By the Rev. Anthony Payton
In my last article, “The day I became my daddy,” I shared with you my 20-year commitment not to cry over anyone or anything. That decision at 13—after a broken promise to me by my daddy—led me into a world of darkness. After trying to take my life with a drug overdose, I found myself in the Washington House Treatment Center. I lied there day after day, moment after moment, fighting for what little sanity I had left. Each night and throughout the day, I would grip the Bible and beg God not to take my mind! Then came the day I had to check out and, for the first time in my life, I was fearful of what awaited me.
My mother picked me up from treatment. She had done this before—too many times before. She looked at me and didn’t say anything verbally, but the expression on her face said enough. I was ashamed of what I had sent her through. She desired more of me and deserved more from me. George Santayana, is quoted as saying, “Perhaps the only true dignity of man is his capacity to despise himself.” If I had any dignity remaining, it was only in my capacity to despise myself—or at least, that was the cozy lie I told myself with the little sanity I had left. I was her only child, yet, I had given her the worries of 100 children.
Finally, the silence was broken and those familiar questions came: “Tony what’s wrong? Why are you doing this?” I sat there with my head down. ”I don’t know, Mom, I don’t know.” Again, silence filled the car and lasted until we reached my mom’s house. It seemed to last forever. When we finally pulled in front of her house, she broke the silence again, “Look, I am going to let you stay here, but I am leaving in a couple of days to visit Nana. She isn’t doing good and you should go with us to see her. She may not have long to live.” “Okay, I will go. Thanks for letting me stay, I don’t have anywhere else to go,” I replied.
Mom had taken some time off of work to come and pick me up, but had to return. As I opened to door to get out, she said, “Tony you need to pray and ask God for help, before it’s too late.” “I know, and I have,” I said, as I closed the car door. She sat there in the car until I unlocked to door and entered the house. I remember feeling like a child, whose mother was waiting for him to get in the house safely. As she pulled away, we waved at one another and I entered the house.
I was restless in the house. The combination of detoxing, shame and guilt, left me as restless as a worm in an ant bed. I tried to eat and couldn’t. I tried to watch TV and couldn’t. The only company I had was my own, and I didn’t like it. The walls were caving in on me. So, I headed for the door, went outside, and sat on the steps. As I sat there, my mother’s questions came rushing back. She asked in that quiet voice that is hers, but now, her words were shouting at me. The longer I sat there and thought about my grandmother near death, and my mother dealing with me nearly dying, the angrier I become at myself! The longer I considered what my life had become and the overall damage and disappointment I had become, the uglier and more hopeless I felt! There was a rage against the machine and I was the machine.
I couldn’t stand it anymore! I stood up and shouted, “God, why have I done this to myself? What’s wrong with me?” No sooner than those words left my lips, I was mentally transported nearly two decades before. I was back in my Nana’s yard and I was saying to myself, “I will never cry again.” At that moment, the dam broke, and I did something I had not done in nearly 20 years—I cried! And I cried and I cried! I cried until I had no more strength to cry! I wasn’t in the 73 percent of men who just get misty-eyed. The tears were falling down my cheeks like a flood! Weakened by the flood of tears, I could no longer stand; I was driven back to my seat on the steps!
I remember looking around to see if anyone was watching—I hadn’t done so when I shouted out to God verbally. I wasn’t worried about anyone hearing me talk to God, but I was worried about someone seeing me cry. How crazy was that? My journey of tears, seemed to be longer than the ride from The Washington House to Mommy’s house, but much more enjoyable. However, I wasn’t completely healed. I didn’t want anyone to see me cry, but it felt too good to stop! So, I moved to the back steps of my mother’s house and I continued my journey of tears. It was a good cry!
That night, I slept better than I had in years! I told my mother the next day that I had had that talk with God and I was done with drugs and that lifestyle. “One day I will make you proud of me again, Mother,” I said to her. She replied, “I already am Tony, I already I am.” Two days later, I was back in Hattiesburg, Miss. I sat down with Nana and told her that I was sorry. I went to my mother’s two sisters and told them how sorry I was for letting them down. I went to my cousins and told them the same. I even phoned my aunt’s ex-husband and apologized to him. I went to everyone but my daddy. I knew deep inside, that I still had work to do to deal with my issues with him, and I wasn’t there yet.
After, a week in Mississippi, my mother announced that she was returning to Fort Wayne. She wanted to know what I wanted to do—stay or return with her. I knew legally, I needed to get out of Mississippi—I still had an open case. However, morally, I owed my grandmother memories of a better me in the days she had left. So I stayed.
The day my mother left, I hugged, kissed and waved goodbye to her; I cried in that same spot I stood nearly 20 years earlier and declared that I wouldn’t cry over anyone or anything again.
It was a good cry!
The Rev. Anthony Payton is pastor of Come As You Are Community Church in Fort Wayne.