Updated: Jul 7, 2020
| This is the 186th story of Our Life Logs |
I was born in Washington, D.C. in 1991, and lived in the surrounding counties throughout my childhood. In 1999, my parents faced some financial struggles, so Grammy and Grandpa opened the door to us. It was just like the weekends we sometimes spent with them…only longer!
As an eight-year-old, I adored living with my grandparents, especially Grammy. Though Grammy didn’t have the formal education of a scholar, her faith and life experience gave her the spiritual and practical wisdom to be a sharp and supportive grandmother. I remember I used to proudly prance around the house with my Cabbage Patch Kid and a towel over my head to mimic long hair. My dramatic portrayal of a mother was often accompanied by a song from one of my favorite singers, which at the point were all prominent divas—Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Celine Dion, to name a few.
Other adults might have told a young boy that he wasn’t supposed to do that because it was for girls, but Grammy would join me, marching with me and asking where we were going. This small, affirming action reminded me that she was always behind me, not just when I was playing with a baby doll in her living room.
Once, I mustered up the courage to play a blues progression on the piano for my grandparents. “Oh, that’s nice,” Grammy said. “That’s the music we used to listen to before we got saved.” Later, I found out that in her earlier years, Grammy was pretty good on the keys herself, playing the organ for years and years at church. I believe that her blood in my veins is one of the many reasons I’ve always wanted to sing, play, and write music. In these moments with Grammy, I learned to find the beauty in expressing myself.
We moved out of my grandparents’ home in 2005, and by then I was in high school. The lessons and affirmations I learned in my childhood had to make room for what I was now learning about myself. I went to a Christian high school, equipped with plain-colored uniforms and weekly chapel. What should have been a place for devotion was more of a weekly seminar of religious rhetoric, often feeding us the ideas of how a Christian was supposed to act—what type of music we should listen to, how we were supposed to dress, and what it meant to be successful (looking back, this mindset seems less Christian and more American-Capitalistic).
Being in that environment inevitably has a way of influencing you, whether you would like it to or not. I took on the idea of success that seemed to be inseparable from the “Christian” lifestyle my school promoted — which was to fulfill others’ expectations to be perfect, and please people by going to college, getting a diploma, and securing a successful 9-5 job. I have loved singing and creating my own music ever since I could remember, but the older I got, the less I thought about pursuing it as a career. For some reason it just seemed right to stick to “safe” careers, even though something in my heart told me not to.
In September of 2009, I started college in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, majoring in Communication – Global Journalism at Drexel University. Though I was finally in a place that I could make my own, I felt as though I left my family behind. Just three months before leaving, Grammy had moved into our house. We set up an elegant bedroom for her and my grandfather, as Grammy had been diagnosed with cancer. Unlike the times we used to spend with them, this wasn’t a fun-filled weekend. It was the end.
Any excitement I had about busting out and becoming myself slowly declined during my first semester at college. I felt lonely. Disinterested. As I sat in class, it was becoming clearer that I wasn’t studying my passion—I was preparing for a lifetime of feeling the same way I did then. However, I pushed those thoughts aside. I told myself that playing it safe would be better for me in the long run…right?
I hit my low point when I received a phone call in November from my father. I was in the dining hall at Drexel, and I immediately knew what the phone call would be about. I braced myself for the news. Grammy had passed away that morning.
I didn’t cry, not then at least. My first reaction was to ask my father how he was doing. I knew she lived a long life, but it still wasn’t easy. Grammy’s passing filled me with guilt for having left my family, despite being told that it was okay, that I needed to do what was best for me. But was I even doing that?
These feelings only worsened when Grandpa too passed away three months later, in January of 2010. I began to seriously re-evaluate my life, in the absence of theirs. In the depths of depression, something told me that life wasn’t supposed to be like this. I decided I would work towards pursuing music, though I reasoned that I would only be doing shows on the side, still being safe, so as not to let it take precedence over my schoolwork.
I transferred to Temple University in 2010, but I decided to transfer in as a Psychology major. I had heard that Temple had a phenomenal Music Therapy program. I thought, “Why not go for that? It was still music, but I could use it to help others.” If I auditioned for the program and didn’t get in, I would still be able to play it safe and fall back on Psychology. I auditioned. I got in! Even though it was still a major step closer to music, I still had this feeling that I was not walking in my purpose and passion. I wanted to perform! I wanted to create! And of course, that old grey cloud was still looming over my head.
Then one night, I had a dream that I was back in my grandparent’s house. It was all so real. My grandfather who greeted me with a hug and his usual genuine interest in how I was doing and what I was up to. Then I saw my grandmother across the room. “Come here,” she told me. She held me by my shoulders like she would whenever she wanted to get a good look at me, and then she hugged me too. As her arms embraced my body she said, “The same warmth and life that your blood gives you, just a little bit warmer, that’s the same energy you have. Stay alive.” Grammy was letting me know that she felt me with her when she died, as if responding to the guilt and grief I had felt over that past year.
I remember both in that dream and when I woke up there was warmth rushing through me. That hug was her telling me that no matter what I’m feeling—shame, guilt, depression—it was okay.
So, after that hug I did what I had to in order to stay alive. I changed my major to Jazz Studies – Vocal Performance. It would have been unfair to my grandmother’s memory to not continue pursuing something I truly cared about.
Another dream pushed me even further in pursuing my music. In that dream, I found myself in my high school bathroom. I realized that I couldn’t find my uniform, and frantically began searching through the clothes scattered across the floor. As I put on garment after garment, I discovered that no item I put on was part of my uniform. Instead, I was wearing hot pink pants, a floral button down, and a navy-blue cardigan.
After all the frustration and toil in the dream, I remembered telling myself “Wake up, Brandon. You know what this is about.” I immediately realized the message that dream was telling me: I didn’t belong in my “old clothes”—or expectations—that had been forced on me throughout high school. Success and happiness didn’t have to match what my former teachers and society wanted for me, like having a job as a doctor, lawyer, or another kind of professional. I didn’t have to force myself to “wear” the idea that it was impractical to pursue my dreams.
While I, like many people, have changed a lot since I was a child, one constant has been music. After these two dreams, I began to trust my abilities by respecting and appreciating my journey. I realized that I had things—both large and small—that I could give to the world. The reasons why I am a musician are valid. I am not doing what I do to impress people, but to change lives by giving others the same feelings of inspiration that my family and favorite musical artists gave me. I had to make a change.