· Maya Angelou
· Richmond (Mary Angela’s pizzeria)
Every time I saw my wife, she took my breath away. As I walked up the stairs toward our front door, I could see Rayne through the windows, rays of the sunlight dancing across her burnt sienna colored skin. It was the golden hour, that time of day when the natural light was perfection in our house. I stopped before making my way completely up the stairs just to marvel at her beauty. She was completely unaware, her attention captured by whatever she was looking at on the computer.
I walked into the house to see Rayne doubled over in laughter as she watched her favorite clip of David Alan Grier emulating Maya Angelou for what had to have been the five thousandth time since we’d been living together. She pulled out this video when she was having an unusually stressful day; it had become a salve of sorts—temporarily sending whatever stressors were in her life away from the forefront of thought as she immersed herself in a silly sketch comedy clip. I walked over to the couch where she sat with her MacBook in her lap, as she wiped the tears of hysteria away.
The sketch had been hilarious to me the first few hundred times we watched it together, but something about DAG’s vocal inflection made Rayne lose it anew every time. When he got to the end and began naming different exotic fruits, Rayne’s laughter transformed from a high pitched squeal to a breath robbing, hiccupy sort of sound, which sent me into laughter as well. Once we’d both settled down, I moved the computer and greeted her with a brief kiss, our lips connecting quickly, softly, but just enough for her to sigh and settle into my embrace. We sat on the couch for a few moments in silence before Rayne spoke.
“It’s not looking too good, baby,” she sighed and immediately I’d known what had sent her in search of her David Alan Grier induced laughter.
Rayne’s favorite Aunt Kay, who was like her mother since she’d helped her father raise her after her mother’s death, was currently battling stage four pancreatic cancer. She’d gone through one round of chemo therapy and had gotten the all clear only to have it come back, more aggressively this time, a mere eighteen months later. Rayne and her father Raymond traded off taking Kay to her chemo appointments through this second go-round. On the days that it was Rayne’s turn to accompany her aunt, I made sure to make no detours after work, coming home to directly comfort my wife as she dealt with the harsh reality that sooner than she ever expected she may have to deal with burying the matriarch of her family.
“How Te-te holding up?” I asked.
Rayne sighed before disengaging our embrace, busying her hands with twisting her long locs into a bun settled atop her head. She went to speak and her eyes immediately welled up and before she could utter a sound, the tears breeched her eye line, spilling over like a faucet. I gathered her closely, as the silent tears transformed into body wracking sobs. I rubbed her back in soothing circles, murmuring words of comfort and encouragement for her to take her time and let it all out. As her sobbing tapered off, I spoke.
“Did I ever tell you about that pizza place I delivered for when I went to VCU down in Richmond?”
Rayne pulled back looking at me quizzically, probably wondering where the hell I was going with this since we’d been talking about Aunt Kay before I abruptly changed the subject. I wanted to take her mind off of the devastation that she was feeling, even if it were a temporary diversion. There would be plenty of time for her to give me an update on Kay later, once she was better equipped to. For now, my job was distraction.
“Well, you know MaMa, my grandmother was hard of hearing, right?”
“Mmmhmm,” Rayne sniffled.
“So I get the job and I tell her I’m delivering pizzas for a local joint and she asked the name and I tell her. I say, it’s call Mary Angela’s Pizza, MaMa. And she says nothing for a great while. We both just sitting there holding the phone so I say hello? I thought we’d gotten disconnected. Then MaMa asks, well how is she? I’ve always wanted to meet her, she’s a fascinating woman. And I’m thinking I must’ve missed something about my new employer. So I ask what’s so fascinating, MaMa? And do you know what she said?”
Rayne sniffled and shook her head.
“She asked me why I wasn’t more excited to work with the most well-known poet of the twentieth century as she ventured into a new arena. Babe, she thought I said Maya Angelou’s Pizza.”
The silly story garnered the exact response I’d been hoping for, the emergence of Rayne’s beautiful, tinkling laughter once again. I’d been saving this story in my pocket for a rainy day day and today it paid off.
“She thought I was gonna be sitting alongside caged birds and slinging pies, baby, can you believe that?” I cackled alongside Rayne.
“No, I can’t believe that at all,” Rayne replied, softly, then grabbed my hand and squeezed, “Thank you, Melo. I know what you’re trying to do here and I appreciate it.”
“No doubt, baby. You know I got you, whenever you need me. We’re in this together…” I trailed off.
“Forever, always,” Rayne finished, echoing the vows we’d taken a couple years ago.
We sat in silence for a few moment more before she spoke up again.
“Do you know why I love that silly sketch so much?” she whispered, “It’s the last memory I have of my mommy. I don’t remember much of her, but I remember her loving that sketch so much. She taped every episode of SNL to watch on Sundays after church. Every episode got taped over each week except for this one. She must’ve watched that damn tape a billion times, so much that it was badly warped. I didn’t understand why it was so funny to her as a kid, but I can still hear her laughter in my ear whenever I watch that sketch, Mel. So I watch it when I wanna feel a little closer to her. But you know what, babe? I don’t have anything like that for Kay. I’m not ready to let her go. Not yet…”
She trailed off into another round of tears and I pulled her close again, pressing a quick kiss to her temple, feeling myself overcome with an overwhelming sense of helplessness. Rayne always teased me about being good with my hands, since I had an innate sense of handyman in me, completing every project she threw at me on her ever-growing honey do list. I couldn’t help but feel impotent right now, however, because I couldn’t fix this one for her, no matter how hard I tried.
Sketch referenced above: https://www.nbc.com/saturday-night-live/video/maya-angelou-for-froot-loops/n10940