The Love Be Low

I wish Joe could see me now. Whenever I brimmed over, he spoke my aspirations back to me without diminishing my excitement. Joe made it OK to be a black alien. That's because he was one. To be you

I wish Joe could see me now. Whenever I brimmed over, he spoke my aspirations back to me without diminishing my excitement.

Joe made it OK to be a black alien. That's because he was one.

To be young, gifted and black. Oh, what a lovely precious dream, Nina Simone said to Donny Hathaway.

Joe was Gil Scott-Heron without heroin addiction and crackhead martyr status; prodigious, outspoken, unchallenged, forthright. Shit talker.

The last time I saw Joe felt like the first time I saw Joe: Excited dread filled to vacancy.

Dec. 5 was a bad day for a funeral, as they always are.

Cold. Raining. Just dreary.

Stopped to watch my emotions sway, said Erykah Badu.

Scenes from a love affair ticked by during the short drive from my house to St. Agnes Church, where Joseph Arthur Reid II, 34, laid prostrate and finally cancer-free where he'd attended elementary school but little else.

I was coming from taping an all-Nathaniel Jones segment of Hot Seat. Dissecting blame depletes.

My soul low, Joe's funeral was calming balm. Mixed races were distracted from the public beating death of one black man by the death of another black man who served his country, his community, his ex-wife, his friends and especially himself.

At The Greenwich yesterdays ago, Joe barflied the bar while 144,000 — Kofi, Olufemi, Obalaye, Idrissa and them — spit slave ships into an open mic.

"Damn!" Joe said in two syllables the way black men do.

He called me out. "Oh, you just gone ignore a brotha?"

I said something blackfeministSonia-NikkiMeshell like: "When you address me like a woman and not ..." Whatever.

We saw each other when we pulled up. I loved Joe immediately.

That summer we wiled Fridays into Saturdays clowning, listening to music, sizing folks up and matching wits.

"You look aboriginal," I'd say.

"I am the original man," he'd shoot back.

He talked about working with young people, editing and publishing a prep sports magazine, serving in Desert Storm and Shield, then as a firefighter and being a wild-ass Kappa at UC without trying to impress me. They were matters of fact.

My life was simpler then. This column was in its infancy. I was still incogNegro.

Joe was consumed by his Xavier studies. Intent on finishing undergrad and maybe attending law school, he still fit me in. He made me feel beautiful but not beholden.

There were interludes but never sex. We ebbed as quickly as we'd flowed. Then from nowhere he'd appear in Eden Park yelling my name from a passing car or weekends stocking shelves at A-1 Big Dollar in Avondale.

We reconnected one apartment and two relationships later.

A perpetual student who only recently got his bachelor's in international affairs, Joe's the only nigga I know who had to die before we could understand the breadth of his dichotomous nature by the disparate cast at his funeral.

Turning off Reading Road, a young black man with braids and no umbrella walked toward the church. He looks like a brotha who'd be at Joe's funeral, I thought.

'Do rags and diplomats. That's what Joe's funeral looked like.

Sheila Adams and Dave Parker mingled with brothas with braids, dreadlocked women and men and white people who looked like Joe's teachers.

I hugged Joe's father near the open casket.

"I was cooking and he was resting. I asked him if he was (going to eat)," he said. "I touched him."

Was it peaceful? "I heard that last breath," he said, heaving his chest. "But he just went."

Can I kiss his forehead? "Do whatever you need to do."

And I did. Bye, Joe, I whispered, pulling my lips away from his cold forehead.

His frat brothers serenaded him in a half-moon. Perusing the sanctuary, I realized Joe and I knew the same brand of black man. They're non-standard strivers; not corporate, but wily, artists and entrepreneurs. Real black realness.

I found relief in the hugs of these very black men.

Standing at the rear of the church, I ended up next to the man I'd seen walking in the rain. "The last time I saw you, I was with Joe," Born said. I hugged him hard, cried against his shoulder.

I spied Idrissa and then Ozie. "You was his nigga," Ozie said into my ear. "He loved you."

I hugged Clarence and left St. Agnes with my head hanging low. Soon and very soon we are going to see the king.

My head churned full ahead at the outset of this column on that cold dark morning. I filled the margins of the program with notes written in cramped script.

I struggled and strangled this column all deadline day long. I crept back home in search of an urban garden among the totems.

I'd wanted to gaze at us, at this picture of Joe and me taken in a house I lived in that's coincidentally on the other end of the street where I live now. But I'd left it on my desk at work.

Just like us. Never quite at the same place at the same time. But somehow still always together.

Hear Kathy's commentaries on National Public Radio's All Things Considered.

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