Death has been a constant companion for the last three years. And while it hasn’t been easy to watch my parents attend the funerals of long-time friends, it’s even more disconcerting on my end, saying goodbye to former schoolmates, who are way too young for that final exit.
But for whatever reason, the fabulous forties have evolved into the terrifying decade of turbulence. My own personal struggles became unmanageable once I turned forty, and it was the fierce determination to not throw in the towel, that empowered my current status.
My acute awareness of how our imminent demise is much closer than we can ever imagine is a hovering reminder that’s no longer a morbid exercise in reality.
And when the phone call delivers the unexpected news about yet another contact from your youth, who succumbed to a terminal disease, the unfortunate news reaffirms the brutality of what we were born to endure.
When I was left alone to process what I had just been told, my mind produced images of the most memorable interactions I had with her. We were 16-year-olds who both fancied the same cute boy, who happened to be the cousin of our friend. The friction started when the cute boy made it clear that he liked me more.
We didn’t keep in touch after boarding school because quite frankly, that period in my life wasn’t particularly fun. I wasn’t mentally present enough to form strong bonds that would extend into adulthood.
That explains why a few weeks ago, when a former schoolmate randomly reached out and encouraged me to join the WhatsApp group that was set up to plan the anniversary shindig, celebrating the accumulated years since graduation, I was instinctively reluctant.
Against my better judgment, I accepted the invitation, but days later, I ran away. When one of the members of the group reached out to find out, I simply explained that I was overwhelmed with obligations, and not in an ideal position to participate in an event that wasn’t priority.
That was the absolute truth.
One of the main reasons why I left Facebook was due to the distracting camouflage of those destructive tools of engagement, that are propped to deceive users into falsehood of “likes” and the growing number of “friends,” who only pay attention when you’re popular or a convenient option for what they need.
I also hated the death announcements of former classmates, who clearly maintained a low profile to avoid the burden of trending, while dealing with life’s worst consequences.
When you observe the growing shrine of mourners, and wonder how many of them really knew the deceased well enough for that honor, it’s sobering enough to make you consider how it will go down after you leave this world.
The last thing I want is to have an active Facebook page at the time of my death, and because the thought of such a thing sent chills down my spine, I immediately deactivated my account.
I don’t need viral written remembrances from folks who were essentially strangers.
I also have a pretty good idea of how my former schoolmates will articulate their memories of me. They will recall a somewhat awkward, weird, dramatic, mostly nice, well-spoken, vain, thin girl with impossibly thick long hair that nobody wanted to plait unless the favor was returned.
They will also agree that at times I seemed out-of-it; almost buzzed. That explains why I don’t really remember much from that period. It’s the glaring proof of what childhood trauma wrought.
During early adulthood, I did form tangible bonds, and some of them are not presently intact. You’re more flexible and tolerant when you’re young enough to casually dismiss warning signs. And one of the best things about getting older, is finally taking ownership of who you are, and being unapologetically protective of your overall wellbeing.
It’s never a happy occasion when friendships don’t make the cut, and you’re forced to sever ties with people that you’ve known long enough to be saddened by the wasted investment.
When it ends badly, you might mourn, but eventually you move on.
As we try to process the horrifically tragic death of a beloved sports legend, and his precious 13-year-old daughter, and the seven other souls who perished in that ghastly helicopter crash this past weekend, we are overcome by the profound loss to the bereaved loved ones, and quite moved by the incredible display of affection and unyielding loyalty from shattered fans.
Kobe Bryant was a real-life superhero to so many who looked up to him, and hoped to take advantage of the promised accessibility to what he was working diligently hard to provide to his community and the generations to come.
And the gut-wrenching hours after his death was officially confirmed by news agencies were beyond excruciating, because of the relentless rumors that were circulating with the added measure of premature hashtags.
Who were the other passengers? Was his wife Vanessa also on board? What about his four daughters?
As we waited with bated breath, less respectable outlets like TMZ were already naming Gianna (Gigi) Bryant as one of the passengers who perished.
And in the midst of the unimaginable chaos, there was the sharing and rapid deposits from those who felt compelled to hit the crowd of mourners with the blast from the past, that was meant to drastically decrease our heightened empathy and pain.
When the political reporter from The Washington Post was unceremoniously suspended for sharing a link to a Daily Beast writeup of the 2003 rape case against Kobe Bryant, due to the deafening uproar that was amassed from supporters, who were united in their sentiment of how her timing was deplorably inappropriate, those actions sparked an ongoing debate.
There have since been a plethora of essays that attempt to tackle the ultra-sensitive topic of how to dutifully balance the coverage of a much-loved celebrity who was larger-than-life, and expectedly left behind a notable legacy that’s a mixed bag of greatness and low, low points.
Twitter makes it super easy to gather those damning receipts and patiently wait for the right moment to strike. The suspension of the Washington post reporter was obviously done in haste and in panic mode. The violence of an angry mob forces the need to cave to mounting pressure, and when death threats populate, all bets are off.
Did she have the right to do what she did, when she did it? Definitely.
That’s not the question. It’s really about the motives behind it, and how it felt manipulative and inhumane, when you consider the terror of family members, who were still waiting for confirmations of those on board with Bryant at the time of the crash.
We can’t downplay the fact that the rape case involving Kobe Bryant and his alleged victim is worth re-examination, especially in this new era of judicial accountability for seasoned predators, whose victims are fighting for delayed justice.
And when it comes to the public curation of legacies that are sadly cut too short, we do have to endeavor to pay homage to all of it; good, bad, and ugly.
In the grand scheme of things, Bryant will be fondly remembered for the positive influence he infused in his daily living. He will also be celebrated for being the quintessential family man, as a devoted husband and loving father.
His impeccable and legendary career in sports will be a beacon of light for years and years to come.
And the dark spots that naysayers insisted on highlighting, despite the fact that the news of the tragedy was still unfolding, and his beautiful daughter, who was poised to follow in her dad’s footsteps, was sadly emerging as a potential victim, will most definitely remain as vital parts of a story that will continue in the hearts of those he left behind.
There are ways to stand up for victims of sexual assault that exalt their dignity and validate their spoken truths, and then there are times, when those gestures seem self-motivated and not truly in honor of fellow survivors.
We come to this world without rulebooks and with the hopes and expectations that are sometimes realized, and in some cases they surpass anything we could’ve dreamed up.
What will they say when we go?
For me, it will be a complex array of tributes and outright curses from the handful of detractors who are convinced that I was bitchy enough to die.
The ones who know and love me, as much as I know and love them, are all that matters. I’m not interested in mending fences with ex-friends before the final departure, because I’m comfortable with the notion of leaving things as they are. I had no idea who they were at the time of my birth, and not being here anymore doesn’t inspire forced reconciliations.
The ones who never really knew me will say things that don’t match who I really was, and that makes sense because I would most likely do the same.
To his fans, Kobe Bryant was superman, to his loved ones, he was what they needed and more, and to his critics, he’s the privileged superstar, who got away with a crime, simply because he apologized, and maintained his innocence.
To me, Kobe Bryant was a highly-talented sportsman, who was entering the notable phase of his life that was supposed to be even more fruitful and rewarding.
He wasn’t perfect, and there are problematic scenes that shouldn’t be dismissed, but I prefer to recognize the complexities, as a whole. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about the weightiness of those controversies.
When former first lady, Barbara Bush passed away in 2018 at the ripe old age of 93, I felt the need to pen a reminder of her infamous visit to the Houston Astrodome in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Mrs. Bush demonstrated her racism, when she bluntly told the masses of displaced Black people, who barely survived, that they were better off in that harrowing status. Her summation was that these victims were in previously lowlier stations, and so being stuffed in an over-crowded stadium was a marked improvement.
My essay was published some days after her death, but it didn’t feel mean-spirited. She had lived a long and privileged life, and the details of her passing weren’t unfathomably tragic. And more importantly, as the first lady, who was tasked with being a comforter during national duress, it was necessary to point out those times she failed.
None of us will make our permanent exits with spotless records, and the guarantee that every single person we had history with, will respectfully remember us exactly the way we envision.
Life is messy, and death is messier.
And when it’s over, it’s over.
My heartfelt condolences to the families who tragically lost Kobe and Gianna Bryant, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Sarah and Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zaboyan.