25 August 2016
Two weeks ago I was snorkeling in Cozumel, Mexico; eating magical brownies in Ocho Rios, Jamaica; and watching dolphins side eye white people on the Cayman Islands. It was my first time being on a cruise and it didn’t take long before I was convinced that I should’ve been born in the Caribbean. Of course there were problematic elements of the vacation -cultural appropriation is real and tourism is weird, but it was very relieving to take a break from New York City.
My phone was on airplane mode for five days; ain’t nobody got time for Sprint’s international charges. It felt so liberating to be released from the responsibility of constantly responding to emails, text messages, phone calls, etc. until we arrived back at the Port of Miami and I received crippling news: YOUR GRAMMY HAD A HEART ATTACK. THERE IS NOTHING ELSE THE DOCTORS CAN DO. WE DON’T KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER SHE’S GOING TO LIVE. I was suddenly charged with the most urgent responsibility of my life. Of course I changed my flight. My mom picked me up from the General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and we drove another 45 minutes to visit Grammy in a community hospice. I will never forget how her face lit up when she finally realized it was me. “Nik,” she whispered with joy and held me as tight was her weak limbs could. She survived for three more days. I was buying pads at Wal-Mart when my auntie called about her final departure.
Last week I finished a book called A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I painted my little cousin’s fingernails. I wrote scraps of poems. I sent a five-page letter to my incarcerated middle school sweetheart. I sang Happy Birthday to my mother, and I read my 64-year-old Grammy’s eulogy in front of a crowd of close and distant family and friends. My body was every kind of exhausted: jetlag + menstrual pain + emotional grief + anger – appetite – water = ZOMBIE NIKKI.
It was the first time I attended the funeral of someone I knew so intimately. Yet, after vulnerable conversations with several family members I learned that her drug and alcohol addiction was more severe than I thought. People in my family die relatively young because generational trauma is real. Mental illness is real. Addiction is real. I boarded my flight back to New York City terrified about the fate of my family. I’ve always felt like a pariah, so I’ve maintained a healthy distance because interactions with them can be spiritually draining. However, I’m currently conflicted with how I can maintain my mental well being while helping break this toxic cycle of destruction.
This week I ordered groceries, answered emails, and started unpacking my suitcases. Last night I drank wine and ate strawberries with Nutella while laughing with friends. Today I have an appointment for a routine Pap Smear and STI testing. I guess I’m saying my body is still moving. Life has been throwing some wild curveballs and my hands have been keeping themselves busy. I’m still here – with not as many answers as I’d like, but I’m grateful for all I have and everything my body can do. I want to live today. This breathing thing feels really special today.
Nicole hates wearing shoes, loves pancakes with crispy edges, and is still trying to figure out when a handshake is more appropriate than a hug. Instead of fulfilling her kindergarten dream of being the voice-over for read-a-long cassette tapes, she is using her BA in Poetry to excel as a full-time poet & teaching artist. Nicole currently resides on the east coast, where she enjoys eating dollar pizza and watching people fall asleep on the subway. She is a staff writer for Sula Collective. You can find more of her work on her website.