“Kehinde had stories for everyone and everything except the dead man.”
-Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic For Small Change
It’s her lost beloved who’s near Kehinde’s heartbreak, but she has stories for everything else.
Here’s what I don’t mean to say: for a long time now, I’ve been wanting to write a story with a father and a son. The son is slipping away into frustration and confusion, into his own mental recreation of everything that’s wrong. The father listens to the hurt, the family cat twining between his feet. He listens quietly. When his son pauses he gently picks up the cat, scratches it behind the ears, and steps forward to rest it on his son’s lap. The creature curls up.
“What?” says the son, looking at his father’s silence.
“Pet the cat.”
Here’s what I don’t mean to say: I’ve set up my life to be far away from people I love. It’s hard not to do that, these days, with how things go—even if I lived near my family (and I hope to, sometime soon), I’d be far from my closest friends. They all live in different places. There’s a sadness in that, in visiting, but leaving is also tinged with its own kind of joy. The night before a flight, before saying goodbye, I feel a push to say what I most mean: to open and be honest. I won’t see them for a while, which reminds me, whether we’re sitting side by side or walking out beneath the trees, to see them now. To let myself be seen.
Here’s what I don’t mean to say: when I have something really important to tell you about myself, when a hurt or a hope is tying me up so I don’t know how to see, I sometimes write a story or a poem or a scrap of description. It usually doesn’t mention me: it sees a city in a snowstorm or the ocean an hour after the sun’s gone down. Or a boy, a father, and a cat. But showing you that poem, that story, that scrap of description is often a clearer window into what’s going on for me than the other windows I know how to build.
Maybe one of the things we need art for is to tell all the stories except the story, to fill in negative space with color and narrative, movement and sound, until we get to the silence, the end of the last page. Just passed that is where we are. Where we need to be, and where, passed itself, our art can bring us.