XV / by Ronald Clark

My conversation with God pitted me against an upbringing filled with doubt, but knowing that God is open to such discussion, open to being vulnerable within Her own strength, open to entertaining my doubts, insecurities and rage, allows me the room to explore my spirituality without fear. 

So much of religion is based on the robotic nature of its followers, when the purest form of religious belief systems are that of the individual. The individual builds their own spiritual rapport with the deity of their choosing for one cannot make it to heaven on the wings of another. You are not saved by association. So looking to carbon copy one another’s spiritual journey is to do your beloved a disservice.

I now show the wind the utmost respect, for it represents my mother, in her newest form, and a God I am feverishly getting to know, even as I dissect Her actual existence. I do not think that I can continue to live the way in which I have been living, with acts of love only geared towards Walter. 

It was not as if I dispersed love all about when my mother was alive, but the distribution of the love given to her, from me, could be spread among the masses. That love could make its way into the lives and homes of so many, if only I could harness it and put it to good use. I refuse to keep this kind of love to myself. Selfishness is unbecoming. I do not want to be regarded in such a light. 

I seek change in this world. I truly do.

“You need to get back to your art thing.” 

Walter snaps me back into the present, with his own distinct form of simplicity. It always tickles me, and yet, he can be quite deep at times. 

“Are you a fan?” 

Walter looks at me with playful disdain.

“I don’t like any other art, or artists, I’ll just say that.”

“I’m touched.” 

“Touch your paintbrush. Lonely thing probably misses you. Hard to deal with that fast of a break up. When your normal isn’t normal anymore.” 

We sit in the silence of our dead mothers. It is a silence only we understand. But it is a silence nonetheless. 

“I destroyed my easel.”

“Then fix it.”

Our hands have long since stopped touching. It was, however, a moment in our friendship necessary for us to continue being friends. He has to understand that there are no boundaries to this. That my love knows no ceilings, or rooftops. I do not fear the stares or glances of those who do not seek love in all its forms.

I tend to seek out those who do not seem to be getting love in the places they yearn for the most. My mother, from my father. Walter, from his father. Relationships built in silence, or terror. I swim in the sadness of others, wash upon its shores, and save others from drowning. In the meantime, I never leave the water myself, always in position to save, or be saved. I am them, and they are I, so who better to know what is necessary to breathe. 

“I do miss how it feels in my hand.”

“Why destroy it in the first place?”

“Let’s just say it was a crime of passion.”

“I could see that.”

“Without my mother, it just doesn’t feel right.”

The wind blows. But this is different. It feels like it was summoned, as if I had called its name, and wanted it here at this very moment. Then I realize that I had called its name, for its name is no longer ‘wind’. Calling my mother’s name was all the wind needed to blow. She controls it now. It is her paintbrush. Who am I to surrender my own when my mother could find hers within the pain of her departure?


The wind again, shifts in a useful direction. It passes through my fingers with precision and grace. 


I, and the wind, hold hands. I, and my mother, hold hands. I feel where she would want me to go with my painting. I feel what is necessary for me to move forward with my work. I must not let it flounder in her absence. I must continue what we started. 


Destroying our canvas, our place of worship, was the action of a petulant child. I have consumed too much literature to behave as such.

How dare I?


I will rectify this situation.

“You meditating or something?” 

Walter has witnessed this trance of mine. It’s cute, he almost looks worried. Knowing I can go to this place, hold hands with this wind, breathe in an angel who has left this earthly vessel, is a knowledge I can take with me, to sustain me as I take these tainted steps into an uncertain future. 

“No meditation necessary. I just needed to have a conversation with my muse.”

“I won’t pretend to understand what that means. But did you at least get what you needed?”

“That I did, my dear friend. That I did.”

“Good. That’s all that matters. Let’s get out of here. Staying too long at the cemetery turns beauty into fear fast as hell.”

I smile at my friend. He is the one whose shoulder will be used the most in the coming days, months, years. I do not trust anyone else with my heart like I do Walter. He doesn’t even try. It comes naturally to him, at least, when it comes to me. He doesn’t have to think about it. When you love someone like Walter loves me, like I love Walter, thinking is a secondary consideration. It is an innate response to need. If, and when, he needs me, I am there. If, and when, I need him, he is there. 

Love like this is rare, among males. I will hold his hand but will not kiss him, nor do I want to. I do not think he wants to kiss me, either, but if he did, I would smile and engage him. If that is how he wants to express his love for me, so be it. We must not put love in a box for patriarchy to turn into an expression that lacks diversity. Romantic love should not be the pinnacle of expression. Familial love, friendship, and such, should be held in the same esteem, with no barriers to how that love is expressed. 

Our exit from the cemetery turns into a race home. I intermittently saunter and sprint, naturally faster than Walter. He tries to keep up, but to no avail. I humor him a bit, give him moments of possibility before crushing his hopes in the most loving of ways. This is nothing new to us. Walter is very aware of my capabilities and I feel him wondering why this friendship works. But he truly is my best friend. And I wouldn’t change him, or us, for the world. 

I am tired from running. The cemetery would seem like it was close by due to the vicinity of this and the latter sentence, but I promise, it was much further. Upon arrival onto our street, we run into an argument of sorts. An argument that Walter and I can help with.

“See, with Walter and Vinnie here, we can play two on two football with me at all-time quarterback.”

This is Pinto. A fat kid with a strong arm and short legs. He can’t play any other position other than all-time quarterback because him running a route would seemingly take us to the brink of extinction.

“It don’t matter to me. Whatever we do, whatever we play, I just know that I was sent here to save the day.”

This is Velcrow. A tall, lanky kid who rivals me as an athlete. I am faster, by a hair, but due to his height and athleticism, he is widely regarded as better. This challenge excites me. I do not like to come (in) second. But you knew that already...

“Y’all gonna pick the same bullshit teams y’all always do. Screw it, I’m winning anyway.”

This is Spencer. If you met him and Walter together, you would automatically think they were brothers. He has the same rugged exterior as Walter but lacks the heart beating in Walter’s chest. Spencer is all aggression, all the time. It’s hard to tell whether he actually likes us, or we actually like him, but nevertheless, he is one of us and as tough as they come.

Pinto. “Y’all know the deal. Spencer and Vinnie versus Velcrow and Walter.” 

Walter. “We never even said if we were playing or not.”

A long pause engulfs the group. Walter wouldn’t dare ruin the game with some excuse as to why him he and I were not going to participate. Velcrow laughs a high-pitched laugh.

Velcrow. “Thought so, bro. We don’t turn down football games around these parts. You know how we do.”

Pinto. “Let’s get it.”

Spencer. “I wasn’t playing earlier. An ass kickin’ is comin’.”

Velcrow. “You must have just met me the other day or something, bro. I don’t take losses. Not in my DNA, fam.”

Spencer gives me a long look. He knows I am a wild card, depending on my mood. I am the only one who can possibly give Velcrow a run for his money, if I so choose.

I choose…

Pinto. “Spencer and Vinnie, y’all get the ball first.”

Velcrow. “Don’t matter.”

Spencer and I head down to the other end of the street to await the kickoff. Pinto rears back and launches a perfect spiral to our end of the street. As it is in the air, Spencer looks at me. I look at him. He nods in my direction. I smile, my utter glee catching him off guard. 

I move under the ball and catch it. Spencer runs in front of me to block. Now, normally, I would want him to block Velcrow and let me just give Walter a quick move to break free. But I was in too good of a mood to not let Velcrow in on my shenanigans. I was going to take out all my joy on his knees and ankles. 

I run behind Spencer to set up his block on Walter. As Velcrow makes his move to tag me from the side, I put on the brakes, side step him, disrespect his ankles and explode up the sideline, leaving him wailing in the wind. I swear my mother must have held him up for a second because he hit that Matrix something vicious. My explosion up the sideline turned into an egotistical jog as everyone watched me score.

Pinto. “Yo, that was just foul, yo. Why you do him like that, Vinnie?”

Pinto laughs. Velcrow stares my way like, ‘Don’t worry, I got you.’ I hit him with a smirk. This is going to be fun. 

We switch sides of the street and Spencer can’t stop smiling. 

Spencer. “Next time you plan to embarrass Velcrow, at least let me watch.”


Pinto. “Bombs away!”

He launches another perfect spiral. Both Velcrow and Walter look to catch it, making them both hesitate. The ball hits the pavement and bounces onto the sidewalk, out of bounds.

Velcrow. “What the hell would make you think it was time for you to touch the rock?”

Walter. “I didn’t know if your ankles would be up for running after what Vinnie did to them." 

Pinto falls over laughing. This game is not going as planned for Velcrow. Embarrassment is not usually a hat he wears. But on this day, he is getting it from all angles.

Velcrow. “Just throw me the damn ball.”

Pinto slowly gets up. I could go home, watch an episode of Master of None and still get back in time for him to reach his feet.

Pinto. “Ready… Set… Go!”

Pinto backpedals like a quarterback who is actually being rushed, despite no one in that role at the moment. Walter runs a deep crossing pattern and Velcrow attempts to run a deep post. As Velcrow moves into the latter half of his route, Pinto seems to be eyeing the Walter-Spencer matchup. I see this and make the reckless decision to leave Velcrow. That dude is wide open. Pinto can’t see him, though. He has already made his decision that he is going to Walter.

The ball leaves Pinto’s hands, heads in Walter’s direction. Both Walter and Spencer see the ball, but they don’t see me. I sneak up on both of them and snatch the ball out of the air. Startled, they both watch as Pinto attempts to tag me. I give him a slow but filthy move as punishment for his mistakes. All I hear in the background is Velcrow whining about how wide open he was.

Velcrow. “Throw me the damn ball!” 

Pinto. “He was open, man. I swear he was.”

Velcrow. “If I have nine people on me, you still throw me the ball. I’m Velcrow!”

I just smile.

Velcrow. “What you smiling at?”

“All love. It’s not your fault that this is all you are.”

Velcrow gets in my face now. Typical.

Velcrow. “What you say to me?”

“If you took away football, who would you be?”

Velcrow. “Definitely not you. I got a better relationship with my daddy and he’s in jail.”

The game stops in its tracks. All eyes are on me. I hold it together the best I can. But I can’t lie, Velcrow’s words actually caused a bit of damage. 

Velcrow. “Oh you think we don’t know? We have always known. You walk around like you’re better than all of us. But them books ain’t saving you from the same fate the rest of us got. I ain’t gotta daddy. And your daddy don’t want to be here. I wouldn’t wanna raise you either. Too much damn work.”

Velcrow stays in my face, breath smells like The Underground Railroad. I have never really cared for this gentleman, but in order to find some level of competition in the athletic realm, we have always chosen to be on opposite teams in all sports simply for the challenge. We have never been on the same team. And we aren’t on the same team now.  

This easily could resort to violence. But I live a life of WWJBD: What Would James Baldwin Do? And Baldwin would not succumb to the adolescent urge to solve everything with fists. So I just take the football from Pinto. Punt it over a nearby house that none of us live in. Piss off everyone further. And head home smiling.

Walter smiles, too.