How I Met My Father Part 4 – The Trip (Week 2)

I had talked about this trip – this whole experience really – being in the flow of divine timing. Well I was about to receive another level of confirmation that it truly was.
On Saturday, after a short night with little time to process the experiences from Selma the day before, dad and Ms Regina picked me up. We were going for a weekend trip to Clarksville, TN where another two of my siblings lived.
As I wasn’t sure how those encounters would go, I had put an emergency plan in place, allowing me to stay with some friends in Nashville for a night if I needed to get away at all. Oh how mistaken I was!
We got to Clarksville around lunch time and went straight to the hotel dad and Ms Regina were staying at. From there we went for lunch where I would meet my sister Brittiney for the first time. I had briefly spoken with her over Facebook messenger (as I had with all the other siblings) but somehow I was most nervous about how she would receive me. We got to the lunch place before she did and I was getting increasingly nervous. Her and I were closest in age (another story for another day) and somehow I really cared about how this would go. Her and her wife eventually arrived and now I was getting proper nervous. She said hi and her hi felt cold and distant. I was devastated. This didn’t seem like it would pan out the way I had hoped at all! We sat there for a while, making small talk, but I was determined to win her over.
I can’t remember if it was when we started talking about our shared love for traveling and babies, or whether it was when we both recognised each other more and more in the other’s smile and mannerisms, but after about half hour we were on a roll!
And not only did we notice, but those around us did too. It didn’t take long for dad to look at us and state with amazement: You two are two peas in a pod! Followed by Brittiney’s wife exclaiming later that day: Honey there are two of you now!

One of the most precious moments was probably when we had an honest conversation about what was – form her perspective – the elephant in the room. (I have her permission to share this story) I had met her wife, I knew she was married to a woman and to me that made no difference. But she didn’t know that. So whilst we were on our way to grab a coffee, just her and I, she brought it up. She said that she knew I was a christian and worked for a church and therefore knew (or so she thought) I probably wouldn’t get to be close to her. At first I wasn’t sure what she was talking about until she said: I know I’m an abomination but I can’t change who I am. My was heart broken. Who told her that? And how was the one main thing that came to her mind when she thought of me as a Christian that I would have to be anti-something? I went on to tell her that – though I am not a theologian and I wasn’t about to have a theological debate – the God I knew and I served was the God of love and grace and that he loved her as she was, the same way he loved me as I was! And that there was nothing that would or could ever separate her from that love. And therefore there was nothing that could stop me from getting to know, support and love her as my older sister and friend. I am ever grateful I got to show her who I believe Jesus is that day… Anyways. Don’t get me started on the rage I felt toward those who had portrayed that kind of image of God and what being a Jesus follower meant that to her… Still working on that one. (Side note: I will not engage in a theological debate about this even now, so if you send me hate mail, I probably won’t reply but might make it into a meme 😏)

Be it as it may, we had truly found each other. The rest of the day I quickly realised that not only did I not need to escape to Nashville – I didn’t want to! So I mustered up some courage while we were sitting by a lake with our coffees and asked my older sister if I could stay at her house that night. She agreed straight away and a forever bond was formed. 

A little later on that day, my brother Cedric and his kids joined us at the park. My heart was already so full from the encounter with Brittiney, I wasn’t sure I could take more. But there he was, the kindest man with the most beautiful children, my older brother. We got on straight away and ended up lost in a pretty deep conversation whilst the kids were playing at the playground.

The truth is, Cedric and Brittany’s experience was probably most similar to mine, in that they had only been in contact and relationship with dad for the past 10 years. So there was something in our experience that connected us in that way. My final confirmation of the divine timing I was operating in actually came when I found that out. I remembered (and verified in my journals when I came back) that I had wanted to look for dad approximately 7 years prior to 2018. At the time I remember sitting on a bus and feeling a huge NO and the thought of ‘not now, in 7 years’ enter my mind. It was so random and yet so strong that I went to tell the musketeers (don’t judge, that’s what me and my two besties call ourselves) and wrote it into my journal. I remember feeling that if I was to show up on the scene now, I might destroy something for dad, something for the family I thought I might have on the other side. Well today I know that I would’ve broken news he had never disclosed not only to my siblings but to Ms Regina. And at the time, for all I know, the foundations of their relationships may have not been half as solid as they are now…So again, God knew. And following my gut and his voice turned out to be a blessing – not just to me but to them too.
But I digress – then I got to meet the kids. My goodness the kids. I think it was when I looked at Jai, my nephew, that all and any doubt that may have remained fell of me. The kid pretty much looked like he could be my son. There was no doubt that we shared the same DNA! I obviously fell in love with all of them and (I think) they fell in love with me too. We spent some time playing together and after hours of fun, it was time to part ways for the day. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I felt like I was slotting right in, like I had known them all my whole life.
Endia, Jai, Erion, Josiah
There was only one problem with this experience – I suddenly knew what I had been missing out on all these years. And I don’t know whether it was that afternoon or later that evening at Brittiney’s house that grief started to hit.
I probably wouldn’t have articulated it that way in that moment but I started to feel a sense of resentment towards dad. I was more or less fine living without him my whole life. But this? This family, these people whom I shared so much with? These people who had so openly welcomed me into their worlds and called me sister and auntie within minutes? I had really, truly needed them! I had needed my sisters to know that there were others whose hair looked like mine and that they were beautiful – which meant that I was too. I had needed my older brothers to look out for me, to help me face the world, to not let me make some of the dumb mistakes I made growing up…

Did I regret growing up where I did? No, a thousand times no. God knew the family I grew up in was the one I needed to be in, the country I grew up in was the one that would prepare me best for what he had for my future. I wasn’t grieved because I imagined I would’ve somehow lived with them all. I grieved because of the years lost of knowing each other, knowing the highs and lows everyone had gone through. I was grieved because I had missed Jai and Endia’s first steps and some of the nieces and nephews I hadn’t even met yet.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, I wasn’t quite at the point of articulating any of this that Saturday night – so pumped about being with my sister, we went out for drinks and pool that night. We had so much fun!! Over the course of the evening we continued to be blown away by how ridiculously similar we were in so many ways.
The next day dad had arranged for all of us to have lunch together. My other brother JR had come down from Kentucky (somehow we never took a picture!! We will next time I’m there 😊) and Cedric and the kids would join too. That afternoon I met another one of my nieces and her mom. I was looking around the table at lunch and honestly couldn’t believe all this was real. There I was, sitting around the lunch table with a whole heap of family that I didn’t even know existed a couple of months prior to this. 
The frustrating thing was that the more I enjoyed myself, the more confused I got. It was almost like my head started to go into a spin that only came to a halt a few months later…
I was sat there and at times all I could think was: The only reason I am here is because I went to find him. He would’ve never come. And not only that, but they’d be having the exact same lunch right now and the only difference would be that I wouldn’t be there. It took me a lot of energy not to let myself go there too much.

After lunch we all went to another park and simply enjoyed each others company. I took millions of selfies with the kids, Jai and Ariane showed me their dance moves (they’re both so talented!) and Justice, Josiah and Endia just enjoyed themselves playing all kinds of games. I stayed at Brittiney’s again that night and started feeling like I didn’t want my time in Tennessee to end.

Monday B had to work, so after a lie in she dropped me at Starbucks.
By this point I was dying for some alone time and time to reflect on the past couple of days…After a bit of journaling and a trip to the book store, dad picked me up. We were due to go to one of Regina’s sisters labor day BBQs. Once in the car with dad I couldn’t ignore the tension that had built up between us. Well it all came from me really. I was angry with him. For the first time ever I was angry not only at the idea of a father who left me, but at the actual man. The frustrating thing was that I didn’t want to be. I was having such a good time and I didn’t want it tainted by anger. But I couldn’t help it, so instead of giving him the silent treatment, I tried to explain where I was at to the best of my ability. Again, I have to say that he took it all so well and told me that I had all the time in the world to get my head around it. And that he was sorry for the pain caused and would do anything he could do make up for it.
So there we were, labor day in a beautiful house, with even more family! After an amazing meal, Black Panther was put on in the background (is it me or is this going to be the new holiday movie for every black family ever form now on!), Cedric and the kids arrived and they all went out to play in the back yard. I felt so so at home and again didn’t want any of it to end. 
That night B and I went for dinner and Tuesday morning it was time to say good bye. I didn’t want to leave! I made up my mind there and then, that I would be back, even if just for one night. 
We got back to Tuscaloosa that night and – after picking up my rental car (shout out to my friend at ZipCar who sorted me out that day! I almost thought I’d have to throw a tantrum in a public parking lot in Tuscaloosa when the darn doors didn’t want to open!) I stopped by at dad’s house again to meet my oldest sister – Angela.

Angela lives in Atlanta but had come down for labor day. Meeting her was so so lovely! Again, simply to sit there with someone you share blood with and finding out that – even though we were raised in different places, at different times by different people, there was so much about us that made clear we were sisters. Angela had to head back to ATL that night so we didn’t have ages together, but we’re still in touch to this day and I can’t wait to see her again when the time is right.

Wednesday held the best and most timely surprise. As I mentioned, I had a bunch of amazing friends across the US who had all offered to come see me if I needed the company. Well one of them was free on the right days and made her promise good when she booked a flight for herself and her little baby boy to come see me for a couple of days.
Kelli flew up from Tampa just to see me!! I was so grateful! 
Due to time difference I wasn’t talking to many people back home and – to be honest – didn’t quite know how to even begin processing my experiences with those who weren’t there to see it first hand.
Kelli and I had known each other from her time in London almost 8 years ago. And even though our paths only crossed for a few months, we became very close and stayed in touch – more or less – over the years. We both acknowledge we suck at keeping in touch (which is something I have to work on especially now that I have all this family!!) but something about our bond was so tight, that no matter how much time passed, we always managed to pick up right where we left off.
So there she was, with her beautiful miracle baby boy Bennet. We hung out in Birmingham that day and among other things went to the Civil Rights Institute and park there. Again, the history was everywhere and the sad reality of so much yet to be fulfilled stares at you from every street corner. One of my favourite things at the museum was that I found the portrait of my new friend Annie-Pearl Avery in the foot soldier gallery and took a picture of it and sent it to her.
Kelli left again Thursday afternoon, but not after helping me make true on my promise of visiting Aunt Velma-Jean one more time. Armed with her favourite cookies and a baby for cuddles, we went and hung out with her for a little while. I drove Kelli and Bennet back to the airpot that day and then headed to dad’s to do laundry.
I had decided to drive up to Clarksville again Friday morning (it’s a 4ish hour drive) and wanted to be all packed as I had to clear out the air bnb on Saturday. I was going to spend the last night at dad’s anyway. Back in Clarksville on Friday, I went for breakfast with Cedric and Brittiney.
I hung with them and the kids for the rest of the day. Brittiney and I went for dinner again that night and Saturday we went to see the team Cedric coaches play in their little league game. I loved every moment spent with them!

When the time came to say good-bye, even Endia sensed that this wasn’t right. We took another billion selfies at Starbucks and then, with tears in my eyes, I got in the car to drive back to Tuscaloosa. In a way I was so grateful for all this time in the car by myself. It gave me time and space to pray and to cry and to yell at god (followed by many I’m sorry’s haha). It was all just so much to take in.

One thing I knew for sure – I couldn’t ever un-know what I had learned, un-see what I had seen. Whether it was the circumstances and realities people lived in, or the very reality that my nieces and nephews were growing up in a world where black men were shot in their own homes…(Botham Jean happened while I was over there) 
I just knew and know that somehow, in some way shape or form I will, I MUST contribute to making a difference.
For now, that looks like seeing my own nieces and nephews in every kid that comes to AMP and building our academy in a way I’d want them to experience it. In the future, that will hopefully look like me somehow being able to contribute directly to the opportunities and successes of their future.

Either way, I got back to Tuscaloosa where I dropped off my stuff at dad’s and then went to drop off my car. That night we had dinner together in their home and it was time to say good bye to Ms Regina as she’d be getting up for work crazy early the next day. Sunday morning dad and I went for one last breakfast together and then he took me to the airport.
Saying good-bye was hard for both of us. The last couple of days were marked by tension and my inability to get over the resentment I had started to feel. Though I tried not to show it too much, I knew he had sensed it, knew I couldn’t fool him. We talked about it a bit more at our last night but at the end of the day, the only thing we could do was give it time.

I knew this was my miracle and I knew it was what I had wanted. I guess as often with these things, we don’t quite know what we’re signing up for until we’re smack bang in the middle of it. And even then, I knew I didn’t regret a thing. I just knew it would take me a while to get my head around it all, process it and then go from there to build this new and still fragile relationship.

So I had reached the mountain top – reached the point I had been hoping for, working towards for years and now it was time to return. I don’t think I had the faintest idea how rocky and intense the decline would be.
(To be continued)