Content note: Mentions of the pandemic and grieving/mourning the loss of a loved one
By Yodassa Williams
This pandemic has hit my life hit hard in the spiritual gut. Weeks before the lockdown, my favorite cousin Channelle tragically passed away in London. As the global crisis grew and need to shelter in place came down, I fell into heavy grief all alone in my apartment in Oakland. I watched my cousin’s funeral—my best friend’s funeral—through a web link. In the weeks that followed, I wept tears that threatened to never end. I cried because reality felt more like an episode of Black Mirror than ever. I cried because I’m immunocompromised and terrified of contracting the virus. I cried because of my loss of jobs and canceled book tour. But I cried most of all for Channelle, my lost soul sister. I could get through all the other stuff if I could be with her once more. I felt so empty and I wondered if I would ever feel joy, my internal sense of black girl magic again.
A pinnacle point of the hero’s journey is when they meet their mentor. This person or force can see their potential and guides them to their highest self. I knew I was in pain that would endure because Channelle was one of my life mentors. She’s one of the people who held my hands down the path of becoming a strong black femme. She introduced me to wigology, makeup, and Asos. She gave me love advice when my heart was broken. She believed in my writing dreams when I was too afraid to follow them. Channelle was a guidepost and co-conspirator in the art of black girl magicry. She nudged me, in every conversation and interaction, towards the best of myself. I couldn’t be the hero of my own life without her.
I will never forget when she taught me to haggle in Camden during my late teens. She was horrified to find out I’d been paying the first quoted prices and pulled me aside. “Cousin, you can’t just let people tell you what something’s worth, you have to know what it’s worth to you, and if that’s less, let them know!” I was worried about offending the vendors, but she said, “It’s a game! Are you just going to pay whatever they say? You’re the queen! You got to stand up for yourself and what your money is worth, yeah?” And she stood by, coaching me through transactions till I was there, guiding the interaction from my gut, haggling and laughing and getting the vendors to offer free stuff if I would purchase.
It was incredible what she helped open up inside me. Me, a people-pleasing black girl from Ohio who could barely speak up in class, now arguing for the value of my pounds in London with expert salespeople! Years later, I tried to explain to Channelle how big that moment was to my life. I was going on about how she allowed me to change the script for myself, about how this conversation taught me more than haggling, but also to not accept whatever is offered first as the best for me. She taught me it was okay to speak up for what I wanted in the face of someone who could say no. She brushed all it off by simply saying, “You were always a savage. You just needed to be unleashed.”
How could I envision a future where my lively, passionate cousin wasn’t a presence in my life? The enormity of the loss threatened to strangle my body from inside out. I paced my apartment, a heartbroken zombie of myself. How was I to move on without her? How was I to even get through this pandemic without her? I needed my cousin. One night or morning, I started writing a letter to her spirit. For pages, I reminisced our love story, the endless video chats, getting our noses pierced together, breaking her mother’s gift from Spain, the glorious visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. She was a powerhouse and I was so lucky to be able to know her. She had so much more life to live. We had more adventures to share together, I couldn’t allow her to be gone!
At this point, I started writing to the universe. I was pleading for more life for my beloved cousin. I bargained that I would share my body. I invited Channelle’s spirit to stay inside my body, to live with me, through me. I begged her to haunt me for the rest of my days and told the universe to make it so. I started writing a story of now, fantasy mixed with reality. That my cousin’s spirit was so powerful it was she, from beyond, who was stopping the entire world to come back to me. As I wrote, I remembered a scene, being caught by Channelle, sneaking away to write in my diary when I was little. “Don’t hide, cousin!” She tried to pull me out, but I explained that I just needed a moment to gather my thoughts on paper, so much was happening inside me. “Okay. Do that, but I’m here if you need more inspiration to write about!”
I could never stop being inspired by Channelle. As I cried into the paper, I realized I already had a way to keep her living through me. Through storytelling and writing, I would weave her into my life and keep her close. Channelle inspired the Liberty character in my debut novel, The Goddess Twins. The timing that it is being released to the world now, just as her physical presence has left, is the universe’s perfect grace. My cousin is immortalized as a goddess forever in the pages of The Goddess Twins. I was performing black girl magic necromancy, even before I knew what I was doing.
Through sadness so deep it stripped all energy from my body, I felt stirrings that I would move forward. I would, to honor Channelle and her spirit, as I had already done in my novel. Through each reader, she would come to life. And inside me, Channelle could never be gone. Because what she left in me, the strength of spirit, the self-love, the joy for life, and the black girl magic, all of it is eternal.
Yodassa Williams is a powerful conjurer of black girl magic (70 percent Jedi, 30 percent Sith). A Jamaican American writer, speaker, and award-winning performing storyteller, an alumna of the VONA/Voices Travel Writing program and the Fortify Writer’s Retreat, and the creator of the podcast The Black Girl Magic Files, Yodassa (Yoda) launched Writers Emerging, a wilderness writing retreat for women of color and non-binary people of color, in 2019. She grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and currently resides in the Bay Area. The Goddess Twins is her debut novel.