On Mourning An Adult Entertainer

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The deaths of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis were probably the celebrity deaths that hit me the hardest. Part of this had to do with age. (I was 11 when Gathers passed and 14 when Lewis did.) But, even more than that, I felt connected to them. I didn’t know either of these men. But they were basketball players, like me. And they both died on what was supposed to be the safest, friendliest, and happiest place a basketball player can be: the basketball court. Both deaths saddened and scared the fuck out of me. (Sadly, my friend and former teammate Richard Jones died in a similar manner 10 years ago.)

I mourned them through memory. I (obviously) didn’t have the benefit of going to YouTube and watching old highlight clips, so instead of remembering them as they were in their last moments, I’d think of how they were on the court. And I’m sure many of the hundreds of thousands who also mourned their deaths did so in a similar manner.

This process wasn’t too dissimilar from how most of us mourn entertainers. Instead of thinking of them as dead, we tend to recall and reflect on the reasons why we were fans. We listen to their albums again, read their books again, watch their movies again, laugh at their stand-up routines again, read and watch all the features and interviews about them again; sometimes we’ll even scour the earth to possess all the things they produced that we don’t already possess. And sometimes, their deaths will make us consume even more of their work. 

We do this for two reasons: One, because it helps us feel better. We want to remember and embrace why we were fans because it makes us smile. The smiles are bittersweet, but they help. Also, this consumption is how we, as fans, honor their memories. We didn’t know them personally, so we can’t reflect on personal memories. Shit, in most instances we don’t even know what type of person they were. But we do know how their work resonated, and a posthumous recognition of their work is our way of eulogizing them.

With one exception.

Angela Rabotte was a 26-year-old mother who was found murdered last week. She disappeared two Fridays ago, and her body was found Thursday. She had been shot.

This by itself is a tragic story. Rabotte was a mother, a daughter, a friend, and much more. A person people loved and will miss.

But, as tragic as Rabotte’s death was, I’m writing about her today because of her (former) occupation.

Those familiar with the thousands of WorldStar/YouTube/Vimeo, etc twerking and/or stripping videos out there might recognize Rabotte as “Sexy Climax”, a popular Atlanta stripper. I’m not sure which club(s) she worked at, but I do know she was popular enough to be featured in a few WorldStar videos.

Perhaps you never heard of Climax. But you might be familiar with the Twerk Team, Cubana Lust, Lanipop, and the dozens more strippers, twerkers, video vixens, and porn stars who’ve been able to use the internet to garner some national name recognition.

Regardless of what you think of their particular type of entertainment, you can’t deny that they’re entertainers. They work to create and cultivate a sexual fantasy, and the people who consume their form of entertainment might spend as much time watching their videos as they do watching their favorite actors or listening to their favorite rappers.

But, when an adult entertainer dies, the process we use to mourn other entertainers just doesn’t seem to fit. I’ve seen Sexy Climax at work. But now that she’s dead, it just doesn’t feel right to watch her videos anymore. Same with all the other adult entertainers I’m familiar with who have passed. I don’t re-watch the videos I’m familiar with, I don’t scour the internet to find work I haven’t seen yet, and I definitely don’t fantasize about them anymore.

And I think that’s it. The fantasy part is what makes things…different. For instance, Whitney Houston existed as a singer, but we also recognized that she was a real person while appreciating her voice. Angela Rabotte was just as real of a person as Whitney Houston was. But, the people whose work revolves around sexual fantasy tend to be processed in a different way by the people who knew of them because of their work. Basically, they’re objectified. Appreciating her work posthumously the same way you appreciated it while she was alive doesn’t just feel wrong. It feels rude.

This idea transcends entertainment. Think of the cute barista in your work building or the co-worker you have a crush on. If they died tomorrow, would you still have the same sexual thoughts about them you did before? I doubt it. The nature of sex-based thoughts makes it rather, for lack of a better term, “creepy” to have them about someone no longer alive.

I’m sure there is someone out there who’s compiling an archive of Sexy Climax’s work. To honor her memory the way he (or she) remembered her. Which is their right, of course. But, I can’t do that. Because every time I think of Sexy Climax now, I think of Angela Rabotte instead.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Stay Black. And Die.

photo(3)In the days that have passed since the Jordan Davis/Michael Dunn mistrial verdict on the count of murder in first degree, the following picture has been circulated frequently via social media. Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it.

Before we go further, let me go ahead and say this upfront. I’m not a lawyer. I’m not even qualified to be a paralegal and I’ve never been to or seen an Everest College campus or student. So I’ll concede that my legal acumen is subpar, but I do have a really hard time understanding how you can be convicted of attempted murder for spraying a car but not be convicted of the success of your attempts.

While I don’t understand it, I see how it happened. While watching news coverage on Friday evening of the jury deliberations via the Jane Velez-Mitchell show on HLN, they were taking callers. One of the callers, clearly an older white male stated what I feel is an unfortunate but not surprising sentiment shared by many folks paying attention: why did the boys in the truck drive off then come back without taking him to the hospital? It is the belief of quite a few people that somehow, someway, those boys dumped of the gun that made this man feel scared for his life enough to dump 10 shots into a Durango at fairly close range. Somehow, this man (and a few other callers) seemed very disinterested in the psychopathic nature of Mr. Dunn, just the behavior of the youth that caused Mr. Dunn to fear for his life. Emphasis mine and intentional. Causation is a b*tch.

Which leads back to the picture and the message therein. Simply, white folks and Black folks have different “important” talks with their sons. This is true. It was true before the recent spate of high profile deaths by Black males at the hands of white people and it will be true if we never have another Black man die in the same fashion again.

To put it all on the table and go Captain Obvious, there has always been a different set of rules for Black people and white people. I remember my father teaching me the most important lesson of my even now to date. He sat me down and said to me quite clearly, “(Panama), your mother is white. You are not.” I never had any identity issues after that. But what followed was a string of conversations about what it meant to be a Black man in America. What was most interesting is that I didn’t even live in America while I was receiving these conversations. Near my home in Bad Homburg, Germany (right outside of Frankfurt) was this huge field. My father would tell me to come with him and we’d make the long walk to the field and walk around and he’d fill me in on life. Sometimes it was about the birds and the bees, but many times it was about what life looks like for people like us.

I imagine those conversations have been happening for 100s of years at this point. Because it’s always been different. Hell, my father STILL manages to drop those nuggets of information when its relevant. It’s why most Black males (and Black people) have such a healthy distrust of the police. Its also not just the police, either. It’s what happens AFTER the police do police things to us. It’s the knowledge that your freedom is pretty much like a car window. You can roll it up and lock your doors, but its just a piece of glass. If somebody wants to break into your car, it takes nothing to get into it. Your freedom is fragile and easy to destroy. And once its been tampered with, you realize that everybody else gets the opportunity to destroy you regardless of the facts. The numbers of people released due to the Innocence Project illustrates that very clearly. As a Black male, you spend your life doing your damnedest trying to NOT end up in the system at all. Well, most of us do. You figure if you just live your life right then you should be okay. And that probably is the situation.

But its when we’re robbed of the potential of the Black community that we’re reminded just how fragile that freedom is. Which is why we have to have those talks in the first place. Those talks wouldn’t have prevented that situation. In fact, the necessary talk in Florida is probably to tell all Black males to avoid all interaction with white men. But that’s just not realistic, is it?

photo(4)I also saw this other picture all over social media. I think this one is a bit unfair. Nobody is going to want to hear this but it’s not just “white vision” glasses that see this picture. While I’m happy that we can all rally in our community behind miscarriages of justice in the courtroom, and Black boys do matter, many Black people view certain Black males in the exact same fashion as white people do – sometimes for the same reasons, sometimes for different reasons. I get the point being made, and perhaps its unnecessary to even point out that Black folks are just as guilt of this stereotyping, but my point is that we have some work to do on our own. We’re mad that Black boys don’t matter, but to some degree, we’re just not pulling the trigger on them. That’s food for thought for that ass.

And I’ll be the first to admit how conflicted I can be. It’s like the scene in Crash where Ludacris’s character is going on about how unfair it is to be stereotyped as a thug who is about to commit a robbery…and then commits a robbery because he’s exactly who they think he is. It’s the justification for paranoia: If I’m right then I’m right; but if I’m wrong, I could have been right, so I’m still right because maybe I’m not wrong. While this doesn’t hold up in court (or at least shouldn’t), I know many people who not only live by this credo, they are married to it til death do they part. Interestingly, none of them feel Dunn was right in any way, shape, or form.

“I don’t have to do sh*t but stay Black and die.” I’ve heard this statement more times that I can count. Usually stated in some form of defiance after somebody attempts to tell another what to do. Rarely is it meant to be prophesy. It’s supposed to be dying on our own terms as God intends. Not at the hands of another who doesn’t respect your life or even acknowledge that it exists.

Stay Black and die. Okay. But we probably need to amend those talks not only to include the police and the justice system to “boy, you don’t have to do anything but stay Black and try not to die at the hands of white man who will not be held accountable by those police or that justice system I already told you about.”

Yeah. That.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST

My Mom, Vivienne Young

This has always been my favorite picture of my mom. It was taken nine years ago at a wedding in Pittsburgh. My dad is between us. My Aunt Jean is on the far left.

This has always been my favorite picture of my mom. It was taken nine years ago at a wedding in Pittsburgh. My dad is between us. My Aunt Jean is on the far left.

1. As many of you already know, I started blogging years before VSB was born. (Very quick backstory: A decade or so ago, my cousin-–already a popular blogger and web designer—offered to build a page for me. I agreed.) During that time, I became familiar with dozens of different bloggers; some good, some bad, some fascinating and interesting, some fascinatingly uninteresting. I also developed favorites—people whose blogs became must-reads for me. One of these favorites even became a close friend and business partner.

Yet, there was one blogger whose writing style and sense of humor made her my favorite of my favorites. Her blog name was Vinabeans, she still tweets pretty regularly, and I’m certain she has no idea I was that big of a fan of hers.  

I started reading her in 2005 (I think). But, that’s not important. (Well, it’s not important in today’s context.)

What is important is why I stopped. 

In one of her blog entries, she revealed that her mom had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. And, because of my own fear of the death of either of my parents, I couldn’t read her blog anymore. I was scared to death. Where before I’d looked forward to each of her posts, just seeing her name on my AOL friends list made me anxious.

(What happened with Vina’s blog wasn’t unique. I did a similar thing when first watching Crooklyn. After the narrator’s mom dies, I stopped watching. This happened 15 years ago. I still haven’t finished watching it. Losing one of my parents has been such a resonate fear that I couldn’t even deal with fictional people losing fictional parents.)  

In the month or so before my mom’s death—when it became apparent she didn’t have much time left—I wasn’t able to sleep at night. I mean, I’d sleep, but I’d wake up every two hours or so, restless and sore from heartburn, and I’d jump online for a couple hours and surf until I couldn’t fight sleep anymore. After a couple weeks of that—and after sleepwalking through work every morning—I started self-medicating, taking an Advil before bed and washing it down with a swig of honey Jack. This “worked.”

It has been 10 days since my mom died. This has also been my best 10 day stretch of sleep all year. Part of me realizes this is due to the fact that I’m not worried about her anymore. I’m no longer obsessing about her health, her treatment, her spirit, and her level of comfort. There’s no more hurt about her hurt; no more wondering if today will be the day I get the 5:47 am phone call from my dad telling me something I know he’s going to have to eventually tell me.

Also, there is a comfort in being forced to face one of your greatest fears. When there is no more running from it, no more avoiding blog entries about it, no more turning the channel whenever something that reminds you of it happens to be on TV, no more anything you can do to stop it from happening, it provides a surreal, almost perverse peace, and you’re shocked into submitting to it.

2. I’ve been staring at my monitor for 15 minutes or so, trying to think of an eloquent and/or irreverent way to say what I’m about to say. It is (obviously) not working, but this may be a good thing. My inability to articulate how awestruck I am about all the love and support my family and I have received likely just proves that I am, in fact, awestruck by…

A) The campaign started by Iyanna Holmes to send flowers from VSB to my mom’s funeral and donate money to the Lung Cancer Foundation of America in her name…and the fact that you all mobilized to raise over $1,200 in less than two days.

B) The overwhelming support from Panama and Liz—who sent their own floral arrangement and have been checking on me to the point of (slight) overbearance.

C) The staff at EBONY.com, who’ve gone above and beyond to do what they can to support and comfort me during this time.

D) The love from two of my oldest and closest friends. One wasn’t able to make it because he’s currently coaching a basketball team in Luxembourg, so he wrote a heartfelt essay for my mom that his mom read at my mom’s wake. The other didn’t find out about my mom’s passing until Wednesday, but immediately drove up from North Carolina to be there Thursday and Friday.

E) The (admittedly unexpected) flowers from Single Black Male. The “unexpectedness” isn’t because of any type of rivalry or animosity anything. Instead, it just was not something I was expecting to see, and I am thankful for and appreciative of that gesture.

F) The expected but still awesome support from my giant family and friends.

G) The hundreds of people who’ve texted, emailed, voicemailed, tweeted, commented, liked, and even blogged their support.

When considering all of this, I can’t help but think of the way I bailed on Vina, and I feel shitty about that. If she reads this, I want to apologize to her. Not for being scared, but for not reading and not at least attempting to give her the type of spiritual support she needed.

3. While checking and responding to email last week, a friend saw that I was online, and sent me a Gchat asking how I was doing.

“hey dude. you okay?”

“i am. how are you?”

“i’m well. glad to hear.”

“thanks for asking”

“you’re like the superman of emotions. lol. steel.”

“why do you say that?”

“you just seem very strong emotionally. i’d be on the floor. for like the last several months. and especially this week. at least i think i would.”

“no you wouldnt be. you’d be busy making sure all of your mom’s final arrangements were in order. fielding calls from family, etc. basically, the stuff that needs to get done. obviously it’s tough. but it has to be done. and we all find it in ourselves to do it”

Last night, another friend sent me a text saying “you never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” Despite my well-documented distaste for inspirational messages, I have to recognize the truth of that one.

Obviously, people are going to handle grief differently. I won’t say there is no such thing as a “wrong” way to do it. Because there is. But, most of us get it right because, well, we have to. And, if you have other family members who need you to be there for them, you don’t really have much of a choice.

(This doesn’t mean that I haven’t broken down. Repeatedly. This also doesn’t mean that I haven’t needed people to be there for me. Although the support mentioned earlier has been great, I don’t know where I’d be now without my girlfriend—who has been everything for me throughout all of this—and God.) 

Also—and this is going to sound odd, but I need to say it anyway—this is supposed to happen. No, my mom wasn’t supposed to die at 60 from lung cancer, but parents are supposed to pass while their children are still alive. This is the way life is supposed to work, and you only hope that you’re lucky enough to have spent a substantial amount of time on Earth with them.

With that in mind—and knowing that, while it hurts, losing a parent isn’t the same as losing your life partner and soulmate (which is what my dad is going through right now)—being “strong” isn’t even really a choice as much as it’s a consequence.

4. For the last couple of months, I’d been preparing myself for what I wanted to say at my mom’s funeral. Initially, the plan was to write it and read it to her while she was still lucid enough to understand it, but her health plummeted so quickly in the last couple of weeks that I wasn’t able to do it. Also, I don’t know. My mom was positive till the end, and I just didn’t really want to speak to her about something that was so final.

So, I wrote much of it in my head, and waited until the day of the wake to put it on paper.

Here’s what I said.

Although she was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, my mom actually first got sick in the fall of 2008. After numerous hospital stays—and a couple very serious scares—it was discovered that she had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition she’d have to deal with for the rest of her life.

In the five years between this discovery and her passing, my mom was treated at and admitted to numerous area hospitals. Shadyside. Montefiore. Presbyterian. Hillman. St. Margaret’s  Canterbury. West Penn. This made us—my dad, my sister, and I—de facto hospital tourists. Basically, if you ever wanted to know which area hospital has the best food options for visitors (Hillman), the best food options for patients (St. Margaret’s , the best rooms (Canterbury), the best parking situation (St. Margaret’s again), the nicest staff (a tie between Hillman and Canterbury), the oldest Black men working at the front desk (Hillman), or the best looking nurses (Shadyside), I’m the person to ask.

Anyway, I’m bringing this all up because of a situation that happened at least once at each of these hospitals. I’d go to my mom’s floor. But, because her room was recently moved—-or because I have a tendency to forget things—I wouldn’t know exactly which room she was in. So, I’d go to the nurse’s station and stand around with my most confused looking face until one of them asked if I needed help.

“Yeah, I’m looking for my mom, Vivienne Young.”

“Oh wow! You’re Mrs. Young’s son? Your mom is such a sweet woman. We love her so much!!! Just yesterday, while I was checking her oxygen levels, she noticed that I seemed a little down. After a bit of prodding, she finally got me to admit that I had a little fight with my boyfriend. Nothing major, but it did have an effect on my spirit that morning. After I told her that, we talked about relationships for 10 minutes, and she gave me the best advice I’ve ever had. Oh, and when you see her, tell her I tried the baked chicken marinade she told me about, and it was great!”

“Umm. You still haven’t told me what room she’s in”

I realize that having fond memories of your mom isn’t an uncommon thing. Everyone loves their mom. (Well, mostly everyone.) Tony Soprano cried when his mom died—and she tried to kill him! And, although I’m no history buff, I’m sure Hitler loved his mom too.

What made my mom unique is that while everyone loves their mom, not everyone has a mom who everyone loves. This was Vivienne Young, Everyone who was lucky enough to know her, loved her.

Now, when trying to encapsulate my mom’s life, there’s so much I can talk about—so much I can say—that it may even be easier to just talk about all the things I won’t talk about.

I will not talk about her spirit, and how she never stopped living. Even in her last weeks, as her health began to worsen, she still dressed like she was set to appear on the cover of Vogue, she still made plans that were months away even though she knew she only had weeks left, and she still worried about other people. Friends and family would visit my mom, intending to cheer her up but noticeably saddened by her health, and they’d leave inspired, emboldened, and even…happy.

(And, speaking of her clothes, well, I’ll just say this. You can have your Kerry Washington’s, your Halle Berry’s, and your Rihanna’s. I’ll take Vivienne Young’s wardrobe and sense of style, and I’ll beat yours eight times out of 10. It is not a game with my mom’s closet and bracelet game. Seriously, I started to type that my mom was the Lebron James of fashion, but Lebron James is actually the Vivienne Young of basketball.)

I will not talk about the not-so-secret “secret” handshake we shared. I’m not sure when exactly it started (or why), but I know we’d been doing it for as long as I can remember, and I know everyone who has seen us interact has seen us do it. So it wasn’t a secret. But it was a secret. I know this doesn’t make any sense, but it did to us.

I will not talk about the fact that I never liked her eggs. Her French toast was so good that, whenever I eat any other French toast, it feels like I’m cheating on it. Her spaghetti—and the Italian accent she and my dad would adopt whenever it was for dinner—made me feel like I was an extra in a deleted scene from the Godfather. Her fried chicken, Thanksgiving dinners, roast beef, pork chops and macaroni and cheese never were not on point. (I know that was a double negative, but bare with me.)

But I never liked her eggs. I didn’t exactly dislike them. I still ate them. But—and I guess the secret is out now—I like to make breakfast sandwiches with my food. She thought it was because I just loved sandwiches. I did it because it was the only way I could eat all of the eggs.

Anyway, I won’t be talking about that.

I also won’t talk about the fact that—although my sister may not have known this—my mom was very, very proud of her, and sincerely considered my sister to be her hero. That same spirit I spoke of earlier lives on inside of her and I want her and everyone else to know that.

I won’t talk about the fact that she’s the reason why I am not married…yet. Well, lemme rephrase that. My parents—who met on a blind date, btw—are the reason why I’m not married yet. After growing up in our household, and seeing how devoted to, in love with, and—most importantly—in like with each other they were, while I’ve dated some great women, I wasn’t ready to fully commit to someone until I was completely sure I’d be able to replicate that.

Fortunately, I have finally found that, and I’m very happy they got the chance to get close to each other before she passed.

Instead, I’m going to talk about silver linings.

My mom was sick for a year. Selfishly, that gave us an opportunity to brace ourselves. Her extended illness also gave people an opportunity who loved and appreciated her to spend time with her in the last year. I’m certain all of the love, support, and prayers she received helped her outlive her initial prognosis. 

But, getting back to the bracing ourselves point. Not everyone will get that opportunity to make sure that they spend a few final moments with their loved ones, and if my mom’s life has taught me anything it’s that life is too tenuous, precious, short, and final to take the people we love for granted.  

So, as you remember my mom and the legacy she left behind, please make sure the people you love and appreciate know that you love and appreciate them. The cousins you’ve been “meaning to call,” the friends you feel like you’re growing away from, the aunt whose emails you take weeks to answer, the sibling you wish you were closer to, don’t wait another day to fix something that may not be able to be fixed tomorrow. 

Like I said before, everyone loved my mom, and the best way to honor a woman everyone loved is to make sure everyone you love knows exactly how you feel. 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother: In Memory Of…

Admin Note: This may or may not end up being the longest VSB post in history. I won’t know until I finish. I do not intend to stop writing until I feel like I’m done. Bare with me, for I’m not exactly sure where I’m going or how I’m trying to say what I’m about to write.

I still have the message.

*****

Donny Hathaway is my favorite singer of all time. In fact, he’s one of two artists to ever bring tears to my eyes, with the other being Phyllis Hyman. It’s not lost on me that my two favorite vocalists ever both committed suicide.

But Donny Hathaway. I have all of his works. Anything he ever lent his arrangement or vocals to. I’m that big a fan. I have played “Thank You Master (For My Soul)” on repeat for hours on end. On January 13, 1979, Donny Hathaway either fell or threw himself out of a window in New York City to his death. I wouldn’t be born for another six months and somehow, even today, it still pains me that the world lost such a talent and voice.

*****

My brother and I are very different. Well, let’s start at the beginning. He’s not really my brother. We just “grew up” together. I don’t actually remember meeting him. It just seems like he was always there. One day I didn’t know him and the next day we were inseparable. This happened in high school. His mother is my mama. My parents are his parents. He took my little sister to prom and I was okay with it. He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. I love him. I’d literally do anything to make sure he was okay.

I remember once, he needed new glasses. For some odd reason, he just never was able to get medical insurance and couldn’t afford to go to the eye doctor. Well I gave him the glasses off of my face. I had contacts. I’d be okay. He needed glasses. He was happy because he could see again. We were the same age but he was my little brother. His mother always wanted me to be a positive influence on him. I knowt that he loved me to no end but I’m sure that he resented that his mother thought more of my life choices than his.

Of course, this is the same fool who bought 23″ inch rims for a 1987 Nissan Sentra. Real talk, we couldn’t actually make full turns. We had to coast into whatever direction we were trying to take. Needless to say, we never took hard rights. We always had to make a lot of left turns. Guys do really dumb stuff sometimes. But he really liked those rims. They were cool…they just didn’t fit his car.

We’d spend summers in Chattanooga, Tennessee – that’s where he was originally from – hanging with his grandmother and grandfather. They were very, very famous and important people in that area. His grandparents were revered. And they treated me like their own. When he called to tell me that his grandmother was a few days from passing in March 2010, I flew down from DC to Atlanta in the morning, drove to Chattanooga in the afternoon, then back to Atlanta to fly back to DC in the evening just so that I could pay my respects to him and his family. He was my family and his family was mine.

Nobody could have been closer to me that didn’t share actual blood. His son is my godson. There was no question about it. I’d always hear random stories about how my brother would be doing some dumb sh*t and that I needed to talk to him because he wouldn’t listen to anybody but me. In fact, his own mother would often tell me that I needed to talk to him for that reason. Not that he was a bad guy at all. To the contrary, very, very few people ever had a bad word to say about him. His heart was pure and he always wanted everybody to be happy and be alright. Because of that he’d often find himself used and end up making some bad decision because of it. Hell, he actually married the neighborhood ho. I was the best man. Nobody could talk him out of that decision….great wedding though. It was hood as hell but man was it fun. And I couldn’t have been happier to be there for him.

The goal in life was for me to make it as some hugely successful entrepreneur or something and then bring him along for the ride. That’s what big brothers do. You take care of your siblings. On one trip from Huntsville, Alabama, to Jackson, Michigan, we drove up I-65. Somewhere just south of Nashville are these two houses that sit about 300 yards apart. We’d always planned on someday buying those houses and settling down there; me with my wife and kids and him being the coolest uncle ever. He beat me to both the wife and kids (and also to the divorce and baby mama). For some reason, this dude liked to beat me to everything. It’s like his life wasn’t complete unless he tried everything once, positive or negative.

But his heart? Pure. He was the kind of guy to give his life for another.

*****

My daughter used to have an interesting array of medical issues. Nothing too serious, but when she gets sick, she gets sick. We’ve been to the hospital late at night enough times to be familiar with Children’s Hospital. She’s not sickly, just occasionally sick. But she is also a baby so things like croup turn into bigger problems so  you have to be proactive.

Around 1130pm on January 12, 2011, my daughter’s mother called me to let me know that my daughter was having trouble breathing and kept coughing which was exacerbating the problem. She said she was taking her to the ER. She picked me up on the way. I refuse to not be there if something’s going on. I know she always wants mommy, but daddy will be standing right there in case mommy needs to go to the bathroom. Forever.

We spent something like three hours at the ER. Not a bad stint considering how long you can stay there. I got home around 345am. John Q was on. I watched the rest of it. That is one deep movie. The extent for which he was willing to go to save his child’s life is always moving to me. I mean, he was willing to do whatever to save his child’s life.

I must have gone to sleep at like 430am.

At 635am, my phone rang. I recognized the area code but not the number. Not sure why but I let it ring instead of answering it. I laid back down and waited to see if there was a message. I’ve never been a stranger to random early morning phone calls from home.

The voicemail alert went off. I checked the message.

“******** this is your boy *********. ****** was in a really bad accident, man. Call me back. It’s not looking too good, I just…like…call me back…we’re all here…”

I sat up wide awake.

I still have the message.

******

My brother lived in a house in Huntsville, Alabama. I went to high school there. In this house there were several electrical issues. One of which was a broken heat unit. This was a particularly cold winter. Especially for Alabama.

At about 2am, one of two space heaters in the living room of the house caught fire. It engulfed the old house very quickly. There were five people in the house. My brother, his girlfriend and her two children, and our other boy who lived there. My brother got out with his girlfriend and one of her daughters. My boy managed to get out a window.

But one of the little girls was stuck in the living room where the space heater was. My brother, not even thinking, went directly back into the house trying to find her.

He never made it back out. He and the little girl both died in the living room of that house. The roof collapsed. The smoke enveloped. Their souls ascended.

He was out. But he thought nothing less than to go back in and save the other child because that’s what you do. I know him. I know that without hesitation he ran back in there without thinking of what might happen to him.

While I was at the ER with my daughter trying to make sure she was okay, my brother was dying in a fire some 700 miles away.

January 13, 2011.

At about 815am, I got another phone call from one of my other boys who was nearly as close to me as my brother: “P, he’s gone….he’s gone. He passed away. I have to go.”

I immediately broke down into tears. I also had no idea where to go. I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I just kept looking at the sky trying to find him. Or praying that I’d get a phone call that it wasn’t real. I saw my cousin get murdered. That hurt. But hearing that my brother died…that was actual pain. I can still feel it.

If you read VSB, there’s a week back in January of 2011 where Champ wrote for two weeks straight, or something like it. I was gone. I couldn’t write. I was fortunate enough to get support from those I loved and those that loved me. From both likely and unlikely sources. Sources that I never got a chance to thank for their support. I owe them that. I went home and as soon as I touched down in Alabama, I broke down into tears. I cried on the whole drive from the airport to my parent’s home. I cried on the way to my brother’s house. I cried when I saw his son. I cried and cried. I tried to keep myself together since everybody was waiting on me to get in, but I couldn’t do it. I cried when I spoke at the funeral. I cried when we interred him.

I cried.

******

I know that part of the pain of losing a loved one is the loss of future memories. I know that. I realize that. But I just feel like my brother’s time wasn’t up. Nobody who cared about people that much should go that early. He wasn’t supposed to beat me to death. He just wasn’t. At least he will always be considered a hero. He gave his life trying to save the life of somebody else. And for that I will always be able to remember him the way I always hoped everybody else would: a selfless man who cared about others.

It annoyed me reading newspapers where they said a 31-year-old man lost his life. I just felt like he’s so much more than that. Not just a man. He was a brother, a son, a father, an uncle, a great person.

Sigh.

But that’s because he matters to me.

*******

Yesterday was his birthday. August 12, 1979. It’s always hard for me because I suppose I’m still hoping that it’s not true and that I’ll call him one day and he’ll answer.

August, 12, 1979 – January 13, 2011.

******

Donny Hathaway and my brother both passed on January 13, something that dawned on me as I took the podium to speak at the funeral. Two of my favorite people passed on the same day. His family asked me to speak. That’s how close we were. Family members I didn’t even know asked me to speak at his funeral. I still speak to them now. Just like I still speak to his son. They’re my family.

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother. Thank you master, for my soul.

I’ll see you when I get there.

There’s no way I can truly put into words how I feel. I can’t even fully try. I miss my brother. And the realization that this will be a permanent feeling is defeating.

I believe to my soul.

******

And…I still have the message.

RIP.

-VSB P

5 Signs That You Might Be Dating a Zombie Who Might Zombie Apocalapyse Your A**

You’d pretty much have to live under a rock to not realize that the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. From crazy ninjas eating homeless guys faces to random Black college students eating hearts, etc…one thing is for sure.

Black folks are TOTALLY taking over the crime market previously labeled as “Whites Only”.

Seriously, what is really going on these days. Obviously there are some mental health issues at play but do you realize HOW f*cked up you have to be in order to partake in cannibalism. In 2012? You can buy a 20-piece of chicken nuggets for like $2.99. The point is that you don’t need to eat other people. The rent may be too damn high but unhealthy foodstuffs are cheap as hell. Eating somebody’s heart or face just doesn’t seem necessary. At all. Unless you’re f*cked the f*ck up.

Moving on. Well, with this Zombie Apocalypse upon us, it is important to start looking for the signs. One day your best friend is cool as a fan, gat in hand, and then the next day this mofo is nibbling on your finger reaching for the Tabasco or Texas Pete. Now imagine if you’re out here dating in these streets!!!!! You JUST might end up dating a motherloving zombie. Now a stone cold non-killer like myself believes that Ace of Base had it right when they started sawing the signs. That’s because just like neon and STOP…signs exist.

So let’s take a look at 5 signs that the person you’re dating just might be a zombie (and thus you should probably cuz that relationship short).

1. They spend too much time examining and appreciating your physical features

One person sees appreciation, but think about it like a zombie? If I’m a zombie, I’m looking at you for the whitemeats, thighmeats, goodmeats, etc. What if I’m a fingerloving zombie? And I really admire your fingers. I’m just saying, anybody spending too much time appreciating certain features might be on that zombie sh*t.

2. They’re Boston Celtics fans

Two words: Marquise. Daniels.

3. They keep showing up announced

Aside from just being straight up stalkeresque, I feel like anybody who constantly shows up unannounced just might kill you. But since they are already f*cked up, there’s a good chance they just might try to eat your face. There could be a pun in there but I’m too lazy to find it and its 11:56pm right now and I’m not even halfway through this sh*t because I keep watching replays of the Wade missing that damn 3. Sure he had a good look and sure you can’t ask for a better shot than that, but WHY THE HELL CAN’T THE HEAT HIT FREE THROWS??

What was I talking about again? Ah yes…zombies. And dating.

4. When they write you love letters or texts – it is 2012 afterall – they tell you that they can’t picture life without you

While that absolutely sounds like the sweetest thing Lauryn Hill has ever known (SUMMER JAM…go Nas) just think about that for a second. If somebody determines that they no longer want to be with you…and you have already determined that you cannot live without that person…wouldn’t that effectively kill you? Yes. And if you are dead and come back into the game on some zombieing sh*t, wouldn’t you THEN go eat the heart and calf of the person who kilt you dead?

See also: P.M. Dawn – I’d Die Without You and Robin Thicke – Lost Without You

5. They always want to take you to Brazilian steak houses or places that serve inordinate amounts of meat

And yes, if your boo ONLY eats MeatLovers pizzas and isn’t being ironic, then there’s a good chance that you’re dating somebody who might go full zombie on you at some point. They’ve already got an affinity for meat. Or one of those places that services bacon-wrapped, pork chopped wrapped, steak with sausage balls in the middle. Yeah. that motherlover is already on that flesh sh*t. And you know what you have? Flesh. And do you know what motherlovers on that flesh sh*t do? Go zombie. Word to big bird.

Well that’s 5 signs to look out for. What else do you have? This is VERY IMPORTANT right now. With zombies out here going all hipster on us, we need all of the help we can muster. And um, what the f*ck up is up with the zombie apocalypse anyway? What do you think is really going on in these streets??

Talk to me.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. DON’T ZOMBIE ME BRO aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3