I’m standing outside the rehab facility my dad and his wife are in. It’s also a nursing home because this is a rural area. Not many facilities can handle his injuries and almost complete lack of mobility. Anyway, there’s a young white woman out here and SHE IS MAD.
We’ve been standing outside IN 90 DEGREE HEAT AND HUMIDITY for at least 20 minutes. There’s no one at the front desk to let us in. I decided to surprise my folks with ice cream. It’s soup now.
Whatever. Just a few dollars lost. I’m chilling, reading a book, trying not to move and sweat more. Amanda (we’ve been talking, she’s nice) is steaming. She’s in heels, BLACK slacks, and a blazer. And she’s on her phone calling them every 30 seconds saying this is ridiculous.
She asked me, “What do you think of this place?” I literally hate it. They’re understaffed and everyone is stressed out. The food sucks. I think all these people hate their jobs. Amanda: “oh no….I’m here for a job interview.”
We’re sitting inside now. A nurse came out so we just went in so we can wait in the AC. Amanda is pacing. She’s gonna wear a hole in the floor. It’s a very exciting day at the nursing home.
Every person who comes out, Amanda asks “Are you Perry? I’m here for an interview.” No one is Perry. Perry may not exist. Perry may have come out, seen Amanda ready to charge like a bull and decided to lie. I’m still Rafi though, that I know. I also know the ice cream is melted.
Amanda is done waiting so she tries to leave. SURPRISE! You need a code to get out! That’s one of the things I hate, that someone has to LET YOU OUT of this nursing home when you’re done visiting. I’m enjoying watching her stress out about being trapped.
The front desk is still unmanned. If someone isn’t here in 10 minutes, I’m just going back there myself. They’re too understaffed to even have someone let us in and out. I’m a thousand percent positive they don’t have someone to chase me down for seeing my dad without permission.
Amanda is having the worst day of her life. Poor thing. I hope she has some nice facial compresses at home and some box wine in the fridge.
Perry is here!
Perry: Sorry I was in a meeting.
Amanda: Can you just let me out please?
Perry: Everything is okay.
Amanda: I’d really like for you to just open this door please so I can leave.
Perry: Why what’s wrong? I’m just little late.
Amanda: Could you open this door please?
Perry: are you upset about something?
Amanda: are you on crack?
There’s a Latino family across the room pretending not to listen. The old lady is DYING in her magazine. I am her she is me we are we.
Perry: If we just take a minute–
Amanda: This is legal kidnap. Being held against my will. Please do not make me be this person I would just like to leave!
Old Lady: Miss Perry she being very nice just open the door please for her.
I’m not helping. I just wanna be a part of the activities.
Amanda has long been freed. Perry is confused. My ice cream is melted. The lobby is now quiet again. But I left. I’m walking the halls with purpose so no one questions my presence.
Nobody tackled me!
Everything is broken.
What are y’all doing to preserve joy? I’m very sad.
I was depressed after I moved to NYC. Years and years later I would finally get diagnosed with depression and anxiety, but back then I just looked for coping mechanisms to make me feel better. I didn’t want to do drugs, because they make you look old. I didn’t want to eat my feelings, because I’d already been chunky when I was younger and could vividly remember my babysitter calling me “husky” for the first time when I was in second grade. And I didn’t have any money — retail therapy wasn’t option.
So I volunteered. I learned during COVID lockdowns last year that I’m actually a nurturer, and taking care of people makes me feel better. When I was new to the city, I volunteered because it made me put my struggles into perspective: I hated my apartment on the top floor of an overpriced building in Bushwick where they were making crack in the basement and I couldn’t find a job that paid me enough to eat more than bologna and cereal, but I did have a roof and I did have food and I did have my health. Volunteering also tapped into my desire to help people feel better, so it was a win win. I started volunteering at a battered women’s shelter, which turned into babysitting for their kids when they had job interviews, which eventually became a full-blown youth program in the neighborhood complete with college prep, tutoring, and museum trips.
I met so many kids over the past decade who I think about all the time. This one girl made me want to rip my hair out because she used to drag everybody around her unprompted so I had to discipline her, but I had to hold in the laughter every time because she was so smart and the reads were good. She works for the MTA now. There was a little gay boy who used to follow me around everywhere. The center was administered through a Catholic Church and he was just so fascinated by an openly queer man traipsing through the building like I owned the place. He’s currently at CUNY to be a teacher. One of my kids got into Penn. One is a manager at the Target I go to.
One night years ago, maybe 8 years ago thinking back to the apartment I was living in at the time, I got a call around 3am. One of the women said a teenaged girl had walked in. She thought the girl had been sexually assaulted, but the police hadn’t been called yet because the girl was asking for me specifically. I got dressed and went, but I didn’t recognize her when I got there. I pretended to, but I had no idea who this girl was. June looked to be around 13, and she was disheveled, but she obviously wasn’t living on the street. Street kids never come in wearing a satin bonnet on their hair.
I was able to pull the backstory out of her. June and her mom had briefly stayed at the shelter a couple of years ago when they ran away from the home they were staying in with a man who was physically abusive. I guess June’s mother and boyfriend worked it out soon after, because she went back to him and I never saw the mom or June again, but I did remember her after I talked to her for awhile. She was good at math I think. Or science. It was a long time ago, but I remember being impressed with a class she was taking at her age.
Fast forward a couple of years, and mom’s boyfriend raped June and she ran back to us. She said she felt safe at the shelter and she didn’t know where else to go. She didn’t want to run to the police because the boyfriend’s brother is a cop, but we talked her into it. What other choice did we have? The system is imperfect, but without reporting it, there was absolutely no way for her to protect herself from this man.
She ended up with CPS and I don’t know what happened after that. I dropped the ball. Her mom was on and off drugs, so I don’t know if she was on June’s side or the boyfriend’s side, but I would guess the boyfriend. We saw a lot of instances where the man would take an interest in the daughter, and the mother would blame the daughter for “enticing” him. But yeah, I totally lost track of her. She never came back to the center and I just let myself forget about it. We had so many kids come through with their mothers that we’d see for a week or two and then they were back to their lives. I don’t think you can keep them all in your spirit, because emotionally and mentally, it will just wear you down and tear you apart.
A couple of days ago I was chatting back and forth with one of the kids I met back in the day, Alissa. We were giggling about memories we both had from when she used to come by for the afterschool program. Sometimes they find me on social media and it’s nice to see them doing well. Alissa has a kid and does nails not too far from the center. A lot of them live right in the same area and they know each other because they went to the same schools or they’re related.
Alissa told me June died a few months ago of an overdose, probably fentanyl-laced heroin. She doesn’t know what happened with June’s rapist, but June was in foster care for a few years, aged out, and worked the streets selling sex for rent money, and then for drugs. Alissa and June had mutual friends from the neighborhood because they went to school together and she got those pieces of the story through the grapevine.
I don’t know how I feel. I’ve heard bad outcomes before. One of the kids I used to tutor in English was shot and killed a couple of years ago. A few have been in and out of jail. You try to focus on the wins and realize you can’t help everybody, but so so so many people failed June and I feel heavy inside. If her mother had had support to get off drugs, support that wasn’t immediately tied to imprisonment for possession, it’s possible she could’ve stood on her own two feet without a man, and she wouldn’t have had her daughter around an abusive boyfriend who would eventually rape her. If the foster system was equipped to provide guidance for young adults, June wouldn’t have been on her own when she turned 18 without resources. If we had better social safety nets in this country, she wouldn’t have been forced to do sex work to keep a roof over her head.
I don’t write about politics and current events as much as a I used to. For a few years, I was making decent money breaking down the news of the day into my own words so other people could take an interest in what was going on in the country. I felt like I was helping people get involved by giving my POV and they would be inspired to do something about it. I liked getting messages from people about how I made them look at something differently or why they donated to a certain cause because of what I said. I was being helpful, and that’s the nurturing part of me. I could make the world a better place by staying informed and keeping others informed too.
And then I stopped believing that. I fullstop just did not want to write anymore after the 2016 election. It peeled back too many layers of the country and I didn’t think anything was actually fixable. The United States is rotten to the core. Everything is broken and nothing works. Human nature isn’t as intrinsically good as I’d hoped. You can’t teach empathy and you can’t help someone care about human suffering, so what was the point?
I do appreciate the people who have the moral foundation and mental fortitude to continue fighting the good fight, so I didn’t think it was responsible of me to put more negative energy out there. Better to be silent and let the fighters fight than to get on this soapbox and continually tell people how much everything sucks.
I got diagnosed with depression and anxiety a few years ago, and after some false starts, I found the right pharmaceutical cocktail for me, and some of the negativity lifted. Everything isn’t terrible all the time. There is joy all around us. Even in times of darkness, the overall trajectory of humanity is still an upward trend in a positive direction. It’s hard out here though. June has me down a well and I’ve been at the bottom of it for a couple of days now. Why didn’t I check on her? She should be working at Target or doing nails or going to CUNY to be a teacher. She shouldn’t be dead. She asked for me specifically when she ran to the shelter for help, and then I just…released her to the system and into the world.
I don’t know y’all. I’m trying to focus on the wins and keep the positives in mind, but I’m tired. Some of y’all who have been reading this site for a long time wonder why I don’t write as much anymore, and I just don’t always have the energy to pay attention to the world the way I used to. There are just so many Junes and I don’t know what to do about it.
What are y’all doing to preserve joy? I’m very sad.
I’ve forgotten how to live in the South.
My body doesn’t remember how to deal with rednecks.
The last time I was in The South for any length of time, Travis and I had rented a car to go to Asheville. We wanted to get out of the city and a road trip seemed safe during a pandemic. Asheville was ideal because it’s pretty, his best friend lives there, and it’s a liberal enclave in a sea of conservatism. While we were there, we spent most of our time in the city, on the interstate and the highway, around lots of people, etc. I wanted to say that to draw the distinction between that and where I am now.
I’m not on vacation, so I’m not in touristy areas around lots of people. I’ve been driving back and forth between my cousin’s house, the hospital, and my dad’s house when he wants me to pick something up for him. I’m spending a lot of time on two-lane roads winding through trees and random patches of farmland. When I wear a mask in the gas station, everybody looks at me. When I go to the grocery store wearing shorts above the knee, the cashiers pause. It’s so strange just walking around going about my daily life the way I normally would while people stop theirs to pay attention to someone who “ain’t from round here.”
Also: I never come into contact with straight white men in NYC that I don’t know, unless it’s a cop who wants to infringe upon my rights. Otherwise, I go months and months having zero interaction with any of them, but they’re everywhere down here. The other day I had to go to the gas station to get a Juul charger for my stepmom. They were behind the counter, so I had to speak to Bubba (his name was Mark I think, but he was Bubba in spirit) to get it for me.
Do you have a Juul charger
A Juul charger.
“I can’t hear you. A what?”
He could hear me just fine. I was the only person in there and it was completely silent — no music, no TV, no radio, no nothing. I don’t think people wear masks in gas stations in rural South Carolina, so I felt like his momentary bout of decreased hearing ability was brought on by his aversion to other people trying not to spread disease. So I pulled it down.
A Juul charger.
He paused for a couple of beats, then turned around and got one for me.
“Need to see your ID to sell it to you.”
Oh sorry, I left it in the car. I didn’t know.
He just sat there looking at me, and then he shrugged as if to say that wasn’t his problem.
OK I’ll be right back.
I went outside and got my ID and brought it back to show it to him. He looked at the ID, looked at me, looked back at the ID, and just looked at me. He wasn’t saying anything, so I wasn’t saying anything.
“Can’t see through that.”
You just saw me, when you allegedly couldn’t hear what I was saying through my mask earlier.
I was annoyed because he was annoyed. I shouldn’t need to have all this conversation to buy a charger for something. This is a 30 second interaction in a bodega in NYC. In this gas station, this felt like hours of my life because Bubba didn’t like my mask.
“Do you want the charger or not?”
So I pulled my mask down again, and he gave me back my ID. I had my phone ready to tap the machine to pay for it, but he said it didn’t work, so I pulled out my AMEX and gave it to him.
“Need to see your ID for a credit card.”
I just gave it to you!
“Gotta check the name.”
I pulled it back out of my pocket and he studied them both for another few hours of my life. Seventeen days later, I finally walked out of that place with my stepmom’s Juul charger. A minor annoyance, but I survived.
The next day however, I wasn’t so sure about my survival, because I was ready to fight, and they have guns down here.
I was driving down to dad’s house to get some herbs and natural supplements he wants to take in rehab. The doctor said it would be fine, and even though I don’t think any of that stuff works, Dad wanted it so I had to go get it. I drove the hour and a half down to his place on a two lane road, and then on the way back, an industrial dump truck (the kind that hauls away building site refuse) was stopped in my lane not going anywhere. I could see it from a ways off and I started to slow down. As I got closer, a little white pickup truck with a yellow revolving light on the roof entered from the shoulder, and across the tailgate there was an orange banner with black letters that said “Follow Me.” I assumed there was some construction in front of this dumptruck and I was supposed to follow the white truck around the construction area. So I followed it.
The guy in the white truck slammed on the breaks and then stuck his head out of his window. I could see him yelling something to me, so I rolled down my window.
“Where the hell are you going?! Get back over there!”
First of all, why are you cussing at me? I didn’t ask that though. I just said Your truck said “Follow Me” so I did!
He got out of the car and walked back to mine. I couldn’t back up, because two cars had pulled up behind me, so I was just sitting there with this angry white man in construction gear marching toward my vehicle. I rolled up my window most of the way and just left a crack open so I could hear him.
“Why would you drive in front of all these people?!” He waved over to the line of cars in front of the dumptruck, and then I realized that truck wasn’t part of the the construction zone. It was just another vehicle on the road being stopped by whatever was going on up ahead and there were cars in front of him. I was in a Nissan that basically sits on the roadway — I couldn’t see any cars head of the truck. I didn’t know there were any until I pulled off to the left to follow the white pickup. If you saw a construction site dumptruck stopped in the middle of a two-lane road, would you assume it was part of a construction zone or would you assume there was a line of cars in front of it?
I didn’t know there were cars in front of it. I thought it was doing construction.
“That truck don’t do road work!”
Why are you YELLING? I don’t know what truck belongs to who. Yours said follow me so I did!
“Well now you got all these fucking cars behind you but all them other cars over there!!”
So what would you like me to do? Tell everybody to back up and get in line? You tell me what to do so we can be on our way.
He stomped away and started talking on his little walkie talkie. I guess he was telling somebody else that I fucked up the routine, but he got back into his truck and then waved his arm for us to follow him, so we did. I assume the cars that were waiting before us got sent on afterward, but I don’t understand why everything is so difficult down here.
Everything is so exhausting. So much driving and dealing with nicenasty service people who you know are talking shit about you as soon as you leave, and being yelled at by construction workers, and getting shitty attitudes for wearing a mask. I just want to fight all the time, but you can’t fight down here, because the person you’re fighting might run out to the car and get a gun. If I get into a fight on the subway, I’m whooping somebody’s ass. If I get into a fight on a two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, shit I might get lynched! I don’t know. There are no witnesses out here and it feels so lawless. I’m trying to be home before the sun goes down because I don’t want a flat tire in the dark next to some woods that actually belong to somebody who’ll come outside and say I’m trespassing before he blows me away with a shotgun. Is that likely? I don’t think so. I don’t think that actually happens. But in my mind that’s what happens, and my mind is the thing causing my body stress. Dealing with Bubba and Nem every day is not helping alleviate these fantastical scenarios my mind hath concocted.
So what I’m saying is, my body has forgotten how to live out in the boonies. I don’t like it out here. And anytime a member of my family asks if I think I might move back down South, the laughter that escapes my body is almost offensive. You could not pay me to deal with this shit long term.
And sweet tea is too damn sweet. There. I said it.
(PS: Dad is doing great. He got out of the hospital today and he’s in a rehab center while his bones heal. It’ll be about 6 weeks before he can be up and out because both of his ankles were shattered, but he’s not in pain and he’s talking shit to everybody as usual. So he’s fine. I’ma be down here for a bit cooking for him and his wife because the food at the center is nasty and y’all know how picky old people are about their food.)
A long weekend.
I love to sleep. I’m really good at it and it’s one of my favorite things to do. When I want to cut off for the night (or nap in the middle of the day!), I can be asleep 15 minutes after I lie down and draw the curtains. That’s just a preface to say, it’s really unusual for me to have any trouble falling asleep, and because of that, I’m usually not sleepy in the middle of the day since I get 7 or 8 hours at night without any problem. This past Thursday after lunch however, I was exhausted. I was sitting straight up on the couch nodding off, and since I didn’t have anything else to do, I just decided to lie down and take a nap. Travis would be home later and he would want to watch Drag Race, so I’d be fresh and awake and alert and primed to laugh at jokes that aren’t that funny. I fell asleep for almost three hours. Three! When I shouldn’t have even been sleepy.
Later that night, I was getting ready for bed at my usual time, but of course I wasn’t tired, because I’d had a three hour nap in the afternoon. While I was brushing my teeth, my cousin Lisa called me, but I let it roll over to voicemail and I text that I would call her back in a few minutes, after I was done with my skincare routine and putting my hair up. She text back: It’s urgent. Call me.
That’s never good. An urgent call from family you don’t speak to regularly means somebody is dead or dying. I know those calls. I was at a rooftop party in Astoria when my brother-in-law called me and said my mom was being flown to a nearby hospital, and she was dead the next day. I was at dinner on the Upper West Side when my dad called and said my sister had died suddenly on vacation. So, a cousin from my dad’s side of the family with an urgent call at 11pm on a weeknight meant my dad must be dying.
I rinsed the toothpaste out of my mouth and called her. My cousin Lisa didn’t have any details, but my dad and Linda had been in a head-on car collision, and Lisa was calling to give me Tracey’s phone number for more details. Linda is my step-mother and Tracey is her daughter/my step-sister, but I still don’t think of them as step-family. More on that later.
I called Tracey and it didn’t sound good. A car had crossed the center line and hit them head on. My dad was driving and took the worst of the impact, so they were flying him to a nearby hospital. Linda was on her way to the same hospital in an ambulance. Tracey gave me as much as EMS had given her when they called from the scene, but she would call me with more information as soon as she got to the hospital.
That three hour nap I’d taken earlier in the day was prescient. Obviously there wouldn’t be any sleeping for awhile, because the last time I had a parent flown to the hospital, they didn’t make it.
My parents were bowlers, and I don’t mean just a Thursday Night League bowler you might see on a sitcom. Bowling was our family hobby. It’s what we did after church, what we did if we went out to dinner, what we did on vacation. Most of the time it was why we went on vacation in the first place because they would enter tournaments all over the country as an excuse to road trip and see the US. I missed weeks of school every year on the road with Mom & Dad going to bowling tournaments, some of them for me and some for my parents. My mom and dad both bowled in singles, in doubles together, and on a team of 4 or 5. My dad had his men’s team (I still remember all of their names) and my mom had her women’s team (who were all like aunties to me) and Miss Linda (as I knew her growing up) was on the women’s team with my mom. If there was a women’s doubles category, my mom and Miss Linda were paired. For mixed teams, Miss Linda was there with my mom and dad and dad’s best friend Burke.
When Tracey told me they had been on the way home from the bowling alley, I smiled because of course they would be. Why else would two old Black people in the rural South be out that late on a weeknight? My mom didn’t love bowling as much as my dad did. She had a very slow roll that my dad used to make fun of incessantly, and she wasn’t as consistent during a tournament. She might completely bulldoze over the competition or she might tank. It depended on her mood and which way the wind was blowing. Plus, my mom liked to grow her nails long, and sometimes bowling would damage them. Miss Linda was a force though and she was one of the few women in the league who could go toe to toe with the men. In the few years leading up to my mom’s passing, she bowled less and less. She’d still go and enter the team category, but for mixed doubles, Miss Linda bowled with my dad a lot of the time.
Tracey is very calm on the phone and she reminded me of my sister Leslie. (I’m sorry about all these L-names. I didn’t realize until typing it out just now but it’s Cousin Lisa, Stepmom Linda, and Sister Leslie.) She and my sister were about the same age growing up — way older than I was. They were both off to college while Sesame Street was watching me nap, and I think they both worked at the same pharmacy on summer breaks. Tracey is still a pharmacist. My sister eventually ended up in NICU.
Before Leslie died, she was the one who was calm in a crisis. I’m the baby so I don’t have to be calm. Her upbringing had been so much different from mine because my parents were young and struggling when she was coming up. They were old and stable when I got here. I didn’t have stressed out parents who were yelling about things. I had old parents who said “meh” a lot and indulged me in anything I wanted. So it was Leslie’s job to be calm and talk to doctors and tell us what was happening. Before, it was my sister Leslie telling me about my mom. Now it was my step-sister Tracey telling me about my step-mom and dad. To me they’ve always been my mom’s friend Miss Linda and my sister’s friend Tracey, but talking to her on the phone really solidified that this is family.
Tracey gave me updates as the night went on, and with each call, I relaxed a little more. I learned that his scans didn’t show any internal injuries. His head was fine. Nothing was wrong with his spine. In a head-on collision, those are what you worry about most, but Dad didn’t have any of that. What he did have were multiple breaks in his limbs, a lot of surgeries to get through, and a lengthy recovery ahead. Linda was pretty banged up too, but nothing catastrophic. These two old people made it through with broken bones. The next day, Tracey sent me screenshots she took while Dad and Linda were facetiming. From the neck up, they looked fine — just old and grumpy, which I can very much relate to. He’s been in and out of surgery over the holiday weekend and what he really wants is some independence from that hospital bed. When I talked to him yesterday, he cussed a few times because he can’t roll over.
He’s not completely out of the woods. Some of his breaks were so severe the bones came through the skin, so they’re watching for infection. Blood clots have been an issue and he has some more surgeries scheduled this week, but all of this is so far removed from what I pictured Thursday night when I got another urgent phone call. I didn’t expect him to be talking shit and telling the doctors how to do their job.
He’s back in surgery today so my focus is all over the place, as it has been all weekend, because I can’t be down there right away. I haven’t worked in forever, our rent went up without a third roommate, and I spent all my money to create a calm home environment for myself to recover from the PTSD that evil spawn left me with. I probably wouldn’t have bought an expensive dining table last month if I’d known my dad would have two broken arms and two broken legs, but his sisters are half an hour away and they’re taking care of him. When I go down and cook for him in a couple of weeks, it’ll be the first time we haven’t gone bowling on a visit, but I’ll find him a new hobby. Maybe I’ll teach him how to bake something! Or maybe I shouldn’t press my luck with too many miracles back to back…
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