A Redemption Story: the Reese Edition (Part 1)

Almost eleven years ago my dad shot and paralyzed his nephew. Ten years ago he entered prison, and tonight, Lord willing and April Fools’ Day hijinks notwithstanding, he will be released.

Most of you who already know me know the whole story; you’ve been with me for the past ten years when the sentence first felt stunning and surreal and then “just the way it is” and now, holy-crap-has-it-been-ten-years-already?! You’ll never know how much your support has sustained me; how nick-of-time those jokes, happy hours, hugs and “just because” or “don’t worry about it, I’ve got it this time” gifts were. Thank you. I really do know with my whole soul that I have the greatest friends and family in the entire universe.

As he has served his time I won’t get into trying to justify what caused him to lose his temper, but I will say that my dad is not a monster or some deviant hellbent on terrorizing people. He allowed someone to get the better of him in a moment that lived in an entire series of passive, festering moments. He’d be the first one to choke-laugh his way through admitting he hasn’t been and never was interested in being a saint. There’ve been too many hurts, too many familial fractures and too many untended wounds in his life … but that was then.

The most important thing I’ve learned these last ten years is that my parents are people too. Choosing to meet and see them as such has been the most challenging and affirming and wondrous thing I’ve yet to do.

I’m writing this post mainly so that any subsequent posts or social media snapshots will make some sort of sense to those of you who may suddenly be seeing my daddy and trying to figure out why I’m so relieved and glad about it. I know I’ve made it seem like he’s always been around in some kind of possibly weird, not totally present way. Now you know why. I’m also really happy and thrilled to show you what redemptive love will look like–Mags and Pete have had an interesting go at married life, but love has never been more patient and sweet to behold. See also how “fun” wedges itself in “dysfunction” for two very fine reasons.

I’m also writing this post because I may need more of your help if they don’t actually let him out tonight. Keep the prayers and good wishes and happy thoughts coming! There’s been a whole lot of passive aggressive and just plain strange messaging in the weeks leading up to his release–both inside for him and outside for us–and because I’ve dealt with this prison system for the past ten years I know well enough that power plays and last-minute-because-I-said-so change-ups are sadly and dangerously the norm. As far as I can see there’s no more reason to hold him–he’s served his time with better behavior inside than out!–but for certain people in positions of oversight and control it’s almost as if he’s been too quiet and too good for too long.

I’ve never heard of and have yet to meet anyone else who so wants to claim their loved one from prison more than I do. Ten years is a long time for a man who went in at age 57; for a marriage 44 years in the making; for two women in their early 20s and 30s. The four of us have become different people and the thought of having a reunion has filled each of us with more hope than any of us ever thought we needed to feel.

Which is why my dad telling me over the phone to take a dirt road to the left of the main driveway I normally use when I visit to pick him up at 3AM in the morning is so damn off-putting. We must report to pick him up at 3am but know that they can also hold him until 3pm. So there’s this 12-hour window where I need to be there OR they will detain him for another month.

I’m pretty sure Comcast and Time Warner both have better windows of service than this.

I’d also like to point out that I’m picking up a person. A beloved person, yes, but still a person. Not a pair of shoes or an additional cable line or a tax return, but a human being. Dangling him like a past participle in the middle of the freaking night after he’s served his sentence still seems to criminalize him in some way and worse, it dares to criminalize me and my happy, law-abiding existence.

This is just one of the things i don’t understand about how the prison system “works.” In no way do I wish or will I ever attempt to attack the services that are extended to victims of crimes, but I have to wonder, into which “class” of victim do I fall? I haven’t been able to call or visit my dad without being subjected to irascible correctional officers, and don’t even get me started on the mail. That’s a whole other post.

Seriously.

But where can I go where other people are talking about the added expense that some families take on to care for their loved ones? And before you even think about saying that prisoners live better than you do–just go ‘head and take it somewhere else. I’ve got bank statements and receipts from the inside that will tell you otherwise. They will sho’nuff tell you that you will want to know where your tax payer dollars are really going. Hint: it ain’t to this mythical, well-equipped gym, or the 50 beds/66 inmates dormitory ratio or the 3 “square” meals and they absolutely are not covering healthcare or these so-called prison industry positions. (They could be going to a doctor who may or may not have practiced as a gynecologist for 30+ years before becoming the primary care physician at an all-male facility though!)

At any rate, I’ve been struggling with this whole process FOR TEN YEARS and it’s just now starting to break free in my writerly mind and I just need to express myself and y’all are always telling me to write more anyways so … thank you :)

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These Get Me Erry Single Time

You know how you’ll be flipping channels and then you see it–that movie you know you love, but you kinda forgot about how much you loved it and so you start watching it again … for approximately the 47th time?

These are the ones that get me erry single time. I’m listing them here because a) I’m all about lists today, b) it’s a running reminder of a list of the ones I still need to buy (or recoup from happy borrowers) and c) I’m curious to know if you feel the same, and if so, which movies pull you right back in*?

In no particular order (because regardless of what I’m supposed to be doing I always seemingly have infinite numbers of hours to while away):

  1. O Brother Where Art Thou? The reasons are endless, but I do happen to love a Dapper Dan man … in theory. That pomade does look like it’d stank in high Mississippi heat. There’s also the plethora of literary and film allusions, the amazing soundtrack, the hi-larity of singin’ into a can, the importance of knowing when to are-you-en-en-oh-eff-tee, discovering the sort of geographical oddity that’s 2 weeks from errywhere and the sensational tomfoolery of infiltratin’ a certain, uh, secret society. Oh, and it’s bonafide.
  2. Layer Cake. Dudes. I watched this when it first came out, which was earlier in the stages of my Anglophilia, so I didn’t do the whole, “Oh my gosh! That’s the person who was in Harry Potter/The Dark Knight Rises/Persuasion, Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go-Lucky, Made in Dagenham, Desert Flower (Yo, I loves me some Sally Hawkins what can I say!)/Elizabeth/Skyfall (twofer!)/that one really good miniseries I caught on BBCAmerican this one time, etc. Nevermind the fact that this Daniel Craig had that good, raw charisma and dead-on wit and heebie-jeebie feeling about guns and killing folk; him was so human. In the words of Captain Obvious, all the layers in this story are fantastic and snipped, cut and shot together so beautifully. It was on the other night. I swore I was too tired to do anything that required open eyes and yet …
  3. The Green Mile. Caveat. Mags owns the remote 99.99% of the time. This movie seems to be on 99.97% of the time. It was actually one of those movies I never wanted to see–no reason, but I was just eh about it and now at any given moment you can overhear me singin’ “Bar-be-cue, bar-be-cue, me and you, stanky panky pew, pew, pew …”
  4. Any Harry Potter. Because I solemnly swear that I’m up to no good. Always. My mischief stay managed. Especially when mischief = procrastination.
  5. Gladiator. It vexes me in a terrible, terrible way to turn from it. It’s like Maximus is some wee child, or that drunk friend you drop off–you just gotta watch and make sure they get all the way home. It doesn’t matter where you first picked them up–in a wheat field, slaying tigers, wearing a super short skirt with strangely alluring unshaved legs–you have to see them home. It makes one feel whole and safe and happy and warm inside … or maybe that’s just the sound of Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard.
  6. The Godfather Trilogy (see * above). Doesn’t matter. I disliked III, but I will forfeit 9+ hours for the Corleone Family. I mean, is there any way you could honestly safely refuse the offer?
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Zestfully Here.

Zestfully Here.

There were always countless slivers of Zest soap in my Gran’s bathroom. They sat haphazardly atop this same rubber-pegged soap … thing … a half-dozen strong, willing themselves to return to that full, you-can-actually-do-something-with-it bar of soap status. It used to drive me crazy, that she’d never throw them away (“Who throws away soap?”), that they’d mount up in the corner of the bathtub, that they looked like they were scored together, but were actually all very independently, literally half-assed lathering pieces of work.

(Have you ever tried to wash any part of yourself with a sliver of soap?! You won’t wash much.)

And yet this morning I went to wash my hands at the sink and picked up this sliver on the left and, irked by its flakiness, I turned to the shower for what I was sure was actually soap and got the sliver on the right. I stood there, holding it, utterly irritated with myself and then I remembered her.

“Lord, help.”

Since we all inevitably become our mothers it was no surprise to me when Mags began stockpiling Zest after Gran died, but I never expected to become a used Zest collector myself. At least not so soon. Yet I found I couldn’t throw them away, because, honestly, who throws soap away? Like, why? I mean, sure, it’s a lot like rubbing two pennies together when you’re trying to wash your hands, but they do get clean …

See also: the bottle of Witch Hazel I took from her bathroom. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought Witch Hazel since 2011, and I’m pretty sure I just poured it into that bottle because it last belonged to her and she was always on me about taking better care of my face. (I know, I know.)

I’ve heard her laugh in my head all day today, and it’s been both funny and bittersweet. She ALWAYS got the last dig, and I miss that about her. It’s just one of the few things that made her spunk so marvelous to bear.

This ain’t-got-no-grandparents-left life is rough y’all. If yours are still with you, call or go see about them; have a laugh and a hug for me.

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Watch This.

Watch This.

I tweeted about this film a couple of weeks ago as I sat spellbound and tickled at nearly everything that came out of Merry Clayton’s mouth, but if you haven’t yet watched 20 Feet From Stardom you absolutely should.

I mean, it’s my not-so-secret, completely unlikely ambition to be a backup singer so I was instantly hooked when I saw the title. Nevermind that it’s since been nominated for umpteen awards, including an Oscar. It’s just fun to watch if, like me, you’ve ever wondered who the hell was wailing “Alabama Waaaaa-haaaaa-hoooo” as they sang it back to its sweet home.

The inspiration for this post came when I was driving home a few minutes ago and that very song came on the Oldies radio station I’ve really been digging lately. (Don’t judge me. They play Madonna on this station. And Wham. So, in my opinion, it’s not really Oldies, but whatever.)

Now I’m a South Carolinian through and through, but I’mma tell you a li’l story about my first encounter with this song. In high school, every year we’d have Class Day, essentially for the seniors. But every year this song would inevitably work its way into the soundtrack of the assembly and it was without question the national anthem for a certain sector of white folks. The first few licks of guitar would sound and some kids would get to hootin’ and hollerin’ “Yeeaaaaahhh!” like redneck Li’l Jons while us black kids, few of us as there were, would mostly assume the I’m-just-going-to-pretend-like-it’s-prayer-time-in-church position. This was the song where kids could brandish those confederate flag shirts Superman-style. There’d be a couple of choice boos and a whole lot of head shaking, but we’d mostly just wait our turn to clap on beat.

Now me personally, I always thought it was hilarious that THIS was the song that got people hype. I thought it was possibly because I was a geography snob, but the fact that we were in South Carolina singin’ and swayin’ so fervently for Alabama always puzzled me. I mean I heard the lyrics so I got it, but it was always kind of odd. Odder still, when I finally listened to the song all the way through, I was absolutely certain those were not white girls that sent the tail end of that song into the hypest of stratospheres. And the movie confirms that my church upbringing didn’t fail me.

I won’t get all overly analytical about it, but it is fascinating to think about the parallels between the backs on which the South was built and the backing vocals on which one of its so-called anthems resounds. Or maybe they aren’t parallels but strands that make up the most resilient thread ever.

Anyway.

Did you ever wonder who that wailin’ woman was on “Gimme Shelter?” To watch the film and hear Merry’s take on it, in addition to Mick’s just tickled me. I mean, everything is in the way she quotes the lyrics after initially reading them. I remember having the same reaction when I finally realized what she was screaming … like, we essentially made the same face.

I’m besotted with Merry because she’s so sassy, but the rest of the cast is so magnificent. There’s no Christmas without Darlene Love, really, but it was incredible to learn the rest of her story. And if you’ve ever thought God was trying to tell you something, then you know Tata Vega. You’ve seen Judith Hill in the prelude to MJ’s last hurrah, and The Waters–I had no idea who they were, but man they were not kidding–I really have heard them everywhere. Even in the Lion King’s sunrise. Golly.

But do you know who “Brown Sugar” was though? Originally?! Oooh wee, those had to have been the best of times though. I mean, sook. sook.

And then there’s Lisa Fischer who is basically LIVING MY DREAM LIFE. I mean … oh, so you’re just the principal backing vocalist whenever the Stones decide to hit the road? You just be travelin’ around, wakin’ up sangin’, lullin’ Sting into just lettin’ you do your own thing with those pipes? Oh, okay. Right.

I remember “How Can I Ease the Pain,” and I remember wondering where the girl with the Halle-Berry-cut-that-was-actually-of-hair-that-was-closer-to-mine-own and the tuxedo, um, dress went. The respect and awe I have for her voice and her active, ever-present decision to choose this path of melding her voice to give power to the melody, to enable a song to be delivered righteously just makes me absolutely adore her.

Anyway, I’m just sharing this (again) because it’s one of my recent favorites, and it seems like I’ve heard SO many of the songs from the movie lately and it just bathes them in this whole new, fun, insider-y light. So fun.

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‘Cause Sistahs Are Doin’ It For Themselves!

So I’m riding this wave of oh-right-I-do-have-a-blog . Who knows when it may break, but for now ’tis fun. What’s making it so fun is that I’ve found some much-needed inspiration, courtesy of my homeslice at work, Latoya. She recently teamed up with one of her girlfriends to create a place online “that both artists and those who appreciated the arts would enjoy. No gossip, no negativity, just a positive space that celebrates art and the artist. A place where we could tell our stories, share our triumphs and most of all shine a light on our art.”

We’ve both spent years writing in countless journals, on random sheets of paper, at the desks of our day jobs; years of nodding along in agreement when our friends implore, “You should be a writer!” or “You should write more!”

Well, here we are. Comments welcome!

Sidenote: I adore all of my commenters immensely. If I’ve neglected to shower you with appreciation or respond to your initial comment, I’m sorry. THANK YOU for sticking with me, for reading my observations. You keep pushing me; it’s needed.

So now we’ve got ourselves a li’l writerly accountability partnership and it’s so nice. The fact that we spend close to 40 hours each week together provides the easiest inspiration. Writing is now officially Latoya’s side hustle; it’s building to (hopefully) big things, good conversations, new discoveries. For me, it’s once again becoming a passion–something I just want to do regardless of where it may lead.

I love how I post something and it spurs her to whip out that notebook, and vice versa. I love how those notebooks now sit firmly and readily on our desktops. Our side-eyes at random work emails now come with ever-so-slightly raised eyebrows that whisper, “Is this material I should could use for something?” And if either of us whip out those headphones, it’s game time. The surge of enthusiasm about writing generates so much energy. It makes the day job work happen more efficiently, with greater purpose, because we have to clear out the mental space to harvest an opening line. Water cooler chat now includes mini-brainstorms about editing, best times to write, favorite pens …

The thing about somebody else shining is that it’s very hard not to be warmed by that light. I guess that’s why I get so irked with people who immediately opt to throw shade. Isn’t it just easier to bask in that light, absorb it and then see what you can do with it? Someone else shining should fuel you. Whether it’s my daily gchat chums, my #alwaysbeadventuring friend, my published writers/beacons, my mom-friends motherin’ all these beautiful babies, my movers and shakers–seeing them be their crazy beautiful, laughter-filled, sometimes messy, smart-thinkin’ selves makes me better. We have to keep each other lifted, so shine on and thank you for lighting many a way for me.

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