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LEVEL
Higher Learning. A publication from Medium for the interested man.

Personal Essay

In LEVEL. More on Medium.

Let me tell you about my most faithful friend, Georgia May

Georgia May, my ash blonde pitbull sitting at the edge of the river, the green mountains of Puerto Rico looming in the background.
Georgia May, my ash blonde pitbull sitting at the edge of the river, the green mountains of Puerto Rico looming in the background.
Photos courtesy of the author.

March is here on the island of Puerto Rico; the sun hangs a little higher in the sky as trade-wind breezes stir the ocean swell. Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and with it, Georgia May’s birthday. She is seven now, with a soft tide of gray hairs encroaching her whiskers, but her pit bull eyes still shine with youth. A mixture of hope and sadness has defined her longing gaze ever since I brought her home six years ago. …


I’ll always long for the alleyways and boulevards of my youth

A snow covered street in midtown during a winter storm on February 1, 2021 in New York City.
A snow covered street in midtown during a winter storm on February 1, 2021 in New York City.
The winter storm on February 1, 2021 in New York City. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

As I write these words, it’s snowing in New York.

It doesn’t snow here where I am, at the tail end of the West Indies. In Puerto Rico, the place where the Caribbean sea sidles up to a pounding Atlantic, my winters can barely be called winters at all.

Instead of bitter chill, I awake most mornings to zephyr-like breezes. The trade winds at play off the coast. Palms dance beneath the fat yellow sun, less relentless than in summer but still bringing sweat to my brow. …


How toxic masculinity ruined summer camp and my friendship

Photo: martinedoucet/Getty Images

When I was 10 years old, my parents decided they wanted the summer for themselves. So they did what any self-respecting NYC family with little money would do — they signed me up for day camp. That’s where I met Jose, my first best friend.

Jose was a light-skinned Dominican kid with straight black hair and big eyes; his fingernails were painted black. We met during lunch when he jumped into a heated debate between me and our lead camp counselor, Jayshawn, about who was the strongest Power Ranger. Jayshawn and his crew insisted it was the Green Ranger (Tommy)…


Losing them to Covid-19, whether from the virus or its side effects, means losing everything

Photo: aldomurillo/Getty Images

In the spring of 2020, the abuelas went away.

Millions of abuelas, here in the United States and around the world, disappeared into quarantine and out of many of our lives, physically at least. We stay in touch with FaceTime and phone calls, but lost Easter, birthdays, and backyard barbecue Sundays to the Covid-19 pandemic. We wave sad hands through spotty double-paned windows. Most tragically, many had to say goodbye forever without even being allowed in the same room.

I haven’t seen my grandmother, who is well into her eighties, since New Year’s Day. She lives in the small South…


All we wanted was to look like we knew what we were doing

Photo: PYMCA/Getty Images

Before I walked in, I did that surreptitious armpit check, fake-yawning and ducking my head so I could vaguely sniff any attitude problems happening in my glands. As a teen, my B.O. was so intense I wore Secret deodorant. I saw no issue with wearing teen girl scents, as long I didn’t stink. My friends threw on Davidoff Cool Water and CK One on party nights; we’d roll up to spots smelling like basic-ass tricks because that’s what we knew.

In high school, I couldn’t afford two separate party outfits, so I’d mix and match spring polo knits and winter…


Seeing the late legend dominate the 2002 All-Star Game almost didn’t happen a million different ways

Kobe Bryant and Baron Davis are pictured during the NBA All-Star game at the First Union Center in Philadelphia, PA on February 10, 2002. Photo: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’ll tell you how the story ends: with me, four rows off the hardwood floor, watching Kobe Bryant win his first All-Star Game MVP while being booed by a savage Philadelphia crowd. Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, still dating, are within shouting distance. To their right, the champ — Muhammad Ali. How I landed there sounds like a wildly embellished recollection, something out of National Lampoon’s Vacation. But it all happened.

Cue “Holiday Road.”

I never saw the superhuman version of Michael Jordan play live when he was hoarding championships in Chicago. There was no fix for that, but watching…


Could you handle a whole city staring at you for simply existing?

Photo: Valery Sharifulin/Getty Images

You know the feeling. We all do. That uncomfortable, paranoid, hair-raising tingle when you just know someone is staring at you. We all have that spidey sense — and sometimes it feels not like curiosity but danger. It’s a feeling my wife and I have become familiar with recently.

We have been living in Istanbul, Turkey, for two months. A year before settling here, we visited the city and were instantly hooked. The food, culture, landscapes, and people are all amazing.

Istanbul’s locals are caring and hospitable to the point of comedy: Just stand outside of a metro station looking…


Thoughts of ending my life followed me long after college ended

Photo courtesy of Joshua Kissi + TONL

We ordered cheeseburgers. My brother ordered a beer, and over fries and loud ’80s music, I told him I was molested. This story has always been the one I have been scared to write the most.

But I’m not just writing about that one dinner. No, this is about the after, because there are levels to my detachment, to my distance from the past. The elephants in the rooms I inhabit, and the cobwebs on the skeletons neatly tucked away and compartmentalized in closets. …


So I never forgave him. Asked to say some kind words at his funeral, I respectfully declined. Here is the eulogy I should have delivered.

Frank Lucas. Photo: David Howells/Corbis/Getty Images

I’m doing this for Ray Lucas. Not for anyone in this room. And especially not for the man in this coffin.

I have to be honest. I don’t want to be up here. At funerals, the eulogy should be given by someone who cares about the person. It should be given by someone who can talk about what a good person the deceased was — or tried to be. The eulogist should be fair and balanced. They find the good in the recently departed and allow us to celebrate their spirit.

I can’t do any of that.

Because Frank Lucas…

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