For the Rest of Your Life

RIP Nana Bea

My one year old runs her fingers over the tattoo on my arm.

I remember when the tattoo artist said, “It’s still professional. A long sleeve dress shirt will cover it.” I wasn’t concerned with that back then. That was a tattoo I got at a shop on Merrick Blvd in Jamaica Queens. It was shortly after my 23rd birthday. I was excited about it because I finally knew what I wanted to honor my grandmother with.

My Nana Bea was a wedding and party coordinator. She spent a lot of time in her balloon shop. My aunt Darlene was the assistant manager. We worked closely in that business, many days a week, side by side. My grandfather would often have my cousins Jason and Tyson do push ups in the back. He would “toughen them up.” All the while Nana would groom us young women for running a business. I had so many “cousins” as young black children often do. Family wasn’t designated by blood. There were friends of family, neighbors, and extended family who all worked alongside us. We turned bare rooms into magical wonder lands. We made dreams come true. We built memories.

You see, my grandmother wanted to be successful.  She wanted to be a staple in her community.  She wanted a legacy.  She loved her children and took great pride in the accomplishments of her grandchildren.  I used to listen to her brag to her clients and suppliers about articles and poems I wrote. She kept our pictures near her cash register. This was best way for us to spend time with her. We worked to learn and earn money but we also worked to be close to her.

We ate vanilla ice cream, Pepsi or ginger ale and plain potato chips on breaks. These were big treats to me because my parents kept healthier options in the house. Those were some of her favorite things. Sharing them with her added to its sustenance. They were items she could eat quickly, on the go, so she could get back to work.

As Easter approaches I remember Easter baskets with big mylar balloons with my name on them. Inside was always chocolate, bubble bath, lollipops, and a stuffed animal. She never missed an Easter or birthday. We always knew what the business meant to her but we knew even if she showed up at 9pm, she’d be there.

She’d come over in her white minivan with my grandfather at the wheel with goodies. She was warm. She was always smiling. As an adult sometimes things get fuzzy. My Nana Bea passed when I was 19 years old. She died right before Thanksgiving. I wish I’d asked her in all the time I had with her, what it was like to be a woman of color with her own business. I wish I asked her what sacrifices she had to make. I wish I knew what she’d do differently. I would love to see how’d she react to social media and how quickly information and advertisements travel now. I remember dressing the store front windows for the next holiday. It was an honor. If she picked you to help dress the store window or put up a new display it meant she trusted you artistically to make her look good. Recently someone asked me, “Who encouraged you growing up?” It was always my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother wanted us to be reaffirmed in our beauty and she called me Princess my whole time with her. My maternal grandmother wanted me to feel intellectually confident. She helped with school assignments, establishing routines, and life skills.

Those of us who have tattoos are often reminded we are wearing veritable choices. We will have these pieces of art inscribed on our bodies for all time. I love my balloons.  Everytime I see it I see the smiling face of Beatrice. I feel myself standing in that building with confetti and broken clips (that held the latex balloons in clusters) on the floor. I remember the taste of Tiger Pops. I hear the older girls telling stories about the young men they were dating.  I hear music. I hear arguing. I feel her curly hair. I smell her lotion. I remember rummaging for the sharpest scissor to curl the ribbon with. We would decorate baby shower chairs with toole and silk flowers. I can hear her yelp when she’d burn her finger on a glue gun and then keep going until the job is done. I see my faded balloon tattoo and I see love in all of its wholeness. Imperfect. Mine.

By:Shaun Liriano

The Sounds of Stillness

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.

 

-Shaun Liriano

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Photo captured by Shaun Liriano