The morning started calm and serene, as I savored momentary peace before my family awakened from their slumber to populate the house with lively sounds only West Indian families can muster well before noon. When the silence is suddenly broken, without regard, by creaky footsteps coming down the stairs and, soon after, music playing with a grainy sound coming from what I presume is my sister’s iPhone, my spine becomes slightly concave and a tiny spark of rage forms in my belly, but dissipates rather quickly when I remember love is sometimes loud and proud. We are in quarantine, so I am allowed to make up such delusions to get me through the day.
As I sit at my desk, working from home and accepting the inevitability of disruption, I ponder going for a jog, since work has been slow and will still be here when I get back, donning the judgmental look of a stern teacher when a student’s homework isn’t handed in on time, as if the mounting pile of papers in the corner of my office had piercing eyes and round glasses sliding down the bridge of its nose.
A boisterous conversation starts in the kitchen, with the ladies of the house discussing a recent African American jogger hunted down and shot in broad day light, in Brunswick, Georgia. I could feel rage starting to rise in my belly again. This rage eclipses the tiny rage I felt just moments ago, which now seems like a luxury. This rage is different. This rage summons the pain and struggle of our ancestors who have fought tirelessly to stop these unconscious acts of violence on the black body. This rage subsides on the surface, but never truly leaves the body, wreaking havoc on the muscles and the mind for years to come.
As I gather myself and take a deep breath, I walk slowly from my desk, and straighten my spine, to grab my sneakers and a bottled water.
I am going for a jog.
On clear sunny Flatbush afternoons, my neighbor appears unassumingly on her front porch carrying two items, which seem to be all one ever needs: a lawn chair and a book. Heavyset with short frizzy bleach blonde hair, she fills the lawn chair completely, which is always strategically placed in the left corner of the porch facing the street, allowing others in the walk-up to come and go as they please, while carving out her very own piece of heaven. Her apparent loneliness is comforting to mine.
On a slight diagonal, my gaze stretches through the broken mesh of my bedroom window across Bedford Avenue to contemplate this familiar stranger. I wonder if she lives alone and whether she has family that checks in on her every now and then. I wonder if she loses herself in steamy romances or science fiction. Sometimes she stops reading and looks up from her book out into the street for long stretches of time and I wonder if she's seen me. If ever she does, I hope my observation is not mistaken for judgement or pity. On days when woes outweigh wonder, I think of going over to ask for an ear to lay down my burdens and exchange thoughts about world affairs. Instead, I sit in my chair and enjoy the unspoken connection of loners.
They are taking my body soon, separating my soul from its carrier. History told me this black body was never mine, but God lets me keep my soul. Where is She, the God that let this happen?
Plucked from the streets of Philadelphia by plainclothes police, I was taken into custody for the brutal stabbing and murder of my wife. In the vestibule of our brownstone, she was found dead earlier that afternoon by her sister, lying face-down in a pool of her own blood . The sun was setting, the neighborhood kids were playing, and I was proudly walking down the street, a block from our home. I knocked off early from work and was preparing to surprise her. The bouquet of blue roses I just bought from the corner market spilled into the street, as they cuffed me, read my rights and pushed me into the back seat of their car. It was our anniversary.
"He fits the bill," uttered the detective in a loud whisper outside the interrogation room. The policemen, the detective, the judge; they ran with these words and ruined my life. My lazy lawyer couldn't save me.
I used to believe in justice and progress until, in the fall of 2016, my life was strategically stolen by the system. For those of you who think the system is broken, it is a well oiled machine still in pristine condition, going strong and just as planned. Broken would insinuate our judicial structure was birthed to bear the fruit of justice. It was not.
To be wrongfully imprisoned and given time for a crime you did not commit is expected, especially when your skin reflects that of a darker hue. To be wrongfully imprisoned and sentenced to death is blasphemy at its best.
Today, like every other day, I sit still on the cold concrete floor of my windowless cell, staring up at the narrow slab of glass on the blood orange door that confines me to this cage. Sitting for hours on the hardened floor gives my bed the illusion of comfort. I am waiting for the sign of another face: A guard; the only semblance of human interaction for the day until my hour of recess at the end of the week. I could have dug a better hole in my backyard than the one I've been thrown in to finish out my days as a rabbit in this punitive wonderland. I never know which guard is coming. This minor inconsistency is something to look forward to. Most of them share the same lack of regard for my life as the system that brought me here. They open the slot in the center of the door and push through a tray with something thatʼs supposed to resemble food. It looks more like softened multicolored brick with a side of peas or mashed potatoes I am sure have been regurgitated and scooped onto my plate. But there is one guard who makes an effort to show me his kind brown eyes, as if to say, "You're not alone " or "you donʼt belong here.” He doesnʼt know it, but he stops me from going insane. This is not rock bottom. It's the end. An end that comes prematurely and predetermined by law makers many years ago.
Freedom, I imagine, is no longer in my muscle memory. It lives now only in my dreams; day and night. The life I used to live is too a distant memory, nearly. I can still smell the fresh scent of her perfume and when I close my eyes I can feel the softness of her kiss. Her heart no longer beats, but I am still surrounded by its love. Anticipating the reunion of our souls helps to withstand each passing hour as they turn into days and years. I wonʼt know the difference soon. When time is all you have, the illusion tends to fade away.
The day is a dismal gray, windy and eerie. The unsteadiness of the footage mimics the anxiety of the bystander who is capturing the dubious fate of another unarmed black man. It is the first Saturday in April 2015, in North Charleston, S.C. The stain of a bloody conscience permeates the air and leaves a trail to the executioner. Through a rusty metal fence, surrounding an empty lot of patchy grass, Walter L. Scott, a 50 year old father of four, ends a scuffle with an officer and runs for his life. In a split second, the officer reaches for his gun. Cowardice, a stealthy culprit, finds no reason in logic. It whispers the falsehood of power in his ear and places his index finger on the trigger, while the victim's back is turned. One shot is not enough to get his fix for the day. He needs eight. It would have been more, had it taken the victim longer to fall. "Shots fired," he reports on his radio as he walks nonchalantly to Mr. Scott whose body lays lifeless faced down on the ground. "Oh shit," is all the bystander could muster, on the other side of the fence, as he follows the officer with his camera to Mr. Scott's body. The officer, a mere gunman at this juncture, is ready to set the scene in his favor. "Put your hands behind your back," he yells repeatedly, as he handcuffs Mr. Scott, who is out cold. He runs back to the spot of the initial scuffle to pick up an object, which he intends to place by Mr. Scott's body. A second officer has already arrived, so he slows his pace on his way back to the body and discreetly drops the object near Mr. Scott. Understating the deadly encounter and the fundamental evidence this local horror show provides, the bystander says, "Fucking abuse. Fucking abuse man." This was murder.
United in Delusion
If America is addicted to anything, it's delusion.
I'll start with the good news: We're in recovery.
Albeit the beginning stages, we are slowly starting to recover from our mischievous and ultimately damaging learned behaviors as a nation.
It is the middle of the night. America is fast asleep, a time when we are closest to the truth, yet never safe from the nightmare that awaits us in the morning. The sun rises. The eastern half of the mainland is the first to be greeted by hardened delusions made callous over centuries and built on the convenience of mendacity. These delusions never sleep. They are deeply ensconced in the DNA of our collective unconscious. This New World, still searching for its bravery, is, demographically, a far cry from the days of its original sin. We look more now like an amalgamation of the many ethnicities, creeds, and cultures that inhabit the earth. Diversity is our culture; color, our delusion.
From inner city neighborhoods to tree lined streets of the suburbs; middle America to the country's congested outskirts; homeless shelters to our First Black Family in the White House; the comfort of social media to the comfort of our own households; citizens to undocumented immigrants; with each passing day, we are all forced to break our addiction to delusion.
The freak show that is our current presidential election proves to be stunning evidence of our breakdown of delusions. Like any addiction, it must first be acknowledged before we overcome it. This is why Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton became the major party nominees. It did not happen in vain. Trump was brilliantly ushered into the forefront of our political stage as a looking glass reflecting America's jarring impurities, while Hillary tests our trust of the establishment.
Obama's eight- year presidency showed us a glimpse of what progress looks like, while unearthing deep rooted racism still planted throughout the country. The latter has shown up in many forms.
Bush Jr.'s eight years disintegrated the delusion that, in America, our freedoms are bulletproof.
We are not the only ones invested in the breakdown of our delusions. Malignant tumors of the world, in the form of other countries and terrorist organizations are eagerly waiting in the wings to demolish the delusions that our power is indestructible and that we are not at all complicit in the terror that shows up at our front door.
We are addicted to delusion because like any addiction, it affords us the transient luxury of avoiding reality.
On January 20th, 2017, when the next leader of the free world is sworn in, we will either be in danger of relapse or continue on the road to hard-won sobriety.
A loss so great could not be mourned with tears.
The true lament is lunacy, engineered throughout the years.
At the tender age of ten, I could not process your transition.
But the thought of never seeing you put me well out of commission.
Now in my adulthood I still don't know if I can manage.
With your passing you took my sanity as collateral damage.
Maybe one day you will show up in a dream,
In all your glory, with a halo shining like a laser beam.
I often feel your presence and sophisticated grace.
You seem to whisper in my ear, "It's staring you right in the face."
What I would do for your rare wisdom and foresight.
I sure would sleep much better through the night.
Sit up straight, stand up tall, and learn to breathe.
In and out. In and out.
This is who you are behind the noise and the fear.
Why so serious? Life is not the situation room.
You're from Matawan, NJ.
Laugh. A lot. Especially at you. I'm laughing at you now.
And know that holding back your smile is stealing your joy.
Bank on you because you've got a lot to offer, but stay curious and be a student of life.
You'll do the latter anyway. You can't help it. But make the former a practice.
Raise your voice in more ways than one. You need to be heard.
Screwing up is not failure. Its an opportunity to grow.
Find the lesson and learn from it.
Don't worry, you look fine.
You in 10 years
Social media, society's mirror, owns this epoch where generations meet and narcissism peaks. The nation's faulty foundation, once dormant in the volcano of history, is ready to erupt and take no prisoners. Progress is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Freedoms are under siege by weapons and buffoons. Hashtags have commandeered our language and stagnated social movements. We are losing our place on the world stage. When the curtain falls, be ready to take your bow, if you're still standing.