My dad passed away 19 years to the day I began this post (which I found difficult to complete for some reason)-the 27th of November-It’s been 16 months since his mama-my Grandma, passed away on September 14. It’s been Here I am (was) in her kitchen, sipping peppermint tea that I’ve never liked until today. It is strange to be sitting here, with my children nearby in the living room, as if time hasn’t passed, and she’s still here. I’m expecting her to stroll down the hallway any minute and scold me about how I (don’t) discipline my children.
I take another sip of the tea. The peppermint cools my throat, and clears my mind. A little bit. I expected much to have changed in my life since Grandma transitioned. Like when she were no longer here, the blessings would immediately rain down on me like manna from heaven. I thought after she passed, she’d visit me during my darkest bouts of writing block and take over the keyboard, you know-like Patrick Swayze did to Demi Moore in the pottery scene in the movie Ghost. It’s the least she could do since my story is her story and I know she wants me to tell it.
“Quiet boys, turn the volume down!” I can’t think. They lower the volume on their devices. A little bit, but I can still hear it. Never mind. You need to learn to focus, I tell myself.
But I can’t. It’s like since Grandma died, the world’s gone insane-COVID 19 exploded across the US, social and political tensions, have created divisions across every line you can cross in this country. Ironically, The United States was beginning to look like the banana republic, Grandma’s left her native Jamaica for. She is the American success story that poor and working class, white (still privileged) folks resent because she endured prejudices and hostility as a result of her race and gender, resisting fear and intimidation. She kept banging on doors until they opened-barging in if she had to because she knew she had a right to be in there, despite whatever man-made restrictions were imposed on her. “What’s impossible for man, is not impossible for God,” was her guiding mantra. And she, through Him, made all things possible. She had an obligation to her children and her children’s children to do as the Lord commanded of her and go into the land I have prepared for you-a land flowing with milk and honey, and it was here in America, His promise was fulfilled to her. She lived by faith, and not by sight, becoming a property owner during a time when it was unheard for a black person, let alone a woman, to achieve economic prosperity.
“BOYS! QUIET!” My twins are in the next room screaming at one another, even though they’re within a foot’s distance apart. This is the third time I’ve had to remind them. I can’t collect my thoughts and I need to finish this post. It’s long overdue.
To be honest, I don’t really know what I’m trying to say and as a writer, that frightens me.
Why don’t they listen? If Grandma were here, she’d only have to speak to them once. Like when my sister and I were kids. And if she had to speak a second time, well-she didn’t. She bit our ears. Hard.
Spare the rod and spoil the child. Grandma constantly used that phrase on me whenever she thought I was being soft on the boys. I recently came to learn the phrase is not even biblical-in fact it comes from a love poem about a sadomasochistic love affair. I wonder what Grandma might have thought about that. She hated when I tried to discredit biblical teachings, which I never was trying to do. As a student of history and politics, I enjoyed pointing out the inconsistencies or hypocrisies rife throughout the good book. It is, as most great books are, is a product of its time.
Not only did He heal, perform miracles and triumph over death, He was a revolutionary! Grandma didn’t like to hear me speak of her Lord that way.
“Jesus nuh start nuh war!” She said in thick patois. “All dat schoolin’ tun yuh a fool! Di bible talk ’bout dat too! Weh yuh tink a nonsense, God use knowledge to confound di wise. So you stay deh wid you ‘smart self. When ‘im come, education nuh gwine help you…”
The world has gone mad. I know today, on the 19th anniversary of my dad’s death—
I know. I totally skipped waxing poetic over Grandma’s anniversary-but I couldn’t finish it and here I find myself, a couple months later, after procrastinating and feeling sorry for myself actually completing this post with my dad lookin’ down, smoking his player’s light (do they even make those anymore? I don’t care. I’m not even gonna google it because I need to finish this fucking post tonight-and I’m just realizing it’s the 28th but still…) shaking his head, smirking at me and making that hissing sound he used to make, which was kind of a laugh, meant to make you think it was a laugh, but as I got to know my dad, whenever I heard him hissing it meant that whomever he was talking to, that made him do that-was full of shit.
I know Grandma would appreciate that. I also know that the two of them are ganging up on me from wherever they are and God, I pray it’s heaven because I’ve been having some pretty intense dreams…
I’m tired of my rhetoric. I’m sick of myself and I know daddy and Grandma are tired of it too. I’ve been dishonoring their memories by using them as the reason I write, or the reason I don’t and I’m aware of how pathetic that is.
I’ve been binging The Queens Gambit on Netflix. Now, I’m obsessed with chess. I’ve always been amazed by the complexity of the game but there’s something simple about how it mirrors life and the choices we make that propel us to greatness or lead us to ruin. Spoiler alert-it ain’t just about chess! I appreciate the strategy, the intensity, and the predictability of unpredictability in the game. I love that the Queen is more important than the King, because gender politics have denied women their rightful place as leaders in the world, even though they have lead anyway. For instance, Woodrow Wilson’s wife Galt Wilson lead the United States after her racist, philandering husband suffered a series of strokes that left him incapacitated.
TAKING A 6 FOR A 9
I’m the type of person who finds meaning in ambiguous things like, numbers, symbols, patterns…you get the idea-even if they aren’t there. I’ve come to learn there’s a name for that-I think it may even have been mentioned in The Queens Gambit. See, there’s always a connection. Anyway, Grandma’s house number was 669 and since, according to Grandma, I was always taking a “6” for “9”. I read into those numbers in a myriad of ways.
I’ve always wanted to learn the game, but it always seemed beyond my intellectual capabilities. I found the game (and it’s players ) somewhat pretentious.
What peaked my interest in the drama was the role addiction played in it. If you follow my writing and/ or you know me personally, you’ll know that stories of heroes achieving greatness, despite their addictions, is motivation for me. I see stories like these as absolution. That I can be forgiven my afflictions or deficiencies because I’m good at what I do. I love what I do, and like Beth Harmon, perhaps it’s my addiction that allows me to keep doing what I do.
But I’m no Beth Harmon. Let’s face it. All the girl had was chess. All she wanted was chess, and she was certainly stronger than I ever was. She never cared about being popular, (like I did) she was honest to a fault, and she was honest with people about things that if I had been, when I was her age, my life would have turned out differently. I’d be enjoying my life the way that God intended, looking forward to the next adventure and embracing it, instead of shrinking back from it-feeling sorry for myself because I’m not pretty enough, or smart enough to catch the breaks that Beth Harmon did, and worse, I found myself jealous at the copious amounts of liquor she’d consume and still be able to outthink her opponents. Granted, she didn’t always win per se-but she never really lost…
The truth is Beth advocated for herself. She knew her worth. She didn’t let doubt or the possibility of defeat prevent her from improving her game by continually accepting challenges and she displayed dignity, poise and grace under fire all the time.
Once again, I didn’t intend for this post to be about chess, or about my father or my Grandmother. I did want to honor their memories, but I realize that I’ve been using their lives and deaths as a crux. I need to get out of their heads (and) mine and begin to live my life. I’m done mistaking 6’s for 9’s.
“Avoid the crowd. Do your own thinking independently. Be the chess player, not the chess piece.”Ralph Charell