Yesterday, I cried. Today, the stream of tears continues to run down from my eyes and wet my shirt. Between the tears and cries, I cynically smiled as I gazed into this life, staring at nothing, but running through the beautiful memories we shared in my early American years.
In 1989 was a six-month-old young Nigerian that came to the United States in my late twenties. I came to seek the American dream and live it. I had no direction in those early days. No purpose: just imagination and fascination with the then America’s press freedom, democratic tradition and liberty. I wanted a taste of those fairy tales I heard from the dusty alleys of Nigeria’s megacity, about this damn “God’s own country”. After a six-month rough ride in New York City, I decided to join my friend and brother, Ed Jatto, in Washington DC. Jatto accommodated my early months in New York before he moved to DC. Our paths crossed through Edward Jatto, my brother and free spirit Nigerian and dearest friend that provided me a home and guidance for my new American experience. Carlene, you were beloved. Strangely you became my friend and guardian angel in that devil may care “Chocolate City”, Washington DC. You worked for the District of Columbia government. Every evening, after work, you would drive to our 14th and Ogden apartment to hang out with Jatto, Abu and me.
There was no romance. Jatto, Abu and me were young, innocent desperate illegal immigrants. You understood our lives in a strange land and offered to guide and protect us. My understanding was that you cared for us because of your children who shared a true African immigrant bloodline with us. There was something special about your personality. You were fond of me because I was a “skinny, crazy and bold tall dear dark African brother”. You were like my mother, my older sister and at times, ex-lover. Those days, I listened to your advice concerning beautiful DC chics.” Boy you better be careful. Most of these bitches are on crack”, your soft, infectious and affectionate voice would chime my heart with sincere warnings and protections from desperate DC chics and seekers of ” a good Blackman”.
Between the late 1980s and early 1990s the USA cities, including Washington D.C observed explosive drug trafficking, and drug use epidemic. The daily news was littered with drug bursts and or drug homicides. DC streets were scattered with empty crack cocaine bottles and tubes. We didn’t need to assume for long before the Mayor of that beautiful black city, late Marion Barry, was caught on video smoking crack in a hotel room during an FBI operation.
Carlene, about one year after my experience in DC, I informed you that I was relocating further down south, North Carolina, to explore a focused lifestyle and education. Your reaction was, as always, affectionately brutal and honest:” boy, please. That place is white people’s state. Them white women would rush your skinny ass, my African brother. You better stay here in DC. You can work for the District government cos you are smart. You are a journalist from Nigeria”. A few days after, you came running asking for my resume so you could get me a job with the city. I didn’t know how I convinced you to let me head South.
After I moved to North Carolina, we lost contacts those wondering years for about two years. I was shocked to see you at a parking lot in the apartment I shared with my new girlfriend then. She was white! That was the summer of 1992. My girlfriend and I came out from her apartment to drive out and there you were with a friend, an African friend. Something in us exploded. We found each other, again, like two favorite siblings that took different directions to life’s destination. You introduced me to that man as your new boyfriend. You had told him about me and wished you could find me, but you didn’t know which city or town I moved to in North Carolina. But faith and fate collided on that hot Carolina summer noon at the Apartment complex parking lot in Raleigh.
I later married my girlfriend. Carlene, we stayed connected throughout my marriage, life and divorce. We talked to and with each other every week. We were so close, yet far away. I trusted you with every detail of my American experience. You were cautiously curious and meant well for me. As I began to selfishly explore my early 30s sexual promiscuity explosion, I excitedly and carelessly confided in you. You were my sister that I shared everything. You listened, sometimes not supporting my irresponsible indiscretion, and expressed fears that “these women would get you in trouble. Nigga, I hope you are using condoms”. Oh, dear Carlene!. Bold! Blunt! Brutal! Beautifully honest. I still hear the echoes of your voice. No one could capture what we felt for each other. It was pure, natural and immaculate. We were free with each other, more than the birds in the sky.
You took a front-row seat in my complex and scattered lifestyle in this America. You watched me fall in love and smashed hearts. You were there when my heart was also bruised or near crushed by this thing called love. We carelessly loved those we fell in love with only to be terribly hurt. The rhythms of our pure love that vibrated from our sincere hearts were victimized by those who took our love for our weaknesses. Oh, dear Carlene. I just wished covid never happened! I would have called you, as always, thus: “yo! My bitch, why did you not pick up the phone at its first ring. Didn’t the number tell you the King is calling your old ass… by the way, I hope you are kneeling down as you are on the phone with the King…”
I always initiated those silly texts or conversations on the phone just to hear or read your response thus” Nigga please, go fuck yourself. You ain’t no damn King asshole, not even in Nigeria… what’s up my brother? Why haven’t you called me?” That magnetic voice. That voice wrapped in sincere humanity and affection. Death took that spectacular Carlene’s voice.
By the middle of the 2000s, my marriage was crashing. You knew why. You encouraged me to move on if I had to but I should break up without bitterness: “ fool remember you have two beautiful daughters from her. So do not fuck up and just go wild. You are their father. Leaving a marriage doesn’t mean you should leave the kids, nigga” I remember those late-night phone calls when I cried to you. Carlene, you were straight, real and comfortable with me. Most people who read our Facebook messenger exchanges may not understand our “ freestyle” flow. Since you’ve been gone, I go to the messenger inbox exchanges to just read and laugh out loudest, then cry, yes, I cry every time I read our beautiful, raw and unadulterated conversations: between two beautiful black people.
Carlene, you were the only reasonable voice that stood by me during my child custody fight with my son’s mother. You called me every day. At the end of every court case, I must debrief you. And before a court date appearance, you requested I called before going to court so that we could strategize for a win. While my friends and other acquaintances urged me to just allow her to keep our son, foolishly reasoning that “ a child shall look for his dad when he grows up”, Carlene you furiously and angrily, in your usual no-holds-bar character told me to go after my son:” Nigga that’s your only son and that bitch is trying to use the system to punish you. Imagine what she’s doing to you: an ex-girlfriend. What if you were married to her? You are the father of that boy. Don’t let her do that. Go to court. We have too many black kids without fathers. You are Nigerian. You are intelligent. She took your love for granted and took your sweetness for kinda weakness. I hate that bitch. And the worse part is that she is an African girl. She should know better than to try to use your son against you. Hell no, nigga!. Go to court and fight for your parental rights otherwise, that fool will mess that son up. Don’t do that to that beautiful boy…” That night on the phone, I felt the heat of your frustration and vexation.
Because of you, I got everything I wanted from the child custody. And more. Carlene, those were the last experience we had for almost one year until I called to tell you I was going to Nigeria to get married…. You wished me well, until…..
A complex world turned upside down in late 2019 and bowed to a strange incredible pandemic. By June 8, 2020, I learned your body was in the morgue waiting to be prepped for burial. Your beautiful soul and body fell to the vicious and deadly coronavirus infection ravaging planet earth then. That same day, I was inside the ICU of Wake Medical Center. I had been brought into the hospital on June 3rd. On June 8, the day you died, doctors said there was nothing they could do for me. My lungs had collapsed and my oxygen was flat. They just waited for me to die. There was no known cure, not even a vaccine. Carlene, can you imagine? You were dead on June 8. I was waiting to die on the same day. Two days later, I began to miraculously turn around to live.
Carlene John, It’s been more than one year since you’ve been gone, taken away from your loved ones by covid-19. I didn’t know you had died until Jatto informed me of your burial… This life! Our story shall continue.
- Azuka Jebose, a journalist based in North Carolina, United States, is a COVID-19 survivor.