My dearest Debbie: this is so scary, your cardiac arrest. Seeing you on Thanksgiving Day connected to all those tubes and machines buzzing and beeping and ringing, with their blue and green and yellow lines zigzagging across a bank of screens, dancing and flashing “vital sign” statistics like storm troopers – I thought I would die, baby. That was so surreal, so not you.
I cry to the universe, stunned, with a simple question on my tongue, like a character in the old time movies: “What’s the big idea?” I mean, really, what genre of karma is this that has you in such a dark valley between life and death? And I can’t help but recall when you got here.
Remember that historic day in our lives? January 4, 1957. You were in a nursery just a crying and flailing your arms like a tiny brown Leonard Bernstein and I stood there, a child myself, eighteen, shaking in my Chuck Taylor Converse All Star Basketball Shoes, wondering what was to become of me and you in this father/daughter arrangement we were getting into, against a background of pictures of Bible icons placed in the recessed spaces along the walls: guardian angels, the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross.
But there was such a lovely aura about you that said: “Hey, Pops, there ain’t nothing to it. Look at me. You can do it.” And by and by I learned the nuances of your cries, instinctively, which cries were about food, which cries were about mood, about just not feeling at ease, about the need for diapering, or a simple kiss and hug or a little playful tease. Those were the intricacies but you immersed me in the basics too, teaching me lessons like it was better for your skin and your disposition if I spent less time cursing and lamenting the changing of your wet and poopy diapers and more time actually changing them. So simple, so less stressful. Never-the-less still smelly.
Oh, what a master teacher you were, pointing out and asking questions about things in the neighborhood I had never paid attention to and I’d lived there for two decades before you entered my life. You gave me a different spin on my place in the Milky Way. Hanging out with you made me realize that there was no way I was going to bring you up in a “We don’t serve, Negroes” world. None of that Jim Crow nonsense for my little girl. “No sirree, Bob,” as those rednecks would say. Forget that.
So the next thing I knew I was helping organize Students for Equality, S-F-E. We took on a range of inequities and that came to be a lifelong lifestyle for me.
And I don’t know how I managed trying to alter this society in between being a father to you and Guy and Teresa and classes and basketball practices and games and running Tucson’s “Colored Swimming Pool” and working a series of janitor jobs where everybody was the kind of “Big Boss Man” fool Jimmy Reed used to sing about in the blues. I somehow got through all that without, although I had to bite my tongue a few times, bowing or shuffling because I knew that Mr. Man, as Mr. Reed would tell him in the song, wasn’t so big. He was “just tall, that’s all.” Girl, I had to learn to stand tall. I hope to shout: You taught me what dignity is all about.
And, voila, one day, I’ve got a B.S. in P.E. and then a M.ED and we all packed up and headed for the sea. The mighty Pacific. San Diego.
And shortly after we arrived life for us unraveled, didn’t it, baby? I’m so sorry. All that noise. All that anger. All that unreasonableness. Craziness. That was so devastating to me because all I wanted in life was a happy family much like Dick and Jane’s, in fact. “But Life,” as my Aunt Lillie used to say, “be that way, sometime.”
But in the midst of the dysfunction we squeezed in some precious memories, didn’t we? Softball. Track. Good Citizen and Smart Kid Assemblies. I can still see you playing the clarinet in that Elementary All-Star Band. I remember, in particular, a spat we once had that clued me in on how hip you were. You said: “So, here you are raising your fist in the air talking about Black Power and Power to the People and all that and I want to go to the black school down the street and you’ve got me in this school that’s mostly white.” You didn’t want to hear my take about all the enrichment activities and parent involvement in your school compared to a school that had no such environment. Holla! Talking about Daddy Power!
Then there came that day you chose to live with your mom and I’ve never felt so hollow. Then your friends became everything and it seemed we would never get back together again and then you became pregnant at nineteen. Man, was that a familiar scene, one that surely wasn’t in my hopes and dreams for you but thank God for la maze as helping you bring Cedric into the world was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. With his birth I realized that I was a root of our Family Tree which said ever so loudly to me that I had the responsibility of leaving all my progeny a legacy of good deeds being carried out on this earth. How else is the world better served?
Life since those days seems a blur. I see us getting together every now and then, you and your kids and my new family, for birthdays and picnics and such but the closeness we once enjoyed seemed to fade away. Until the other day. What a day. Did we have a good time or que? All day. Good food. So many laughs. Like old times when I pushed you around the neighborhood. You’ve always seen the funny in the world. We must have discussed every facet of the America we’re residing in today: the ridiculous shameful embarrassing behavior of the women on Basketball Wives, Occupy, Gay rights, Obama, the kid rapper, Astro, who had the meltdown on the X-Factor Show…
But it was the clearing of the air that was most gratifying for me, letting old misunderstandings and unintended sins committed against each other go. Have you ever executed so many fist bumps in your life? Didn’t it feel good just letting our love for each other flow? It gave me such a glow. It got me walking around chippier than I can remember being in a long time, especially since losing Nancy, that beautiful woman of mine, and living in a dark hole that was so hard to climb out of. Our getting together not only made my day but it made the next day too because I didn’t get the word about what had happened to you until Thanksgiving,
And, Lord, that phone call about you being in a coma on life support transported me to a degree of surrealism unlike any I’ve ever experienced.
But so many people, Debbie, are wishing you well and praying for you from the depths of their hearts, from a range of religious and spiritual beliefs. I am so heartened by this outpouring of love for you and our family.
A dear friend of mine, in particular, said to me: “Endure whatever comes with as much grace and compassion and acceptance as you can muster and mix the bittersweet with joy.”
And these past few days I’ve been a mustering fiend. And your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and our friends and your mom and me and some wonderful doctors and nurses are doing all we can to wean you off those ICU machines, massaging your feet and hands, stretching you, singing to you, playing you music, trying to signal your nervous system that everything is okay, trying to touch places in you that will reestablish your connection to life, to us.
We cheer every time you move a toe or a finger or nod your head or cough or sneeze or open your eyes narrow or wide. We see it all as you trying not to go to that light and the more you resist the closer we come to fulfilling our mission of helping you stay alive. That, for me, in these moments, is my mission in life.
Oh, I love you so. Stay with us, sweet girl. Pretty please. With sugar on it.