Don’t drink yourself
out of love
at the end of the high.
I typed these words
and I sat silent
during the car ride home
while you sang softly
Don’t drink yourself
out of love
at the end of the high.
I typed these words
and I sat silent
during the car ride home
while you sang softly
In every interation
of each universe
I’m there with
in the midst of the nuclear
in the tangle of
in the green-blue
I’m always with you.
There's something about an overcast windy rainy day that completes me. The whites blending with the grays and blues. The smudged sky made my heart smile. The whistling of the wind in the palm trees as the voluptuous clouds lollygag by, pulls my mind to wander. I can't help but listen to Coldplay's first album on repeat. The cold air kisses my cheek through the window trying to lure me out.
"I miss you," she whispers before building up her might and billowing a hard gust of her breath through the trees and she leaves. My eyes try to follow her long flowing invisible silhouette but I only catch the train of her gown and the damage left in her wake. Before long, the trees and plants fall back to their resting positions and sway as if they had never been touched. I can't be certain if it's her lulling them as her breathing swells or Coldplay's melodies and lyrics serenading the leafs.
And on and on from the moment I wake
To the moment I sleep
I'll be there by your side
Just you try and stop me
I'll be waiting in line
Just to see if you can
Coldplay's words always held a special meaning to me. The melodies felt like a familiar embrace, like a familiar scent on familiar clothes. I could close my eyes and feel your breath on my ear. It's been 15 years since I've touched you. Why do days like today remind me of you? The song ended leaving me a moment with the cold realization that I may never go back home. Coldplay spoke to me as the Wind teased me to come outside for a hug. Her breath was intoxicating. The moisture in the air teased a light rain fall.
I awake to find no peace of mind
I said how do you live as a fugitive
Down here where I cannot see so clear
I said, what do I know
I felt like a fugitive unable to relax until I made my way back to you. I was born with your soil and roots beneath my feet. We came from the same dust. But here where loyalties lie and citizenships brand, I wait and long for you through the cold murmurings of the wind. Sparks was one of my favorite songs on this album. I couldn't help but sing along in a wispy low voice. The sun reflected light off the clouds in a way to almost make them look like they were satin and glimmering--winking at me. My face broke into a gentle smile.
Look at the stars
Look how they shine for you
And everything you do
Yeah they were all yellow
Yellow. This was the epitome of my love for Coldplay and cold days like this. I was fixated looking out the window at the branches dancing to Chris Martin sing. I knew they were dancing for me. The California Hills laid at my feet in comfort of this moment, blowing kisses back to Saudi. Cold days like this have always been my favorite. I used to miss home in a way that pained my soul but now, I miss it on my favorite days.
When I met Saudi, without the American Narrative, I was in 7th grade. He stood misunderstood with a sparkling smile.
Oh yeah, your skin and bones
Turn into something beautiful
You know, you know I love you so
You know I love you so
I fell in love with his traditions and ideas--the way he spoke and how he laughed from the middle of himself. He was eager to learn how I lived and how I didn't judge him for his hard consonants. He loved me beyond the way people talked. He loved me the way a child loves with every ounce and fiber of his being. Saudi loved me in a way that I longed for on these cold days. Saudi's love gave me warm pillows and heated fluffy blankets filled with memories and smiles. His love grew my virtues, and when America tried to teach me how to think, He reminded me to lead with love.
I am the fool that
lost my fiberglass insulation and
grew so sad that I
decidedneeded to seek my fortune,
find the answers to questions
I didn’t want to ask.
I found a woodsman
that knew jackshit about the woods
and an enchanted shield
that wasn’t really enchanted at all but
I’m no longer the fool.
The golden hours are dimming.
Magic no longer happens here.
I am at the end of my journey,
the curve of the mobius in sight when
I am the fool that
lost my golden apples and
I am sad again.
gsoell is currently working on her first book of poetry, Small Nights Gospel.
Is sometimes all we have.
Sometimes that’s enough
I romanticize the “bohemian” lifestyle
(actually, we’re broke as a fucking joke),
the bad times,
the hot rages,
We were taught to
walk off the scrapes,
laugh away the bruises,
to get over it.
But we’re tired of that bullshit,
have been for years.
We are aqueous.
gsoell is currently working on her first book of poetry, Small Nights Gospel.
Ah, Cuba. The forbidden fruit of the Caribbean (well, when you’re an American at least), only a few miles from the southernmost point of Florida. You know what they say about taboos. Tell a person they can’t and they wanna. Now, I’ve always been interested in Latin America and the Caribbean in general, but there’s just something about Cuba that I find especially alluring. Is it the music? The architecture? The history? The women? The cigars? The vintage cars? The fashion? The mystery? It’s probably a combination of all of those.
Read the full piece on his website here.
P. Curry is currently working on his first book with Vital Narrative.
I got embarrassingly nostalgic and low-key emotional seeing a particular photo set on Facebook. We've been hearing the news for weeks now and it hasn't bothered me. The topic has always been a business debate, but it's never been about saying goodbye.
But tonight something happened. I sat down to smoke my bedtime bowl and perused my news feed so my thumbs could get their daily work out - phalange fitness is priority in my life. I see the regular everyday posts about politics and photos of babies and videos of cats and what the fuck ever. Then, I scroll down a little bit further and see the most adorable little girl. She has deep cherry brown hair and brown skin. She's standing in a store aisle surrounded by shelves that reach towards the sky filled with toys. The caption reads something to the effect of, she'll never get a chance to experience Toys 'R' Us like her older brothers, so here's a photo shoot of her inside the toy giant playing around for as long as she wants. +13 More. My finger was a curious.
Wow, Toys 'R' Us is actually closing, I thought.
The next picture was taken from behind as she looked up at a shelf. I could feel my throat get dry. But smoking weed does that to you, right? The third picture she's holding a toy twice the size of her. I felt small again. I could feel the little girls shoes around my feet. I felt a tinge of pain. The fourth picture she's running back to the camera with the gargantuan toy.
My son is nine months old. He's learning how to walk. He is my first child. He'll never experience the rush that was pulling up to Toys 'R' Us. He'll never know what it's like to see shelves filled up to the ceiling with every toy imaginable. He'll never know the critical thinking that went into toy selection. Finally choosing which toy to take home when your mom has a strict one-toy policy was difficult, but taught me to identify my wants and pick most accordingly with what fit my short-term and long-term goals (and Mom's budget). It always came down to Barbies, but which one was always the game changer. The only two places that even came close to Toys 'R' Us were Discovery Zone (Am I showing my age?) and book stores, specifically The Little Professor. Toys 'R' Us had that magic you could take home with you.
Becoming a parent for the first time was wild enough from conception to delivery and then gets even wilder after they're born. Being able to pass on a familiar experience from your childhood that filled you with so much excitement and happiness felt like a rite of passage. It was more than getting a toy. It was knowing a place exists that understands you and your wants.
But in all honesty, even if it stayed around, I doubt I'd take my son there as he grows up.
Some years ago, I don't even remember how far back, I found myself in my local store in disbelief. It still feels like a lucid nightmare. Not because something terrible or traumatic happened but because of the feeling that stayed with me after I had left. It was like seeing your high school crush for the first time in 20 years and he's almost unrecognizable; not only because of the harsh whiskey stench that he marinates in, but then he farts and starts laughing at the rancid smell like he did all of those years ago and you remember why you stopped liking boys your age. It was like seeing an ex-boyfriend tripping balls off bug spray like you didn't even know that was a thing people were doing these days. You were humiliated for him.
But I digress, the last time I was there the air was thick. This big warehouse felt deserted and abandoned. No music playing. The aisles were ominous and watched you as you walked passed. I could hear squeaks on the linoleum floor an aisle or so over but I never saw another customer. The occasional employee would be spotted but I was to 'weirded' out to approach anyone. The inside of the store made me feel the same way a dead body would if it were propped up on display with its eyes open in a frigid oddly unnatural position. Uncomfortable was an understatement. The paint chipping on the cracked walls were just a small detail in the grand scheme of things.
That lasting image was traumatizing. I didn't want that to happen to my son. I couldn't discern if it was because I remembered how new and sparkling the store had looked in my childhood or if it looked as dilapidated to everyone. I refused to take that risk though. "It would have looked haunting to anyone," I said trying to convince myself. I felt like I would be introducing this beautiful boy to where toys came to die.
Is this what growing up felt like? It felt like time was betraying me. Like I woke up one day and I was old even though I thought I saw youth staring back in the mirror. Time was slipping through my fingers and burying me alive as I gasped for air. Has the world always been this disgusting and evil or are these new deadly trends a sign of the crumbling times? Was this the beginning of the end?
How did those pictures trigger such a powerful reaction? Or was I overthinking all of it? Was it just the weed? Did it even matter?
Years after my last encounter with the toy giant, my mom got a seasonal job there. When she didn't get hired on, I was mad at God. My mom was perfect. I was mad that not hiring her, made her feel less than she was worth. Recently, learning how many workers lost their jobs and that some even lost their retirements with the company, broke my heart. I understood why God didn't let us depend on that income. The devastation of losing a second house would have been more than we could have handled right now. I guess Chance the Rapper was right: "my God doesn't make mistakes."
When I thought about the chain, I thought back to a better world. A world that didn't have mass shootings, and overwhelming hurt and pain sprinkled with anxiety and a splash of depression. I wished for a world that didn't betray me overtime with new deadly trends. I wished for time not to team up with gravity and make my skin droop - for time not to affect our youth and for moms and dads to stay with you forever.
It became less about Toys 'R' Us and more about how time was speeding up. Maybe the amount of time a year is got shorter because I've lived longer. One month when you've lived through 360 of them seems less significant, and the more time that goes by, perhaps the next month will become even less important. Time was betraying me. Being thirty in 2018 was drastically different then what it was when my parents were my age. The thought of reaching some level of stability and success was fleeting. Who knows if I would get there before my parents are taken from me. It was a constant fear of mine. My dad's health has been declining over the years and seeing him age so much has had an unspoken effect on me. My grandfather died unexpectedly. What would stop death from doing to my son what he did to me? I constantly felt threatened not to get to comfortable.
Aging has been a terrifying inevitability if you're lucky. I may not even get the chance to age. I felt like becoming a mother made me mortal. I remember coming home from the hospital while my son laid in the NICU when he was five days old. My invincibility cloak came off and I haven't been able to find it since. Now when I go out, my only mission is to get back to that smiling face by any means necessary.
I thought Toys 'R' Us would be here forever. Why would I think any differently? And coming to the realization they're closing their doors for good has been far more difficult for me than I'd care to admit.
My mortality, seeing loved ones age around me, becoming a mother. I'm living life on the other side of the glass now. The side that is no longer experiencing life for the first time, but helping a tiny human experience his. I never thought at 30, I'd finally feel the shift of becoming an adult.
My parents are now grandparents, so I guess this is goodbye then.
Bye. Thanks for the smiles.
Q. Vergara is currently working on her first book with Vital Narrative.
This post contains spoilers for the "Woods" episode of Atlanta.
"Woods" is another flawless episode of Atlanta. The line between the surreal and the mundane this season seems more blurred. Mostly it's seemed to push every situation from creepy to blatantly horrifying, and this works strongly in its favor considering the theme of this batch of episodes (Robbing Season).
Watching this episode made me realize that one of the aspects of the show that's hardest to watch is how few of its characters get to win. Even Darius - who normally sees at least a small victory when everyone else loses - was cheated out of his goal at the end of his episode because of an atrocity someone forced him to the center of.
This episode felt a little less appalling, but only marginally so. It still felt incredibly heavy, maybe because of how much we as viewers have invested in Alfred's journey so far and how far we've seen him come, and the show reminds us of this: he has a girlfriend who is not only also a famous rapper but who is comfortable with him and seems to (try) to support him in a way that he needs; he buys a pair of expensive shoes in a shop so ritzy that all the white people are too old and bourgeois to recognize the rapper couple; and he hears his song on a major radio station, when he used to have to literally bribe someone to accomplish that.
Al has changed a lot in some ways, but in some ways he's exactly the same, and the show finally shows him in no uncertain terms that this selective growth cannot continue. This episode is one of those that's felt especially like a horror film, and I found myself yelling at the TV when Alfred ignored his harbinger (Sierra) and went on to meet with his series of weapon-weilding villains. You see it coming a mile away, just like in the movies, and just like those characters our Al is still too flawed to meet with his antagonists and win. It's incredibly heartbreaking to see Alfred try and stay consistent & true to his values and watch the world do nothing but punish him for it, but I'm hoping from the way that Alfred handled that photo op at the end that change is coming for him sooner rather than later.
A.A. Redd is a poet and Vital Narrative author. You can support her work here.
i date a writer
i spawn ideas for their work
like unnecessary heartache
and the breaking of
our trust's femur
i cause ruptures in our ozone
just to let the sunlight in
they immortalize me
when i immolate them
T.J. Love is a poet and Vital Narrative author. You can support his work here.
When I was in the eighth grade, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl who sat two rows in front of me. She always spoke in a way that let me know she read books outside of school like I did. And because I knew how smart she was, I realized I couldn't approach her just any old way - I wanted to show my intelligence and poise as well. Or at the very least, I knew I needed to say hello without melting into my desk.
So, I went over what I was going to say in my head for days. I knew I wanted to work in that I read a lot and had started writing my own stuff, but then I thought she might ask to read some of it and that terrified me. So I kicked that idea from my mental Rolodex and decided to start from scratch.
Days turned into weeks until I finally put my foot down. I told myself I was going to say hello and ask for her phone number. I arrived early for first period and to my surprise, she was sitting alone, digging for something inside her backpack. I didn't think it would leave a good first impression to startle her by appearing suddenly when she was sitting alone in a room (plus, I still needed another moment to gather my thoughts). I walked into the nearest bathroom to wash my hands and took a few deep breaths. I told myself I would just say hello and go from there. It had only been about two minutes, but I already felt a lot more relaxed going into the conversation the second time around. I left out of the bathroom and walked back in to see her surrounded by three of her friends, chatting happily about some television show I had never heard of. Feeling like I'd lost my chance, I decided not to interrupt and walked past towards my desk. There was plenty of time left in the day, so I still had time to ask.
Second period was gym, so after I dressed out, she walked into the gymnasium with a good friend of mine. They were laughing and having a great time, which wasn't a total surprise because my friend was just as witty and interesting as I was. But I didn't want to disturb their conversation, so I just settled in my mind that I'd just go up to her at lunch. It made the most sense - the gymnasium wasn't the best setting for an intimate conversation and people were more social during a meal anyway.
But at lunch, she was nowhere to be found. I searched both exits and the courtyard to see if maybe she'd decided to eat outside, but still nothing. I didn't want to ask around and give off the suspicion that I was looking for her, but I wasn't sure what else to do. We had been near each other all morning and now that I was finally ready to ask for her number, she had disappeared. I decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate milk and a cardboard pepperoni pizza from the school cafeteria while I mulled over what to do next.
By the end of the day, every attempt at courting this young woman had been met with opposition and disappearances. Just 45 minutes remained in the day and I was determined to make them count. Time crawled by as the teacher lectured for the first twenty minutes, but then sped up as we were spread out into groups, inevitably setting me clear across the room from my muse. Before I knew it, there were just sixty seconds left in the day and it was now or never.
I told myself I could still catch her once the bell rang. At least if she said no, I could just run out of there and hop on the schoolbus.
The bell rang, I grabbed my bag and sprinted towards her desk, but an obstruction in a Yankees hat blocked the aisle and I couldn't fight my way though. Why did this keep happening?! By the time he moved out of the way, I checked her desk and she was already gone - I had lost her forever.
Or at least until tomorrow when I told myself I would arrive early again and make another attempt at attempting to ask.
But as you can probably guess, that didn't happen.
And that's how most people write first drafts. They have all the best intentions and tell themselves that one day they're going to sit down and ask that girl for her phone number. Or ask that girl to the prom. Or ask that guy on a date, but they never muster up the courage to actually stand up and say what they have to say.
In order to write a first draft, you simply have to put the words on the page. Don't worry about making everything sound perfect - that's what editing is for. Don't obsess over trying to find two hours to write everyday. Or even writing everyday. Start with ten minutes every Friday during your last break at work. And then just go from there.
The conditions are never going to be perfect. You're never going to find the perfect notebook or the perfect pen. You don't need a brand new computer first. You don't have to wait until next year. Use what you have and do what you can.
If you want to write to a book, you have to write a first draft. And to write a first draft, all you have to do is write.
Gregory Hedgepeth II is the founder of Vital Narrative Press. Garvey Hemisphere is his literary-inclined alter-ego. At least one of them wrote this.
Support his work below:
342 pp. A Collection of Echoes is the story of three strangers from Memphis as they begin group therapy for their various issues. Malone is still grieving the murder of his mentor while London is putting her life back together after a recent breakup. And Gavin is just trying to get by while dealing with the pressures of his career and his girlfriend who is adamant about getting engaged.
When I first started Vital Narrative Press, my bank account had $24 in it, I had been unemployed for two months and I was living on my grandmother's couch, trying to figure out how I was going to put my life back together.
As a lifelong writer, I had dreamed about starting my own publishing company for years and I knew there was a need for stories by people of color. But with no funds and no prospects, it was obvious the odds weren't in my favor. As the days marched by and my bank account continued to dwindle down to nothingness, I knew I had to take action. I asked myself what I had to lose, bought a domain, filed all the paperwork, created a website, and within a few weeks, Vital Narrative was born.
I had no idea what I was doing at first, but I knew if I took small steps each day and invested everything I could into the business, it would be a success. I took odd jobs and worked at temp services to finance the company while I spent the next several years researching the process, finding mentors, securing authors and learning the business. During our first year, we barely made any revenue, but we continued to make progress month-by-month and our growth steadily increased.
I managed to finance everything out of my own pocket and invested thousands of dollars to be the change I wanted to see within the industry. Some days it seemed like a lost cause and there have been plenty of times where I considered quitting to focus my attention on other things that wouldn't require nearly as much time, effort and money.
But the truth is, I fucking love this company. There are days where I spend eight hours at a desk job, just to come home and spend another eight hours or more working on various tasks that I know will benefit the future of the company. But it's worth it because every time I interact with my authors or our readers, I always come away feeling better - like I'm finally doing what I was put here to do. I know it's a cliche, but it usually doesn't feel like work and every day presents a new and exciting challenge.
I don't know if Vital Narrative Press will ever be a million-dollar company. And I won't feel like a failure if it doesn't. I didn't start this company just to make money - I wanted to invest in people who work hard, so I could help them build a platform and get their stories out to the world. And so far, I've done that... but there's still plenty of work left to do.
So on the days where I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders, I force myself to see things from that perspective. These authors took a chance on me, hoping I would enrich their writing careers and I'm still very much dedicated to making sure that happens.
It's humbling when I think about the progression we've made in such a short time. We literally started from the bottom, but three years later, we're still here.
I wanted to make sure that I gave thanks to every author on the roster, our readership and all of our supporters who helped make this dream come true. I hope you take time today to thank all those who helped support your dreams as well.
About a month after our third anniversary, I lost someone close to me and it took a while for me to get over. Coincidentally, she was incredibly vital to Vital Narrative since the very beginning and I would be remiss not to mention her contributions to the company. Her name was Panda, and back when I was still sleeping on my grandmother's couch, she allowed me to create and share my talents with the world.
That's because Panda was my 21-inch iMac computer and she was where every Vital Narrative document lived.
Unfortunately, old age caught up with her and despite my best efforts, she still ended up joining that old Apple graveyard in the sky. So after I grieved an appropriate amount of time, I found a suitable replacement named Simba and immediately got back to work.
If there was a silver lining to the whole ordeal, it was that everything had to be transferred over and it gave me a chance to go through our archives. I went on a wild trip down memory lane and came across some of our old logos from WAAAAAY back.
Looking at where we came from made me even prouder of what we've become and where we are headed in the future. But in doing that, I knew it was time for the company itself to evolve into something more representative of what's to come.
When we first began, the bear was the key element of our brand, meant to represent how multi-faceted people of color are despite mainstream media's obsession with pigeonholing our experiences.
Not long after Panda died, we posted this on our Facebook page:
To the casual observer, this was probably just another post - but it was really the mark of our new identity: we are the lions who learned to write.
With fake news running rampant these days, it's imperative that we write and share authentic experiences with the world. It's easy to complain about how we are portrayed in media, but now, more than ever, we have the ability to control these narratives.
The hunters have told tall tales of their journeys for centuries - but now that the lion has the pen, we have a duty to honor all that came before us.
We are the lions who learned to write - and writing is what we will do.
This is literally a first draft (at the time of posting, only one other person had read it), so all words, characters and themes are subject to change as I go through the editing process. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave feedback.
Click here to download a PDF or scroll to read the text below.
by Garvey Hemisphere
The man jumped out of his car with a pistol in his hand and anger in his eye. Camille froze at the sight of the gun and gasped for air. The man looked to be over three hundred pounds and growing the closer he got to her car.
“Hey, you old bitch!” the man yelled, right outside her window and gripping the pistol harder than ever. “You got a problem or something?!”
Camille, still frozen at the sight of the gun and the size of the man could only stammer out her response. “N-n-n-noooo. I d-d-don’t have a problem, sir. I-I-I-I’m just trying to get to the h-h-hospital. My granddaughter is about to be released from the maternity ward. And if I’m not there… they’re going to ship her to Public Housing. And her parents are out of state.”
Still gripping his pistol but softening his look, the man answered. “Public Housing? She had a Program baby?”
“Y-y-yes sir. And I’m sorry for honking my horn at you. I’m just in a hurry and I can’t let her get caught up in Public Housing. I just overslept. I’ve been at the hospital the last three nights and I haven’t been able to—”
The man raised his hand and put his pistol away. “I’m sorry for losing my temper, ma’am. I really am. I just lost my nephew to The Program. I guess I’m on edge myself. I really do apologize. Let me get out of your way. Seriously. I apologize. And I’m sorry for your loss.”
“It’s okay, sir. I understand,” Camille said, finally breathing easily for the first time in minutes. “I’m sorry for your loss as well.”
The man returned to his car and Camille let her foot off the brake. The man’s Ford F-150 turned left and Camille turned right to head towards the hospital.
She pulled into the parking lot and headed towards the attendant’s desk, just as her granddaughter was rounding the corner.
“Hey Mommy, it’s me,” she said into the phone. “I’m about to get discharged, but I still haven’t heard from you. I hope you’re okay. Call me when you get this, okay?”
“No answer?” Camille asked, after signing her out at the attendant’s desk.
“No, I guess she’s still working on getting Kamaye back.”
“I guess so. Do you want to go get some food or something? You’ve gotta be hungry. Look at you - you’re all skin and bones! Wallace ain’t feeding you?”
“You think everybody is skin and bones,” she said with a laugh. “I’m fine, Grandma. I promise.”
“Hmph, I guess I could use some breakfast myself now that I think about it. Crayola’s?”
“That’ll work, I guess. I’m not that hungry though.”
“You will be once you get inside.”
They made the short drive from the hospital to Crayola’s Diner. Once inside, Camille ordered a short stack, grits and sausage, while her granddaughter ordered orange juice and toast.
“That’s all you want?” Camille asked.
“I’ll be fine. My stomach still feels weird.”
“Probably a side effect of from all those medications they pump you with. I’m so glad I wasn’t still pushing out babies when The Program started.”
“How old were you, Grandma?”
“I was over forty. Way too old to still be having children. It was right around the time your Mama had you, I believe.”
“Do you think it actually works?”
“I’m sure it does. Just not for the people trapped in it.”
“I wish there was another way. What was it like was before?”
“Things were a little more civil back then, but not by much. To be honest, the first few years were great. It did just what they said it would – reduced teenage pregnancy, saved money on civil programs. The mayor used that money to build education halls and schools, programs for the arts. It seemed harmless enough,” Camille took a sip of Coke and cleared her throat before she continued. “But once they saw how much money there was in it? Whew. It was over just that fast. But that’s what’s it’s always about… money. They never talk about the people that have been lost. All those poor babies just… just gone.”
“My friend Randy had to give up his son too. He hated it. He still talks about him every day… it’s like he’s still here.”
Camille recalled the moment from earlier in the morning with the man and the pistol. Although she was terrified at the time, she immediately understood his anger once he revealed what had happened to his nephew. The trauma of The Program was already beginning to set in after less than two decades.
“His son will always be here as long as he believes it,” Camille said with a smile. “And, so will Kamaye.”
“What if Mommy can’t get to her in time?”
Camille kissed her granddaughter’s forehead and gave her a hug. “We’re not going to worry about that until we hear from your mother. In the meantime, let’s talk about something much, much more important. Like where is that Samuel?”
“No. Where is he? Because if it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t even be going through this mess in the first place.”
“It’s not his fault.”
“How ain’t it?”
“He didn’t create The Program.”
“But he sure benefitted from it, didn’t he? They all do. Men don’t want to raise the babies they make anymore, so now, they just ship them off to Bakersfield or Chicago or Pittsburgh – just wherever The Program decides they’re needed. That ain’t right!” Camille said, banging her fist against the table. “Single mothers raised babies alone for decades! And of course, it was hard, but we did it. We don’t need people telling us we have to send our babies off to become slaves in order for us have a better life. Or them, for that matter. Men didn’t make it easier on us – they made it easier on themselves!”
“Oh my God, Grandma,” her granddaughter said with a laugh and a wave of the hand. “You’re so dramatic. They just do like landscaping and trash collection and stuff. They’re not slaves.”
“Oh please. This country has survived off slave labor the entire time we’ve been here. They don’t make wages, they don’t have rights and they don’t get to vote. They just do what they’re told from the day they’re born until the day they die. Now what do you call that?”
She grew quiet as she thought about the weight of it all for the first time and began to weep. “That’s what’s going to happen to Kamaye?”
Realizing her mistake, Camille embraced her granddaughter again. “I’m sorry baby. I’m just over here running my mouth. I’m sure Kamryn is going to get her back here, safe and sound.”
She looked out the window at the mountains of traffic racing by on the expressway. “I hope you’re right.”
The waitress brought their food and set it down in front of them with a smile. Camille tore into the piping hot food, while her granddaughter casually sipped at her juice, still lost in thought. Once she was finished, Camille placed her fork on the plate, still attempting to calm her granddaughter’s fears. “Are you going to teach Kamaye the song?”
She smiled weakly. “Yeah, when she’s old enough, I guess I should. It always helped me feel better.”
“Your great-granddaddy taught me that song. And his daddy taught him. And his mother taught him.”
“Really? Who sang the song first?” she asked.
Camille thought about it for a second and then gave a soft laugh. “You know, that’s a good question.” Her granddaughter gave another weak smile and continued to sip her juice. “I’m going to run to the bathroom and then we can head out, yeah?”
Camille rose and walked to the bathroom, while her granddaughter continued to watch the traffic. Suddenly, her phone buzzed loudly, but from a number she didn’t recognize.
“Mommy? Mommy? Is that you?”
The voice sounded muffled on the other end. “Baby! Baby? Can you hear me? I have Kamaye! We’re on our way to come see you right now. Where are you?”
“Me and Grandma are at Crayola’s, having breakfast. Well, she did. I just had orange juice.”
“The Crayola’s on Grand and Fifth? We’ll be there in ten minutes. We’re on the way, baby!” and the called ended with a click.
She hung up the phone, not wanting to scream too loud in excitement. As soon as Camille sat down, she noticed her granddaughter’s change in demeanor.
“Mommy, just called,” she said with a smile. “She has Kamaye. She’s going to be here in ten minutes.”
“Ten minutes? Where is she?” Camille asked with an upraised eyebrow.
“I don’t know, she didn’t say. She just asked where I was and that she was bringing her.”
Camille grew suspicious. “Your mother has been in North Carolina for three days and didn’t think to call you the first moment she got a chance? She waited until she was ten minutes away?”
Sensing Camille’s suspicion, her granddaughter began to second-guess the voice from the phone. “It really sounded like her. She even said the name ‘Kamaye.’ Who else would have known the name?”
“Call the number back,” Camille said. The girl did as she was told, but there was no answer. “We need to go,” she said, grabbing her coat and purse. “We need to go right now!”
Camille jumped up from her seat and started making her way towards the door, scanning each face inside the restaurant for the first time, trying to see if anyone reacted suddenly to her movements. As she walked towards the front door, a young woman from behind the counter tried to get her attention.
“Ma’am?” she called out, with an artificially adhered customer service smile.
Camille and her granddaughter continued to walk faster.
“Ma’am!” the young woman shouted again, her smile now vanished.
Camille and her granddaughter began to pick up the pace and had almost made it to the front door when a man came from the back of the kitchen and stood in their way, blocking the door.
“We can’t let you leave,” he said with a stern look, crossing his arms. Camille looked at her granddaughter and didn’t know what to do. He was twice their size put together and there was no way they’d be able to get past him. Without thinking twice, Camille took a small step back, cleared her throat and kicked the man in the groin before grabbing her granddaughter’s hand to run past him as he slumped to the ground in a heap.
They ran to the car and got inside before the young woman came bursting through the door. Camille backed the Ford Explorer out of the spot and sped out of the parking lot.
“YOU DIDN’T PAY YOUR BILL-LLLL!” they heard the woman yell before pulling towards the expressway.
“Grandma, you forgot to pay?”
“I guess I got so caught up in the moment,” Camille said with a laugh. “No time to go back now.” Camille drove up an exit before turning off the expressway and pulled into an IKEA parking lot across the street. It was high enough and far away for her to see Crayola’s clearly without being identified. They sat beneath a large tree and Camille kept her eyes trained on the parking lot. After a few minutes passed, a black van pulled in. After a few moments, the front doors opened and a woman who appeared to be Kamryn, jumped out the front seat. She opened the back door and reached inside. For a few moments, it appeared that she was struggling with something, but finally, she was able to free it – she reappeared, holding a newborn.
“It was her, Grandma. We have to go back. We have to go back right now! She has Kamaye!”
Seeing all they needed to see, Camille and her granddaughter hopped back in the car and returned to the parking lot. Knowing they couldn’t go inside after skipping on the bill, they pulled beside the black van and called the number from earlier again, hoping to tell Kamryn they were out front, but there was still no answer. Before Camille could stop her, her granddaughter hopped out of the truck and made her way to the door.
“Mommy?! Where are you?” she asked once inside. She didn’t see her mother or anyone who resembled her. She searched the diner for a baby and didn’t see Kamaye either. The only people she recognized were the waitress and the man her grandmother kicked in the groin.
“Hey you!” the waitress said. “You and that old bag owe $14.48. Plus tip!”
She turned to run and almost knocked over her mother as a result. “Mommy!” she said, embracing Kamryn. “You found Kamaye!”
“This’ll cover it,” Kamryn said, tossing a twenty-dollar bill on the counter. Camille walked into the small diner, just in time to see Kamryn place her great-granddaughter into her granddaughter’s arms. “And the next time you call my mother an old bag, I’ll make sure you regret it, you little pancake fuck!”
“I’m sorry about earlier,” Camille said to the waitress sheepishly. “And about my daughter. She can be a little tough sometimes.” She turned to Kamryn, giving her a tight hug. Halfway expecting bad news, she asked, “Everything go okay?”
“No worse than last time, I guess,” Kamryn said with a weak smile.
“Yes, but not for anything in here,” Kamryn said with a chuckle. “This is old people’s food. Plus, I don’t care for the shitty service I’ve received.”
“What would you prefer?” Camille asked.
“How about King’s on First?” her granddaughter suggested.
“Now that works for me,” Kamryn said with a smile.
They walked out of the entrance door and made their way to the vehicles, still elated that everything had worked out in the end. Just as they were about to step inside, a black Lincoln Navigator pulled up and three white men in navy suits hopped out and walked up to Kamryn.
“Is your name Kamryn Slaughter-Wayne formerly known as Kamryn Abigail Wayne, also formerly known as DaVita Kamaye Sinclair?” one of them asked.
“Excuse me?” she asked with fire in her eyes.
One of the men returned to the black Navigator and opened the back door. A thin, frail woman with grey locs came around the side.
Kamryn continued to grow angry at the mentions of her former full names, while Camille stood there as if she’d just seen a ghost. “J-Janet?” she asked, visibly shaken. “Wh-what are you doing here?”
Janet walked over to his sister and kissed her on the cheek. “It’s time, Camille,” she said simply.
“Time for what?” Kamryn asked.
Janet grabbed Camille’s hands and held them tightly. “Why do you look so shaken, Camille? We knew this day was an inevitability.”
“You can’t do this now, Janet! You just can’t!” she pleaded. “I’ll go instead. Just take me. Please!”
“We both know that isn’t how this works. It has to be her,” Janet answered with a sick smile, pointing at Kamryn. “And… her,” she continued, pointing at Kamaye.
“No!” Camille yelled. “You can’t take her! We just got her back.”
“Grandma, what’s going on?” her granddaughter asked, growing terrified. Camille, still too shaken to answer, said nothing.
“Say something, Ma!” Kamryn demanded. “What is going on?”
“I’ll tell you all about it once we get there, my love,” Janet said with another sick smile, cupping Kamryn’s face in her hands. “Your mother made a deal with me years ago, thinking she’d never have to pay the penance. And now that I’ve come to collect, she doesn’t want to hold up her end of the bargain. But that will be her gravest mistake, isn’t that right, my lovely Camille? And now you, my gorgeous, gorgeous niece… I need to come with us.”
“But why are you taking the baby?” Kamryn asked. “She doesn’t have anything to do with this!”
Janet walked over to Camille and stood with her eye-to-eye. “Because… I can,” she said simply, before turning on her heel and returning to the Navigator. The men grabbed Kamaye and placed her in Janet’s arms as Camille and her granddaughter begged, cried, and tried everything they could to return the newborn to safety, but they were no match for the heavily-armed security detail. Kamryn, still unsure of what was going on, was forced into the car by security as they returned to their seats.
Before the vehicle pulled off, Janet met eyes with her sister a final time. “If you ever want to get them back, you know what you have to do, Camille.” She gave a final sick smile and the vehicle sped off down the expressway.
Camille’s granddaughter stared at her, waiting for an explanation to what had just happened, but Camille could offer none. She walked back to the car silently and took a seat behind the wheel. Her granddaughter slumped into the seat next to her, a ball of emotions.
Camille turned the car over and the engine roared to life. She let down her window and cleared her throat before lighting a cigarette.
“It’s time for you to learn everything about The Program,” Camille said solemnly.
“What does Aunt Janet have to do with The Program? I’ve never even seen her before.”
“Unfortunately, your aunt has everything to do with it.”
“What are they going to do with Mommy? Where are they taking Kamaye?”
Camille looked at her granddaughter with concern and then blew smoke out her window. “Put your seatbelt on. We have a long drive.”
“What? Where are we going?”
“Home,” Camille said simply before heading down the expressway.
This is literally a first draft (at the time of posting, only one other person had read it), so all words, characters and themes are subject to change as I go through the editing process. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave feedback.
by Garvey Hemisphere
Blood covered the chef’s knife as Camille staggered back against the kitchen counter. The knife fell from her hands as crimson drops began to dot the floor. She walked over to the sink and let out a howl as the cold water rained down against her wounds.
“Son of a bitch!” she let out. “I’m so tired of these dull ass knives. I spend more time cleaning up the cuts on my fingers than anything else.”
She kicked the knife with her house shoe in a rage and it went flying across the linoleum before stopping with a clang underneath the fridge. She returned to the counter to see the block of hardened cheese covered in blood on the right side. In another rage, she grabbed the whole hunk of cheese, the bread and meat she had pulled out for a sandwich, and hurled it all into the waste bin. She reached underneath the cabinet, attempting to calm her nerves. She reached in her shirt pocket and to retrieve a cigarette and lit it.
As the smoke filled her lungs, her shoulders began to soften and the muscles in her neck relaxed. She reached underneath the cabinet again to retrieve the peroxide and a small bag of cotton balls to tend to her finger. After fixing her wound and cleaning up the kitchen, she walked over to the telephone and pulled a small white card from her back pocket. She dialed the number on the card and listened to the line till a few times, but there was no answer. After a moment, she heard a loud song that she couldn’t decipher followed by a muffled voice in the background that she assumed was her daughter. After six calls and six voicemails, she still hadn’t been able to make it out exactly.
“Kamryn! This is the last time I’m going to call you. I know you think you’re grown because you’re in college now, but it’s almost 12:30 and my house locks up for the night in exactly thirty minutes. If your hind parts aren’t inside my house, you had better have somewhere else to stay tonight. Don’t try me.”
She slammed the phone down on the receiver and plopped down on the couch. There was fire in her voice, but Camille was more concerned than anything. She took another pull on her cigarette before stamping it out against the glass ashtray beside her root beer and nacho chips on the wooden coffee table. She checked her watch again, before walking back to the phone to make sure she heard a dial tone. She convinced herself that Kamryn had been trying to reach her, but she’d slammed the phone so hard, she’d inadvertently disturbed the dial tone. She reached for the receiver when her father yelled out from upstairs.
“Oh Lord. What is he doing up?” she said to herself. “I just knew I was going to bed in thirty minutes.” She stood up and walked over to the stairwell to hit the light. “Yes Daddy?”
“Come here!” he yelled gruffly.
“Tell me what you need!”
“Come on up here and I’ll tell ya what I need!”
“Daddy, I’m waiting up for Kamryn. Can it wait?”
“No, it cannot wait! If it could wait, don’t you think I woulda waited?”
Camille felt herself growing frustrated again, but held her tongue. “Daddy, can you please just tell me what it is?”
There was no answer, which drew a deep sigh from Camille because it meant he wasn’t going to answer any further until she came upstairs. She walked back over to the sitting area to turn off the television and all the lights downstairs before trudging up the stairs. She made her way down the hallway to the room across the hall from hers and made her way inside. She stomped into the room harder than necessary to let him know of her agitation.
“Hey, hey now! Don’t you come stompin’ ‘round here like you ain’t got no sense.”
“Daddy, I asked you three times what you needed and you didn’t say anything.”
“Well, maybe I didn’t want to yell it.”
“That didn’t stop you from yelling everything else.”
“Well, maybe I didn’t want The Girl to know.”
“Daddy, I told Kamryn wasn’t here yet.”
“The Girl ain’t here? Where she at?”
“I wish I knew, so I could go on to sleep and stop worrying.”
Her father cleared his throat and craned his neck against his pillow. He started a small coughing fit and attempted to clear his throat again. He coughed a final time before speaking again. “The Girl didn’t tell you where she was going?”
“Daddy! Can you stop asking me questions and tell me what you need?”
“I need to be changed. And rolled over. My hip starting to feel sore on this side.”
“What are you even doing up? It’s almost one o’clock.”
“What I care about what time it is? Where I got to be in the morning?”
“Oh my God, you know I didn’t mean it like that.”
“I’m just teasing you, Millie. When is The Girl going to be here?”
“She has twelve minutes to walk through that door or she’s going to be locked out.”
“Hmph. You might as well lock her out now.”
“I told her one o’clock.”
“Well, she should have picked up that little cellular thing she got. I know you done called her a million times by now. What they call it? A phone mobile?”
“A mobile phone, Daddy. And I agree. But unlike her, I’m going to be a woman of my word. I said one o’clock, so I’m giving her that and not one minute more.”
“Hmph. You better than me.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Camille said with a laugh. Her father rolled his eyes and passed gas to show his displeasure. “Ugh, you just have to make this worse than it needs to be, don’t you? Let me go get my gloves and I’ll come change you.”
She walked to the hallway closet to gather medical gloves, wipes and plastic bags. She turned to head back to her father’s room when she heard a key turn in the door’s lock and saw Kamryn’s shadowy figure attempting to sneak in through the darkness. Camille watched her for a few more seconds as she closed the door carefully, being sure not to make too much noise.
Once Kamryn pivoted and made her way towards the steps sure that she had made it in successfully, Camille snapped on the lights. “KAMRYN ABIGAIL WAYNE! I called you twelve—”
“I know, I know, I know. My phone died and I couldn’t find my charger.”
“I don’t know what you’re even talking about. I told you when we were at the store, if you didn’t answer that phone when I called, I wasn’t going to buy it.”
“I just told you—”
“I don’t care what you just said! You’re lucky I’m up dealing with your grandfather or you’d be locked out.”
Kamryn let out a sigh before checking the time on her watch. “It’s only 12:58.”
“I don’t care what time it is! The next time you leave this house and don’t answer that phone, I’m taking it back to the store and it’s going to be me and you. Now, let’s go!”
“Go where?” Kamryn asked with an incredulous look.
Camille pointed towards the top floor. “Upstairs. We’re not done talking!”
“Ma, I don’t want to watch you clean him up. Can’t we just talk to tomorrow? I don’t even know what I—”
“I don’t want you to watch her clean me up either!” he yelled from upstairs.
“Well that’s good to hear, because you’re not watching!” Camille said, tossing her a pair of gloves. “You’re helping!”
“What?” Kamryn asked, looking like she wanted to run back out of the house.
“Next time, pick up that phone. Come on.”
Camille glared at her and Kamryn that if she kept talking, things would only get worse, so she followed behind silently up to her grandfather’s room. The room smelled rancid and musky, forcing her to gag at the first whiff.
“Oh my God, Ma! You can’t be serious.”
“Kamryn, I’m not going to say it again!”
“But, the smell…”
He let out a laugh and began to choke on the dryness in his throat, but still continued to force laughs at the sight of his granddaughter’s nose turned up in disgust. “Ain’t my fault your mama made them greens so rich!”
“Daddy please,” Camille scowled. “We’re going to clean you up and turn you over, so you can go back to sleep. So I can go to sleep.”
“Tell The Girl I’m sorry about the smell.”
“She can hear you, Daddy.”
“Tell The Girl to sing me the song.”
“She’ll sing it once we get you cleaned up.”
Kamryn stood frozen in place, still unsure of exactly what to do.
Sensing her anxiety, Camille moved to the other side and lifted her father’s hip off the bed. “Come on over here. Just hold his back while I clean him up.”
Kamryn took the smallest steps she could towards the bed and placed her hands on her grandfather’s hip to steady him while her mother removed the diaper and wiped him clean with baby wipes and a cloth. She slid on a new diaper, and together, they put him in fresh pajamas and disposed of the soiled items.
“Did you The Girl I was sorry about the smell?”
“It’s okay, Paw Paw,” Kamryn said with a smile. “I don’t mind it anymore.”
Camille returned her daughter’s smile, before turning her attention to her father. “You need anything else, Daddy?”
“Nah, I’m good now. Just had to get off that hip. I appreciate y’all helping me out, but y’all can make yourselves scarce now. Gon’ try and knock back out for a few hours. What’s for breakfast tomorrow, by the way?”
“Grits, fatback, eggs and sausage,” Camille answered sweetly. “Maybe some wheat toast if you want some.”
“Can you make biscuits instead?” he asked.
“Biscuits? I don’t know, Daddy. That’s a lot of work for a Sunday and we got church tomorrow.”
“I’ll help,” Kamryn chimed in.
“You will not. You’ll sleep in until the very last minute like you do every other Sunday.”
“I’ll get up. I promise. If Granddaddy really wants them.”
“Then, it’s settled,” he said with a large smile. “The Girl will help you make the biscuits. I want strawberry preserves this time though. Not that jelly like you had last time. That processed stuff ain’t good. You need to go on and let Audrey from down the streets make you some of that good peach jam. It’s homemade!”
She gave a sigh as they headed towards the door. “Goodnight Daddy.”
“Oh no, I forgot to sing him the song,” Kamryn whispered as they stepped across the doorframe.
She glanced over at her father who had already halfway fallen asleep to dream about Sunday’s fluffy biscuits that awaited him.
“Sing it tomorrow before church,” Camille answered. “I don’t want to get him even more riled up.”
The ladies headed down the hallway and into Camille’s room.
“Now that that’s done, I want to talk about tonight.”
“Do you always do that?” Kamryn interrupted.
“Clean him up like that? And get him dressed?”
“Don’t try to change the subject, I want to know—!”
“I’m not trying to change the subject,” Kamryn said. “Well I am, but I really do want to know.”
Camille took a seat on her bed. “Well, who do you think does it?”
“I thought that’s what the nurse was for?”
“Kamryn, the nurse leaves at two o’clock every day. Who do you think takes care of your grandfather after that?”
“I guess… I never thought about it.”
“No shit,” Camille said with a chuckle.
“I’m sorry I haven’t helped you more.”
“Oh, stop it. I’ve never needed your help. I’ve been taking care of people all my life. I enjoy doing it. I just wanted you to see what it’s like to think about someone besides yourself for once.”
“What do you mean you’ve been taking care of people all your life?”
“When I was a girl, I took care of your Aunt Carol more than anyone else. We couldn’t afford a nurse. Your grandma was… well, you know. And your grandfather was always working. So, I looked after her, made sure she had food, made sure she was cleaned up, had her hair combed. The same things I did for you when you were a girl.”
“And now you’re taking care of Granddaddy. Mama, that’s not right.”
“Girl, what are you talking about?”
Kamryn took a seat next to her mother on the bed. “When are you going to live your own life? You spend your time taking care of everyone except yourself.”
“That’s what you do for family, Kamryn. That’s what family is supposed to do.”
She scoffed. “Well, I’m not doing that. It’s just not fair. You spend your whole life taking care of people and no one is there at the end of the night to take care of you. That’s just not right.”
Camille started chuckling to herself and placed her wig on the nightstand. “You sound just like Janet.”
“She hated taking care of Carol. Even though she barely did it. As soon as she turned eighteen, she took off to college and then off to work and off to her own life in Maryland. I can’t even remember the last time we talked on the phone, much less seen one another. It’s like she just up and disappeared.”
“She just went to live her own life, Ma. Something you should be doing. What’s so wrong with that? Aren’t you supposed to leave your family behind when you get married?”
“You ain’t never supposed to leave family behind. You can go away for a little while to do what you got to do. Your brother went off to college and no one is judging him. But when he graduates, he’s coming back. That’s what Janet never did. She never came back. You can leave. You can leave if it’s to make a sacrifice for the greater good. But you have to come back. You have to come back to where your family is. Your aunt Janet tries to act like this family doesn’t exist because it’s not what she thinks a family should look like. But you don’t get to pick your family, you only get to pick your friends.”
“So, you give up everything and no one ever gives up anything for you? Is that all life is supposed to be about?”
Camille shook her head. “Girl, let me explain something to you. Your granddaddy took care of us from the time I was born and I wasn’t even his. When Carol was born and they told us she would never be able to walk, Mama started getting depressed and stopped being able to take care of us. She blamed herself and that just made it worse. Daddy worked all day long, came home, cleaned up, made sure we ate and took care of us. During the day, I played games and puzzles with Carol and on the weekends, we had picnics in the backyard. And sometimes, I’d stay home from school when Mom would be gone, and we would read books together. During the days, we were best friends. But at night, Daddy took care of both of us. He gave his entire back taking care of us. And now I’m here to hold his back up for him, because he can’t do it for himself. Because that’s what you do for family.”
“So, who’s going to be here to take care of you when you can’t do for yourself anymore? You’re almost forty and I can’t remember the last time I had any fun.”
“I can. You were seven years old and you broke your foot at your cousin’s birthday party and you couldn’t play outside for the rest of the summer.”
“Oh God, that sucked,” Kamryn said, rolling her eyes. “Wait, that was the last time you had any fun?”
“We played Monopoly and made homemade ice cream and had a picnic lunch in the living room. I had a great time. You didn’t enjoy it?”
“Well at the time, I just wanted to be outside, but looking back on it, I guess it wasn’t so bad. In fact, that’s when you taught me the song for the first time.”
Camille chuckled to herself. “I guess it was. I sang it to make you feel better.”
“And it always did.”
“Your grandfather is the one who taught me that song.”
“Really? I didn’t know that,” Kamryn said with a smile. “I have to make sure to sing it tomorrow before church.”
“Yes, you do. Now, head to bed. We’ll talk about you and that phone tomorrow since you decided to volunteer us for biscuit duty.”
“I love you, baby.”
“Love you too, Ma.”
Kamryn shut the door and walked towards her bedroom. She removed the stack of dollar bills from her pockets and slid them into the shoebox beneath her bed, that was filled to the top with dollar bills. Kamryn placed them into the shoebox carefully and then slid it back beneath her bed.
She removed her clothes and slid into bed before releasing a long sigh.
“It’s good to be home,” she said, before closing her eyes and falling asleep.
This is literally a first draft (at the time of posting, only one other person had read it), so all words, characters and themes are subject to change as I go through the editing process. I hope you enjoy and feel free to leave feedback.
by Garvey Hemisphere
Wallace rushed towards the bay of elevators, pushing every button available as his forehead shone with perspiration. The anticipation rose inside his stomach as the car slowly crept its way along and the lighted numbers changed from floor to floor. He pressed the talk button on his phone for the sixth time in what seemed like as many seconds, but it continued to go straight to voicemail. He gave one final look over his shoulder as the elevator’s bell dinged and the doors slid open. He took a step to the side to allow a nurse and two men in street clothes off the car before stepping onto the elevator and tapping the L button and jabbing his forefinger into the CLOSE DOOR button a dozen times before the doors slid shut.
He attempted more another set of phone calls from his iPhone, but it was useless – there was still no answer. As the elevator reached the lobby floor, he rushed towards the hospital entrance when he saw her marching through the double doors.
“No, Kamryn!” he yelled. “Absolutely not! You cannot be here. Not today!”
“How dare you try to tell me where I can and cannot be?” Kamryn returned with a snarl. “I am just as entitled to be here as you are!”
“It’s not that simple. You don’t understand anything that’s going on.”
“I understand well enough to know that she’s up there and you don’t want me to see her. Why is that, Wallace? Scared it might ruin that little delusion she has of you? Scared she might see you’re not perfect?”
“Jesus Christ, Kam. How many times are you going to make a fool of yourself before you realize the only person who is constantly concerned with what other people think of them is you! For once, realize this has nothing to do with me. She’s just… she’s scared and she doesn’t understand how much is about to change.”
“I don’t care, I’m not leaving here until I see her face! Do you think I’ll stop just because we’re in a hospital? You think I won’t speak my mind just because we’re in public?”
“Kam, I’m very aware that you’re going to speak your mind no matter where you are,” he said with a roll of the eyes. “But I don’t need you going up there and scaring that poor girl.”
He sighed. He knew she wasn’t going to leave until she had seen her face to face and said what she wanted to say. Kam had always been persistent that way.
“No, don’t do that,” she interrupted with a wave of the finger. “You’re the one at fault here! Don’t be weak and make it seem like you’re doing me some kind of favor by letting me speak to her.”
“I said ‘fine,’ goddamit! What more do you want from me?!”
“Don’t you take that tone-!”
“Okay look… just… just look. I’m sorry, okay? I apologize.” Wallace attempted to calm himself as their volume was causing several looks from people grieving inside the emergency room as well as the various hospital workers. “It’s already been a long day and like I said she’s on edge, I’m on edge. We’re all dealing with this the best way we can. All I’m asking is that you don’t go up there and make things worse. She will explain everything once we’re upstairs. I just don’t know if it’s my place.”
“Not your place? You’re her –”
“I still haven’t pressed this button yet, Kam. Do you want to go up or not? Because if you keep it up…”
She opened her mouth to speak, but reconsidered and cleared her throat before nodding. Wallace gave her a hard look and she readjusted her brown leather purse against her shoulder and straightened the front of her skirt. He gave a pained sigh, pushed the button and the elevator’s bell instantly dinged. They stepped inside and rode the car up to the tenth floor in silence.
Once there, they stepped off and made a left heading out of the bay of elevators, towards the nurses’ station. After a few feet, they made a right, where Kamryn noticed various cousins, nieces and nephews she hadn’t seen in years. They all looked overcome with grief, but also somewhat comforted at the sight of her. All except her aunt Carol who was sobbing alone in a chair just as they made the final left and arrived at room 2223.
“She’s still a bit in shock, Kam. Don’t try to rush her. Just let her tell you what’s going on.”
She nodded her head and readjusted her purse once again before Wallace pushed the door open. He walked in and she followed behind cautiously, her legs suddenly feeling heavier than they had before. The beeps of various machines and the hum of a small television in the corner filled the hospital room as silent expressions of five other family members acknowledged Kamryn’s presence before returning their eyes to the floor. Fighting off the overwhelm, Kam focused her attention on the small, teenage girl laying in the hospital bed with her back turned. She looked even smaller than Kamryn remembered and the hospital gown barely clung to the tops of her shoulders.
“Hey baby,” Kamryn said, her voice cracking under the weight of those words.
“Mommy?” the girl asked weakly, uncertain if she was hearing things. She turned over and met eyes with Kamryn whose face flooded with tears at the sight of seeing her fifteen-year-old daughter, who sobbed uncontrollably and everyone in the room leapt to their feet on instinct. Wallace waved them off and allowed Kamryn the chance to console her.
Unclear of what to do, Kamryn’s eyes met Wallace’s as he mouthed instructions to embrace her. Finally, the light bulb went off and she wrapped her arms around the young girl’s shoulders. For several moments, the two whimpered together and hugged as the others in the room emptied out except for Wallace, who planted himself in a chair in the corner.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t here for you, babygirl. I’m sorry that… that I’ve been gone,” she said.
“It’s okay. It’s…”
“I know, baby. I know. Just tell me what happened.”
“It all happened so fast. I saw her though, Mama. I saw her face even I told them I didn’t want to. I told them a thousand times. But as soon as I saw her, I didn’t want to let her go. They told me I had to… but I just couldn’t. It’s not fair, Mommy. I already loved her and they won’t let me see her or hold her or anything. They won’t even tell me if she’s okay. She’s already…” The girl’s thoughts trailed off and she began to sob again.
Kamryn rubbed her shoulders and held her hand as Wallace moved his chair closer.
“Tell me, babygirl. Tell me what’s going on.”
“She’s already gone.”
“She’s not mine. Not anymore. I’ll never get to see her again.”
The room grew quiet again, when Kamryn suddenly stood up from her seat and rushed towards the door. The air seemed more viscous and it became hard for her to move and harder for her to breathe. She dropped her purse before swinging the door open and walking towards a large window at the end of the hall. She reached the window, but still struggled to catch her breath when Wallace’s hand ran across her back. Seeing the greying beard forming along his jawline and the sincerity in his eyes made her break down again as she felt the guilt rush over her. Wallace had done everything he could, but she could tell the weight of it all was beginning to engulf him.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Why didn’t you tell me that so I’d be prepared? Why didn’t you tell me so that I could help?!”
“Because we’re not just things you pick up and dust off whenever you’re ready to play with them. I can’t just brief you about everything like they do for you at work! I’m not your fucking assistant! Your daughter… she’s is in there hurting because she’s fifteen, some people she’s never met just took her baby away and she doesn’t know why!”
“And what am I supposed to do about that? I can’t help that The Program took her child. That’s exactly what The Program is for!”
“So, you’re just going to let her fester here in all this mental anguish and do nothing to about it? I thought you said you wanted to help her? Isn’t that what we should do? Isn’t that what we should have done with Abraham?”
A white-hot flash flared inside Kamryn’s chest at the mention of Abraham’s name and she let out a deep sigh. She cleared her throat and wiped the tears from her eyes. She straightened the front of her skirt once again and walked back towards the hospital room. Her daughter laid there quietly, trying her best to ignore the evening news flickering across the small black-and-white.
She cleared her throat and looked her daughter square in the eye. “You’re telling me you took one look at that baby and fell in love with her? Just like that?”
“Yes, it’s hard to describe it. I made peace with everything from Day One – I knew what was going to happen. But as soon as I saw her, I didn’t want to let her go. It felt like part of my soul was being ripped from inside of me.”
Kamryn walked to the side table and poured water from the hospital’s carafe into a paper cup of water. She took a few slow sips and checked the time on her watch, before crushing the cup between her hands and tossing it into the waste basket before returning to her daughter’s side.
“Listen to me. We’re going to get your baby back. But we’ve gotta move and we’ve gotta move right now. Wallace, round up the family out there because we’re going to need them. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover.”
“Ground to cover? What are you talking about? She can’t move. She just gave birth!”
“She’s not going anywhere – we are.”
“Just go out there and get everyone ready. We have to go.”
“Go? Go where?”
Kamryn grabbed her purse from the floor and returned the contents to the inside. She checked her watch again and cleared her throat for the final time.
“To North Carolina. If we don’t, she’s going to lose her baby forever.”
“North Carolina? No. Absolutely not. That’s not what I meant when I said helping her. We almost died the last time we were there and we spent all we had just to get away from there.”
“Wallace, look at her. Putting our daughter back together again isn’t worth dying over?”
Wallace looked at his daughter’s face and sighed, but relented. He knew Kamryn was right.
“So, what’s the move?” he asked with a focused look in his eye.
“We need to call Daddy first and let him know we’re on the way. Then, we drive all night and don’t stop until we reach his compound. Go rally the family. They’re coming with us.”
“We’re just going to leave her by herself? She can’t go anywhere for the next 72 hours.”
“She’ll be fine. I’ll call Grandma and she can take care of her until we get back. Now go!”
Wallace exited the room without debate, leaving Kamryn and her daughter to speak.
“Baby, listen to me. It’s been a long three years, but I’m here now and I’m never going to abandon you again. I’m sorry for everything that’s happened in the past, but I want to make amends. Your father and I have to go to North Carolina for a few days to get your baby back.”
“Her name is Kamaye.”
A smile crept across Cheryl’s face. “We’re going to get Kamaye and we’re going to put her right in your arms, okay? I promise.”
“Can you sing the song? From when I fell and hurt my knee and had to get stitches? Just one time?”
“I’ll sing it as soon as I get back. Get your rest, okay? Grandma will be here soon.” She placed a soft kiss on her forehead and walked towards the door. She pulled her iPhone from her purse and looked down the list of contacts until she saw ‘Daddy’ flash across the screen. She hit the call button and she saw that Wallace had gathered each family member and they were waiting on her at the end of the hall.
Finally, the line stopped tilling and a gruff voice answered the phone. “Daddy,” she said sternly. “Daddy, it’s me. I’m on the way and I have a few people with me. There’s about twelve of us. I already know what you’re about to say, but we don’t have time. We’re going to make that motherfucker pay. Do you hear me? Gather everything. Peace time is over.”
She hit the end button and joined the rest of the family at the end of the hallway, embracing Wallace in a tight hug.
“It’s good to be home,” she said, before leading them back towards the bay of elevators.
Black people are the most vilified, antagonized, unduly criticized people walking God’s green Earth. And I love my community, I honestly do. But we are not beyond reproach. There are many topics that are still taboo in the Black community because of deeply entrenched misogyny and the traditional need to “keep up appearances” in the street.
My grandmother used to tell my cousin and I, 'no matter what happens in this house, don’t let it spill outside.' Everyone doesn't need to know your family's business, so that may be fine for keeping certain internal conflicts from being exposed to the outside world, but when it applies to things like mental illness, homosexuality, etc., it’s suppressive and disabling.
As far as the burgeoning topic of gender identity and sexuality are concerned, we are still very oppressive towards our own because of the deep-seated hypermasculinity that pervades each and every level of our community and it is viscously damaging. AVP spokesperson Sue Yacka told The Daily Beast that of the 17 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2017 the project has counted so far, 16 were people of color. Additionally, fifteen had been transgender women and thirteen had been Black transgender women. “This is that we know of,” said Yacka. “The figure may be much higher, due to misgendering and misnaming often by police and local media.” It appears that Black men are still afraid of being caught with trans women because of what they perceive their peers will think about them, conflating trans women as "men in women’s clothing." That perception is incredibly damaging and perpetrates violence against trans women.
We don’t afford trans women the same rights we give cisgender women because we still conflate genitalia for gender. Admittedly, I am unpacking the same damning concepts and misconstructions because of the socialization I’ve been exposed to all my life where masculinity is constantly being subjected to social cues and critiques, whether it be from family, music or relationships, our manhood is always co-opted by socialization.
So why wouldn’t I buck against gender identity? Shouldn't I be upset if I dated someone I thought was a cisgender woman, but was actually a transwoman - ain’t I 'gay' for that? My homies may turn on me, so shouldn't I hide the fact I ever did that? What will everyone think?
While I don’t excuse that mentality at all, I understand where it comes from. It takes a lot to undo the destructive, primal, chest-beating, psychosomatic reaffirmation of masculinity and what makes a man 'a man.' But rather than address those issues, it is significantly easier for many men to abandon all understanding and tolerance and simply be an asshole. But in being an asshole, the assertion that transfolk aren’t worth learning their identities and respecting them enough to address them as such, as well as not being antagonistic towards them is exactly the fight our community goes through. Yes, our discrimination is different systematically, but the origins are the same: 'I don’t value you as a human being therefore I don’t give a shit about who you are and what you stand for and I will dehumanize your existence at any opportunity that I get.' That is hypocritical.
We can’t exclaim that “Black lives matter,” but then exclude Black trans folk because they don’t fit in with our heteronormative concepts. We don’t need to demand that transfolk meet our comfortable sensibilities - we need to meet their humanity at the base level. It literally costs you nothing to respect pronouns and identities. You’re not subscribing to some sort of wicked agenda - you’re just being a decent human being.
I currently date a transwoman. She is 'genderfluid' meaning she identifies either as a woman or agender. Currently, her pronouns are “she/her" but a lot of genderfluid people identify as “they/them." She was afraid to come out to me because she felt like it might scare me off, which is the same fear a lot of transfolk probably feel.
They may wonder: is this person going to reject me?
Is this person going to hurt me?
Is this person going to kill me?
An interesting aspect of our relationship is the conversations we have about her identity and how she’s learning a lot about herself every day, which she imparts on me daily. We hit bumps in the road, because I’m still unpacking a lot of things myself. I’m learning how to unlearn all these aspects of toxic masculinity that have been dormant in me all my life. I still deal with little microaggressions that want to come out of my mouth and I have to censor myself a lot because I don’t want to be insensitive or unconsciously cruel. I still find myself on social media, speaking in trans spaces and stepping on toes by centering the conversation on me, but I realize how wrong that is. Sometimes, I find myself misgendering people and apologizing profusely for it, which is usually met with “don’t be sorry, be better." Initially, it hurt my fragile male ego to be told that, but I understand. How many times have we as black people had to defend our humanity to white people and how tiring does it get? It is just as exhausting for a trans person to constantly repeat “I identify as this, my pronouns are these, please learn them.”
After I let her know it was safe to come out to me and that she would never have any issues with me understanding and accepting who she was, I asked her what she deals with mentally, what goes on in the mind of a genderfluid person. Individually, sometimes she feels feminine, but most of the time, she feels like she’s genderless, neither masculine nor feminine. We talk often about trans-affective subjects and I’ve learned that although it’s often exhausting to keep asking researchable things, she enjoys educating me, a luxury a lot of heterosexual cisgender partners are not afforded.
I feel like it’s strengthened our bond even further. I’ve never dealt with a person quite like her and I feel privileged to know her, let alone be with her, in a world where she is targeted as a woman of color, as well as a member of the LGBT+ community. I feel like my role as an ally has increased and that makes me elated, because I genuinely care about her struggles, as well as the struggles of everyone else who has to deal with the stares and the aggressions and the violence and the condescension on social media and beyond. I stand for all oppressed people and believe in empowering the Black community with knowledge that will foster understanding, acceptance and tolerance.
We should all stand united, shoulder to shoulder, especially in these times where we all have targets firmly painted on our backs.
Through October 15, Our Voces will be featuring posts for Hispanic Heritage Month by highlighting Latinx and Hispanic kid lit authors. This past week they interviewed Darlene Campos to get her thoughts on various things. In the article, Campos spoke on the first time she saw herself represented in literature.
Campos also spoke on her first novel, Behind Mount Rushmore, her next project, Summer Camp Is Cancelled, and also, her hopeful future for Latinx books.
You read the full article here. Campos will also be giving donating 100% of her royalties to ongoing hurricane relief through October 15.
Writing, like many careers, has its risks. There is no guarantee a writer will be a bestseller or have their story made into a movie. However, many writers did not go into this field for fame and money – they write because it is their passion. While writing carries its risks, it is not impossible to become a successful writer over time. Here are five writers who started from humbled beginnings.
You may know Cisneros from her novel The House on Mango Street. In addition to this novel, Cisneros is the author of many books as well as a past winner of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship and the Texas Medal of Arts. Cisneros’ childhood was not an easy one. She grew up in poverty, constantly relocated, and with six brothers, she often felt isolated in her own home. It was this isolation that led Cisneros to writing and she composed her first poem at just ten years old. When one of her high school teachers encouraged her to keep writing, Cisneros took the advice and was later admitted into the Iowa Writers Workshop. It was at this workshop that Cisneros discovered her writing voice. She is now considered one of the most influential writers of this generation.
Best known for his horror stories, Stephen King’s works have become synonymous with terror and fright. He is known for several novels including Carrie, It, and The Shining. Before King became the writer he is today, he had a difficult childhood. His father left the family when King was only two years old, making King’s mother the sole provider for him and his brother David. When King grew up, he was barely able to support himself and his wife Tabitha due to unemployment. He made some income by selling short stories to magazines, but it was not enough. It was around this time that King began drafting Carrie. He became so frustrated with the novel that he initially threw it away in the garbage, but Tabitha encouraged him to finish it. Carrie proved to be King’s big break, thanks to his wife!
García Márquez is best known for his novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. However, like many writers, García Márquez’s past was a struggle. Before he started writing One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez had the idea for the novel, but he was unsure of how to write it down. One day, García Márquez was driving his wife and children to Acapulco for vacation, the first line popped into his head and he immediately turned the car around to head home and write the first draft. To make ends meet, García Márquez sold the family car and his wife Mercedes persuaded the local butcher, baker, and their landlord to grant them a line of credit until García Márquez finished his latest book. When One Hundred Years of Solitude was finally released, it became an international success and García Márquez officially became a respected voice in literature.
Morrison is a former winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. She is famous for her novel Song of Solomon. As a child, Morrison grew up in a difficult time. When she was around two years old, her family’s landlord set fire to their home since they had been unable to pay the rent, leaving them with nothing. Morrison’s father worked several odd jobs to support the family. Later in life, Morrison married and had two sons, but divorced soon after, leaving her to care for her two young sons all by herself. When she began writing her first novel, The Bluest Eye, she woke up each morning at 4 AM to write as her sons slept. It was Song of Solomon that gave Morrison her biggest acclaim, and with this, her writing career kicked off to a supreme start.
Butler is best known for her science fiction Patternist series and the Xenogenesis series. Before she became a writer, she too came from humbled beginnings. Her father died when she was only seven years old and she was raised by her mother and grandmother in a very strict household. Butler’s mother was a maid and sometimes she accompanied her to work where they witnessed and experienced racial segregation. Butler was also extremely shy and was diagnosed with dyslexia and often bullied at school. She took comfort in reading books and when she was ten years old, she begged her mother to buy her a typewriter so she could begin writing her own books. As an adult, Butler worked several jobs to support herself and woke up every morning at 2 AM to write before a long day of work. Butler would later win the MacArthur Fellowship, becoming the first science fiction writer in history to hold this award. She would go on to win many more awards for her influential science fiction works.
Yes, writing has its risks, but sometimes risks are worth taking. To writers who are just getting started, remember that you are just getting started and the future holds completed dreams. These five writers got their breakthroughs despite the odds and you can, too!
Every time our authors do an interview, we learn something interesting about them. Posted today at Tuscon Tales, a children's and young adult literature publication showcasing new and established writers, Darlene Campos revealed that 'Behind Mount Rushmore' was rejected 122 times.
But she continued to submit her book for publication and encourages other writers to do the same.
She also recognized the importance of pushing diverse stories involving diverse characters, which was a main driver that led to publishing with Vital Narrative.
Campos also gave insight on the research she completed for the book, her inspirations for characters and revealed some information about her next novel, Summer Camp Is Cancelled.
Floods aren’t anything new in Houston. We’ve gone through hurricanes before. We knew the neighborhoods most prone to flooding before Harvey paid us his visit. We prepared ourselves with full hoards of food, bottled water, and gas. We thought we were ready.
Harvey showed us we were wrong the minute he arrived.
Yet, unlike thousands of fellow Houstonians and Texans in other cities, I didn’t lose anything.
I didn’t lose power.
I didn’t lose water.
I didn’t lose my car.
I didn’t lose my house.
I didn’t lose my life.
The only physical loss I had was a couple of pounds because I was so petrified, I could barely eat. Harvey made me lose weight. That’s it.
Harvey also made me lose pieces of my heart. The neighborhood where I grew up is in shambles. A beloved bakery my fiancé and I visited whenever we wanted a good dessert is gone. The libraries I practically lived in during my college years are severely damaged. Watching your city, the place you call home, conquered by floodwaters is agonizing. Yet, Harvey did not take Houston’s hope. We Houstonians watched our city be ravaged by Harvey. We Houstonians have come together to rebuild.
After Harvey, I was overjoyed to be unharmed, but I felt so guilty to be spared. Why didn’t Harvey come for me? He tried. He flooded my entire street and then the water crept up to the rear of my car. By morning, the water receded. Harvey came close. For others, he came full force and showed no mercy.
I pledge to donate my royalties from September 15th through October 15th to the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. For the next month, all of my royalties will go directly to helping Houstonians rebuild their lives. Please visit https://ghcf.org/hurricane-relief/ for more info or to donate.
“And so there are claims forgiven
And so there are things that are gone
Houston is filled with promise…”