In the summer of my ninth year, I went to a psychiatric ward. I saw my mother’s eyes wide, wider, her fear a physical thing. She whispered something private into my ear; something like “Save me”. I couldn’t. She was kept. I was left to the care of others.
I was driven away in a small brown car. My grandmother and uncle moved me, room to room like one moves a wilting plant. Chasing sunlight? Finding a favorable shadow? Looking for some sense of viability? I went blank. I let the forgetting begin then, that much I recall.
In time, I relearned most of the things I lost. I learned how to cry, with real tears and not will death in my own taut beige skin. I learned to write what I meant, what I felt inside and not what I expected others would look for. I learned to answer, though this was a newfound trait, the many psychotherapist's and family member's inquiries I met as the year went cold: to hug my stuffed animals affectionately to give the impression of adjustment, to cast my eyes downward when I wanted to prove myself chaste and well-intentioned. It seemed to work.
As the Christmas season coursed its way down the snowy streets that arteried Roxbury, I was able to see my parents again. My taller-than-most father with the freckles and hazel eyes. His loud voice and I-will-kick-anyones-ass temperament. My mother with the lilting voice (much like my own in adulthood) and beautiful burnt sienna hands. We rode in a rental, went from discount store to discount store, my father carrying on a family tradition of Christmas. Ensuring, as my Nana always did, everyone who was from or rumored to be a Randolph got a gift. Every one of the 9 siblings, the 26 grandchildren/nieces/nephews, everyone got a gift.
My father was and is the greatest steward of this tradition. Uncle Randy’s claim to fame (positive one at least) is his entrance on Christmas night: one, maybe two garbage bags in had, handing out whatever comes out of the bag, to whomever is closest to him. My cousins and I joke about what the hell may come out. But, truth be told: we all get something.
This year, for the first time since I was nine, I went Christmas shopping with my parents. I went into a Building 19! I scoured the aisles at Job Lot! I found myself eyeing (for purchase) no name body wash! I even smiled at my father smoking a Newport outside of the car I use (almost exclusively) to pick up organic groceries, to ride my suburban commuter train, and/or to attend mommy and me yoga. Ain’t that some shit?!
At the end of the night, I brought my parents (against their remaining will) to my house. They’ve never been. They live in an apartment roughly the size of my kitchen. Smaller than my 375 square foot studio when I lived in Harlem. And a lot rougher around the edges. It’s a hard life. They have a roof over their heads, and a lot of determination. But they live a very complicated life. When they came in, my mothers eyes were wide, this time, with awe, happiness. She sat comfortably on our couch. Mundane for most. My mother hasn’t sat on a couch in someone’s home since 1990.
My father, lord is he my father. Wandered my house taking inventory. Coursed down into the basement. Counseled me on my loud ass toilet, the creaking doors, and how the house should have been built on some kind of thing I’ll never remember the word for. He told me to get the dry cleaning off the damn couch in the bedroom. To not let the cats go into Zora’s room, or get in her bed. Some other stuff too. I know he meant to say he was proud. I know him enough to know that’s what he was saying. He also drank Brian's rum. Nervy stubborn man. Thank God we left before the dishwasher starting rumbling.
On our ride home, everyone was quiet with contentment. I dropped them at the door of the brownstone, sped off and crept back to make sure they didn’t forget anything, and didn’t have to see me cry.
It’s been a lot of rough years since 1988 when my mother and I were originally split. A lot of years (23) to be exact since we Christmas shopped as a family, and a lot of time in which, I didn’t want to do any of that shit.
But I got to. This year. And that was the greatest gift.
It really was.