Updated: Oct 11
I've been driving since I was a baby, and anybody in my family can attest that is an indeed fact. I was only 2 years old in the picture above, and when I was 4 I hopped in my Aunt's car, climbed into the driver's seat, and pretended to drive her Ford Pinto. Just holding the wheel making noises really, until I decided to release the parking brake and my entire family started to notice the car rolling out of the driveway. I only got scared when everybody flew off the porch screaming at me but before that, I was having the time of my life. Since I was first allowed to start driving, by chauffeuring my Grandfather around because he developed cataracts, being in the driver's seat, in control, navigating, was the most fulfilling and calming thing. I probably would’ve enjoyed it more if he didn't bark orders at me every three blocks. Here he is, the one that can't see, trying to tell me, the one who can, what I don't see and about to hit. If I wasn't about to hit anything, surely I would get put in jail for getting pulled over going 31mph on residential roads. He made sure to notate that when I did end up in jail, to not call him.
In that though, was my peace. Controlling where I’m going. Knowing where I'm headed. Aware of the length of my journey. I always felt comfortable when things were aligned this way because it gave me clarity. I was prepared with alternate routes, backup plans, and an estimated time of arrival. For most of my life, I only felt this way in the car because I never knew where I was going, how to navigate, or how long it would take me in any other dynamic of my life. I always feel like I’m 5 years behind in real life and it’s a testament to that uncertainty that I only began to notice after time has passed. Life for me feels like driving somewhere new, using landmarks for directions, inside blanketing heavy fog. Once you get to the thing you notice is important, you’ve all but passed it. This year has been a weird space altogether because I haven't felt like I‘ve been in the driver's seat since COVID was announced.
Weird spaces are interesting once you begin to understand them. Typically, the frantic scramble of trying to make sure you're not missing anything is what gets to you, hydroplaning on the soaked streets of your mind and not even from the weird space itself, only your guesstimation of it. Its either you're trying to behave like everything is normal, and that becomes so tedious that it starts to seem like work, or you stand in fear of what this space might be and allow it to consume you anyway. I think I've done both, this year. The pandemic was something that shook all of our lives but some people had a really hard time adjusting to the effects and demands of outlasting it. The media constantly throwing death totals and preventative measures on the screen every day as normal programs went dark, entire cities looked empty, and even entertainment media and sports came to a halt as movies delayed, studio productions paused, and every major sport temporarily dismissed their respective seasons. The Ultimate Weird Space as everybody, just about worldwide, felt the effects of COVID-19.
I started to assess myself periodically throughout the earlier stages of the coronavirus pandemic, and I looked at it like a relief from what I was doing to myself mentally, week in and week out. My day to day was always high volume as I liked to keep myself distracted and busy, throwing myself into personal initiatives, and after almost sixteen months of the same routine, I felt like I earned a break. So when I got a phone call from my co-host, Courtney that we would be getting two weeks off due to it, a sigh a relief came over me. That relief over time grew into something very different. Avoidance.
I began removing myself from certain things, people, and predictable outcomes. For months I tried to keep silent whenever I was upset or bothered about something because people generally don't care. Those that say they do, are never really there when you need them to be, and those that are there, have to hurt themselves to help you. Why intentionally make the lives of others hard when you can probably muscle through it by yourself all the same? I thought it best to just keep things to myself as I always have. There were a few times where emotions I knew I couldn't control would well inside me as I tried to wear my mask of grins and lies. Masks have been a part of my ensemble long before the ordinances of Gov. Kay Ivey were issued. Mine however, were less surgical and more Paul Laurence Dunbar. Needless to say, I don't think people even know what me being hurt, weary, or labored even looks and sounds like because of how much I try to just keep pushing. After a few weeks that "time off to relax" started to seem more and more like isolation. Especially to someone like me who is rarely completely alone. Now I was, sometimes days at a time. I tried to keep my normal habits once I settled into the idea that this is just how life is going to be at this point. I got a phone call from my supervisor that our department was being put on furlough and he didn't have any idea of when we’d be able to return to work. This was disheartening as I reluctantly applied for unemployment that would take two months to even start, and end even faster than the time it took me to wait for it. Although I had the motive and the way to do a lot of the things I once enjoyed, the will would never metastasize. Even doing my podcast as a live stream which would have normally lifted my spirits, started to feel like it did the last three months of 2019. Labor. I could feel everything around me changing. My relationships, my interests, my drive, my tastes, my weight, my ambition, my coherency. Everything looked and felt different to me and as I look back, I see that this was the fall into depression that I feared. I always said if I can crack a smile, I’m fine. That’s not how it works unfortunately, just because you can laugh doesnt mean you’ve avoided depression. Depression doesn’t mean you can’t smile, it means you have no will to find a way to laugh consistently because of things that plague you internally.
You always see posts that champion mental health, oftentimes encouraging you to "check on your strong friends" but I've come to realize it's just something people either just repost, or say in reference to themselves because they're the strong friend that needs help. I was the strong friend's strong friend in most cases and outside the extremely few people that surround me socially as I type this, I can honestly say that most people just like talking about the things they care about, not actually doing the things because they care about them. Weeks went by and I would attempt to force myself to go places just for the social interaction I craved. I don't think anybody at that time needed me around or requested me around for that matter, but I needed people and I never knew how to ask for it. I have always been somebody that didn't know how to ask for anything because as a child I was typically treated like a burden or an annoyance. So if it wasn't given to me, I didn't get it. I guess some things don't change.
Over time, I've watched as many people slowly started back their routines, I was awaiting that phone call to go back to work because my job was already announcing the opening of its doors. I would text my supervisor and he never knew anything as his boss was furloughed just as I was. On top of that, my Mother was finally starting to lose some of the weight she's carried for years eating healthier and drinking water. Taking her to the store myself and helping her buy healthier options was practically my weekly routine. Now I’m traveling with an older woman that’s not in her best health, amidst a pandemic.
Although not she nor are her requests ever hard to fulfill, its just the discomfort in having to be around people who may be sick and not know it in proximity with someone who doesn’t have the most proficient immune system. Feeling this way, feeling recluse, feeling uninspired, feeling anxious in public spaces. This is where I began to document my thoughts because I felt like I was headed back to the depths of 2011, where I fell into a deep depression that involved two extended stays in the hospital, all over again.
As time passed, I knew where my head had been so far. I thought to myself that maybe it was just the Quarantine showing, but as the world slowly flirted with normalcy, I found myself dreading it. Trying to pretend and act the same as I did Pre-COVID, with what I know and believe about myself at that point and the world surrounding me, was a task that I was not only unable to perform, but I had no interest in doing so. We’ve all had to experience things in a very different, yet very surreal way. Some of us didn't miss a step and just adjusted, some of us started to lose our way and are still trying to get our feet back under us here in October, 7 months later. In the air of all that we were going through at that time, a shift happened.
I remember that one pivotal day in April. It was the Saturday before Easter and my cousin Jameka called me to see if I would help the digital service for church by reading a scripture for the Easter program they had planned. The idea sounded redundant seeing how I hadn’t been to church in over a year for personal reasons. Being spiritually fed started to become a big thing for me and I always left my home church feeling hungry. That, combined with some things I found out about my sister's childhood, I just elected to not go, and I didn't feel guilty about it. Well, despite my absence, Jameka called and said:
Me: "Hey wassup Mek?"
Jameka: "Hey I need a favor..."
Jameka: "We need somebody to read scripture for Easter service, can you do it?"
Me: "Ehhhh, I'd rather not honestly."
Jameka: "Come on Jonathan, yeen gon have to be here long just come read the scripture and be out."
Me: "It’s gon seem weird if people see me in a video at church and they haven’t seen me at church,”
Jameka: "Aint nobody thinking bout that, just come read it. For me?"
Me: *sighs* "...aight. I'm putting on clothes now."
Jameka: "Thank yooou!"
Me: "Yeah yeah... see you after while."
She knew she had me because she rarely asks for anything and she’s always there for me. So I sulked it up and went.
I arrive at the church and it’s just my Grandfather, Rev. John Watkins Sr., and Jameka. I did what was asked of me, I even had to find the scripture to read which wasn’t part of the initial deal I was presented. My Grandfather then gets up into the pulpit and in walks my Aunt Sandra, coughing, and I immediately started to stare at her as she took her seat. “Nope.” I put my mask back on and just elected to not make eye contact. My Grandfather gave his short sermon over the sounds of labored breathing and coughs and finished what we came to do rather quickly which was pleasing to me seeing how I really didn't want to be out that day. We shut everything down and walk outside where Jameka and I started to rap like we always do. The longer it’s been since she’s seen me, the more in-depth the talk we’re bound to have will be. She wanted a mental health check, considering we’re all dealing with an unprecedented level of “figuring things out as we go”. We start to talk until we eventually hit some family-based topics centered around her father's side of the family. I started to notice how the inflections in her voice sounded different when referencing the family we share together through our mothers, in comparison to the side of her family I’m not connected to. She would speak so proudly, recanting memories of their times and experiences together and it truly made me jealous. Everything she's reeling off about her father's side of the family is what I've wanted from my our own, and I was bothered by the fact that even people in my own family have one up on me when it comes to family.
I don’t think jealousy is just wanting what somebody has, if that’s the case marketing is rooted in jealousy. I think we become jealous when we become angered at somebody else’s fortunes and abilities. Hearing her talk about her father’s side of the family made me feel like I was cheated out of so much. People I’ve never gotten the opportunity to even meet or understand because I don’t have a relationship with my father. I started to wonder right then:
"What if a cousin I've never met, looks just like me?"
"What if I’ve missed out on tons of Thanksgivings and Christmas Dinners and Reunions?"
It's something I’ve always wanted to experience in totality. Family. The more she talked, the more my mind began to imagine, and lower I started to feel until I finally interrupted her with a deflection but an admission of how I felt. “It’s dope how you got a whole ‘nother side to your family. Like y’all got memories and you know them.” She took a second to digest exactly what I’m saying, and that’s why I’m thankful to have somebody like her in my life. Somebody that actually listens to me and doesn’t just say baseless things, just say them or because it’s “owed” to the conversation. “You have another side too, and you gon have to go get your healing.” I looked off to not show her the slight grimace I made because the jolt of anger that shot up my spine almost forced me to say some choice ungodly words on church grounds. “I guess...” I said just giving into the conversation because I didn’t want to debate about it. She continued, “You gon have to go down there, and get your healing because he can’t come up here.” For the first time in my life, somebody gave me a breadcrumb about my father. It was always anger in my heart for him, once I learned he got into it with my mother and then almost harmed me in the process by pushing me away at 4-years-old. I don’t remember that day, but I do have a distant memory of him leaving out the front door from our old house in Fairfield, Al.
5516 Terrace Ave.
I was always filled with thoughts of “How can a man leave his children? How can a man that lives just 82 miles away now, never call or come see two people he helped create? People he's responsible for?” The place I would be due to get my healing from was Montgomery, it's where he’s from and where I’ve always known him to live. I had opportunities to see him before considering the fact that I’ve worked in Montgomery, my sister Lashaundria went to school in Montgomery briefly before going to Jacksonville State, and my best friend Deandre went to and graduated from Alabama State. I even wanted to get to Alabama State with him after he would come back to tell me how his experience was. The beauty in history is that my parents met on the campus of Alabama State, so what if I was supposed to go? Knowing this was my Mother’s alma mater gave a slight incentive, but little did I know it was already in the cards for me to attend, even outside my thoughts of just wanting to becasue my friend went and I didn't have the major school push from my household. Talks of me going far off always made the room quiet but I’ll come back to that. Just remember that notion. Regardless, it always felt good to be down there with Dre’s other friends and I was inducted into their small circle as well as he was inducted into the circle I was creating in his absense. However, the thought of going down there now, solely to meet and see my father, was nerve-wracking. It’s not for work, or Labor Day Classic, or a Cookout... it’s just to talk to him. My Grandfather used to ask me every few months did I want him to drive me down. I would take a quick look at my Grandmother and see the upset stomach facial expression she would give. The thought made me hot under the collar because I don’t trust anything somebody could say that would avoid me in any capacity.
Most people have separation anxiety, I have neglect anxiety. If I feel neglected by somebody I’ve opened up to, I will shut down little by little until there is no relationship left unless they help continue it, and I will gladly walk away knowing you don't care for me like I care for you. Protecting yourself at that point is necessary so you won’t even expect to get anything back from someone you should. It is probably my most toxic trait because I refuse to ask and beg for something that I should have gotten all along, or I was due to get. We can remain respectable with one another at baselevel, but I won’t give that person the means to neglect me again. Afterall, I’m not here to get charity from anybody when I can make due on my own. I was neglected by my father for 25 years, in my mind. The only thing he’s done that I could thank him for is getting me my first pair of Jordan’s for my 9th birthday after "coming to see how big I got" and he asked, what I would like for my birthday and I put him in the spot. Another story I'm bulding towards that we'll come back to later.
I couldn’t stand the thought of my Father after my 14th birthday. It was the year we came back from Camp ON my birthday and everybody was too tired to even remember it. Every year we would travel down to Clanton, Al for the Alabama Church of God Youth Camp and Camp Meetings. It would always be the last week in June for Youth Camp, and the first week in July for Camp Meeting. This was technically the only vacation my household ever took, and we went every year because my Grandfather was also the State Chairman of Alabama. This particular year, both camp weeks were in July and the last day of Camp was Sunday, July 14th 2002, the day we travelled back home. I remember there were two rainbows in the Eastern sky at 7:14pm that day as we unloaded luggage from the church van. I took it as a point in time to remember because everything about that moment was centered around 7 and 14.
I sat outside in the swing under the Mulberry Tree in my Grandmother's backyard as the sun began to set. I stayed out there until my Aunt Monica noticed and walked over to ask me what was wrong, I simply replied, "I wanted to do something for my birthday besides church." She gathered the obvious, that today was the 14th and its now after 8pm and there was nothing they could do to make me feel like they remembered. Immediately she made me feel guilty by telling me what all they had to do in Clanton. "You just spent two weeks at camp Jonathan, be grateful because some people dont have that. We can do something for your birthday on another day but Grandpa had to preach today and God comes first.“ It makes sense in a demented way but, to make somebody young feel worse and using God to make your point just seemed a bit much to me back then. Hell, even now.
I began to think right then, “I wonder if my life would be different if I were born into a different family?“ Thats the first time I noticed that I was truly different, a genuine "black sheep", and I began to joke that my family brought the wrong baby home from Cooper Green Hospital 14 years ago. My temperment, and that of my family, seems a tad bit different on most things. My Mother and Grandmother started to share small details about my father at this age. They’d tell me how worthless he was because he didn't do anything for my sister and I.
I kept the belief of what they told me well into my adulthood. I kept those same notions because I never had anything else to believe. He had made efforts to talk to me using social media but I wasn’t here for it. I remember when I was in a relationship with an ex of mine, Jorice when she lobbied for me to initiate a relationship with him and all I wanted was for him to show just a little effort in wanting to talk to me. Neglect Anxiety. All he did was send religious posts and chain mail through Facebook Messenger, he never really initiated a real conversation with me. Then, during that same time, he reached out to my cousin Eugene via text and told him, "tell Johnathon and Lisundria hey for me”. It angered me beyond comprehension. We're your children and you can’t spell our names? On top of that, you telling somebody else, to tell us hello when you could have gotten our information for yourself? I hate when messages have to come through somebody else to me because I feel whoever the message is coming from should have a relationship with me that has progressed far enough for them to be able to talk to me directly. Giving somebody else that info just means you dont respect me enough to tell me yourself. I felt like giving him ANY leniency at this point was affording him a benefit he doesn’t deserve so I blocked it out.
All this is what hit my heart when I heard Jameka say, “You gotta go to him.” Immediately, livid. I’m the child, I’m the one that didn’t ask to be here, and here is yet ANOTHER situation where I have to be the bigger person for somebody else’s benefit. I walked away from that conversation with Jameka understanding that my father feels like he can’t come up here and so she was understanding of his situation. But why?
I would drive myself borderline crazy trying to imagine myself talking to him and exhibiting restraint. It was like starving and somebody offers you a plate of food from your favorite place. I would salivate at the thought of getting to tell him how I feel, and how my life is just one never-ending struggle after another because he didn’t have the backbone to check on his own children. Anger started to engulf my heart and mind in the days and weeks to come. Nobody knew, what was wrong with me but I knew I wasn’t on mentally. Days of punishing myself by allowing myself to feel guilty for everything around me. Saying everythings wrong around me is my fault. Everybody else’s problems are only the result of my failures to help them. I got heavy, I felt heavier, my soul felt dark. Sometime later a friend entrusted me with a secret, one that made the anger I was already dealing with, worse. I got to a point where that drove me into complete darkness.
Quarantine, Money, Father Issues, and now something I have to take to my grave, per request. Well, my life started to spiral because everything that gave me joy and helped me endure, has all but been eradicated due to COVID. Days of sitting in my room, binge-watching things lifelessly for hours just trying to drown out my own thoughts. I craved a genuine distraction, but nothing was as it seemed with anybody anymore. This would continue for a few weeks until the Saturday before Mother’s Day where I was forced to finally look at how I'm polluting myself. I went to see my Mother that day since I was in Bessemer, and I saw something while going to ring the doorbell at my Aunt's where she lived that drug up some memories I had all but locked away. I saw something that reminded me to take care of my own mental health. It was a sun catcher my Mama painted while she was in the hospital in 2000. She was in a psychiatric ward during the holidays from a mental breakdown she had. When I was forced to go see her, because I was scared to, she was painting a sun catcher with watercolors. My grandfather prayed in the psyche ward at UAB like he was trying to pray away whatever my Mother fell into. After his resounding “Amen!” Mama looked me directly in my face, told me she loved me, and that she was going to get better. She finished her holiday-themed sun catcher, gave me a huge hug, and to find a spot for her sun catcher. Seeing it always put things in perspective when dealing with my mother, but on this day? This time it was for me. Although looking back now, it was foreshadowing something much more.
To Be Continued...