Excerpt from E. Patrick Johnson’s Sweet Tea—A Play

Wade in the water

Wade in the water, children

Wade in the water

God’s gonna trouble the water

[Lights rise on Johnson at the trunk, performing a ritual on the lid with a dashiki, bead necklaces and a candle. The dashiki should be draped on top of the lid first to provide a base for the candle.]

I didn’t make it to Reggie’s funeral.

Or, I should say, I chose not to go. I don’t do death well. Never have. Some of the most traumatic memories I have are of attending funerals—Uncle Jake’s, Uncle Boot’s, Aunt Mary Lee’s, Uncle Johnny’s, Grandmama’s. Death is the one thing that I’m most frightened of, but also the one thing that I know I’ll never escape. And when I began to lose some of my closest friends to AIDS, I couldn’t deal.

I didn’t make it to Reggie’s funeral. After he was hospitalized, Stacie would call or Buster would call or Kent would call—they would all call to update me on how he was doing. “He smiled today.” “He’s lost a lot of weight.” “He’s in good spirits.” “He slept the whole time I was there.” We were all in denial about what we knew was coming. We kept clinging to Reggie’s resilience. He was always getting himself into something. And he always managed to get himself out. Not this time.

I didn’t make it to Reggie’s funeral. We sang next to each other in the gospel choir in college. He was not a very strong singer, but he loved to sing. And somehow that’s all that mattered. I envied his audacity to be true to himself, to embrace all of who he was, including his gayness in the midst of the shame and stigma on our campus. But when he became infected, I became angry. He was there when we heard about this disease in 1986, our sophomore year. He was there when Tom died, when David Michael died, when Sam died. He was there. And now he’s gone.

I didn’t make it to Reggie’s funeral. And

I haven’t made it to the eleven others since.

God’s gonna trouble the water…