Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

that time u wore enyce kinda changed my life

R. Tiara Malone


this may come 2 late 2 b meaningful, but, i used 2 sneak thru ur drawers n read all ur letters. i just wanna confess that 1st. finding those letters 2 ur bffs n hi school boyfriends was 1 of the hi lites of sharing a room with u. ur shorthand was expert level, u made an art out of the minimum. rite away, i envied the wild language. how it made me love words more, made me love u more. in my admiration of u, i promised myself 2 1 day write with the same reckless abandon. so in honor of u, my sister, i write this n shorthand just like ur letters i had no bizness reading.

i was a grammar queen even back then n when i saw ur use of numbers n place of words, i raged. my adolescent arrogance had me fuming but it wasn’t enough 2 pull me away. ur bubble letters, ur penciled calligraphy fascinated me. even the smell of the mead notebook paper was intoxicating. i consumed all ur secrets, at least the ones u were brave enough 2 spell out. i frantically tried 2 burn the sentences n2 my memory b4 they dissipated. put them n hidden crevices, as a way of having something 4 myself n a crowded home. i wanted 2 have them all, just n case. remembering ur secrets was my secret. keeping them was my duty. i tucked away ur 1st luv, ur crushes, ur hi skool drama n refolded the note, following the creases like performing sacred origami. there were other perks of sharing a room with u 2. my favorite was trying on ur clothes when u were gone. tho u were 6 yrs older, my hips had already surpassed urs as they waited 4 the rest of my body 2 catch up. so when i slipped n2 ur gold enyce pants stamped with tiny black ‘e’s’ over them, i felt like a woman. i felt 2 grown 4 the top bunk. top bunks were 4 little girls n i wasn’t. i was ready 2 fight u 4 the bottom bunk, the place where grown up girls slept. i was trapped n jr hi but i was ready 4 real action. riding around bypassing speed limits, newport 100s in a box, lavish name brand pants.

​so when u finally wore those gold enyce pants, it kinda changed my life. u wore them better than n-e-body else n the 90s. plus u wld switch up brands n rock karl kani or fubu. u was da bomb. hell, u invented da bomb in my eyes. plus, only u cld make me forget r. kelly’s wrongdoings when, yrs later, u bumped chocolate factory in your white kia. i was 2 naive 2 understand i was ripe 4 his predatory picking. i didn’t learn the meaning of ephebophilia 4 many yrs 2 come. music videos had already taught me that sex sells. still, i was only beginning 2 understand just how profitable the blk female form was. at the time, it only mattered that his music mattered 2 u, so, by sisterlaw, it had 2 matter 2 me. the world was ready 2 consume my body, turn a profit 4rm it. its blackness, its tiddies, its wholeness. tho u were only 5 feet nothing, u kept the wolves at bay. i was 14 n something abt ur words were biblical. u were 1 of the heroes of my world, 1 of the of 8, orbiting like planets in my own personal solar system.


twenty2 years is a morsel of time. i stare down my 30th with these 2 understandings: the world is mine n i kno nothing. u stared down ur 23rd with 2 understandings: the world was urs n u knew everything. maybe it was the sheer arrogance of youth that made u turn 2 soon. a speeding truck, a drunken driver was no match 4 ur youthful invincibility. they didn’t tell us when we were yung how fragile life cld b. they told us that being a teen mother wld lead 2 dropping out of hi skool n taking public transit 2 the aide office. but they also told us our worth was all behind us, in our asses. they told us 2 stare at our father in his pearlescent casket but not 2 grieve 4 something we never had in the 1st place. they told us 2 look both ways b4 turning but not how 2 maneuver when an inebriated motorist is speeding at u. they don’t teach that n driver’s ed. they don’t teach the fragility of life, u simply learn it as it slips away. it’s tru we may have lacked knowledge where it counted but u, being u, had deciphered the mysticism of our existence. these r 8 things u were sure of:


1. that nellyville was the best rap album. ever. u didn’t question the conspicuously placed band-aid. u never thought twice of his pronunciation of the word ‘here.’ how he rounded his mouth so it wld sound like ‘her.’ tho he was a midwesterner like us, his accent proved him 4rm a galaxy far, far away called st. louis. u had no qualms abt it. nellyville was the album above all others 4 u.
2. that it was only proper 2 wear a belt if your pants had belt loops. i was already working really hard not 2 b the nerd i was. it wasn’t fair that i should b the only 6th grader wearing a belt. if all the other girls ​could pull up their 2 tight jeans n bring the boys 2 the yard, why couldn’t i? the better question, u posed in ur own way was, if all ur friends showed their cracks, would u? 2 this day, i think of u when I don’t wear a belt.
3. that i was worth loving, worth wanting. u spent endless time trying 2 convince me of my worth. u wanted me 2 kno that as long as i was ur kin, i wld feel like somebody. i simply had no choice in the matter. 2 feel less than was a poor reflection on u. u couldn’t have me walking around acting like i wasn’t ur sister. u kept trying 2 make me see myself the way u did. i couldn’t do it, at least not n ur lifetime. but i held on 2 ur words n kept watering them until something sprouted. it took a while but i was finally able 2 see myself the way u did.
4. that running away 4rm home was the only way out. there was no other option 4 u. our mother phoned ur absence n2 the local radio station. they broadcasted ur absence. u were a missing person. i missed u, but also, i was silently cheering u on while the rest of the solar system orbited out of whack. planets don’t just go missing . . . we had no plutos. i knew u wld return all alone. i imagined u quietly escaped 2 disneyland. a place where girls like michelle, stephanie, n dj tanner basked n childhood glory. i cheered u on because u deserved 2 bask n glory 2 n at least 1 of us was having fun right? run sis, run.
5. that u were a world class chef. the cooking channel was in its infancy n emeril lagassi’s ‘‘bam!’’ was still charming. it was the rise of the diy chef n u were at the forefront of the craze. ur 2 pot spaghetti looked 2 fancy 2 touch. i didn’t want 2 stain the noodles with the sauce. y weren’t the noodles n sauce already mingling, i wondered? where was the meat? what is life? ur 2 pot spaghetti had me questioning everything i thought i was sure of. while ur struggle spaghetti was questionable, ur oatmeal was heavenly. u wld cook it 4 me n our little brother some mornings b4 school. how we both kinda melted when u wld add a mound of brown sugar n way 2 much butter but also not enuff butter.
6. that u cld be more, that we cld b more. u were sure our lack of name brand didn’t define us. even wen u got grown n worked at denny’s, the enyce u cld afford didn’t change u. u were choosy even in kmart jeans. u didn’t let the roaches sharing our bedroom with us discourage u. u knew life was bigger than the public housing we bunched n2. those bricks that confined us never quite took u captive. i still don’t understand where u found the heart 2 dream abt med school. ur certainty was mistaken 4 arrogance all 2 often but u didn’t let the opinions deter u. n even tho u were never scared 2 fight, u realized early on it wld take more than violence 2 survive.
7. that self-care was important. i learned it 4rm u 1st. u wld make homemade face masks 4rm oatmeal 2 soothe our skin. u wld remind me 2 wash my face with cold water 2 reduce my pores. it was u who taught me 2 make luxury out of a moment. who we presented 2 the world wasn’t public housing girls, not solely, but girls with good skin 2. u modeled a balance of both n changed my mind abt who u were, who we were, n who we cld become if we took care of ourselves.
8. that i was a good choice 4 a date 2 your hi skool dance. me: clumsily put together, hoping 2 disappear, just 6th grading my life away. u: confident, popular, queening ur way thru life. n u picked me. it was the crowning moment of my life up 2 that point. u dressed us alike, right down 2 the blue bandana we wore over our freshly hot combed hair. it was like i won a radio station contest. it was like a dream. but somewhere, there’s a picture 2 prove it happened 4real.


we exchanged woes n our silence. me on the top bunk wishing life away n u down there, probably grieving the innocence that u were robbed of. thru all of it, u tried your damndest 2 spare mine. even tho u knew the whole world was closing in, ready 2 consume me. my hips, my tiddies, my whole body was priming itself 4 mass consumption. even tho we both already knew things didn’t last. things like childhood. things like fathers. we knew already that violation n absence was normal, if not ok. u knew better than me but u still tried. somewhere in between ur pain n ur suffering, u taught yourself that’s what big sisters do, they try. n so many ways, ur efforts kept me alive. so when i lost one of my planets it made me wonder if life was just a metaphor 4 learning compassion. learning how 2 bend n not break, shatter n not show it. i needed u 2 cover me 4 a while longer. that protection was gone b4 i was brave enough 2 face the world, myself. in those 1st few days 2 follow, months even, i attempted 2 numb myself. i tried sabado gigante on univision hoping the fast talking hosts wld anesthetize me. anything. i tried jose cuervo. sleep. death. i was willing 2 try nothing.


n-e-ways, even tho u never quite made it 2 med school, u were my doctor 4 all the yrs u spent on this earth. u cared 4 n healed me. u knew the remedy 4 being a brokn blk grl. even tho ur training wasn’t extensive, bc 22 yrs is just a morsel of time, u used whatever tools u had 2 keep me 2gether even as u were falling apart. like nelly, u placed a band-aid over all the healing places. it turns out, his conspicuously placed band-aid was more than a fashion statement. he wore it in honor of his sister battling a medical condition that wld eventually claim her life. some say a drunk driver claimed urs, but i know it was a brokn heart. either way, i write this n honor of the memories. memories that r comprised of so many . . . things. tiny things that explode n2 a loving. fragmented. fractured things. like shrapnel. dangerous 2 remember. dangerous 2 forget.