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  • After my grandfather died, he came to me in a dream. He told me he would be watching over my unborn child, he’d let nothing happen to the baby. When Maya was born five months later, we gave her the middle name Haley after the great-grandfather she would never meet.

    My paternal grandmother, Beulah Lee Baskett Raiford, passed in October 2002. She went peaceably in her sleep, in her own bed, in the house where she raised my father and her three older sons, in the small town of Burlington, North Carolina. She died a month after we’d moved to Durham, about 45 minutes east on I-85. Two months after Maceo was born. The last time I saw her alive I was embarrassed, a flustered young mom trying to get two hungry tired babies into the car by myself. Thinking that I was the only mother to have gone through this, all my imperfections hanging out, I don’t believe I actually said goodbye. I never told anyone about it and held onto guilt until a couple of months later when Granny Raiford visited my dreams. Actually I visited her. I walked up the few steps to the porch of her house and through the screen door. There she was sitting on a chair next to the stereo credenza, relaxed, smiling as soft as her voice. She didn’t say “Fine, hi you?” when I greeted her. Nor did she jump up to fix me a plate from the always ready bounty of food in the kitchen. She just rested her arm on the buffet next to her and smiled to the music. She didn’t owe anyone anything anymore. And she’d forgiven me my trespasses.

    Shafali was a friend from graduate school. The kind of friend who always brought shockingly delicious dishes to potlucks, who was always happy to see you, who would’ve been wretchedly intimidating if she had chosen to use her considerable talents for evil rather than good. Shafali was a triple threat: brilliant, beautiful and bipolar. A year after a landing a highly coveted job, her colleagues thought she was finally settling into her new life, because among other things she’d gotten a driver’s license. Soon after her license arrived in the mail, Shafali took that proof of residency to secure a permit for a handgun—all you need in the state of Tennessee—and then shot herself in a park close to her home. It was summer 2003 and hot in the south. When the weather started to cool, Shafali sent me an email. Reluctantly eager, I opened it. It said, “Hi, Leigh. How are you?” I refused though to reply. I moved it to the trash angry that she would reach out to me with a question.

    When Nanny, my great-grandmother, died, I was ready. I knew she’d come soon enough. I waited patiently. One night I found myself walking into her small one bedroom apartment in the Alma Rangel Gardens Housing for the Elderly. Nanny was in the kitchen, which was odd because she didn’t like to cook and wasn’t very good at it anyway. I walked over to her to find out what she was doing at the stove. I got as close as I could, so grateful just to be near. And my whole body filled with her smell: Estee Lauder White Linen, yarn, the second hand clothes she bought on shopping trips to the Red, White and Blue thrift store in Paterson. Filled and surrounded so intensely I began to cry. And laugh. She didn’t put her arms around me but it felt like she had. I could feel her embrace just like when I was four and got chicken pox and Nanny took the bus from NYC to Boston to care for me while my parents worked.

    She said, Babe, are you hungry? And turned toward the kitchen cabinet. I reached for a tissue and when I turned back she was gone.

    After Andrew died, I readied myself for his visit. I had a feeling, figured quite logically that it might be awhile given the nature of his leaving. I couldn’t rush it. I waited a few months. Christmas and New Year’s came and went. Then I looked up and it had been a full calendar year since he’d died and still no Andrew. Around what would have been his 24th birthday, I finally went to see his gravesite. I cleared the barely weeds from the small headstone. Ran my fingers over the crisp engraved letters on the still shiny marble. I knew then that he would come and he’d tell me something anything or show me where he was. But still he didn’t come.

    For awhile after, I thought I heard him laughing at me but I know now that was just my own mania echoing within the claustrophobic architecture of my head.

    Maybe he’s too embarrassed, still unable to forgive himself and has his own suicide on repeat. Or maybe he knows he can’t give me either explanation or absolution in the form of a metaphysical tweet. Maybe he’s just as angry and simply refuses, confirming my own feelings of failure. Or maybe he figures that since I never answered Shafali’s email, I probably won’t answer his either.
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