Friday, September 23, 2016

2016

I am a citizen of the United States. I pay taxes every year to the Internal Revenue Service. I reside in the United States. I pledge allegiance to the flag. Sadly though my life doesn’t carry the same value in this country that some of my caucasian peers do. Because I’m a black man, I get labelled differently even by those sworn to protect me. I’m automatically “a bad dude” or “scary” just because of the color of my skin. I’m not saying every police officer in America is conditioned to be racist, but I am saying there is a culture in this country that leads to an inordinate amount of black people losing their lives to police.

The culture I’m talking about is the same culture that gives caucasians the audacity to tell black people that racism ended with the civil rights movement. That culture allows people to turn a blind eye to obvious racism occurring around them. It allows caucasian people to sleep at night because they can create every excuse under the sun for why someone who looks like me can get killed in situations they would survive. Ignoring racism around you is a component of white privilege, even if you aren’t a part of the group of racist individuals that exist in this country you can ignore it. 

The problem for African-Americans, blacks, or whatever you feel like labelling us is we can’t ignore it. We can’t ignore seeing innocent black people shot dead or beaten by police in the street on national television. It hurts. It pains every one of us deeply. It makes us angry. Which leads to another component of white privilege that allows a caucasian person to tell me I don’t have a plight even though they have never lived through any of my experiences. Well I’m here to say it: WHITE PEOPLE CANNOT TELL ME WHAT MY EXPERIENCES ARE. I know what I, my family, my ancestors, and my friends go through everyday that share my skin and my features. 

The worst part of all of this is the way white Americans are conditioned to be afraid of black people. Again, I’m not saying every white person in America is racist or even prejudiced but I am saying that culture exists in a much larger number than you can imagine. That culture is the one that has me followed in stores, or that locks the door when I walk by. That culture also has police automatically label blacks as criminals, as wrongdoers, as people who will harm them. So they shoot us without asking questions, or while we comply with their demands. This is the culture that allows a black man waiting with his stalled vehicle to end up getting shot dead, even while complying with demands he was given by the officers. 

It’s sad that we still struggle with this in 2016. It’s sad that all racism didn’t cease after the civil rights movement. It’s sad that my people still have to be angry enough to have to protest, or worse riot. It’s tragic that ending racism in America is a disruption of the status quo. Racism, either on purpose or inadvertently is considered normal in this country. The sad truth is like many times already in American history there will be some painful protest, unrest, and unhappiness until we can resolve more of our issues. With all this said, I only want the best for this entire nation and all the people who inhabit it, regardless of skin tones and facial features. It’s time for all of us to want that very same thing. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Miami Stories Vol. 5 Part 1

It had been two months since I made my return to Charlotte.Taylor still had yet to answer a phone call or text message from me. Dani still tried to communicate with me through threatening text messages, and Erin slowly became my recurring houseguest. I decided to give up my debaucherous life in Miami and find an everyday job. I woke up on a Sunday morning to Erin laying next to me, she had just lit a fresh blunt. She passed it towards me as she gave me my morning greeting:

“Morning fathead.”

After I took my first pull I peered over at her and said:

“Damn you look good this morning. Especially when you pearl a blunt like this.”

She laughed as I passed her the blunt, then she rolled over to give me a kiss. I looked in her big brown eyes and started to cry. I shut my eyes to mask the tears but it was too late. All I could see in my head was Taylor and how I left her in Miami. Erin looked at me with loving conviction and asked:

“Are you okay?”

“I love you Erin. I love you so much.”

“Paul, I love you. Please just tell me you are okay.”

“Roo, I’m fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. You want to eat brunch?”

“Hell yeah.”

I had already moved the majority of my things from Miami back to Charlotte, mostly my clothes and valuables. I also had all of Erin’s clothes I moved to Miami brought back. I climbed out of bed and walked toward my walk-in-closet, and Erin called out:

“Paul, why did you keep my clothes all this time?”

“I moved everything thinking you were coming to Miami with me. You never called after I moved, and I felt bad about just throwing them off the balcony into the bay. So I just kept them.”

“How thoughtful.”

I grabbed clothes off the racks in the closet: a white linen oxford shirt, bone-colored chinos, and a navy blue hopsack blazer. I typed a code into the security app on my phone and my mirror rose to reveal my wall of watches. I grabbed my Corum Admiral’s Cup 47 Legend off its winder, and wrapped it around my wrist. I spun around and walked out of the closet to see Erin standing in front of me in a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. Before I could even get a word out about how good she looked, she spoke up:

“Yes, I know I look good. You ready?” 

“Of course I am.”

“I’m driving”

We ran downstairs to her Jeep Wrangler sitting in my front yard. It was covered in its consistent coat of mud. I hopped through the doorless opening and sat in the tight seat. The crisp morning air felt good running over my skin as drove through the city. We pulled up in the valet circle in front of Vivace and hopped out to the ground. The valet, my stoner friend Justin, ran straight to us. We walked in straight past the hostess to the patio and grabbed a table.

From my seat I looked off the patio at joggers running by taking advantage of the weather. I still felt uneasy about enjoying a sunny brunch after leaving Taylor behind. I did my best to shake off the feeling as the waitress asked for our orders. I took advantage of the mimosa bar and opened up with the breakfast polenta. Erin had the same choice in drink and opened with the bruschetta. It was all very quaint and pretty but still left me looking at the world as if it were shrouded in darkness.

By the time we finished quietly eating the second course of brunch I had calmed myself again. The waitress dropped the tab on the table, and I quickly threw a $100 bill in the check holder. Erin rolled her eyes at my overtly generous tip and we both left the table. We walked through the restaurant to the valet circle where Erin’s Wrangler was parked directly in front of the door. Justin ran up with her keys and I handed him a $20 bill as I walked towards the Jeep. As I climbed in he thanked me then asked:

“Are you coming to pint night at Flying Saucer tomorrow?”

“Depends on when I leave work, I’ll let you know.”

“Well if you get off early, come by Nick’s”

“Will do!”

As I finished my last statement, Erin took off out of the driveway. I could see she was obviously upset with something, so I inquired:

“What the hell is wrong now?”

“Fuck you.”

“Oh my god, what did I do?”

“Why do you always do that?”

“What?”

“Spend all that money for no reason. You just handed him $20 and all he did was move my Jeep six feet. You left the waitress a ridiculous tip, like who are you showing off for?”

“I’m not showing off. He parked your Jeep out front because of the fact I always tip well. The waitress is a single mother with two kids, I always tip her well because she does a good job. What the fuck is your problem?” 

“I don’t know.”

The rest of the drive was silent, Erin stared intensely at the road the entire way. We pulled up at the house and both hopped out and didn’t look at each other as we approached the front door. She stormed through the door and upstairs to my bedroom. I walked through the foyer to my office and grabbed my briefcase. As I walked back out, I shouted up the stairs:

“I’m going to the office, I’ll be back whenever.”

I walked outside to my garage, a detached, brick building with 8 garage bays. I walked inside and unlocked my key box, and grabbed the keys to my Volvo from inside. I walked down to black XC90 and opened the garage bay behind it. I opened the door and quickly threw my briefcase in the passenger seat. I reversed out of the garage and took off towards the city. I felt a monumental headache as I drove down I-85 to my office. I’ve always known Erin to be moody but I’d never seen her criticize my benevolence ever before. Before I could wrap my head around it, I was pulling up on my office park from Harris Blvd. I badged myself in at the gate and drove down into the parking garage. I grabbed my briefcase and headed into the building from the empty parking garage. As I approached the revolving doors, my phone began to ring, I pull it out to see 740-380-3942 on my screen. Who would be calling me from Ohio on a Sunday afternoon? I answered quizzically: 

“Hello?”

“Hi is this Paul?”

“Yes. Yes it is, who is this?”

“Paul, it’s Jack, Taylor’s father. Look, I don’t know how to say this but Taylor is…”

“Jack, what’s going on?”

“Taylor has passed away.”

“Are you in Miami?”

“Yes.”

“I’m on my way.”

I immediately turned around towards the parking deck and hopped in my car. I opened up the NetJets app on my phone and set up a route to Opa-Locka. I peeled out of the garage in the big hybrid Volvo towards the airport. As I bounced in and out of traffic on I-85, I grabbed my phone and dialed Erin. She picked up in a groggy state:

“Hello.”

“I’m about to get on a PJ to Miami. Taylor is dead.”

“WHAT?”

“I don’t know anything yet, her dad called me a few minutes ago. If you want to come with me you can.”

“Where are you?”

“I’ll be at Wilson Air Center in 20 minutes, meet me at the VIP lounge.”

I hung up the phone quickly as I continued to fly down the freeway. Before I knew it the Volvo silently pulled up outside the terminal. I checked in at the front desk and was escorted to the VIP lounge while the jet was being fueled. I asked the concierge to bring me a gin and pineapple from the bar. As I sank into the chair and sipped my drink, I watched the ground crews service the planes on the runway. I finished off my drink and as I began to ask the concierge for another a voice chimed in:

“Don’t give him another damn thing.”

Erin broke my trance with the shrillest version of her voice. She sat down next to me and grabbed my hand. I looked over at her and shook my head. I didn’t believe that she had the slightest idea of what was going through my head. We had about 3 more hours before my plane would be ready, so I dialed Taylor’s father, he picked up solemnly:

“Paul?”

“Yes, Jack. Look I’m waiting for a plane to get down there, where are you guys?”

“We’re staying at the Four Seasons. Where are you coming from?”

“I’ve been in Charlotte on business. I’ll call you when I’m in Miami.”

“Alright. See you then.”

I hung up the phone and immediately asked for another drink. As the concierge brought over my gin and pineapple, Erin looked over into my eyes. I looked away and she tightly grasped my hand. I took a long sip of my drink and stared out of the windows. Erin finally spoke:

“Paul, I’m sorry about what I said to you earlier. It wasn’t fair at all. I’ve just felt like something has been distracting you lately. Don’t let me hurt you. Seriously.”

“Erin, I’m okay. I just need to get past this.”

I opened my briefcase and pulled out my laptop to distract myself with the work I should’ve been doing. Before long I saw my plane taxi up to the VIP ramp, a Gulfstream G450. If Erin was angry about the way I tipped, I’m sure she wouldn’t like what we were in store for. I could’ve just flown commercial but that would’ve wasted time I really didn’t have. I ignored the fact she was staring at me and the ridiculous nature of the plane we were flying. The concierge made her way towards us and I continued staring into my laptop. 

“Mr. Hargrove?”

“Yeah?”

“Your plane is ready for you to board.”
 
“Oh thank you.”

She was still staring at me and I was still avoiding her gaze as I grabbed her bags and walked out to the ramp. The flight attendant greeted me and grabbed the bags as I walked up the quick set of stairs to the plane. I sat down in the forward portion of the cabin in a rearward facing seat, Erin sat directly in front of me. I was avoiding conversation but Erin wasn’t having it. I sat and waited for us to taxi out to the runway. When we finally took off, Erin broke the silence.

“Why are we on a private jet that can carry 14 people, Paul?”

“Because this is the plane I have partial ownership of, Erin. Look, do you just think I just wake up and think of new ways to be wasteful? Because if you do you can fucking say it now. I didn’t wake up this morning for you to judge me dammit. I make the damn money and I spend it the way I want to. If you’d like I can have them turn us around and you can piss off back home.”

Erin sat and stared for a few seconds, then unbuckled her seat belt and lunged at me and punched my face. She sat back down and stared at me again. The flight attendant came into the cabin and I waved her away. I sat and gathered my thoughts as the plane continued to climb. We eventually came to our cruising altitude and Erin got up and moved to the rear of the plane. I asked the flight attendant for a bottle of whatever champagne was available and told her I didn’t need a glass. I didn’t know why Erin was lashing out, but it didn’t really matter at the time. I was too stuck on having to see Taylor’s family after the heartache I caused her.

An hour later we were making our approach into Opa-Locka and the flight attendant came out to collect the empty bottle from me. Erin was asleep on the couch in the rear when the flight attendant woke her and asked her to buckle her seat belt. She looked at me and immediately turned away when my eyes fixed on hers. We landed on the tarmac, and taxied over to the ramp where a SUV was waiting. Erin walked past me and straight out of the plane to the open door of the black Escalade idling on the ground. The flight attendant followed behind me with our things and loaded them in the back. I climbed in the back next to Erin and we took off towards my Condo.

I stared around at downtown Miami as we drove through as the sun slowly set. I turned back to Erin and broke the silence:

“Are you ready to stop being childish?”

“No.”

“Are you ready to at least tell me what the fuck that was on the plane?”

“Look, I just don’t understand how you live. Plus, you’ve just been so distracted lately when you’re around me. I just thought you may have been with somebody else.”

“Really? I’m sorry you felt that way, I’ve been worried about things like today happening.”

“Today?”

“I haven’t spoke to Taylor since everything blew up down here. I was worried everyday that she was dead.”

I started to sob, and Erin grabbed my hand gently. I relaxed into the seat as we continued our journey to my second home. The brooding luxury SUV parked in the circle in front of the building and I carried our things to the elevator. The ride up was silent and somber, Erin laid her head on my shoulder as we rose to the 26th floor. I dragged our belongings down the hall to my condo. I entered the door and took in how it looked in complete darkness. I flipped on the lights and could see the thin layer of dust on everything. It was odd being in that space devoid of all the vibrance it used to hold. I walked over to the wall where I kept my car keys, and grabbed the set for my Porsche. I turned to Erin, firmly planted my feet and said:

“I’m going to go see her parents, I’ll back quick. Do you need anything?”

“No, I don’t need anything.”

“I had my assistant down here stock the fridge, so if you need anything it’s in there. Including a whole case of Guinness just for you.”

“How thoughtful.”

I started to walk through the door frame and Erin called out:

“Hey!”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t do anything crazy, please.”

I turned and continued through the door. I walked quickly to the elevator, waited a few seconds and walked in. I grabbed the wall with the sudden feeling of death surrounding me. My heart fell knowing that the one person in my life I took serious pride in was dead. I grabbed my chest trying to wrench at the knot that had developed. As the elevator slowed I straightened myself up before I exited. I stumbled out into the garage and around the corner to my parking spots. I walked up to my Porsche, covered in a thick layer of dust, seemingly abandoned in its space. I opened the door and sat deep in the seat, and pressed the start button. As the exhaust spit out a unique howl I started crying again, my tears darkening the red leather in the interior. 

I had to face what was happening, so I backed out of my space and drove to the Four Seasons. The nighttime lights of Downtown Miami brought life to the white paint on my 911 GTS as I drove towards the cold reception ahead of me. The car let off a fine burble as I slowed to turn off of Brickell Ave. I pulled up to the valet stand, and quickly gave the valet my key as i hustled into the lobby. I stood in the modern, wood-lined lobby, pulled out my phone and called Jack:

“Hey, Jack. It’s Paul. I’m in the lobby.”

“Come up to room 1023.”

The phone call ended and I walked over to the lobby elevators. I rode up the elevator alone, with only the electric whirr to keep me company. My mind raced through all the possible outcomes of this meeting. I couldn’t honestly say if I cared about how she died as much as why she was dead. I feared it had something to do with me but I was so in the dark I had no clues. I stopped running through my thoughts when the elevator finally halted. I slowly made my way down the corridor step-by-step inching closer to the door of their corner suite. I gave a light knock, and the door opened after a few seconds. I was expecting a reach for a firm handshake from Jack, but received a large hug instead. Jack then greeted me warmly:

“Paul, I’m glad to see you’re okay. Please come in. You’ve met my wife, Ellie.”

“Yes of course, I'm glad to see you again.”

I gave her a generous hug, a warm embrace that didn’t sit well with my soul. We all sat in the living room of the suite. The window had a grand view of Biscayne Bay. I couldn't hold in my thoughts any longer. I finally turned to them and asked:

“Look, what happened?”

Jack responded:

“The police say it looks like Taylor took her own life.”

I fought the overwhelming grief to ask:

“Did they find a suicide note?”

“Yes. They have yet to tell us what it says though.”

“I haven't been able to get in touch with Taylor for some time now, when did they find her?”

“Apparently she had been dead in her apartment for weeks, so it's been difficult to investigate.”

“Look, Mr. Farnham thank you for talking to me about this, I'm sure this is a very hard time for the both of you. I want you to know I loved your daughter very much.”

“Thank you, Paul.”

I hugged both of them again and made my exit from the room. I walked the hallway with my hands on my head trying to fight any semblance of guilt I was feeling inside. I felt like the elevator was spinning as it travelled back down to the ground. I made it out into the lobby and collapsed in a chair under a large, pseudo-Asian statue. I began sobbing uncontrollably as I sat. One of the concierge walked over to me as I cried and asked:

“Sir are you going to be okay?”

“No. The one person I've loved the most on this earth is gone. She killed herself. It's all my fault. It's all my fault!”

“Sir, please calm down. You're going to be okay. You're going to be just fine.” 

I sat for a few minutes attempting to pull myself together. I finally stood and walked out to the valet line. My Porsche was still sitting there waiting for me. The valet handed me my key and I gave him a $100 dollar bill from my pocket. 

The valet opened the door with a smile and I got in and took off. I headed north through downtown. The Porsche attracted more stares than I could ever imagine in a city full of every exotic car known to man. I crept through traffic looking to get away from everything I just heard. Trying to run away from my guilt and the shame of my terrible behavior, I kept pressing on. As I finally began to get comfortable, I received a phone call. It was Jack, I was so shocked I didn’t even want to pick up. I answered the phone in a quizzical tone:

“Hello?”

“Paul, I just spoke to some detectives from Miami-Dade PD. Apparently Taylor was killed.”

“WHAT?”

“Paul, who would do this to our daughter?”

“I don’t know, but I will find out.”

“I’m so sorry to tell you this Paul. This is just terrible.”

“I’m sorry that this happened to your daughter. She was everything.”

I hung up the phone and immediately began to think of who would kill Taylor. As soon as I began to ponder, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I slammed on the brakes in the middle of Biscayne Blvd and came to a loud halt. It hit my brain like an anvil from the sky: Dani. The Civic behind me was blaring its horn as I snapped back to reality. I took off towards North Miami, this was the last straw. I immediately called Erin, she picked up in a hazy voice:

“Are you on your way back?”

“Erin, are you still in the condo?”

“Yeah. Whats going on?”

“Look, lock the door. Make sure to check all the rooms, don’t let anybody in until I get back.”

“Paul, what the fuck is going on?”

“Erin, I’ll be back soon.”

I hung up the phone as I continued speeding towards Dani’s apartment. I just knew she was responsible when I thought back to all the threats she texted me about destroying my life. The look in her eyes that night at the foot of my bed played over and over in my head. Why did she have to do this? Why did she have to take Taylor from the world?

The Porsche came to a screeching halt in front of the apartment building. I sat in the seat staring up at her apartment on the third floor. I reached over into the glove box and pulled out a pistol case containing my Beretta NEOS and turned off the car. I had no clue what I was about to walk into. I took in a deep breath and got out. My pace was brisk as I walked up to the pastel blue 60’s apartment building. I held my gun to my hip as I made my way up the stairs. Flight after flight my breathing hastened until I made it to the third floor. I peeked my head around the corner before running down the corridor to her apartment. I gave two light knocks on the door and stood back with my gun aimed directly at the middle of the door. I looked around as I counted to ten in my head. I hit the count of one I ran and kicked open the door.