As the days leading up to me returning to education pass way too quickly I find myself filled with consternation. I have been on hiatus for over a year now. I have traveled. I have created. I have sheltered in place. I have started my brand. I have made money independently. I have crafted every day of my life to be exactly what I want it to be. My time has been mine for the first time ever in my adult life. And now I have to prepare myself to surrender it to the institution once again.
I feed off of energy during my lectures. I look into the eyes of my students. I read the room. I put people on the spot who look at me quizzically by asking them to throw their questions out on the floor. I bless those who sneeze. I engage those who appear to be sleepy. I raise the energy level in the room to the highest possible level. Now I wonder how might this skillset that took me decades to master be inhibited by Zoom.
I have never taught an online class. The idea of lecturing to a computer screen has never been appealing to me, but here we are in the Fall of 2020. I fear that Conference Zoom is not a proper conduit for my soul. I am afraid of the disconnect that has been brought to education thanks to COVID 19. I am not sure how I will face it. I am not sure that I have the patience to return to form.
She was hella pretty so I told her. I wasn’t trying to harass her or make her feel less than what she is. I didn’t want her phone number and I didn’t want to send her pictures of me aroused in her DM’s. I didn’t want to marry her or one day take her home to my mother either. My statement was not a declaration of the ability of my gaze to validate her beauty because she would have been beautiful whether I told her or not. I was just a black man telling a black woman that she was pretty. I felt like she needed to hear it from me. I felt like I needed to tell her that and she needed to know that I was being sincere. I don’t think she felt that way. I think her day would have gone much better if I would have kept my comment to myself. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye as she walked in the opposite direction and said nothing, and what she said to me is exactly how she made me feel. Somehow I wanted to express to her in a three word ebonical phrase that I had suffered right alongside her and I still faced just as much resistance as she did and yet somehow we both were shinning and she was shining even brighter than me and that I acknowledged this fact, I appreciated her, I honored her, and I never gave up on her. But it didn’t go down that way.
Curse my arrogance for thinking that a complete stranger was obligated to respond to my compliment. Curse my sensitivity for being hurt when she didn’t. Curse my brooding ways for thinking that this non-exchange sums up the greatest problem facing black people in America right now, and that is the tragic hostility that drives the black man and the black woman to hate each other. I love that woman but I fear that all she saw in me was a man that had the power to hurt her. Or maybe she saw a man that was beneath her, or maybe…maybe nothing. Maybe I’m just thinking too hard but I doubt it.
The first time she feels comfortable enough to poot in your presence and you realize how difficult it must have been for her to suppress her humanity for all of those months. And then she looks at you with surprise but no hint of shame and the both of you begin to laugh hysterically. For you realize that she can never unbreak that wind and she will never again attempt to live up to society’s impossible expectations of what a woman should and should not do while being courted. From this moment forward you will regard her not merely as a love interest but as a human-being. As your potna. As your homie. You lean over and kiss her softly on her giggling cheek then breath in hard through your nose and you are almost overwhelmed because you know that if real love had a smell then this would undoubtedly be it.
I think about her more now that she’s dead than I did when she was alive. I think about the disoriented look on her son’s face as he walked in and out of her funeral service. I think about how goofy she was a teenager. How annoying her laugh was, how pretty her face was…I think about the word was. How hurtful the past tense is when referring to young people that you love.
I did not think about her when she was alive. I had not seen her in at least 15 years. In fact even when we attended Junior High School together we were never super close but I never thought that death would reach her before her 35th year. I never thought that I would have to use the word was when referring to her. And now I kind of want to see her. I want to tell her not to trip, that things will be ok, that she is loved. And then I’m torn because I feel really fake. If she were alive and I happened to see her I would never think to share anything beyond the exchange of basic pleasantries. I probably would have no idea that she was contemplating suicide but then again, I would never ask.
It’s shameful what death reduces us to. It’s shameful how a person has to die in order to be heard sometimes. Often times when a young man is murdered and waiting to be pronounced dead his cell phone is jumping. Everyone is calling, texting, and sending dozens of messages that all seem to say, “are you ok?” But he isn’t ok. He will never be ok again. Then they DM him and send him friend requests and favorite his tweets and finally they make a memorial on a street corner and everyone has a party in his memory—but he is dead. I could never understand why we disregard the living only to celebrate the dead. Yet here I am. Mourning the tragic death of a woman who I wasn’t even close enough to know was suffering.
I am somewhat obsessed with her now that she will be forever in the past tense.
I find myself becoming less approachable, less tolerable of other people. The memories that I have of her are ever present and I can’t stop thinking about what her future may have been. I post about her. I cherish memories of her that I didn’t even know I had when she was alive. Like that time in the 8th grade when she was my girlfriend for two days and we broke up because I had hard rumors about her “going with” another boy (which were later revealed to be untrue). Little silly things come into my head that make me acknowledge once again to myself that she is dead. Her body has been reunited with the earth. And then I slowly attempt to rise out of bed, though I never seem to get enough sleep.
I sat in Eastmont Barbershop for hours as a young boy. Looking out of the window while waiting on the best fade in town. I stared out onto 73rd and Macarthur Boulevard at all of the Cougars and Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, and Cutlasses that were coming from the carwash on 90th and Mac and gearing up to hit the Foothill strip. They would rev their engines up until the 73rd light finally changed then they’d peel out down the block. This was back in the 90’s when the Foothill Strip was two lanes and everyone who had access to a car from all parts of the town would ride it every weekend all the way to Lake Merritt. It started right there on 73rd and Mac. 73rd and Macarthur is the gateway to Deep East Oakland going one way and the start of the Foothill strip going in the opposite direction. It lay right in the center of the largest black community in Northern California. It’s a major thoroughfare. It’s important. And now as of yesterday morning the whole block has been burned to the ground.
As I look at the changing demographics in the area right above Macarthur Boulevard and to a lesser extent below it I suspect, no I know, that it’s a blatant case of insurance fraud. A few blocks down on 77th and Macarthur there were also a few businesses that were burned under mysterious circumstances. Someone is reaping the money from this destruction while local children must endure a neighborhood that looks like present day Damascus. These building will remain burned out until enough white people move into the neighborhood. Then they will buy it and then this community will go the way of West Oakland, the way of Brooklyn, the way of Brixton, and the way of D.C. And all things poor and black will be shipped off to a suburb 50 miles away.
To love a ghetto as much as I love mine may seem oxymoronical to an outsider. I love the way we struggle. I love the bluntness and the humility of hood life. I love the pride of the people even though it is far too often misplaced in street corners and cars and gang signs. I love the blackness. Much more significant and perhaps much more telling, however, is this fact: I love my hood because my hood is all that I know. I’ve gotten degrees and come back here. I’ve gone around the world and come back here. I’ve taken a chance with a woman or two but always I’ve come back here. And now as I look at 73rd and Macarthur the only thing I see is my childhood all aflame and my heart in ashes. The invaders have made their move and indeed they have left their mark.
When you’ve had the long talk about why the two of you can no longer be together
And you’ve unfriended her on Facebook and blocked her Instagram as well
When you’ve placed all the pictures of her that you have on your iPad into your digital wastebasket
When you’ve deleted her as a contact on your Facetime along with all the goofy emails exchanged during that blissful time when the two of you spoke of eternity as reality
And when you have taken the time to delete the profile picture on the Groupme account you shared with her
Then you can begin the process of forgetting the sound of her panting and the curl of her toes. The loudness of her snore and the fullness of her Afro. The way she used to beat you at every game you played with her; air hockey, tennis, wrestling, love etc. And the irony of her insatiable desire to listen to Donny Hathaway on vinyl because as it turns out, giving up really is hard to do
And then you can forget all of the ground you covered with her only to have more ground appear only to realize there lay a chasm between the two of you that your love alone could never bridge. It is only then that you can forget that you tried harder than ever before but you failed all the same. It is only then that you can begin to become reacquainted with how enormous the world can be for a person that must traverse it alone. Then you will finally come to terms with the truth. And that truth is that you were always alone and you will always be alone because alone is how god made you.
He was the most promising thing that had ever happened to her nonexistent love life. He was marriage material, and it frightened her to think like that because she had never known anyone that had ever gotten married. Certainly not her mother who had her, and her sister by a former standout high school football player who eventually turned to cocaine and crystal-meth. Not her older sister who had gotten herself pregnant by a local hoodlum and want to be playboy who, when drunk, would send her pictures of his dick on snapchat. Not herself, she had never been proposed to by the boy who had impregnated her shortly after her 20th birthday and she had never wanted him to. He was an aspiring rapper who ate with his mouth open and didn’t believe in keeping a job. He had shown an intense interest in her when he met her at the bus stop. She remembered thinking that he was kind of funny looking and had a very thin long face like a camel. She wasn’t attracted to him but she loved the way he wanted her, the smile that he had given her, the crass words about the shape of her hips came out sounding rather sweet. She was even charmed by the way he had to keep pulling his pants up because he had forgotten his belt and his skinny jeans were a few sizes too big. She gave him her number. He called, they fucked a few times, she got pregnant, she told him, he never called again, he blocked her on Facebook, deactivated his Instagram and disappeared. She didn’t really care. Honestly she didn’t. He wouldn’t have made much of a father anyway. Besides she would rather raise her child by herself with no interference.
But now she met this promising brotha at a church function. He was with his family but his soul still wandered. He stood in the pulpit briefly to tell the congregation about the boy’s camp that he had started and how he needed their help. “Give me your boys” he orated “and I will do everything in my power to make men of them.” She thought this was very corny but she was still intrigued. Her son was far too young to attend the camp but she still got his business card after the service anyway. She emailed him the next day, and when he didn’t respond to her satisfaction she called him at his job and left a message with his secretary. The whole time she thought about his cream colored suit and matching tie. She ultimately became impressed by the dramatic nature in which he spoke and his extensive knowledge of scripture, not to mention his youth. He had to be the youngest settled man she had ever seen. She envied his wife and his daughter. She wanted him for her bedroom and she wanted him for her son. She didn’t feel like she was worthy of all of him just yet but she felt like she deserved a little piece. He should be able to spare that. So she continued to call him at his job, and she visited his home church, she helped out at the fundraiser for his camp, and she emailed him inspirational quotes.
Finally he began to open up about everything that his marriage was not, and she listened. She began to talk about her son, and he listened. She began to laugh hardily at all of his jokes. Even the ones that weren’t funny—especially the ones that weren’t funny. She called him sexy and said, “If your wife ever slips up then you know who to call.” He ended that conversation abruptly. So abruptly that she just knew that she had lost him and she cursed herself for it. But the next day he called back from his job and after several minutes of small talk he asked in a nervous, secretive tone if she wanted to come and see him every now and then. She said ok. He then gave her a location to meet him and she told him that she was looking forward to it.
She felt extremely accomplished when he finally reciprocated her lust. She never felt bad at all. She felt contented in knowing that she could have a piece of something great. She felt like his touch would raise her above the predetermined fate of all of her foremothers. That if he left work to be with her for an hour then that would elevate her consciousness. And that after enough hours he would come home to her and teach her little guy how to tie a tie, go fishing, and catch a football while she cooked dinner and ironed his clothes. With this young ambitious man she would be able to press the reset button on her womanhood. She had gotten his attention. She earned her hour and now she would submit to him and he would be hers for as long as it took for him to be hers.
At some point you’re guaranteed to feel like a fool when you’re searching for something that may not even exist. Too many of us look outward for love instead of staring at our souls and preparing ourselves for whatever life may make of us. Just because you’re by yourself does not mean you have to feel lonely. And of course the inverse of this fact is also true, as my life has proven.
I’ve been in very large rooms full of people with alcohol flowing and music vibrating the walls and all I wanted to do was leave. I just wanted to be as alone as I felt. I’ve lain beside women that I find to be repulsive only because I didn’t want to sleep alone. And as they took up space in my room and marred my faith, I only wished that they would leave. Or better yet that I would have had the strength to never have invited them.
I have just recently begun asking myself if instead of looking for a life-partner I should be searching for spiritual contentment. Perhaps this contentment will include a wife and more offspring but then maybe it won’t. There are many forms of happiness just like there are many forms of misery. The question that resonates in my mind as I compose this piece is “If joy should come into my life in completely untraditional garb would I be able to recognize it?”
I need to care even less about what people say and how I may look. I need to be able to see positivity through my own lens and completely disregard how that may appear to someone else.
EPIC! That’s the first term that comes to mind when I think about the long journey of bringing “Herstory” to fruition. It was March 30, 2012 when I sat down to conduct my first interview with Niema Jordan in my shabby East Oakland living room. When we finished recording our conversation I thought the project, in its entirety, would be complete within two months. I was hella wrong.
So many bad things happened that my selective memory won’t even allow me to recall most of them. I do remember amicably parting ways with my original editor halfway through the project. I do remember at least two other people committing to the project only to back out once they were able to truly internalize the fact that I could not pay them. And well, everything else is a blank until I reconnected with a fellow Skyline High School graduate who possessed the skill set and the passion to bring Herstory back to life. It was February 11 when she committed to the project. Now seven weeks later it’s done.
I’m high right now. I mean I’m super elated. I’m glad that Herstory survived all of the abandonment that it was exposed to in its infantile stages. I’m glad that beauty still exists in this world and I am so grateful that I have crossed paths with three super dynamic black women that opened up to me and told me their stories. With no further ado this is Herstory: