The unanswered questions of suicide

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Today I saw a poster-sized portrait of a stunningly gorgeous dark-skinned woman as it sat perched atop a very generic looking off white casket. I saw this while in a large church with well over 500 people in attendance (I must say I went to this same church on communion Sunday four days ago and there were more people in there today than there were then). The beautiful lady who was the subject of the ceremony was once very loveable. As an adolescent she was very loud, very goofy, very blunt—in essence she was very hood. As an adult she made a living applying make-up at the mac store in San Francisco. She was 33 years old, and she shot herself in the head.

She left behind two sons. She had the eldest with a young man who I played Pop Warner football with, went to school with, and in our early 20’s we worked as skycaps together at the Oakland International Airport. In 2012 this childhood friend was shot to death during an alleged traffic dispute in West Oakland. In 1996, however, we were all good kids trying (and some succeeding) to be bad at King Estates Junior High School. That’s where their relationship began. He wanted to be way harder than he actually was and she wanted to have way more attitude that she actually had. He was the only one that could handle her (I, like so many others, tried and failed). So it worked.

It worked up until they finished high school and had a son together. Then they split a few years later. While he and I were working at the airport I told him that I bumped into the mother of his child. He asked me how she was. I didn’t really understand the question. I responded with, “Cool I guess.” And then he began speaking to me about her mental illness. I laughed in shock because he presented the information as if it were funny. And not because he thought the mental deterioration of his childhood and high school sweetheart was actually humorous but because it was the only way that he could convey such painful information to another man without revealing that it hurt him (For no man in our town ever wants to be considered soft). After that conversation I never heard anything about her again until I got the news that she had committed suicide.

It always struck me as being extremely superficial when tragedy befalls a woman and people say, “but she was so beautiful.” As if pretty women are above pain. As if their lives are meaningful only because their faces look good. But in this case I get it simply because suicide is so ugly. And suicide via a bullet in the brain is even more hideous. It is such a brutal way for a woman to leave this earth and it leaves so much confusion. The pastor responsible for giving the eulogy struggled to find his position on the podium, but he finally gave a speech suggesting that because the deceased had the lord in her heart she would enter heaven—or something like that. At any rate it made the hundreds of people in attendance feel good. Perhaps it will offer comfort to her two boys in the years to come. I suppose that was the intent. But hers, as well as all other suicides leaves one indelible question imprinted in my mind; Why they do that?

Suicide is a selfish act. And I say this knowing that schizophrenia is more common than people may think, that deep depression often times goes undiagnosed, and that the stigma surrounding mental health is extremely pervasive in the black community. I also say this as a man who tries very hard not to pass judgment. But I am a human being and this unspoken sentiment has been growing in my brain like cancer. The very thought that has been pulsating in my consciousness is this: IT IS IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO SUFFER—especially if one was born into blackness. By this rationale I could not help but to look down upon her as a quitter. I stood there in that sanctuary as man fighting against many. For it appeared as though everyone else had made peace with her decision. I didn’t. I don’t.

It makes no sense to blame the dead for being dead. There is no way for her to wake up and assume responsibility for her actions, or to apologize to her boys for that matter. When I looked at the scowl on the face of her oldest son who walked in and out of the church trying to make sense out of the situation and attempting to understand the gravity of how this moment would change his life but not being able to comprehend—it bothered me so deeply that I found myself cursing his mother in my head. Why? Why she do that? How could a woman who spent so much time in church let the devil catch up to her?

At some point toward the end of the service the pastor told everyone in the sanctuary who had been touched in a positive way by the beautiful dark-skinned woman with the ebullient personality who now lay stiffly inside of her casket to stand up. Then whole sea of us stood up tall. Then he asked us to applaud and show the lord some praise for allowing her to touch our souls. We did just that. It was a glorious moment because we loved her. We loved our friend despite all of her flaws because we saw our own flaws in her. People cried, people shouted, and people rejoiced and as I clapped loud and steady I questioned her in the afterlife. Didn’t you know that we loved you? Don’t you know how much you’re hurting us right now? Why? Why you do that?

-YB

Micah X. Johnson American Sniper

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His name was Micah X. Johnson. He was a man who was upset at the recent murders of Philando Castile by police officers in Minnesota and of Alton Sterling by police officers in Louisiana so he himself killed five police officers in Texas. Or at least that’s how the story is being told at this moment.

 

Micah X. Johnson was a 25-year-old U.S army veteran who was enraged and did not wish to march, or rally, or block the freeway, or boycott. He wanted to kill. He wanted vengeance. And with this very natural—if not immoral as well as hypocritical—human reaction to feeling victimized there comes tremendous fallout and an almost unprecedented feeling of shock. The fallout because no one wants to align themselves with a murderer, at least not with a television camera and microphone in their face. And the shock because as afraid as the power structure is of black men no one ever expects black people to actually fight back. So on the rare occasion when this does happen it feels as if the moon has risen in the morning and the sun has burned brilliantly through the night. It appears to defy the laws of the universe as they were taught to American blacks.

 

For we have always taken the trauma that we have endure out on ourselves by ingesting various poisons that temporarily make us forget that we are treated worse than animals. And we have always taken it out on other black people by physically, mentally, and verbally assaulting those nearest to us. But almost never do we raise a hand to the police officers that have the power to kill us with impunity. Instead we break down and implode. Well Micah exploded. Just like when “wild Indians” would kill white settlers for squatting on their land in colonial America and the white man would come back and kill twice as many of them. Just like when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, which led to the United States dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Just like after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 when the U.S. waged war on Iraq. Micah X. Johnson—no matter how disillusioned, no matter how psychotic, no matter how ungodly—wanted for his people, what the white man naturally receives everywhere on the planet. He wanted to be acknowledged as a man. Not as some thing that you can beat up for fun and murder for sport. He wanted police officers to know that there will be consequences for their actions in this lifetime. Micah stood up and now he is dead. Apparently blown apart by a bomb sent to him electronically by the police via a robot.

 

Alas, it would be as unscrupulous to celebrate the actions of Micah Xavier Johnson, as it would be to lionize a killer like Christopher Scott Kyle. Only the totally depraved would do such a thing. However one should never be afraid to understand the motivation of another human being. For a man that may die for a cause that you do not believe in is still a man. If we truly wish to evolve as a species then we must be reasonable in times of extreme trauma and a heightened sense of pain.

-YB

All year long I waited for summer

All year long, like a child, I waited for summer. Now I find that June has brought only heat and very little warmth. I search for purpose amidst confusion. I constantly resist taking a natural attitude towards systematic destruction. They attempt to destroy the structure and the soul, the church and the congregation are aflame. I stand alone always isolated and barely sane. I count money that I don’t have, I check-in with the dead, I kiss perfect memories throughout the night. I get high on nostalgia like so many pills. I’m addicted to escaping traps that I have already transcended. I play games like a child. I listen to Nina Simone on vinyl like an old man. I miss her like a fool. I am poor like the uneducated. I stand all alone like the completely misunderstood.

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I smile easy. I cry hard. I speak well. I die. I wake up. I sleep not. I am in constant pursuit of inconsistency. Could you tell her that I’m looking for her? The next time you see her could you tell her please? No. Nevermind. Again I am content. I just forced myself to remember the misery. It’s very foolish for a man to want what people believe that he should have. Only a coward would let someone else define what happiness should mean for him. And so I move forward corrupted by my past. I sleep with ghosts. I pray to god. And I feed on my inability achieve serenity.

-YB

Soulful Presents The Fire THIS Time

imageIf you will be anywhere near the San Francisco Bay Area on 5/28 the you need to come to this event.

The Fire THIS Time” will be a night of SUPERDOPE poetry you won’t soon forget, with dynamic performances by:

Dom Jones & Donte Clark!

You will definitely want to be in the building as two of the illest poets in the state of California tell us what it means to be young, black, and aware in these tragic yet inspiring times.

There will also be an open mic session so don’t forget to bring your own poems with you. This musical, poetic and politically conscious event will be hosted by the lyrically gifted and all around righteous brotha Davin “Do Dat” Thompson. Not to mention sets buy the ultra smooth band WVG.

In addition to the excitement onstage,

The hottest young entrepreneurs in Oakland will be selling their products in the lobby. So please support:

“Dope Lash”
“Oakland’s Own” – the freshest clothing company in town &
“The Cake & Sugar Company” – the best cupcakes you will EVER taste!

This event is guaranteed to be the realist thing to happen in Oakland since Festival at the Lake.

Only $10 at the door / you can purchase your tickets early, here!

See you all at The Fire THIS Time

Notes on The Fire at 73rd and Macarthur

EAST OAKLAND FIRE AFTERMATH

I sat in Eastmont Barbershop for hours as a young boy. Looking out of the window while waiting on the best fade in town. I stared out onto 73rd and Macarthur Boulevard at all of the Cougars and Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, and Cutlasses that were coming from the carwash on 90th and Mac and gearing up to hit the Foothill strip. They would rev their engines up until the 73rd light finally changed then they’d peel out down the block. This was back in the 90’s when the Foothill Strip was two lanes and everyone who had access to a car from all parts of the town would ride it every weekend all the way to Lake Merritt. It started right there on 73rd and Mac. 73rd and Macarthur is the gateway to Deep East Oakland going one way and the start of the Foothill strip going in the opposite direction. It lay right in the center of the largest black community in Northern California. It’s a major thoroughfare. It’s important. And now as of yesterday morning the whole block has been burned to the ground.

 

As I look at the changing demographics in the area right above Macarthur Boulevard and to a lesser extent below it I suspect, no I know, that it’s a blatant case of insurance fraud. A few blocks down on 77th and Macarthur there were also a few businesses that were burned under mysterious circumstances. Someone is reaping the money from this destruction while local children must endure a neighborhood that looks like present day Damascus. These building will remain burned out until enough white people move into the neighborhood. Then they will buy it and then this community will go the way of West Oakland, the way of Brooklyn, the way of Brixton, and the way of D.C. And all things poor and black will be shipped off to a suburb 50 miles away.

 

To love a ghetto as much as I love mine may seem oxymoronical to an outsider. I love the way we struggle. I love the bluntness and the humility of hood life. I love the pride of the people even though it is far too often misplaced in street corners and cars and gang signs. I love the blackness. Much more significant and perhaps much more telling, however, is this fact: I love my hood because my hood is all that I know. I’ve gotten degrees and come back here. I’ve gone around the world and come back here. I’ve taken a chance with a woman or two but always I’ve come back here. And now as I look at 73rd and Macarthur the only thing I see is my childhood all aflame and my heart in ashes. The invaders have made their move and indeed they have left their mark.

 

-YB

A Bad One

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When she finally came, she squirted so hard that it scared her. She squirted right on her boyfriend’s stomach as if she were the dude or something. And then she laughed. She actually laughed out loud while she straddled him. He tried to flip her on her back but she got up and went to the bathroom. Then she played with herself while she starred in the mirror wondering if she could do it again. She did. Not as hard as the first time but she managed to do it nonetheless. She was so focused. Just like those people that move things with their minds. She had harnessed all of her desire and all of her sexual fluids into one tiny spot and released it.

 

It was only about a week ago that she had seen Jadafire do it on a pornhub video that she watched while her boyfriend was in the shower for way too long. It amazed her so much she just had to try it out for herself and she got it. She flexed in the mirror. She felt bad, like a bad bitch, The Baddest Bitch, although she didn’t like to use that word. She had never been anything close to a hoe but she knew that she could be one if she wanted to and that gave her one more thing to feel confident about. Like car note paid off; check. Master’s Degree; check. House; check. Passport; check. Pussy control; check. She was everything and she loved it. She knew her worth and therefore she would never let anyone make her feel less than perfect. She blew herself a kiss in the mirror that she selected in the bathroom that she designed which sat in the house that she bought. She was The Baddest one alive and she knew it.

 

-YB

I like the dancer

 

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On her profile picture there is an image of a newborn babe; her 2nd child in three years. This child is light in complexion just like his mother but bares the eyebrows and nose of his darker skinned father. I scroll through her pictures, liking many of them, as a means of catching up with her. I haven’t interacted with her page in years. I haven’t seen her in much longer. I met her my first year of graduate school. She was an artist and I was an artist so we clicked. She was into black consciousness as was I. She was a dancer though who performed in front of hundreds of people in the theater while my craft required that I sit alone in a dark room with my laptop and brood for hours at a time.

 

I liked her. She was very refined and at times she could be distant but there was nothing arrogant about her. She just moved through the world like dancers tend to do, she was so obsessed with her next move that it often times caused feelings of unease in the people around her. Shortly after graduate school I clicked on her page and found out that her relationship with her longtime boyfriend had ended and she wasn’t taking it well. That summer I saw her at the Juneteenth festival in Berkeley. She was by herself. I was with my mother and daughter. I slipped away from them to speak with her and her face looked even more pensive and weary than it did on her selfies. I came on to her strongly. I asked her what she was doing for the weekend and suggested that we kick it. She said no. Actually she said that she was trying get herself together or she wasn’t ready, or some crap like that but all I heard was no. Then my daughter spotted me and she noticed how much my child had grown and said as much. Shortly after that the conversation was over. She moved away to Texas and that was the last time I saw her in real life.

 

But now she looks so happy and I feel so ridiculous. Her man wears a proud yet goofy smile as he holds their child. He is tall, his posture is erect, and he possesses an enormous inner-confidence. The photo garners 217 likes including mine. And it’s funny when I think that I was so delusional as to believe that I could have made her that happy. I could have tried but I would have failed and she would have ultimately moved on to someone like the man that she is now married to. I realize six or seven years later as I have become more comfortable within my own flesh and more aware of my limitations, that I was never meant to dance with her. Just as she was not born to share my lonely darkened room and transfer all of her inadequacies to the written page. No. All I can ever do is like her. Like her photos, like her comments, like her memes, like her videos and like her life. All while hoping that one day when she’s really bored she’ll click on my profile and like me back.

 

-YB