A tale of two years

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

As de­plorable as 2016 has been – from the over­cast of death that per­me­ated the year, to white su­prem­a­cists en­joy­ing their hap­pi­est days since Plessy vs. Fer­gu­son — it’s ter­ri­fy­ing to re­al­ize that even­tu­ally, and pos­si­bly as early as the end of Jan­uary 2017, th­ese will be re­mem­bered as the good ol’ days.

In the same way that chil­dren who hate home­work grow up to be adults who wish that their biggest re­spon­si­bil­ity was writ­ing their spell­ing words five times each, when we’re in the throes of the sec­ond civil war or third world war we’ll be com­forted by mem­o­ries of when the most news­wor­thy as­sas­si­na­tion tar­get was a zoo go­rilla and the biggest ex­plo­sion we had to worry about was a Sam­sung Note 7.

About the best I can say about 2016 is that it’s not as bad as it’s about to be. Sure, it’s felt like sit­ting on a cold toi­let seat for 365 days, but pretty soon the shit will start to flow. Sweet baby Je­sus in a manger, be a plunger. It’s hard to rec­on­cile the over­all aw­ful­ness of world af­fairs in 2016 with the year be­ing one of the most con­tented for me, per­son­ally. Specif­i­cally, my re­la­tion­ship with my fam­ily, from whom I’ve pe­ri­od­i­cally been de­tached to the point of es­trange­ment, is closer to what I’ve hoped for than ever be­fore.

At 36, I’m set­tling into be­ing un­de­ni­ably adult, and have un­der­gone vis­ceral growth in my role as a fam­ily mem­ber.

It had been more than a decade since my mother’s side of the fam­ily got to­gether for a sim­ple meal or spe­cial oc­ca­sion, and so it felt spe­cial to sug­gest and plan a cel­e­bra­tion for my grand­mother’s nineti­eth birth­day in July, to lobby cousins and other fam­ily mem­bers to put aside grudges and prej­u­dices, to en­dure the lo­gis­ti­cal awk­ward­ness of pos­ing for a large fam­ily photo. Mem­o­ries of Christ­mas Eve with the Lees have made Dec. 24 the most emo­tion­ally dif­fi­cult day of my adult­hood; but I don’t feel that angst this year, know­ing the spirit of those gath­er­ings is not by­gone, and that my niece and nephew now have child­hood mem­o­ries sim­i­lar to the ones I cher­ish.

In Fe­bru­ary, my 20-year-old nephew and his 18-year-old girl­friend, who had re­lo­cated from Chicago into my bach­e­lor pad to try to launch a new life, moved into their own apart­ment in College Park. Then and through­out the year, I’ve of­fered my wis­est ad­vice, which they’ve sum­mar­ily ig­nored, and 2016 has been a bru­tal ini­ti­a­tion into grown folks’ life.

Still, I’m im­mensely proud of the re­solve and grind they’ve shown to keep their dreams from col­laps­ing, and per­ilous as their day-to­day lives re­main, it touches me to know that they know they are not op­er­at­ing with­out a safety net. I’ve wit­nessed my nephew’s au­da­cious com­mit­ment to our fam­ily, and have as­pired to match his de­vo­tion.

This led me to spend­ing parts of 2016 at the Wright Street jail, on the streets of Mid­town with a Grady men­tal health team and in the pro­bate court of Ful­ton County, recit­ing an oath of guardian­ship for my 7-yearold nephew. Through all of that, I never doubted that ev­ery­thing would be al­right, was al­ready al­right.

And all I want for Christ­mas is to feel the same way about 2017, but, as my young nephew has de­fi­antly re­minded me in re­cent weeks, “Santa Claus is not real.”

“It’s hard to rec­on­cile the over­all aw­ful­ness of world af­fairs in 2016 with the year be­ing one of the most con­tented for me, per­son­ally.”

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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