I can still remember the hollow ringing that filled my ears as a large fist hit the dense wooden door. My body tensed as my older cousin yelled with a searing voice. I woke my brother and we ran to the car. As we raced down the street weaving in and out of traffic, a feeling of dread became a consuming pit in the depths of my stomach. We pulled in front of the automatic sliding doors and rushed to the elevators.
Immediately, as the elevator doors opened, we bound down the hall trying to find her room. As I opened the door all I could see was a mass of people huddled around a husk. No words had to be said. The people I loved most in this world silently formed a line and left the room.
We were too late.
My mom had died.
It’s funny the things you remember in those moments. My brother dropped to his knees. I stood there, expressionless. I helped my brother stand amidst the whirring of breathing machines and the foul stench of antiseptic fluid. We left without saying a word.
It’s almost four years later now and I think about that moment every day. Two years before my mom’s death I watched my dad die. To this day, it hurts in a way that I’ll never be able to fully communicate; I never got to say goodbye to my mom like I did my dad. The single most important person in my life died and I wasn’t there.
I’m about to graduate college now and I’ve been playing The College Dropout incessantly for the past few weeks. That was the first album I convinced my mom to buy for me. This was back when CDs were still a thing. It was a Friday night and I was with my parents as they browsed the aisles of a Borders bookstore. Even with the parental advisory sticker strewn across the cover, my mom relented, maybe it had to do with the single about Jesus.
To this day when Kanye says, “This is family business and this is for the family that can’t be with us,” I tear up. It’s the reason I love hip-hop. It’s the reason I became a writer.
Like all moms, my mom worried. She worried that rap was too violent, too dangerous, too foul. However, she liked Kanye. The College Dropout was the only album that she’d let me play in the car on the way to school. In a lot of ways, it was our music. I can’t tell you the joy that I felt being able to share a genre I was just beginning to love with my mom.
In all honesty, I don’t think my mom ever wanted music to be my path. Like any parent, my mom had delusions of grandeur that her son would one day become a lawyer, maybe a doctor, or even the President. However, as time passed she realized that very few things made me happy in the same way music did.
That must be why she dedicated an inordinate amount of time to teaching her sons a Twista verse. I remember her printing out the lyrics to a Twista song before Genius was a thing and training my brother and me how to match Twista’s lightning quick syllables. I remember being so young that I couldn’t fully grasp what Twista was saying, but I fell in love with the way he said it. The song was one of Twista’s less raunchy offerings, but it proved that my mom cared about my passion. To this day my brother can still break out the supersonic raps when he feels like it. Things like that reinforce how much my mother cared about making my dreams comes true.
In the past few years, I’ve learned more and more about the passing of my mom. She knew she was dying for months, even if she didn’t tell me. Through the pain and the anguish, my mother kept pushing me to follow my passions. As the tumors ate away at her insides she kept a smile on her face and never once doubted that I could accomplish all my lofty goals of music industry dominance. For that, I can never repay her.
Around this time of year, everything seems unbearable. This will be the fourth Christmas without my mother, and the wound is still fresh. Like Kanye said, “Now that you’re gone it hit us / Super hard on Thanksgiving and Christmas / This can’t be life.” It is life though. Holidays haven’t gotten better; you just learn to cope with the constant sense of emptiness. No matter how many gifts I receive or the amount of love I get from family, there will always be a hole in the deepest part of my heart. It’s the type of emptiness that no present could ever fill. Death is a type of pain you never get over, but with time you adjust to. However, my mom gave me a gift that will last a lifetime; she believed in my dreams.
There are so many things I want to tell her. I want my mom to know I’m doing better. I want her to know that I think I’m finding my purpose and I’ve yet to give up.
I want her to know that she isn’t forgotten and that album she bought for me so long ago is helping me chase my dreams in ways I never thought possible. Not every mom will rap Twista verses with you, but she did. That’s what love is, and as Christmas approaches, I want to remember that gift.