Being Mary Jane, 0303: Ugly Truths (About Lisa)

  Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 2.59.01 PM

Lisa is having a fancy dinner alone in her big house. She takes a shower, slips on a sexy negligee then heads to bed with a glass of wine. She's up to something. I don’t know what.

Aww, hell. She’s popping pills like they’re popcorn, then chases them all with gulps from her goblet of wine. She exhales like she’s been waiting. This is not what Terry McMillan meant.

I knew she was going to do this sh—after MJ read her for deserved filth last episode. I know Lisa pissed everyone off with that David nonsense, but like Patrick said when he brought Lisa to MJ’s house, “I didn’t want her to kill herself.”

Lisa’s wine glass slips from her hand, then she foams at the mouth, her body trying to expel the poison. She stops breathing.

Ya'll, Lisa’s gone.


At work the next day, MJ is explaining to her colleagueMark that “he” won’t stop calling? Is "he" David? Or "Shelton?" Or the married guy? Mark teaches her how to block a call.

Now it’s Nicey calling MJ, asking her to come over to the house. MJ can hear her Mom is crying in the background. Nicey says, “it’s Lisa…” MJ knows what that means. It’s a call she probably was expecting someday.

MJ stays at work instead of going to be with her family, even as Mark insists. She says she needs a drink, but her work-husband has taken the liquor out of her drawer.

MJ heads home-- her place, not her parents's house--  and gets into bed fully dressed, staring blankly as her mind whirs. She checks her phone and sees the missed calls from Lisa.

Later, Kara comes by the house. Someone filled her in about Lisa. She wasn’t close to Lisa but she’s an obvious emotional wreck over her death.

Just for clarity: MJ is too. There are many ways to handle death. The most popular one, and the one people most understand, is tears and being emotionally distraught. MJ’s isn’t that. She’s gone numb and into “efficient mode”. People don’t often “get” that person, but they're under appreciated and so necessary. While everyone else is falling out, someone has to hold it together.


Now half the friend circle is at the house, discussing how to mourn Lisa: celebrate or cry? Now they’re telling Lisa stories. Apparently, she got drunk once, threw out all her hot combs, ran off to Kenya and came back with horrible twists. Oh, and Kara thought Lisa was lesbian when she first met her, but not because of her hair. No one in the room knows what Lisa called her god, they all agree that she was “constantly searching for something.”

The conversation turns back to Lisa’s suicide and the myth that Black people don't kill themselves. "We took pride in the fact that no matter how hard things got, we didn’t do that,” says Nichelle. “I used to wear that like a badge of honor.... What happened to us?”

Kara adds, “people see suicide as a weakness, it's an illness”

God, this is such an important conversation. Thank you, Mara.

The topic turns to whether medicine is bad or not. MJ argues that she's not a fan of meds because some meds cause suicidal feelings. This would explain why MJ is not on the drugs she so obviously needs. Kara acknowledges that some drugs are bad, but not all meds. "Life is hard and sometimes people need a little help to cope," Kara says. Ma’am. That’s a word. If you need help, get yourself some PRESCRIBED help with haste. (No self-medicating.)

Nichelle drops that David found Lisa’s body. Awww, hell.


David swings by MJ’s house to talk about Lisa. Notice she doesn’t let him in the house. He offers to cover Lisa’s burial expenses, but MJ says it’s already been handled.

MJ wants to know what David was doing at Lisa’s house. He says he was checking on Lisa because he didn't answer her calls since MJ’s accident.

David offers, “if you need anything---“ and MJ cuts him off with “I won’t.”


Look. I don’t hate David, even after his betrayal. I’ve adopted PJ’s take on David, which is David probably means well, but he just can’t do right for anything. Feelings are nice, so is intention, but the bottomline is he keeps f---ing up. And for that, he needs to be kept, at minimum, at arm’s length. MJ's self preservation matters more than his feelings or intentions.



The following day, MJ goes to the family home, and overhears her mother saying, “We killed her”, speaking of Lisa. “We wouldn’t talk to her when she needed to talk.” Um, who was she talking to? There’s no one in the room when MJ comes in. Did she hear MJ coming down the hall?

MJ says ok, and turns to leave. "I don't have time to chose a pity party with you, Mom,” MJ says.  She came by to plan a funeral, not this.

Mom tells MJ that she’s called Lisa’s parents. MJ is livid. Lisa hadn’t spoken to her parents in “over 15 years”. “Every mother has the right to know” MJ’s mom says.

I can see her  point, but this makes no sense to MJ. They have their typical passive aggressive exchange, Mom plays martyr and MJ walks out, ignoring Niecy on the way to the door. She treats that girl so bad sometimes.

MJ heads to Lisa’s house. It’s weird in there, and really empty, and cold. I’m all for minimalism, but this doesn’t look lived in. Tells you a lot about Lisa’s life, huh? MJ wanders around and sees the haunting remnants of Lisa’s last meal.

The doorbell rings (twice). It’s Lisa’s mom and stepdad aka Richard Lawson aka Mama Knowles's new husband. MJ doesn’t look happy to see them.


Anyway, Mom and MJ end up in the bedroom discussing Lisa. They agree not to divulge the circumstances of Lisa’s death. Mom has been telling the family that Lisa died “due to health complications.” MJ says she will do a FB post, notifying folks so Lisa has a “good turnout.”

Mom asks MJ to speak at the funeral because MJ “knew her better than anyone” and was Lisa’s sister. As they’re discussing arrangements, Stepdad yells up, “Baby, it's time to go". Where is he going that’s so urgent that he can’t let his wife sit and discuss funeral arrangements for her dead child?

MJ says stepdad isn’t allowed to come to the service. That’s bold. Mom says, “not now” and that “We put all of that behind us.” Um, all of what, exactly?

Charles aka Mama Tina Knowles husband comes upstairs to rush his wife along and find out what the women are talking about, ie, him. Charles suggests they go as MJ has “issues and is being very rude.”

I have my issues with MJ, but one thing I love about her is that she doesn’t hold any cut cards and she ain’t never scared. It’s a gift and a curse.

She ain’t playing any games with Charles today: “I will not be at a service that this man is at,” she tells Lisa’s mother and by proxy, Charles as he’s standing there as she talks around him like he’s the kid in the room. MJ’s thrown down the gauntlet: it’s Charles or MJ. Can’t be both. She tells Lisa’s mom to let her know by 9PM how she’s gonna carry it. (For my Bmore folks: Wassup, wassup?)

Mom and Charles are in the car. She insists that MJ has to be at the funeral because “people will talk.” He hits back with, “you’re so weak like that. I can’t stand that in you.”

I’m sorry, WHAT?

So we know that Charles is emotionally abusive to the mother. Was he that way to Lisa too?

Charles says “Lisa was bipolar with an overactive imagination. She was not mentally stable and you know that.” Well, there is some truth in that. “She haunted us when she was alive and she’s haunting us from the grave.”

Damn, man. The girl just died and you’re talking to her mama. Some compassion, maybe?

Lisa’s mom tells Charles he can’t come to the funeral. Bottomline. He doesn’t seem to like the girl so much no way, so maybe that’s just for the best for everyone involved.


At the Paul home, the family is getting ready for Lisa’s funeral. Niecy is going D’Asia's hair. PJ is playing with Niecy’s son. Mom reaches for a box on a high shelf, and without being asked, Dad goes to get it down for her. I love that as dysfunctional as this family is, (just like every other family) they lean on each other and come together (like family is supposed to) when ish gets rough.

MJ is with the body at the church already. Lawd! Lisa is in the dang casket in all white, looking like an angel. Wow.



Um, MJ’s outfit and fascinator at this funeral are EVERYTHING!

David takes a seat next to MJ and listens, the first thing he’s done right in a long time. She tells him that she couldn’t cry, but she was trying on dresses and felt like she was having a mini-heart attack and then ended up crying for hours on the floor of her closet. Geez.

Here’s where he starts to go left: MJ’s not hysterically grieving, but she is grieving. David grabs her hand and intertwines his fingers with MJ’s before offering the lame cliché, “she’s in a better place now.” He catches himself, noting, “Who really knows if she’s in a better place?"

MJ: “Could it be much worse, really?”

MJ says she owes Lisa, who she had barely seen or talked to in a year, a good eulogy.

And then David goes all the way left: “It's not your fault,” he says to MJ. “You know that right?” Um.. why would it be MJ’s fault? I’m unclear.

MJ gets defensive, and lashes into David about screwing Lisa “out of her money and her dignity.”

Sidebar: MJ kills me when she mock-stutters to make a point about someone trying to sell her BS. I howled in the middle of this very important scene.

She ain’t done with David: “You pretend to comfort me but you really just came to comfort yourself. I'm not a comfort to give you, David. I am out of anything to give you. I have nothing for you.”

Ya’ll! Write that down and put it on the fridge door or keep it in your phone Notes so you can say it verbatim the next time your ex calls.

David leaves. Really, he never should have sat down. Just goooo, man. Where is your pregnant woman?

Nichelle sings “Eye Is On the Sparrow”, one of my favorite songs. She does a beautiful job. I really feel like I am at a Black funeral. This is a hard, hard episode.


Lawd, Lisa’s step- father had one job: not to come to the funeral. Why he want to be there so bad? He doesn’t like Lisa. And it’s not like he wants to be supportive of his wife, who he talks to like sh--. This is a power move.

MJs going off, trying to shame Charles for showing up, when the minister pipes in to remind her that they are in the Lord’s house and all are welcome. That was religious shade.

Despite Charles’s presence, MJ does eulogy, as promised. It’s a beautiful speech and beautifully delivered, especially the "We’re all just pretending we’re okay when we're really not…. The lies that we tell each other, that's what killed my friend Lisa."


Mid-speech, MJ is going over Lisa’s basics, where she was born and when she graduated, and such. She takes a moment and drops a nuke bomb on those gathered at the sanctuary that day: Lisa’s dad molested her from ages 9 to 16. “She carried that pain with her everyday for the duration of her life,” MJ says.

Lisa’s mom wails. Her stepdad looks embarrassed. Lisa’s brother looked like he just had a revelation.

I’ve read a bit of backlash about this episode, especially MJ’s big reveal. I’ve read it was “ill-timed” and motivated out of spite/control that Charles didn’t listen when she told him not to come, and dared to show up.

My take: the truth needed to come out. And there’s no convenient and polite time to talk about molestation/sexual abuse/rape, so it might as well be brought up and dealt with whenever the mood strikes.

I’m bothered that people get more stuck on the timing than the horror of abuse. If you’re uncomfortable with the topic and don’t want to talk about it, say that, turn the channel, keep scrolling, whatever. But don’t deflect to trivial topics like  “timing”, “tone” and attitude to distract other people from focusing on what makes you queasy.

MJ said what needed to be said, and yes, it was embarrassing and shocking, and scandalous, but sh--, all that pales in comparison to the pain Lisa must have been in when the abuse happened and all the pain she carried for so many years. Lisa matters more than embarrassment and shock and scandal. Lisa, and all the girls and women who have been through that horrific abuse, MATTER.

Mary Jane has some hard character traits to deal with, many I see in me, but I was never more proud of her than that moment.

Mom is inconsolable, lying on her son’s shoulder as MJ wraps it up. “The best way to celebrate her life is to stop being liars, is actually to embrace the truth… tell everyone that you love that you will love them no matter how ugly their truth is.”


*slow clap for Mara and the writer’s room*

What did ya'll think of  Episode 4?


Inspired by 'Being Mary Jane": Her Name Was Shelique


Lisa is saying farewell to life. After a delicious meal, a fresh shower, and a sexy neglige, she climbs into bed and pops  pills like popcorn, chasing her cocktail with a goblet of red wine. Then she waits.

The wine falls from her hand, she foams at the mouth, her body trying to expel the drugs from her system.

Lisa is gone.

The remainder of the episode is dedicated to how those who loved-- and hurt-- Lisa most cope with her death and prepare for her homegoing.

It was a heavy episode for me. A friend committed suicide when I was 13. And last night, BMJ brought a lot of stuff up that I hadn't thought about or dealt with in years.


Tomorrow, I will write a proper recap with the play-by-play of what happened on BMJ and how. But before we get to that, I want, no, I need to write about something, someone else.

Her name was Shelique. No alias.

Maybe her name had two "Ls". I can't believe I can't remember anymore.

She was two grades above me, but we were a year apart in age. I was 12 in the eighth grade (I'd skipped a year). She was 13 in the 10th grade (She'd skipped two years). She fit in and everyone liked her, which I didn't get. Not that she wasn't likeable, I got why they liked her because I liked her. But being the youngest by two years didn't seem to bother her. I was always aware that I was younger than everyone else in my grade and it always made me feel awkward. I hung out mostly with the girls the grade below me.

I was round. She was one of those teenage girls that filled out a dress. She wore fancy clothes, that in retrospect, were probably designer.  She had this maroon sweater dress that was one of her favorites.

The year after she died, her sister started at our school. She was in 7th grade. She wore her sister's clothes to school.

I remember her sister in the dress too. She was coming down the hallway in it, and I "saw" Shelique. Freaked me out, but I recovered for her sister. I didn't want to make her feel awkward or weird. I mean, her sister just died. I imagine now that wearing her sister's clothes was part of the grieving process.

Shelique used to pin her hair up in a French roll, as was the popular style of the time (93?). I tried to imitate it once and my french roll, which I'd stuffed with my father's black dress sock, unraveled in the cafeteria. Shelique pinned my hair back together in 5 minutes, sans sock and better.

I heard she died while I was at a party just before school started up again. A girl who lived in my neighborhood and was a close friend of ours, had cousins that lived close by and were throwing a party. The neighborhood girl had invited me, and another girl from our school to attend. She was in Shelique's class.

After the party,  we were sitting at the living room table unwinding and rehashing the night's events. The girl from the same grade announced that Shelique was dead, that she killed herself.

The girl knew and came to the party and pretended like nothing was wrong because she didn't want to ruin everyone's night. She was Shelique's best friend and the only girl in the circle who read the suicide note. She didn't ever say what it said, and I never asked out of respect. She had a meltdown in the Main Building hallway once about how selfish Shelique was.

The last time I saw Shelique alive, we were sitting on the steps of our school waiting for our parents to pick us up. She was fretting because her folks were late and she had to get home and get dressed to go to a Jodeci concert that night. She was in love with DeVante like every other girl who loved Jodeci. She was all smiles and nervous anticipation. When I think of her, most often I picture her in that moment. To this day, whenever I hear a really good R&B song, I wonder if Shelique would have liked it.

My mom drove me and the girl from the neighborhood to the funeral. The girl went up to the casket to say goodbye. I just couldn't go. The casket was open, and I could see from the back of the church that the wig was bad. Shelique never would have worn her hair like that. But the funeral parlor had to hide the bullet wound somehow, I guess.

We sat in the balcony. When the funeral director closed the casket-- the slowest process ever, but  it would be wrong to just slam the lid on somebody, right?-- Shelique's sister had to be taken out of the sanctuary. Her mother who had sat quietly the whole time, wailed something like, "you're with grandma. She'll take care of you." Jesus. It was the words, as much as the agony in her voice.

Everything about Shelique's death was surreal.  I understood death and the finality and that Shelique was never coming back, but I didn't grasp the complexity of it all. Like, at 13, you don't realize how young 14 is. I didn't get that a baby just died. I didn't understand depression. Or the extra depths of a girl killing herself.

The story I got was that her father was having a birthday bash at the house, and she went upstairs and put a gun to her head. (I've always wondered about the timing of that.) Her sister ran up to the room and found her.

Her sister was all legs, kinda like Malia Obama. She ran track. At her first meet, the gun went off to start the race and I heard she lost it. I was cool with her little sister until she transferred schools. We never talked about Shelique. I never saw or heard from her after she transferred.

Many years later, I was in a college, in car on Route 50, headed somewhere toward DC with my BF and his cousin. The cousin was talking about some girl he was dating, a girl with the same name as Shelique's sister. I knew he was talking about her.

All this stuff came flooding back and I looked out the window and zoned out, trying to hold it together. All that I'd missed before about the complexities and depth of what happened finally hit me, about seven years later.

My BF asked if I was okay.

I didn't want to explain.

"I knew her sister," I said.

Cousin: "This girl doesn't have a sister."

She hadn't told him. I guess I could have guarded her secret. I mean, I get why she wouldn't tell anyone that tragic backstory. But I didn't want to pretend like my friend never existed. She wuz here. Her time was short, but she made an impact.

"She does. She did," I insisted. "Her name was Shelique."