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

The Sanctity of Sundays

Briana Ladwig
Visual Art: Briana Ladwig

        Sundays were rest days, as much as they could be. I grew up in the early 2010s, when Tyler Perry and Kevin Hart were still funny, and my family still went to church. Sundays began with Mom making breakfast, something hot and more involved than the sugary cereal we swallowed during the week—greasy, pan-fried potatoes, crisp scrambled eggs, limp turkey bacon. A couple clicks took us to the gospel channel where we heard Kirk Franklin’s “Smile” and Mary Mary’s “Get Up” at least twice in the two hours it took to get ready. 

        While my dad and younger brother helped each other tie their neckties and shine their shoes, there I was, sitting on the lumpy folded blanket between Mom’s legs, trying my best not to inhale the smoke billowing from the Marcel stove heating the iron that would tame my thick, dark hair. Tying neckties was all they had to do, yet they were always, somehow, the last ones out the door. And while the cold, sharp edge of the rat tail comb dragged across my scalp, Mom’s carefully arched brow advised my three younger sisters to get somewhere and sit down before they wrinkled their dresses or pulled a run in their stockings. 

We never failed to be fashionably late to the 11 o’ clock service—a family of seven rolling in just at the end of praise and worship, as my mom’s wide smile tried not to give away just how stressed she was by our consistently inconsistent punctuality. After church, if we had a bit more money that month, we’d go to the local buffet or Bob Evans. If not, which was usually, we’d go home. 

Sundays weren’t rest days so much as they were catch-up days. My mom never planned naps, but every Sunday, without fail, I’d find her sitting up, passed out on the couch, the week finally catching up to her. While Mom caught up on sleep, Dad was in the basement producing music. And while my siblings played, I cleaned and caught up on homework.

        Though my earbuds tried their damndest, Dad’s music still leaked into my ears. With some focus, I drowned the dense bass and silvery high hats of music under construction beneath Marina and the Diamonds, Florence + the Machine, and Lizzo. I scrubbed the bathroom top to bottom, vacuumed my room, washed, dried, and folded my laundry, and prepared for the week ahead. If I had tests or quizzes, my bed became home to an open binder packed full to bursting with neon dividers, rainbow highlighters, and stacks on stacks of index cards. My lips recited facts and formulas like sacred prayers; my head mesmerically bobbing to Marina and the Diamonds’ “Teen Idle.” 

        Drumbeats and 808s shook the foundation of the house until it was time for Dad to cook dinner and bring the music upstairs to play through the stereo in the dining room. By that point, Mom had tugged herself from her six-feet deep slumber to paint her nails for the week. Soon, the house was filled with the sharp, acrid scent of nail polish remover, swirling with the pungent smell of salmon sizzling on the George Foreman, punched by the faint wafting of lemony bathroom spray, sweet lavender carpet cleaner, and fresh laundry detergent. 

        Inevitably, though, Sunday nights always found us piled together in the living room, watching a movie. All the sounds and scents from earlier dissipating into a comforting calm. No one ever said it was a tradition, but it happened every Sunday nonetheless. Those are the best traditions anyway, the ones you naturally fall into. 

        While my younger sister slept in her own bed just a few feet away, I kept my music at an eardrum-shattering volume and drew or read or wrote. I was by no means a night owl, but it was the only time of day I could create uninterrupted so I squeezed that time for all it was worth. To this day, the night is when I feel most creative. Maybe Dad was still making music until the clock struck a.m. Maybe my brother was still playing video games. Maybe my baby sister was still up watching cartoons on her tablet. But none of them bothered me, which gave me a chance to let the feverish rush of ideas I’d been cradling all day spill onto the page. It was rest well-earned, comforting, and cathartic.

        When I graduated high school and went to college, I promised myself I’d never work on Sundays, just another tradition I naturally fell into. Mom had never worked Sundays, and though Dad drove trucks, he always made sure his off days fell on Sundays. I didn’t go to church anymore, and neither did my family, but Sundays still held an intrinsic value and divinity that I just couldn’t disrupt. I was pretty good at keeping that promise, until the restaurant I worked as a cashier and barista for started opening on Sundays. Initially, I held fast, refusing to budge even slightly.

        Then we were short staffed. I came in one Sunday as a favor, then every other Sunday, then I looked up and I was working every Sunday, trying to hold together the team with frayed sutures and a rusty needle. From 7am to 2pm brunchers, bridesmaids, and post-church parties packed like penguins in the place, extending the line through the doors and past the neighboring boutique and popcorn shop. Sunday got the short end of the stick. It was the end of the week. If we ran out of something, that was all she wrote until Monday. But what are you gonna do? Take a breath, grit your teeth, and let the people know that yes, you are out of chicken and biscuits at a restaurant whose main shtick is…chicken and biscuits.

        And then keep taking orders. I kept taking orders even though my coworker passed out from overheating in an open kitchen during a Georgian summer. I kept taking orders even though neither I nor any of my coworkers could get a break until we closed. I kept taking orders until I got fed up and switched positions with someone so they could snag a sip of water or a bite to eat. I directed line traffic and delivery drivers to the right orders. I hopped on the deli line so they could catch up on orders. I rushed to the back to prepare waffle batter, pop more bacon in the oven, drop a basket of chicken in the fryer. 

        Sunday was no longer sacred, especially not to the man with his grumbling family who tried to skip the line by calling ahead and threw money at me when I explained that no, sir, that’s actually not allowed. 

         After eight plus hours of being wound up and wired by the chaotic cacophony of screaming customers, coworkers, and alarms, coming down was next to impossible. While I stuffed down the greasy pizza our manager ordered in apology for no one getting breaks, my knee bobbed up and down as I tried to calm myself, as I tried to laugh with my coworkers at the disbelief that we’d survived another Sunday.

        For two years, I worked Sundays along with four other days throughout the week. For a year and a half, I walked the three miles to and from work, while completing my BFA in Writing and interning as a creative writing workshop leader for junior high schoolers. This was all during a pandemic and after I had come out to my family from which I’d received less than enthusiastic reactions. 

        Work. Classes. Internship. Graduate. Survive.

        Getting rest was never on the agenda. And really, I didn’t know how to anymore. 

        Naps only resulted in me feeling worse than before I went to sleep. I avoided naps until the exhaustion from work gave me no other choice, putting me under such a deep sleep that my roommate would tell me how she yelled my name to see if I was home and there’d be no answer. If I did manage to sleep, paralysis filled my veins with cement and dared my limbs to move. When I woke, I’d feel so disoriented that I’d call my brother or sister to ground myself back in reality. I craved busyness. I needed to keep moving, working, hanging out with this friend and that classmate. Otherwise, what waited for me was an empty, silent, black void.

        A void that could fill with any number of things, threatening to snatch my last breath. I didn’t want to think about what I was going through, I just wanted to get through it.

        And then I did.

        I graduated, saved up enough to buy my own car, worked through the summer, until I got a call about my internship hiring for full-time positions. That call turned into an interview, which turned into me getting hired. I’d be working stable hours on a standard Monday through Friday week.

        I had my Sundays back—but I no longer knew what to do with them. For the first time in two years, my life was still, quiet, stable. It was also painful, lonely, nerve-wracking.

        By now, friends I’d graduated with had moved to chase careers out of state. A friend I’d been living with moved back home. I was now in a new apartment, living with strangers. My new job was remote. I still didn’t know how to talk to my parents. 

        I have my Sundays back, but I have nothing and no one to fill them with. 

        But I’m trying. I’m trying to find tiny, happy, colorful things to fill the quiet—drawing, writing, reading, cleaning my house, washing and twisting my curls, watering my plants, watching movies, painting my nails, listening to music, talking to girls, and recognizing time well-spent as time never wasted. I’m trying to remind myself that my love for these things is just as valuable as who I used to do them with. I’m trying to relearn how to rest. I’m trying to reframe the silence and solitude as a chance to ground and reflect. I’m trying to remember the sanctity of Sundays. 

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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