Black Femme Collective calls for creative nonfiction submissions from Black Queer Femme Storytellers engaging in the theme REST.

God Rest His Soul

Briana Ladwig
Visual Art: Briana Ladwig

“Well, you’re home free if tired is all you are, soon you’ll have all the rest you’ll ever need, can’t promise you the bed’s comfortable but morticians don’t make mattresses.” Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

None of them have taken much of what they hope was methylenedioxy-methamphetamine, but it seems she is the only one affected. Trinidad James’ syrupy flow drips in the background as she dances and dances. Shades on sans sun, periodically reapplying the juicy plum lipstick that Oumar had complimented her on earlier. “Pikin! You look good as fuck tonight, I’m not even gonna lie. Like a fucking star or some shit.” Now he’s upstairs sleeping, and her other two friends are sitting ciroc dulled and reggie skunked on the couch. 

“Gold all in my chain (my chain), 

Gold all in my ring (my ring)

Gold all in my watch (my watch)

Don’t believe me, just watch.”

She shoulder bobs and slinks on the dance floor, readying herself for everyone’s favorite part.

Popped a molly, I’m sweating…”

Joining in, she lifts her hands to the popcorn ceiling, throws her head and hands back, and lets out a euphoric, “Woo!” 

When the living room comes back into focus and she looks to her left and to her right she sees that she is alone. She hears a groggy echo rising from the couch and it is saying something sad like, “Ashley, time to sleep,” and so, she leaves. Walks out onto the deck to greet the blushing dawn and then she weeps and weeps. 

Days later, when her friends have gone back to their respective cities and she is back in her twin XL bed she’ll wonder if she’s ruptured something. In a text she writes, “I don’t know if it’s because I miss y’all or what, but I’m so sad.”

“Me too, bruh.”

Satisfied, she rolls back into an afternoon slumber. 

Merriam Webster offers the following definitions for rest:

1. Repose, sleep.

specifically: a bodily state characterized by minimal functional and metabolic activities.

2. a: freedom from activity or labor.

    b: a state of motionlessness or inactivity.

    c: the repose of death.

3. a place for resting or lodging.

4. peace of mind or spirit.

5. a: (1) : a rhythmic silence in music.

       (2) : a character representing such a silence.

   b: a brief pause in reading.

6. something used for support.

My Aunt Monique says ain’t shit changed in the two years she’s been gone. Except, apparently, it looks even more like a ghost town. “Used to could see at least a few cars driving by on a Saturday. Damn.” She seems both shocked and resigned. 

Despite there only being a few cars, there’s plenty life to be seen in Woodland. People sit on their front porches and wave, or they suspiciously squint their eyes trying to make out who else is in Tanya’s car. A few folk shout our way,  “Monique, is that you? You look gooood girl.” When this happens she snaps her neck round to face me and half-asks a question we both know I can’t answer. “Well what the fuck they expect me to look like?” She finishes another menthol as we turn the last corner of my tour. 

“And that’s Woodland. You can see the whole thing in about 9 minutes.” 

Initially, I thought she might be exaggerating because it seemed as if at least an hour had passed since we’d left my great aunt’s house, but when I factored in the stop we’d made at Tanya’s sister apartment, then at her other sister’s house, where the kids and everybody else were, and then at the corner store, her summation made more sense. 

A part of me is growing anxious that we’ve been away too long. I’d sent several texts to my partner earlier, worried he may be feeling abandoned, but he was fine. Later I would find out that he was providing reassurances of his own, relaying that he had my location just in case someone needed to come pick me up. Apparently my cousins seemed slightly worried too.

Our last stop is Tanya’s house. We walk up the semi-wrap-around porch and into the type of house that someone would just die to gut, if only it were anywhere else in the world. When I walk in, I’m greeted by the chatter of a TV that no one is home to watch, and the pungent smell of salmon that she’d made alongside her grits that morning.

As Tanya works at airing the place out, my aunt pours herself some vodka and passes me a Modelo. She pulls out the weed that they tell me is probably reggie, and we sit at the kitchen table, opening space for the occasion.

“You’re gonna have to forgive me for staring at you,” Aunt Monique says smiling. “You look just like him, uhm.” 

“Everyone keeps telling me that,” I say with a laugh.

“Yea he was a good looking man. A good man too, I think, with a lot of friends. He just had that bipolar, you know? Boy, we used to laugh and laugh. And he loved to dance. Tanya, you remember how we used to be up in here dancing and dancing?”

Tanya nods and chuckles, encouraging Aunt Monique to show me her moves while she continues wiping down her kitchen and bobbing to Frankie Beverly. 

“She always cleans when she gets high, don’t pay her no mind,” my aunt says, scooting her best friend of 40 years out the way with her butt so she has room to slap both hands on the kitchen doorway. Bracing herself, she winds her way as far down as her knees will allow. We all burst into laughter as she slides over to grab herself a Modelo, then she continues the story. 

“He looked good though, God rest his soul, nothing was wrong with his face at all. Only the back of his head was messed up so you really couldn’t tell.”

“Rest is resistance.”

“Rest is reparations.”

“Rest is a portal for healing.”

-Tricia Hersey, The Nap Ministry

In Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, the titular character, Milkman, proudly explains his namesake by recounting the legend of his ancestors. He is the great-grandson of Solomon, who was a manumitted slave and also the youngest descendant of a “flying motherfuckin tribe” (Morrison). The folklore of The Flying Africans which inspired Morrison’s novel and its infamously ambiguous end (did Milkman really kill himself? ) is one that can be traced back to the history of Igbo Landing. The tale is one that has been passed down in diasporic stories over and over again.

In May 1803, one of the largest documented slave rebellions and mass suicides took place. Though the details about the sequence of events that unfolded that day change depending on the narrator, the gist of what happened at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Georgia remains the same. After being transported across the Atlantic on a slave ship called the Wanderer, 75 people from what would become Nigeria rose in rebellion, took over the ship, sung an indecipherable song,

“Kum buba yali kum buba tambe, 

Kum kunka yalki kum kunka tambe,”

And together they leapt into the sea. Together, they chose death over slavery.

Except, in the stories that have been told across time and space, the Africans don’t die—no. Legend has it, the flying Africans flew right on back home.

“…so protean are the cultural meanings of suicide, historically and geographically, that suicidology—the expert science of suicide causation and prevention—has struggled to establish an agreed-upon definition of ‘suicide.’ Despite this struggle to formalize its meaning, suicide is almost always presumed to be a pathological and intensely individual act, an agon in which a human being is imagined in an act of claiming mastery over themselves against the unbearable exigencies of their worldly conditions…

As the leading question of suicidology, ‘What causes suicide?’ proceeds as if the ‘reality’ of suicide is a universally available and stable category of morbid experience. This suspension or deferral of thought should be understood as a repression of the conceptual genealogy of suicide, obviating the fundamental question, ‘What is suicide?’ We might think of this repression as the ‘oblivion of suicide,’ a forgetting that elevates the enigma of suicide causation to the dignity of something universally true about the nature of the human species.” Adrián I. P-Flores, Antiphilosophy in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: Is Black Suicide Possible?

The Lancet journal recruited 500,000 adults in the United Kingdom and analyzed data. From 2013 to 2016, approximately 90,000 people wore wrist accelerometers, which measured their movement for one week. Participants were also asked to complete a detailed mental health questionnaire. Scientists then analyzed the data to see if participants had circadian rhythm disorders, such as symptoms that included restless sleep. The study showed that people that reported a more significant disruption in their circadian rhythms and sleep cycles were more likely to suffer from major depression disorder, or bipolar disorder. These people were more apt to have neurotic tendencies, loneliness, mood swings, lower levels of happiness and satisfaction.” -McCarthy et al., A Survey of Genomic Studies Supports Association of  Circadian Clock Genes with Bipolar Disorder Spectrum Illnesses and Lithium Response

I tell the akashic records reader that I’ve just celebrated a birthday—29. 

“Ahhh, so you’re in your Saturn return?”

She’s right. And it’s been an upheaval. I’m only now emerging from the thick of the ringed-daddy’s disciplining. He’s been restructuring my 8th house—the domain of grief and death, the occult, sexuality, mental health, resurrection and inheritances—since last spring, here to remind me that this life is my responsibility. 

“But your people tell me this is a season of reaping for you. They’re proud of you for following the voice within, and I see a bright light around you. It needs nurturing and protection.”

The reader pauses, breathes in and out through what sounds like pursed lips. Says, “yes,” to no one in particular, and asks if I have any final questions. 

“What’s up next for me on my healing journey? How do I keep moving forward? Make peace?”

She takes another pause, longer this time, and asks if my grandmother has passed. I confirm, though I’m not sure which one she’s referring to.

“Do you have a relationship with your father? Is there any addiction there?” I stumble on the question, “No. I mean, I don’t know, I mean, I didn’t get a chance to know him. He died. But, I would like one.”

I’m given specific instructions: Put your grandmother back on your altar and don’t take her off again. She has the answers you’re looking for. Talk to your father over the course of several days. Ask him what you need to know. Pay attention. Your nervous system is too activated, too often. Meditate. Release. Rest. 

One month later, my partner and I are on the last stop of my ancestral homecoming. I’m only glancing at the first few letters of each marker as we walk up and down the rainbowed rows of the Woodland cemetery. Mind elsewhere, thinking of madness. Madness like what irrationally arose in me after getting directions to his grave and walking back down the foyer, noticing the black and white photos that lined the walls and reminded me of de facto and de jure segregation laws. Madness like what my father must have felt when he round his boys up to go steal from the mean ol’ racist man in town.

“Damn, I know y’all made a pretty penny off all that food,” my aunt had said in response to the story my father’s closest friend told.

“Nah, we didn’t sell nothing. We ate that shit!” 

And we all erupted in mad laughter.

I feel the need to stop and gather my bearings. To make sense of the murky map and directions we were handed and calm myself down. Six sections to the left of the praying hands, that’s what they said, but we had walked all over there and there was nothing to be found.

“Show yourself!” I say aloud to him, half jokingly, thinking about Alice and Zora in that overgrown everglades plot. 

A silken blush bouquet catches my eye and I look up, to my surprise, to find the name of a grandmother I wasn’t looking for—beside it an empty white marble slab. We call back to the office and they confirm they’ve made a mistake. The woman was looking at the map the wrong way. As it turns out, my father lay, unmarked, next to his mother after all.

“It is as though madness is a metaphysical zone, a location outside the gentrified precincts and patrolled borders of Reason. Or maybe madness is a mode of motion occasioned in treacherous terrain: a wavering, trembling, swelling, zigzagging, brimming, bursting, shattering, or splattering movement that disrupts Reason’s supposedly steady order and tidy borders. It seems to me that madness, like diaspora, is both location and locomotion. Madness, like diaspora, is both place and process. Madness and diaspora transgress normative arrangements—of the sane and sovereign, in turn.” – La Marr Jurelle Bruce, How to Go Mad without Losing Your Mind: Madness and Black Radical Creativity

They wind their way through the back roads leading out of the cemetery. Her partner is going on about how crazy the weekend has been. “If I had any reservations about this spiritual shit before, they’re gone now,” he says, recounting the coincidences starting with her reading and all they’d learned about her people over the last two days. She nods in agreement, staring out of the passenger window, allowing the countryside to slip out of focus.

She awaits the revelations, having hoped this trip would settle something in her—cure her of her unrest, repair what had been ruptured. More than anything, she wants to weep for what was lost or rage against wars yet unwon, but with more questions raised than answers given, all she can do is wonder. What is a maybe mad Black girl born of one of Solomon’s sons supposed to do with the legend of The Flying Africans? She wants there to be some kind of message, knows there should to be some kind of meaning in his backwards flight, that leap and mid-air twirl, but when she tries to listen for it all she can hear—all she can hear—is the rhythmic, “Kum Kunka, Kum Kumka,” beating in her skull. 

Briana Ladwig
Briana Ladwig is a Black, queer, mama illustrator based in Lawrence, Kansas whose work centers around Black Liberation, decolonizing storytelling, generational healing, and afrofuturism. She grew up learning to draw on the floor of her dad’s art studio, receiving a natural education from closely watching his work as a master book illustrator. She now draws inspiration from the cycle-breaking work of her ancestors and Black speculative fiction, especially the works of Octavia Butler. Bri’s favorite medium is lush, textured watercolors under detailed pen lines. Bri is currently working on an illustration/design degree at the KU while doing freelance illustration work from home.

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