Mental Health Awareness Month: Last night a DJ saved my life
Written by Gregory Wayne
Last night a DJ saved my life
It was a hot and humid Saturday night in the summer of 2020. I was sitting on top of the trunk of my older model Cadillac in my mother’s driveway. The warm winds rattled the trees setting off a fury of sounds from the life who have settled in them for the night. The sounds of sirens from emergency vehicles were frequent but distant. The smell of burning charcoals flooded the air, however, there’s no loud music and a street-full of parked cars to signal a cookout is taking place. Light traffic came up and down the street — mostly of neighbors returning home from a grocery store. As a society, we were in full Covid-19 lockdown. The exhaustion of quarantine had been ushered in and the fear of the unknown was taking my body, my emotions and my mind into spaces I wasn’t prepared to be in.
About a month prior, I attended my first of several pandemic funerals. A close friend of mines, Marcus, had died at the age of 31 from a heart attack. He wasn’t affected by the coronavirus, but he was affected by the onslaught of missteps by first-responders due to the rapidly changing landscape of medical treatment during the early days of the pandemic. Early detection is key for any health issue, but Covid-19 made every other health problem secondary if it wasn’t diagnosed before the national emergency went into effect — at that time. I’m not into the blame game, because I understand that the world was unprepared and uneducated as leadership failed and the science was looked at to be fictitious by any opposer with a platform. We didn’t know who or what to believe.
In addition to processing Marcus’ passing, I’m also a caregiver to my father who had stage 7 dementia. At this stage, a dementia patient has lost the ability to speak and effectively communicate in other forms. In a world where you have to be able to verbally explain if you’re sick, not being able to communicate is its own death sentence. There’s no cure for dementia/Alzheimer’s and stage 7 is considered the end-of-life stage. I knew what time it was. Nevertheless, my job as a caregiver is to make the patient’s last days to be as comfortable as possible. My mother and I were suffering more than he was, because his mind no longer processed the severity of his condition and the climate we were living in. I always say that the pandemic was in his lifetime, but never a part of his life. For that reason alone, he may have been lucky.
Moreover, my mother also battled an illness of her own. She was diagnosed with heart disease years ago after a string of mild heart attacks and a TIA. It was determined early on that the effects of Covid-19 could be deadly to people who have pre-existing conditions, including heart disease. My biggest fear was of my mother not surviving if she became positive and I would have to care for my father alone. That fear grew exponentially, because the stress from everything had reduced her to almost skin-and-bones. I knew I was losing one parent, but it really felt like I was losing two. My anxiety spiked to levels that I believed was in need of prescription medication to counter. I was probably overthinking it, but the situation was serious nonetheless.
The afternoon before that hot and humid summer night, I heard my heart beating rapidly while I was trying to take a nap on the family room couch. I broke out in a sweat from my body heating up in an air-conditioned room. I found myself gasping for air. I had mild chest pains earlier, but was told by a doctor, via Zoom, that it might be from my increase in sm***ng since being in isolation. I was urged to visit an emergency room if the pains got any worse, but it didn’t get any worse — or better. I made a decision to go outside and get some fresh air. I go out through the garage when a bottle of Jameson whiskey catches my eye. I made the bad decision of grabbing the closet cup and poured a double. Now, I’m outside and the magnitude of what I’m probably ignoring is starting to catch up to me. I thinking I’m soon to be the next Marcus, but I also feared going to the hospital to be surrounded by Covid-19 patients. I’m low-key freaking out. Who’s going to take care of my parents if I’m not here? Who’s going to help my mother with my dad?
As I’m taking my 3rd or 4th sip of whiskey, my phone buzzes. The headline on my home screen was from Instagram and said, “@dnice is live.” D-Nice is a DJ who made his reclaim to fame from doing DJ sets on his IG page’s live feature during the quarantine period. He had moderate fanfare (if any) with my generation from his time with Boogie Down Productions. His Club Quarantine lives became a staple for all of those wanting to create a club/lounge feel in their homes when it was against the law to do so publicly. I had to click on his live. I put my airpods in and turned the volume all the way up. The first song I heard was from Indeep, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life from 1982. Then he blended into Zhane’s 1993 hit, Hey Mr. D.J. [Talk about divine intervention]. I remember he was only playing a mix of hit R&B and rap records from the 80s and 90s. He sprinkled in some 70s jams (because of the samples) and masterfully mixed all of these sounds without dropping the tempo. These are the songs that are on the soundtrack of my childhood. They are all records my family played when I was a child, and it transported me back to a good time — a carefree time. D-Nice played Rock Steady by The Whispers. I hold that song dear, because it’s the last song my parents danced to before my dad lost his ability to stand or walk without assistance. Tears are falling down my face, but I’m dancing in this driveway with a red solo cup in my hand. I’m clearly the life of the party, because I’m the only one in attendance — at least I thought I was.
The comments on D-Nice’s live showed me that I was a part of this community of isolated people from all walks of life looking for a break or an escape. People were dealing with the same issues I was dealing with, and some were dealing with things more extreme. It was therapeutic, but not your typical therapy session. In between the comments about the songs and reminiscing about the time periods, people were dropping some of hardships they were going through. The community replied (@’d) each other with supportive messages and with words of encouragement. Maybe D-Nice seen this in the comments, because he dropped Optimistic by Sounds of Blackness and said, “Imma let this breathe.” The phrase means that he’s going to let the whole song (or most of it) play before blending into the next track. My hands go into the air and I’m 100% sure that the neighbors are judging me at this point. I get an alert that my battery is dying, but before it cut off — “WE-GONE-MAKE-IT….” by The Lox. It was the last song I heard before my phone died. Now, I’m standing in the driveway, tired and sweating, but I’m also smiling. No more pain in my chest. I wasn’t gasping for air anymore. In fact, I had a pep to my step going back into the house. Everything seemed to be ok for the moment and that’s what I needed. I put my phone on the charger and came back to it a couple of hours later. I looked at my home screen and it said, once again, “@dnice is live.” Yeah, let’s run this back.
This blog post is dedicated to my loved ones who transitioned during the pandemic: Clarence Wayne, Sr (father) Marcus Kennedy (friend/brother), Thaun Jenkins Sr (cousin), Elease Gaines (Aunt), Diane Benjamin (Aunt), Michael Void (cousin).