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Your black auntie is here.

She’s last, but she finally made it to the family reunion carrying a bowl of potato salad because she swears hers is the best and she can’t eat just anybody’s potato salad. Actually, she can’t eat just anybody’s food – period – because she doesn’t know how everybody else keeps house. She also has packets of hot sauce in her purse (right between those peppermint candies, a trial size hand lotion, a pack of tissues, and a mini perfume stick of White Diamonds) just in case the food ain’t seasoned quite right.

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She’s last, but she finally made it to the family reunion carrying a bowl of potato salad because she swears hers is the best and she can’t eat just anybody’s potato salad. Actually, she can’t eat just anybody’s food – period – because she doesn’t know how everybody else keeps house. She also has packets of hot sauce in her purse (right between those peppermint candies, a trial size hand lotion, a pack of tissues, and a mini perfume stick of White Diamonds) just in case the food ain’t seasoned quite right.

You’re not sure what her real name is, but it says “Tweety” on her license plate, so you call her Aunt Tweety. That’s OK though because she can never get yours right either.

“Uh…Brian…uh Brandon…uh Benson…”

“Aunt Tweety, it’s Marcus.”

“Yeah, Marcus, honey run out to the car real fast and bring Aunt Tweety her sandals in the back seat. I need to get these shoes off.” She’s only been there five minutes and hasn’t helped with any of the cooking, but her feet hurt. You do what she says even though you are not her child.

Aunt Tweety is driving a champagne-colored Mazda, but you’re not sure if she bought it or if it’s a rental since her son wrecked the black Altima she used to drive. Your cousin Junior is 32-years-old and still lives at home with Aunt Tweety, his only occupation being going down to the corner to buy Kool cigarettes for her. She’s always complaining to anyone who’ll listen that he needs to get up out her house and move in with “one a dem lil gals” (but not the fast-tailed one she told not to come by there again unless she’s bringin the granbabies with her).

The Mazda is just outside the front door because no matter the occasion, Aunt Tweety always has the best parking spot. She’ll wait for 20 minutes behind someone getting ready to leave instead of parking 2 spaces further from the door. There’s a Christmas tree air freshener hanging from the mirror, but the car always smells like swap meet incense. You grab her sandals – kitten heels – but at least they kind of go with the capri pants she has on (with her t-shirt tucked into the elastic waistband, obviously). She put on her nice pants today because she just got her hair done, but didn’t comb out any of the curls.

You go back inside to hand off the shoes, which she will put on over her stockings.

Aunt Tweety is in conversation with Aunt Sheila, so you put the shoes under the chair holding her purse – black aunties never put their purse on the floor.

AT: You been doin good?
AS: Can’t complain, can’t complain. You?
AT: Oh, blessed and highly favored.
AS: I tried to call you the other night, Thursday…
AT: Oh we took the grans out to Applebee’s.
AS: Oh that musta been nice!
AT: It was, it was. Me and Otis wanted to go to the Red Lobsters, but not with the chirrn.
AS: I been had a taste for some cheddar biscuits truth be told, we should go one weekend.
AT: Y’all should come on down to our church one Sunday and we can go after. Just let me know when.

You always have to let Aunt Tweety know when you comin to visit the church ahead of time because she ain’t always there herself. Sunday is when she usually catches up on her stories and all the week’s programming featuring Steve Harvey. You remember that from the last time you spent the weekend there, sleeping on the couch because the extra bedroom is her exercise room. It’s really just a treadmill and then a whole lot of bags from Kohl’s/Macy’s/Burlington Coat Factory sales, plus random things from every flea market in the area, but she calls it her exercise room anyway.

The living room is fine though, even though the TV is always playing the Temptations movie on VHS. Or the Jacksons movie. She has a big earth tone sectional sofa on the main wall below a “black art” picture.

At one end of the sofa is an end table with decorative giraffes. The other end has a decorative elephant on the floor. Those coupled with the African masks on the wall almost make you think she knows her roots, but her only connection to Africa is the fake kente tablecloth she puts out during Kwanzaa.

The dining room and kitchen are one big room, the only decoration being the Footprints poster (you know the one) above the dining room table and a ridiculously oversized wooden fork and spoon hanging near the stove. When she’s cooking, no one is allowed in her kitchen until everything is done, which means you have to stay out from 8am when cooking starts until 2pm when dinner is served extremely early. She cooked all day, but she won’t eat – she just sits down with a piece of chicken on a paper towel.

Unless she’s on a diet. In that case, she won’t eat all day, sitting down for dinner with 6,000 calories on the plate, too much salt in the food, and wine with ice in it.

Obviously no food is allowed in the other living room, the fancy one that no one ever goes in, with the empty candy dish on the table, the floor model television that doesn’t work and is just there to showcase old pictures of your aunts and uncles from back when photos were all shades of red, a black Jesus hanging on the wall, plants – every plant in the world, the *new* furniture that’s been there since you can remember (covered in plastic), and this wicker chair:

This is the room where she keeps all her CDs too. She really likes Mary Mary. This is also where she keeps all of her Terry McMillan and Eric Jerome Dickey books, along with the biggest Bible you’ve ever seen. In white.

Back in the present, Aunt Sheila and Aunt Tweety are still making summer plans, probably involving Frankie Beverly & Maze lawn tickets at an outdoor pavilion. You sneak away before anyone mentions how much they miss Luther Vandross and how nobody makes music like him and Teddy Pendergrass and Peabo Byrson anymore. You try to find your mom to let her know Aunt Tweety is here before she runs into your dad. Aunt Tweety is your mom’s sister and she fights with your dad, especially after a few wine coolers. She’s usually ok, but certain situations set her off:  waiting in a line that’s not moving and saying to no one in particular, “This don’t make no kinda sense”; making commentary about a conversation she wasn’t invited to join, with “Let that been ME…”; or just refusing to comment at all, letting her true feelings known with a side-eye and a grunt. No, we don’t want to see Aunt Tweety turn up, so keep her away from Dad.

It’s the end of the reunion anyway. Once the music comes on, she’ll be the first one to get up and start line dancing. She’ll also be the first to leave the dancefloor to fix a plate for everyone at home who didn’t come. She won’t be cooking tonight because she has a spades game Uncle Otis organized. He’s a barber (or thinks he is) and only wears casual linen short sleeved suits with shoes like this:

They’ll play spades (maybe some bid whist), but not too late because they both have work, starting the day with The Tom Joyner Morning Show and a reminder to tell Junior to go find a job.

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Happy Birthday Mommy!

I baked a little something for you!

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Whew!

It’s been a YEAR and, to be honest, I’m not doing that well, so I just wanted to check in real quick and get some things off my spirit.

First of all, let’s get the most important stuff out of the way immediately:

Jackée is gonna be on Days of Our Lives!

I don’t know who she’s gonna play or what the character will be like, but clearly I will be tuning in…because I’ve been watching that doggone show since birth because of you.

Also: Don’t actually go to her Twitter. You too High Holy Christian for all the mess she puts on the internet.

Anyway, yeah…this year has been rough. I got my dream job in March (yay!) but then I lost it a week later because the office closed due to the pandemic and I got let go — last hired, first fired. The first day on the job I actually cried on the way home because I’d been searching for that perfect career move for years and I thought I finally found it. So, that was a huge disappointment that knocked me on my butt for awhile.

Then Travis and I stopped speaking. I had been building up this resentment toward him and his boyfriend because all of the things we used to do, he was doing with his new boyfriend instead, and I didn’t have anybody to hang out with anymore. We were on lockdown so I couldn’t go anywhere. We’re best friends who live together, which was great until the boyfriend moved in and I didn’t have my best friend to spend quarantine with anymore. They’ve since broken up, but the cracks in our friendship are still there — I resent him for ignoring me and he resents me for not trying harder to accept his boyfriend. We’re fine now (great, actually) but it’s right under the surface if we get upset about something unrelated.

And our third roommate is…difficult. In the best of times he’s not the ideal roommate because he’s LOUD and oblivious to other people’s needs. He’s absolutely the type of person who should be living alone, but since the pandemic, it’s ten times worse because he’s an actor and a comedian who no longer has a stage to perform on, so his computer is his stage. All day every day is just the sound of his voice, from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, hanging out with his friends videochatting, yelling and doing voices.

I wear headphones all day now and just count down the days until the lease is up because I can’t wait to get out of this apartment and away from him.

Speaking of away from him, I thought I found an outlet this summer. I met guy (we’ll call him John since other people can read this)…and we had chemistry! I don’t trust my feelings around men anymore. I’ve never developed deep feelings for a man who returned those feelings. It’s just a string of unrequited love, so if I feel a spark, I try to stamp it out to save myself another disappointment. But this was different because he pursued me. I let John make all the first moves to be sure I wasn’t building a fake relationship in my head like I usually do. He told me I was beautiful every day, he kissed me first, he came on to me first, he suggested we take a trip together, he suggested we move in together. I heard all the right things, so I let myself fall for this man. I was almost looking forward to the inevitable Winter COVID Lockdown because I could go hang out at his apartment and get away from mine. We were gonna cook and watch the snow. I was gonna spend a week or so at his apartment here and there to make sure we could live together in preparation for a move next year. He wanted to get two dogs.

Just before Halloween, John’s energy was off. I’d had a pumpkin carving party and our dynamic was different. He wasn’t paying much attention to me — which is fine because all of my friends are great and they all liked him — but the lack of affection was odd. So I brought it up a few days later and he said we should go back to being “just friends” because it bothered him that people thought we were, and asked him about whether we were, in a serious relationship. John had said from the beginning he didn’t want to be in a serious relationship, and I was totally fine with that. I told him he could date whoever he wanted, but he said he didn’t want to date anyone. I told him he could have sex with whoever he wanted, but he said he wasn’t interested in sex. He just wanted to make new friends and work on himself, but we had this great connection that he was really into. I was like, “okay…if that’s what you want…”, but I told him people would assume we were in a serious relationship if we kept acting like we were in front of everyone. He said he was fine with that — let them think what they want.

He wasn’t actually fine with that, so he decided we should pump the breaks.

And the next week John fucked my friend that I had introduced him to, the friend that he’d been sitting next to at my party instead of talking to me.

Here’s the thing Mommy…my self-esteem is shot and my abandonment issues are through the roof, and it goes back to that moment when you found out I liked other boys and our relationship changed forever. You were my best friend growing up. I felt awkward around the other kids, I felt awkward around my dad, I felt awkward around my cousins, but you made me feel normal. If I wanted to watch Days Our Lives and talk about the war in Kuwait, you let me. You took me everywhere and taught me so much about life. You told me I was the most important thing in the world to you. And then my teacher told you I was gay and you told me I was going to Hell. And you told me that regularly for the next ten years. I told you I was going to marry a man and have a happy family and you told me I was gonna get AIDS and die alone.

I let you make me feel bad about myself for years. Even after I moved all the way up the East Coast to NYC, I still felt like I had to respect you, even while you were tearing me down. When you would end every conversation wanting to pray with me for God to take away my homosexual demons, I let you, because you’re Mommy and I didn’t want to lose Mommy. When I finally got fed up and decided “this is the last time, this is the last conversation,” it was your birthday 9 years ago. I never told you why, but I picked that day because we had a fun conversation. I called you to wish you Happy Birthday and you gave me all the latest gossip on the family like you always did. We talked about random stuff, laughed a lot (your laugh is so ridiculous and I miss it more than anything), and then I jokingly asked you what I should buy you for your birthday — jokingly, because we both knew I had no money and I wouldn’t be getting you anything at all. You replied that you didn’t want anything; all you wanted was for me to give up my homosexual demons and come back to the Lord.

Mommy we had talked for an hour, a delightful conversation about everything, and in that last sentence, you threw me in the trash again. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had taken it since I was 12 years old and I just reached my limit. I kept the conversation light and made some kind of joke to get us back on track, but in my heart I knew I would never speak to you again until you made a turnaround. I wanted that to be the last conversation we had in case it was the last conversation we had, so that our last conversation would be full of good memories for you. I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, but I wanted you to be left with lightness and joy. I swallowed my feelings, told you I loved you, and hung up for the last time, because you died later that year.

And now I’m stuck. I still feel so much guilt for being fed up. I missed you then and I miss you now and I feel like if I hadn’t stopped speaking to you, you wouldn’t have died, and we could’ve eventually found our way back to each other. I keep letting people treat me badly because if I stand up for myself, they’ll go away and I’ll never see them again. If I stand up for myself, I’ll be alone, and I would rather be with someone and feel bad some of the time than be alone and feel bad all of the time because I don’t have that someone anymore.

I realized that about myself a few months ago, so that’s the first step. And I’ve tried to stand up for myself more as of late.

Last week, a friend (we’ll call him Brian) asked me out to dinner. I met Brian just before the pandemic and he’s such a sweetheart. We had an instant bond and I was looking forward to getting to know him, but COVID kinda put a halt to that. NYC bounced back this summer, and Brian lives in the neighborhood, so I invited him into our little bubble for a couple of parties and brunches. We already had some mutual friends, but he also took quickly to John and to Travis, so he was a good addition to my social circle.

At dinner, Brian told me that he had fucked John. I introduced the two of them. I invited them both to brunch and to parties. The week after John said we should just be friends, he was out to dinner with Brian and fucking afterward.

All of John’s flings are hot and all of the guys he would show me on social media that he liked, fucked, or planned to meet up with looked more like Brian than me. I was insecure about being involved with a guy who looks like John because gay NYC is vicious and I could imagine the whispers of “wow John is way too hot for that guy” because I’ve heard people I know say it about other couples. John knew this. John knew about all of the guys I was into who liked Travis — the taller, hotter best friend — instead of me. John knew about all the times I’d been out with my Friends Who Lift and how some random guy would make me feel like trash because I don’t look like them. He knew all of that and still fucked my hot friend the week after he broke up with me. All of the men in the city, all of the men right there in Hell’s Kitchen where he lives, all of the men who hit him up on Grindr, and he fucked the one that would obviously hurt me the most.

But I cut them both off! Obviously I’ll never speak to John again because that kind of betrayal — when someone knows your insecurities and disregards them anyway– is like a knife to the heart, but my first reaction when Brian told me what he did was to let it go, because this is gay NYC and most of them do have fewer boundaries and hangups around sex than I do. My boundaries aren’t invalid just because other people don’t share them and I did what I needed to do for my mental health. I don’t have to prioritize a relationship that’s damaging to my mental health. I don’t have to swallow my feelings to make someone else feel more comfortable with their personal failures or mistreatment of me.

So I’m proud of myself for standing my ground, but it’s still the holidays, and I’m still lonely. I miss John every day. I miss what we could have been doing this holiday season, all the winter plans we made. When I was younger, I’d assumed I’d have a family by now to make Christmas traditions with. Instead, I just watch the little family I’ve built in NYC — my circle of friends — latching on to their own families, and I just feel rudderless and a little rejected. Abandonment issues are complex.

This is a lot longer than I meant it be. I hadn’t planned to tell you about the “gay stuff” because I know it makes you uncomfortable. I still haven’t finished reading the email you wrote me, but I read a little more of it each year until I start crying again. I’ve gotten to the part where you’ve come to terms with my attraction to men, so I think you would be okay hearing about my relationship/friendship problems at this point.**

And if not, well here’s a cake to sweeten it up a little!

I do love to bake — thanks for passing that on to me — but I don’t decorate anything….thanks for passing that on to me too. I decided to bake a cake and actually try to decorate it for once, and the end result isn’t half bad! True, I did try to make a Red & Hunter Green Christmas themed cake and I guess my dye was the wrong kind so it’s a Pink & Pale Green Easter themed cake instead, but it tastes good. You would especially like it because it’s not super sweet and I used buttermilk instead of regular milk.

So Happy Birthday! I feel a little lighter after getting some of that off my chest. Maybe this will be a thing and I’ll bake you a little something every year and give you an update about how I’m doing. Next year’s update will be much better than this year’s, I’m sure of it.

If nothing else, I’ll be much better at cake decorating anyway.

Love you Mommy!

(**a note for y’all who don’t know: When my mom died, I went through her emails to compile some information for my dad and I found an email that she had written to me a few weeks before she died. She sent it to an address I no longer use so I didn’t get to read it before she died. The first line says “I’m sorry…” and it took me about 7 years to get farther than that. I still haven’t finished reading it because I know she died thinking I ignored her email and I’m not strong enough to handle it yet.)

 

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Thank a librarian.

Libraries are community centers and librarians keep them going!

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I spent a lot of time at the library as a child because I didn’t have any friends.

Just kidding! I had lots of friends and was totes popular, but I was basically an only child since my older sister was off to college before I was even forming memories. She taught me how to read, my parents encouraged it, and since they both worked, books were an easy way for me to entertain myself.

Parenting Life Hack: If your kids have a quiet hobby, you spend less money on Excedrin for migraines.

My hometown had about 400 people and only 17 of them could read, so we didn’t have a library, but just across the river in the bustling metropolis next door where 9,000 people lived, there was a library staffed with nice ladies and one old gay man who basically raised me while my mom did errands. A librarian is not a babysitter and they don’t get paid to watch your kids, so please don’t just drop your kids off in front of the bookdrop and hightail it outta there. However, my parents were really relaxed about leaving me places, because they were very old and the Scary News Stories didn’t phase them. There was a higher chance of your child being abducted in the 1940s than the 1990s, yet our parents and grandparents were out all day by themselves from sunup to sundown while we were expected to be tied to our parents at all times. My folks pretty much functioned under the premise that nobody was going to take me out of a library — I would have to actually follow them, and I wasn’t stupid (and I didn’t/don’t like people).

So I spent many a Sunday afternoon in the library while my mom was running errands and my favorite librarian, Ms. Greer, would actually entertain me….by putting me to work. Had I known I was doing her job for her, I would’ve asked for a cut of her paycheck, but 3rd Grade Me was very excited to ink the inside back cover of all the new books with the fancy library stamp. I felt super important being trusted with the task of taking the returns and putting them in their proper spot on the shelf (thanks, Dewey Decimal training!). She had me take Lemon Pledge and wipe down the study corrals and I did it with gusto.

When my mom asked me to pick my socks up off the floor, it felt like the end of my life, so I guess she wasn’t asking me nicely the way Ms. Greer did.

I spent more time in the library growing up than any other building that wasn’t home or school, so when I saw this story about some Australian librarians checking on their senior citizens during COVID, I wanted to tell y’all about it because librarians are truly underappreciated.

When Melbourne’s Yarra Plenty regional libraries first went into lockdown in March, shut the doors and left the remaining unborrowed books on their shelves, staff were sent home with a phone.

“One of the hardest things about lockdown was people being separated from their community,” said Lisa Dempster, Yarra Plenty’s executive manager of public participation.

“The library is often a hub for the community, and we identified the most vulnerable cohort of our community would be the elderly.”

So the library staff pulled from their database the phone number of every library member over the age of 70 – a total of 8,000 records.

Then the librarians started calling those members. All of them.

(cont. The Guardian)

I lived next door to a little old lady 6 or 7 years ago and I would do errands for her and do her grocery shopping and sit with her a couple of times a week.  After I moved, I used to take her to church once a month up until last year. Her daughter moved in with her and thought it was “weird” that a former neighbor would still check up on her, but I like her. She’s like a Bonus Grandma and her kids weren’t checking on her. She spent most of her days alone in her apartment, and since she was right next door, I could go over there and sit on her couch and do what I would normally do on my own couch — watch TV and play on the internet or crochet. Her daughter is/was convinced I was just spending time with her because I wanted to get into her will. It just didn’t occur to her that I would want to look after my neighbor or look after a lonely old lady.

Not to generalize, but Western cultures don’t care for our elders the way other cultures do and we don’t look out for our neighbors the way other cultures do. We don’t build community the way other cultures do. Librarians do that! Libraries are community centers and librarians keep them going! Librarians get to know the people in their community, like the nerdy little kid who sits and reads quietly on Sundays while mom is at the beauty supply store. Librarians care about that community, like these senior citizens getting calls from their local library to make sure their faring well during a pandemic. Think about adding libraries to the list of causes you look for when choosing a politician to champion. They’re always under attack and they need our help to keep serving communities quietly and constantly without any gratitude.

I did thank Ms. Greer though. Before I went off to boarding school I bought her a nice card and sent it to the library.

 

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What would Dianne do?

Tomorrow, I’ll try to press Reset (for the millionth time this summer!) but today we finna eat good and pretend I don’t have any problems. If y’all got some good gossip, feel free to drop it in my inbox. Dianne would.

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Seven years ago today I was in my hometown for my mom’s funeral. It’s not really “a thing” for me anymore and I usually just commemorate the day by reading funny things I’ve written about her.

Everything just feels worse when you’re already down though. Like, I lost my phone Sunday. It felt like the end of the world. I’ve lost my phone in the past, and it just felt like an annoying inconvenience. Last year around this time, I breezed through just fine. This year, I wish she could help me laugh at some of my misfortunes and then cook for me.

My mom didn’t cook as often as some moms did because she worked and she ran a business and I had so many extra-curriculars to be shuttled to and from. Plus, my parents were both really social and cooking dinner wasn’t super high on the list of priorities. When she *did* cook though, we had a ball in the kitchen. Sometimes my dad would be sitting at the bar working on something of his or helping to shuck corn or shell peas. I would generally be in the way between picking the music. And my mom would be in charge of directing the topics of gossip, because both of them were messy and lived for drama.

So. Given my current emotional state, what would Dianne do for me?

First, she’d tell me to pray, and I’d let that go in one ear and right out the other. Then she’d ask me what I wanted to eat. I can’t fry chicken like she could and my salmon croquettes never come out right, but there’s a crock pot in the kitchen, so I just made some BBQ sauce and threw some chicken in it. Also, the grocery store by me has Lipton, so I bought some bags and some sugar, and we finna have sweet tea. I haven’t made cornbread from scratch in years, but I went over the recipe in my head and I think I still got it. I bought me some early peas and some sweet potatoes, and I’m bout to cook like my mama.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to press Reset (for the millionth time this summer!) but today we finna eat good and pretend I don’t have any problems. If y’all got some good gossip, feel free to drop it in my inbox. Dianne would.

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