I cried when Maya Angelou died.
It was as if I’d woken to some terrible dystopian reality. The news stared blankly at me from my cellphone screen. Her news. Her death.
I got out of bed.
Shoving my feet into slippers and my arms into my fuzzy bathrobe, I stumbled out of my bedroom and into my empty apartment.
I went straight to my workstation, snapping the laptop out of standby and turning on the hot water maker. I filled my chipped mug with steaming liquid and padded back to my digital lifeline.
Article after article. Essay after essay. Poem after Poem. Memory.
I read until my stomach growled. I drank more water and I wrote a blog post. I tried to say things in the same, beautiful way that Maya had. I had to pay tribute in the only way I knew.
Snatches of memory danced through my head. The first time I heard her name. The first time I read her work. The first time I heard her voice. The first time I saw her face.
What a contrast! What an inspiration. What a phenomenal woman.
The blog post was written too soon. I had so much to say for my poor, humble little tribute. My fingers quivered, my hands shook. My third cup of hot water turned lukewarm. I sat in my desk chair, long after I’d hit the published button.
I thought back to that first memory. To the moment where my world had grown beyond the confines of my mind, because of those beautiful words, raw and evocative, meaningful and painful, had stabbed through my very soul.
Attending classes had been exquisitely excruciating. I was too shy to sit in the front. Too quiet to answer any question. Too nervous to defend my own work. Too afraid to be right and wrong.
There was little place for someone like me, a slip of a shadow that barely understood what her sun was. I just wanted to survive, to finish and to fade away, a nameless echo, without any trouble, struggle or interruption.
I wanted to be a ghost of myself, because it was safest.
She made me want more. To want to stand up and live strong. To be proud of myself and what I’d done. To be braver than I’d ever been. I recited her poems from heart, because I read them so much. Her words buried themselves in my hurts and soothed them all away.
Be strong. They told me. Stand tall.
I went to sit in front of the apartment door. I let my head rest against the cool metal and I listened to my neighbors. How they walked across the hall, went up and down the stairs, laughing and talking with each other.
How they lived.
I waited for tears that wouldn’t come—yet.
When the ache in my head matched the one in my heart, I gave in. I clasped my hands together. I prayed. Angry, hurt and hurting, I spoke to my forever friend.
It hurts—it hurts—it aches. She didn’t know I existed, but she was my friend. I'll miss her. You gave her words. Thank you. When I read her work, courage imprinted itself in my veins. Thank you. For giving me an example of someone who had the strength to make something of her life Thank you.
Silent tears, hunched shoulders, head pressed to that hard, cold door. I thought of that first, beautiful memory. The moment when I realized that beauty could be broken, but still beautiful. That poetry was more than mere rhymes.
Maya, who wielded her God-given talent like a true wordsmith. Her words wrapped around me. Her memory settled.
In a little while, I would play ‘Gulf Coast Highway’ on my laptop. I would sing every word, stuttering lisp and all. I would take the voice that was mine to celebrate her life for all she was to me, a friend, a mentor, an inspiration.
That’s what friends were for. To lift you up when you wanted to crumble. To stand beside you when your knees buckled. That’s what Maya had done for a timid, invisible girl like me.
I would let her memory rise and take comfort in her legacy. I would stand tall and follow her example to leave a mark behind in the best possible way, reaching out to someone who didn’t know they needed it. That’s what I would do.
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