There’s been a string of interesting occurrences lately:
I was walking through the grocery store, when a man started to follow me into every aisle. For the first three aisles I surmised that our grocery lists were in unison. After the fifth aisle I knew there was no synchronicity of our purchases, I was being followed. I sat the heavy bag of flour into my cart and moved briskly. I started to ponder his intentions, knowing I’d be walking home alone after I was rung up. The amount of meat I was going to leave with left me no room to run.
I walked briskly to the produce aisle, zigzagging my cart through the fruits and vegetables, hoping his own cart would be stuck in between two other shoppers and perhaps get his mind off of me. No cigar.
I picked up a few more things and watched him peek at me, from the side of his eye. He grabbed a six-pack of Budweiser and continued his slow pursuit. I got on the line, for the register, and he stood on line right behind me. His cart was clearly deemed for the express line, with less than ten items, but he insisted on being on this one, with three full carts in front of us. Something was up.
“You really don’t remember me?” He said.
I turned around, realizing he was talking to me, and took him in. He was buff and brown; he wore a Yankee fitted and house sweats. His car keys jingled between his fingers.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked.
“Yeah Erica, it’s me, Vonn.”
I was perplexed, stuck in the moment of shame when you don’t know someone that you probably should.
I finally responded, “No I don’t remember you hun. I’m sorry.”
He shook his head in despondence, “I remember you though. Give a brother five minutes, after you get rung up. Please.”
He knew my name. I tried to console myself with the fact that, if he knew my name, he was probably in my circle.
“Okay.” I said.
We stood in the parking lot, large stadium-like lights bouncing off the cars. I was safe here, where any and everything can be seen. He pushed his cart towards his car and followed me to my own. I opened my trunk and without prompting, he started to help me put my bags in the car.
“Chivalry.” I said, reading the tattoo that was written under his collarbone.
“You gonna tell me where I know you from?”
He smiled, “I’m sad that you don’t remember. It was a life changing day for me.”
“Tell me about it.”
He told me a story of a high school party that I recalled, but not so much the instance. I’d sunk into a couch next to him. I spoke with him for a long while. We were both tipsy and tired.
“I don’t know why, but I just started telling you everything that was happening in my life. My pops was beating the crap out of me, my sister just passed, and I was doing horribly in school. No one listened, but you listened. You listened for hours. You pulled this journal out of your back pocket and just started reading me poems. It just made me feel like everything was going to be okay.”
I giggled at the memory; alcohol, back then, had the tendency to make me share my work with whoever was around.
“I’m glad I could help. It’s awesome of you to tell me. I wasn’t that bad of a teenager after all.”
Two little girls and a teen stepped out of his car, “Daddy let’s go.”
They surprised me, but they were the cutest kids I’d ever seen.
He told them he’d be there in a minute, “Those are my daughters and my niece. Impatient little things.”
He rolled up his short sleeve and looked down on his shoulder, “Look.”
You stand in a battle, chest pointed towards the sky, bullets raining from God’s eyes and I hope that you’re ready for any shot he’s ready to give you.
The memory had long since faded, but the words were clear as day. They were the first line of a poem I’d written way back when. They cascaded downwards in an inked spiral and concluded with a pair of pharaoh’s eyes.
“Whoa.” I said.
“It stuck with me. I’ve lived by it ever since. Struggle is going to come, but you’ve got to be ready for it. Even when you’re not, you’ve got to get back up again.”
I didn’t think my juvenile words meant that much when I’d written them, but if they’d translated in a way that allowed him to see the world anew, I was okay with his interpretation.
It was one of those nights where I wanted for nothing more than peace, Robert Glasper, chai, and Microsoft Word. A ghost called: A number that looked familiar, but one you hadn’t seen in forever or ever thought you’d see again. I didn’t want to answer, but something invisible pushed me to.
An old best friend, one that reeked of growing apart and childhood, called to check in. It’d been five years since we’d spoken.
We swapped stories of relationships and old acquaintances. We guffawed at how lean and long our little cousins had become and how our parents seemed to shrink.
There was an awkward silence.
“You know Erica, I wasn’t living my life right.”
I didn’t respond. I didn’t want our great conversation to turn into what was and what-ifs.
She continued, “You were right for cutting me off. I’ve been in some dark places; I can’t even believe I’m back in the light sometimes. Remember when we were younger and you suggested we get best friend journals?”
“Yeah man. We loved those things.”
“Yeah man. We loved those things.”
“You loved them. You made me write letters to you and vice versa. It was so annoying, because I saw you every day and I didn’t really have much to say to you. But you always wrote dope things to me.”
“You were dope Nay. You deserved every word of it.”
“Those letters got me through kid. I took them to rehab and counseling. My counselor said I owe you a lot. He said you should be the first person I reached out to, when I left.”
I cried silently, trying to force my tone into one that reflected a smile, “That’s beautiful.”
I recently wrote to a friend of mine who’s locked up for twenty-one years. He was so smart and amazing; I was shocked when I heard of his sentence. I knew that if I wrote to him, back then, the words stupid and senseless would have made their way into my letters. I didn’t want to be a repetition. So, I didn’t write at all.
He wrote back. I came home to the envelope neatly tucked into mailbox; I almost missed it. The back of the envelope had a Victor Hugo quote on it:
“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved.”
In the letter he’d expressed all the things that I’d touched in his life, when he was free. I didn’t know how much our friendship meant to him. He’d memorized moments and phrases that I couldn’t recall, if I tried. He said memories of what we shared kept him afloat and I couldn’t fathom how something as simple as a few words could keep anyone from drowning.
But now I can. I know the power of words, but not until recently have I witnessed their everlasting effect. I have been moved in moments, in flashes of rereading, and in hours of writing, but I’m just considering how something so compact as a tête-à-tête could mark someone’s entire being.
We leave pieces.
We are jigsaw mouths and hearts waiting to collide with someone else’s resilience. We should take time to remember that each time we give advice; each time we make an utterance that’s geared towards another’s life. Sometimes karma is late and/or wearing different clothing, but she’s beautiful nonetheless. Those pieces, we leave, come back to us in the shape of stories, memories, and fruition.
They will evolve you, just as they did your listener, at a later date. Be sure to leave fragments of yourself worth finding again. When we leave shattered glass, someone is bound to get cut, and sometimes you forget you’ve broken something and you wound yourself on your own disarray. But if you leave whispers, songs, and strengths, they will come back to you ten fold and you’ll be rewarded by your own choruses.
I’m listening and it’s all music to my ears.