“It’s a big difference.”

I heard an oddly familiar, but very loud beep. I assumed it was an alarm at a nearby house and brushed it off. Then I heard another, similar sound, followed by my mother yelling that there was a fire in the basement.

My mother is strong as fuck. I hate referring to black women as “strong” because it robs them of the room to be delicate, to feel pain, to be vulnerable. On the same token, I’ve watched my mother not flinch during shit that would’ve killed me, seen her stand up for people whose voice wouldn’t have been heard otherwise. She is a wonderful woman with a gigantic heart who ALWAYS sees the bigger picture. And that is strength, to me.

But she was concerned. I could tell from her voice. It’s the same way she sounded as she saw me spiral through a depressive episode for years. Just like back then, she saved my ass, yet again.

I ran down the steps, leaving everything behind. I was in disbelief, almost if my mom was mistaken. But nope, it was real, the dryer that I put my clothes in just ten minutes ago went up in flames, quickly overwhelming the basement, if the smoke that was seeping upstairs was real. My mom tried to go back downstairs to the fire, and I yelled (without cursing, because yes, I wanted to) for her to not do that and just leave the house. I told my dad the same; I also told him to just close the basement door instead of running down there. That move was done to save my mother’s cat Cathy from accidentally running downstairs and dying.

I get my parents outside of the house. I’m standing outside, hoping the fire doesn’t reach the boiler and blow the house up, and that the cat doesn’t die. I’m also extremely concerned about me or my family contracting Coronavirus outside, as the entire neighborhood is outside now, talking to us. My parents, thankfully, were masked up. I wasn’t, but kept my distance when I remembered. Long story short, FDNY put the fire out, the cat was fine (but scared, hiding in an upstairs closet), and the house is intact. We can’t stay there for some months, but we’re in a nice rental crib, my family is good, shoutout to the insurance my parent’s busted their asses for over the years.

My mother said I saved her and my dad (and by proxy, the cat’s) life. I decided to just be modest and not think about it. I talked to my girlfriend about it and admitted that I agreed with my mom’s sentiment, but it was a lot to stomach. The entire time I was trying to get my parent’s out of that house, I was thinking that the house was gonna blow up and they were going to die. That’s all that was on my mind. But I got them out, got outside and called 911. I was semi-hysterical but I was much more composed than I expected. But my mom thinks I saved them. And that conflicts with my idea of heroism.

My father is a hero. He saved my neighbor’s life when I was a kid, when she fell taking garbage to the incinerator on our floor and cut herself on the glass in the bag, leaving blood all over the hallway. I don’t know how he realized what was happening from inside our apartment, but he got to her and called 911, and saved her from bleeding out, and got his kids, who didn’t have local friends, a close friend down the hall and a family that embraced us. And he saved my friends lives too, with the way he has always been welcoming; they love him and admire him the same way I do. Because he’s a hero. And he’ll never admit that shit, because that’s not his style.

My mother is a heroine. She spent a lot of years in the New York Board of Education. She was a teacher, administrator, assistant principal and principal. I’ve seen the kids and adults that spent time in her schools, the lives she’s touched. They have an unending respect for her, as does everyone who has ever worked with or known her. She’s saved a lot of lives, directly and indirectly. She’s won awards for her work in schools, she has had students that would and have put their safety on the line for her. But she also would never admit any of this, because she is modest, and humble.

I have done a lot in my life. I am not modest or humble or anything of the sort. But I try to be my best self each day, and all I really want to do is help and do what’s right. With all of that said, I am (still) taken aback by the idea that I saved my family, because I just did what was correct to me, while being terrified. I understood that my fear could cost me the lives of my loved ones, so I acted as if I felt nothing, besides urgency. I do truly believe that I am a star that hasn’t evolved yet, but I’m no hero. I’m just someone who is trying to do his best, who experiences ups and downs like anyone else. And perhaps that’s enough. But, maybe, just maybe, I need to accept the love when I get it.


Halloween weekend.

I’m back in Queens. Walking an assload of blocks home on a frigid night. The bus at that hour (its about 3 am) stops NOWHERE near where I need to be. So I hopped off in LI….and voyaged my drunk ass back into Queens.

Now mind you. I’m FINISHED. I barely had the presence of mind to stop at the local 7-11 and get a huge bottle of water for my now drunk and defeated body (it was a great night though). So I’m stumbling in the dark…by myself…down Merrick in the relatively unsafe manner in which is how I usually live life.

Somewhere along the way I have a bright idea.

“I’m hungry. Let me eat some bum ass Crown Fried chicken.”

I never eat Crown. Ever. Had it once in my entire life….thanks to a woman named Lorna who I just affectionately called “gramma Lorna” in a more innocent , younger , and totally sober time.

Grandma was tough as nails. Rude , even. But she loved me in such a pure way. She had this way of telling you things you needed to hear in the most disrespectful way she could. Wasn’t that she didnt love you ; she just knew this was the only way she’d get through to you immediately. It always worked. I always listened , even when I didnt understand.

If I may be transparent , let me tell you about my upbringing. I am a silver spoon kid. Middle class black parents. Got everything I needed and 95 percent of what I wanted. That other 5% was shit I got myself eventually. Family life was spotless.

My grandma?? Flew here from Trinidad. Lived in Brooklyn. Worked at the post office. Raised my mom and my aunt by herself (split with my also dearly missed grandfather , Papa). She’s done it all. She struggled at some point. Her role in my mind was to help keep me grounded and remind me that everyone didn’t have it like me.

So yes , one day she took me and my sister to Crown Fried. In Flatbush. My fake uppity ass saw that chicken and fries and cringed. I was dreading having to eat this “hood” shit. I ate it. Thought it was average at best. Didn’t matter : any food Grandma put in front of me…I’m at least gonna give it a shot out of love and respect alone.

Now here I am , 24 years old. 15 years later or so. Tears welling up in my eyes at almost 330 am as I pull open a Crown Fried door and order through that familiar bulletproof glass. Waited for my food. Got it relatively quickly. Got the hell outta there and noticed I was sobering up quickly. The cold and memories of a loved one will do that to ya.

I’d like to say I was moved by something so random and almost “silly” because of the alcohol. Probably not. I won’t make the tired cliche “I just hope she’s proud of me” because thats not really how I think. She was proud of me when she passed and I wasnt even out of HS by then. My main concern that night was , I hope she knows I owe her so much. On top of that , I was happy she came to mind.

My grandma embodies my current demeanor. I’m friendlier than she ever was. She was only nice to family….no one else. But she was laid back. Say something crazy , prove her point , then sip her grapefruit juice and keep watching Montell. She was always the definition of cool to me. My grandma was beautiful. She knew it…she believed it…she wore that proudly. I always admired how she didn’t care what anyone thought; as long as her family was straight she was satisfied. I reach more every day to live life in such a minimalist way. I want to keep improving on my happiness and make sure my family and friends are in that same space. Everything else will fill in as it should.

That night , I got into my bedroom , bodied that greasy ass chicken , drank that Pepsi thats eventually gonna kill me if I don’t stop (but it hasnt ruined my skin….I’m still looking and feeling like this guy) and slept soundly. Knowing that……I ate that damn chicken and stopped complaining. Just like she would’ve liked.