Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Prototype (or a Little Bit of Why I Write How I Write)

His name was MK. He was older, seventeen to my thirteen, but I thought he was so amazing. He was of color; although the U.S. census would consider him white, society would consider him Middle Eastern . . . South Asian . . . not white. I never really asked what he was, and I asked him if he were Jewish, although in hindsight it probably would’ve been better if I’d asked him if he were Hindu or Muslim . . . Christian. But considering the only Christians I knew were either white or black, and his last name didn’t sound like a Christian last name, I had only my ignorance and 13 years of experience upon which to fall back.

I deserve a little break, right?

This was the second time I’d been to this camp; it only lasted two weeks. The year before I’d befriended two football players who played for the university. I don’t know how that friendship happened; I think I was tossing a ball with some people and they came and joined us. They were hilarious; I was their kid sis and it didn’t matter they were white and I wasn’t. So when I met MK, I thought it would be the same kid sister/older brother type relationship.

Except, it so wasn’t, at least not on my part.

MK wasn’t gorgeous in the way a boy could be that made pre-pubescent and pubescent girls lose their ever-lovin’ minds and tag his last name to her first. But he did get increasingly more adorable to me every time I saw him, which was inversely proportional (or is it related?) to how shy I’d get around him.


He was incredibly smart (or at least what smart to my 13-year-old mind meant). He told me about how he’d take the SAT once he got back home (he’s from the North, I’m from the South) and that he wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer . . . I can’t remember exactly which, but regardless, you have to be smart to do either. He was speaking a language I’d only started to learn, that of post–high school life; I hadn’t even entered high school and he was already talking about leaving it. But the fact he was talking about it to me, surely that meant something, right? That he thought I was mature enough to follow conversations like that with me . . .

I’m sure I told him about my mother. Sometimes I think the happiest and most reflective times for me were when I attended this camp. For two weeks I could genuinely be myself, flaws and all, and I was with other people who were getting in touch with that part they hide away because their friends/family wouldn’t understand. Maybe that’s why I felt so connected with MK, because he got an unfiltered 13-year-old me . . . and he didn’t run away or make fun of me or think I was a dork. And even though I couldn’t recall a single conversation with specificity, I can still remember how he made me feel.

Like a girl.

He was the first boy to ever make me feel like a girl. Feminine. Beautiful. He never said it to me, but sometimes he would gaze at me, or he’d smile, showing off his braces, which was okay because I wore braces too. Whenever we were with a group of friends, walking in the shopping district or around campus or in a crowd, he’d always make sure I was keeping up, sometimes even holding my hand so I wouldn’t get lost. If I were cold, he would give me his jacket if he had one, or put an arm around my shoulders. Once, a group of us were chatting outside—a baseball game, and it’d gotten nippy. We were in the canteen area and we were joking and talking about the game. Suddenly, he drifted into silence, smiled softly at me, and then touched my cheek with cool fingers. I gasped and my hands flew to my face. The others teased me and made obnoxious sounds, but I didn’t care. I just stared at him and he smiled and ducked his head slightly.

I think he took a little bit of my heart then, and I don’t think either one of us knew it. I certainly didn’t, or didn’t admit it until . . . maybe a few months ago. I’d never received affection from a male not my relative. He was the first . . . and in many ways, the only.

In my entire life.

I lost touch with him after camp. E-mail and IM hadn’t really caught on yet, and the only time I ever called him his mother had answered the phone and had said he was studying for the SAT. I think that hit it home that he was much too old . . . far too out of my league, and to pack it up. So I moved on, got through middle school and high school with nary a crush. I thought something was wrong with me because all my friends would talk about cute guy x or y, and I . . . would rarely be impressed. In fact, the guy who got my first kiss—random! First off, totally thought he wasn’t going to do it even though he said he would. On my 18th birthday, he said he’d give me a kiss; he presented it like a dare/promise. Thought he was full of hot air. 1.) He was white and this is the South, and I’d never seen him date a black girl 2.) we didn’t even like each other like that. But after class on the last day of school, he pulled me aside and he kissed me. And the notable thing, other than it felt very weird, was that a touch on the cheek five years earlier made me feel more than this kiss ever did.

And my simple self, unused to lust and damn curious, went back for more kisses (and some touches . . .) to see if maybe I did it wrong the first time, or if I could get those fleeting moments of “right” to last longer. Then I went to his house with a mutual friend. He took the friend to his room and left me out in his living area watching television.

Well, then.

Since then, the crushes have been on men of every color and racial makeup imaginable, but they never treated me like MK did, or made me feel the way he did. Oh, there’ve been glimpses, but the biggest difference between MK and my subsequent crushes was how I felt . . . all the time. When alone we’re cool; we talk, we connect. When we’re with friends . . . I’m “one of the guys”; I’m not a blip on the opposite-sex radar; the potential-girlfriend radar. I’m not “crush-worthy”. I’ve been flat-out told I wasn’t on “the list”, but a mutual friend of ours would be. Rarely did I feel beautiful. Rarely did I feel like a girl. And the thing was, I looked REAL awkward at 13, yet I managed to get someone to be genuinely interested in me. I was never slim; my hair was never “good hair”; I had acne; I wore braces! Hell, my first crush in college never even NOTICED I’D GOTTEN THEM TAKEN OFF AND I’D BEEN WEARING THEM FOR THE FULL YEAR HE’D KNOWN ME! Talk about a blow to the ego! Talk about not being seen!

I’ve been passed over more times than I care to admit, unseen that I’ve made a niche for myself in forgettable obscurity. I’ve been doing my own thing. I’ve been smart, independent, confident in my abilities, all the while thinking none of that really matters. I’m supposed to be those things, after all; that’s nothing “special.” I went to school with women who were like that, and better-looking. I’m the daughter of one of the epitomes of smart, independent, confident in her abilities, and gorgeous. But for some reason . . . MK saw me anyway, and liked me. He wasn’t ashamed of me. He allowed me my awkwardness, my vulnerability, and didn’t blast me for it. I had no idea how much I needed that . . . he has no idea how much I appreciate him for it.

He’s the prototype, MK. He’s the foundation for the heroes I write, because Lord knows I put a lot of me in the heroines I write. That essence, that allowing for vulnerability, for being dependable for an independent woman; for seeing the beauty that many don’t see, or if they do, don’t mention it . . . that the heroine can’t or doesn’t see because it’s never been pointed out to her. For allowing the heroine to come just as she is and to be respected and thought worthy at the starting place, but helping her grow to be the best she can be. And for a black woman especially, that’s incredibly rare. The rhetoric we hear (and I’ve been told to my face) black women are too this; black women are too that (and none of it construed positively); me being told I can’t rely on anyone but myself. Me seeing this fact in the majority of the relationships around me; me reading and studying statistics. Me wondering why “regular” looking black women on television, in movies; in romance novels don’t ever get the hero. I know it’s possible. For two weeks when I was thirteen, I had it. But when it reaches the point where I am now wondering if it would be “realistic” for a “regular” black woman to draw the attention, and keep it, of a hero . . . and he be proud of her and humbled by her . . . because it’s not happened to me (again). But it can happen in my stories; it has happened to the new friends and mentors I’ve talked to since I started this journey. And how that journey of being an author is really parallel for my journey to being a woman and finding love. Why I write romance; maybe why I write primarily interracial romances, but I read all subgenres of it. Maybe because someone who wasn’t on MY radar had me on his, and how would I deal with that now, twelve years later . . . and would he like the woman I’d become. Would I have the courage to depend on someone else; the same courage many of my heroines have to find; will I have the courage to believe it when he says, “you’re beautiful”, something I and many black women rarely hear but so want to; will I have the courage to own the good points I possess, but shove in the back because the bad points are constantly heaped upon me and I carry them like the scars my ancestors did, because I feel guilty I don't have to sacrifice like the generations before me did.

I’m blocked (an annual occurrence lol), and it’s because I had to get all that out . . . and maybe relax, before I can get started. I work too hard, some of my friends say. Even my boss says I’m too stressed. Heh. Well, hopefully this will free up some space and to allow my characters possibilities, and maybe that’ll transfer to me.

I wonder if MK even remembers me. Nevertheless, I thank him, and I thank God for allowing him to enter my life, even if for such a short period of time.


thebluestpurple said...

wow wow wow.
thank you so much for sharing this.
it definitely all rings true with me, i feel you on so many levels.
i had a camp like this that i attended summer of '08 for 6 weeks, and i had a guy that made me feel like this first semester of senior year of high school, but not both combined. i can only imagine what kind of overload that was for you. and at thirteen! gosh.

regardless, i too am glad you got it out, and i SEE why he's the prototype, your everyman. he deserves to be.

thebluestpurple said...

whoops, that should be summer of '98*, lol.

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