On our first date, Bernard drove to one of Tuskegee’s neighboring towns, took me to a Bar & Grill and ordered us a bottle of wine – probably a White Zinfandel. To a girl who was frequently eating Ramen and drinking Mad Dog – this experience was impressive. That move made me, a 18 year-old girl from a small town, feel as if I were dating a real man. I felt sophisticated and grown: drinking underage in a restaurant that had servers and didn’t have a drive-thru.
Bernard later took me to the room he rented in an old, White plantation-looking house that he shared with several of his frat brothers, lit candles, played a Prince mix-tape, and introduced me to the power of touch and the beauty of a patient, experienced man. I don’t know if I was in-love or in-awe after that night; but whatever it was ignited a connection that lasted for years. He eventually flew me from Tuskegee (where I was a student) to New Jersey (where he had an internship) and proposed to me – again in a candle lit room.
As many love stories go – we, at some point- broke up. And although I was the one who ended things, I was absolutely, snot-nosed-devastated. I mourned- even missed an exam because I was too sad to get out of bed – so I had to take a country-cab (an old school Uber of sorts) to the doctor who would give anyone a doctor’s excuse so that I could get permission to take the exam at a later date. Eventually, however, the “don’t let nothin hold you down, especially no man – I’m a strong black woman’ attitude kicked in. Additionally, the egocentrism of my youth made me believe that the entire campus was as focused on me and Bernard’s break-up as I was; so my pride – my desire not to look beaten or broken – fueled me to be “okay”, or at least to look so outwardly.
So, I went out with a new man – with no bottle of wine, no awe, no love — but to make a short story even shorter, I accepted his proposal of marriage less than two months after that first date (I know—crazy). That day, I excitedly showed off my engagement ring and told my closest friends – the same ones I met first day freshman year (and am still besties with today). They all had the expected, excited reactions – except for “Beaufort.”
“Have you lost your damn mind? You don’t even know this boy. What are you thinking? You are still in love with Bernard,” she admonished with her eyes squinted and her finger wagging. Beaufort, no taller than 4’11, was the “Grandma” of our posse. She’d walk around our shared home in her housecoat (really—who has a housecoat at 20?), set us straight about all life matters; make concoctions with chicken feet and rub Vick’s Vapor Rub on our chests when we got sick; and always functioned within respectable limits (she’d drink but never be the one hugging the toilet later, she’d have relationships but never be swept-away stupid). She was the matriarch of our self-made, college family.
So as HSICs (Head Sistahs in Charge) do, she fussed and cursed, admonished, stared, rolled her eyes and very much made me feel like the fool I now know that I was. And I couldn’t stand her short-ass because of it. I truly couldn’t stand her. Of course, she, a master of giving zero fucks before it was even a term, continued with her displays of displeasure for days.
She loved me enough to allow me to hate her. It is for that reason (and many others) that she is one of my best friends today.
Love sometimes means that you have to be willing to accept that a person you adore temporarily can’t stand you. I tell my kids frequently: “It would be much easier for me to go along with what you want; but I love you enough to fight for what you need. I will fight for you, even if that means that sometimes I have to fight against you. I love you enough to feel the sting of your dislike.”
I believe that the truth is the greatest gift that you can give to those whom are closest to you. We’ve seen people and we ask, “Where in the hell are her friends? Why didn’t someone tell her that outfit is ill-fitting? Or why is no one telling her that her man is dating her cousin? Or shouldn’t someone tell him that he can’t rap – like not at all? Doesn’t someone love him enough to tell him the painful truth.”
Don’t get me wrong, my philosophy with 99% of the world is “If you like it; I love it.” If a “casual” friend told me that she was selling her house and joining the circus in another country, I’d kiss her excitedly and attend the bon voyage party. I don’t care enough to care. On the other hand, if one of my Sister-friends were to tell me the same thing (and I also know she is reeling from being laid-off), I’d pull-out every stitch of information on the diseases that elephants spread, the high depression rates in clowns; the dinners of cotton candy and popcorn that she’d be relegated to, the great possibility that no other employer would take her seriously again, and anything else I could find to dissuade her.
In my view, my responsibility is to help her see when she’s blind; to slap her out of hysteria; to try my best to save my friend (although if she ever got to the point that her decision became “final,” I would then attend her bon voyage party too).
We all have moments where we aren’t thinking clearly – although at the time we truly believe that we are. My life has turned out much better because of my mom and Sister-friends, like Beaufort, who have told me truths that I didn’t want to hear – in ways that I didn’t like hearing – all because they loved me enough to accept my temporary disdain. They loved me enough to say what others didn’t care enough to say (most of the world will quietly allow you to fuck-up your life –and then talk about you behind your back). They threw me a life raft when I thought I was swimming, but was about to drown in my own stupidity and/or pity.
I don’t need people who always tell me I’m right or what I’m doing is okay (because it’s impossible to always be right and rational). Hell – since we are being truthful, folks like me are rarely rational, so thankfully I’ve got sense enough to surround myself with the Beauforts of the world. My life would be VERY different without them – these strong, truth-telling, don’t-give-a-damn-bout-yo-feelings, life-saving Sistas.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more