This is the latest trend I’ve been seeing on social media, the how it started and how it’s going challenge. I don’t do the trend thing, by and large, but this one I like. Seeing your growth, seeing your changes. I’m all about that self-assessment life.
Your Square Peg was about 8 years old on the left. Newly arrived to the US, about to start school, grinning for her Dad’s camera. On the right, still here, missing Dad but hopeful for the future, still grinning. I’ve come a long way. Happy to be here.
Comics. Some of you out there remember newspapers. I still love them. When I was a wee Square Peg, my pops would buy the giant Sunday version of The Washington Post, which meant a voluminous comics section, which meant a color comics section, at that (the weekday comics were black and white), which meant me spending hours upon hours in our basement, reading and laughing at the antics of Beetle Bailey, Blondie, Cathy, and breathlessly seeing the latest in Peter Parker’s unrequited love for Mary Jane Watson. It was glorious. I also loved reading the Style section and perusing others parts of the paper, filling my mind with facts and people and stories. I’d wait for my Dad to finish reading and then he’d over a section to me. These were our moments and I remember them well.
Coffee. This didn’t only happen on Sundays, but the memory of Sundays and doing this is vivid: my mom would drink her warm cup of java and leave a little behind for me. I’d “sneak” into the kitchen and finish it up, swooning over her masterful mix of coffee, cream, and sugar. Glorious. These days, I can’t handle the caffeine like I used to, but boy, did I love standing by the kitchen counter and taking in that warm sweetness.
Feeling nostalgic today. Did you have a favorite day growing up?
He’s been a longtime favorite of mine. I was attracted to his quiet intensity, I think. When I saw the previews for Black Panther, it was always this thought for me. Wow. He’s kingly. He’s regal. I want to see himin this movie.
My friends laughed when I asserted in conversations that the depth-y aspects of the film, whether Killmonger was truly a villain, didn’t matter to me. Even the non-depth-y parts (“can we talk about how fine Michael B. Jordan is?”) were inconsequential. I was thoroughly in love with King T’Challa. After stalking interview after interview following the movie’s release, it was clear that Chadwick Boseman had stolen my heart.
Intelligent. Beautiful. That smile. Special in a way I couldn’t isolate.
And that’s why this one seems so hard to digest. Death is already a sting; being a deep believer in my Creator and appreciating the wonders of the human body forbid me from believing that death is a “natural part of life”; if it were natural, grief would be nonexistent. But thinking about how special he seemed, that indescribable aspect of his nature, gentle in a way but still strong—it’s a blow.
And certainly, the cancer is part of the blow. Having lost my dear Dad to cancer, I am tied to that disease in a way that is thoroughly unbearable. Learning that Chadwick had lived with cancer for four years while working…recently, I read that he had hope he would beat it. He was ready to beat it. My Daddy wanted so much to beat it. He nursed so much hope, even as radiation stripped him of strength, of energy, of life. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office one afternoon, infuriated with my father’s physician. Infuriated with him telling my father how well he was doing. Couldn’t he see how my Daddy was suffering? Couldn’t he?
So, yes, I see how it’s all wrapped up together. Mourning a man I didn’t know personally with remembering the grief of losing a man I loved with every fiber of my being. I see why it’s hanging on: this inability to stop thinking about Chadwick, to not shed tears when I read tributes about him, to let this go. I can’t seem to shake it right now.
My hope for the future is intact. I know, through Biblical promises, that I will see my dear father again. I also believe that for many we have lost. Even people we didn’t know personally.
But the loss of it all. It hangs on. It really, really does.
There are certain bold names that I associate with my Dad. Sidney Poitier. James Taylor.
The Beatles. Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. Aretha Franklin. I associate these people with Dad because growing up, his appreciation of their art and talent was long discussed in our household, and he never shied away from showing us kids visual (and audible) examples of why he thought they were so cool. And what I love about that, among other things, is that it opened the window to generations and people way before us. We fell in love with music, film, performers, etc., of another time and I really treasure that. One of those bold names I grew up hearing about was Muhammad Ali. I knew his bio from early childhood, it seemed. Before I saw his face, before I heard his voice. That he was Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, following the change in his religion. That he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That he called himself The Greatest. That he fought this guy and that guy and won. And above all, that Muhammad Ali came to Ghana in 1964.
My father spoke so many times of Ali’s visit to Ghana in ’64 that I imagined I was there. Never mind that I was hardly a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 1964: my father was a swinging single then, and wouldn’t meet the lady who would bring me into this interesting world until 10 years later. But trust me that the man could invoke excitement from a story: how he saw Ali, how the crowds were going wild, etc. I would observe the grin on his face and his wide, luminous eyes, and wish, so much, that I could have been there to see this larger-than-life man that had whipped my Daddy into such a frenzy. Needless to say, watching his interviews and marveling at his bravado when I was older was always a treat. I knew this guy. We had been introduced so many, many times.
Hearing about his death on June 3 was so sad. I thought about his children, his wife. I thought about how that confident, cocky, and cool man became slower, less mobile, less vocal as he bravely dealt with the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome. I thought about the grief that comes from losing a man of stature, of such significance, especially in the family unit. So many parallels that hit close to home. I thought about those, too.
Ultimately, however, I’m glad I knew him. Even though I didn’t.
I found this photo in my mom’s “secret” stash of photos one evening last week. I should tell you that my mother’s things–her clothes, perfume, shoes, etc.,–have long fascinated me, which means that since I was little girl, sneaking into her room to see what I could find and gaze at lovingly remains a pastime. Don’t worry: I leave most things undisturbed. Except the clothes. Anyway, I love that she keeps hidden photos and mementos that we don’t have access to. When I found this, I snapped a quick photo and placed it back into its hiding place.
This was taken in August 1983 in Accra, Ghana. I was 4 years old. I’m 100% sure my Dad was the photog, being that he loved taking photos of his children and family, even when we were sullen teens and refused to smile.
My birthplace and my home.
That Mustang, which was my mother’s. (Yep, Mama Square Peg rocked a Mustang!)
Those fat braids. (This was obviously was my go-to style.)
Oh, that face. Most photos from back, back, back in the day rarely found me smiling. I was a serious kid. I discovered those teeth a bit later, as you can also see from that ruffled, picture day photo. Other ones are of me coolly staring into the camera, as if we’re moments from battle. Ah, memories.
Look, I’m going to say it: This Square Peg sheds more tears in a day than your average baby. While this troubled me in the past, primarily because I was rarely a crier, I now fully accept the soggy fact that I weep at the drop of a dime. Hardly an exaggeration–I’m sure
I’ve watched many dimes fall to the ground and wept over my inability to loosen my back in order to pick them up. Anyway, so, so many feels. Let me go over some of the things that invariably get me:
Children being cute/wise/happy/every emotion. If a video is posted on a social media platform about a child being all of the above, I will sob. I’m the worst babysitter known to man (the refusal to change diapers is a clue), but little kiddies just get me. Maybe it’s because I long for the days when I didn’t know what a bill was or what taxes were. Mostly, though, it’s because of their innocence and joyful discovery of life.
Daughters and Dads. No surprise there. I miss my dad. When I see girls or women interacting with their fathers, the lump in the throat is unbearable. One of the reasons I distract myself with an assortment of things at wedding receptions–the tablecloth, my drink, the ceiling tiles–rather than watch the new bride dance with her father. Le sigh. Within the tears, however, there’s hope.
Cute animals. Yes, when pandas try to take baths or elephants roll around and pretend to be lap dogs, I smile and dab at the tiny tears forming in my delighted eyes. (Can I just add that this is one giant hint that I’m just getting older? I was a former side-eyer of all animal life. I blame YouTube. Not sure how many videos of dogs protecting newborns a woman can take.)
This Story/Nothing at All. When I was 19 years old and worked here, I worked with a bunch of fantastic, fantastic people. One of them was an awesome woman named Kate. Kate was a mother, a teacher, and had such an intriguing take on life. One afternoon, she told me how she found herself sitting outside at a cafe, having lunch, when she simply burst into tears. “I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t depressed,” she told me. “But I let myself cry. Because sometimes a woman just needs to cry.” As she went on to describe the healing and cleansing her tears brought to her soul, I was both horrified and fascinated by her tale. Horrified because remember that I wasn’t a crier back then. The idea of sitting outside while tears streamed down my face, as strangers passed me by, was nothing short of terrifying. Fascinated because I envisioned this lovely woman sitting at a table, her food abandoned, grinning and laughing as she wept. Needless to say, I remember Kate’s story often, particularly when those strange, incited by nothing tears envelop me from time to time. To her point, sometimes a woman just needs a good, long cry, apropos of nothing. When those moments happen, I let the tears come. I’ve yet to experience spontaneous tears at an outdoor cafe, but should you be driving and see the chocolate lady in the car next to you weeping, nothing is wrong. It’s just me and I’ll be fine.
C’est la vie, right? Sometimes we cry. Even if it’s because a baby elephant wants to be a puppy.
Are you a crier, my dear? Or are you a soldier like I no longer am?
In July 2005, my family lost my beloved father in death. Naturally, all things suffered because of this loss, which meant my overall desire to do anything. One of those things was writing. Significant because writing has always been my tool for dealing with personal pain; my longstanding avenue for catharsis. But I didn’t want to pick up a pen or type a few words on the computer. I didn’t want to do anything. And yet, because writing chose me and not the other way around, my art didn’t thoroughly abandon me. I found myself penning a few poems here and there, some about my father; I started a short story or two. But by 2007, I was done. Even if your art chooses you, you have to feed it with inspiration if you want it to remain by your side. There was no inspiration. I was blocked, absent of ideas, and basically a functioning griever, going through the motions of life and work and all that came along with it. At that time, I was temping at an architectural design company. Eventually, they decided to take me as a permanent staff member. One afternoon, I mentioned my two-year long writing block to one of my supervisors. She asked me if I blogged. I replied that no, I didn’t. She said the following. “Blogging will help you get the ideas and your creative mind flowing. Believe me. Try it. It’ll work.” Well, This Square Peg tends to be obedient when given suggestions. (Don’t confirm that statement with my mother. She will refute it.) That very evening in 2007, I started my first blog.
I knew that there wouldn’t be fiction or poetry flowing from these fingers. Not yet. No, I simply began to document my thoughts. Having kept a journal since I was 13 years old all the way through college, I knew how to pen the endless sentences that ran through my mind. (I still have those journals and I still read them from time to time and oh, boy.) So I began to look at blogging like journaling, except it was online and open for a few people to read whenever they found my little corner on the web. And I wrote and wrote and wrote. About my days, my adventures at work, my sadness, my goals and dreams. I wrote with the intent of merely occupying my mind. That happened and then some. It was also a great source of accountability–whereas a physical journal could just sit there, hopelessly ignored by me, each post I wrote helped me to be accountable to my goal of writing regularly. Eventually, the blog became almost like a friend who was there to listen while I talked to myself and whomever was reading. For six years, I blogged faithfully, even after the creative side of my mind stretched its arms, did away with the cobwebs, and began to churn once again.
My first post on that blog was entitled “So I Don’t Forget.” Blogging/journaling so I don’t forget my love of words, the utter joy of stringing words together. Needless to say, that little blog restored that joy exponentially. After a slight break with blogging, I came right back to my old friend through This Square Peg. I didn’t forget.
Shout out to that former supervisor who gave me that advice years ago. And everlasting thanks to my father, my Daddy–he was Daddy from the start and always will be–who loved the arts and generously gave that love with me.