“Sorry for my tardy / Long time, I was brokenhearted” -Brandy
I honestly didn’t think I would be here—be the person I am right now. It’s truly a miracle. What started as a short hiatus to fully support the rollout for my debut EP turned into fourteen months of silence. I never imagined the series of events that would occur during that time. So much was stripped away from me—emotionally, mentally, and physically—that I had no choice but to be still and start looking deeply within myself. ‘Cause what I knew before wasn’t working. Something had to change.
CONTENT WARNING: Alcohol and mental health.
The following details that I’m about to share are quite difficult to talk about as I’m still working through what transpired and what led me there. However, I share this information to liberate myself from the shame that I carried. You’re free now.
On January 1, 2020, I woke up at Lenox Hill Hospital. I didn’t know how I got there, why I was there, and what was going on. All I remember was having a small get together at my place with some good friends. Cut to me in a bright, sterile room with an IV in my arm and three of my best friends looking at me with worry and exhaustion. Long story short, I lost control. I went out with a couple of friends (and a boy who I was flirting with at my place) to a bar. I had not eaten a full meal since early that afternoon and proceeded to drink beyond my limits. The night took a turn when I hit my head on the wooden bar and became unconscious. I’m still very grateful that my friends didn’t leave me that night. They accompanied me to the hospital, contacted my best friends to meet us there, and ensured that I was okay. After hearing a detailed recount of the night, I was immediately horrified and embarrassed. I remember the nurses asking me if I had an issue with alcohol or drugs.¹ “No,” I firmly responded. I’m not an alcoholic, but I somehow got to a really dark place.
The harsh reality is that I could have died that night. My family in Georgia was alerted of the incident, and let me tell you, one of the lowest moments of my life was crying on the phone to my mom, sister, and grandma. I didn’t recognize this person that made such a huge mistake. I definitely felt ashamed and disgusted with myself. But the crazy thing is—I suppressed it. I swore my friends to secrecy and went into work the next day like nothing happened. Out of sight, out of mind—I thought. The only reminder of my trauma was a hefty bill to cover the MRIs, ambulance, and labs. Each month, I was forced to atone through monetary transactions for my sins. What a way to start the year.
The next couple of months were looking promising. I was a master of saving face, and luckily, I had a huge task ahead of me to distract from the drama. The lead single of my debut EP was coming out in early February. I also shot a music video with an amazing crew of creatives that would accompany the release. I was finally stepping out as the artist that I dreamed of being since age four. Over two and a half years of work, and it was time to share my music with the world. When “insecure” dropped, I felt a love like no other. People were listening. People were watching. The feedback was incredible, exhilarating, and deeply humbling. I was so proud because it was a moment that was created with some of the best people. I’m seriously smiling as I write this because I just think of the memories in the studio and that day on set for the video. It was magic, and everyone involved truly believed in the project. I strongly think that the song was successful due to the incredible work of my collaborators—you know who you are. The song would eventually place on Spotify’s New from NYC: Pop playlist and reach over 1,000 streams, which was the only goal that I had for the project. To keep up the momentum, I was already planning an experience for the promotional single “honeymoon phase” with a local coffee shop, which would be released in mid-March. But life had other plans.
photography by Jesse Herndon
Coronavirus. Lockdown. No gatherings of 20 or more people. No gatherings of 10 or more people. Stay at home orders. Wear your masks and keep your distance. Shortages of toilet paper. Buying knock-off hand sanitizer online. I think you get the picture. We were all thrust into a pandemic like no other. It was scary, because no one truly had the answers. Your daily routine suddenly stopped. There was no going into the office anymore. No in-person hangouts with friends. You were forced to adapt. As you might have guessed, my collaborative experience with Little Bean Coffee was cancelled. I was really bummed because we spent months creating a signature drink and launch event in support of the single. More so, I was sad to see how this virus was hitting the livelihood of local businesses. It pains me to say that my friend’s coffee shop didn’t survive. So much loss was surrounding me. But nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for what happened next.
“And I know you’re shining down on me from heaven / Like so many friends we’ve lost along the way / And I know eventually we’ll be together / One sweet day (and I’ll wait patiently to see you in heaven)” -Mariah Carey
April 28, 2020. This day is officially the worst day of my life. What most people don’t know is that I had been traveling back and forth between New York and Georgia more frequently in the year prior. I was just there in February to visit my grandma. Her health was declining, but I was hopeful that things would turn around. She was incredibly strong, resilient, and God-fearing. We had spent time together, and I even got to show her my music video for “insecure,” which she loved. The trip ended like they always did. She begged me not to leave, and I assured her that I would be back soon. We exchanged “I love you’s” and that was the last time I saw my grandma physically.
It’s still too painful to discuss that day in April and the weeks to follow. Losing my Nanny was the most heartbreaking moment of my life. I cried all day and night. I honestly felt like a part of me died that day. Someone who I talked to every morning was no longer with me. A huge part of my routine was gone. One of my biggest fears had become a reality, and I was forced to carry on.
The funny thing that I learned about grief is that it’s like a scar. Even though there are days that I can’t feel it, it’s still there. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. I knew that this trauma was too heavy a load to suppress, and eventually, it would need to be unpacked. But I unfortunately felt at the time that I had to just make it through. Over the next few months, there were some major life changes that occurred. I moved into a new apartment, released my debut EP, quietly came out to my family, and celebrated my 27th birthday. However, all of those “wins” were accompanied by more loss of loved ones/family friends, senseless murders of black kings and queens and trans warriors, endings of friendships/working relationships, and an increased feeling of isolation and loneliness.
I soon grew annoyed with myself. I was tired about being sad, alone, and emotionally exhausted. My glow was dimming, and I started to run on half empty. Nothing seemed to bring me out of my dark cloud. I knew that I would be reunited with Nanny one day, but until that day comes, how was I going to survive and regain a sense of agency in my life?
photography by Jesse Herndon
“Plus, I met someone else / We’re havin’ better discussions / My therapist” -Ariana Grande
Yes, you read that correctly. I, Malcom Moon, started therapy in August because I felt like I had no other choice.² I swallowed my pride and sought help. Once a week, I meet with my therapist to discuss how I’m feeling, and he helps me navigate my thoughts and reactions to certain situations.³ Boy, do we dig deep! In my sessions, I’ve discovered so much about myself and my tendencies. I finally had someone that I could talk to about anything and everything. Someone who doesn’t simply tell me what I want to hear. Someone who gives affirmation and advises me to block my self-deprecating blows.
Many breakthroughs have been made since my time in therapy. I’m better equipped to manage toxic environments as I prepare my removal from them. My communication skills have vastly improved. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to start demanding and giving myself the respect, love, and attention that I give to others. That was huge. Expressing your wants and needs is not selfish. Also, suppression doesn’t help the situation. It just builds resentment or frustration and creates a space for the same issues to occur. Like damn, I felt seen.
In therapy, I’m finally starting to regain a sense of self. For so long, I felt like I was floating, and now, I’m slowly receiving my anchors back down to Earth. It feels so nice to open up and discuss all my hurt in stark honesty without the fear of being judged. Also, some days aren’t always bad. It’s refreshing to celebrate my strides and accomplishments. Overall, I’m learning the tools to help repair certain relationships, getting to know myself further, and unpack a lot of the baggage that I’ve carried for so long. I firmly believe that therapy is an ongoing process. I don’t think I’m going to wake up one day and be “cured” of all my problems and anxieties. However, there may come a day when I no longer need a third party to guide me through trying situations. That day hasn’t come yet, and I’m perfectly fine with that.
To anyone who is reading this and considering therapy, I advise that you take your time and find the right therapist for you. Do your research. There’s no shame in prioritizing your mental health and emotions, especially during this time. But you also have to want it for yourself. Trust, I toyed with the idea of therapy for years. However, there’s a stigma in the black community that we can do it all alone.⁴ Let me be the first to tell you that sometimes you simply cannot.⁵ Sometimes, you need a third party to clear out the muck in your mind and allow you to see those avenues of opportunity and growth. Remember, you are deserving of happiness and achieving your aspirations. You are deserving of care and attention. You are worthy of love.
“So how are we going to fix it?” -Malcom Moon
Healing. It’s harder than it seems, but it is attainable. If I’m being honest, I’m still healing from my grandma’s passing. That one is going to take a long time, and that’s okay. My other traumas, fortunately, had quicker expiration dates. I started to see the tides turn in September, and in the last four months of 2020, I truly began the healing process. One thing that helped me was to shift the focus to matters bigger than myself. It’s no secret that I am a black, gay man. So with the resurgence of Black Lives Matter and my rights continually being jeopardized, I had to speak out.
I started to engage in more political and socioeconomic conversations on my social media. I donated to the ACLU, the Biden-Harris campaign, various black-owned organizations, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns respectively. It was extremely rewarding to see the fruits of my labor. Huge shout-out to all the Georgians who showed up and helped save our democracy not once but twice! I’ve never been more proud of my home state. In November, I participated in Movember by growing a mustache to raise funds and awareness for men’s health, prostate and testicular cancer research, and suicide prevention. My network was able to raise over $300 which is incredible! Then in December, I participated in Operation Santa with the USPS by adopting a child for the holiday season and purchasing items of their wish list. If you know me, you know I love Christmas. Nothing brought me more joy than providing some festive cheer to a young child during this pandemic. These philanthropic actions reminded me about the power of humanity and restored a sense of optimism in my life. I’m forever grateful for the opportunities and the lessons learned.
The second thing that helped was taking a moment to retreat to my loved ones. I went back home to Georgia for about six weeks. For the first time in nine years, I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. I was home for my nephew’s first birthday, my sister’s 30th birthday, and of course, Christmas. While these holidays were our first without Nanny, it was still a magical celebration of familial bonds, good health, and survival. My nephew made all the festivities feel special as we were able to continue the sacred traditions for him. I thank God for blessing our family with his arrival. He helped bring the spark back to our family. So many memories were made, and I’m truly grateful. Plus, I realized how much I needed my family’s love and support. We were able to honor my grandma’s memory together, and I wasn’t alone. I finally laughed and smiled again. It felt like I could exhale. I missed that feeling. It was euphoric. It reminded me that there’s still more left for me to experience and achieve.
“All the while, I await my armored fate with a smile / Still wanna try, still believe in / Good days” -SZA
On December 31, 2020, I was surrounded by my favorite people in the entire world. My mom was the epitome of festive, supplying us all with 2021 glasses, “Happy New Year” scribed headbands, and party horns to ring in the New Year. My nephew was highly confused by our excitement and probably wanted to go back to sleep. My sister was busy tending to the baby and laughing at some of the questionable performances on TV. I had two glasses of my mom’s celebratory cocktail, and shortly after the countdown, I went to bed. A far contrast from the year prior, and it was intentional. I no longer was that man anymore. Earlier that month, I made the final payment on that hospital bill. Goodbye trauma and goodbye 2020. I was given a second chance, and after everything that I went through, I wasn’t about to repeat that same cycle. No ma’am, no sir. My future is far too bright. The light is coming and the darkness will fade.
photography by Jesse Herndon
“And if at first you don’t succeed / Then dust yourself off and try again / You can dust it off and try again, try again” -Aaliyah
Being back in New York is oddly refreshing. My apartment looks the same but feels drastically different. Maybe it’s all in thanks to the sage, but the energy feels renewed. I’ll admit it. I’m terrified of what lies ahead. I know what I want to achieve. Shoot, I’m making a vision board tomorrow because the power of manifestation is real. All of the things that I took a break from (songwriting, singing, blogging, dreaming) have to be awakened. Creativity and art are my offerings to the world. Without them, I’m doing myself a disservice. I have to try again—knowing that I could fail or not receive the outcome that I hoped for. I don’t know what my songs will sound like, what my visuals will look like, or how the experience will make me feel. But I can’t live my life in ‘what ifs.’ Last year was a year of transformation, and this year is one of application.
The featured image and all of the photos included are selections from Jesse Herndon‘s ‘Transformation’ series.