When the Glitter’s Gone

When the Glitter’s Gone

Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note

Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way
The ground opens up and envelopes me
Each time I go out to walk the dog.
Or the broad edged silly music the wind
Makes when I run for a bus…

Things have come to that.

And now, each night I count the stars.
And each night I get the same number.
And when they will not come to be counted,
I count the holes they leave.

Nobody sings anymore.

And then last night I tiptoed up
To my daughter’s room and heard her
Talking to someone, and when I opened
The door, there was no one there…
Only she on her knees, peeking into

Her own clasped hands

-Amiri Baraka

 

THE LETTER: The Beginning

Dear Rita,

I know we never thought our situation  would end up this way, but life, as always, has proven a mystery; unpredictable and  undefinable. This isn’t easy for me. The passing of time has not effectively erased the pain that we’ve inflicted. Only in the movies are there predictable happy endings.   I know I will never heal from this situation, and for that, I apologize, despite the pain, because I know you will never heal either. It is for this reason that I am writing;  to try to begin the process; to fill a void that was formed; to admit the callous endeavors that were enacted because we wanted to see one another suffer. I, perhaps, am writing to myself more than to you, I guess. I needed to reflect and reveal, or confront and acknowledge, my role in everything that happened.

I remember our happy; how we were “pillars of love” when we began this voyage. The air was sweetly perfumed, scented with Lilac and Frankincense,  and breezes blew cool on sweltering days. I remember how you made everything so new, how your friends, coyly side-eyeing me, smiled in my presence because you smiled more than they have ever seen you smile; more than they, perhaps, ever have. But in my absence they’d pull you aside and ask:

“How can you be with a man like that? Girl, y’all don’t even look right together, I mean, he’s so dark and big. Ugh, he looks like he’d crush your little ass. And what he drivin’? A Honda? Damn girl, you drivin’ a Mercedes. I just don’t see it.”

We weren’t young but we were far from antiquated. The patina of time had not yet discolored our bronze glow.  Maturity was our platform, our undeniable kingdom.  Youth fled several years earlier, taking away those immature issues, uninspired mistakes, and childish innuendoes, but we were young enough to enjoy tomorrow and old enough appreciate  our past. We pledged depth and eternity; those impossible possibilities that were so fantastically unrealistic there was no other option but to come true. It was because we believed in dreams where we hadn’t believed nor dreamed before. We were virtually iconic, allegedly, the poster people for the look of love, and because we were, people, friends, openly wished for our downfall.

After a couple of months, your people became my people. They were cool but cautious; measuring me with that joker-ish sarcastically painted grin on their MAC plastered faces.  I was guarded, cautious, and unsure but certain that their designer mentalities and mixed social ignorance would not fit my conservatively artistic ideas of reality. My intuition was in the red zone. But, I accepted them because, on the surface, and for the most part, they accepted me. Eventually, when I began to feed the bank account,  I gained their respect, I became them, dressing in clothing I could hardly afford and driving cars with massive notes and foreign names. Eventually and unfortunately, they got to know me better and had mistaken my kindness for weakness. They were offered that one opportunity to find that out.

Then there were my friends. They were international, free, artistic. Our bond was  made from fire and steel,  Jupiter Rays, and  tsunamis formed from puddles of rain. They were beautiful, energetic and creative. They smelled of May showers and a cask of Cabernet. They were the embodiment of God as I understood God to be. There, within my cadre, were cover models and visionaries, exotic and undefinable; questionable enigmas who people feared but were drawn to, irresistibly. Together, my friends and I spewed elemental and complex stanzas, and poetic energy that warmed our souls until it turned into love. They were dapper and shabby, brilliantly confident and wholly insecure. With them,  thunder quieted  and lightning tamed. My friends… essentially so full of life and equally so damned to episodes of suicidal ideation. They were naturally everything your friends (my new friends) sought to be.

Perhaps against my better judgment and because I was crazy for you, I (reluctantly) dismissed those many amazing friends. They were sure that I had partnered with my artistic equivalent, but that rarely happens. Opposites, I thought, were the stuff that inspired greater creative endeavors. It was, from the beginning, painfully clear that you didn’t want them to be in your shallow circle. Their nose rings, long unkempt locks, spiritual auras, and freedom were too much to comprehend. You said you didn’t trust them, that they all seemed weird, aloof, sneaky and judgmental. But let’s be honest, we know who judged.

Do you remember the night we were driving back from Upper Marlboro? We were invited to a get-together and we were still vibing on the good time we had, continuing to laugh, thirty minutes later at the antics of the host. We talked about how important our friends were, spoke of the blessings they brought. I spoke of mine, glorifying in the good times we shared from New York to the shores of West Africa. Perhaps I had become more animated than was necessary. I talked about the beauty that seemed to be at every corner in Paris; how the air was always cool and just the scents from rue to rue identified where you were. I spoke with passion.  And that did it; you withdrew. Silence filled the rest of the ride after that. You stormed into the house and I could feel the tension in my soul. I prepared. Finally,  you gave a devastating ultimatum. You said it would either be you and I or me and them, that I could not have both. You said you didn’t want me to ever communicate with those friends again. I angrily submitted. They were my past.

Especially hard was when you told me to “get rid of” Elaine. You didn’t know her, you didn’t want to know her, but it was Elaine who saved my life when I was living in Harlem, I told you that. I minimized my bravado, telling my story from the heart.  I told you Elaine and I met in Paris and she quickly took to me. She took me into her home and her life  when I wandered through Parisian streets and cared for me when sickness wrecked my body. I don’t know why you saw her as such a threat, she wasn’t my lover, just someone who loved me. You said that sort of relationship was impossible.

She was almost my mother’s age and maybe that had something to do with it. When I left Paris and settled in Harlem Elaine came for a month-long visit, to conduct business and rekindle relationships separated by the Atlantic’s depth.  She introduced me to spirituality, friends who were larger than the Empire State and stressed to me, in tears from some unknown place, how I must always be important  to me. With her, my wandering spirit was given rest, and unconditional love replaced towering silos of pain. She was my sister, my rock, and my emotional guide during that period when I became lost on my journey to finding myself. She told me to be careful but to pursue you because I deserved happiness. If she wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be me.

These were my chosen friends.

RELIANCE: EAT AT JOE’S

Looking further back, before we ventured into the big houses, fancy whips, and massive parties, the bliss was different. It was easier when we had so much less. For us, those struggling days were exquisite. The lessons we learned could never be measured. It was sobering. It was an indescribable libation; a nectar of the gods, soberingly intoxicating I guess.  I know that sounds dramatic, but I think many would agree. Having less was when we saw how rich we really were. Having less was the only time that we truly had so much.

We struggled; ate kielbasa, pierogies, and frozen yogurt until it poured from our pores. We laughed at nothing and bathed in the light of darkness. We looked forward to rainy days and snowy nights, and dinner by candle light or just the chance to lose ourselves in that place where no one else was allowed. Those were lean times but we provided what we could to one another because we were all we had and we had no choice even when there were countless choices.

But I promised you that …

*I will build you a castle with a tower so high
It reaches the moon
I’ll gather melodies from birdies that fly
And compose you a tune
I’ll give you lovin’ warm as Mama’s oven
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

And in our self-made universe, when our paychecks grew, it was revealed that those who smiled in our faces were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to put a sickle in our spine. For years we opened our home and our hearts. We fed them, gave them money and material, shoulders to cry on and faith when their faith waned. They followed us before the invention of social media, singing our praises and worshipping our names. They were relentless. We couldn’t avoid, evade, or tunnel away from them. These were lessons learned the hard way, years later, when our economics changed and times, again,  got unexpectedly  hard. We stood at the edge of the cliff with our hands extended as they threatened to jump and they withdrew when we hung from our fingertips from that same cliff.  Then, like snow under a searing sun, they were gone.

“I’ve been fucked over, left for dead, dissed and forgotten
Luck ran out, they hoped that I’d be gone, stiff and rotten
Y’all just piss on me, shit on me, spit on my grave (uh)
Talk about me, laugh behind my back but in my face
Y’all some “well wishers, ” friendly acting, envy hiding snakes
With your hands out for my money, man, how much can I take?”    Ether–NAS

Unfortunately, I learned before you did. I am still learning. Today I wonder, where are they now?

And my spirit sang…

I will take you away with me as far as I can
To Venus or Mars
There we will love with your hand in my hand
You’ll be queen of the stars
And every day we can play on the Milky Way
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

We discovered and appreciated the unequaled beauty of long walks down North Charles Street, toward the Inner Harbor, along the path where men held hands and cross-culture couples secretly kissed under awnings that protected from rain, sun, and the moon’s full beams; pass the bookshops, restaurants,  and storefront museums. We noticed the fragility of people, saw the abject hunger for life, liberty, and the pursuit if happiness in their eyes, shared our few pennies with those who had considerably less and tasted the sweetness of a city that conjured up fear and sorrow in the hearts and souls of those who lived outside its borders. I won’t say we loved Baltimore, but it was here that we found bliss. Baltimore, with its many imperfections, loved us as best it could, keeping us close to its full, yet virulent, bosom. Remember that?

And my heart said…

I will bring you a flower from the floor of the sea
To wear in your hair
I’ll do anything and everything to keep you happy
To show you that I care
I’ll pretend I’m jealous of all the fellas
And if that don’t do
Then I’ll try something new

I am filled with an indescribable level of reflection as these words pour, perhaps meaninglessly, on to this page. They leave me panting. This emotional marathon has become my Katrina.  As much as I try to avoid negative thoughts I am overcome by them. After our first two years together you changed. Maybe I changed.  I noticed that you were suddenly continually preoccupied. Your time was spent on phone calls and girl’s nights out. I trusted you, I really did,  but my loneliness had no place to hide. I know I showed it.

I wanted and needed you to see me; the inner me. I needed a nod that you recognized my transparency.  I needed to quell the discomforts.  Suddenly, with no prompting, the previous life you assumed I had, became your compulsive disorder. You were obsessed, without just cause. I tried to convince you that every woman that said hello was not a previous lover, although many were. I stopped writing and performing poetry because you felt that each line was about you or every image was my memory of a former tryst, and indeed they were. I tried to explain that it was often just poetry — that some of the shit just came into my head, but you weren’t convinced, so I let it go. Against God’s will, I let it go.

And my soul cried…

I’ll take the stars and count ’em and move a mountain
And if that don’t do I’ll try something new

I lost my voice with you. I lost my words and pieces of my soul because there were so many unexplained moments when you didn’t talk to me and I frustratingly blamed myself even if I did nothing to bring about the silence. But I loved you deeply. I loved you more than I loved myself.  I think I can safely say that we both were drowning in our love for one another. We suffocated and at the time I didn’t know that the actions we projected had an actual name. When I found out what we were doing, it frightened me. Although I wanted to deny it, the facts were undeniably true. I think I can safely say that we both were drowning in what we perceived as our unequivocal love for one another. We nearly died but believed that love, alone, was powerful enough to keep us. We loved until we were empty. It was painfully beautiful. It seems like a lifetime ago. Perhaps it was simply another life. I didn’t know it was wrong.

My lips whispered…

I’ll tell the moon above it’s you that I love
If it don’t do I’ll try something new*

JOY

When you told me you were pregnant, I paraded around more proud than I had ever been. My already broad chest became considerably broader. It was the most magical gift anyone could ever give; parts of us creating a single magnificent life. I became a silver back that day. I knew that my job description had changed completely. I went from boyfriend to husband, to father. We both were floating. But unfortunately what floats sometimes falls although I wasn’t expecting the fall, nor was I reaching to have it occur. You know, it seemed that we were often walking a tightrope of which each of us held the ends.

Then things abruptly changed.

See part II. Coming soon….

*”I’ll Try Something New” — Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.

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