Last week was incredibly heavy. I remembered one of my best friends would have had a birthday today. Growing up, I remember Lauren would get up early on her birthday. She would be first in the nail salon for her acrylics with cotton candy polish and Mickey Mouse airbrush design. Then, off to grab a new tube of chocolate flavored lip gloss from the Beauty Supply shop, wearing a new pair of Jordan's and toting her birthday balloons around wherever she went. It was a day where she allowed her tomboy to take a back seat while she beautified herself - a rare occurrence, but one she cherished on her birthday. She'd ring my apartment bell, which was already jarringly loud, a little too long for my mother's taste. "Can she not LAY on the bell??" my mother would say, twanged with annoyance. I think of my mother's low tolerance for Lauren, which she vehemently denies now but it was certainly palpable then. My father, on the other hand, was soft on Lauren. I wouldn't understand the impact of my father's patience on Lauren until I ran into her and told her my father past away. She cried so painfully, like tough kids do. "He was the ONLY person who NEVER judged me!!" She continued, "your mother didn't have time for me and that was okay, but YOUR father?? That man was patient with me and I will NEVER forget that. I have to go to see him. Where is he buried?"
As a kid, Lauren roughly a size 12 or XL, was no joke. She had a street rep and the darkened and scarred knuckles to match. She laughed obnoxiously and had a talent for doing hair. She hugged hard and loved hard. She was my dearest friend at one point. Lauren was a fighter and fiercely protective of me. I, she would say, was the good girl. She'd do her best to keep me out of her street trouble, boosting and any other activities she knew my parents would flip about. We'd joke on each other as our bodies changed during puberty. I vowed to never let her live down the time she put weave glue and black gel directly on her hair to get a Mary J Blige mullet, but then had to cut all her hair off to get the weave out. As natural as it was for Lauren to protect (herself and those she truly loved), I would so often be confused about who protected her. I now can see there were signs of neglect, which pains me even more now.
The last time I saw her was 10 years ago. I took my boyfriend's car on a warm summer night to visit her. We laughed and I marveled at her wisdom. She said "Girl, people you ain't seen in years are right out here in these projects. They're pushing all the poor folks out here." She also told me her boyfriend got her sick, but there wasn't any sense in leaving him and they might as well "burn together." We chuckled about that a bit, but I don't don't think either one of us knew what was to come.
Lauren succumbed to the illness she spoke of. She never told me how sick she'd become. I was angry with her for a really long time about that. I was angry at the hood/crew who didn't show up to her funeral. I was angry at who was responsible for her death and how she never got a chance to meet my first born.
As the universe would have it, I would see footage of Ma'Khia Bryant's death 5 days before Lauren's birthday. I would also see Ma'Khia's smiling face in a few Tik Tok videos, applying gel to her ponytail with smile that felt familiar to me. What I realized is, I knew Ma'Khia - I was best friends with someone like her before. Someone who never got a chance to be a little girl. Someone who was neglected but loved to laugh and style their hair. A big girl who automatically had to prove and protect herself while society coddled girls with the appropriate BMI. I watched adults neglect my friend, who simply needed a patient hand. I watched adults neglect Ma'Khia, who needed the same in a moment of rage.
As I miss and mourn my friend today, I think about balance and grace. I give thanks for my father, for imparting these gifts to my friend, who needed them more than I could ever understand. I hope that each of us can offer grace, particularly to young black girls who have indeed considered suicide when the rainbow was enough.