Authors: Victoria Christopher Murray
I grabbed fresh underwear from my dresser drawer, then went into the bathroom. Slipping out of the sweatpants and shirt that I'd changed into last night, I took a quick shower, then went about my regimen as if life hadn't changed. Brushed my teeth, twisted my hair into a bun, then slipped into my bra and panties. I glanced at the sweatpants that I'd just left on the floor, and after a moment, picked
them up and jumped right back into them. The best anyone was going to get out of me today was clean underwear.
Before I left the bathroom, I glanced at myself in the mirror. Yesterday, I would've said that this was the best I could do as a mommy. Today, this was the best I could do as a widow.
That word stopped me cold. I was really a widow, really a woman who'd lost the love of her life.
Thank God the doorbell rang before that thought settled too much in my mind. I scurried from the bathroom, rushed to the front of the house, and then I took a deep breath before I pulled open the door.
I tried my best to lighten my voice. “I need to give you guys a key, huh?” This time, my heart allowed my smile to remain for a few seconds.
Emily smiled back as she hugged me, then she passed me to Jamal and he did the same. Jamal held me a little longer, as if he knew that I needed to feel the strength of a man's arms around me.
“How are you?” Emily asked.
Then, I have no idea what happened. The dam broke and tears gushed out.
“Oh, Miriam,” Emily said as she put her arms around me again and led me to the sofa.
“I'm sorry,” I said, and tucked my sobs back inside. “I don't know what happened. I've been doing so well.”
“You don't have to do well, honey. You don't have to hold anything in.”
Emily and I sat, and Jamal stood in front of us, shifting from one foot to the other. For the first time, I really looked at him and saw the reddened rims of his eyes.
He said, “UhÂ .Â .Â . are the boys asleep?”
I nodded. “They're still in my bedroom and I didn't want to wake them up.”
Jamal's eyes moved between me and Emily. He finally settled on Emily when he said, “I'm gonna go check on them,” before he left us alone.
I shook my head. “Em, how am I going to do this?”
“It's going to be hard. And I can't say that I know how you feel, but I do know that you're going to be able to do it. With your friends, with your familyÂ .Â .Â . and, most of all, with God.”
With God. I hadn't thought about God at all. Not since He let me down.
“Not sure how much God's going to help me.”
Emily reared her head back. “Miriam!” she said, as if my words were blasphemous.
I knew that was a shocker. Emily had started going to church with me when we were in college and we'd both been members of Hope Chapel ever since, so those words had to sound like craziness from my mouth to her ears.
“Why would you say that?” Emily questioned.
I recalled the moment when God had let me down. “When we were in the car with Michellelee rushing to the hospital, God told me that Chauncey was all right.”
I nodded. “I felt such peace. The only one I was worried about was”âI paused, giving myself time to lower my eyesâ“I was only worried about Jamal. And so, I prayed and prayed for him.”
Emily squeezed my hand. “Thank you for praying for my husband.”
“I prayed for both of them,” I said. “But God lied about Chauncey. Chauncey wasn't fine.”
“Well,” Emily paused and pondered her next words. “Maybe God did say that because really, Miriam, what can
be finer than being with God? And that's where Chauncey is, so he
I wondered if what Emily said was true. When I felt that peace, was that the exact moment whenÂ .Â .Â . I shuddered and ran my hands up and down my arms, trying to warm my suddenly chilled skin.
“Okay.” A beat. “You know God didn't let you down, right? You know He's here and He's going to stay.”
I shrugged. “Whatever. He can be wherever He wants to be. He just doesn't have to worry about hearing from me, because I don't have anything to say to Him.”
“You can't stop praying.”
I shook my head, but then Jamal saved me from having to disappoint Emily any further when he came back into the living room. “The boys are still sleeping.”
“That's good. And I hope they stay that way until my mother-in-law gets here. She'll cuddle and coddle themÂ .Â .Â .” Another smile came to my face as I thought about my mother-in-law with my sons. But like the rest of my smiles, this one didn't last long. Looking up, I said, “Jamal, I need to start making”âI paused for a secondâ“the arrangementsÂ .Â .Â . and I don't know who I should talk to.”
Jamal lowered himself onto the ottoman in front of us and while Emily held my hand, he said, “Are you sure you want to do this now?”
I nodded. “It's not like waiting is going to change anything.”
“Okay,” Jamal said before giving a quick glance to his wife.
“Plus, I don't know how long Mama Cee will be able to stay in Los Angeles,” I said. “I want to do everything so that she can get back quickly.”
“I'm sure she's not thinking about leaving you anytime soon,” Emily said.
“Well, whether she stays or goes is fine,” I said. “I'm still ready to get started.” Looking at Jamal, I added, “Soâ”
Emily's ringing cell stopped Jamal from speaking, and as she answered it, then stood and took a few steps away from us, Jamal took my hands in his. “How are you doing?” he whispered.
I studied him a little longer this time, and his eyes were glazed with the sadness of the thousand tears he'd probably shed. But also in his eyes I saw the love that he'd felt for his best friend. Though best friend would never completely define Jamal and Chauncey's connection. Theirs was a brotherhood that was thicker than blood. Finally, I responded, “I'm doing about as good as you.”
When he squeezed my hands and nodded, I knew that he understood and I wasn't alone. We shared seconds of silence as he held my hands and waited for his wife.
Finally, Emily came back. “I don't know why I hadn't thought of this,” she said. “That was the school board. They need me to come and speak to the children.”
I don't know why I hadn't thought of it either. Dr. Emily Harrington-Taylor was one of the best child psychologists and life coaches in the country. Even though she had a private practice, she was usually one of the first called in for any kind of tragedy or trauma that involved children.
Jamal asked, “Where are they meeting?”
“They've gathered the parents and children at First Baptist of Inglewood.”
“No, for a session to discuss what happened, to let the parents know next steps, and to bring the children together to grieve. It's
actually a good idea, but honey”âEmily eased back down to the couch and turned to meâ“I hate to leave you.”
“Oh, no. Go, Em. You have to go. You're the best and you have to help those children.”
“What about you?”
“I'll stay,” Jamal said. “I'll help Miriam start the arrangements and take care of the boys when they wake up.”
I watched Emily's shoulders slack with relief, as if she didn't feel like she was abandoning me altogether. “Thank you, sweetheart.” Then, to me, she added, “I'll get back here as soon as I can.”
I shook my head. “Don't worry about me. I'll be surrounded in a few hours. My mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and your husband.” I tried to smile again. “Seems to me, I'm in good hands.”
Emily stood and grabbed her purse. “That you are.” She kissed her husband, a soulful kiss that made me turn away. I couldn't watch that kind of kiss that I would never have again. “Bye, babe. I'll call you.” Then she hugged me.
The three of us walked to the front door together and then Jamal and I stood side by side as Emily stepped outside. “Wait!” Facing us, she said, “What about the car? We came in mine, remember?”
“Someone will drive me home.” He added, “Don't worry, you go talk to the kids.”
She smiled. “I will. And you take care of Miriam.”
lipping into the car, I glanced back at Miriam and Jamal standing at the door, and for a moment, that picture of them startled me. They stood the way Miriam and Chauncey always did whenever Jamal and I were leaving their home, side by side and waving as we drove away.
I didn't think it was possible, but my heart ached even more now. I would never see Miriam and Chauncey like that again, and my eyes filled up. I waited until I rounded the curve of the street and was out of their sight before I eased my car to a stop.
Except for the moment when I'd heard that Chauncey had died, I'd fought to keep my tears inside. But now I leaned my head against the steering wheel and let them flow. I wasn't crying just for Chauncey and the others who'd died. My tears were also for the ones left behind. Especially Miriam, who had loved Chauncey just about her whole life. It was impossible to imagine what Miriam would be like without him. Would she ever laugh again, have fun again, or even love again?
And what about their children? After eight years of marriage, Jamal and I were still childless. That had never been a big deal for
us. Testing showed we were fine, so Jamal and I believed if we were supposed to have children, we would. But in the meantime, Junior, Mikey, and Stevie filled our lives with joy, and thinking of them without their father made me sob harder.
There was so much pain. That was the problem with grief. It left physical and mental devastation in its path.
This was going to be the most difficult time of Miriam's life, but I was going to be there with whatever my best friend needed.
My best friend.
At least the thought of that brought a smile to my face. Because while we loved each other dearly from just about the moment we met, we had that one little hiccup where, I swear, I came close to tossing our friendship aside. And it was all because of JamalÂ .Â .Â .
February 2, 1998
I knocked just
one time and then barged into Miriam's bedroom. She was pretending that she was asleep, but I knew that she wasn't. So I bounced on her bed.
Miriam didn't think I could see her, but through the reflection in her mirror, I could tell she was squeezing her eyes tighter as she snuggled into her pillow.
Okay, I knew my suite mate was not an early riser on a good day, and certainly not on a Saturday. But after eight wasn't early, right? Plus, I had waited a week and I needed to talk now.
I whispered. “Are you awake?”
“Yes, you are!” When she didn't move, I added, “Come on, I need to talk.”
With a sigh, Miriam finally rolled over and pushed herself up. She pressed her back against the headboard, crossed her arms, and glared at me. “This had better be good. And by good, I mean something like Oprah announced she's running for president, or you've just won the lottery. Anything else could get you cut for waking me this early.”
I laughed because that was a good one. I didn't think Oprah was a Republican, but I'd vote for her. But even though I laughed, Miriam didn't. “Okay, okay,” I said. “You're going to love what I have to say.” I paused, wanting to build up the moment. “Give me Jamal's telephone number.”
“If you don't have it, get it from Chauncey.”
“I have it,” Miriam said, “but whyÂ .Â .Â .”
I didn't even let her finish. “Because!” Then I grinned.
She stared at me for just a second more, then she scooted back down in the bed and pulled the covers all the way up and over her head.
“Miriam!” I snatched that blanket away, knowing that she'd be freezing in that little baby-doll nightie she had on.
“Didn't you hear what I said?” she asked.
“You didn't say anything.”
“Well, let me give you another hint.” She grabbed the blanket from me and covered up again.
For a moment, I just stood there, incredulous. “Why won't you give me his number?”
Miriam didn't say a word, but she knew me better than that. Did she really think I was going to walk away just because she didn't feel like talking?
“Miriam!” I kept calling her name until she tossed back the blanket and sat up again.
She crossed her arms again and poked out her lips. “Emily”âshe said my name slowlyâ“I introduced Jamal to Michellelee. I wanted the two of them to get together.”
“They didn't like each other,” I said. “You saw them together. They didn't say a word after hello.”
“That's 'cause you were doing all the talking.”
“No. Jamal and I were talking together. Look, if I thought for a moment that Michellelee was into him, I wouldn't be asking for his number.”