Blog Series

Blog 3: Home is Where the Lies Live

“Where are you going?” I rushed behind Tony.

“Home. Where I was told to go.” He never looked back, just kept his fast stride to his car. Tony’s long slim legs moved fast and my five foot tall frame, struggled to catch up to him.

“I’m coming with you.”

Something on the inside told me it wasn’t a good idea to send him alone. My cousin didn’t inherit the Freeman temper everyone said my grandfather possessed, but his demeanor today showed that it could be in there just waiting for the right moment to come out. Grandpa Will died when I was a baby so I never got to witness it firsthand, but I heard enough to know he was no one to mess with.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked Tony as he zoomed out of the driveway and slung my body against the door.

“So you didn’t know either?” He glanced at me then back at the road. Tony’s brown skin was now pale. He looked like he was going to be sick at any moment. Unlike me, my cousin didn’t handle drama very well, which was funny considering the lifestyle he lived.

Tony pulled off to the shoulder of the road. He leaned his head against the headrest before banging the steering wheel with his fist over and over again.

I watched in confusion as my mild mannered cousin went into a full rage and I still had no idea why.

“Tony,” I lowered my voice so I wouldn’t set him off any more than he already was. When we were children and he’d get upset from the other kids picking on him, I was usually the only person who could make him smile. Tony was always different. Grandma Hazel hated it, and Aunt Claudia and Uncle Ken were too busy with their careers to care one way or the other. I’m sure they knew their son was unlike the other boys, but as long as he didn’t get into any trouble they were fine. I was the one who was there for him. Most days I’d know just what to say to make everything right, but my magic didn’t seem to work too well today.

He looked at me and forced a weak smile. Then he shook his head as tears ran down his face.

“He’s not my father,” he said barely above a whisper.

“What?” I leaned closer to him.

Tony swiped a tear that had just fallen. “You heard me. Kenneth Freeman is not my father. I know this because Kenneth Freeman is sterile and always has been according to the medical records I found.” He laughed a gut wrenching hearty laugh that was filled with pain and anger.

I sat speechless. I needed time to let the words register. Once they did I felt my eyes starting to sting. I didn’t realize I was crying until Tony wiped my cheek with his finger. Something about that revelation tore me apart. If Uncle Ken wasn’t Tony’s father, then that meant Tony and I weren’t blood cousins. The only person, other than Grandma Hazel, that I loved with everything in me wasn’t even related to me.

“This doesn’t change anything, Tony.” I said those words for my benefit as well as his. “We’re still cousins and Uncle Ken is your father in every way that’s important.”

Tony stared straight ahead. He ran his hand over his short wavy hair. He did that when he was stressed. When we were younger he’d twist it around his finger. He used to have long pretty hair. Way too long and much too pretty for a boy, but Aunt Claudia refused to cut it.

“Now I get it. Now  I understand why it’s so easy for her to hate me. It’s not hard when there’s no relation.” He shook his head.

“Grandma Hazel doesn’t hate you. She just doesn’t understand you.” I wanted to believe that so badly myself. Grandma Hazel did have a very strong dislike for Tony. She’d always say he’s not natural. God didn’t mean for him to live like that. She couldn’t accept that his dating pool was open to all genders, races, and sizes. It was too much for Grandma Hazel to handle.

“And she never tried to understand. I wasn’t important enough for her to spend the time to talk to me. Get to know how I was feeling. Do you know how it feels to get rejection from your peers and your family? That hurts.” Tony opened the glove compartment to remove a cleaning wipe. He rubbed it over the dashboard. Tony was a neat freak, unlike myself.

I wanted to tell Tony that it may help if he’d pick a side and stay on it, maybe Grandma Hazel would be more accepting, but even I knew that wasn’t true. The only side she would accept is the female side and nothing else. Tony’s lifestyle was quite complicated. His sexuality depended on his location. In Bayou and surrounding areas, he was a lady’s man. He’d built quite the reputation as being a player, but when he passed the state line he converted into Toni. The transformation was rather impressive, I must admit, but it’s also very dangerous. Tony never chose an average Joe. All his men were high profile in their professions. Most, if not all,  were pro athletes and A-list actors. People who would go to any extent to silence him if they ever felt like exposure was a possibility. I’d read the horror stories and thinking of losing Tony was depressing. I wish I could get him to see that, but he loved playing this game and it paid off well for him financially. He’d never had a real job, but he has condos in New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston, and a very nice two-story house here in Bayou.

“I have no idea who I am.” He spoke more to himself than to me.

The reality of what he’d just said was more powerful than he may have realized. He was right, he had no idea and he hadn’t known for a very long time. Maybe that would explain the split identities. When Tony turned into Toni, he went full force. Nothing about him said male, except for the Adam’s apple that was only slightly evident after he’d had it shaved down. He was searching for the real him. Maybe this reality would help him sort things out.

“So what now?” I rubbed his shoulder.

“I don’t know. My original plan was to burst in the house and confront them and go postal, but you messed that up by coming along and calming me down.” He jabbed my arm playfully.

I was relieved he’d said that. I couldn’t imagine a battle between Tony and Uncle Ken ending too well for either one of them. Tony’s lean and tall, but he’s far from weak. Then there’s Uncle Ken who’s just as tall and slightly bigger, and even though he’s older, I can’t imagine my uncle going down without a fight. It’s not in the Freeman’s to give up. I’d heard that line my whole life.

“You wanna hear something crazy?” Tony asked.

I shifted my body towards him and leaned against the door. “Yeah.”

“I always knew something was odd about our family. I mean look at us. I look nothing like my parents. How can you explain two high yella people making a brown child?” He lifted a brow.

“It is possible you know. Genetics are strange like that. Look at me and Rachel, we look nothing alike.” I stated with more pride than I should probably feel.

“Yeah, but you look like Grandma Hazel. At the very least you can say you resemble someone in this family. I don’t look like none of y’all.” His Bayou accent came out the more he talked.

“Don’t get caught up on skin color and stop jumping to conclusions. You may have proof that Uncle Ken’s not your father, but Aunt Claudia is your mother. Don’t let your anger tear you away from the only parents you’ve ever known. Go and talk with them and hear what they have to say.”

“Talk?” He threw the wet wipe in the cup holder between us.”Talk about what? How they lied to me my whole life? I have a whole family out there that I know nothing about.” Tony pointed out the window. “You don’t play with people’s lives like that. It wasn’t their choice to make. I have a right to know who I am.” His jawline tightened.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked once I realized he wasn’t receptive to any advice I offered.

He turned his head slowly in my direction. His eyes narrowed, and I swear they looked a lot darker than they did a minute ago. “My parents are frauds. Lying to the people out there is one thing, but to the person you’re supposed to love more than your own life? The person you’re supposed to protect. The one you’re supposed to be there for when…” He took a deep breath.

“When what?” My heart beat harder waiting for the answer, but I got nothing but silence. Five minutes of silence and deep breathing.

“That’s just not right.” He finally spoke. “I think it’s time for them to feel the consequences of their actions.” Tony’s brow lifted.

Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia were both politicians. She was a councilwoman and he was a state representative ready to throw his name in the hat for Governor. The fact that they’re liars was no secret. It went with their occupation. A scandal of any kind could ruin their careers and reputations. They worked very hard to establish themselves as a power couple. If Tony thought they were going to allow him to tear down everything they’d built, he was wrong. This was not going to end well. I felt it in my spirit.

“Tony, think about what you’re saying. Doing something like that wouldn’t just hurt them, but a lot of other people too. The young people in this community look up to your parents, they always have.”

“Yes, because they don’t know the truth. They don’t know the real Ken and Claudia and I can’t allow them to be fooled any longer. They have everyone fooled, including you.”

I don’t know why that announcement didn’t shake me more than it did. Maybe because a part of me knew something wasn’t right about Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia. They were too perfect and people like them always made me wonder how much was real and how much was an act. Though they may not be the people they’ve made us believe they were, they’re still family and we protect family, not destroy them. Unless the act is just that unforgivable, which would be the case between Rachel and I.

“You’re quite. I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m talking about, but believe me you’ll find out soon enough.” Tony stated, causing me to turn my attention back to him.

“Actually, my thoughts are about you. I know you want to teach your parents a lesson, but are you ready for everyone to know your business because trust me if you go for them they’re going to come for you and their swing may be a lot harder.” I paused for emphasis. “Don’t open a door to something you’re not ready to release.” I tilted my head and hoped he could  fill in the spaces I’d chosen to leave blank. 

He swiped a tear that was about to fall. “I don’t care about any of that. I want them to hurt the same way they’ve hurt me.  As long as they don’t come out on top then I’m good.”

I couldn’t believe this was the cousin I knew and loved. I understood why he was hurt, but this was on another level. This didn’t feel like a child with paternity issues, this felt a lot deeper and a whole lot darker.

“I’m not saying they were right for hiding this from you, but what if they were trying to protect you from something?” I was grasping for anything at this point. Tony’s rage felt unfamiliar and I didn’t trust that he wouldn’t go to his parent’s and do something crazy.

“Protect me from who? My real family? Why would I need protecting from them?”

He asked the question I couldn’t answer, but there had to be a reason they decided to hide this for so long. I already knew this was going to get worse before it got better. I was prepared to be there for my cousin in any way he needed me. This tangled web that was spun so many years ago was tearing him apart, and I had no idea it would eventually wrap me in it too. 

Blog Series

Blog 2: Deadly Deception

Beads of sweat dripped down my back. My nails dug into the palm of my hands. The urge to kill grew stronger and stronger the longer I stared into his dark eyes.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel  tugged on my arm.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I started to pull away from my grandmother, but even in the height of anger, my good senses prevailed. Disrespecting Grandma Hazel was something I’d never do.

“Listen.” Grandma Hazel pulled me closer to her. “I don’t have Sally so don’t start nothing.” She barely parted her lips as she spoke.

Sally’s the pistol Grandma Hazel kept underneath her bed.

“I don’t need Sally.” I’d never deny myself the pleasure of feeling the life seeping from his worthless body. I couldn’t say that part out loud from fear of Grandma Hazel thinking I’d gone off the deep end.

John Walker stood at least six feet seven and maybe weighed about two hundred pounds. He was a big man, always had been, but in my eyes and in my mind, he was as small and as cowardly as the crime he’d committed.

John cleared his throat and kept his eyes on Grandma Hazel as he spoke. “I’m sorry I just stopped by to pay my respects.”

The bass in his voice shook me to my core. As cold as it was outside, on the inside I was on fire. I could feel the heat warming my face. My golden skin never disguised my anger.   

“Respects? You came to pay respects? Did you respect him when you killed him?” I inched closer. Grandma Hazel held on a little tighter. “Was it out of respect that you aimed that gun at him and fired?” My voice echoed through the trees surrounding us.

“You need to leave.” My grandma’s hand trembled around my arm. “My grip won’t last much longer and I can’t protect you from the rage this girl’s been holding inside.” She warned him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He stood a little longer. His weary eyes now stared at me. I glared back and refused to blink. I wanted him to see every ounce of anger I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hiding behind it, not even for a second.

Without another word, he left.

My breathing was uncontrollable. I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but seeing my father’s murderer standing at his grave triggered a major one. I tried to catch my breath as I sat in the cold grass at the foot of my father’s grave. At times like these he’d know what to say to calm me down, but my calming mechanism, my protector from all things bad, was no longer here. He hadn’t been here for a very long time. Over twenty years as Grandma Hazel reminded me earlier. Twenty-two years to be exact. My family calls it the accident, but what John Walker did was no accident.

“Doll, listen to me.” Grandma Hazel stood over me. “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself over someone like John Walker. Your daddy would not want you living like this.”

Grandma Hazel was usually right, but not this time. My daddy would want me living like this because I’m the only one willing to fight for his justice. Looking for the system to help was no longer an option. That hope faded with each year that passed. I’m my daddy’s only means to justice and it will come.

“Are you listening to me?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m listening.” I stared at the picture on the tombstone of my dad. I remembered that day so well. It was the day of my seventeenth birthday. My dad had surprised me with my first car. It was a light blue Honda Accord that’s still parked behind my Grandma’s house. I don’t drive it but the thought of letting it go makes my heart hurt. That was the last gift my father could give me, and I promised him that I’d keep it forever. When I waved, and drove my brand-new car out of the driveway, I had no idea what I’d be coming home to later on that night. I could still hear their voices as they argued over only God knows what. I followed the commotion to the back door and that’s when it happened. My daddy warned him not to come back there again. He took a step towards John and then there was the shot. One single shot that caused him to drop to his knees.

I didn’t realize how hard I was crying until Grandma Hazel leaned down and started making small circles on my back. That was her way of soothing me when I was upset. As a little girl she’d instruct me to lay on her lap while she’d rub my back and hum Amazing Grace, her favorite hymn. Back then it worked,  but today the anger overrode Grandma Hazel’s touch.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel tugged at my arm again.

I held my finger up signaling that I needed a minute.

I crawled closer to my dad, forgetting about the high priced clothing that I normally took great pride in protecting.

“I’ll give you some time alone.” She smoothed the top of my hair down before she walked away.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there sooner.” The warm tears streamed down my cheeks. At every visit I apologized. I should’ve been home to save him instead of out joyriding with Tasha.

I sat a while longer until I started feeling better. Even in spirit he had a way of making everything okay.  I stood and brushed off the grass that clung to my wool coat. I blew my daddy a kiss and slowly made my way back to the car.

The drive back to Grandma Hazel’s was filled with so many mixed emotions. I spent the ten-minute drive plotting how I could get away with murder, just as John had. Self-defense was his claim and the jury bought it, but that was no surprise. His dad was the most brilliant legal mind in Bayou. He had a lot of high profile clients from all over the world who paid him good money to make things happen in their favor. He’d never lost a case, and I’m sure it’s because of the stories I’d heard about him. In many of his cases witnesses would either change their stories at the last minute, or in some instances come up missing. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to know who was behind those mysterious disappearances.

“Oh Lord.” Grandma Hazel’s exasperated tone drew my attention to her.

“What’s wrong?”

She pointed towards her house at my cousin Anthony, or Tony as we’d always called him, sitting on the front porch.

My mood instantly lifted. Tony is my favorite cousin. His father, my Uncle Ken, is Grandma Hazel’s oldest child and only son. Growing up, Tony and I lived right next door to each other which was the norm here. Family tend to settle across the street, next door, or even in the same yard as other family members. Tony is the only person in our family who never acted like I was crazy when I shared what I saw the night my father died. No one believed John, sweet quiet John, would ever hurt anyone on purpose. It had to be an accident. That was the only logical explanation.

Tony loved me because I accepted his truth, just as he accepted mine. I loved Tony for who he was designed to be. I didn’t always agree with the way he spent his time, but I was the last person who could judge anyone for the choices they’d made. Grandma Hazel, on the other hand, wasn’t so accepting of Tony or his choices.

“Hey.” I wrapped my arms tightly around Tony, but I could barely feel his arms around me. I stepped back to examine his face. That’s when I saw the moisture in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I placed my hand on his shoulder and tried to comfort him the best I could without knowing the cause of his tears.

“Did you know?” He looked past me and directed his question to Grandma Hazel who’d finally made it up the porch.

“What are you talking about?” Grandma Hazel’s narrowed eyes and snappy tone were evidence of  her dislike for her grandson. Her disposition towards Tony was something the public would never see. That’s what I meant when I said we Freeman’s were good at putting on a show for everyone else’s viewing pleasure.

“About my parents. Did you know?” Tony shifted from one leg to the other.

“I know a lot and you wouldn’t be able to handle half of it. I knew you’d find out one day, but the answer you want will not come from me, now go home.” Grandma Hazel stared at Tony for what felt like eternity before she finally disappeared behind the door.

I didn’t know what the conversation was about, but I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. I knew coming back to Bayou I’d risk the chance of being exposed to more family secrets. It always happened, which is why I chose to stay away. Pretending to be normal was much easier around strangers. I’d hoped this issue with Tony was it, but little did I know this was just the beginning. There was so much more I wasn’t prepared to learn or accept.

Written by L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

Blog Series

Blog 1: Stranger at the Grave

I thought I was done sneaking boys in my grandmother’s house. Who knew at the age of thirty I’d still be doing it. Although, it’s not as bad as it sounds…well maybe it is. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about Warren and I tiptoeing up the stairs, being careful to skip that one particular step at the very top that creaked with the least bit of pressure.

“Should’ve known I’d find you out here.” Warren’s baritone voice melted the chill I felt just moments before. He stood beside me as I rocked on the porch swing covered with my grandmother’s fuzzy throw that she kept in her special recliner. It had her vanilla scent all over it.

This November, unlike so many I remember here in Louisiana, was a bit cold. My grandmother’s front porch early in the morning had always been my favorite place. I could sit for hours staring across the street at the field that went back as far as the eyes could see. If the woods had a voice, I’d have to stay away and change my identity. I did things there I never would’ve done before the accident. The accident. At least that’s what my family called it. I call it murder and even if no one believed me I know what I saw and it was no accident.

“I have to get going.” Warren leaned down and kissed me, pulling me back from the dark place my mind was about to suck me into.

He always did that for me. It was as if he could sense when I was about to wander into the danger zone, so he’d use his voice…or his hands…or his mouth to pull me out. Whichever tool he used was a welcomed and very pleasurable distraction.

Warren’s from New Orleans, a three hour drive from here, but whenever I was in town he’d sneak in and out to see me. He couldn’t risk ruining his career and his reputation messing around with a woman half his age. It wouldn’t be a good look for New Orleans’ newest Mayor.

Warren was old enough to be my dad, but you’d never know it looking at him. He had the body and stamina of a twenty-year-old. That man never had a problem wearing me out in a very good way. My heart began to race thinking about last night. How my clothes practically melted off when he pulled me into him and kissed me like I was the sweetest flavor he’d ever tasted. It’s been over a month since we’d seen each other and every night he’d made it a point to draw a very good visual of all the things he wanted to do to me once he got his hands on me again, and last night he delivered on every promise. After half an hour, my mind said it was time for a break, but my body was eager to feel what was coming next.

Warren leaned down and  kissed me one last time. I placed my hand on the back of his head and held him close for as long as I could. I took a deep breath and inhaled the spicy scent that still lingered on his shirt. Thoughts of last night had me yearning for more even though I was still trying to regain the feeling in my legs. I can’t even begin to explain how I found the flexibility for some of those positions. What I do know is Jen, my yoga instructor, was worth way more than I’m paying.

Warren pulled away, but just enough so our lips still touched. “Don’t make me take you back upstairs.” He licked his lips, then flashed that sexy smile that showed a row of perfect white teeth. That’s the smile that caused me to lose my clothes the first night we met in Georgia a little over a year ago. The attorney I work for was hosting a charity gala, and hooking up with someone was the last thing on my mind. After months of working overtime to pull off such an elaborate event, the only thing I wanted was a strong drink and my soft bed. By the end of the night I had the drink, the bed, and Warren as a bonus. I couldn’t resist that deep voice that shook my core. That inviting smile that made me forget how tired I’d felt, and that low cut salt and pepper hair that’s always so neat and wavy. Distinguished gentleman was the best way to describe my sixty-five year old secret lover. Being with Warren felt wrong in my head, but from the neck down it felt oh so right.

“I better go.” He looked towards the house where Grandma Hazel was probably just waking up.

This wasn’t the norm for us. We’d usually meet halfway between here and New Orleans. Warren would always have everything laid out and ready for me when I arrived. I had to switch things up this time because Grandma Hazel hadn’t been feeling well, which is why I decided to come down a week earlier than planned. Thanksgiving was next week and I hadn’t celebrated it with my family ever since I moved to Atlanta five years ago. Being away made it easier to come up with an excuse not to come home. Whenever the entire Freeman family gathered in one place there was always hell on the horizon. It didn’t take much for someone to say the wrong thing about the wrong person and tempers would fly. I didn’t miss that at all. Take out and a movie had become my new Thanksgiving tradition. I’d explain to Grandma Hazel how demanding my work load was, and even though she’d pout, she’d understand and I’d be off the hook yet another year. My luck ran out this this year, and Grandma Hazel poured the guilt on thick. I had no choice but to come.

Warren’s swagger commanded my attention as he made his way to his SUV. When he pulled off the silence resumed. I almost forgot how quiet it was here. Living in Atlanta had trained my ears to hear sounds not so common here in the Bayou.

My mind instantly drifted back to Warren. After every visit I wondered if he’d still participate in our secret love affair if he knew me…the real me. If he knew my family and not the life we’d created for the public’s viewing pleasure.

“Doll!” I heard my Grandma calling me by the nickname she’d given me so many years ago. She said I looked just like one when I was born. Everyone else just called me Nadia. I loved to hear Grandma Hazel calling me by my nickname. It almost made me sound innocent. Grandma Hazel knew I was far from innocent, yet she still called me Doll, and that’s why I loved her so much. She loved me in spite of my many mistakes.

“Out here,” I said loud enough for her to hear. Grandma Hazel was starting to lose her hearing, but she refused to get a hearing aid. She said hearing aids were  for old people. Not sure what you’d call an eighty-six-year old woman, but apparently you didn’t call her old.

I watched as she opened the screen door and slowly made her way to the swing which was only a few steps away. Sadness invaded my body as I watched how slow she crept along now. She definitely wasn’t the same woman who used to play in the field with my cousins and me when we were growing up. Age had taken its toll on her and robbed her of all her spunk. I hate age.

Out of all her grandchildren, I was the only one who inherited most of her features and all of her disposition. I’ve seen pictures of Grandma Hazel back in the day, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear it was me. It would be hard for anyone to tell the difference with our almond-shaped hazel eyes and sandy colored hair. Grandma Hazel’s is now a beautiful grey. She keeps it pulled back in a ponytail that hangs midway her back. I’d contemplated cutting mine, but she’d kill me if I did. “A woman’s hair is her glory,” is what she preached over and over again. So for now, my unruly curly mane is here to stay.

Grandma Hazel grunted as she sat next to me.

I held onto her frail arm so she wouldn’t fall.

“Thank ya, chile.” She patted my leg. “You going to see Rachel?” Grandma Hazel looked out towards the road. Unlike most people who’d tend to ease into difficult conversations, Grandma Hazel always dove right in. Starting the day talking about Rachel  meant that today was already shot to hell and I should go back to bed and try again tomorrow.

I sat silently and watched her until she turned in my direction.

“I asked you a question.” Grandma Hazel tried to sound firm.

“A question you already know the answer to.”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the clearing across the street. “At some point you gotta let it go. You can’t keep holding on to all that stuff. It’s been almost twenty years. That situation’s holding you hostage and you’ll never be able to move on until you let it go.”

“That may be easy for you, but I’m not so forgiving.”

“Rachel has moved on with her life. She’s happy. The only person your misery’s hurting is you.”

I folded my arms in protest.

“Your momma loves you.” Grandma Hazel used her feet to help me push us back and forth on the long porch swing. I had some great conversations on this swing. Ate some of the best homemade peach ice cream I’d ever tasted, and cried some of the most exhausting tears I’d ever cried, right here on this old white swing. The funny thing was, every memory I had of this swing involved Grandma Hazel. I guess in a way you could say she was my best friend. She worked my nerves with her unwanted advice about my mother. The woman I refused to call Mom. To me she’s just Rachel. I’d never give her a title she didn’t deserve.

“Love? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word love. If she did she never would’ve done what she did. She never loved my dad and she doesn’t love me either. She made that point clear during the trial.” There was very little my grandmother could do to get under my skin, but talking about Rachel got in there deep.

I stood  up and made my way to the front door.

“Where you going?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m going to visit my father.” I barely had the screen door opened before she started again.

“You can’t keep doing that, Doll.”

With my hand still on the door handle, I turned to her. “Doing what?”

She lowered her head and her eyes shot up at me. She gave me the ‘you know damn well what I’m talking about’ look.

“You need anything from town?” I asked before she had an opportunity to say anything else.

“Nope.” Grandma Hazel grunted again as she tried to push herself off the swing..

I reached for her hand and helped her up..

“But I’ll ride with you anyway.” She announced as she moved past me and into the house.

I rolled my eyes and let out a silent, deep breath. Going to see my dad was our special time together. I didn’t need Grandma Hazel standing over me, rushing my visit. After only five minutes, she’d be ready to leave.

Driving through the town of Bayou brought  back so many fond memories of my childhood. I had a very good childhood. Really good in fact. No one could’ve made me believe that it wouldn’t always be that way. That before I graduated from high school my life would’ve been shaken and torn to pieces.

I pulled into Shop Mart, the only grocery store in Bayou. “I’ll be right back. You sure you don’t need anything?” I asked again. Grandma Hazel had a bad habit of waiting until we got back to the house to remember everything she should’ve picked up while she was out.

“I don’t need a thing.” She sat with her purse resting in her lap and her arms crossed.

I went straight to the aisle with the flowers. I had to find the perfect ones for Daddy.

“Nadia?” I recognized my friend’s voice before I saw her face.

“Hey.” Tasha wrapped her arms tight around my body. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”

I looked over her shoulder towards the window to make sure Grandma Hazel couldn’t see the exchange.

“Tasha.” I stretched my eyes and gritted my teeth knowing she’d understand the expression.

She flicked her wrist, “Girl I don’t care about these people.”

I picked up the first decent looking flowers I could find. “I’ll call you later,” I whispered as I passed her.

I never looked back to see if Tasha was still watching. I just paid and left.

Tasha was a product of the children across the street. Growing up I used to hear my mom and aunt talking about the children who lived across the street from them. They never had anything nice to say about them. I couldn’t understand the hate they had for these children and why that hate extended to their children and their children’s children.  It was so bad that my mom and Grandma forbade me to play with Tasha, even though we were in the same class all throughout school. I imagine if moving me to another class was an option, they would’ve done it, but being that there was only one teacher per grade, Tasha and I stayed together until we graduated. We played together too, but we had to sneak to do it. I guess you could say Tasha was my first secret relationship. Even now, after all this time,  whenever I was home, we’d have to hang out far away from Bayou.

I eased my QX8O down the dirt road leading to the graveyard, my dad’s permanent residence. I came to a slow roll when I saw another car parked in front of his plot. I didn’t recognize the car, or the body of the person whose back was turned to us.

I got out and left Grandma Hazel sitting in the car. She didn’t need to be out in this cold air. I walked closer and the sound of the leaves crunching beneath my leather boots caused the stranger to look in my direction. My mouth fell open when I saw his eyes. I dropped the flowers at my feet. Something told me to turn and leave, but I was frozen in place. My heart was about to burst through my body. I felt like I could peel off every piece of clothing and still not feel a thing. That’s how numb his presence made me. I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years, but he still had the same effect on me. Fear, anger, and hurt all mixed with rage. Not a good combination of emotions.

A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump. I didn’t hear that my grandmother had walked up behind me.

“What are you doing here?” Her presence gave me the strength to speak. Not that anything he could say would make his visit right. There was nothing right about this at all.

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Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

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Nothing Will Change in 2017!

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If you’re like me, you probably still have the same list of things you’re hoping will change in 2017. You still want to lose 20 lbs., the same 20 lbs. you’ve been saying you’re going to lose probably for the last 20 years. You still want to write that book before someone steals your idea. You still want to start that business that God’s placed on your heart to start. Well, I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but nothing’s going to change in 2017 unless YOU change. Change doesn’t magically occur because the clock strikes 12 and the calendar starts over. Change is a mind thing, not a beginning of the year thing.

The reason we find ourselves making these same promises of change over and over is because mentally we aren’t ready to change. It sounds good. We know it’ll feel good, but the mind hasn’t accepted that new resolution yet. Change is something that takes time. It’s a day by day process. It takes determination and consistency to change something you’ve been doing, or not doing, for years. When it comes to change, it’s important to:

1. Change one thing at a time. Don’t take on too much or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and eventually giving up altogether, well until Dec. 31 and then you’ll make the decision to try once again.

2.Celebrate the small victories. If you go to the gym and only walk for 10 minutes, that’s worth celebrating.

3.Set small goals. If you want to lose 20 lbs., don’t think about the whole 20. Set a weekly goal between 1-2 lbs. Doesn’t losing 1 lb. sound more doable than 20? Sure does to me.

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4.Get an accountability partner. You may be amazed how many people are seeking to make the same changes as you. I was on the phone with one of my writer sisters and she was naming everything she wanted to change this upcoming year and her list was identical to mine.

5.Don’t set yourself up for failure. If you know your lifestyle won’t allow you to write 1,000 words a day, then don’t set that as your goal. Be realistic.

6.Track your progress. Keep a daily log or checklist of everything you’ve accomplished or didn’t accomplish that day. Seeing those checks or happy faces, whatever you use, does something for you. Hey, who says stickers are just for children? We like them too 🙂

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7.Make it fun! Maybe going to the gym isn’t the right workout plan for you. What about dancing? Sports? No one says that the gym is the only place to lose weight. Try new healthy recipes. If you love cooking, then this should be fun for you. Don’t look at it as a chore, but as  fun life-change.

8.LIVE! Don’t forget to live and enjoy life. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you mess up, that’s fine just start over tomorrow. Look at tomorrow as your New Year. A fresh start. A do over.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! It’s my prayer that you and I will have different goals for 2018 because we will rock these 2017 goals :)!

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Advice to My Younger Self!

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If I could write to my younger self, there’s a lot of advice I’d give, but for the sake of this blog and your time, I’ll keep it short… well kinda short :).

Advice #1: Listen to your parents. They really do know what they’re talking about. Money really doesn’t grow on trees. Checks and credit cards aren’t free money, and that amount you saw on your mom’s check stub really isn’t as much as you were thinking.

Advice #2: Enjoy childhood for as long as possible. It’s not that bad things aren’t happening around you, but it’s considered “grown folks business,” and your parent’s never discussed it in your presence. You have no idea how beneficial that is, but believe me, you should appreciate the “leave the room when I’m speaking with an adult” rule.

Advice #3: Making your own decisions and taking care of yourself isn’t as fun as you perceive it to be. I know you think your parents are old-fashioned and treat you like a baby, which by the way you really are, but trust me you’ll want to stay there and be their baby for as long as you can.

Advice #4: Stop waiting to the last minute to work on school projects or to start studying for a test. You can do a lot better if you apply yourself more. Those bad habits will follow you into adulthood, and you’ll spend most of your life trying to change. Do it now!

Advice #5: Stop pouting when your mom says you have to go to your grandmother’s house. One day you’ll wish you could go there again.

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Advice #6: When your mom comes in your room to watch The Young and The Restless tonight, cherish that time. Stare at her a little longer. Hold her a little tighter. Inhale her scent a little deeper.

Advice #7: Trust that there’s someone out there for you. There are going to be days when you’re much older, that you’ll start to question that. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. You’re #1 and if the guy clearly shows you that you’re not, run away and don’t look back. The one God has for you makes you feel special from the start. He’ll never give you a reason to question your role in his life. He’s the one!

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Advice #8: I know your brother works on your nerves and you think he’s the meanest person ever, but one day you’ll see him differently. He’ll become someone you not only love, but really like. You’re going to admire him more than anyone in the world. And the best part is, your parents would be proud of him too. I know that’s hard to believe being that he’s probably tormenting you as you read this, but just take my word for it 🙂

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Advice #9: Be comfortable being you. There’s going to be this thing called social media. Everyone’s life is going to look amazing on there. Just like yours, their life isn’t perfect either. Appreciate the life God’s given you, pain and all.

Advice #10: The most important advice I can share, so please listen carefully and write this down so you don’t forget. On July 2, 2015, when your dad calls….ANSWER THE PHONE! Trust me on this one.

P.S!!! One day you’re going to have a daughter who acts just like you, but don’t ever admit that to your husband. It’s your job to make him think she gets it from his side of the family LOL!

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P.S.S. I know you’re not the kissy-kissy type, but get ready because you’ll have a son who’s going to shower you with kisses each and every day. Even when he’s upset with you, he’s going to kiss you because according to him, your kisses make everything better 🙂

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What advice would you give your younger self?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016! Need I Say More?

2016 has literally left my mouth opened. I don’t even know what to say other than #Really2016. Below are my Five Most Shocking Moments of 2016!

#5. No more G.O.A.T! The death of Muhammad Ali was a shocker. We all knew he’d been sick for quite some time, but still, we didn’t see death. At least I didn’t.

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#4. The Purple Prince! Prince’s death felt like a really bad joke. It took some time to realize it was real. He was actually gone. That’s the same feeling I felt at the loss of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Some people you just don’t think will ever die, not for a very long time anyway.

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#3. The Washington Parish flood. That one was very hurtful because my dad and stepmom’s house was destroyed. Losing my dad was bad enough, but then we had the task of throwing away all of his belongings. That wasn’t a good feeling at all.

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#2. The Great Flood of 2016. That one still has me feeling a certain kind of way. Though my house wasn’t affected, it’s hard to see so many neighbors, friends, and family going through. The weight of  knowing so many people are still out of their homes, four months later, is very heavy.

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#1. The Presidential Election. That’s all the time I’ll spend on that one because of health reasons 🙂

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Though there were some really bad events in 2016,  I must say there were also some really good things. Here are the Three Best Moments of 2016!

 

#3. The Cubs won the World Series after 71 years. That was awesome! I can only imagine how great that felt for the players and their fans. It showed what can happen if you just keep pushing. Hopefully our breakthrough won’t take 71 years, but hey push anyway 🙂

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#2. I published my 3rd novel. I’d worked on this book for so long and finally it’s complete and on sale. (www.amazon.com) wink! wink!

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#1. VEGAS BABY! I finally did something for me on my special day. My husband, cousin-sister Sheneda, and her husband Anthony, and I all flew to Vegas to celebrate my 39th birthday. I always said I wanted to do a couples trip, but never did it. Now I’m ready for the next one 🙂

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What did I miss? There were so many I couldn’t keep up. What were your most shocking 2016 moments? Post on FB or Twitter with the hashtag #Really2016. Don’t forget to tag me.

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Back Down Memory Lane

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With Christmas right around the corner, I can’t help but remember the Christmas of yesteryears. Christmas was, is, and prayerfully always will be my favorite holiday. I love the sights, sounds, and feel of it. It’s amazing how certain events can stick with you, and almost make you feel like you just experienced it a day or so before. Well, for me it’s Christmas as a youngster.

I remember the days leading up to Christmas I’d go shopping with my mom. Back then Columbia Street in Bogalusa was a big deal, and Fred’s was the major store. I used to love driving down Columbia Street with all the Christmas decorations and lights. Seeing it in my head now kinda feels like I’m watching an old movie. You couldn’t shop on Columbia Street and not get in the Christmas spirit.

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  This isn’t Columbia Street but a close reminder from back then 🙂

The night before Christmas, if the temperature had dropped, my whole family (mom, dad, brother, and me) would all sleep in the den. It was warm in there, and my parents didn’t have to worry about trying to heat the whole house. That was so much fun. Knowing everyone I loved was right in one room all warm and toasty was the best feeling ever.

I can remember waking up on Christmas morning and running to the formal living room which is where the Christmas tree was kept. My brother and I would tear into those presents. I knew to expect the latest baby doll and a surprise gift. One year I got a radio and a Whitney Houston cassette. I loved that radio and played it all the time. I’m sure I worked on everybody’s nerves having to hear Whitney Houston playing over and over again LOL!

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After we’d open gifts at home, we would put on our new Christmas clothes, pack up the car with more gifts for other family members, and prepare to take off for our thirty-second drive across the street to my grandparent’s house (seriously we did)

That’s when the fun really started. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins would come home for the holidays. My cousins and I played with our new toys. We ate the food my grandmother, mom, and aunts stayed up most of the night preparing. My grandparent’s house was filled with noise and laughter from the youngest to the oldest. I guess that’s why I can’t imagine a quiet Christmas. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas if I didn’t hear talking, laughing, and pots rattling from people going back for seconds or thirds.

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Cousins Sheneda and Sobrena Christmas 09′ at our grandparent’s house.

I can’t remember if presents came after or before dinner, but I do know that one thing never changed. My cousins and I all knew we were getting $5 from my grandmother. We did wonder if she’d eventually…maybe move up to $10 when we got older, but nope she stuck with her $5. Hey, it was $5 more than we had LOL!

Christmas is quite different for me now. Instead of trying to force myself to sleep and waking up extremely early, now I go straight to sleep and pray the children will at least sleep past six o’clock. These days, my joy and excitement come from watching my children opening their gifts. 

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I can say that even though many things have changed, some things remained the same. I don’t wake up early (voluntarily), I don’t get to eat my grandma’s cooking, receive her annual $5, or spend a cozy night with my parents, but every year God has blessed me to still hear and participate in the talking, laughing, and rattling of pots that let’s you know that it is indeed a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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Writing Saved My Life

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It may sound a bit drastic to say that something as simple as writing saved my life, but I do feel that way. I know, of course, that God has always been by me during my toughest trials, but I also know that He’ll give us avenues to use when life’s battles seem to be a tad too much. 

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I started writing after my mom died in 1990. That was the first major death I’d experienced, and boy was it, MAJOR! Losing a mother, the person who knows how to make everything better, is devastating, especially for a thirteen-year-old girl who’s just discovering things about life and her body. Not a good feeling. 

A year after my mom died, I wrote a story called “The Day I’ll Never Forget.” It was all about June 9, 1990, the day she died. I mentioned in an earlier blog that it was that award-winning story that caused my teachers to encourage me to keep writing. I didn’t listen. I only wrote when I had to for school, rarely for pleasure. However, writing that story was therapy for me, but as a fourteen-year-old, it’s hard to explain how writing made you feel better.

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The next big loss came when my daughter passed on October 9, 2012 (Something about those 9’s I tell ya). I wrote every day for a year straight. I wasn’t working on a novel; I was working on me. Each day I’d write in my journal. It felt safe to share my true feelings in my journal. There I could write without the sad eyes, or the sympathetic tone that would’ve come had I told anyone else. I was free to say what I wanted, cried if I needed, and moved on. That’s just how I am. I don’t handle sympathy too well, never really learned how to do that. 

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Then, in 2015 I was hit yet again. Really God? That’s how I felt/feel most of the time because this time God took the first man I ever loved. Losing my daddy was like losing all the air in my body. I never really expected him to die. I know that sounds crazy, but my daddy, in my eyes, was next in line after Jesus. He wouldn’t die and leave me here. Okay, maybe that’s a bad example because Jesus died too, but you get the point :).

You have to understand; he was more than my dad; he was truly my best friend, my counselor, my doctor, my lawyer, my minister, my whatever I needed him to be when I needed him to be it. As you’ve probably gathered, I’d call him for any and everything. He had a way of making everything right. Even if it wasn’t if my daddy said it was alright, then my spirit felt that it was alright. Now don’t get me wrong, our relationship wasn’t always grits and butter :). We shared a birthday, and we were both Taurus’, so we knocked heads a lot. A little-known fact about me, I’m never wrong, and neither was he. You can imagine what those conversations sounded like LOL!

After my dad passed, I finally finished the novel I’d been working on for so long. I threw myself into my writing. It was my escape from the reality I no longer enjoyed. I’m blessed with a wonderful family and fabulous friends, but none of them are my daddy, and even through my many blessings, there’s still a lot of pain. 

I say that writing saved my life because it was my outlet. Storing emotions can be very damaging both mentally and physically. Everyone feels like they’re okay and managing it well until that day comes and you snap, or you crack, and then you realize you weren’t doing so well after all. I urge you if you’re hurting, grieving, suffering at all, please find a healthy outlet. Don’t hold it in because eventually it will come out and you, your family, friends, or coworkers may not like the manner in which it arrives.

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Just Keep Moving!

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Sometimes things will happen in life to let you know you’re on the right path. This radio interview was definitely one of my clues. So, allow me to go to the beginning and tell you how all of this came about.

My friend and neighbor, Deshonda was telling me about Wes Hall, who’s an educational consultant, motivational speaker, and author. She filled me in on his workshop, then she told me about his book, “You Are the Money.” That alone piqued my interest enough to run to Amazon for a quick download. It took me about a week to read it because I was busy taking notes on every single chapter. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The message alone was life-changing. Think about that for a moment, “You Are The Money.” Really let that sink in.

Done? Powerful huh? One of the main points I got from the book is investing in your moneymaker which is you. Tiger Woods is the product that generates his millions. Oprah Winfrey is the product that generates her billions. You get it? They invested in themselves (time, finance, sacrifice, and education (which can be formal and/or informal). Stop waiting on outside sources to generate your income. Learn all you can, grow as much as you can, so that people are willing and ready to pay top dollars for what you have to offer.

So enough about that, but you can download the book if you’re interested in reading it You Are The Money Now, back to my story. I enjoyed the book so much that I talked about it on Twitter. Wes read what I’d written, no surprise there since I tagged him LOL! Anyway, he sent me this message.

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It didn’t take long for me to accept that offer. Of course I wanted to be on his show! His book was awesome and he’s doing exactly what I hope to be doing one day, traveling around the world speaking and selling books. (Side note: When you have a clear goal in mind the smartest thing to do is learn from those who are already doing it.)

Well, I emailed Wes and waited for his response, which never came. However, as God would have it (I don’t believe in luck), Wes came back to Louisiana to do another workshop in Deshonda’s school district. I learned from Wes that as soon as he walked in the room, Deshonda told him that he knows her friend. When she told him it was me he was floored. How is it possible that Wes, who lives in California, from his knowledge has no family or friends in Louisiana, could possibly know Deshonda’s friend? (6 degrees of separation!)

Deshonda and Wes called me, and we I finally got a chance to talk. Wes scheduled our radio interview for that upcoming Thursday and can you say EXCITED! I was going to chat with Wes Hall, whose mentor is the one and only Les Brown. I love me some Les Brown by the way. Les’ book “Live Your Dream” was the first book my dad gave me when I left for college. I still have that book and refer to it often.

So, back to the show. The day of the interview I was so nervous. I’ve done countless radio interviews, but for some reason this one felt different. I can’t explain it, but something inside of me told me this was going to be the beginning of something BIG, and I still believe that. It’s been my experience that every opportunity God sends always leads to something even better than I imagined. This one will too. Just wait and see 

Well, now that you’re all caught up and understand how this interview came to be, below is the recording. I come in around the 21 minute mark. Enjoy and tell me what you think.

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Radio Interview with Wes Hall

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4 Ways to Keep the Holidays Happy

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“Hey there, what are you up to?”

I can hear his voice just as clear as my own.

“Nothing much, just prepping my ingredients to get ready to cook.” Would be my response. He’d call around the same time every year for one request and one request only.

“You’re making a pound cake?” He’d ask already knowing the answer.

“Of course I am.” I’d smile at the knowledge of how much he enjoyed him some pound cake.

Cooking for my daddy was one of the greatest joys of the holidays. Seeing him sitting at our table enjoying the food I’d prepared and served to him. That was the highlight of my Thanksgiving, but last year that call didn’t come. It didn’t come this year either, and it’ll never come again, not from him.

Now understand this isn’t my first rodeo with this feeling. I had it in 1990 when my mother passed, then again in 2012 with the loss of my daughter. It’s not like the rest of the year is a breeze when dealing with grief, but the holidays seem to add an extra dose of sadness… if you allow it.

The lessons I’m sharing aren’t  from reading articles or performing interviews. These lessons come from real life experience. How I learned to keep the happy in the holidays.

Lesson 1: Recognize it for what it is.

If you’re sad, irritable, frustrated, and just not in the mood to deal with people, especially around this time, it could be that you’re grieving and don’t realize it. The funny thing about grief is it has a way of sneaking up on you and making you feel like you’re crazy. Your emotions are all over the place. Take some time for you. Listen to your feelings and don’t dismiss it as nothing. Allow yourself the time to grieve. Pushing it down won’t help. Cry if you need to cry. Scream if you need to scream. Slap someone if you….okay maybe that’s going too far :), but you get the point. Don’t brush it off.

Lesson 2: Talk about it.

These last few days I found myself feeling “blah.” I didn’t know why, all I knew was everyone was working my last nerve, though they probably didn’t see the eye rolls or hear the deep breaths… hopefully :). It wasn’t until I talked to my friend that I realized I was most likely feeling this way because the holidays are here and I’m missing my dad. After I talked with her, I felt so much better. My daughter even said you seem different. You’re acting goofier than usual LOL! Which takes me to my 3rd point.

Lesson 3: Try to be happy

During this time you have to try harder than normal to be happy. After you’ve cried or screamed, and talked to someone, then you put in the extra effort to be happy. Yesterday I joked around with the children and their laughter caused me to laugh. There’s something magical about laughter; you should try it. Find a funny movie or some funny Youtube videos. Before you know it you’ll start to feel lighter. It’s as if the laughter pushes the burden of grief right out of you. I’m serious it works, try it and see.

Lesson 4: Surround yourself with people

People feel like they’re down and they don’t want to bring others down, so they decide to stay home alone. BIG MISTAKE! Instead of going thinking you’ll bring others down, go with the attitude that they’re going to pull you up. Open yourself to receiving their energy instead of exerting yours on them.

I really hope these tips help you to have a happy holiday season. Remember that your happiness means more to your loved one than anything else. My parents and my baby were happy people. I’ll honor their memory by living the happiest life I can.