Category Archives: nonfiction

Letter to my 17-year-old self.

Sup Chazmen,

Life’s been rough since day one but at age 17, you start to see a silver lining. That’s not it though. You learn that the silver lining doesn’t exist. Well, at least not in your world. There is no escaping the darkness. Yet in those solemn times, you’ve always remained optimistic. Never lose that. That six figure silver lining doesn’t pan out. Yet, you do find your way out of Florida. It won’t be to an Ivy League school up North but niglet you do make it out of Hell.

You’ll learn to surprise yourself. By stepping out of your comfort zone and expressing yourself the way you see fit. You’ll find your voice to speak up about your troubles. You’ll learn to be vulnerable.

You’ll eventually learn to embrace your blackness.

You won’t always be called an Oreo.

You won’t always be the only black gay male in the room.

You won’t always feel alone.

My God, you’ll disappoint yourself over and over again. You’ll be disappointed in others. Cry & move on.

You’ll continue to live life backstage in Florida. But remember, a stage is a stage and you can shine from anywhere. Your moment will come.

Also, magic IS real, not like the Harry Potter stuff. You create magic every time you smile. Never stop smiling. It’ll continue to bring you justice in complicated situation. So, smile on!

There’s magic in your creativity. Trust yourself and the abilities you have earned. Use them wisely. To create art, community and self love.

Call Granny more.

Never stop dreaming. Those dreams becomes foundations for artwork. Pain is an emotion meant to be felt and expressed. You’ll learn to express your pain. You’ll learn to share it with the world. They’ll even understand. There is power in being vulnerable.

So keep smiling. Keep dreaming. And be patient.

Your time to take center stage will come.

-Big Chaz

Birthday Wish

The thunder boomed as lightning-laced through the purple skies. The leaves vibrated violently as the trees whipped back and forth. Nose pressed against the window, I was mesmerized by the storm. I watched in awe and wonder as Mother Nature went to war outside. Suddenly, my bedroom door slams open. Mother’s husband stumbles in clutching his chest. The big, tall man who everyone called “Boo” because he was so scary was now slumped on my floor. Eyes bulged with both arms tearing open his shirt, he’s squirming all over the floor. Quickly, I hop over him and run into the living room.

Perched on the wall between two mirrors was a house phone. Punching in the number of 911, I was quickly connected to an operator, “My mother’s husban’ is havin’ anuther hearth athack. Hurry or he’ll be dead.” With a clack, I hang the phone up, scurry to the kitchen and get to work.

Boo lay there on his back clutching his chest. His big round tummy is going up and down so fast, his chest is bouncing all-around. They remind me of the lady’s boobs from the movie Mother and I watched a few days ago. I cannot help but chuckle. As his breathing got slower and his stomach started to come to an idle. Just as Mother told me, I dashed the ice-water right in Boo’s face. Since it was mostly ice, it worked fast. Almost as if, he was struck by lightning his body jolted and went rigid. His breathing sped up and his man-boobs went back to jiggling.

Three loud booms from the front door and the adults were finally here. Opening the door, I simply pointed to the back bedroom and watched them march in.
“Where is the girl who called 911?” The ambulance lady asked me as they made their way past me. Confused by her question, I simply shrugged my shoulder and closed the door. Back in my bedroom, I could hear the ambulance people strapping Mother’s husband to the stretcher.

Cabinets bare and the kitchen sink full of dishes, I open the fridge and grab the birthday cake. Slowly and steadily, I balance the cake and head to the living room.  I watch as they roll Boo from out of my bedroom and load him into the ambulance. Rearranging the candles, I sit down with my spoon and wait for the right moment to ask if anyone had a match. Once Boo was gone, I notice a fireman standing in the doorway. Waving my spoon to get his attention, he seemed a little surprised to find me sitting there alone.

Taking off his helmet and making his way towards me he asked, “Whose birthday is it, little guy?” Using the spoon to notion myself, I lift a single candle and nudge it towards him. “Ah, I see.” The firefighter rummaged through his jacket and produced a large metal tube. With the flick of his thumb, the torch roared. Slowly leaning the candle forward, I lit it and used it to light the remaining five candles.

Returning the candle to its position, I smiled at the firefighter. Placing his helmet on my head he said, “Time to make a wish little guy.” Closing my eyes, I took several deep breaths, smiled, made a wish and blew out my candles.

Boo goes bye-bye.

 

The wood floors creaked as I followed Mother down the hallway. The house wreaked of incense and mothballs. The white walls had faded into a mustard yellow from the cigarette smoke. The stale air was plagued with a mix of smoke and dust. Iron black crosses decorated the living room walls. All the windows were covered with aluminum foil casting streaks of light throughout the space. As Mother and I followed the Witch down the hallway, I kept my head low. Mother in the middle, the Witch led us through the living room to her den. The old lady took her place on the on only couch in the room, motioning for Mom and me to join her. The worn leather couch scratched my skin as I tried to squeezed close to Mother. Slowly and steadily the Witch’s wiry arms placed a worn wooden box on the wicker table. Carefully, she removed: a black feather, thick white paper, an apple, two jars and a knife. Delicately, Mother placed her arms around me and placed me onto her lap. Then Mom turned her attention to the Witch.

“Passion spells are the most dangerous to reverse. Are you sure you want to reverse the spell?” the Witch said. The Witch leaned forward, her face inches of Mothers’. The smell of cigarette smoked almost became overbearing. Her frail voice repeated the question.
“Are you sure you want to reverse the spell?”
“Yes,” Mother replied.

With a slight nod of approval, the old lady placed one jar back into the box and proceeded to pick up the apple and the knife. Expertly, she slices the apple horizontally and removed the core. Handing Mother the paper and the pen, she was informed to write out her husband’s full name and birthday. With a slow deep breath, Mother removed me from her lap, took a deep breath and proceeded to follow the instructions. Mother locked eyes with the Witch as she explained how the curse would affect Boo.

“Yes ma’am” Mother simply said.  

The witch doctor smiled and got back to work. Placing the bottom half of the apple in Mother’s hand, she placed the tiny jar of salt in the other hand. Her bony fingers took a pinch of salt and sprinkled it onto the bottom half of apple. Gracefully she removed the items from Mother’s hands and placed them back on the table. Joining the apple pieces back together, she placed the candle where the core once was, securing the apple slices together.

“Kiss the paper with the name on it and then light the candle. Then wait until the candle completely melts,” the Witch directed Mother.

At once, Mother took the paper, pursed her lips and gave it a kiss. Leaving a single red pair of lips underneath her cursive handwriting. Without any hesitation, Mother struck a match, lit the candle and then we all waited.

 

Nate. 

Memorial Day Weekend (2015)

November 1998. When Granny turned into the hospital parking lot, her 1986 Cadillac backfired from its rusty muffler. Ka-boom!  My Aunt Dee tightened her grip on me. The late November air was dry and hot. As I adjusted my position, the torn leather seats scratched against my skin. With a sharp turn, Granny whipped the car into the parking spot.We followed on the nurse’s heels as she led us through the hospital. Her beeper chirped. Our brisk walk quickened to a near sprint.  My stubby legs pumped away but they couldn’t keep up with the women’s strides. Quickly Dee turned around and squatted; I climbed onto her back, stuck my fist forward and yelled, “Charge!” We reached the elevator by a hair before the automatic doors closed.

With a flick of her wrist, the nurse checks her watch.“It should be any minute now,” the nurse said. The elevator doors opened. The nurse, Granny, Dee and I scurry down the crowded corridor. The doctors and nurses scramble to clear our path as we charge down the aisle. 

The tiny room was crowded with people. Behind a curtain, I could hear someone panting heavily. Pointing her finger at me. “Getcha ass down and listen,” said Grandma.  “Y’all move a muscle and yuh gettin’ an ass whoopin’. Jus’ pay attention to the TV and behave ya selves.” Nodding our heads in agreement, Aunt Dee and I separated ourselves and watched Granny slip behind the curtain. A moment later, a familiar loud cry filled the room. “We are starting to crown,” an unfamiliar voice says.

Crown? Dee, what does that mean?” With a shrug of her shoulder, Dee looks at me and spurts, “I don’t know — but we ain’t gonna find out by sitting here.”  In an instant, Dee is at the corner of the curtain. With a quick swipe, she snaps her head in. At once, her knees buckle.  Her face scrunches up and she stumbles back to the chair next to mine. I am now too scared to ask what “crowning” is.

The voices from the other side now chant, in chorus: “Push!” The sudden mood shift is exactly what Dee needed, together we join the chant:  “PUSH! PUSH! PUSH!”

A shrill, high-pitched shriek from the other side sent chills down my spine.  My mother’s cry seemed to echo throughout the hospital. With a quick whip of the curtain, by my step-dad, the divided room became one.  I can see now that those strange voices belong to familiar faces as my aunt and I are greeted by the rest of the family.

Mother lies upon the hospital bed, panting and covered in sweat. Her long hair is frizzled and partly stuck to the side of her face. Noticing me, she smiles.  

Without warning, my step-dad picks me up and carries me towards the nurses.   Perched on his hip, we squeeze in between the gathered nurses. They are gently wiping and cleaning a little baby boy. Startled by what I was looking at, I couldn’t help but laugh at the funky looking infant. His large hazel eyes seemed too big for his balloon-shaped head. His skin was blotched, pink and caramel. He also had a long extension cord where his belly button was supposed to be.

Snapping a fastener on the cord, the nurse handed me a pair of funny-looking scissors and asked if I wanted to cut the cord.“Will it hurt him?” I asked.  The nurse assured me the baby wouldn’t feel a thing, I smiled.  My step-dad steadied me and the nurse assisted me in cutting the cord. The nurse then bundled up my little brother like a burrito and carried him to Mother. Wiggling free from my step-dad, I hurried over to Mother as she held my little brother for the first time.

In time, several years from now, Nate and I would grow to become best friends. But at that precise moment, I wanted nothing more than the Nurses to accidentally lose the baby as they wheeled him away.

Hello, Goodbye.

The morning sunlight crept through the window.  After another restless night, I was grateful for the dawn. Careful not to make noise, I tiptoed into the kitchen. Broken glass littered the floor. Every cabinet and drawer stood open. Broken cups and ceramic plates covered the countertops. Careful not to step on the fragments, I opened the fridge, grabbed the half-full jug of milk, and gulped it down.  I could hear Mother in the living room. Tossing the milk-jug into the trash, I went to the living room to find her.

Sweaty and shaky, Mother lay in a tight ball in the corner of the couch. I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy played lowly from the TV.  As Mother looked at me, tears streamed down her face. She pulled me into her embrace.  I could her feel her cold damp skin against mine. Her nightgown was soaked.  I remember gasping for breath as she smothered me with her love.

Mother picked me up and carried me to her room. Upon the bed was a brand-new black suit, and shoes so shiny I could see my reflection in them. As I doffed my PJs, Mother straightened her hair, fixed her makeup and put on a beautiful black dress.  I put on my suit, then clicked my heels together, to get her attention.  Humming gospel hymns, she tied my shoelaces and helped me with my clip-on tie.

As we walked down the street to Grandmother’s house, cars and limos lined the road. My extended family was gathered there, dressed like Mother and me in their Sunday best:  aunts, uncles, cousins, even my older brother, and sister.  Adults kissed my cheek and gave me hugs that lasted too long. Family members I didn’t know came up and pinched my cheek or just stared at me. My uncles nodded. My Mother held my hand and remained silent.

HONK!! HONK!!  A car horn trumpeted us to attention. Lost in the sudden shuffle, unable to find my Mother, I grabbed my Uncle’s hand.  Outside, I followed him to the front of the car-parade…to a limousine! Long as a school bus. We settled into the leather seats. My uncle and brother in the rear seat. We led the procession. The caravan followed.

The sun grew hotter. As we waited outside the church, my suit became more uncomfortable. I felt suffocated, light-headed. Finally, the church doors creaked open, the organ started.  The choir sang softly.  I marched down the aisle following Mother.

Up front was a long blue coffin (open), adorned with roses and flowers. The man in the casket was not smiling. Not frowning. Not doing anything. He looked to be at peace with the chaos surrounding him. Pulling her hair out of her face, Mother leaned over slowly and kissed the man’s forehead. Curious, I reached inside the casket. I took hold of the man’s hand and squeezed it. The coldness sent chills down my spine.

The muffled cries in the room turned now into loud wails. Mother shook and wept as we seated ourselves in a pew. Uncles consoled crying aunts. Cousins comforted my somber grandmother. I just sat there, unsure what to do. As the preacher took the stage, the congregation composed themselves. Throughout the sermon, I could hear sniffles and moans.  Soon bored, I busied myself by making funny faces into my shiny shoes.  My cousin beside me said his shoes were shinier.  I argued they weren’t. The service ended, we filed back to the limo.  I crossed my fingers for a return to grandmother’s house.  My wish was not granted.

High in the sky, the sun gleamed down. The mourners gathered closely in the shade of the massive oak tree. The casket, suspended over a deep hole in the ground, was now closed. No roses or flowers. As the pallbearers stood beside the coffin, the preacher went into a final prayer. The soft cries crescendoed into wails.  A red rose found its way into my hand. The casket was lowered into the hole.  One by one, family and friends made their way to the edge of the grave and tossed their rose onto the casket. Standing at the edge of the grave, I admired that great shiny box at the bottom. Rose in hand, I stretched my arm out over the grave and released the rose while saying goodbye to the man inside.

Douglas McCarter (Appr. age 21)

 

The Round Up

 

28 May 2000. Fort Myers, Florida. Hand-in-hand, Mother and I made our way down the crumbled sidewalk.  She had already measured me, at home.  I was finally tall enough, this year, to ride The Round Up.  What an eternity, to reach 48 inches!

As we reached the carnival, we could see the blurred lights of the spinning rides and we could hear human screams mixed with laughter.  I pulled Mother along, as fast as she could go, until we reached the ticket counter. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a small wad of crumpled $1 bills and handed them to the ticket lady. Separating the tickets in two, Mother handed me half—saving the other half for later.  With tickets clutched in my fist, I sped away, hearing Mother’s faint yell, “Be careful!  And meet back before dark!” Ah, the smell of funnel cakes, elephant-ears, and churros!  Sprinting through the crowd, I had only one objective: The Round Up.

When I was still too small, I would watch the big kids get spun a million miles an hour. I had seen them moments later, getting off the ride, dizzy and wobbly, but always smiling. The bravest ones got right back in line. My hour had come.  Riding this ride would give me bragging rights to all of my shorter friends. In line, I stood upright, neck tall, shoulders back.  The previous riders stumbled out. My heart raced, my breath quickened. I half expected the ticket-man to pull me aside and check my measurements…but he just took my ticket and waved me through. (Thank you, Lord!)

The Round Up was a massive steel cylinder that turned faster and faster until its riders were glued to the sides.  And just when as the world turns blurry, the floor drops away.  Ah, that joyous feeling, to flirt with fate! I settled myself between two kids as nervous, as excited, as myself.

Slip your arms into the shoulder harness. Check.
Buckle your waist strap. Check.
A ride attendant inspected our work. He gave the other guy a thumbs-up. Check.

The Round Up creaked to a slow start. Picking up speed now.  Faster. Faster. Faster. Whoaa, too fast!  The G-force pinned my shoulders and back to the wall.  Closing my eyes I felt the rush of wind. Without warning, the floorboards creaked and gave way. Then, suddenly, it was over.  As quickly as they opened, the floorboards closed. The ride slowed to a halt. The boy to my right was asparagus-green. I knew this would be his last ride for the day. The girl to my left was shaking but happy:  The Round Up had captured another loyal victim.

I looked around for Mother.  I thought she might be waiting for me, watching from a distance, unseen, as guardian angels tend to do. At that moment, a policeman jostled his way through the crowd, his baton raised high. Then another. And another. More excitement! I ran after the cops, I wanted to be apart of the action. A crowd had gathered by the Ferris Wheel. There were shouts. “Hit him! Hit him! Stop resisting, nigger! Get down!” Squeezing between the legs of the grownups, I headed to the front.

Face down in the grass, a young black teenager was being pinned by two policemen The heavy-set officer dug his knee deep into the side of the young man’s neck. The other officer worked to grapple the young man’s arms behind his back to handcuff him. I had never witnessed anything like this.

Where was my mother? I needed my mother! I hurried back to where we parted. She was gone. The lights over the ticket-booth were off, now. Tears welled up. At the carnival entrance, squad cars lined the curb. Some half-dozen handcuffed boys and girls sat on the ground, some quiet and crying. A few rebels shouted profanities at the cops. Men, women and young teenagers were being maced, wrestled to the ground and handcuffed. As more cops arrived, the crowd fanned out to escape their swinging batons.

With no sight of my mother, I reached the entrance praying that she would be there waiting for me. Just then a young black teen, running past, was tackled by a German Shepherd.  The dog seized him by the leg. The young boy thrashed and screamed as the dog dragged him towards the cops. Quickly surrounding the boy as he flailed on the ground, two policemen pounced, rolled him over, and handcuffed him behind his back. Crying and pleading, the young boy was led off to the nearest cop car.

“CHAZMEN! CHAZ!” My mother’s voice!  Bursting into tears, I ran to her embrace and thanked God for returning her to me. Kneeling down on the grass, she hugged me tight and explained: There had been a fight between some young girls. The police were called. Some of the children had resisted arrest. “Let this be a lesson.” my Mother said. It was. Try as I may, I have never been able to forget The Round Up.