Note: If you haven't read Part I, it's a doozy and well worth the extra few minutes before diving in to Parts II and III.
I’ve always bucked trends. Successful black man in high-profile industry that was controlled by Caucasian males for almost a century. Never a wisp of scandal or intrigue. Professional, responsible, all-round family dude. Married to to the same woman for 22 years. And, for whatever it’s worth, I talk and sound white. You had no idea, right? I’m also Pops to three bright, enjoyable daughters – one now in law school, one crusading for women’s rights in Uganda, and the youngest wrapping up college with a double major – all of whom likewise accepted but avoided the spotlight my career shone on the family. Then Tamela was killed, and life flipped. No other way to say it. Life went absolutely upside down, cats living with dogs, Democrats with Republicans, Confederates with Yankees.
It's been 24 months since her death, and I’m no longer in our four bedroom, 2800 square foot, recently remodeled home, but instead, I’m a new resident in The Complex, this newly branded UrbanEights at 888 Terrace Blvd. I’m also in a quite different, quite foreign part of the state.
After riding the post Tamela grief wave - really sets of waves, some weeks they were tremendous forty footers, other weeks much smaller but powerful and sneaky – I became desperate and parched for connection. Not only was the spotlight flickering and fading, but I didn’t have Tamela any more to boost me up, to provide solace, to give herself to me when needed.
Let me be very clear here - I did not set out to make a statement or create a movement or any of that trumped up nonsense the media spotlight was spinning. I was drowning in the solitude of my post-celebrity, newly widowed, empty nest life. All the markers I’d grown accustomed to for decades were gone or drifting away. I had no idea how to navigate this new life.
It didn’t take UrbanEights CEO Jackie long to see through my thin, uncomfortable, non-celebrity public veneer. I think it was our third date, and we were eating at the Afghan place on Mission. She was a little quieter, more reserved than I’d seen so far, and I remember wondering if it was because we’d just started getting horizontal or if she’d just had a rough day at work. But then she deliberately set her fork down in mid meal, dabbed at her sensuous mouth with the purple napkin, and said, “I really like you. I think. But you’re gonna have to drop the bullshit act.”
I was caught off guard - I’m sure I looked like the classic deer in headlights - and I tried to cover by also carefully aligning my silverware and arranging my napkin. I’m pretty sure I took several small sips of my Cardamom tea before attempting to speak. “Whaddaya mean Tams, no bullshit here?”
She responded with a level stare and silence. Then she sat back, crossed her stunning legs, and then her arms. The two interlocking silver bracelets I loved clicked with business. She waited.
I gave her the stare back. At least at first. Then exhaled an awkward laugh in an attempt to change the mood. She was having none of it. I focused intently on my half-eaten shrimp kabab and spoke to it, not her. “Alright, Tams. Shit. I’ll talk but not here. Back at your place.”
Jackie took that in for a moment. I glanced up just in time to see her make a decision. She smiled, leaned forward, patted my arm, and then went back to eating. We finished the meal talking sports - me baseball, her football - and then our favorite vacation spots. Caribbean for me, Italy for her. We finished and I drove back to her place in near silence. We walked in the front, she kicked off her heels, poured two glasses of Chardonnay without asking, and motioned to the couch. “Alright, Mister Man, let’s hear it. What’s going on? Who are you?”
I held the wine but didn’t sip. And like at dinner, I found it easier to look at anything else but her. And I started to talk. Once going, the words didn’t just pour. They gushed. Niagra Falls had nothing on me. I paused a few times to gulp the sweet wine, and then finished forty-five minutes later, both our faces wet with tears. She had barely said a word. Just listened intently, nodded encouragingly, and held me when I broke down the first time. And also the second. Spent and hollow, I remember falling into a blessed pit of sleep soon after I stopped talking. And for the first time in years, I slept for 10 hours straight.
What's that? You're riveted and need to keep going? Here's the next chapter!
Ben's Note - After being a homeowner, a landlord, and a single-family detached home tenant, I'm now a resident in a luxury apartment complex, just minutes away from the subway, and several miles south of Oakland. Since moving in several months ago, I've been surrounded by a host of stories. The Complex is the first result from several inspirations and installments will appear every Wednesday through August.