Saturday, March 12, 2005

O, Death

i was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon, daydreaming about nothing in particular. i was wallowing in the afterglow of a great audition. i had been seen for some tv thing and when we realized that i had to alter what i had or discard it completely, i was forced to improvise my way through it and i nailed it. of course with film and tv folk, there's always the chance that they could be blowing smoke up your butt because that's such a big part of what they do (and yes, that definitely includes the music industry). but there are moments, even for them, when certain things can't be denied. this was one of those moments. trust me. i go into these auditions expecting nothing. when i get anything at all, it's more than overwhelming.

i love it when i nail stuff, especially if it's film or tv because the medium is so new to me and i'm still trying to figure out how to work it. when i do a good job, i feel as though i'm coming closer to getting good at auditioning for stuff on camera and that means progress. that means growth. improvement. i walk away feeling like i own everything i see. and then i float all the way home. i'm thinking, hey -- if i don't get the part, it won't be my fault. it won't be anything i did. it'll be something that's out of my control. like some guy behind a desk doesn't think i'm pretty enough. or i'm not tall enough. something stupid like that.

as i was lying there, i thought about what would make me really happy at that moment and then i realized that i couldn't think of anything because i was already happy. and that made me even happier than i already was. when was i this happy out of nowhere? it seemed to happen a lot when i was a little kid -- that habit i had of bursting into laughter out of nowhere, for seemingly no good reason. it has finally come back to me. i closed my eyes and smiled.

that's when i heard it.

it had been going on for awhile but i had ignored it. i didn't know what it was, at first. an alarm? someone's mexican soap opera turned up too loud? a hysterical child, maybe? but then it went on and on and on. at one point, there was a blood curdling scream that made me sit up in bed abrubtly, like my body was reacting to what my mind couldn't fully digest. my heart was beating so fast, i could feel its thumping throbbing resonating inside my chest like an echo, rattling my nerves, completely upending me. i knew what that screaming meant when i was at home, down south. somebody died.

i went to my front door and opened it. the screaming was so loud, i had to hold my ears. it was a miracle that no one had called the police. it was coming from the door to my immediate left. someone had tipped it open slightly, probably because they'd gotten tired of answering it. i almost pushed it open and walked through it. instead, i retreated back to my bedroom and sat down on the bed again. i am a stranger, i thought. i'm not family. i can't intrude. and besides -- i don't speak enough spanish to really talk to anyone. i folded my hands and placed them in my lap, closed my eyes and listened. i was transfixed by the sound of her voice.

when i left the house, she was still screaming. i could hear murmuring as others tried to console her. i stood there outside my door like a lost child, staring at that door handle, wondering what would happen if i just walked into their home with nothing but my throbbing heart in my hands. just then, a fat dominican girl with long stringy reddish hair in a t shirt and pajama bottoms came barrelling down the stairs, on her way to the first floor. i asked her if she knew what was wrong and as she said no, she knocked on the door to find out.

as a lanky boy came to the door and opened it, her screams became even louder and pushed us back slightly. i was right. someone had died. it was her great-grandmother. i went a little numb. once upon a time, i had a great-grandmother, too. i knew exactly what that felt like.

i ran into my Straight White Roommate in the lobby as i checked the mailbox. he'd come home to take a nap inbetween school and work. what's all that noise, he asked. when i explained, he said flatly, with a smirk, even--they can't have been surprised that she died. i mean, she was old, right? she was a great-grandmother. i looked at him for a moment, unblinking. i unwillingly supressed the urge to throttle him. i don't know what kind of family he had, but "old" in my world has never meant incapacitated. my great-grandparents were very active in the church and in the community, very much a vibrant part of our extended family on into their old age. my grandfather was a pillar of our community. i still have my grandmother. my beautiful grandmother, who is the mother of my uncle's church and who gets around town in a red cadillac and who still bakes the best bread pudding i've ever had. age means nothing. everyone is in God's waiting room. are we supposed to cry less if the last child of the family was stillborn or if old aunt ida was 92 when she passed away? if it's someone that you love, it's a shock when they go, no matter how old they are or how they leave.

but of course, i said nothing. i even gave myself a congratulatory pat on the back as i walked up the street towards the subway. i'm getting better at not letting anyone in general know what i'm really thinking or feeling. think about it: if i'd let him have it, even if i was totally calm and zen about it, he would have been completely freaked out. kind of like that upstate situation when i tried to explain a slice of my black female perspective to my white host and his gay white neighbor. talk doesn't change anyone's mind. especially when they're convinced that you're angry, violent and fabulous just because you're black and female.

as i'm mulling over all of this on the subway platform, my cell phone rings. and it's -- guess who? -- my little brother, moniah. the one that's on his way to iraq.

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