Relax, Grab a Book

Relax, Grab a Book

For the last few summers, I have been a kid-free mom. I always intend to squeeze in all the things that I don’t get to do during the 10 months that my daughter is with me. Does it ever get done? Not at all, I don’t go out, I rarely get to the bar and I don’t get to do those much-needed lunch dates that seem to have been planned months ago with my girls. I do, however, get to sleep in, reflect on myself as a mother, and clean my daughters room. (I know, lots of fun)

This summer I’ve started a Summer Reading List that I’d like to share with you all. I’ve found myself being able to sit down for 5 minutes to get back to my first passion, reading. I absolutely love to get lost in a great book. Hopefully you’re able to snag a couple of these books and enjoy reading them repeatedly.

  1. Gather Together in My Name by Maya Angelou
  2. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
  3. Truth Set Me Free by Krishna Gilbeau
  4. My Mother’s Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius by Lynn Toler
  5. A Pretty Mess: an Astonvale novel by Carla Caruso

The list will grow, as I’m currently reading, well listening, to Black Privilege: Opportunity Comes to Those Who Create It by Charlamagne the God. Yes, I’ll be sure to give you my honest opinion about it as well. So far, so good.
Share some of your favorite books or your summer reading list with me if you’d like.

 

Happy Reading!

Changes

 

Trombones and trumpets could be heard from blocks away.  Macien stood outside leaning on her balcony railing waiting on the second line to pass.  Second lines were as native to New Orleans as café au lait and beignets.  Macien never really got to catch any second lines because of her crazy works schedule.  Holding her coffee mug, she ran her thumb around the rim while taking intermittent sips.

As she watched the Lady Buckjumpers come up Washington Ave. with the Rebirth Bras Band in tow, she sat her cup down on the cocktail table on the corner of her patio and began tapping her foot to the beat.  She sang along to “Do What You Wanna” with the crowd.

“Macien,” Conrad said walking up to the balcony railing next to her, “you want me to cook breakfast or you want to wait until the second line pass and go off Magazine?”

Startled, Macien paused before she responded to Conrad, “We can go off Magazine. I want to get out of the house and enjoy the weather before it gets too hot.”

Conrad and Macien stood on the balcony for a while longer watching the crowds of people with their decorated umbrellas and their handkerchiefs dance in the street.  Macien placed her head on Conrad’s shoulder, grateful to be in his presence.  There were children being pushed in strollers as well as young children following their parents dance moves. Being back in the city of New Orleans felt good, but there was something missing. Things just didn’t feel one hundred percent the same.

Macien walked back into the house and began to place her massive jet black curls in a puff on top of her head while standing in the armoire mirror.  She couldn’t help but think about how she wanted to start a family.  Watching all those little children dance in the street without a care in the world made her smile to herself.

Placing his hand on the small of her back, “What’s that smile for?” Conrad kissed her neck.

“We’ve lived here all our lives and even though we moved to Houston after Katrina, we came right back home and picked up where we left off.”

“What does that mean Macien?”

The look on Conrad’s face let Macien know that she may have a lot of persuading to do. But for what she wanted, it may as well be worth it.  Coming home smelling like smoke from the casino she was a bartender was beginning to become mundane. Her six foot five frame, and oversized jet black curly afro would draw the attention to many when she walked into a room.  At 35 years old, Macien felt as if she’d reached the prime age to begin on a different life path. One that would take her and her husband away from New Orleans, for good.

She and Conrad grew up in Chalmette, their grandmothers were a part of the same church choir. So the two spent countless Sundays bickering with each other.  Macien, always taller than Conrad and much better in basketball than he. Conrad much wittier and logical than Macien, they fit each other perfectly. Heavily tattooed, bald and a nicely lined beard, Conrad cut the hair of his teammates in college and after taking a blow to his ACL his football career ended and so did the funding for his college tuition which was a scholarship.  His alternative was barber college, after college, Conrad asked her to marry him and she hadn’t really envisioned it any other way, until now.

“I’ve been thinking” Macien looked at her husband through the mirror as she put on her red lipstick. “New Orleans isn’t the best place to start a family.”

“Baby, I don’t know if that’s something I want to do.” Conrad sat down on the bed and watched his wife continue to put on her makeup.

“Why wouldn’t it be? It’s all in the planning.” Macien fluffed her hair with her fingers. “That will give us enough time to get all of our affairs in order.  It’s not like we have to pack up a family now and move. It’s just the two of us.”

“That’s just it,” Conrad argued, “The shop is making us quite a bit of money and I understand that it gets rough sometimes but damn, we grew up here. This is home. I’ve never thought of making a home somewhere else.”

Looking over at their wedding photo on the night stand, Macien walked up to Conrad and stood right in front of him with her hands draped around his neck. “I love you enough to want a family. But just think about the things that we dealt with as kids. Although our parents were able to make sure we had everything we needed, they still struggled.”

Although their apartment was only a bedroom, they had enough space.  The gentrification that was taking place in certain parts of New Orleans was evident.  Their apartment was approximately the size of a house that could comfortably fit a family of five. But the rent was the same as a six or seven bedroom home.  Financially, Macien knew there was no way she and Conrad would be able to afford living in New Orleans and raising a family. Not on the money they had coming in from his barber shop and her money from the casino.

Placing his hands on her hips Conrad looked up at Macien’s big hazel colored eyes and started to say something but his words were cut short by five gunshots that rang out from the street below.  Conrad threw Macien to the ground and himself on top of her to shield any stray bullets, Macien’s thoughts shifted from one place to another.  The sounds of chaos floated from the street into the French doors from their balcony.  This was something that Macien realized she was used to and it hurt to know that it bothered her just enough to not want to keep her family here. Tears of fear were suddenly placed with tears of anger and resentment. Angry that nothing had changed since Katrina and that the citizens of the city that she was taught to love didn’t care about the lives of others, especially children.

As they got up from the floor, Conrad looked over Maciens body to make sure that she hadn’t been hurt, just as she was inspecting his.  They both breathed a sigh of relief and embraced each other. The sounds of sirens grew closer and closer as the NOPD and ambulance crews arrived to assist anyone who may have been hurt.  Macien was too shaken up to talk to Conrad, so fully clothed, she laid down on their king sized poster bed hugging a pillow.

“I’m torn between staying and leaving Macien” Conrad laid down next to her with his arm around her. “This is home and I know you can understand that. You know how much culture the city has, we’ll never have that anywhere else. Our children won’t have the same experiences we had. Are you okay with that?”

Macien didn’t care about culture or history at this point. After what just happened she felt the need to pack her bags and leave the city behind.  Deep down inside she really just wanted a family with the man she loved, anywhere but New Orleans.  She closed her eyes and heavily sighing as she turned to face Conrad. When she opened them she ran her fingers across his beard thinking of what he would say about her stance now that this has happened.  They lost everything when Hurricane Katrina hit and they started from the bottom.  The financial investment in Conrad’s barber shop was wiped away when those flood waters surged through the city.  The flashbacks running through Macien’s mind as she looked at her husband were one of the reasons why she did not want to stay.

In the black community, PTSD was something that was never really faced head on and growing up in a city where violence is extremely rampant, it’s easy to dismiss PTSD as nonchalant. Which, for Macien, the battle is just beginning since she’s realized that she’s no longer completely happy in her home town.  She continued to stroke Conrad’s beard, looking into his eyes.  She loved him with every fiber of her being and would not have traded being married to him for anything.  She just didn’t want to lose him either.

Growing uncomfortable in the silence, Conrad spoke up. “Baby, forget that I even asked a question. The look you’re giving me lets me know enough, you’re tired and you’re not going to let me think about this any longer especially after the shooting. Is this something that you’re for sure about?”

Macien’s eyes narrowed and locked on to Conrad’s and she whispered, “Yes. This is what I want. But I want you to want the same thing. We can’t move away based on my feelings alone.  Our marriage has never worked like that and it won’t start being that way now because of one event.”

“For the sake of the children we will have, I’m willing to work on that.” Conrad wiped away the mascara lines the tears stained on Macien’s butterscotch colored skin. “You’re as beautiful now as you were when we were kids playing on the steps of the church. I don’t ever want worry, stress, or hurt to make you feel unsafe.”

Mustering up a smug smile, Macien inched closer towards her husband, so much so that she could smell his Code by Armani cologne.  Inhaling deeply and exhaling softly, Macien tried to fight going to sleep.  Within that small span of two hours, she felt exhausted.

 

While driving down a snowy two lane street looking out of the window of their truck, Macien couldn’t help but smile to herself.  Stepping outside of her comfort zone was something she never thought would bring her happiness but it did and she loved it.  As she folded her hands in front of her stomach, she looked over at Conrad whose beard now had a little more salt than two years before and she loved it. She loved that her once stubborn, yet logical husband was allowing himself to grow.

“I would have never imagined this,” she smiled and reached over to run her hand along Conrad’s beard.

Conrad scoffed, “You would have never imagined what?”

“Living in a place that snowed, and you still having your barber shop.  Although we lost everything after Katrina, I believe that there’s a reason people stayed away.  Who would have ever thought we’d find people from New Orleans in this part of the country?”

“Yea, I wouldn’t have imagined that either.  What is meant to be, will be baby. We know that.”

As they pulled into a parking space at Lambeau Field, Macien sat waiting on Conrad to open the door for her. Something he’d always done since they started dating.  Placing one foot down at a time, Macien got out of the truck, zipped her coat over her stomach and chest and held on to Conrad’s arm.  They were finally going to enjoy their first Saints v. Green Bay game, live.

Conrad helped Macien up the steps to their box seats and he helped her get comfortable.  Macien smiled to herself as she thought about the events that would take place today making this event even more special for the both of them.  Thoughts of coming to football games with their children played over and over in her head as she watched families claim their seats all around them.  Fumbling through her purse, she pulled out an envelope and handed it to Conrad.

“What’s this?”

Smiling, she said “Open it.”

Conrad opened the envelope. “I’ve seen this before” he said as he pulled out a set of ultrasounds from one of Macien’s doctor’s visits.

“You’re right, you have seen them before but you haven’t seen them the way you need to see them,” she stated.

“What do you mean? You thought you needed to share with me again that we’re going to be parents in four months?”

“No silly. I thought I needed to share with you that we’ll be parents to a son and a daughter in four months. Haven’t you paid attention to how much weight I’ve gained? Or are you not as concerned about that as you are about having a son?” Macien couldn’t help but say that with a smile.

Smiling from ear to ear, Conrad replied, “Twins? You’re having twins? We’re going to be parents of twins?”

“We are!”

“Damn, does my dad know? Who have you told?” Conrad’s questions came rapidly.

“As of right now, only you, myself and the doctor know. I thought I’d let you be the one to spread the good news.” Macien’s heart settled in her chest because she knew and felt like she was finally at peace with her life.

She would have the children she wanted, with the man she’d loved since she was a young girl and she was living in a place that they both agreed on and were happy about.  It still seemed surreal that they would only be visiting New Orleans for the holidays, Mardi Gras and whenever they both got a chance to go home. But they both were comfortable with that and to them, that’s all that matters.

Mama’s Wishes

Mama’s Wishes

An extremely heavy sigh left my body as my phone rang, again, interrupting me from finishing a press release. I leaned back in my oversized desk chair and pushed my long dreadlocks from my face. The only reason I had a phone was to keep in contact with my baby brother, Colby, CJ as we called him, and our elderly mother. At this point, I wanted to throw the phone out of the window of my office which was housed on the 23rd floor in the northwest corner of a 40 floor building.

“Cherish Singletary speaking,” I breathed heavily.

“Miss Singletary, this is Martha Smith from Healing Hands Assisted Living. This is about your mother Mrs. Ava Clark. She coded this morning due to cardiac arrest. We have tried to contact,” Martha Smiths voice faded away.

I couldn’t breathe, my chest felt as if a weight was being pressed into it and my hands began to shake. I’d always known this day would come but I wasn’t expecting it.  I began to fiddle with the pens on my desk, I suppose out of nervousness. But what was I nervous for? Why was I afraid? My mother lived her life and she had no regrets. At least that’s what I thought.

“Miss Singletary, are you still on the line?” The thickness of Martha Smith’s Cajun accent brought me back to reality. “We need to know where you want Mrs. Clarke’s body to go or we will have to send it to the coroner’s office,” Martha Smith said in a dry tone.

I realized there was no sympathy in her voice. She just needed to get my mother’s body out of her room to make room for the next person.

“My apologies, Ms. Smith. I am trying to keep my composure. You can send her to O’Brien’s Mortuary on General Meyer. If you can, please fax me whatever paperwork I need to sign, my brother and I will be down tomorrow morning to take care of her arrangements. Thank you.” I tried to sound as sure of myself as I could. But I could feel deep down inside that, even at 35 years old, I was just as afraid now as I was when my Daddy died.

Mumbling to myself, I pulled into Colby’s driveway hoping that he was home alone. I made a mental note to call his gardener about these rose bushes that need pruning, as well as his geraniums. The man loved flowers but didn’t know a damn thing about keeping them alive. Taking a quick glance at the Marc Jacobs watch CJ bought me for my 30th birthday, I realized it was 1:45pm and I’d be waking him up. I rang the bell and Greta, Colby’s housekeeper, came to the door. She was always a pleasure to see, especially at a time like this. I needed a warm smile and gentle hug. We exchanged pleasantries and I walk up the spiral staircase to CJ’s room.

My baby brother had great taste in music and art. It showed throughout his home. He had hand crafted paintings that lined his staircase and it all had a similar theme, Jazz. When CJ wasn’t at his home in Houston, he traveled the country with the Soul Rebels Brass Band. Our Daddy taught him how to play the trumpet around age five and he’d been playing for almost 25 years. I swung open the French doors leading to CJ’s room and spotted him entangled in a massive amount of sheets, pillows and his duvet.

“CJ, I need you to wake up and listen to me.” I walked to his closet to look for a robe and continued to say what I had to say. “We need to head to The City tomorrow morning. I’ve booked a one way flight for us already. We have some important business to handle. Are you up yet? CJ, get your ass up please! This is important.” I could feel myself getting irritated as I threw a silk robe, monogrammed with a ‘C’, on his bed.

Rolling over and sitting up, CJ cleared his throat and answered me with a raspy voice, “What is it Cherish? My flight landed two hours ago and I’ve got shows booked for the next two weeks. Unless this is about Mama, can it wait?”

CJ shielded his eyes from the sun light as I opened the curtains hiding the extra-large gallery window so that I could see. My brother lived large, extremely large. It was a totally different life from what we grew up around. Living in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, we only had two bedrooms for our family of four.  CJ and I shared a room all of our lives so it was only right that he now had a bedroom the size of the two bedroom house we grew up in as an adult. I walked into his closet and started pulling clothes for our trip. Looking at CJ on the outside, you’d never think he had the taste that he does. His body was filled with tattoos. The only part of his body that hadn’t been touched with ink was his face, his dreadlocks were much longer than mine and he kept them tightly braided into one braid down his back. In his closet, there were nicely tailored suits from Jos A. Bank and properly fitting clothing from Neiman Marcus.

“Cherish, I know you hear me talking to you. Is this about Mama? I went by and visited with her yesterday morning,” CJ stated as he stretched and walked over to his restroom. “Everything was fine, we went outside and we talked. She talked about how she was ready to be with Daddy again. How she knew that everything was okay with us and that you would always make sure I had what I needed. Damn, she’s gone. Isn’t she Cherish?” CJ’s voice started cracking and I could see his eyes well up with tears.

As I fought back tears, I said, “Everything is going to be okay. We are all we got and Mama was right. I will make sure you have what you need. I’ll always be here for you but we’ve got to go handle this now.” I told him.

I honestly didn’t know what to tell him. I secretly dreaded going back to New Orleans. It was part of the reason I hadn’t visited my mother since the day we decided on a hospice facility for her. Something about seeing her unable to do the normal things she used to do.

“Let’s just get to the airport for now,” I said. We’ll talk about everything on the flight there.” I tried to put on my most assuring voice as I embraced my baby brother in a hug. His body shook as he tried sniffling back his tears.

“Do you think we can have the driver stop at Spicy Kitchen? I’m starving sis.” CJ’s voice sounded like a child who hadn’t eaten in two hours.

We had just landed at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport and I spotted our driver holding a clip board that read “Singletary” on it. I couldn’t believe CJ was worried about food and I also hadn’t realized that I needed to eat myself.

Sighing, I responded, “I guess so, CJ. We have to get to the funeral home in 45 minutes and we still haven’t been by Mama’s to get the insurance paperwork. Go get you something to eat and let’s go.”

We made our way to Spicy Kitchen, near Little Indian Village and CJ ordered his food, and came back to the car. I instructed the driver to take us to our home, the home that we grew up in. I needed to get inside and grab Mama’s insurance paperwork so that we didn’t have to pay out of pocket for her funeral expenses. She always took care of things and made sure that we never had to pay for anything.

As I walked up the steps to our home, I could hear Mama’s voice the last time I talked to her saying, “Don’t forget, all the important documents are in the lower right hand drawer of my desk. The keys are under the mattress, on your Daddy’s side of the bed. Everything is already taken care of. When the time comes, you handle the arrangements but it’s all paid for.”

Mama was always one step ahead of the game when it came to us. I hoped that when I had children I’d be like that. But by the way my career was going, I didn’t have time for anything but making sure my artists were okay and making sure my brother didn’t get the wrong woman pregnant. I’d seen how things unravel when something like that happened. Plus I wanted my brother to live as normal a life as possible.

The front porch of our house had plants that needed watering, geraniums that happened to be the same color as CJ’s. At that moment, I realized where he got that from, and I smiled to myself. Pulling the key to the iron gate out of my handbag, I realized Mama’s neighbor, Mr. Lewis must have been keeping the ivy’s from growing up on the house because they looked freshly cut for a house that wasn’t lived in.

As I walked inside, I realized that nothing had changed. All of our family pictures where were they’d always been growing up. Mama still had the couches covered in plastic. Boy did I hate that damn plastic, in New Orleans summers, you’d stick to that couch if you weren’t careful. I made my way to Mama’s office and her desk was neat, just like she liked it to be. After unlocking the drawer, I grabbed the file folder marked “Insurance” and locked the drawer back. Pausing for a moment before going outside, I felt a rush of emotion pass over me and I chose to ignore it.

Once I got back to the car, we drove to the funeral home.  For some reason O’Brien’s didn’t look like I remembered it when Daddy died, as if they’d put in new carpet. There were large potted plants on either side of the doors and when you walked into the foyer, you could smell the faint smell of formaldehyde and the air was stiff and thick. We were motioned to Mr. Dupree’s office and given a little bottle of water with the funeral home logo on it. Mr. Dupree was a short, stout man with a Santa Claus-like beard and a shiny, black, bald head. His accent was thick and you could assume that he still spoke fluent creole French.

He led us to the casket selection room to pick out Mama’s casket and a chill came across the back of my neck. I reached for CJ’s hand and his reaction was quick, almost like he was looking for me to be right next to him so he would know what was going to be my next movement. The air in the casket room was warm and sticky, just like the New Orleans August heat. Maybe it was just the way I was feeling because I couldn’t believe I was sitting here selecting my mother’s casket. I really wanted this to be over. I moved away from New Orleans for a reason and now that Mama was gone, I had no reason to be here anymore.

Once we were finished making arrangements, I had the car drive us back to Mama’s house so that we could start preparing to pack things up. I had in mind to rent a U-Haul and bring everything back to store in my storage unit since I booked one way tickets.  CJ had urged otherwise.

“I don’t know why you’re in a rush to pack up all this stuff, Cherish. Can we at least get Mama in the grave first before we just pack and empty the house? She left it to both of us to share. It would be good to fix it up a bit so that I have somewhere to stay when I have gigs in town. I hate paying for hotel rooms when I come home.” All the while as he talked he was rummaging through Mama’s dresser drawers and her armoire.

I rolled my eyes and sighed, “Okay CJ, I’ll wait. What are you looking for? You’re making a mess.”

Continuing to throw clothes over his shoulders and move swiftly from one part of the bedroom to another, CJ said, “The key, Mama told me she had the key in her drawer yesterday but I didn’t think to ask her which one.”

“The key to what? What does it look like? Why do you need a key? You have all the keys to her properties just like I do. You have a key to the safety deposit box don’t you? I asked looking just as confused as I felt. Rarely did Mama tell one of us something without the other knowing.

Picking up the clothing off the floor, CJ responded “She never told me what it was for, she just told me to make sure I got the key out of the drawer and I’d know what to do with it. She didn’t want to share it with me until she passed. So I guess we’ll find out together, Cherish.”

Frankly, I didn’t care to find out. I needed Saturday to get here fast so that we could have this service and I could get back to Houston, back to my king size bed. Back to my life. CJ and I decided to go to Zea restaurant and grab some dinner and turn in for the night. Tomorrow was going to be a big day for us.

Three months later, I walked up to the steps and covered my nose from the dense smell of mold and mildew.  Pulling out my key, I looked back at my brother CJ, the look on his face was somber.  We hadn’t been to our childhood home in the past three months. Everything was still locked up after we left to go back to Houston after our mother’s funeral and second line filled with Mardi Gras Indians dressed in their vibrant red, yellow, and orange feathers with intricate beadwork. Our neighborhood was littered with cracked mud. The houses had waterlines and orange spray paint outside ach one. I stuck the key in the iron work gate in front the house and unlocked it. It whined as I opened it. The water damage had warped all the wood of the front door and even though the door was locked, anyone could have come inside. I pushed it open and CJ followed me. The entire drive down, we’d argued about whether or not we should let the city buy the land or rebuild. We both had different opinions.

CJ donned his gas mask and rubber boots, picking up molded picture frames and moving them around. We were both careful not to step too hard on the buckling wood beneath us.  There was a mold spatter coming from the ceiling down to the floor in a triangle shape. The spatter covered one of our family pictures.  I watched as CJ’s face grew angrier looking at the conditions the further we got into the house.  It didn’t bother me that this house was beyond repair.   I wanted to sell it to the city and be done with the City of New Orleans all together.  The city had brought me nothing but pain. CJ on the other hand, not so much.  He wanted to save what was left of the house and renovate.

Glaring over his shoulder at me, CJ said “We should have come as soon as they opened this part of The City back up. We could have avoided all of this Cherish.” CJ picked up our father’s urn and started trying to wipe away the mold that had begun to grow around the tarnished gold lid.

“CJ,” I said “you could have very well come by yourself. You didn’t need me.” I tried to get him to help me pack up all of our mothers junk and nick knacks after the funeral and put it in my storage. But he wanted to wait. I grabbed papers off the floor, some of them still wet from the flood water.

Colby wiped his hands on his clothes and headed towards our mother’s office where she kept all her paperwork and I followed closely.  When he had something on his mind, there was no stopping him.  I stood, leaning on the now soft door panel and watched as he rummaged through damp paperwork until he found the key. No wonder he didn’t find it when we came down for the funeral, he was looking in the wrong place. He picked it up and smiled, showing 12 gold plated teeth, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he’d found it. Hopefully this would add some closure to our trip.

CJ cleared a space off the desk enough for him to sit and held the key in his hand. It was attached to a faux rabbit’s foot. It was just one single key. What could it possibly open? Why did Mama have it? What made her leave it for CJ? All these questions raced through my head as I tip toed back through the house to grab trash bags out of the truck. I noticed that the couches had been moved out of their original spot. Like someone had looked behind them.  I must not have paid attention to that when we came into the house.

Once I got back inside, CJ was still sitting on the desk, but he’d pulled his iPhone out and began scrolling through his contacts. I started getting rid of the soggy, wet paperwork and making a pile of things that we could keep. All the while, I was making sure that I didn’t step too hard. Seeing our home like this was extremely heart breaking. Our Daddy helped build this home from start to finish. Maybe that was the real reason why CJ wanted to keep the house. CJ and Daddy were extremely close. I used to be that way with Daddy until I became an adult and we just drifted apart. I clung to my Mama until she took sick. I hated seeing her that way and because of my career, I wasn’t able to be at her side as much as I wanted to.

I wrapped up the cleaning of Mama’s office and moved to my bedroom. It was still the same as the day I left for college. My bears had now grown black mold and my once white comforter was now brown with a musky odor. I moved towards the closet where I knew Mama kept other paperwork. There was a file cabinet.

“CJ, come help me in the back room,” I yelled. I wanted to pull this cabinet out and get it open to see what was in it.

Carefully stepping through the door of the room, CJ came with the crowbar and hammer. With two hard bangs of the hammer to the crow bar the top drawer of the cabinet opened and in it was a wooden box with a latch. I set it on top of the cabinet and started going through the carefully labeled files in the drawer. Mama was an extremely organized person and some of the documents were dated as far back as 1978. What on earth would a woman need documentation this far back for?

I never noticed that CJ had taken the box and went back into the office and he’d grown awfully quiet. Flicking through the files, I saw something that said Birth Certificates. I pulled that file and walked back into the office.

“Look at this, CJ.” I whispered to him showing him the paperwork. “There’s some birth certificates in here, but they’re not ours.”

He glanced over the contents and looked at me wide-eyed and said, “They have our birth dates though, so are they us? Why wouldn’t Mama and Daddy tell us this?”

Who are Eveline and Conrad Johnson? I felt my heart fall to the floor. Could my life be a lie? Were my parents really my parents and if not, who were my real parents? Was CJ my biological brother or did he have a set of parents out there somewhere? These were the questions that I’d never be able to ask my parents because they chose to keep a secret from us our entire lives. Regardless of the facts, CJ was my brother and I’d always take care of him no matter what.

“Cherish, there’s no father for these children. Does this mean that Mama gave birth to us and changed our names before she met Daddy? I need answers, I don’t like not knowing anything.” CJ’s face grew dark red in anger.

CJ fished for the key out of his pocket and stuck it in the latch of the wooden box. It was a perfect fit. He turned it to the left and the latch popped open. When he opened the lid, there were photos of Mama and some Jazz greats, like Fats Domino, Ellis Marsalis and Satchmo. She even had a photo with Mahaila Jackson. Under some of the photos was Mama, me, CJ as a baby and a man that we didn’t know. It surely wasn’t Daddy. The back of the photo had an address. We looked at each other and exchanged no words. I grabbed the photo, and the birth certificates and we headed towards the truck.

CJ’s questions popped out one after another, “Do you think this is our father? Do you think he’s at this address? What exactly are we looking for?”

Of course I hadn’t really thought anything through, I was just driving. Westwego was hit by Katrina just as bad as The Nine was, but I think it was still open. Once we crossed the Mississippi River, I stopped by the toll bridge and looked at my baby brother with tears in my eyes.

“CJ, truth be told, I don’t want to know. Can we just pack up the house and go home? I don’t think I can handle anything else,” I stuttered through tears.

“Cherish, we can’t just leave not knowing. Mama wouldn’t have told me that I would know what to do with the key if she didn’t want us to know.” The confidence in his voice was odd, a side to him I’d never seen.

I never thought my baby brother would be such a good big brother to me during a time like this. I was always the strong one. I continued to drive thinking of what we would be walking into, thinking of why Mama would wait until after she’d passed on for us to find out that we’re someone else’s children.

As CJ wiped my tears, he said “I can’t do anything without you. You’re my safety and we both need to find out the truth behind this. So can we please just go and get this over with? The sooner we go, the sooner we can know the truth.”

We pulled up to an abandoned building that matched the address on the back of the photo. It looked as if it could have been a night club, but it was boarded up with posters promoting Big Freedia’s next concert that had obviously been cancelled due to Katrina. My stomach was in knots as I watched CJ grab the crow bar out of the back of the truck and make his way to the boarded door. Whatever was behind this door was the beginning of a life we never knew. Or was it a life we knew already? Either way, we were about to find out.

The Club

Colby and I looked at each other before I watched him pry open the doors of the club with a crowbar.  Neither of us were sure what was behind the door but we sure hoped that we would find some answers.  Somehow the fear that I had was gone and a bit of adrenaline had kicked in as I helped him move the boards out of the way.  The club smelled of mildew and mold and there were chairs and tables flipped over on their side as if there had been a brawl.  Broken bottles and glasses were all over the floor as well so we tip-toed around almost like children playing volcano, my steps mimicking Colby’s as he lead.  There were photos of Jazz greats that were hanging crooked on the walls with mold spots on them.  It broke my heart to know that a once lively place was dead.

I walked behind the bar and began opening cabinets to see if there were any boxes or photos that could link us to the photo we found at Mama’s.  I never noticed that Colby had gone upstairs to the office, I could see him moving around in the window. After opening all of the cabinets and finding nothing I ventured around the rest of the club.  I ran my fingers across the carvings in the walls reading the inscriptions.  A loud thud grabbed my attention, causing me to look up.

“Cherish, come up here, I think I found something” Colby yelled down to me from the door of the office.

I tip toed around the glass trying not to step on any but moving as fast as I could. I climbed up the steps two at a time and burst through the door. I saw Colby standing at the desk with photos strewn across it.

“What did you find?” I asked Colby, out of breath

He looked at me, “Mama came here a lot, she’s all over these photos” he replied.

I picked up one of the photos of Mama singing into a microphone and she looked pregnant. I flipped the photo over to see if there was anything on the back.  The date said 1971, so she must have been pregnant with me at that time.

“Colby, she was pregnant with me in this picture” I said handing the photo to him.

He stuck the photo in his pocket.

“Let me see the photo of us together so I can check the dates,” I told him.

He was looking at letter in his hand and crumpled it up. His face was angry.

“Let me see bro,” I said reaching my hand out.

“No, this isn’t something you need to see. We need to just get out of here and forget that we even came in here.” His already deep voice grew deeper.

“Colby, let me see the letter,” I reached over to his balled up fist and he pulled back.

“Sis, you really don’t need to see this. Let’s go!” He exclaimed and pushed his way around me.

I stumbled back up against the wall and looked at him. It shocked me to see my brother get physical with me while he was angry.

“Colby, give me the letter. I don’t care what is on it, whatever it is has you angry and this isn’t like you. Give it here.” I said as firm as I could, I felt like mama’s voice was coming out of my body because it caused him to stop in his tracks at the door.

His demeanor changed and I could hear the hurt in his voice when he said, “Cherish, lets go.” He started down the stairs.

No Restraints

“Take your bobby pins out,” his hand ran across my soft, tight coils. Looking deeper into my eyes, he whispers

“I like it with no restraints.”

My bobby pins were second nature to me

Hair pulled so tightly my head hurt at the end of the day.

His fingertips across my scalp massaging so sensually

“I like to see you completely natural,” his hot whispers sent chills down my spine

Closing my eyes I listened to him sing smooth ballads to me in the dark

His hands and voice sent signals to my brain placing me in a trance

My hips gyrating to the circular motion of his fingers in my hair

His lips touching my ear as he continues to sing

He is my retreat

Makeup

Behind her makeup there’s bags of fear,

Forehead creases of worry and painfully scowled eyebrows.

Her lips are stained with hues of I’m fines” and I must not be good enough’s.

Her confidence hid behind her rose colored blush. Black tears cried from mascara laced

Eyes and she tells her self, He won’t do it again. He loves me. But to him, she’s not good enough.

Black and blue feelings covered like paint, she covers her purple and red markings.

The beatings she’s taken. Gracefully, she adorns her neck with pearls laced with his

I’m sorry’s.  She just wants to be able to share everything she has. With him.

I, want to share my life, I want to see that you won’t hurt me again.

I want to know that you won’t give me excuses and I don’t have to cover my

Bruises with this makeup. I want to know that as your woman, I am beautiful inside and out

That the pain that’s inflicted on me is not a reflection of the pain built up inside of you.

Because for years, I’ve hid my sorrows behind this makeup. I’ve hid my pain behind red stained

Lips. I have been your woman through all of the I won’t do it again’s and the You made me this way’s

But you failed to see, that you, made me this way.

I Want to be First

I want to be first in your mind

I need to be first in your life

I cannot take a backseat because it isn’t fair

It isn’t right, especially when you are being treated like a king.

When you know that I would give you anything within my power.

Share anything and everything that I have with you, only you.

I need to not only hear it but see it in your actions.

I don’t need excuses, I cannot deal with lies

Just do right by me, love me

That is what I need

Show me that you think of me above anyone else

That I am your woman, your only one, the number one.

I want to be first in your life…. no I need to be first in your life