The Soundbites Poetry Festival is on the Horizon. My crew and I rehearse regularly. I barely made it through the last rehearsal. That night, one day after my cousin’s birthday, I remembered something. That memory inspired me to bring myself to the precipice of emotional fracture before stepping on stage or practicing. I go harder. It makes me a better performer. It took some recent pain for me to remember the initial need for me to perform in the first place, and how all of my demons point back to the moment that allowed them to emerge.
Aliyah, thanks for the conversation that allowed me to do this. It is time that people knew the truth about who I am, why I do what I do, and what my company represents.
Daily, I have been recounting May 24, 1994. It is the first time I have dropped my barriers to remember that much. Memories are excruciating.
I remember the sound of my father outside cutting the hedges, the smell of freshly edged grass intermingled with debris from the bushes. I ignore the ringing phone while playing a video game that my mother would have flipped if she knew her 12 year old was playing. My father loves that game too. I pick up after 6 rings. It is Mama (my maternal grandmother), who very seriously asks to speak to my mother.
Mom calls me to the steps, sits me down, and tells me André drowned through vocal cords lined with salt.
The next 3 days of my life are a fog. I cry the entire way to my grandparents’ house.
I can remember next to nothing, other than smells, and the phone call placed to my Uncle. They tell him to pull over his tractor trailer, and inform him that his youngest son died. I curled up on the couch. I didn’t talk. I don’t think I ate.
My mother sent me to school the next day. Finals were a few weeks away. It was a few days before Memorial Day weekend, and she didn’t want me to miss more school than necessary. We would be gone for several days for the wake, funeral, and travel time. It was the end of my first year at Friends Academy, a very prestigious private school, and she wanted me to finish the year strong.
It was a bad idea that I forgive her for. I could not function at all. I sat through science class and broke down 20 minutes into the session. I explained to each teacher that day what happened, every sentence akin to exhaling nails.
It was an 8 hour Chevy Astro ride to Virginia. We couldn’t get a hotel in Virginia Beach, and stayed across the bay in Newport News. No hotel would offer a bereavement rate; they called us liars, suggesting that we fabricated our family tragedy to receive discounted hotel rates for the tourist-littered holiday weekend. Bastards.
My Aunt was shocked we walked into the funeral parlor. I was the first person she saw walk in. They didn’t expect us to come. We didn’t find out any of the information from them directly. We spoke to the neighbors after driving to the vacant house. She and my Uncle had been divorced for a few years.
The smell of the funeral parlor is still fresh in my nostrils, the flower wreaths, ribbons, and white pews. I staggered after leaving his grandmother’s embrace, face saturated on the walk to the open casket. The memory of the color has faded. His face was swollen. He did not look the same. I don’t remember sitting down. The only things I remember from the funeral parlor were that I was shocked that that his sister wasn’t balling as much as I was, that I learned he drowned saving another boy’s life, and that boy was named Emanuel. The preacher found purpose in this. I stopped listening to him speak.
The person I was shattered that day.
I remember every square inch of the church from the funeral the following day. Every inch. Flyers on the wall. Bulletin boards. The texture of the heavy wooden doors. The stairway to the basement where the repass was held. That sunny afternoon was the first time I learned how to emotionally shut off. I spent time with his cousin, Stephen, and limited the amount of time I clung to his brother and sister. Andrea, André, Ray, and I had spent many warm days in backyards, on beaches, and in front of piano keys. Time with them would crack the Papier-mâché cocoon I was attempted to envelop myself in.
As a family, we walked the boardwalk, went shopping. My mother bought me a Frederick Douglass hoodie. Andrea gave me André’s 8 Ball leather jacket. It hangs in my closet to this day, and still fits. He and I had a tendency to live in insanely baggy clothing. We used to wear our jeans backwards to emulate Kriss Kross, so oversized jackets weren’t farfetched. I mean, it was 1994.
I have been an emotional brick mason for 15 years. This is the one thing I have walled off for so long that writing about it has long been impossible. Surpressing these memories in my writing and on stage has always held me back. I have learned to value real friendship, and actively try to not take people for granted. The people who I love know what they mean to me. I learned quickly what it means to lose someone, and never have the opportunity to articulate how much I care about them. For 15 years, I have dedicated my life to proving what I felt at age 12 through my actions, and creating Andre’s legacy in my own life through what would eventually evolve into André Maurice Press. It wasn’t until I was 26 that the idea crossed my mind to create my own legacy. Indelible. AMP|Indelible.