By Michael E. Miller
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By Chris Joseph
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Hall Passwas Lorrie Tennant's last poem. She read it aloud on the night of August 25 at Hollywood's Ginger Bay Cafe, one of a string of venues in South Florida that hosts a weekly open-mic poetry event. Memories vary about Tennant's delivery that night, but the poem itself has been etched into people minds. Everyone will remember Hall Pass forever, fellow poet Aisha Medina says.
Written under Tennant's nom de plume, Elle, Hall Pass was about her 3-year-old son, Keion, a few years away from the regimentation of public school education but close enough for his mom to fret over its looming influence on his innocent life.
DAMN IT! He's too young for a hall pass
This public school system can kiss my over-protective ass
I'm gonna go take him back!
Where's my Ninja outfit?
A mother's unconditional love streaks the poem like a hand softly brushing her son's forehead -- the son who, as it turns out, will grow up with his mom's wispy memory just a fading photo filed somewhere in the back of his mind.
The one I can hear coming a mile away
But I still act surprised
The one whose kisses cure all adult woes
Whose tiredness gives me strength to carry him
Who remembers the commercial for Sunny Delight
And uses it as purchasing argument
"Mommy, it's got vitamins AND minerals"
But, even though he's old enough to give me cynical looks and sass
I tell you, he's too young for a hall pass
Applause and cheers rained as Tennant took her seat. The poem's theme was customary turf for Tennant and the crowd, her disarming humor popular and well-worn. With her were friends Will Bell and Dwayne Nelson. "The majority of her poetry was about the kids," Bell says, "about them growing up without a father but her still wanting to keep a father image in their lives."
That night at the restaurant, while watching Tennant furiously typing words into her laptop, fellow poet Bell couldn't help again being astounded by her dedication. "I was thinking, 'This is one of the best friends I have ever had.' She gave me so much -- like a $10,000 website, including maintenance that she keeps up -- and I think I paid that girl every bit of $250 and a dinner! I owe her big time, and that night when I was watching her do her thing at the table, I realized what a good friend she was. I should have told her."
The three stayed through the rest of the open-mic show until Ginger Bay closed around 1:30 a.m. Tennant, Bell, Nelson, and another friend walked through the near-empty downtown Hollywood streets to where Bell's truck was parked. "When she turned to go, I hugged her," Bell remembers. "She gave me this hug, and she didn't walk off -- she floated off, across the street. With the smile of an angel."
Then Nelson drove her to her house just off Sheridan Street in Hollywood, where, unknown to her friends, Tennant's murderer waited.
It's hard to silence a poet, especially a def poet with a mic in her hand and lyrical fire in her heart and head. Even the customary three-minute time limit in a poetry-slam competition can't stop the words from coming when one last line still fights to escape. South Florida's faction of def poets -- an outgrowth of erudite beat/coffeehouse informality crossbred with rapid-fire Run-D.M.C. rhymes, largely representing a uniquely African-American art form -- number in the hundreds. For the imaginative and prolific Lorrie Tennant, poems were born in her brain and incubated on her laptop until she could breathe life into them on any number of South Florida stages. But in the muggy silence before dawn, under a sodium-streetlamp glow spilling through her bedroom window, Lorrie Tennant was silenced .
According to police, Tennant's ex-husband, Kevin Nicholson, had gained entry to the house that night and hid in her bedroom. "Kevin had a history of breaking into the house and sitting in the dark waiting for her to get home," Bell says. "He did that throughout their separation, trying to find out how long she stayed out or who she came home with."
The final act of the marriage came after years of preliminaries, police say.
Lorrie Tennant filed for divorce in Broward County Court in March 2003, six years after she married Nicholson. Domestic disturbances had brought police to their home many times during the marriage, according to Hollywood police records. After one incident, a reported fight on January 28, 2003, Nicholson agreed to leave, and no charges were filed. Nicholson moved into a house in Miramar -- there was an official separation that month -- but a week later, on February 9, Nicholson showed up at the house again. A tenant who rents a room in the Tennant/Nicholson home saw Nicholson using a box cutter to hack a hole in the screen on the bathroom window. He told Tennant to call 911 and persuaded Nicholson to take off.
Hollywood police say Tennant had agreed to meet Nicholson that day in a public location to discuss a financial issue. When Tennant refused to write him a check for $2,000, her husband had thrown her checkbook and wallet into a nearby canal. On April 15, 2003, Tennant called police when she arrived home at 1:30 a.m. and discovered that someone had broken into her bedroom.