This is a remake of Salsoul Orchestra’s 1977 disco hit. I remember being in the car the first time I heard this. My mother got excited and instantly liked it because she remembered the original. My mother was a member of Columbia House-where you ordered CD’s in the mail-and she played it repeatedly for about a week. I haven’t thought much about this song since 1997.
About three weeks ago “Runaway” popped into my head as I drove home from the barber shop. I get my hair cut my too far away from where I went to middle school in Queens. Just hearing the song while seeing the various people walking about in the most diverse zip code on the planet made me think about the time in my life when I was over here everyday. I was just a kid who was first getting to venture out into the world on my own unsure of what life had in store for me. Eighteen years and several lifetimes later, I wondered what would I tell eleven year old Chad Milner.
“Shit is gonna get real. Enjoy the journey becoming me. Don’t run from anything.”
The song is bittersweet. It’s a bright disco record as Puerto Rican freestyle legend India sings about wanting to escape before it’s too late. This is the opposite of everything I stand for; but wish that I could.
It’s safe to say that I don’t run from anything. I don’t like confrontation; but when that or adverse moments come up, I don’t get scared and turn in the other direction. That’s for pussies. Sure, there are times when one should retreat but they’re don’t occur often.
Honestly, I get very calm when shit gets real. I do the best that I can to not let my emotions take over during said times because while everyone else is reacting, I want to keep a calm mind, body, and spirit so that I can respond. Responding means thinking something through; being logical and calculated. You’ll often hear people who react in times like this later apologize if they aren’t stubborn or prideful and justify their actions. Responding means coming up with a plan and one is aware of what they’re doing or how they maneuver…with the exception of offending someone, there’s no need to be apologetic.
With all that had transpired in my mid-twenties, I made a choice to be fearless and it has been beyond freeing. You just see love differently. I am still an extremely shy person who over thinks everything; but eventually I just go for whatever.
There’s no need to be angry, hold grudges, or whatever. Life is too short for that shit and by the time most people realize this, they have by far lived more years than they have left. That was one of-if not-the most valuable lesson I could have ever learned. It makes me think of my eighty-eight year old grandmother who sits at home all day and watches the Game Show Network. Every time I see her she has the attitude of “I’m just happy to be here.” It isn’t until you lose something or someone close to you that the mindset of “tomorrow is not promised” is no longer an ideology; but applicable knowledge.
There are many days I want to run away from my life. I haven’t had a vacation or a full weekend off from parenting duties in almost two and a half years. There are days I just can’t take Cydney asking me any more questions or any of the other shit that she does…I just want to say “Fuck it” all, just pick up and go without all of the negotiations, and the bullshit that makes freedom be something I covet because it doesn’t really exist.
“You haven’t dedicated your life to writing,” my once significant other once said to me. We were having a conversation via text message at a time in which she was trying to figure out her next career move. She loved to write and didn’t have the time. I don’t remember what I said to provoke such a response; and honestly it didn’t matter. What I do remember is thinking to myself “You do realize that there is a pen in hand tattooed on my arm, right?” I replied in some capacity about writing music my whole life, so I understood the mindset and process of a writer.
I got the tattoo about ten years ago. The pen in hand is located at the bottom of my left bicep, it is attached to a large treble clef that starts at the top of my shoulder, and the whole tattoo extends right above my elbow. The thought was that I have spent a significant amount of my life writing music, so if I never did again this would have played a major role into whoever I evolve into. I was just a kid and knew that writing lyrics in some capacity would always be a part of my life.
I was always a creative and had a way with words. Music was and still is my first love, so I often wrote little songs for as long as I could remember. It wasn’t something serious; but I had always flirted with being a songwriter.
I played basketball year-round since I was eight years old. In the summer of 1997, I broke my left arm trying to show off rollerblading backwards with a three year old girl in my arms and I fell. This played a major role in my falling in love with hip hop. I spent six weeks with my arm in a sling and not on any kind of basketball court, so I was outside listening to the radio or watching music videos on BET all day. Puff Daddy was running shit at the time, so within every four songs, something of his or an artist on Bad Boy Records played. “It’s All About the Benjamins” and “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” were ubiquitous; but they were such great songs I don’t think anyone got mad when the played over and over.
I wanted to be like Puff Daddy: having my own record label and stable of artists and would make mixtapes that were sequenced and played as compilations of what I would want my label to sound like. I saw myself as the guy who every once in a while would get on a song, say some fly shit and then be out. My cousin, David, who is two years older than me had already started writing his own rhymes, so in my head he was the artist and I would be the producer.
That August, David’s grandparents and mine took us with them on a cruise. He, my sister, and I ran amok on that ship. We didn’t do any of the activities that the other teenagers were doing because we thought they were corny and they were. However, there were three girls who only spoke French that he drooled over the whole week. Every time we would see them, David would say to me “Yo, rap something” and he would beat box to try to get their attention. I thought they were cute and all; but he was smitten, so I just went with it. We never caught it; but my sister said that she noticed them once trying to mimic him beat boxing and giggling to each other…I guess he was the talent between the two of us.
On the final evening on the cruise, David and I were sitting by the poolside because we didn’t have shit else to do before dinner. Truth be told, we were just there being kids and he was a little too nervous to shoot his shot and say something to these girls who didn’t speak English. Or so we thought…
The three girls looked in our direction pointing, and it looked like they were daring each other to say something. So all three came up to us at once and asked us to rap for them. We didn’t think twice about it. We didn’t look at each other and come to any type of agreement of what song we were going to do or anything. He just started beat boxing “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” and I rapped all three verses without taking a break. Being nervous kids who were put on the spot, I don’t think either one of us looked at them the whole time. But yes, this is how I became a writer…Three brown girls from France who could hardly speak English summoning up the courage to ask a fourteen and eleven/twelve year old to rap for them.
It really was the beginning of something. I didn’t quite know what to rap about at first, so I didn’t for a year. I have always been a planner and won’t act until I have one. Writing was and still isn’t any different. I couldn’t put any words to paper at all; but whenever I would visit my cousin David he would force to freestlye something and it was always trash; but he was always encouraging me to keep with it. In the fall of 1998, my family moved from Queens to Freeport in Long Island and he lived down the street from us. We started writing all of the time and I had my father’s old four track recorder, so it was on.
There hasn’t been a day in these last seventeen years where I haven’t creatively written down my thoughts in some capacity since 1998. The more I wrote lyrics, the more enamored I became with prose, structure, and the craft. It became second nature to think of witty and clever things to say off the top of my head for the sole purpose of provoking a response from an audience.
Come to think of it, my relationship with music and writing is kind of parallel to my own life. Music was and is something that has always been a part of me. It is a lot like my parents’ love for me because it has been there for so long it is in my DNA. Hip hop would be Timile. Because I learned what love is from my parents, I was able to fall in love with something else because at the root it was very similar; but was something unique to my life’s experiences. Cydney is my own music. Through hip hop I created something that brought out the best in me; much of it that I would have never thought I was aware of doing and could have an impact on others. Because of Cydney, I started this blog and discovered how much I love to write. Hip hop may have been my first love; but in many ways I have outgrown it. I’m too old to be a rapper and I have evolved. Nonetheless, it played a major role in who I am supposed to become. Writing is the applied knowledge based on all that has come before.
These days, music, hip hop, my past life as a rapper all give context to everything that I write.
The summer of 1997 is when I fell in love with hip hop. I liked it before then. My father and his friends have told me stories of me being a toddler coming into his studio, getting onto the mic, and pretending to be one in the late ’80’s. I had my favorite songs that I would hear on the radio, could rap along with the hits, and at eleven years old had memorized all of the words to The Fugees’ sophomore album, The Score. Hip hop was an acquaintance. We would say hi to each other, have a casual conversation, and play with each other every once in a while. Hell, throughout the 90’s I used to flirt with it not quite knowing that’s what I was doing. The summer before I started seventh grade we had hung out so much not only had it become my best friend, an organic relationship blossomed into something I couldn’t get enough of.
In 1997, hip hop was in the beginning of a transition. 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were killed within months of each other and that ultimately lead to a shift in the music; and the cultural landscape had followed. It was no different than an eleven year old kid from New York beginning to go through puberty. I had just finished y first year of middle school. Sixth grade is still elementary school-ish, you just have a little more freedom and a locker. My junior high was a magnet school on the other side of Queens. That in itself had opened me up to a world I knew existed; but what was once just theory had begun to be applied knowledge.
I lived in St. Albans, which is in the southeast, and my school was located on the northwest side. My bus ride was over an hour long. The route started in my neighborhood that was 100% black, rode through affluent Jamacia Estates, stopped in predominantly Jewish Kew Gardens, and ended in East Elmhurst, which is predominantly hispanic. That hour-plus ride was when I started listening to the radio every morning and began to pick up on all of the new music. At 8PM, I sat by my radio listening to Hot 97’s with my finger ready to release the pause button because record and play were locked down.
The summer of 1997 was the time when I first began to formulate my own identity. Hip hop was and still is the foundation of how I express myself. As one can attest to in reading this blog or meeting me in person, and this is a large part of my foundation.
Over the course of the next few days, my posts will be based around songs from that summer that defined me.
I joked with a friend of mine saying that after returning from Virginia “I feel like the realest nigga on the planet.” While such a statement may be hyperbole, a part of me does feel as if I am cut from a very rare cloth. I may not have visited Timile’s actual grave like I planned to; but I actually visited her parents and set foot in their house. The feeling of fearlessness and relative peace I have had is empowering.
For my first twenty-four hours back in New York all I could listen to while in a reflective state of mind was Jeezy’s “Seen It All.” It’s a dope song in which the track itself sounds like a song at the end of the movie where one can’t help but look back after the proverbial dust had settled.
I think what really drew me to this particular song was the story Jeezy told about Jay Z’s verse. Jizzle said that Jay Z had tears in his eyes as he recorded his verse.
I believe every verse Jay tells about his past. Coming home during my freshman year from college I sat next to an older man on the plane and read a XXL magazine with Hov on the cover. The man next to me with gray hair and glasses looked at it and said to me “Jay Z. I used to buy crack from him on the corner of Myrtle and Marcy Ave.” That moment put a face to the stories Jay told of “Selling snowflakes by the oz.”
I say that because for that to be one of the most personal tales Jay has ever told, the tone is his voice sounds no different than when he’s professing love for his wife, gushing over his daughter, or being a mysogenist fifteen years ago. For as casual as someone can tell you a tale-even if they have moved on-you have no idea what it feels like. All of the details can affect a listener-or in my case, the reader-and it’ll never do justice to the actual moments that defined them. There’s such an even keel about Jay Z that feels as if there is very little that rattles his cage because of his experience. Behind that nonchalant demeanor is someone still closes his eyes and sees these flashes of traumatic experiences that while he wishes he didn’t live them knows it has played a major role in his success. I know because it happens to me.
One of my close friends died last Monday. I wound up spending most of the day by myself reflecting on all of the times we talked about everything we had been through over the last five years. That night while Cydney was lying in bed she asked to look at pictures of Timile, herself, and me. She then asked to see pictures of the three of us and my friend together and I had to let her know those don’t exist. I did the best I could by showing pictures of her and us separately. She then wanted to see videos of Timile and her.
It was an interesting moment albeit one I wasn’t in the mood for. Cyd would look at them and at “I remember that,” even though the video would be of her as an infant. The videos gradually progressed from Cydney being held by her mother, to following her mom around in a walker, to her toddling around with me, to a four year old who can juggle a soccer ball exceptionally well for her age. I looked at those videos and said “Aww, I kinda miss you being a baby like this.”
Somewhere between fighting sleep and being Cydney, she said “I miss being a baby, too,” and began to work herself into tears. She has a complex about missing things. She’ll say she misses the most insignificant thing, but in the moment it means the world to her and it makes her cry. It’s because she knows something is missing in her life. Cydney was articulating that she wished she could go back to the time when her mother was alive. She then rolled her face out of the pillow, laid her head on my shoulder, and said to me “I don’t have a mom,” in a very sad voice.
That was a crushing moment. Cydney has said this before. What made this time very different was that the person I would call and would joke with until I felt better died that morning. It was one of those moments I will always be able to close my eyes and see.
I went to bed this morning around 1:30 am. I woke up at 4:30 am and started my day and work week like many others. I got a call from my former roommate, Devin, informing me that our good friend Donnell passed away this morning from a heart attack.
I hate these phone calls.
Immediately my heart went out to his wife and three children. He was only thirty-one years old. I left my desk, called Devin back and the first thing I could say to him was “Fuck!” I couldn’t say that in my workspace; so I walked into the stairway and let that out because I had to. Donnell Tyler was my boy.
I’ve written about Donnell before. We became friends when I began to produce and manage he, Devin, and their friend, Dyquan’s gospel rap group. Once a month they would drive from Charleston, SC to Atlanta to record. It would be the four of us in Timile and my apartment for twelve hour studio sessions . Donnell and I clicked right away. As the married man, he was the only one of my friends who understood the arguments I would have with her. Many times my venting would end with Timile coming outside and in a confrontational tone exclaim “Are you talking about me?!” He would laugh and say “Go handle the breh.”
We really became friends after I moved from Atlanta and Timile passed away. We would talk two-to-three times a week because we had similar struggles. We were both minimally employed doing our best to take care of our families. A year ago to the week things changed. He finally found gainful employment and so did I. We both felt as if we had finally reached that light at the end of the tunnel that had seemed dim since 2010. We still spoke frequently.
Donnell was there for me through a lot. A lot of my relationship drama he would be the voice of reason to. There was a time when I didn’t have ten dollars to my name. My ex and I were starting to become friends again and she’d recently had surgery. He sent me $80 to buy her a decent get well soon gift and to take the train to see her. We spoke so much that his wife would say “That’s Chad again?!” We just understood each other.
Last Monday was the last time I spoke to Donnell. We had a running joke and our conversation ended with me saying in jest “Let’s be real: you’re not going anywhere, b.” We laughed and he had to go. It was fitting that such a lighthearted statement would be our last conversation.
I deal with death very intellectually. I talk so causally about friends, family, and loved ones after they leave earth so causally it freaks people out. For those of us who are fortunate, the older we get, the more we are going to find ourselves losing people. I don’t say this from a dark and cynical place; it’s logic. You never fully get over the losses. You cherish the time you were blessed to have them in your life and have to continue living yours. Sometimes it’s unexpected. Sometimes people live full lives. Sometimes people gradually go and we have time to process. With the exception of 2Pac and a select few, we never know…
Because of this I try my best to live my life as if tomorrow isn’t promised. For most people my age this is still theory and experience hasn’t made it fully applicable. I make sure I demonstrate and articulate how I feel to those I love. I have no regrets or wish there isn’t anything I haven’t said. My mission in the lives of said people is that whenever God calls me none of them can ever question or have any doubt they weren’t loved by me.
I blogged about T.R.O.Y. over a year ago. So I decided to go with Mr. Cheeks’ remade version that featured a reunited Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. Mecca jumped on the third verse and once again paid tribute to fallen friend Trouble T-Roy of Heavy D and the Boyz. His verse was so heartfelt. He gave updates about people he mentioned in 1992 and mentions how they continue to live through him and song. My brother Donnell Tyler does as well…
For as long as I can remember I always had a feeling that my first child was going to be a girl. There isn’t much rhyme or reason. Whenever I imagined myself being an adult and having a family I envisioned a daughter being the oldest of three.
As I got older and learned some things, I kind of believed in player’s curse: the concept of men who tend to break a lot of hearts have daughters. Just in case it was true, I tried my best to eliminate as much of that as possible. While the idea is rooted in superstition, the decision to do was was based on logic.
As soon as Timile found out she was pregnant, the first thing we thought of were girl names. She was hoping it wasn’t a girl because she wasn’t quite ready to relinquish the attention I gave her for another girl. Nonetheless, we both just kind of knew. We came up with boy names just in case we were wrong. Right before Christmas of 2010, we found out our intuitive intellect was correct and we were having a daughter.
I wanted to be the best dad I could be, so I would be all into the princess stuff and learn to braid hair. As it turns out, I would need to anyway because Cydney only has one living parent. Lord knows with the way that life has transpired I didn’t need to have a boy right now. I needed and still need Cydney to soften me up. I would be all kinds of jaded and hard on him.
Having a daughter as a single parent has definitely shifted my outlook on life. If her mother were alive, Cydney would see the way that I treat her as the foundation of the way she should be handled by men. I date my little girl. She doesn’t let me open doors or pull out chairs for her because she wants to do it herself. I still will let her know I’m taking her out to the city or to dinner as if it’s a special occasion so she can have something to look forward to and feel special.
Cydney is around me a lot. Because I have taken her on dates and because she’s Cydney, she considers herself the gatekeeper to whatever women are in my life. She’s very smart, so she definitely knows when I’m on the phone with a girl. If it is someone she approves of, she’ll let me talk. Otherwise, she’s going to talk all through my conversation. You’d have to be pretty special if Cydney wants the phone to actually talk to you.
While I’m pretty sure a few that I have dated would say I’m a little “dick-ish,” I do try my best to treat them the way I would want a man to treat Cydney. I’m pretty upfront about my intentions. That’s something I take very seriously. I told one person that whether it’s for one date or a lifetime if I’m interested in going to treat you special.
The truth of the matter is I either sugar coat the hell out of things to protect feelings or I’m incredibly blunt. My brusque way of talking is often mistaken as anger or being emotional. I like to get straight to the point and leave very little room for interpretation. There’s no need to read in between the lines if I’m being direct and if one does that is a reflection of them. It’s my way of showing that I’m sincere.
“I ain’t like them other n****s. And I ain’t ’bout to play no games wit cha.”
“And no I ain’t perfect. No one walking this earth’s surface is.”
I told a girl I was dating that I like imperfections. The things that I-we all-don’t like about the people we love are just responsible for the quirks that make for some of their finest qualities. For instance, I have a big mouth. I talk a lot of shit and tend to put my foot in my orifice. However, the same quality that gets on people’s nerves is what makes me witty and a pretty funny guy. I have no problem coming off flawed.
I say this because I have been thinking a lot about social media. I look on the various platforms and see many of my friends living amazing lives: the vacations they go on, their amazing marriages when I know from experience how much one argues with their spouse, avatars of perfect pictures that people look nothing like in real life, the #fakedeep inspirational quotes people aspire to but don’t really abide by, and what have you. You love your job and ever since you were a little kid you dreamed of being (insert job you compromised for a check _____). It seems as if the only time people are honest is when someone has broken their heart.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m the only one struggling. I work long days, raise my kid, and sleep very little just to do it all again. This is one of the main reasons that I write and post things up. I like to look at my thoughts as if I’m confronting issues. I share bits and pieces of them because while our experiences may be different, we all have felt the same emotions. For someone who gets paid to write, I could care less if my grammar is on point and sentence structure is fucked up…it’s as imperfect as I am.
Sometimes I say corny shit. I don’t give a fuck because we all do and it probably came from a heartfelt place. I have had English teachers tell me all my life that I write how I talk. My literary device of choice is prose and I do know that it is part of what makes things that I say compelling. I guess that too is a flaw that makes for part of my charm.
On the other hand, I think that is what makes social media so great. Even when we are feeling our lowest we want to put our best foot forward for the world to see. We want people to think that we have it all together in hopes that it inspires others. I can think of many who post about how well work is going, the people they meet, and whatever who are lonely people that just want to feel loved and would trade all if their success for that.
One of the things I’m working on is being a little more personal. As much of my life as I share it often comes off calculated and lacks vulnerability. I’m kind of closed off and I have always been that way. I have a soft spot for only two people and everything else rolls off my back. I over think everything; but do so until I come up with a great and almost foolproof plan. I obsess over miniscule and almost irrelevant details when things don’t go as planned because they’re the variables I didn’t think of. I’m a horrible communicator of my feelings. I’m frustratingly nonchalant and laid back. I’m probably a little too forgiving. I’m a realist who wants to be optimistic but cynically expects disappointment in almost everyone and. I come off cocky and arrogant; but I’m incredibly shy (no one believes this) and so much more.
It’s been a little over two weeks since Cydney and I drove to Virginia. Visiting Timile’s cemetery, her parents, and revisiting the darkest time in my life has given me a lot of clarity. Being back in the Seven Cities gave proper context into where I am headed by reminding me of where I have been.
By all means I live a pretty hectic life. I often say that God knows I live for a great story so he keeps giving me good ones to tell. I think this mantra has put into the universe that I need some kind of drama or adventure in order to thrive. Making order out of chaos is a talent of mine and without it, I get bored. While I always look forward to a time where life will be less complicated I need it.
We attract who and what we currently are and this is more apparent in my dating experiences since Timile died. I was explaining to my good friend Kalique this epiphany I had about people I have been romantically linked to and he said “You needed that trip to Virginia. You had no idea that Timile would do that for you. You had no idea she would give you the go ahead to [free you] for someone else!” I hadn’t thought about it like that because I had let go and moved on from her.
Nonetheless, the last three and a half years have been very dramatic. The consensus from my constituents such as Kalique is that somehow I seem to get myself into circumstances one couldn’t make up. There is always an inquiry along the lines of “So what’s the new story?” One would think that I exaggerate many of these encounters; but some have seen them firsthand and are in disbelief how accurately I depict them. For the record: I have nothing bad to say about anyone.
The Lost Boyz were one of my favorite rap groups growing up. Like me, they were from Queens. A lot of their music was the soundtrack to adolescence living in the largest of the five boros. Only in Jamaica Queens is slain rapper and Lost Boyz hypeman Freaky Tah a part of a graffiti mural in memoriam of Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, and Jam Master Jay…Mt. Rushmore style.
I found myself listening to a Lost Boyz playlist one night as I left a friend of mine and headed to see another. The playlist was on random and of course my phone was trolling me so it played “Me and My Crazy World.” I was feeling pretty torn because I had been wishing that things would work out with one of them. Things had ended months earlier and I had one of those random encounters in which for thirty seconds I found myself wanting “that old thing back.” At the time, I had no peace with the former and latter there was plenty.
The travel from one place to another had me thinking “If I could combine the two of these people things would be great.” However, that’s not the way life works. There was love with and for both; one brought peace and the other was happiness. The experience made me realize what I needed…peace of mind. That was the moment I first thought to myself “I need to get to Virginia.”
Cydney may be four years old; but I swear on everything I love she’s been here before. She is as articulate as an adult and many times this child says things that clearly indicate she has an understanding past her years. There are many times I forget I’m conversing with a preschooler. The moments that I remember she’s just a little kid are when she tries to explain something and can’t find the words; so she’ll say something complicated in kid language.
Being that she is my child she has begun to pick up the art of the witty comeback. I was on the phone having a conversation with a friend and she kept telling me about a bug that wasn’t really bothering her, she just wanted my attention. I said “The bug is on the phone!” She paused for about fifteen seconds and retorted “Umm no. Bugs don’t have phones. They use leaves as iPads,” with all of the sass of someone I’d be dating.
Cydney is my little road dog. Because she’s smart I talk to her like an adult. There is no little kid baby talk. She knows when I’m on the phone with a girl. Somehow she can differentiate by the timbre of my voice who is platonic, one of the homies, and someone I’m dating. Shortly after, she’ll say “Let’s have girl/boy talk.” That’s when she wants to give my advice about my love life and many times has told me without saying it “Daddy, cut the shit!”
I’ve told her she’s antagonizing her brother/cousin and she has responded “My friends tagonize me in school all of the time! They tell me I’m singing too much and I don’t care! I keep singing anyway!”
Always singing. That’s Cydney. Her new song is Rihanna’s “…Better Have My Money.” I guess I was driving around somewhere and the song was on the radio. By the second verse I heard “I call the shots! Like block block block! Pay me what you owe me! Don’t act like you forgot! Better have my money!” Her tone and inflection was perfect. She even moved her head to emphasize her point. She then followed this up by asking me “Daddy, why doesn’t she want cash?”
Now, I can’t help but find this funny. I am cognizant of what I play around my child. Kidz Bop is corny and Cydney’s father can’t take that shit. She has her own playlist that we listen to often. I’m not perfect but I do know my kid. If you have the pleasure of interacting with her you will see she’s just a really smart four year old and I treat her as such. I was raised to be a different thinker and a free spirit, so I encourage my child to be who she is.
I took some time off because my schedule tends to get pretty busy around Father’s Day. Once that passed, I was mentally and spiritually preparing myself for my return to Virginia for the first time in over three years.
In spite of declaring that I would never return, I always knew deep down that I would. I planned to going there in September; but I got let go from my 9-5 gig and was back in survival mode. Around January I told myself that I would drive to the Commonwealth State once the weather got warm. Saturday was my first free Saturday in months and I knew I would be pretty busy the rest of summer. The way that things seem to be working out also suggested that this was the perfect time. My life is changing, I’ll be thirty in a few months, and I needed a reminder of where I’ve been to put my future and present into proper context.
I left Saturday morning a little after 1 AM. I packed Cydney up and I was in Newport News a little after 10. The first thing I did was call my big brother Barry and say “Holy shit, I’m back in Virginia.” I talked to him a lot during those hellish three weeks. We conversed as I drove around to all of the places I would be on the phone with him stressed out until my fingertips were numb. I saw that the Starbucks I spent hours at looking for jobs had closed down and relocated down the street. I took a picture of my apartment at Newport Commons down the street from Christopher Newport University, thought about all of the nights I laid on that green couch in silence smoking weed, and thinking to myself “I’m doing this for my family.” I passed the graveyard that gave me chills because I knew one day I would be burying Timile. Barry kept things in perspective and assured me that it took a lot to be doing this. He said whoever dates my daughter is going to have really big shoes to fill because of how I take care of my little girl. That meant a lot. I have thought that from time to time; but hearing it from someone else meant a lot to me. I felt validated.
Cydney and I stopped to get breakfast in Hampton. We then stopped by Timile’s godmother and Cydney’s namesake in Chesapeake. Something in me said I should give Timile’s mother a call and let her know I was in town. I sent a text saying that Cydney and I were driving by and I wanted to know if they were home. A part of me was wishing that she doesn’t respond but I would have been disappointed had I been in Virginia and not seen them.
I ventured back into Hampton. I didn’t have chills. The hair on my body stood up but then feeling was a warm sensation. I felt like I was confronting a lot of proverbial demons. I said even if I ever went back to Virginia I would never go back to that dark house where I last saw Timile. On the way there I was replaying that November 18th night. Timile’s father telling me I can’t take Cydney to New York for a couple of weeks because they don’t know if I’m her father. Having the cops called on me as Timile’s mother yelled to her stepmother “He’s taking the baby!” Leaving the house so enraged that I tripped over Timile’s feeding tube and walking down the street where the police that were called to the house told me my parents were looking for me. My parents telling me I needed to stay indoors when I really needed to walk around by myself and their reasoning being that if Timile died that night I better believe her parents would have a case on me for killing her.
I got to the house and the first thing I saw was Timile’s car she had named Fiona. It still had the Spelman College decals on it and that made me feel a way. I rang the bell and put on my best face like I was happy to see them. Cydney was jovial to see her grandparents and the feeling was mutual. They asked if I wanted to have a seat. I was sitting in the same spot next to the chase lounge where I was last holding Cydney and Timile smiled in a way that I just knew she was going to die soon and that look was one in which she could go in peace. Seeing me take care of our daughter was something that always made her proud.
Timile’s parents had toys that she was saving for her daughter since she was a child all lined up in her old room. I have a jeep so I was able to take a lot of it. They said I could take more on my next trip; but in my head I was thinking “Yall gonna have to ship this shit because I’m never coming back here.” They talked about spending Christmas as a family in California and I nodded saying “That’s a possibility,” knowing damn well I wasn’t doing that, either. Before I left Timile’s mother said “Don’t take so long to return.” It was genuine. However, I got sick of hearing her say some fairly rediculous shit the hour I was there. I acknowledged her sincerity and said “Okay.” I took pictures of Cydney and them and then we left.
It was time to do what the whole trip was about: finally visiting Timile’s grave. I got there around 5 PM. The goundskeepers were being lazy because they were about to get off. I pleaded with two of them saying that I just drove down from New York for my daughter to see her mother. They said they had just got off and there was one more person there until six. I knocked on the door and he heard me yelling in his thick southern dialect “I’m taking a shit can you wait?!” I waited for forty-five minutes then saw he left around the back.
Cydney was excited about being there. All day she had been saying “I’m going to go see my mommy and where she’s buried!” She told everyone we visited that day, she lives in the clouds and on the moon but her body is in the ground because she’s sick. Her understanding of things is beyond uncanny to only be four. She’s been here before.
Because she was so excited to be there I called Timile’s mother to ask if they knew where she was buried. She said she didn’t know the plot number because they hadn’t been back since the funeral because it was too painful. “Maybe we can all go the next time you visit.” She continued to talk but I didn’t hear a word she said. I snapped.
I said “Remember, I didn’t have the fun of seeing a burial.” She responded “Woah, let’s not bring that up. We have been getting along and whamp whamp whamp.” I say that because she began to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me. She was still talking. I took my phone away from my ear and almost hung up on her. But I put it back up in time to say “Okay,” and something along the lines of we can go the next time I’m in town.
I was enraged because I was them reminded that I wasn’t allowed a proper goodbye or the chance to grieve who I thought was the love of my life. Not being able to do that has left a darkness inside of me. I was kind of cynical before this happened; but I have had very little to no trust in anyone except Cydney ever since. Nonetheless, I am thankful for that experience because I wouldn’t have been on this path as a writer or many of the other blessings that have come from it. God has a perfect plan and this had to happen for the greater good. That has been the thing that has given me peace since I last left the Hampton courthouse May of 2012.
Cydney was temporarily disappointed but she gets over things quickly. She was hungry so we went to Waffle House. She wolfed it down saying it tasted like waffle cake. Being worked up had upset me to the point in which I couldn’t drive back to DC which was my plan. One of Timile’s high school friends met us up there and we talked for a little bit. I told her I was never coming back to Hampton and she told me I had to at least one more time for all of her other classmates that would love to see Cydney as an extension of Timile.
I headed back to Chesapeake. Timile’s godmother said she would watch Cydney as I slept. I was staggering because by then I had been awake since 4 AM Friday morning, went to work, slept for an hour, drove, and had an emotional day. She woke me up at 2 AM and I was back on the road by 2:20. I had peace. I was able to leave everything that had happened to me with the Seven Cities literally in my rear view mirror.
I was back at my house by 9:35 AM. I feel like a different person. My home feels much different. While I didn’t see Timile’s actual grave I was at the cemetery. That was enough because all that’s there is just a body. It further cemented how I felt and that the memories are the most second most important thing.
Cydney’s happiness is number one. She was happy we went. I think she feels more connected to her mother. She was nine months when she passed away, so all of her memories that she talks about are figments of her imagination. Cydney’s grandmother gave her a rest in peace shirt with Timile’s picture on it. I thought that shit was so ghetto and I know Timile would have felt the same way. However, Cydney liked it a lot. All she wanted to do was wear it. When we got home she demanded that she put it on herself and went to sleep with it on. I had taken it off that night so that she may not pee in it in her sleep. I woke her up this morning for her Moving Up Ceremony and the first thing she asked about was her shirt with her mom on it. She wanted to fold it up and put it in a drawer and she did just that.
We left and this morning I watched her recite poems, sing, and dance as she was celebrating going into Pre-K in September. Tomorrow can finally begin for the both of us.
Closure isn’t a good word for our experience. I have moved on in many ways. I have dated, loved, been in love, broken up, made new friends, taken on a new career and so much more. I left Virginia three days before my twenty-sixth birthday the father of an infant, with $4 to my name, unanswered questions, and no idea what was next. In that time I have literally transformed myself into another person. I cut my hair, lost seventy pounds of fat and fifty in muscle, a personality that Meyers-Briggs was once ENTP was now ENTJ, and so much more. I returned to Virginia a grown ass man. I am incredibly hard on myself; but being reminded of where I came from will allow me to give myself-and those that I love-some slack.