In my youth this was the place to pull my god brother’s afro and kick him in the testicles. We would end up in a full out brawl on the living room floor. The TV blaring. In my house it was called “rough housing” but here my uncle would cheer me on. “Get him Shawwwneee!”
Then there was college. I’d come here with my canary yellow drawstring laundry bag. I could go home but here I was treated as a guest and a resident simultaneously. I’d walk into my godmother’s home and breathe in the smell of Chinese food. Everything was clean but also lived in. Here it was warm. I could go down to the basement and get a drink out the spare freezer. You’d smell tobacco and my uncle Will would be stationary watching some show that seemed ancient to me on his 13″ television. His man cave was humble. It was a laundry room and storage but it was his. I’d always announce my presence first. “Heyyyy I’m coming down. Aunt Jo said I could do a little laundry.” He’d scoff and then in a raspy laugh say, “If you don’t bring your ass on!” In the summer months everyone was here. My friends, my godbrothers and their friends. Their cousin moved in and he was the perfect addition to the family. My aunts would come over and make stuffed turkey burgers. The cheese would ooze out of them when you bit into them. The oil would drip down your chin. I don’t know how they could afford this revolving door of hospitality.
Now, I’m 36. I’m married with 4 children. I work full time as a claims examiner. We’re still “in the middle of a pandemic” but it’s like an eternal middle. I barely remember when it began and I don’t know when it’s going to end. I keep spare masks in the car and my pocket book. Antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer in every room. I spray Lysol when the kids get out of the car. I vacuum the car once a week. There’s Clorox wipes for their bookbags and lunch boxes. We always take our shoes off at the door. I’m still working from home and caring for my toddler full time. Everything is always this mosaic. My life is like her artwork. It’s colorful but many of the lines connect and overlap. There aren’t many clear definitive lines. All I know for sure is there are no days off.
Yet, when I go to Aunt Jo’s the reception is still the same. My youngest god brother is still there and he’s a gifted cook. I walk in and listen to the vegetable oil crackle in the frying pan. He’s slicing cucumbers and seasoning them with salt and pepper. My godmother is on the floor with a flashlight and a Swiffer mop trying to find my son’s matchbox car. The girls are in my niece’s bedroom choreographing some new dance that they want to perform for us, quite the unworthy and exhausted audience. Nonetheless, they are sweating and we can hear the music and feel the ground rumble. My godmother just smiles. She doesn’t tell them to shut the hell up or stop before they break something. Their voices seem to bring her joy.
The kitchen is different. There’s some renovations being made. My bare feet do a little shuffle across the brand new ebony floor. I like new things. I call out to my brother in the bathroom, “are these floors marble?” He tells me they’re porcelain. I look down and examine the sparkle of the light. My feet seem to get lost beneath me. I’m sinking but I don’t mind.
The pork chops are done. There’s no rice. Rice is overrated. My godmother takes my plate and as I’m rounding up my kids and hugging everyone she tells me she’s looking forward to seeing us again. We were here two weeks ago.
I feel wanted. I can’t even find the words to say. A speechless writer. A mute poet. All I can do is wave and say “thank you.” I haven’t been in the basement since my uncle transitioned. Still feels sacred. Even more so now. I think I’d still announce myself. A sanctuary is a safe space and I’ll forever be grateful for mine.
By Shaun Liriano