• The Box 69: FERN

    Color: Fern
    March 19, 2011
    Song: "You Are My Friend" Patti Labelle

    For my sister, La'Shawn Capri Henderson-Dennis. My hero.

    "Fern." she said.
    "Fern?!" I replied.
    Calmly, "Yes." she said.
    "But FERN?!" I replied.
    Same tone...sure,
    "Yes. I want all my bridesmaids in Fern."
    "Dang..." I thought.
    "Ok..." I replied.
    "It'll be pretty." she said.
    "It's a plant." I replied.
    "It's my wedding." she said.

    My sister, La'Shawn...is my hero. She's my go-to person for advice...for ALL my advice. She's got this sage-like wisdom that's quiet and sneaks up on you. She's charming and hard. Quick with a cut. The truth she gives isn't usually the truth you want to hear...but it's the truth you need...because it is the truth. I mean, this is the same person who told a complete stranger the truth I KNOW she didn't want to hear...but needed to hear. We were in a fast food drive thru line placing an order. La'Shawn was driving and had to speak into the intercom. The lady working was down right rude as she took our order. La'Shawn, being the cool person that she is, just said, "ummhmmmm..." more to herself and drove up to the pickup window. We pulled up to the window and La'Shawn looked the woman square in the face and said...in a very Claire Huxtable sort of way,
    "If you don't like your job, quit."
    We took our food and drove away...my mouth agape. TRUTH! I trust her in ways I don't think I can give to anyone else, because she's that clear and honest...despite how YOU may feel about it. In the end you're better for it.

    Yes...my baby sis. La'Shawn is six years younger than me and for many years, I couldn't stand to have her followin' me around. But she was doing exactly what a little sister is SUPPOSE to do: Follow her big sister! And God bless her, she's got the battle scars to prove she was faithful. (Refer to "Forest Green"). I hated having to always babysit. I hated sharing a bed with Miss Kick-A-Lot! I hated having to share my things with her. But I loved her fiercely. I learned, everyday, something new to love about her.

    Somewhere along the way, I became the follower. I became the admirer. I became the one who always wanted to be in her company. When I left home for college at 18, La'Shawn was 12. My first couple years away, I was busy "being in college" and didn't realize ole girl was growing up...was shaping her wisdom. In fall of 1993, my last year in college, La'Shawn asked if she could come stay with me for a weekend. I thought, "Sure...cool." This was also the year I accepted and embraced being a lesbian and it was time to come out. I told a couple of people at school first, my peers, with whom the stakes were high but certainly not as high as my family. I hadn't decided La'Shawn would be the first person in my family I would tell, she was 15 and still the little brat sister.

    I drove the hour to Charlottesville, picked her up and came on back to Harrisonburg. In the drive over, I heard a woman's voice tell me about school, her friends, what was happening with the family. She was different...she was new to me. The next day, we hung out on campus, she met a few of my friends, who all thought she was cool and "mature for her age". She said she gets that a lot among her friends. She was the "mama" of her crew. I believed it. She hung with me, like my friend, all day. I felt an ease and decided I would tell her...that day.

    We were standing in line at a Burger King near my place. There was a pretty long line and already knowing what I wanted, I had time to think about what I was going to say.
    "Shawn...ummmm...I've got something to tell you...or tell everybody, I guess...but..." I said.
    "Ok...well...what?" she asked.
    "I'm...you know...hmmm..." I stammered.
    "What is wrong with you?" she asked.
    "I'm...well...ok...you know I haven't had a boyfriend in a little while now." I said
    "Ummmhmmm, yeah, I know." she replied.
    "Ok...well...that's because I'm g..." I started.
    "Ok...you're gonna tell me you're gay? Oh girl, please...in my mind everyone is a little bit of something, there's just a little something more that makes us one way or the other." calmly, she said.

    She then turned and said to the woman standing in from of us,
    "Umm, yes, I'd like a whopper, fries, and a medium coke."
    And that was it! Sure, we sat down and chatted some more about the whole issue, but it was more, "have you met someone?" "How do you feel?" "Have you told ma?" But there was no judgement. There was just...conversation. I was floored. I think I was less surprised at having told her and more in awe of who was sitting in front of me. I had a friend...and a sister. I had a SISTER! For the first time, she wasn't the six year younger kid who wore me out. She was my sister! She was the close woman friend I could call and be open and vulnerable. Everything changed.

    La'Shawn visited more often and became one of my close friends in my last year of college. For graduate school, I moved 3000 miles to Long Beach, California, and suddenly, I was missing things again. One day, I received a phone call from my mom. She said,
    "You're going to be an aunt...again."
    My brother Chris, had a daughter, Timerra, already so I just assumed she was referring to him.
    "Oh, ok. Chris has another on the way?" I asked.
    "No..." she replied.
    Now, my other two siblings, Michelle and Tyrone, are on my dad's side, I thought it would be odd for her to call me about them, seeing how my parents had been divorced for 20 years.
    "La'Shawn's pregnant." she said.
    "Hmmmmm...ok." I said.
    La'Shawn was 17. My mom went on to say how she feared this would get in the way of her going to college. That having a child at this age would, essentially, ruin her chances of goal of becoming a pharmacist. Yes, honey, a pharmacist. La'Shawn knew in high school that she wanted to become a pharmacist. We had an aunt who worked at the University of Virginia Hospital and somewhere along the way, La'Shawn got wind of this need for pharmacists and how it would be a lucrative career choice if she pursued it. I'm sure there's a passion answer in there as well, but the money part rang clear in my ear when she told me she was going to be a pharmacist and that she wanted to go to college to pursue her PharmD (Doctorate of Pharmacy). All that seem to be just short of impossible with news of her pregnancy.

    La'Shawn, however, had a different mind set. For her, nothing changed. She would just be a mother attending Hampton University...and after completing the six year program would be a pharmacist, sho nuff! Brilliant journey because, sure enough, the pharmacy industry changed where you had to hold a PharmD to be a pharmacist in the United States. With a limited number of colleges offering PharmD as a program, Walgreens reported they could hire EVERY graduating PharmD candidate in the nation that year and STILL need more. She struggled, as you could imagine, but she had a plan and she followed through. I watched that entire six years unfold, again, in awe. At Hampton's graduation in 2002, I watched my little sister cross the stage and become Dr. La'Shawn Henderson. She also graduated from being my little sister. She became my role model. She showed me no obsticle is ever an obsticle...just a test of your will and faith. She showed me one must hustle and press forward if a goal is ever worth winning.

    La'Shawn is now a pharmacist in an Atlanta Walgreens. Cordasia Henderson is now 15. La'Shawn and her husband, Marcus, are expecting their third child together, a girl, due in July. Waiting for her, with La'Shawn, Marcus, and Cordasia, are my nephews, Loren (2) and Avery (1). I look at La'Shawn everyday, even from 3000 miles away, with so much respect and love. So often, when I run into a dilemma, I DO ask myself, "What would La'Shawn do?" because I KNOW she's have sound advice.

    This woman is my hero. I love her so much. So much so, I wore a color I THOUGHT I couldn't stand, (FERN?! REALLY?) and stood by her on her wedding day. As always, I should have trusted her judgement, because we all looked amazing, but none more beautiful than my sister.

    I love you, La'Shawn...and thank you.

    (Side note: I REALLY wish I could sing. The song choice for this crayon and story, if I could, I'd sing it full out to La'Shawn.)


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