I quickly wiped the tears from my eyes so I could see who was calling me. It didn’t matter because I was so hysterical that I had no intention of answering my phone. After realizing that the call was coming from Africa, I saw that I had no choice but to take it. The caller was the very same person who had warned me that sooner or later I was going to have to deal with the emotional denial I had conjured in the wake of my favorite uncle’s death.
Coincidentally, I’d learned of his passing while working on a joint overseas project with HER. When the news hit, she offered to excuse me from the project, but I insisted that we continue. She noticed that throughout our collaborative efforts, I refused to take time to grieve, remaining dedicated to our work, all the while dismissing her warning; all the while telling her “I’m fine” despite her gestures of concern. Concern that I was NOT fine and needed to take time to process what had happened.
She and I are longtime friends, going back 8 or 9 years and I trust her without fail. On this particular day, I had to trust her with my pain. We were discussing the success of the completed project and how it was received when out of the blue, I received 5 consecutive text messages. I broke away to check them, assuming something was amiss. After looking at the messages, I told her that my sister had just sent me the obituary. That’s when it hit me. Uncle Comer was gone.
Uncle Comer, my favorite uncle. My good friend. My laugh buddy. The man who tried to marry me off to every young “big-legged girl” he saw when we were together. The man who knew I was sneaking into his closet as a kid to check out his latest adult magazines, but never let on (I could never remember the order of the pile). The man who would pull up to my house, then summon every kid within honking and screaming distance as the Ice Cream Man approached so he could buy everybody everything they wanted. My mother’s baby brother, but just as much her protector as my father was. Uncle “C”. Uncle “Buddy”, as she called him. He was gone.
I took one look at that obituary and began to sob frantically. So when she called me, I reluctantly answered because of the distance and time difference. Anyone else would have gotten my voice mail greeting. When I answered, she softly said, “Kenny…” and I cried even harder, choking on my own saliva and shortness of breath as she patiently comforted me from afar. She’d warned that it would hit me sooner or later and she was right. Thankfully, she was right there when it did. I couldn’t talk, at least not in complete sentences. I suffered through broken phrases as I told her, “It’s not fair!” “He’s gone!” “It hurts so bad!”; not knowing if she could understand me or not.
Our time delay was about 5 seconds, so her replies came abruptly through my uncontrolled guttural screaming and weeping. Any other day I would have been ashamed, knowing she could hear me, reduced to a fraction of my self. Reduced to childhood. It didn’t matter at this point. Nothing mattered. As I fought for intelligible expressions, I continued to cry as her soft voice layered my pain with comfort, sympathy, empathy and love.
As more time passed, I began to lose myself and all bearing on time and space. I felt myself being jerked from sanity, losing my footing and spinning wildly as the room became blurry, dim and unrecognizable. All I could hear, despite the room’s silence, was wind in my ears and the sensation of it on my face as I fought to regain my composure. I was losing it and honestly thought I was being snatched from the fabric of reality. I was flying away, sinking in quicksand, drowning in deep water and fading in a blinding blizzard, all at the same time. I had fallen into my own private “sunken place”.
Then suddenly, as I uttered the words, “God help me. God help me. God help me…” I heard two words.
Then all of a sudden, I felt a firm and soul-soothing grasp and tug from an invisible hand that took mine, leading me out of the darkness. Her voice, those two words, they anchored me. They stabilized me. They towed me back to reality, common sense, clarity and most of all, comfort and reason. Even with the time delay, those two words hit me precisely in-between “God help me’s” and exactly when I needed them most. I thought I was dying… …and she saved me. The closest friend, furthest from me, was the only person ashore who took my hand and assured me that everything was going to be alright. That I would get through it. WE would get through it.
The room soon restored itself to its natural state. The cacophony of the wind’s roars ceased, giving way to restored vision, equilibrium and that voice and her words, “I’m right here with you, Kenny. I won’t leave you. We’re going to be alright.”
I haven’t cried since. I didn’t need to.
The pain came. The rain came. The train came. The opposite lane came.
But thanks to her, I made it through.
In one year, I’d lost my favorite aunt, my favorite cousin and now my favorite uncle. And strangely enough, she was there through each tragic event. Even though my family is right here in my house, she managed to be here, in touch with me, through each occurrence. And she managed to get me right, each time, so I could face the world around me and the coming day.
She saved me. She saved me. With an audible embrace. An overseas squeeze.
And I am forever grateful for her. Forever indebted to her. Forever thankful to God for putting her in my life.
Not ashamed to say that she is my dearest friend, and that I love her.
She saved me…
…and today, I’m doing just fine.