I don’t like these modern fictions, these post-modern, post-Western mythos of bravado and in-the-face-of-death steelinesses. I was afraid it would be him; of all of them he was the one I preferred most; more than the redhead, more than the Southern belle. And oddly, it was the black woman who was most out of character. She the one whose actions the most twisted into a John Wayne legacy of “we’ll care for him ourselves.” “Let me take him, Horatio,” she soothes; “let me take him.” And it is horrifying what she’s proposing. Because it is a crime scene, she is the M.E., and he was one of theirs.

How have we come to a place where it is the redhead, the one in charge, the white man, who sheds the first tear, is the most shaken, displays the most humanity, the deepest hurt? How have we let this happen? We were the conscience of the nation. We were on the side of right, of justice. We knew the most about hurt because we had been stripped of everything. How have we come to a place, a state of mind, of being, in which a black woman takes charge of the carving up of a much-loved team member, the staid one, the intellectual one, the one I loved best because he wasn’t flashy, wasn’t super handsome, traded on his brain and not his body? When did this transition occur?

A changing of the guard, and I’m not sure I like it. I prefer certainty in my old age. Leave feeling, rightness, conscience to Blackness, let us hold our rightful place of emotion, deep keening, let us continue to teach them how to hold, express, sorrow. For we have known no end of it. Don’t let’s become them: steel-eyed reservists who persevere despite grief, cops who do the job they must despite losing one of their own; when did we begin to tell ourselves these fables of stoicism, of going forward despite the sudden loss of those we love, work with, care deeply for?

It is an aberration, this determined stiff-lipped working through the pain. I remember my mother’s body, prepared for viewing, her eyes sewn shut and her lips unnaturally pursed and I would have wanted to do none of it, none of it, I still want her alive and breathing, laughing, cracking jokes with her caustic, hilarious wit. I would have wanted to be there when they spread her ashes, would have wanted to see her soul take flight, her ashes white wings traversing invisible boundaries between the living and the dead; I’d prefer her alive and complaining than dead and helping me from the other side. I would have wanted to spread her ashes, but I would not have wanted to work the crematory.

When will we take time for grief again? Resist the television images that say it is noble to solve the mystery, find the criminal, though your partner/lover/friend lays dead, shot through the heart. Am I wrong to suspect hints of a corporate message, Big Brother trying in his resourceful way to build up our belief that we really don’t need bereavement leave, that when someone passes we won’t need a week, a month, a year to recover? Big Brother wants us back at work, upper lip stiff and in place. Our friends want to believe that we are essentially alright, that we are not breaking down and falling apart.

Don’t believe the hype, a popular campaign says. I would carry it further. Let’s go back, I’d say, to the pre-Christian tradition. Let us rip and rend our clothing, tear out our hair, cover our mirrors, let us wear black for twelve months, sob for a year. Let’s not memorize analyze compartmentalize the stages of death and dying, let us dig deeper, bury ourselves in our loss, for God’s sake be unafraid to feel something, something heartrending.

I have tried to put a face on it, tried to hold myself together, and the drugs helped; every now and again it pays to have a bipolar condition. Those mood stabilizers unexpectedly came in handy.

But I have spent this past year waiting, in my quiet moments wondering will it be now? Will the crash, the crumbling, the tsunami of grief, the storm that happens only in August, break now? I wait and feel incomplete. Until the hurricane of tears I will feel I have disgraced my mother, not done proper service to her memory. The drugs robbed me of a necessary violence of emotion. Calm waters are not always healthy.

The redhead cries quietly, still and stoic over the body. The black woman’s tears fall as she raises the knife, as she washes the blood away. The Southern belle, known for her gun expertise, lies about why the fallen one’s weapon malfunctioned. It is all wrapped up in less than sixty minutes. I remember when losing a regular cast member meant a two-hour special, a supremely complicated plot. I remember when mourning itself was dramatic.

What indeed are we preparing ourselves for in this, the twenty-first century? Who, by God, have we become?


Author's Bio: 


Niama Leslie Williams (www.blowingupbarriers.com), a June 2006 Leeway Foundation Art and Social Change Grant recipient, and a 2006 (July) participant in a Sable Literary Magazine/Arvon Foundation residential course in Shropshire, UK, possesses a doctorate in African American literature from Temple University, a bachelor’s in comparative literature from Occidental College, and a master’s in professional writing from the University of Southern California. Dr. Williams’ master’s thesis at USC earned her an honorable mention in the University’s 1991 Phi Kappa Phi competition. Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, she currently resides in Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Williams has participated in several writers’ conferences, including the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (2000), Hurston/Wright Writers Week (1996), and Flight of the Mind (1993). Her work has appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine; Dark Eros: Black Erotic Writings; Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of African American Poetry; Catch the Fire: A Cross-Generational Anthology of Contemporary African-American Poetry; Beyond the Frontier: African American Poetry for the 21st Century; Mischief, Caprice, and Other Poetic Strategies (Red Hen Press); A Deeper Shade of Sex: The Best in Black Erotica, and Check the Rhyme: An Anthology of Female Poets & Emcees. Check the Rhyme was nominated for an NAACP Image Award (2007).

Her prose publications include essays and short stories in MindFire Renewed, P.A.W. (Philadelphia Artists Writers) Prints, Midnight Mind Magazine, Amateur Computerist, Tattoo Highway #6, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, and Sojourner: The Women’s Forum. She has 7 titles available for sale on Lulu.com (http://stores.lulu.com/drni), an online print-on-demand publisher based in the U.K.

Dr. Williams hosts “Poetry & Prose & Anything Goes with Dr. Ni” Friday afternoons from 2-3 p.m. EST on BlogTalkRadio (www.blogtalkradio.com). The show originally aired from February to April of 2007 on Passionate Internet Voices Talk Radio, a station owned by Ms. Lillian Cauldwell of Ann Arbor, MI. Dr. Williams’ short story “The Embrace” was selected for the 2006-2007 Writing Aloud series at the InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, PA.

Of her purpose for writing Dr. Williams says: "I frequently do not err on the side of caution in my writing, but I believe in the purpose of it: to speak to the things others do not want to speak of, with the hopes of reaching that one woman, or her lover, or her friend, who refuses to deal with her pain, who hides from it, who doesn't think she'll survive it. That's the audience I hope to reach."