Am I A Real Man Now?

.....On Muses

I feel as though my roots have been severed. My voice has been lost. For the most part I feel like I don’t know how I feel. I hide behind my work like a coward, like a sociopath, like a man. My grandmother died in the first part of February and I haven’t cried about it yet.

I’ve put in a lot of hours at my job. I’ve continued to take care of my child. I went to the play at her after school program and I cheered her on at all of her basketball games but no tears for mama.

My sister called me when I was at work to tell me that “Mama was dying.” Silence. “Are y’all at the hospital?” I asked. Then she said yeah and waited for me to say that I was on my way but I never said that. I didn’t leave my job until very late that night. Then I drove slowly, very slowly to my house. I got on Facebook and discovered that mama was dead.

I didn’t want to be around all the drama. All the howling and shouting that accompanies the death of a family member. I was in the room when my uncle was dying of AIDS, along with all of my other family members, until I looked at his face twitching and his body convulsing. My Aunt rubbed his forehead and gently gave him permission to let go and said that it was OK. I left. I went into the waiting room until I heard all of the lord have mercies accompanied by the guttural moans. When I came back in he was still and gone. At the age of 14 I didn’t cry. I remember feeling very proud of myself and ashamed for my family for not letting the man die alone. I told myself that if I should perish in a room full of people then I would use my last breath to say, “Get the fuck out.”

It’s strange because most people believe that is the most honorable way to die but not me. I would never want my family to see me weak. Maybe god won’t forgive me for being so prideful, maybe my family won’t respect my wishes when I tell them to leave or perhaps I’ll die very suddenly and it won’t matter.

My grandmother’s death wasn’t sudden at all. It seemed as though she died steadily for about 10-years straight. She slowly lost everything. At some point I could no longer tolerate it so I ran. I ran to the boxing gym, I ran to my job, I ran 10 miles a day. All the while the powerful lady who bore 12 children and never forgot anyone’s birthday began suffering from senility. She saw things that no one else could see and started to tell secrets that only she knew and I heard about all of this through the gossipers because I was gone; away, inside my own head, hiding from memories of me trying to take care of her and her leaving, saying that we were trying to poison her, she’ll never know how much that hurt, I held my grudge, now she’s in the dirt, what does it matter, it doesn’t matter at all because mama is dead.

I work all day. I run around the Lake and I sweat. I bought my daughter a new pair of shoes. I flirt with the women. I talk shit with the fellas. I forgot how to cry. Does that make me a real man now?

Am I a real man?

-YB

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Notes on Mortality

I read an article from the New York Times today about the ill health of the most beloved figure in the history of South Africa, Mr. Nelson Mandela. According to the article he is very near death. A reality that has caused mixed reviews in the nation that he once ruled. While most people are praying for his health to improve at least one woman has accepted the mortality of the former leader; “It is not easy, but we must think of his pain. He has given us so much. He deserves to rest.” When I came across this statements that was made by a 30-year-old South African woman it startled me a little. Her thoughts are so contrarian only because they are so real. When we agree to resuscitate those who no longer have the desire to live and when we refuse to pull the plug, are we really doing it for them or are we being selfish?

 

If we really believe in heaven after earth then why are we so reluctant to let our loved ones go to paradise? My grandmother suffers. She’s alive and she remembers us and we can still kiss her once smooth but now prickly brown cheeks. We literally keep her alive. We make sure the medical staff at the convalescent home where she lives knows that we’re there and those of us who practice medicine make sure that she is getting optimal care. It makes us feel good when we put them in check. After we make sure they change her catheter and increase her dosage we feel like we’ve done the right thing. The only issue is she no longer wants to live. She’s expressed this to us in very plain terms. She wants it all to be over. We disregard what she says. We disregard the words of the wisest woman we have ever known— our mother, our grandmother, our great-grandmother—because we feel like she no longer knows what’s right. This only causes her to slip further and further into depression.

 

As a society we have been taught that to save the life of an individual is an outstanding deed, however, often times we fail to realize that some people don’t want to be saved. Don’t they have that right? It is a sin for a person to take his or her own life but the bible does not frown upon those that merely allow death to happen. In the case of my grandmother— who used to care for me everyday before I started school. Who taught me the most basic lesson of being a black man in America; “When someone hits you then you hit them back?” Who drug me along with her throughout the entire county of San Francisco on Muni, BART, and on foot—I think our main impetus for not letting her pass on is we don’t want to feel sad. We don’t want to plan a funeral. We don’t want to lose the center of our family. But what about her? Does her opinion of her own life even count anymore? Isn’t it wrong of us to disregard the suffering of another human being so that we sleep better at night?

My grandmother has lived nearly 90 years. She’s perfectly content with the impact that she’s had on this world but we can’t let her go. Even though she is mortal we seem to want her to live forever.

Is it ever ok to just let a person die?

-YB

A Fallen Warrior

Last Saturday I witnessed one of the more tragic things I’ve ever seen in my life. I saw a warrior quit fighting up close and personal. I was on hand September 8th at the Oakland Coliseum to see Andre Ward land just about every left hand that he threw to the face of Chad Dawson. I stood up in my seat and cheered for each of the three knockdowns that Andre Ward scored. But then after the 3rd one, the event got really sad for me.

It was at this point that Chad Dawson who had previously shown the heart and grit of an all time great boxer said, out of his own mouth, “I’m finished…I’m done” causing referee Steve Smoger to stop the fight. To his defense it was a really intelligent decision by Chad. After all he still has his belts at the 175-pound division and there was no way he was going to win the fight. I only wish that Dawson’s trainer John Scully would have thrown in the towel or that Smoger would have stopped the fight on his own because boxing, for better or for worse, is the only sport in which a man cannot quit under any circumstances. It is rather callous and undoubtedly barbaric but true fight fans expect their fighters to be willing to die in the ring in the same vein that citizens expect marines to be willing to die for their country. In other words one plays basketball, one plays soccer, and one plays baseball, but one does not play boxing because boxing is not a game.

If anyone knew this “Bad” Chad Dawson did. He knew it when he begged the ref to continue after he sustained a terrible cut over his right eye in the final rounds of his fight with Jean Pascal. He vehemently demanded that he be allowed to continue even as blood gushed down his face and onto his shoulder. Even though the fight was ultimately stopped and Dawson suffered his first loss, no one could be upset at how he behaved at the sight of his own blood. He was willing to fight to the death no matter what the consequence.

Chad knew the fighter’s code when he hovered over his then 46-year-old opponent Bernard Hopkins while Hopkins lay on the canvas with a dislocated shoulder and hurled expletives at him because he chose not to continue. After calling Hopkins a bitch and a pussy Dawson repeated during the post fight interview; “You don’t quit. I don’t care what happened. You don’t quit.” And then less than two years later—though in far less dramatic fashion—it was Chad’s turn to be logical.

Credit must be given to Andre Ward for cementing his claim to the Mayweather’s spot as top pound for pound fighter on the planet whenever Floyd decides to hang up the gloves. Ward put on a spectacular show against a world-class opponent. He touched up the taller Dawson on the outside and roughed him up on the inside. In the 8th round Ward landed an uppercut that sent Dawson’s blood flying several feet in the air. But Chad kept fighting. Even though he rarely landed a shot and never really hurt Ward he seemed determined to finish the fight for the sake of pride and pride alone. When the best young fighter in the world lands 83 punches to the right side of your face, however, the idea of pride becomes very relative.

So “Bad” Chad the former undisputed light-heavyweight champion of the world was reduced to whispering to the referee in a tone so low that it would have been inaudible were it not for HBO microphones; “I’m finished…yeah I’m done.” And as Smoger waved it off my elation for the victor quickly turned to despair for the fallen warrior. Dawson fought a brave fight but in the end he was forced to violate the lone rule that he held so dearly as a fighter. He was forced to quit for his own mental and physical wellbeing and it was the saddest thing this fight fan has ever seen in the ring.

YB

We Speak of Ghosts

If a man has the constant feeling that everyone in the world is trying to kill him then he is probably a paranoid schizophrenic, however, if that man is black then he is merely a realist. A few months ago a childhood friend of mine was shot and killed at 5:00am at a traffic light. He just finished working a double shift at his job and was headed home and someone killed him. As far as facts are concerned that’s the end of the story. People on the streets say there was some kind of verbal altercation or that somehow jealousy was involved but it doesn’t matter. None of the gossip concerns me, what keeps me up at night is that Ronnie Kidd is dead.

“The Kidd” “Kidder” the dude who cried every week when we were playing Peewee Football because the coaches wouldn’t let him play defense is gone. The guy with the jokes, the style, and the always-positive outlook on life was killed over something that no man should ever die over.  He had a wife, three boys, and friends everywhere. He wasn’t a dope-boy or a thug of any of any kind but yet and still he was gunned down as if his life meant nothing. And of the person who did it; one can assume that he went on about his business. He ate a good breakfast and kissed his woman on the lips.  But a fact even more troubling is that we can definitely assume that his killer was another black man.

I rarely sleep well. I see memories of Ronnie Kidd, I recount deep conversations with Kevin Reese, and I recall cheering for Damion Bouchellion as a JV football player while he led our varsity squad to an undefeated season. I hear Sean Scott’s voice so clearly some nights that I forget that he’s dead. Perhaps I have mental illness or perhaps I have finally become aware that it is perfectly normal for a 30-year-old black man from East Oakland to be far better acquainted with the dead than with the living. I’m not a ghost whisperer and I don’t claim to have super natural abilities but I do talk to spirits. Sometimes they talk back to me and sometimes they don’t. I see them in visions. Sometimes I see them in the form of mischievous boys, sometimes I see them as responsible men, and sometimes I see them lying in pools of blood on the concrete.

I don’t want to be killed. On average I’m sure I think about death a lot more than most educated men.  Sometimes it’s hard to leave the bed and sometimes it’s hard to come home. I know that if I were to accrue the resources necessary to lay on a psychiatrists couch then I would be diagnosed with a lot of afflictions and given a lot of pills but no western medicine or drugs can cure me of my mental blackness. Black men are the most hated species on Earth. Hated so much in fact that we actually hate one another to death.

Over the years I’ve learned that crazy is a relative term and although race is only a social construct it’s confinement is very real. Even if I escaped today my soul would still be in the trap.  I miss my friend’s so much but it’s rare that I drink enough to cry about it.

-YB