The drive home from Bethany Beach felt endless. Mom wanted to stop at every rest stop. She even suggested that we sit and have a cup of coffee at a roadside Starbucks. But I was anxious to get home. Maya had arrived in Cleveland and she was waiting from me at my mom’s condo.
Maya was my absolute best friend at Spelman College. We met in a sociology class during the second semester of my sophomore year. We were sitting next to each other in class, watching a film on the civil rights movement, when she asked me to move my head because she couldn’t see the television.
I didn’t think I was going to like her.
But then we went on this 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama; and everything changed after that.
The purpose of the class we were taking was to prepare us to participate in the re-enactment of the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Twenty students from Spelman had been selected to take this class that would end with our re-enactment of this civil rights march on its 35th anniversary in March 2000.
During each class, we met in the evenings and learned about some aspect of the civil rights movement. And on Saturday mornings the class would take 5-mile walks around downtown Atlanta to prepare us for our 54-mile journey. We ended those Saturday walks with breakfast at the historic Paschals Restaurant.
Paschals was a popular meeting place for many of the famed Atlanta civil rights leaders. And along the way we got to hear from surviving heroes like Representative John Lewis, who marched in the original march in 1965. He shared his stories of being beaten with clubs by Alabama police officers on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma .
It was a very cool class.
And somewhere along our 54-mile journey from Selma to Montgomery, Maya and I became friends….
Maya and I became fast friends after the march, spending an exorbitant amount of time together the following summer. She was a fun friend that I could keep it totally real with. She is grounded and responsible and I could always count on her to tell me the truth. And she could always count on me to tell a good story; to make the mundane things of life interesting and funny. We also shared two fascinations: a fascination with medicine and a fascination with hair.
We aren’t actually fascinated with medicine itself, rather with diagnosing ourselves when we are sick. I might call her with symptoms and together the two of us will figure out what I have. Maya was always much better at this than I was. And several years after Spelman, she went back to school to earn a second bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Maya is my nurse friend in Atlanta who was the first to tell me just how serious type-one diabetes is and just how difficult it is to manage. And several weeks after that call, when I found Kesner dead, she was the friend to tell me that she would come to visit me…
“everyone is around when it first happens. I want to come in a few months when no one is around. I will come and visit you in Ohio in August….”
And she did.
When mom and I finally arrived home, there was Maya sitting in the den with my brothers. My brother Gary had gone to get her from the airport. I told them all about the Dr. Clear story and they agreed that it seemed like confirmation that I should go to Rutgers. And shortly after that, Maya and I broke away and delved into our obsessions: health and hair.
“I want to see your hair cut,” She told me. I was still wearing the wig. I reluctantly took it off and showed her my uneven afro. I was ashamed. I still thought it was ugly.
“It’s not that bad,” she said. ”you just have to figure out what you’re doing with it. Why don’t you shave it all off? You’re going to be starting school soon, nobody will know you. You can start with a fresh new look.”
I gave some thought to what she said, but I wasn’t ready yet.
we spent the entire evening watching “Miss Jessie’s” natural hair styling videos on youtube.
And the next day we went to the hair store to buy new hair products. There were wigs galore in the hair store, and instead of looking for natural hair products – as we had planned – we spent the entire afternoon trying on wigs. It was a blast. We laughed at our different looks; surprising each other with our various wig selections. But while this excercise was supposed to be ‘just fun,’ I ended up buying another wig in the process.
This one had a crimpy kink to it. Looks more natural, I convinced myself. In reality it was just another excuse to avoid dealing with the raw me. Maya sensed that…
Beyond the hair stuff, we also spent a lot of time talking about what killed Kesner. I was thankful to have a friend that would go there with me. I was sure it was a heart attack until she said: “do you think it could have been a stroke?”
A stroke! I thought. Of course it was a stroke!
He wasn’t taking his high blood pressure medication. And the dizziness caused by stroke can cause you to vomit…. Thanks to Maya, I was now almost 95% convinced! Kesner didn’t die of a heart attack, he died from a stroke!
Maya’s visit was too short. I was glad that she came later in the summer; her timing was absolutely perfect.
The following week I shared the story about Dr. Clear with my grief counselor, Monica. I was so happy in my meeting with her, a far cry from where I was when we first started meeting. “I never say this,” she told me “but I really do think that you should write about your experience of grief; you have an incredible story to tell.”
Monica and I both agreed that writing my book ,‘Thank You Very Sweet,’ was a good idea,
but how would I do this?
I told her that I didnt think that I had the discipline to commit to writing an entire book; to write at length without some sort of audience along the way. I am a preacher, I am used to call-and-response. I’d never just written for the sake of writing. I never kept a journal as a child. How would I write an entire book? I’d get bored. I’d quit.
Also I wasn’t quite sure how to organize my book. By this time I knew that it would have to consist of more than just thank you notes to my friends and family. And more than just me and Kesner’s love story. Somehow I would have to incorporate different parts of my life also, those things that make me who I am. This story - and Kesner’s death in it – are the culmination of many things.
And the beginning of many new things…
This story is not just about grief… it’s about living. “How would I do this?”
The thought of getting it all out on paper seemed so overwhelming…
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Monica told me, “maybe you should ask The Universe.”\
After that appointment I went to Horseshoe lake and I sat on a bench and I asked God (AKA “The Universe”):
“Please tell me how to write this book.”
And then I went home.
I didn’t have to worry about it or think about it again. I had asked, and God would answer…
in God’s time.
© Copyright Thank You Very Sweet, 2012