Hindsight is 2020 (Juneteenth) Part 1

Arzella & Jonathan. Christmas 1990.

Being able to look back on events in your life where you didn't really understand what was happening around you from a more developed mind, is probably the strongest reason I started this blog space. I have had to take some time to understand a few things about my upbringing and the "how" things have ended up the way they have since my last entry. It took time to process the magnitude of the information I've been given. I finally realized all of the answers were always visible. I just have to take what I've learned about myself, the totality of my transgressions, and my family history, and hold it up against the very events I remember.

When looking at pictures, the effects they have on you are different for different people. However, for me, they literally hold 1,000 words. Those words will then start to arrange themselves telling a story to me as I sit with them, and that's what I'm here trying to put together as a release for me, but transparently for your personal discernment.

I, by no means, feel like I'm here to tell you how to live your life narrating my downsides and shortcomings. I am rather, showing you the "how" I'm analyzing myself. If you should so choose to uncover your own mysteries, you have an idea of how far the rabbit hole might go. I'll be the man on the horse that rides to the cliffs to see how vast an army of dark thoughts and repressed memories are coming over the horizon.

This particular entry into my blog will be another journey, and I appreciate you taking the time to share this space with me. It is my prayer that it encourages you if you understand what these crosses feel like to carry. I open the door to reflect on how blessed we truly are. With all things considered. I feel like limitations sometimes come from beyond what we can control. I realized that a lot of those reasons, personally, extended past the confines of my life. Maybe this helps you look back and see the events that truly shaped you, and by how much. Certain aspects of us were divinely instilled within us. It is becoming my reality that some of the things that I have learned and consumed are mistruths that I've incorporated as gospel.

Thank you for choosing to give me your time. I deeply appreciate it, and please don't hesitate to reach out if you need to share your experience. I hope it makes you feel understood. So without further prolonging, let's go deeper.

My Mother, Marilyn, used to tell me how my Grandmother started to come around when my sister, Lashaundria, and I were small children. She used to tell us how my Grandmother would give us junk food behind her back, and bring chips and sodas to the house for us. To my mother's account, she had us on vitamins and juices regularly, with no candy in the house at all. Once we officially moved to Bessemer, my Grandmother would drive the 5-minute commute to my Mother's house to pick us up. We'd go around to other church member's houses, or to walk around Westlake Mall in Bessemer and she would bring us back a couple of hours later with junk and fast food. This is probably the beginning of me becoming that fat kid everybody knows me as because my Grandma would always use food to patch things up and make us children happy.

Now, this isn't uncommon, most Grandparents spoil their Grandchildren and return them to their parents hyped up on sugar. However, I'm now starting to wonder just how much and how often did my Grandmother has her hands on our upbringing, overpowering what my Mother may have wanted for her kids, to suffice what she wanted and thought was best for us. As time went on, so too did the resistance of my Mother against my Grandmother. She became very lenient in what we ate in the years following due to financial reasons, and while she tried her best to make sure we were well-developed children, this was the beginning of her losing her voice as I begin to analyze my childhood.

My Grandmother, Arzella Watkins is the wife of a Pastor. One who has been preaching since he met her in his late teenage years. She's the mother of 5 children and those 5 have produced 5 grandchildren when my sister was born in 1991. She never laid claim to one profession, she always talked about how she worked alongside nurses in hospitals, lead a Girl Scout troop, would occasionally substitute teach, and be the voice in the church through its Mission Ministry, and also behind my Grandfather when she felt it necessary. She would not hesitate to establish control in anything she was a part of. She spoke over people when she felt unheard and had no problem interrupting somebody interrupting service. It was just best to go with her ideas and opinions in public settings because if you opposed her in front of company, you had trouble. I always just looked at her as no-nonsense when it came to matters that involve her family and her work in the church. She didn't play the radio when it came to her role as a Pastor's wife or the Matriarch of a family. She's a sharp-tongued Scorpio, and from how many people had to go through her, to get to the Pastor, she didn't have any issues doing it.

She used to screen calls to the house so nobody was to answer the phone before her if she had access to it. If by chance she didn't have her cordless phone in her gown pocket while sitting in the kitchen, or on the porch, you could hear her yell at least 2-3 houses away asking somebody to bring it to her. I literally could be across the street at my Aunt Sandra's and hear her while sitting on the carport on her house. I look back and think she just didn't want any of the women from the church to call and be chatty with my Grandfather without her knowing who it was, and how long they had been on the phone. Another layer into that controlling aspect we are sure to visit later.

Now, this portion of this passage isn't to make her into a villain, she is a woman of God and somebody I've depended on for years for understanding and direction when it comes to my own choices. I do, however, think that sometimes her will, and what she believes is the will of God, is the same thing in her mind. Therein lies the downside, her thinking her influence in the church, and its community, grants her certain privileges and respects which it does, but not to the extent that she represents God inside of that influence. She is a woman who believes vehemently that her efforts into raising her children are the best because her children are looked at, by her logic, as the golden standard. Never considered how untrue that perception was until I started to get into my elementary school years. No, her children didn't end up with the stereotypical black household negatives, but it's a reason why between her 5 children, there are 5 failed marriages.

I'm going to reference this picture later, and I want you to remember how many adult males you see...

After Christmas Service, December 2015. 28th Street Church of God - Bessemer, Al

*Hearts denote Children(1), Grandchildren(2), and Great-Grandchildren(3).

The failed marriage that resonates with me most is clearly between my parents, and now after the events notated in "Easter" and "Mother's Day" I'm thinking more on how they truly separated. Jameka told me, "You gon have to go and get your healing because he can't come up here to you.'' Those words have eaten away at me constantly ever since. It's a never-ending repetitive loop and whenever there wasn't anything to distract me from my own thoughts, it was like it was playing through headphones. I could binge-watch something and be fine, I could go and talk to Dre, my best friend, but 10 minutes after either of those things ended, I'm right back to trying to get that one line out of my head. Then it's slip further down the rabbit hole of my own truths because I have to take what I know, and honestly look at it. Through the same eyes that I've learned to perceive life out of.

Why did Jameka say that?

Why can't he come up here?

What happened between he and my mother?

He's been here before when I was 10.

He got me a pair of Jordan 12's and disappeared again.

What makes any other time and that time different?

Why do I continuously have to be the bigger person in EVERY facet of my life?

It dawned on me that I am eventually going to have forgive somebody that, to me, doesn't even deserve it. Took me a while to finally digest those words from Jameka, but once I considered what forgiveness actually was, and how harboring this smoldering anger for somebody, was stupid, it forced me to think about how much I may have actually repressed for years.

I know for a fact that my Mother, Grandmother, and the women in my family aren't easy to deal with and that's as somebody born into this family, and "accepted" by them. Now, I'm thinking about and giving pause in my emotions to somebody that was probably seen as an outsider to them. I've heard my Grandmother talk about all my aunt's ex-husbands. I have heard her discuss my cousin Jameka's current husband. I've heard how she mentions, antagonizes, and stretches the truth with my sister's significant others. Combining all that, I can't in good faith say that my Father wasn't antagonized in these same ways during his marriage to my Mother. I have questions that will need answers and in the past weeks since Mother's Day and talking to Meagan, I've been working on what a lack of forgiveness and unvoiced expectations have done to me personally. I'm starting to sit in the realization of the failed relationship between my Father and me, and how I don't know anything for myself, just information that has been shared with me from my Grandmother, and my Father's ex-wife.

As much as I love them both, I know how one-sided they can be, and how reluctant they are at admitting anything they did wrong. As I sit and process, I question if I really want to open this line of communication to my Father. I know I have to consider that I don't know the entire story.

Arzella & Marilyn on Rose Lane - May of 2017.

First Things First, I had to find a place to put all this residual anger I have held onto. I've been vexed by the very mention of my Father for years. Sharing his middle and last name was a curse to me and its the reason but only a handful of people even know what it is. I remember hearing stories of how unfit he was, and how he never cared for us, and how he left us and never even tried to come back and help. That raging inferno of emotions has sat in my chest and ate at me continuously since I noticed other children had a Father and I didn't. I remember it was even something they made fun of me for when I started playing basketball in 5th Grade at Westhills. My family was out of touch with sports so seeing me play baseball, basketball, or football wasn't a priority. Those incidents birthed the anger I played sports with, it was the anger I worked out with, the anger I worked security with, it's literally been there since I heard my Grandmother say:

"He ain't worth nothing, he down the road in Montgomery and don't even try to come up here to see y'all. Y'all be needing clothes and shoes, Marilyn need help with rent, and me and 'Double' doing all we can. You already stay with us. He ain't fit for nothing.''

I remember that exchange like it happened yesterday. I trusted that she always knew best so I never even questioned it. He was nothing worth talking about from that moment on. I remember Father's Day from that moment on literally ate at me on the insides. I hated that Sunday in June with a passion for SO long and here it is coming around again seeing how all these thoughts began to swirl around themselves after Mother's Day when I talked to Meagan.

Life After My Father left was sporadic and intense from what I remember at 4. I vividly recall my Mother pacing around the center of the house on more than one occasion with tears streaming down her face, holding Lashaundria. I didn't understand the nature of what she was doing, I just believed her when she said she would be fine. I remember vividly wondering was this some weird way of praying like they do at church? As I got older and I saw her cry, I started to wonder if how she cried back then, was just despair and anger finally bursting through the surface. She was left in this 3 bedroom house by herself with two small children. It took years for it to resonate that she was walking in circles, praying for the "Walls of Jehrico" in her life to fall. She had a 4-year-old and an arm baby, wasn't working, alone every night, and trying to cope with a divorce.

My Mother was a formidable woman in her early 20's. She had dreams and talents that the whole world could have used but she grew up in a time, and around a people, and with a family, who didn't understand how to push people into their purpose outside the church. I think, in hindsight, since she never felt encouraged to go after what she wanted, that she threw herself into making sure Lashaundria and I were well-taught in the absence of my father. I guess preparing us to go further than she did. Her most consistent saying all our lives, in reference to us, has always been, "I don't care what anybody thinks about me and how I look, but my children gon be smart and look good."

She was watching TV with us one day and she had a habit of quizzing us on things that happened in the show we were watching, "Thomas the Tank Engine" was on and a "Hooked on Phonics" commercial played. She bought it, then started to teach us how to read and write herself before we were even ready for school. Her methods worked too because I remember being in kindergarten at Robinson Elementary in Fairfield, and my teacher started taking a liking to me in that "I going to stay on him" kind of way because she knew I could have been in the 2nd or 3rd grade already just from how well I could read and spell.

Mrs. Stack & Jonathan, Kindergarten Graduation - May 1994

I remember my mother had a rapport with the woman in the picture above because she cared for me, and she cared about my development. She didn't give me my way as I got with my Grandmother and I think having somebody support a different way of raising children that isn't centered around sheltering them excessively, was what she wanted. I see now that wanted her children to believe in themselves, and reach for the skies with their potential. She knew she was instilling us with all the learning materials she could, and even used talks about the "what to do" during comedic sitcoms that used real-life situations. In hindsight, she was preparing us for whatever was coming our way because now I analyze the behaviors of characters to see the logic in real-life situations. She made sure we understood respect, empathy, and how to address people we didn't know because we got to meet people outside of the church, and understand friendship. She made sure we knew about God, but she didn't shelter us from the world around us. We still couldn't listen to secular music around her, but we at least got to be around other children our age without feeling like we were committing a sin.

My mother used to seem bothered by my Grandmother because she would always throw the fact that she's raised 5 children in her face, and I was my mother's first. It always felt like she didn't trust her to raise us because of how different their methods were. Regardless of their differences, they agreed on one subject and it was that we always had to put our best foot forward to best represent our Grandfather.

Doing well in school and behaving a certain way in public was mandatory and we understood that very early. You can see the power struggle, the indifference, and mistrust between them but they always agreed when it came to church. My Grandmother found leverage in every other facet of how she dealt with us in the fact that my Mother couldn't afford to live alone in another city with us by herself anymore. She wasn't making enough money to stay in the house, and we had neighbors that, looking back, just acted like hood black people. However, my Grandmother saw it as an opportunity for something bad to happen and since, in her mind, she wasn't able to get to us in a timely fashion, she pushed the paranoia of them harming us into my Mother's head. This would be a consistent method of coercion from her for years to come. Those people weren't any better than us, they were just different. My Mother had things she wanted for us, but I can tell that my Grandmother sabotaged those wants and assaulted her motivations by feeding my mother paranoia until she did what my Grandmother wanted. A calling card of the Watkins family.

She seemed to get everything that way because as soon as I graduated from Kindergarten and Lashaundria was getting ready for preschool, we moved to Bessemer. We left that three-bedroom house in Fairfield and ended up in a single bedroom on 14th Ave on the Northside of Bessemer where my sister and I had to split a room.

1623 14th Ave N, Bessemer, Al

I know now it was because we couldn't afford the former living situation anymore. However, it eventually bothered me once I heard my cousin Eugene's friend Cortez joke once "if you shoot somebody at the front door you'll kill everybody in the house with one shot, that's why it's called a shotgun house." Well, this is where the difference in me started. My influences started to change, along with my supervisions, my motivations, and who/what I was surrounded by. My Grandmother also started to become increasingly vocal in the "how" Lashaundria and I were raised.

My Mother loved us being around other kids, but my Grandparents believed that children that were not of the church, didn't need to be around us because it could sour our understanding and change us away from being the children they wanted us to be. After all, it is to their belief, that the way they raised their children was the standard. Their children didn't do drugs, didn't get arrested, didn't have loads of kids outside wedlock, they were in church and their kids were also in church. It was ordered the second our address changed, that we be in the same church with them in Bessemer, every Sunday.

28th Street Church of God, Bessemer, Al.

It's not like she didn't have room to say anything, we were the only kids our Grandparents babysat during my childhood. So looking at the situation, they felt like if they kept us, and provided for us when my Mother didn't have it, that their opinion was valid. However, over the years you could slowly start to see their understanding as outdated constructs that very few people actually abided by. All my family's values seemed to do was push people away from us. SO many times I remember I was told not to even play with the children that lived across the street from her house. There were two girls, Ashley and Brittany, that I met at 5 years old and they were the grandchildren of a lady my Grandparents knew named Mrs. Woods. The way they warned us and cautioned us about Ashley & Brittany it was like they killed a member of our family. I started to think back on how she felt about our old Fairfield neighbors and the more she repeated her message, the older I got and I believed nobody would ever be good enough for them.

I was told growing up when I complained about not having people to play with, or people to call friends, that Jesus was my friend. Nobody else was good enough to be called a friend because they'll turn on you. It infuriates me now, seeing how harmful those words are. As an adult, I don't know everything about Jesus, but I know I need the people I surround myself with because God placed them in my life to help me when I don't know what to do. You tell children that a person they cant see and hear is the only friend they need, forcing them into religion, so they start to believe in this construct, that even adults don't even completely understand, and lose the opportunity to develop an understanding of self because they've been introduced to fear. The social skills they need to cohabitate with other children their age being pushed away. Keep in mind that I was limited in my masculine resources. The picture of my family I placed earlier in this passage shows you only 4 males including myself. My Grandfather, the Pastor who was literally always working, my Uncle Ricky who had a family of his own and a job, and my cousin Eugene who spent 90% of his time in Talledega in school. I was constantly surrounded by women my entire childhood and it's a world wonder how I ended up the way I did. My family didn't seem to see anything wrong with the setup, they acted like they didn't think I needed to be around men and I really hate how they pushed this structured isolation onto all of us because even my Mother has told me they called my Grandmother's house "The Dungeon". I can see the long term effects of this on myself and my household.

Isolation seems like the most rewarding detriment and a culprit of my continued existence. It's the deafening silence from which some of the best ideas and the most painful memories tend to flow from. I was told years ago that “Isolation Breeds Elevation” but it never truly feels like it. I mean, thoughts circumvent themselves in those quiet spaces, so much so, that we start to understand them differently, but oftentimes we're just analyzing traumatic events that sometimes don’t even need our attention anymore. We have gotten to a point where we are trying to convince ourselves that we can't leave a stone unturned in the assessment of what we learned from it, and no matter what direct feeling you get from it, it always gives you back something. Sometimes, it’s something you didn’t even see coming. Here I am trying to process the strained relationship between me and my Father during the most isolated period of my life, of a lot of our lives. I am losing distractions daily as I finish season after season of shows and now all these thoughts and realizations are starting to pile up on themselves as I come to one concrete realization:

"I am a man with no one true place to call home, and my family has never felt like family."

I saw a series of pictures on Facebook one day and in them was a Caucasian male who was feeding, eating with, and laying up with different types of wolves inside different wolf packs. The crazy thing about the picture was the man was a part of these wolf packs by how the wolves treated him and he is a human male, which usually wolves feel threatened by. This man, however, was a part of each individual wolf pack, and wolves can’t even pull that off.

My inner child marveled at how crazy it would be to be accepted like that by a different species, like a wolf, and then it slowly reminded me of myself. I consider myself to be a decent man. I can befriend a person and over time they will start to embrace me like family, which in turn opens me up to the people that they consider family. I now have a new pack to be around because they will see exactly how well I fit in with them. However, it's not the home I'm supposed to have. I'm accepted, but I'm not a member. Even when I'm recognized by their friends and treated as such. I'm still not somewhere where we share an existence that cements me.

I try to look at it as a blessing, I know that my departure from this world will bring people together from completely different worlds, in a sense, all to one spot. However, having a place where you belong is a different feeling. It’s not just people you’re affiliated with, it’s a place where your presence is so necessary that days without hearing from you are unacceptable. It’s a place where your bonds with the people inside are so profound that energy, joy, pain, and understanding are contagious between you. I get invited to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners from other people and I'm never completely without a BBQ to attend, but it never feels like it's for me. It feels like driving a guest in a rental car to a hotel. It's one of the things I rarely talk about because of the amount of emotion behind it. I have to admit I'm somebody that never feels like I'm around people like me when I'm around my family. I share some mannerisms, sure, but I don't think any of them have truly seen me.

It is inside that space, inside that isolation, where I started to really think of what and where mine was because over the years, my immediate family, that family in the picture above, started to create families of their own, and now there is no group of us together on holidays in family settings anymore. It's moreso we have appointments to drop by and just meet-up at the church in the cafeteria and have dinner. It feels weird. Every time. There is no love shown, no tradition exercised, and no memories to make because every year seems like a church dinner that nobody but our family shows up for. I remember taking both the pictures below and now trying to savor the memory of how holidays used to feel when we were surrounded by each other at my Grandmother's house.

Now it seems like an informal church event.

Christmas 2009 Thanksgiving 2017

No matter how hard I've tried to "fit in" with family, it's never felt right. Kind of how it feels to wear a shoe that's too small. It hurts, you feel restricted, you don't want to do anything with them, and you feel embarrassed by them. I've always felt misunderstood and forgotten about. It feels like it's because my family has never truly become a loving family. If my own mother can confess to me that she was never told "I Love You" growing up, was never told she was beautiful considering how beautiful she actually was, then that family didn't act out the roles of a loving family at all. It is to no surprise where I am, looking at how they've all failed each other. My sister knows I love her, and that I would clinch the life from the body that harmed her. She knows that I will never turn my back on her and that it was our mother's intention that we end up that way. 2020 was the year I realized why she always made me apologize when we got into it, why she always made us share and take care of each other. She saw just how much we loved each other in 2007 when I was admitted into the hospital, and my sister didn't leave my bedside until I was discharged. 5 whole days at my side.

The rest of my family has never really felt like that, like they truly cared for each other, and it was because my Grandparents cared more about how we looked to the outside world and church folks. Instead of how we all felt towards each other. This is why I felt so jealous of Jameka on Easter. She has another family. She has somewhere to go and feel truly loved, accepted, and understood. She told me I did too. Although I couldn't get the sentence out of my head from Easter and it's now June, constantly repeating it to myself whenever the room became quiet enough for my thoughts to become louder than the noises around me.

"You gon have to go and get your healing because he can't come up here to you.''

I never knew just how deep, and heavy, those words were until Juneteenth.

June 1st

Marilyn, June 2020

I'm so proud of this woman, she has come so far. I remember literally driving to her house in March of 2019 and listening to her complain about health issues, then going to her refrigerator and seeing two 3-Liters of knockoff Mountian Dew. I got upset and poured them out in the grass, in front of her. I was tired of asking, I needed to show her I was serious again. She said she would do better. Now, after the car she was driving went down completely, and an eviction in July of 2019, I was worried that it would have a negative effect on her progress, and it seemed like she was still trying to do better. I know she hated living with my Aunt Sandra, they don't get along at all and never have. However, my Aunt told her to come and take one of the bedrooms in her house. To this day I don't know what made her offer, considering when my Mother got sick in 2000, my sister and I ended up staying with her for a while. I overheard once her telling somebody on the phone while we lived there, "I have had to move around everything in my house for these children, and I don't know when they gon leave." I remember feeling like I did the time I went to my Aunt Carolyn's house to borrow some tissue and sugar because we had run out, and my mother and Aunt Carolyn stayed next door to each other. After I asked the next statement was, "Yall need to start learning how to get your own supplies."

I have been hesitant to ask people for anything because of these two separate events. I never understood why they were so rough with us knowing what we had been through. I guess everybody has their limits though, even family. My Aunt Sandra has always been somebody who did things for people just to feel like she did something important. That, or my Grandmother forced her to do it. Her opening her doors for my mother could have been out of the kindness of her heart, but I will never believe it is. Regardless, we are almost a year in, and she's looking better and better as time passes. She has been riding with me to the store for months now amidst a pandemic, avoiding Covid, and she's shopping better. More fruits and vegetables to cook with and less junk food. Her grocery list in February looked like this:

During these rides to the store, we began to talk more. My mother isn't the most open person when it comes to things she's dealt with, and when she complains about stuff that happens to her, she rarely provides the part where she's done something to antagonize the situation. I started to ask questions about her in college and was just trying to get her to tell me things about her back then. Her mindset and actions back then. I was asking to get a loose picture on how she was when she met my Father. The more she talked, the more I began to realize that she truly had an attraction to my Father because she remembers how she used to dress for him when she met him. She made the mistake of just talking out the side of her neck and said too much, "You know we couldn't wear just anything, but I wasn't in Bessemer so I started to wear pants and make-up all the time at Alabama State. Your Daddy had an S-Curl kit in his hair, your Grandma didn't like it. She didn't like much about him anyway."

This is the first time my mother has mentioned how my Grandmother felt about my Father during that period. I know how she felt now, but I always assumed she treated him like she treated everybody when she first meets them at church. That's the reason I always thought my Father did something horrible to make her have so many negative things to say about him. Both my older Aunts and my Uncle met their significant others through the church. My Mother met my Father in Montgomery at Alabama State. I remember my Grandfather asking on multiple occasions, "Boy you want to go down the road and see ya Daddy?" I thought about it the first few times but would always side against it because the person I looked to as another mother, after mine got sick, would look like she wanted to throw up whenever it was suggested. I eventually just didn't want to go. I thought it was for good reason because in my mind, because my Grandmother is somebody that is supposed to love everybody, as Christ loves us, and she would have to be severely misused to get that level of distaste towards someone.

I remember the day of my high school graduation. I was actually excited because I felt like I was starting a new chapter. I was finally turning 18 in a few months and I was not going off far to school but I at least get away from them all the time. Time to forge my own path and make my own connections since they had very few to make.

Graduation Night. May 2006.

I got finally dressed and Jameka told me I could have her car for the night to do what I wanted. I get to the Bessemer Civic Center and as we all pooled together outside, my Father shows up. First time I've seen him since I was 10, and I was visibly angry about it. He took one look at my face and pulled my Grandmother aside. I assumed it was to get me to talk to him because now, I'm a 6'9" 400lb 17 year old and I got a scowl on my face that most sensible people are going to walk away from. I knew just off all the times she's made that face at the mention of him, that she was going to say everything I couldn't. They had a short exchange and she walked off from him, and I laughed under my breath before walking towards the Bessemer Civic Center. "He couldna thought that was gon work." I said laughingly to one of my best friends Matt Jones as we walked into the Civic Center. Matt had become a very close friend of mine because he understood my anger, because he was burdened with the same afflictions I was. He knew how I felt about my folks and my father. He understood and never judged me for what I didn't have. My family didn't like him at all and hated him coming around me. I truly wouldn't have made it through some of the roughest periods of high school without him and I can never take away that credit. I cast out their beliefs completely because Matt was good to me.

Jasmine, Matt, & Davicia. Brentwood 2006.

All this anger coursing through me all this time and people are giving me fragments of realizations that show me that maybe I should hear his side. The thought of contacting him gave me so much anxiety, I didn't feel like it was fair, but now remembering all the times other people brought me messages about him, or suggested saying something to him. In 2009, it was my then-girlfriend LaTillia after my half-brother Deandre McClain reached out to her because he felt like I wouldn't receive him well. In 2014, it was Jorice, who suggested it when we lived together in Huntsville. Both times I rejected the idea because I was committed to not showing any effort towards him, I felt like if that side wanted a relationship with me, they needed to work for it. Now in 2020, here I am considering lowering this bridge because now I'm trying to work on myself, mentally and emotionally, and in that coming to grips about the dark sides of my own family. Thinking about what I've been told and realizing that I can hold grudges with the best of them has me working on forgiveness, and working on this apparent resentment towards God for how my life has unfolded. Other people who aren't in the church seem to have it so much better, and I'm getting tired of suffering as a result of somebody else's religious ideals for me. It took me two weeks of praying and showing love to other people to get me to the point where I could actually admit out loud that I would be open to going to see him. Father's Day is a week away and I almost don't want to give him the satisfaction. I realized that it was petty anger and grudges talking once again and pushed it aside. I figured when God was ready for me to, the opportunity would present itself. Figured I'd have time too since I was out of work, don't travel to Montgomery anymore, and Covid-19 was still on the rise. I remembered what I told Meagan after I got over myself. "the next time I get the opportunity to be in his city, I will attempt to get in contact with him." I be damned.

June 7th

I think God smiled on me, in the month of June. I had been talking to him and surrendering myself to his will and I felt like I was truly being led to do certain things. My mindset had been getting money for the longest and now amidst a pandemic, not working for months, after praying money isn't my main concern and I'm starting to have more of it. Throughout the month of June, up until this point, I was involved in quite a bit. I went out feeding the homeless once, after being invited by Birmingham's own, the lovely Star Robb, with "Be A Blessing Birmingham", spending that time at Linn Park and seeing those people with nothing be so happy to just get a hot meal really eats away at your pride and ego. It makes you sound foolish when you complain about the pitfalls in your own life. I look back I see God influencing me in certain directions of service, but just to get me to humble myself and get rid of my anger and bias.

Star Robb & "Be A Blessing Birmingham"

That experience inspired me to dust off some plans I had shelved in 2019. I wanted to grill for the homeless because I felt like it was necessary to. This was just one meal. I looked at my account to see how many hot dogs I could possibly get to feed them with and lo and behold, my unemployment finally came. I looked up into the heavens and just answered, "Yes Sir." I pushed forward with my idea despite Birmingham City Council fencing off the park and never reaching back out to me. I got a business partner of mine, Chef Myke Lucas, to just help me grill some hotdogs and take them to the park. One of the ladies I met while out with Star, named Rose, wanted to help and got on board with providing things to help with the event with. Another growing friend of mine, that's a brother to me now, Emmanuel Obodoechina even pulled up to help me pass out some bags to these strained residents of Birmingham. I had everything I needed.

It was so powerful, so fulfilling to just help the people that need it most. I have a soft spot for displaced and homeless individuals because I know what I feels like to have to depend on people that really don't want to help, to do things for you while in a living situation you absolutely detest. I left there feeling like I knew what I needed to start doing. That upcoming week, I guess God decided it was time.

June 16th

I was sitting at home on the couch watching TV and got a phone call from a 334 number. I didn't know it, so I didn't answer. They called back, again. I hit ignore. They then called a third time and this time I figured it was somebody really trying to reach me so I answered, the following conversation happened:

Me: "Hello?"

334 Number: "Hello, this Jonathan Brown?"

Me: "Yes it is... may I ask who's calling?"

334 Number: "This is a Detective **** with Auburn Police Dept. How are you?"

Me: "Ok... How can I help you?"

Detective: "Uh yea, I was trying to get in touch with you due to us moving our evidence locker, and we have some stuff that belongs to you that we wanted to know if you were available to pick up."

Me: "...Auburn? I think you have the wrong person, I haven't been to Auburn in over a decade."

Detective: "The items came out of your Chevy Tahoe... that was involved in a chase..."

Me: "..............."

Detective: "...In November ...of 2007?"

Me: "Yeah.. uuuh yeah.. I remember... well what is it exactly?"

Detective: "Uh its some old Publix paper work, a school ID, and about $200 cash."

Me: *staring in disbelief now running my promise through my head*

Detective: "...Mr. Brown?"

Me: "...Yeah, yes I'm here."

Detective: "We were trying to find out when you would be available to come down?"

Me: "Uhhh... I didn't have any plans to come that way but I guess I can make the trip."

Detective: "Free $200 bucks! Well we are here 'til 5:30pm M-F, except around 12, we'll be at lunch."

Me: "'ll probably be Thursday or Friday before I can come down."

Detective: "No problem, take my number and give me a call when you can confirm."

Me: *sitting in disbelief* "...Sure." *writes down number*

Detective: "Alright Mr. Brown, just notify us with when you're coming, and we'll see you soon."

Me: "Yes Sir, you have a good one."

Detective: "Thank you, you too"

I hung the phone up and didn't know what to be more in awe of! The fact that Auburn Police is calling me for something that happened 13 years ago when a friend stole my truck. I went to Auburn for Iron Bowl in 2007, my homeboy Matt (Yup, that Matt) rode down with me and took my truck in the middle of the night to get himself some cigarettes. He flipped out when a cop got behind him and when the officer threw his lights on, Matt floored it, getting on the highway thinking Auburn PD would back off. He led a chase all the way to Tuskegee where he left my truck nose down in a ditch.

We'll come back to this in another entry, but the other part of it is the fact that I didn't have my current cell number in 2007, so where did they even get it from? It felt like they already knew me and kept calling me because they knew I was sitting there watching it ring. I thought they had to verify identity in matters like this, but I guess they weren't worried about it happening with them, the police department. The last part is the fact that I have to drive through Montgomery to get to Auburn and just promised the next time I'm in the city, I would reach out to my Father, and here I am staring at an opening, and getting $200 out of it.

God is Funny.

I sat the rest of that day contemplating on when I would reach out to him. I felt like I should prepare him as well as myself because I really don't know his schedule, or when he'd be free, but reaching out would involve opening the lines of communication to him and I didn't know if I was truly ready. I sat there for two days before I pushed myself into reaching out. I woke up Thursday morning, set on going down Friday, and sent him a message on Facebook since I didn't have his phone number. He's been sending me religious memes with glitter sayings that I had yet to answer for some time now. I typed up a short, simple message, trying not to give too much of myself in the introduction. I didn't want him to think shit was sweet already, and to be prepared to talk and answer questions about him, and not just about me.

Facebook Messenger notifies you when somebody has read your message, so when he saw my message a minute after I sent it, and then sat there for almost 30 minutes before he responded, he gave me just enough time to regret sending the message to him in the first place. I reached out before and he kinda played it to the left ordering me to call him. I wasn't ready for that. I wanted to text first. So I pulled away again because it was going to have to go my way. I'm running those thoughts through my head and just when I was about to write it off, he responded.

I told him I had business in Auburn and he told me his schedule for that Friday. We came up with me coming down Friday morning before he had to work. I knew I had to be in Auburn by 5 pm so it would work if I came around 9 am. The plans were set and I started to get nervous because I'm pushing a lot of myself aside to do this. I felt like I was trying to acquire the interest of a woman or something. I prayed that night and asked God to order my steps and channel my words. I woke up that Friday morning, Juneteenth, realizing this is a day we celebrate coming out of bondage and thought, no matter what happens today, I will take it as confirmation of what to do next. I know that today, the chains that have held me all this time about my Father, will come off. If he's a jerk, I know for certain I don't need him in my life and can move accordingly. If it turns out he's a decent man and genuinely wants to talk and grow a relationship, I can walk away with a new relationship to foster. Juneteenth has never meant more to me before that Friday morning, personally.

I told nobody in my family or my circle of friends that I was going. I didn't want anything to pollute my spirit in how I felt about going. So Friday morning, June 19th, 2020 at 7:45 am, I started my journey to Montgomery. The entire trip there I just stared at the pavement, wondering how the conversation would start. Would it be awkward the entire time? I thought about how my family would react to me going by myself. I wondered how my mother and Lashaundria would feel. I started to feel guilty. Then I remembered I owed this to myself. I thought about all the times I have been confused about myself, or wondered why I don't fit in with my family, all the way that lack of masculinity around me as a child made some experience I had, that much harder. I pushed those thoughts away. I deserve to know what happened all those years ago. Why did he leave us? Why did he never try to come around? Before I knew it, the GPS alerted me that I was almost at my destination. I pulled over at a gas station outside his neighborhood. I prayed again, then pulled up to his house.

I picked up my phone and messaged him that I had arrived as I got out the car, and I just stood there taking it all in. I took a deep breath and started walking towards the driveway.

I heard the door open...

A tall bald-headed, pigeon-toed, surprisingly muscular man in glasses exited the house...

He started walking towards me appearing to be trying to keep himself from smiling...

He extended his hand towards me as he said:

"Aye you musta had that thang on two wheels 'cause you got here pretty quick..."

I chuckled, immediately registering that he handled that initial awkwardness meeting somebody EXACTLY like I would have. I didn't think he looked like me much now that I could see his face in person. He invited me inside where his wife was sitting on the couch. She walked up and hugged me. I remember that her name is Rosemary from my Mother talking about her years ago. I stopped to think about the fact that she's my step-mother. After a brief introduction to Rosemary's mother, he took me to a room and allowed me to meet my Grandmother, Vera Brown. This was my second time meeting her, and she seemed skeptical as to why I was there now. I remembered the last time I saw her was at my Graduation 14 years ago, also the last time I laid eyes on my Father. She was cordial, but I could tell something was off. Regardless, she shook my hand and asked how I was doing. I shared the conversation until my Father invited me to sit down in this room towards the back of the house.

It was dark.

The second the lights came on, SO much stuff started to make sense...