboring rooms. The white board on the wall offered scant information made in blue and black markers; Say’s name, a short list of goals, his projected release date, which when I looked at my phone appeared to be the next day. The television was black. Outside, the city was only light adjusting for the evening while a vein of cars ran along the freeway. I stood uncertain of what to do. Time stopped and I felt at a loss and weird. I took out my pocket notebook, tore out a page and wrote a note. It seemed important I end the note with I Love You, which I did, even as I feel myself a bad friend having never done quite enough. What could I do? I tore it out and first lay it on the top sheet of the bed, balanced between two waves of bedding. I looked around again half expecting the entire building’s lights to click off. I picked up the note, then wriggled it into the keyboard of his laptop. His dinner sat sweating beneath a plastic bowl cover. Everything seemed to wait, yet nothing was happening nor seemed about to happen. I looked up at the clock again, sucked gently on my lips, then walked out.

Closed doors down the hallway towards the left. A long hallway with some opened doors on my right. I walked back to the elevator. I pulled off my visitor’s sticker as if it might sting, rolled it like a joint and plopped it in the trash. Twenty feet down from the elevator bank, a heavyset young man sat across from a patient. That man very well could have been me. The patient he looked over at without speaking, unseen by me, was my mother. However many years its been, I’ve never left.

in your silent room
a shivering bed awaits
a heart holds its breath


Only today did I realize the website Xanga saved my blog entries from 2007. I thought they were gone forever. I’m struggling to save them/upload them/ double check their worth. But since I haven’t posted in a while, I found this and decided to share it. From what I remember, this was me responding to an email my biological sister sent me after I vanished into radio silence. Her email lines are in bold, I responded below on that blog. Of course, I never sent this (what did I send?). I never expected her to read my email, never expected people to read that older blog, and don’t expect anyone to read this one. If you do read this, know that over the last few years, I have learned to let go. I let everything go.


What’s up with U?  No, hear from, NO see. 
          When I stopped hanging around family, my life improved.  I noticed the complex composition of birdcalls.  I lost weight.  I learned to dance.  To enjoy sunlight.  Hadn’t really called because I hadn’t missed you.  You’d failed to give me anything to miss.
Heard U were on the pitty potty, struggling with an identity issue.
            I spent that time weeping, realizing if this is family, I’m fucked.
Well just 2 let U know brother a little about your history.  What ever year U were born,  (if I was good with numbers, would be living N RENO)
                1968.  I won’t hold you to remembering the actual date or anything…. 
Our entire family had moved from Lousiana, Granny, Grandfather, Me, Daisy, Pete, Willie was a baby.  Mom and Dad were the only ones working, struggling 2 provide food and basic esssentials.
                 I met Granny a year before she died.  Small framed, Black with strong Native American features.  Saw her once at the house where she lived in East Oakland, thereafter in the rest home where she stayed until her final days.  She was fascinated by me, I think, because I resembled my father– whom I never met.  He’d died of cancer before I found out I was adopted, and the man I called Father was actually a kind of permanent temp.  Anyways: granny would look at me, reach out for my face as if it were a mirage and call my father’s name, “Henry.  Henry.”  Like me, he was an only child.  Odd how many things connect with the people I was never raised around and never met.
One day Mom, had a baby, it wuZ U, mom worked all the time, nights, weekends, all D time.  Grandfather diagnosed with CANCER and was dying,   When U were born, you were a surprise and had various medical problems. 
                   While watching Rosie bake bread–Rosie, the woman supposed to be my mother– she told me she’d gotten pregnant the year before I was born but the baby died in her womb.  I took residence within her, within that damaged space and apparently was born carrying that child’s debris.  My ‘mother’, Foster Mother I guess, told me I was born needing a hernia operation. 
Ms. Cagney taught school where Mom learned 2 B a beautician, no children and had a lot more going than the situation all of us.  Even though, U had medical problems, Grandfather dying, Mom and Dad working hard to support us, when U suddently came we all wanted to do what ever necessary to accomodate and keep U.  Mom decided that you would have a better life with the Cagney’s.  Basically U don’t know it but U did.  Mom felt guilty, Granny and all of us were hurt that U had 2 live with the Cagney’s.  However, Mom always kept N touch and visited U often.  Even though I didn’t like her decision, I would accompany her on the visits.
                    Why I don’t remember this is a mystery.  My first meeting with Rosie was when I was 19.  She seemed vaguely familiar to me, but so did many of the old women who came thru the house to get their hair done in our kitchen.  I will admit to remembering one time she visited with Avis, I think, whom ten years later turned out to be my sister.  I just remember playing in the backyard with this girl and somehow getting her on the hood of my father’s truck in the backyard and dry humping her, looking up to see these two women come down the stairs.  They asked what I was doing.  I said: Playing family.
I could go on forever, about how hard life wuz for your other siblings and how life wuz growing up extremely poor, living in a four room TIN roof house in Louisiana.
                    Please do.  I love the blues.
I’m saying all this, becuz U need 2 know, that life is short, what ever trip U R on, U need 2 let it go.  U have family, MOM, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts that love U and we would love 2 b a part of your life.  Believe me whatever U R going through, someone has already gone through.
                    I do want to let it go.  You, your mom, your sisters and brothers.  Your children.  Your neices and nephews.  I want to let go that any of this happened.  I want to let go the confusion I had about who’s family I belonged to.  I want to let go the sense of loneliness I feel when I’m around you.  I want to let go everything associated with you.  Were it possible I could remove you from my blood I’d do so happily.
Yes, James unfortunately U do have family.  Even though going through the changes that life puts us through takes us through.  We don’t reach out or communicate as often as we should.
                “Unfortunately I do have a family.”  Unfortunately.  That lack of communication you mention has cost you our relationship.
With work, struggling to keep riding, food on the table, money N yo pocket, and most importantly a roof over yo head with d lights on.
                One of the things I felt was that I’d joined the family much too late.  Now folks have responsibilities and lives.  They don’t need me.  And I’ve been shown how true that is.  I feel how true that is.  My button says: Ask Me How It Feels To Be Unneeded.
I don’t see Mom or the group N Sacramento as often as I should, mostly because I’d rather take a beating than take D drive.
                I’d rather take a beating, too– than seeing you or anyone in Sac..  But neither is really worth it. 
Yo do have issues but we all do and none of us R happy with D way we grew up.  However, you must REMEMBER one of GRANNY’s Say-N’s  “U can’t live N this world alone.”
                 Granny must’ve said that to yawl.  Not me.  All I’ve had was The Alone.
Right now you’re on the PITTY POT.  But u need 2 (LIGIT)  LET IT GO. 
                  I’m letting it and you and all of it go right now.  LIGIT?  ASAP!  LOL!
Even though we don’t call.  Plez know we R always there 4 U. 
                 That… soothes me?
Never get soooo sick and not let anyone know. 
                And who will prepare my funeral?  Will anyone even fry chicken?
Especially if U start seeing Auntie Alma, CALL SOMEBODY.
                Aunt Alma was my favorite and she’s now dead.  I remember three visits with her.  The first was at her house in East Oakland.  When I first met her, I wasn’t sure if it was okay to kiss her.  Was I supposed to?  Is that what folks here did?  I sat at the fireplace, the first one I’d ever interacted with, and while the fire was dying I tossed the smallest twigs on it I saw and she giggled.  Her son, my cousin? whom I thought looked remarkably like me, sat at the dining room table drinking beer from a pitcher.  That was the first time I remember ever thinking I looked like somebody. 
                The second was after she’d moved to Sacramento, blocks away from where Rosie lived.  I was asked to drive her to a few Doctor’s appointments and to the store.  Something I actually enjoyed.  It was good practice for me, driving.  I remember doing as much for my foster mother before she died– though I wished I had a car during my foster mom’s illness.  In Sac I was using Aunt Alma’s car.
                The last time was when she’d been moved into a convelescent home in East Oakland.  I lived in San Francisco at the time and it was a huge commute for me to get there, but I went to see her a few times.  I don’t know if she even knew I was there.  I remember she’d talk in her hazy sick-sleep.  She’d call names of relatives I didn’t know.  Once I panicked and called Rosie to get advice on reaching one of the people she’d called.  But Rosie seemed unconcerned.  I remember wiping Aunt Alma’s face with a rag.  She sweated.  I’d usually stay for an hour, until someone else would show up.  One of her other sisters.  Then, I’d go home.  I thought about those who would never come visit her, those who were afraid of hospitals.  You included, Carol.  I’ve been blessed to’ve never lain in a hospital bed, but because of all the illness I’ve been around from my foster family… Aunt Mary, Cousin Johnny, Aunt Effie, Uncle Abe, Cousin Isaac, Cousin Jimmy, My Grandmother, My Grandfather, My Father, My Mother… I know what it feels like.  To be truly alone with memories and spirits.  You open an eye as if in a dream– look at the foot of the bed and see someone you haven’t seen in years standing there, waiting for you.  I am standing next to you, and I look at the empty space into which you stare deeply and I ask the dust floating there in silence, “What am I supposed to do?” 

amityvilleIn the mid 90’s, after my mother died, my house was haunted.

The only house I’d ever known, The only place I’d felt safe and loved. But at the time there had been a series of deaths– not in the house, not violent, but all familial, all relatives. My father’s death surprised me. And I’m sure he expected to walk out of the hospital after his last visit. But after he died, I’m not sure if I

A) Really saw him looking at me from my bedroom doorway, which was weird because I thought he looked healthier than when he was in hospital
B) Really wanted to see him and talk with him one last time and apologize because I was an adolescent ass to him his last few months.
C) Was Really Dreaming, or Really Tripping

Several odd occurrances happened in the years between my father’s death and my mothers. But after my mom died, the weirdness increased.

I generally did think there were rats in the walls of that house, agitatedly chewing wood behind the wall. But I never asked myself: Why only my bedroom did that scratching occur? Why in one specific place– behind where I usually sat to watch tv, just behind the headboard of my bed? Because I thought it was animals, it annoyed me– it didn’t scare me. The deep crunching noise would begin and I would pound the wall in response to frighten whatever it was away. It would. For a while. I wanted to crawl beneath the house and find that sweet piece of lumber and see what teeth marks on it or evidence of an animal. I never did.

And skeptics call it sleep paralysis. Where you’re in bed, paralyzed, hovering between sleep and wakefulness. You’ll dismiss the sounds I’d sometimes hear laying in bed early mornings; a sound like a cocktail party in the next room where everone is speaking at once. A moderate conversational buzzing noise, all english, but I couldn’t pick out any words. Until after my mom died and deep within that noise I heard her voice. Not exactly what she said, but I could hear her, as you could pick out any familiar voice or laugh mixed in with others. The stew of voices usually scared me and I’d pull myself awake urgently, not understanding or wanting to listen. But my mom was my last close relative. I didn’t expect her to die either and without her I was desperately alone. When I heard her voice, I was no longer afraid or intimidated. I knew she wouldn’t hurt me. I kept saying to the voice, Help. Help. And since you don’t believe any of this, you also won’t believe I once heard her say in a huge, controlled whisper– as if she were using everything to speak– the words: One Whole Week.

I waited a week. I don’t recall what happened. But it must’ve been positive, helpful. I lived, and I’m still here living, Thank God, writing this now.

I recently went through old journals that kept me sane during those years. I was surprised to read and remember how after my mom died, she returned, and was a bit pissed off how the house was in disarray without her. In my sleep, I heard her in the kitchen say something about not having any laundry or dish soap. I was not with my mom when she died– her doctor called before sunrise one morning and told me. But I also journalled about having this ‘weird dream/sensation’ that I ‘met’ my mom in some kind of void, where I could see nothing except her and we hugged. The background was unpainted walls or smoke. All I saw/felt was her. She wordlessly approached, I felt her in my arms, and that was that. Maybe you’re a skeptic and you easily label it a dream and walk away.

My mom collected figurines, decorative plates and tea sets from all 50 states. At her funeral, many relatives took, claimed, stole, and asked for those plates. She had two wax candle figures of a little Quaker boy in a top hat, and a little Quaker girl in a blue dress. The girl was sculpted in a prayer position with her palms together, at her lips. One afternoon of depression and failing to find a job, I took the Quaker boy and lit his candle, then stood him center of a small plate. Only an inch high, he burned down to a grey puddle in less than an hour. Then, I took the little praying girl, placed her in the hardening puddle on the plate, and lit her.

She burned for about 12 hours. The flame went down to the tiniest yellow/blue seed in a small melted wax crater in the plate. By this time, I had roommates so I took the candle, and its flame and put it in my room to let it burn out naturally. The afternoon became night and I went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I awoke and saw that the flame had grown hotter and rose about 6 or 7 inches high, and had gotten so hot the plate it was on cracked. I watched it, and waited until the next day when it finally extinguished itself.

Coincidence, I guess. Huh? Bolstered by the wax of the first candle, the second thrived and burned the whole night through. Just science. Nothing weird, right?

If sleep paralysis includes the sensations of someone sitting on the edge of your bed, then why haven’t i felt that in more than 10 years? At the house, for several weeks on a regular basis, I would feel the edge of my bed sink as if someone had placed a suitcase near me or, more precisely, just sat the fuck down. I kept thinking, if I could just move and look I’d see someone sitting Right There. I remember this happening maybe twice after leaving the house, then no more. Guess I’m all better now, huh?

What happens to us at death? Any senior citizen will tell you truthfully, they don’t feel their age. Their body may be 70, 80, 100… But inside, they say, they don’t feel old or like they think they should feel. What happens to that feeling, that awareness after the body dies? Do you expect it to dissolve like water vapor? Bad simile: water vapor never dissolves, it rather becomes something different. What do we become? Maybe you don’t believe in ghosts, and you doubt the black cut out I saw one morning was ever a real person, but instead a play of shadows, a sleep induced hallucination. I won’t bore you with the part of the story where others in the room saw it and spoke of it before I ever said anything. Because I was a child then, and no one would believe a child anyways. They’re all active imagination.

But I’ve told the story of meeting my grandmother before she died several times. I’ve talked before about the dream I had and how she woke me from it, her warm hand on my cheek before finally dissolving into the ether and never to be felt again. But what I’ve rarely shared is this: that years after that incident, I finally sat and spoke with my biological sister. I’d only met my grandmother 2 or 3 times after I found out I was adopted and just before she died. I’m still don’t clearly remember her name. I told my sister about that strange weekend; how I couldnt go to the funeral but dreamed I did. How the funeral was on a roof in my dream and there were flowers and an open casket and a lot of empty chairs, all stand ins for the relatives I’ve never known. I mentioned how the dream stopped and I felt a hand, but I couldn’t move until the hand raised off me and how that scared me and sent me to pray it away, even as I knew deep in my heart exactly who it was. Somehow I felt comfortable enough to tell my sister that weird story, okay if she just laughed it away or called me crazy or whatever.

Instead, she said. Yeah, that’s granny. She was always very touchy feely.