I put tulips under all the pillows and then I set fire to the house. Sounds dramatic, I’m sure. I mean, will forensics even know there was tulips there if everything is ashes by the time they get there? I would know the tulips were there. I will always know. I will never forget. I bought those damn pillows. I remember researching which ones would enhance his quality of rest. The way you sleep impacts the way you live. He worked so hard, by the time he slept, I wanted it to be deep fruitful sleep.
She found a diamond bracelet in the back of the car. My daughter found it while picking up some fruit loops that fell out of her mouth and rolled under the drivers seat. Araina picked up the bracelet and dangled it in front of her face. When the light danced with the glass in the rear view mirror, I snapped out of my mommy daze. “What is that, Araina?” “Your pretty bracelet, Mommy.” I turned green with envy. My heart began to bleed. The last time we saw a movie, we fought through the first 30 minutes and left early. He was drooling over the main character. I found this to be disturbing and pathetic because it was one of those graphically enhanced movies like “Avatar.” “You’re getting horny over a computerized character!?” He just rolled his eyes at me. The chick wasn’t even human. I should have known then that we were a mess. I can’t compete with imagination. I should have known our reality was being invaded. Who was invading our reality?
I prayed it wasn’t something cliche like a chick at work or an Instagram model. It was both! Apparently, Lily was an aspiring actress. She was a brand ambassador and a party promoter but that wasn’t bringing home the bacon. She decided to get a second job working for my husbands telemarketing company.
One late night when I surprised my husband with an under the covers “special treat”, the taste of lipstick left a residue on my tongue. I could smell baby wipes and cologne. We were arguing so I don’t think he expected my mouth to replace his alarm clock. We were both surprised. He denied my blatant accusations. He labeled me abusive when I smacked him. I knew I was right though. I knew something was going on. One night while he was overseeing the OT crew, I hired a sitter and drove the 17 miles to the job. In a true act of absurdity and a visual reenactment of every urban novel ever read…there they were.
In the employee lounge, over the sound of the office dishwasher they were grunting and moaning. They were so bold. It was as if they were supposed to be together and that was their sacred space. There on the floor slipping and sliding in the free office supplied french vanilla coffee creamer was their love nest. I decided not to make a scene. I decided not to ask, “why?” I decided not to beat the bimbo up. These were all quick decisions. This didn’t need to be a Waiting to Exhale Moment. This didn’t need to be an episode of Snapped. I picked up my pocketbook and returned the visitors pass to the front desk. I drove home without the radio playing and I slowly counted my breaths. I walked passed our lime green deck chair. My husband would watch golf in that chair on the iPad while drinking an ice cold Stella Artois in the summer. I kicked that ugly ass chair into the salt water pool and paid the babysitter. I then carefully selected 5 Lily flowered tulips from our backyard garden and placed them under all the pillows in our master bedroom. I packed two bags, unplugged Arainas Nintendo Switch from the charger and strapped her in the booster seat in the CHR we kept around for guests. Then I took a safety match from the glove compartment and set fire to the house.
We drove away from the flames and the ashes of my cremated marriage. I cried silently while my daughter slept in the back seat. I mourned my youth spent with someone who didn’t deem me worthy of honesty. I wondered if the smoke smelled like lilies or regret.
By: Shaun Liriano
Come 2020 I’m bringing back my poetry workshops! I was a contract creative educator for Queens Library in 3 locations in the past and I loved it. I have been praying on it and it’s time to start teaching some young hungry minds again. For information on booking please fill out the contact form below or DM me on IG @ShaunLProductions
Please view my how-to video on YouTube “Writing Process for the Super Busy” https://youtu.be/a3J8X0EaLtM
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What’s small may be a lot, what is a lot may seem small
Until you lose it all and its a rash mad dash for survival daily
Until your past is full of regrets and your future is full of uncertainty
and hope is a liability because deflation is defeat
It could deplete from the strength you need to fight for your core
The strength you need to prevent combustion
The fight you need to escape frustration
Adjudication is needed to make monumental change for the forgotten
Realities need realignment
Vision needs correction
Humanity needs connection
By Shaun Liriano
For information regarding organizations I am affiliated with that accept food, time and monetary donations, fill out the contact form below.
Note: This reflection was inspired by Gil Scott Heron “Winter In America” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2zKdIcOV5s
“From the Indians who welcomed the pilgrims
And to the buffalo who once ruled the plains
Like the vultures circling beneath the dark clouds
Looking for the rain.”
Follow me on Instagram @ShaunLProductions
My plan is to spend the next 30 years trying to make the world a better place. I will continue to volunteer, raise funds for good causes, write pieces that resonate with the beauty and the ugly that lies within all of us, and no matter how hard it will be …I am going to do it with a smile on my face. We cannot only care about matters that affect us directly. We cannot only be the anecdote for diseased parts of ourselves. Our humanity calls us to attempt to treat others with love and respect. What if we go beyond that? What if we actually tried to help someone even in the midst of our own wilderness? I went out on the 20th with a cold, with my husband and children, took a shuttle to the site, operated on 4 1/2 hours of sleep after taking my children to a party the night before. I walked 3 miles for women who have had mastectomies, women who have endured chemotherapy, women who have lost their lives and women who are too afraid to even see a physician because of loved ones they have buried. I walked because I can. I walked because I have the use of both of my legs and I have the will to be a part of something amazing. I walked because we are not called to shy away from matters that bring pain and disruption to the lives of others. I walked because I believe in medicine. I walked because I believe in God. I walked because I believe one day there will be a pill or a shot in place of devastation and despair. I walked because pink is a beautiful color. I walked because the energy and the music and the courageousness is infectious.
I walked because we can spend years taking selfies until we are happy with the selves we see. Yet, I have no intention of wasting purpose on persuading the masses to click “like.” I want my legacy to be laced with the luster of love.
You have to walk before you can run.
By: Shaun Liriano
I have been in here for days. They are probably looking for me but I don’t care. They probably think I am in a dumpster somewhere. They think I’m wrapped in a black trash bag. So they are pooling together their resources so they can come together to raise my kid now that I am theoretically “gone.” They are part correct. They are probably more than half right. Which also means that there is an existing part of them that is “wrong.” Consequently, I’m right too! That is extremely comforting in this time where I really need a win. I need to be indisputably right. I’ll settle for this unofficial 33% though.
See, I met a man on the Colosseum block on Jamaica Avenue. He’s a security guard. He’s a grown man with a job and a beautiful smile. Usually, someone like that isn’t interested in someone like me. I’ve always thought of myself as plain. I’ll tell you one thing though…I have bedroom moves that would put a Stanley 68 6 way screwdriver out of business. I know how to make men feel special and feel in control. I yearn to be controlled and I long to be needed. Mr. Security Guard fits the bill for now. They don’t know anything about him. They just know that he is the last person I was with. They know I am either “flippin’ in the ghetto on a dirty mattress” in a bad way or…I’m gone.
I miss my kid though. The last thing I wanted to become was Her. She is the woman who walked away from me when I was a toddler and then She decided to come back on my 11th birthday. Then the Broad left again. She popped in and out of my life for most of my life sporting a cute nickname, “Mom”, that only she called herself. We (my brother and I) just call her Beverly.
My goody two shoes best friend has been going over to my house every day since I’ve been gone. She acts like she’s better than me because she stopped at getting finger popped and I went all the way. She’s saving herself for marriage and I wish her luck but I don’t believe in such things. Goody Goody is good, I must admit. She brings over food and toys for my kid. My step-sister and Goody Goody are home from their respective colleges for the holidays. I know they are just trying to make a bad situation less bleak. If they could only see the picture from my viewing seat.
Beverly is a figment of my imagination, my grandmother who was my best friend in the whole world is gone, my grades are great but I hate school, my dad has spent his whole life trying to be the character he created in his mind. In the process of trying to become this character he has ruined every woman he has ever touched. My siblings are their own beautiful messes. I love my baby brother and I wish there weren’t so many years between us. He might be the one to actually understand me. It’s too late now.
They are frantically looking for me like any good family should. They are imagining the worst. They are praying for the best. I’m gone though. I can see the breath leave my body. I hear someone calling my name. I’m surrounded in darkness and I f*#@ing love it! Every time I walked towards the light it was just a trickster with a flashlight shining it in my eyes to taunt me before he shoves it where the sun don’t shine. I know there is a God but I need help finding his contact information (there’s no yellow pages anymore.) I just want that warm apple strudel that slides down your throat baked by the hands of someone beautiful. They call it love. I’m been searching for it, I draw it, I read about it, Good Goody sings songs about it. The silence of my surroundings is drinking me in. I can hear my own noises now over the absence of sound. The nothingness pushes the walls on top of me. It doesn’t hurt though. I just focus in on the reverberation of thoughts so strong they could escape the confines of my head. In here it is just me and my madness. I don’t know when I will leave here. Within the isolation is the safest I have felt in some time.
I can’t hide in this basement forever. I think they teach Sunday school here in the morning at 10am.
Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership over that free self was another. -Toni Morrison
Fun fact about me…I don’t like feet. No matter how clean and groomed you may pride yourself on being, I think feet are the ugliest part of the human body. There is just something very alien about feet. The way the toes move on their own and almost have their own personality is like a never ending telling of “this little piggy…”
I’m 5’7″ so I have never had the luxury of “cute” feet. I carry with my frame the necessary foundation to carry it without falling on my face. I wear a sturdy size 10 shoe. I try to stay “polished” (as my mother calls it when a woman is neatly groomed) so my feet are as “pretty” as they are ever going to get. Nevertheless, when reading, We’re Going To Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union I had to think long and hard about a reference she made. There is a point in the book where she discusses the intimacy and seduction involved in a foot rub. It is a fleeting reference and not a topic she dwells on long. It’s like when you are reminding a reader of the childhood affinity they may have with eating an ice cream cone on a summer day. She just brings attention to connecting with a feeling that will place the reader in a subjective, emotional and deep sense of innocence. My first foot rub was not sexual at all. There was no brown skinned R&B group reject boy massaging my big ass feet with oil. There were no candles. There were no dimmed lights. There were no tingles up my spine. There was only Matthew Franklin.*
Matthew Franklin was a friend I made my first year at Pace University. He was kind, highly intelligent, well read, cultured, and slightly…off. That’s what people would say. Women would say he was “off.” Men would call him “gay.” To me, he was no different than the other male friends I had in my music and arts high school. Men who were considered “gay” or “effeminate” because they were “artsy.” Matthew was definitely polished! He was the first man to tell me about Vitamin E oil for my skin and hair and to point me in the direction of where I could purchase it cheap. He saw right through my tough exterior the FIRST day of classes. There I was attending a private university on a partial scholarship (I use this term loosely but I’ll save that for another post.) Our school was downtown Manhattan post 9/11 and the campus was beautiful, elite, and predominantly white. I grew up in Jamaica Queens. My parents were sure to place me in extracurricular activities where I was exposed to all cultures and most importantly vast socio-economic environments AKA what is now coined as “black excellence.” However, being in private school most of my life and the square of the hood I was determined to prove myself to be “urban” and accepted by my peers. I went to college in flight jackets (Generation Z, you may have to Google flight jackets) of every color and fitted hats over my perfect perm. I looked the part of the character that was being cast in the John Singleton movie that only existed in my own head. Matthew invited me to the cafeteria immediately after Anthropology class. There we talked about Franz Boas and pygmy colonies and every other geeky thing we could cover while eating very expensive croissants and drinking Alize out of Starbucks coffee cups to avoid judgement. It was so much fun! Eventually we attracted other closeted dorks and developed a crew of minorities. We had two Haitian girls (one of whom I still keep in touch with), Jamaican girl, 2 Black American girls (one was me), a Puerto Rican, A Dominican, and later a Filipino friend. As time went on we attracted more and we had some great adventures my freshman year. There was another group affectionately known as G.P.A (The ghetto peoples association) and we became cool with them too. We never got too cool with G.P.A. Many of them were men of color from Brooklyn who lived (how do I say this?) …lives that could be categorized as criminal. Most of them majored in political science so they could beat their own cases should they end up in an unfavorable circumstance. THESE were the guys from the movie directed in my head. These guys didn’t particularly care for Matthew Franklin. So we were “cool” from a distance.
I remember being in Matthew’s dorm on Fulton street. It had hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. We were all chilling in there watching a Mya performance with AJ and Free on 106 & Park (Again Centennials you may have to look this up.) Everyone was casually eating junk food and being intellectual or so we thought. It was hot and Matthew didn’t allow shoes in the dorm so I left my flip flops at the door. I remember him sitting on the floor next to my feet and looking at my heel inquiringly and saying, “Damn girl, your feet are ashy!!!” I was so embarrassed but he quickly grabbed some cocoa butter and started to rubbing. At first I was shocked and then I was immediately humbled. Up until that point no one rubbed my feet. It just wasn’t a thing. I guess, that’s why I neglected it too! I remember growing up Catholic and seeing the depiction of the washing of the feet ** in church. I would be so grossed out. “Ewwwww, I thought. Look at them touching, washing and rubbing strangers feet.” I lost the connection and the representation of humility and submission and service. The whole 11-15 minutes that Matthew rubbed all the black girl magic into my feet (cliched cocoa butter and all) I felt real friendship and belonging. It wasn’t sexual and sensual like in the movies. It was just kind.
In 2004 there weren’t as many discussed titles. There wasn’t unclouded science to human sexuality. At that time, (to my knowledge) you were gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or straight. Or at least that’s what was commonly discussed. As I continued getting to know my friend Matthew, I know he would be considered today as pansexual.* There was no released pansexual flag he could have waived in front of his traditional Caribbean parents then. There was no sexual identification that G.P.A would have accepted. He allowed “off” and he dismissed “gay” as the titles people found necessary to identify him with. He continued being himself.
I didn’t stay at Pace. The tuition was a little too pricey for me to continue being a Pace Setter. I became a Stony Brook Seawolf my sophomore year but I lost touch with Matthew Franklin long before I transferred. All we know is he just didn’t come back Sophomore year. A part of me thinks he was tired of the crap. A part of me re-visits the day we saw the news headline about a gay student who committed suicide on a nearby campus. According to the note, he would rather fly out of that window than tell his parents he was gay.
My thoughts on human sexuality are to be determined. I consider myself liberal, open-minded, Christian and human. I always want to be understanding of the humanity in everyone and I want to be compassionate. I am also a parent and I wouldn’t want my children to experience the scrutiny and violence that oftentimes affects that community. It’s a sensitive topic (to say the least.) At Stony Brook I remember watching television one day while supposedly studying and seeing Matthew in a commercial. I was elated! He wasn’t dead, beaten or some loser somewhere. In my young naive mind, he was successful because of that commercial and he was okay.
I don’t think I ever thanked him for that foot rub. I don’t think I ever thanked him for being my friend and truly hyping me up and telling people I was this brilliant poet. I never thanked him for sticking pepper spray in my coat pocket one night when I left campus a little late and I was taking the J train home. Its funny the memories a random line in a book can send your way. Thanks Gabrielle. Thanks Matthew.
*Name changed for privacy.
By: Shaun Liriano
RIP Toni Morrison, the woman who unapologetically told stories whether we were ready to hear them or not.