If I were to pick up telling the story about Bradley’s final days, I would want to pick the moment up in the car. It took us quite some time to get to his sister’s house in Maryland, which was only about 4.5 hours away from our Brooklyn apartment. Bradley and I had developed a habit of taking leisurely breaks on long rides. I usually had to pee, and he was usually hungry. Both of our needs could be met in one fell swoop at the rest stop. Bradley also never saw a reason to rush to a destination. He was king of taking his sweet ass time. Sometimes, the world had to wait on Bradley. I must say, I’m hard pressed to remember a moment when he rushed me to do something and it wasn’t with joking energy.
On long drives, the car transformed into an oasis. Neither of us were happy with life in New York, so we took advantage of every opportunity we could to get far away from the city – usually to Maryland or Indiana to visit friends and family. Bradley and I never had the opportunity to plan a vacation for just us, and that was one of the topics up for discussion in the car. Where did we want to go? Bradley suggested the Dominican Republic. His former residency in Washington Heights coupled with years of working at Starbucks were big influencers of his choice. Most of his friends were Dominican, he loved Dominican food, and based on the fact that we lived in Brooklyn, and spent a significant amount of time at Locksmith Bar, I’d say I understood his choice. Too bad he wouldn’t live to see the shitshow death stories of tourists in DR who were drinking in their resorts. If he were alive though, he’d probably combat that with the fact that we could stay with his friend Louis’ family, and we’d be fine.
We were always fine when we were in a good place, and even when we weren’t, we knew how to get back there.
I’m a distracted storyteller, back to the car.
Our car rule was that if you were the driver, you got to pick the music, and the passenger had to play DJ. “Life’s a Bitch,” by Nas will forever be a song I associate with Bradley. Personally, I felt iffy and almost decided to break our rule when the song played in the car. My first thought was, We’re gonna crash to this song, but it was Bradley rapping word for word, and lyric for lyric that would cause me to join in at the chorus: “Life’s a bitch, and then you die, that’s why we get high, cuz you never know when you’re gonna go.”
Even in the recollection of the lyrics, my mind immediately skips to his sister’s house. It completely skips over the wonderful 40 minutes we spent playing with our puppy in an open field on an empty parking lot because he was so insistent on taking his time that day, knowing we were already a day late.
I see him standing in the kitchen, as I’m sitting on the sofa taking out my twists and getting prepared for the two hour journey to his cousin’s house. Mama Moore had recently told Bradley about a cousin he’d never met from his mother’s side, who also happened to live in Maryland. Erika, the baker, of course prepared sweets. We opted to stay with her, and leave Nyla there, as we had discussed a full weekend in Maryland that consisted of his family, and my framily. That Saturday, we were going to visit my loves Brandon and Keisha, and Steven and Mariah. I was thrilled. Usually, if I wanted an escape, I would disappear to these houses by myself, but for him to join in my solo escape plan? We were solidifying our belief that everything would be fine, as long as we were together.
Anyways, back to the kitchen.
Back in the day, Nyla would have what I called, ‘wailing poops.’ You knew, from the minute she squatted down and stared at you – that she was about to wail. Embarrassing isn’t even the word. All of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick knew my wailing poop dog. To ease her bowels, Bradley found an article that suggested we feed her pumpkin. Needless to say, we came prepared to Maryland with several cans of pumpkin for Thanksgiving weekend.
And Erika had a difficult can opener with one handle.
“Erika, how the heck do you use this thing?” would be the words that piqued my interest – it’s like whenever someone says they need hell, I enjoy running to the rescue. Call me a teacher. Call me a Virgo. Call me nosy even, because he wasn’t even talking to me, and I yelled, “I’ll help you!” knowing damn well I didn’t know how to work the can opener either, and was just going to take advantage of the moment to figure it out.
I looked up, and noticed something strange about the way Bradley was moving. I was looking at him, and I watched his eyes roll to the back of his head, and I watched him fall backwards. The time on the stove now appeared clear as day – 2:45pm. I didn’t know if he was joking or not, but I hustled over just the same. Bradley was a 6’4”, 210 pound man that somehow fell smoothly backwards and his head landed perfectly between the gap of the refrigerator and the stove. Seconds could be hours here, and I couldn’t tell you the difference.
This wasn’t a joke.
The way that Bradley’s body, particularly his fingers began to contort –
I kneeled by the side of his face and kissed him – this is important to me, because he refused to give me anything but a forehead or shoulder kiss for the past week, as I was sick with my annual respiratory infection, and Bradley could not afford to be sick.
I don’t remember much dialogue. I just see movement. I know I called for Erika to use her military experience to conduct CPR on Bradley. It had been awhile since I even practiced administering CPR (it would also be almost two years later, when I would find myself having an entire emotional breakdown at work as I knelt next to one of the half-dummy bodies for my CPR certificate), and at this point, it was clear that something was wrong. Even Nyla began to do her best to rescue Bradley. She jumped right on top of him and began barking emphatically. Bradley’s body began to relax, and he urinated. I remember feeling embarrassed for him. This man didn’t even like wet socks – and it took nothing but a moment for the thought to become real.
Am I about to be alone now?
I remember things in vignettes at this point – like little flashes of memories. I remember when the doctor heartlessly told us that Bradley did not make it. He really asked about our plans for Thanksgiving, what were we going to do, what foods were going to be prepared, and in the very next breath said, “Yeah, I hate to tell you this, but he didn’t make it.”
I remember spending an endless amount of time next to his body. Holding his hand. Watching his fingernails turn blue, and the color drain from his face. I looked at how his lovely Thanksgiving outfit was ruined. Bradley loved to dress. But in order to get to his body quicker, they cut through the layers of his clothing. His vest. His white shirt. I removed the tie from around his neck, and undid the belt around his waist. I took his cell phone out of his pocket and proceeded to enter his password. It’s funny. He’d only recently shared it with me because he grew tired of using his thumbprint or eyesight to reopen the phone when he wanted me to watch a video or order groceries.
I wrote a list of people that I knew Bradley loved that were outside of his family and friends back home. I crafted a list of everyone important to him in New York that I knew – and the people that could connect me to the ones I didn’t. As I was using his phone, an officer stood over me.
“Excuse me, who are you in relation to the deceased?” He asked.
“I’m his girlfriend.”
“Well, due to the nature of his death, we’re going to need his phone to see if there was any strange behavior beforehand.”
I handed the phone over without a second thought. I immediately regretted that. I’d never see that phone again.
It took five months before I’d have a dream about Bradley following his death. I’ll never forget the dialogue.
“I’m still mad at you.”
“Mad at me for what? You’re the one that left!”
That was it. I knew it was the phone.
I beat myself up for months about this thought, as my insecurities began to shine through, and in the absence of Bradley, I was confronted with the fact that many of the issues I had placed on Bradley was actually an avoidance in my own life of taking responsibility for my self-improvement. Who was I going to blame my feelings of inadequacy on about my weight, or the fact that I didn’t like looking at what I saw in the mirror all the time? Certainly, even after Bradley discovered what I was doing (for he just had a good read about what was his problem, and what was my problem), he sought out different ways for me to get active. How would I ever find the energy to motivate myself?
I remember the first time that I had to come to grips with the fact that my life as I knew it would change forever. I remember that there was nothing to really remember. Did I even know how he looked? How would I even be able to describe him or hold him in the dreamscape of my mind? I feel like his image was slowly fading from my head, and I could only grasp for slowly fading pieces of a life that would remain forever gone.
Erika and I stared at each other for a long time because somehow, we knew that our lives would forever carry this marker bonding us together. Nothing after that moment would ever remain the same for either of us, I thought, as we drove back to her apartment in silence. We had agreed earlier that we would still finish the mission: Head to the cousin’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.
Bradley had told me about his cousin before we left New York. He was so excited to meet this cousin on his mother’s side of the family. They had only recently found out about said cousin, and realized that Erika lived about two hours away from her. The plan was to leave the animals at Erika’s house, and embark on travelling two hours back from the direction in which we came to enjoy the meal. We would then drive back to Erika’s house where we would spend the weekend – one night with her, one night visiting my friends turned family – Mariah and Steven, and Brandon and Keisha.
I was so excited for us to spend that time with our loved ones. Heaven only knows how often I tried to get Bradley to go with me on a trip to visit my people. I don’t know why he was always so resistant. My people would love him because he loved me.
And somehow, none of that mattered in this space and time.
There was no longer a Bradley and I.
There was no longer Bradley.
“You know, you all need to consider making arrangements right now. I’ll tell you when my brother passed, I know it was hard to keep pushing, but you have to keep pushing. You can grieve once the funeral has passed.”
I don’t know if his cousin understood what we had just witnessed. We saw life leave a body right before our very eyes – a concept that is still difficult for me to grasp. I stared at his cousin as she continued her speech about what it meant for us to still stay focused in a time of intense pressure. I stared into her eyes mostly, looking for a glimmer of hope – something that I could hold onto and say, yes! You’re right.
I don’t think I found that moment.
I remember spending the rest of the day in the guest bedroom with the curtains drawn. While I couldn’t be receptive to the advice that she was giving, I was thankful for the blackout curtains she had in the space that would allow me to have my outer world match my inner world – everything was bleak, and hope could not just be restored through wishing. My life was over as I’d known it.
By Friday night, I still refused to eat. At this point, the last meal I had was a double chocolate chunk brownie from Starbucks that Bradley had gotten for me to snack on while we were on the road Thursday morning.
“Sweetie, you have to eat something. You cannot just sit here and not eat.”
“No. I’m just not hungry.”
“This is not good for you.”
I didn’t care what cousin’s assumptions were about what was good for me and what was not, because I remember being annoyed by that point. I was tired of feeling like we just couldn’t have the weekend to grieve.
We’d spent the day, per cousin’s suggestion, calling around and trying to figure out what help and support we could figure out as it pertained to Bradley.
Both Erika and I had been bombarded by calls that day asking us if we were okay, how we were doing, and what happened. I had wished at that moment I could just be a video recording of the details of the events followed by a big, “This is why we need you all to fuck off, thanks.”
It wasn’t helpful that representatives kept calling from the hospital as well. I’ll never forget giving permission for Bradley’s organs to be donated. I questioned the representative. Told her it was too soon, and she hit me with, “Every minute that we don’t make the decision is a minute that these organs lose viability, and another minute we lose on saving a life.”
Every caller wanted to know the details of an event that was still so fresh in my mind that I was uncertain if I had even taken the time to process that I had just lost the love of my life. The man I had decided that we were going to ride this thing called life together. I lost my partner.
And really, all the losses.
A mother lost her only son. A father lost his only son. Their legacy. His sisters lost their only brother. His niece and nephews lost their uncle. Aunts and uncles lost their nephew. Cousins lost their cousin, Friends lost a friend. The crew lost a member. A job lost their employee, and coworkers, their coworker. The neighborhood lost a neighbor. The loss was insurmountable. There was never a moment when I wasn’t thinking about the sheer impact of one human life – a human life that while ended naturally, was still a young life that had much more to live.
Bradey’s death changed everything for me.
“She’s really got to eat,” his cousin said to my friend. My friend Dominique, who was in Maryland at the time had called to check in on me, and cousin was trying to fill in the pieces where I could not.
“Hey Jammy, I’m on my way.”
If I could think about the silver lining that rescued me from my thoughts, it was Dom. Honestly, in that whole moment, I couldn’t think of anyone more perfect to have in my corner. Dom, who experienced a sudden major loss the previous year, was able to pour into me that day intuitively, as she knew how to meet me in that dark place to help pull me closer to the light.
Dom arrived, and as soon as she took off her coat, she warmed up a plate of food for me, and was coaching me through every bite. If I even stopped to talk for longer than thirty seconds, she was telling me to take another bite.
In my heart, at that moment, I needed to be comforted and nurtured by my own. As wonderful as it had been for Bradley’s cousin to open up her house to me – a stranger, and just the girlfriend of a cousin she had never met, I needed the comfort and companionship of my own people. That night, I asked Dominique to take me to Upper Marlboro, where I already knew there was a spare bedroom with my name on it, and my dog and I would be welcomed with open arms. I knew there as a place where I could rest my burdens, and even if just for awhile, someone would be able to ease the pain that was sitting in my heart.
Maybe it sounds cheesy, but I wanted to go where everybody knew my name.
Dom obliged, and dropped me off that night on Rhine Road, where my friends Mariah and Steven welcomed me. They met me outside on the lawn and began to take my bags and offer hugs of comfort. I knew at that moment, I would be safe to grieve. That I could mourn in peace and people would know the right things to say to me.
It has taken me four years to complete my thoughts around the events surrounding the day before and after Bradley’s death. I was not emotionally ready to have my heart let go of the pain and suffering that had been trapped for years – that I formed an identity around.
Maybe it was the part of me that did not want to admit that the man who had just died was the man that I was putting all my eggs in one basket for – that he was the reason I felt motivated to just wake up every morning. At that time, I felt he was the only one who could shake – he could sometimes be the only person to shake me out of my states of depression and get me into the shower – better yet – throw me into the shower when he noticed my hygiene was slipping due to letting emotions get the best of me.
How was I supposed to face being alone?
Maybe it was also knowing that if everything happens for a reason, I would surely have to admit that one of the reasons why he died and I still lived is because we were only meant to work out for a season, and not the lifetime that I had envisioned. One of Bradley’s favorite things to say to me was that as long as we were together, we could overcome anything.
How does one live such a life if there’s no ‘we’ to be together?
Maybe it was also the part of me that also had to admit that there were many things going on in my life that I conveniently blamed Bradley for – I blamed Bradley for my weight gain – every time he brought Little Caeser’s Pizza into the house and I had to force myself to eat it. Or, it was the constant stress of having to manage the bills and finances while I didn’t feel supported, and having to manage my feelings of codependency on my own.
What might have been the most triggering to think about was the fact that I lost my partner – my person for life that would let me know that life wasn’t something I had to go through in isolation. It was a fact indeed that I would be signing up for a new life – one that I wasn’t ready for, but one that I knew I had to endure in order to reach my full potential.
I really can’t believe that it took me four years to finish an entry about the day you died. I’ve learned, through many personality tests and through others that I have a tendency to avoid negative emotions, so it all makes sense.
There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think of you, and the joy that you brought into my life. I wish you could see our dog. She’s great, and still as loving as she was the first night she came into the house.
I wish you could see me. I’m still working on my weight loss goals, and I think you’d be proud to hear that I’ve definitely dropped some weight off over the years. I look better than the last time you saw me!
And I still love you and miss you terribly. I ended up getting your signature tattooed on my left bicep so that you’d stay close to my heart. Not that there was a doubt you’d ever leave it, but visual markers serve a special purpose for me.
It hasn’t always been rainbows and butterflies since you’ve been gone, but your absence has helped me hold on to the sunshine and hope more than to the feelings of despair and agony. I know the best and worst days of my life have yet to come, but I do know this much: my life is infinitely better because you existed in it. Thank you for your love.
**The fourth anniversary of Bradley’s death will be in two days. To leave words of wisdom and comfort for the ones he left behind, you can find his legacy page here.