My greatest idea of vindication comes in the form of my words expressed in a blog. I cannot rest well or function properly until I’ve released authenticity into the universe. This site is my outerspace sprinkled with truths floating freely from my heart. In 2016, I didn’t blog as much as I did in 2015 or the years before. I distanced myself for various reasons which in turn grew into my own personal hell. These thoughts of mine were often misplaced this year. And my energy was all off. I took great risks this year that came with immediate payoff, coming soon for public viewing in 2017.
In all that I did and the many words that I added to my resume, I felt so alone.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been working on a post titled, “A Love Note to 20-somethings”. It contained 11 ideas on surviving hell accompanied with the second decade of life. I’ve met a handful of young women in their early 20’s at the center of an identity crisis or experiencing post-grad depression, wondering if life will ever give them a break. They had the same questions I had asked myself just last spring and the seasons before. My friends in their 30’s and 40’s reassured me that things would shift in the atmosphere come age 27. After I left my job last year just two months before my 27th birthday, it felt as though the universe was giving me a break. My girls were right after all. Finally, my late 20’s had arrived and I was no longer living in what felt like my darkest hour(s).
I felt free to grow into the person I was designed to be. Whenever I met a young woman experiencing growing pains, I too gave her the “it will get better, I promise” pep talk. But for some reason as I wrote out 11 steps for surviving your early 20’s, something inside of me knew I was sharing 11 steps of bullshitting your way through life. As I saved the draft, adding words and subtracting them accordingly, I somehow couldn’t publish the post. My chest tightened every time I tried to edit and fix the paragraphs. I wasn’t at peace with whatever message I was trying to push.
Deep down I felt fraudulent as fuck.
I finally asked myself, “Tyler, what are you saying?” as I rubbed my hands across my face and kicked the covers of my cluttered bed. I started that blog post on November 24 and worked on it at least 4 more times. On December 17, I had reopened it with no more of a clearer picture of where it was going than when I had started. Then I received a text message from my friend, Toya, that didn’t quite make sense. She text me, “It’s not true is it.” Me being quirky me, or obnoxious me depending on how you see it, I respond, “No, I am not pregnant.” She and I text each other vulgar humor, so I expected this day to be no different. Like normal, I pushed the blog to the side and answered her phone call. What she said on the other line would eventually bring clarity to a year of confusion and emptiness.
On this day, God showed me that I did 2016 the wrong way.
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This year came with blessings upon blessings. My finances are in order, I purchased my first car, my career is on the right path and my confidence surged to new levels. Life is good. January through the end of March, was a bit shaky, but hey, God knew what He was doing. I showed him that I could be faithful over the small things, and in turn, He blessed me with abundancy. At the end of March, I decided to part ways with someone I had considered a close friend, almost most like a sister. Somewhere along the line, our agendas didn’t align. After three years, I realized I was no more or less than just a supplemental component to her brand.
I remember crying my eyes out that our friendship was over. No, that’s not totally true. I cried my eyes out because I felt like a fool for letting her in. I don’t cry over people nor allow myself to become vulnerable in the public eye. Past experiences have caused me to shut down and this was no different. Nine months have passed since our silent parting of ways. She tried to make amends, eventually giving up once it became apparent that I no longer had room for her in my life.
In March, I made a vow to be about me. 2016 would be my year of selfishness. Less talk, more Tyler. I drove hundreds of miles on my own, traveling to new places, exploring all of the sights and sounds. I couldn’t trust anyone but me…and my mama, of course. This year I became that person. Suspicious of everyone and everything. Unless it had to do with my family, I was a loner. I stopped responding to texts, skipped emails, ignored DMs and kept my phone on airplane mode. I broke a lot of promises and went back on my word too many times to count this year. I only had time for me and money this year. There were several that tried to get close to me, and I just wouldn’t let it happen. I was too afraid of getting burned again. So I focused my energy on me.
Little did I know, my attitude was far from where it needed to be. God will always use people as instruments to get through to you.
First, my best friend of almost three decades called and said to me, “Tyler, I have to ask. Are we just friends or associates because I don’t hear from you anymore.” I felt a crack in my heart. I love that girl to the moon and back. We were raised like sisters, surely I hadn’t been neglecting our relationship.
Next, my other best friend said something similar. She asked why I had gone ghost and questioned whether or not I still loved her. All I could do is cry. I couldn’t explain why I had closed everyone out. Honestly, my motivation to close out everyone had little to do with them.
By late summer, during a call with my mother, she said something that I haven’t heard her say since I was a child. I don’t even remember the context of our discussion but she said the words that made me feel ashamed. My mother said in the sweetest way possible, “Tyler. You’re selfish.”
If my mother was saying it, then yes, there had to be some truth. But of all the signs this year, selfishness turned out to be the least of my flaws.
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Rewind to September 20, 2015. The moment God reintroduced me to Johnathan Cruse. While celebrating a friend’s birthday in Uptown Charlotte, I ran into Johnathan, a former classmate at Winthrop University. I’d seen him briefly a few times volunteering over the last few years, but we never truly reconnected. On this particular night, Johnathan said to me, “Tyler I love you.”
Archive image of me looking at Johnathan.
Wow. I didn’t know what to say. I felt unworthy. Little did I know, Johnathan had been keeping up with my work for the last three years and took this moment out to tell me know how much he admired my ambitions. In fact, J told me that his work inspired me to do great things in his own life. Funny thing is, I had been a secret admirer of his. As we stood in the parking lot for about 30 minutes, we gave each other a crash course on where life had taken us post-Winthrop. Unbeknownst to me, life had thrown him a few curveballs. I was fascinated. How could this man stand before me with the biggest smile on his face, telling me about experiences that would break down the average person? He had my heart from there. We started texting the next day and would see each other a few more times in the following months.
Spending time with him, even if just for 10 minutes, always felt like a lifetime. You didn’t want to leave. I know I didn’t. Honestly, Johnathan’s energy frightened me. Why? Because his energy ignited a fire in me that I was afraid to keep burning.
Johnathan exposed this truth:
He exposed my fear of being responsible for all that comes with pursuing greatness. His contagious personality and beautiful mind frightened me. I did not feel worthy of being near him. To me, he was perfect.
I would see Johnathan again in February, twice in March and I believe once during the summer. The first thing he would say, smiling ear to ear was, “Man, Tyler I love you.” And the chains from my heart would always fall freely as I responded with an even greater grin, “Aww, Johnathan, I love you too.” The angst I felt around everyone else was never a factor with him. And we would talk, and talk, and talk some more for what felt like an eternity. To my amazement, again, he’d been following my work. He read every Blavity article and even showed support for all-things Black that I shared on Facebook. Johnathan made you feel like you were the only person that mattered and met you exactly where you were.
Time passed, spring came and went, as did the summer turning into fall. What appeared to be the greatest time of my life, turned into crippling moments on my couch where I asked God to forgive me for not living up to what He called me to be. Any creative will tell you about a point in time where the feeling as if you’re not doing “enough” turns into the greatest burden to bear. There’s work to be done. I fell asleep on the job.
Through it all, I wish I had someone to talk to. All along, I did. Now I know.
I saw Johnathan during tailgating at homecoming in November and I gave him the biggest hug. I remember jumping up and down with excitement, reaching deep in my wig to make sure that the bobby pins were in place because I couldn’t afford another public embarrassment. I couldn’t stop smiling because I was so happy to see him. As usual, we expressed our love for each other and we stood there and talked for another eternity. I knew my friends were ready to go but I just remember wanting to stand in his presence forever. My spirit told me to relish in every second of being in his presence. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t move. We just kept talking. And talking. And talking more. Because I was the driver, I wanted to pay a courtesy to my friends and not hold them hostage. So I told J that we would continue our convo soon enough.
Come Thanksgiving Johnathan sent me a text that read, “TYLERRRRR!!!!!! What’s good homie? You crossed my mind and like my mama said if someone crosses your mind reach out to them. Nonetheless, hope all is well your way and you had a Happy Thanksgiving!”.
I responded with the biggest smile on my face. God was reintroducing me to J, yet again. We text over the next few days, making plans to meet up. For the rest of my life, I will never forgive myself for canceling on him. I thought I was doing good by keeping him at a distance because the day we had planned to meet was a stressful one and I didn’t want to bring my negativity around him. Days later, I text him apologizing. He understood and we discussed rescheduling. In my mind, I made a decision that no matter what was going on, I would move heaven and hell to see him. J sent me another text while I was driving, and I remember my mom was in the car as my voice command read his text aloud. We laughed. He sent something funny. I let her know how much I loved him and that I felt bad for breaking our last meet up, but was definitely going to make the next one. I had this long text that I wanted to send him but chose to keep on driving with the intent of texting him when I got home.
I got home, the text never made it though. 2016 was also my season of absent-mindedness.
Now. Back to Toya and her phone call. She phoned to tell me of Johnathan’s death. I screamed. This had to be a mistake. No way. There’s no way God took away His image of perfection. A life that was just getting started. There it was in plain black and white. My entire Facebook timeline was sending condolences.
I cried for almost 24 hours straight, partly from guilt and tragedy. I haven’t questioned God since He took my grandmother in 2010. This time felt the same. No matter how hard I try, I have yet to come to terms with death, especially when the good ones have to leave.
At the funeral service, it was a delight to hear from Johnathan’s close family and friends, marveling at the impact he had made in their lives. I felt peace in hearing their personal accounts, knowing he had done what God wanted him to do. Johnathan was a rare light, one I don’t think I’ll ever see again in this lifetime.
For me, God used Johnathan to tell me that I had fallen short in the greatest area of life. I forgot to love people, wholeheartedly, this year. Johnathan was a lover and always made it known. You never had to question where you stood with him. From my experiences with him, he always uplifted those around him. He didn’t wait. He sang your praises right then and there.
God sent me a love note in the form of Johnathan. He lived in a manner in which we should all model our lives..with undying love. I don’t have a single photo of Johnathan and I from our time spent together. Why? Because I was too busy falling in love with his spirit, over and over again, to document the experience.
I have arrived at the reason why I was unable to finish my “love note to 20-somethings”. Because I missed the most important step; love. I won’t live another year without love.
If you’re reading this, J, I love you.