The year I turned 40, I began a self study, tracking events, behaviors, and occurrences for 365 days. This experiment inspired Project 40 – my life in numbers and stories.
Theme Song: Bottoms Up, Trey Songz ft. Nicki Minaj
It’s rarely been like at first sight for those who call me friend. I’m not known for my instant connections with people. Quite opposite – often folks don’t care for me at all upon an introduction, a first meet. When I was younger, it happened mostly with my own peeps (if we’re getting racial). All I had to do was open my mouth and black girls were turned off. “She thinks she white,” I would overhear, not having to listen too hard. Someone once asked why I was so proper. I didn’t know I was proper. And did that mean there were some who spoke improperly? This effect I seemed to have on others – some sort of befuddlement, perhaps – pronounced itself most often in the summers, when I would travel Amtrak-style to my mother’s home state of Louisiana, hanging out for weeks with the children of my uncle’s friends. “You talk funny,” they’d say. I told my mom, and she just shrugged, telling me not to worry about it.
Looking back, I see now how isolated I was. In elementary school, there were two other black girls in my grade. Three black boys. BET wasn’t available in Stockton, where I grew up. I was the only in my violin classes, the only in my dance class, the only in art camp, the only on my block. We were the only black family at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, and years later at the Church of the Presentation. When one teenaged neighbor laughed hysterically after asking if I wanted a piece of her watermelon, another neighbor had to explain what was so funny. It wasn’t until high school where things were slightly more integrated (perhaps there were 15 of us among my class of several hundred) that I started to get it. I’d been culturally sequestered.
Young adulthood didn’t make my friendships any quicker. In college, I found black people, brown people who – to my ear – sounded just like me. They would have been called proper to the girls at the mall, to the Louisiana crew. Yet even then, there was a perceptible distance between them and me. So it wasn’t just the proper thing. Maybe more to do with my squeaky, syrupy voice.
Or just my overall vibe. Accusations on me run from quiet to prissy to snobby to stuck up. Conceited. Airheaded. Obnoxious. What’s more, I’m awkward. At times an introvert. I’m clunky with small talk. I don’t segue very well and am not uncomfortable with long silences. So I tend to be complimentary, even somewhat sycophantic when attempting to chat with those newly acquainted, making me reek of phoniness. I smile too often and laugh too quickly, too heartily, and try much too hard. I’m easily forgotten.
Some of my best friends couldn’t stand me upon our first meeting. They didn’t invite me to lunch. They mocked me, did my voice, high pitched and Valley Girl. They straight-out rejected me.
At some point, though, with them – with everyone – a miraculous moment comes when there’s a turn. A reconsideration. A shedding of new and clear light where they finally get me. They even love me. They figure out that I’m good for a few laughs and, for that, they’ll deal with what might on the surface seem pretentious or weird. I make my friends laugh. This process is expedited, I’ve found, if I’m given the opportunity to go out for drinks. Thankfully, the world has had plenty of chances to find me inebriated.