Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: A tale of two years

As deplorable as 2016 has been – from the overcast of death that permeated the year, to white supremacists enjoying their happiest days since Plessy vs. Ferguson – it’s terrifying to realize that eventually, and possibly as early as the end of January 2017, these will be remembered as the good ol’ days.

In the same way that children who hate homework grow up to be adults who wish that their biggest responsibility was writing their spelling words five times each, when we’re in the throes of the second civil war or third world war we’ll be comforted by memories of when the most newsworthy assassination target was a zoo gorilla and the biggest explosion we had to worry about was a Samsung Note 7.

About the best I can say about 2016 is that it’s not as bad as it’s about to be. Sure, it’s felt like sitting on a cold toilet seat for 365 days, but pretty soon the shit will start to flow.

Sweet baby Jesus in a manger, be a plunger.

It’s hard to reconcile the overall awfulness of world affairs in 2016 with the year being one of the most contented for me, personally. Specifically, my relationship with my family, from whom I’ve periodically been detached to the point of estrangement, is closer to what I’ve hoped for than ever before.

At 36, I’m settling into being undeniably adult, and have undergone visceral growth in my role as a family member.

It had been more than a decade since my mother’s side of the family got together for a simple meal or special occasion, and so it felt special to suggest and plan a celebration for my grandmother’s ninetieth birthday in July, to lobby cousins and other family members to put aside grudges and prejudices, to endure the logistical awkwardness of posing for a large family photo. Memories of Christmas Eve with the Lees have made December 24 the most emotionally difficult day of my adulthood; but I don’t feel that angst this year, knowing the spirit of those gatherings is not bygone, and that my niece and nephew now have childhood memories similar to the ones I cherish.

In February, my 20-year-old nephew and his 18-year-old girlfriend, who had relocated from Chicago into my bachelor pad to try to launch a new life, moved into their own apartment in College Park. Then and throughout the year, I’ve offered my wisest advice, which they’ve summarily ignored, and 2016 has been a brutal initiation into grown folks’ life.

Still, I’m immensely proud of the resolve and grind they’ve shown to keep their dreams from collapsing, and perilous as their day-to-day lives remain, it touches me to know that they know they are not operating without a safety net. I’ve witnessed my nephew’s audacious commitment to our family, and have aspired to match his devotion.

This led me to spending parts of 2016 at the Wright Street jail, on the streets of Midtown with a Grady mental health team and in the probate court of Fulton County, reciting an oath of guardianship for my 7-year-old nephew. Through all of that, I never doubted that everything would be alright, was already alright.

And all I want for Christmas is to feel the same way about 2017, but, as my young nephew has defiantly reminded me in recent weeks, “Santa Claus is not real.”