I remembered him as a little boy with beautiful chocolate orbs that shared the light of child-life, full of expectancy and joy, happy to see another child, but shy and worried that the feelings weren’t mutual. I remembered him as talkative and hesitant, shy and bold, ready to defend himself again. At least in the best way he knew how, which was never good enough, but he’d keep trying, regardless.
I remembered him because he mirrored me, a bottom-feeder among the children. I was one of those who didn’t present the perfect child package, one who didn’t have the pretty hair or the thin, gangly body. And it angered me to find someone who would dare usurp my protected, bottom position, someone who took away my outcast status and forced me to be the taunt-er, no longer the taunted. Oh, I remembered.
He had beautiful, flawless, black skin; rich, glossy, charcoal-colored, curly hair that demanded your appreciation; thick, black, curling eyelashes extended beneath his sculpted-like eyebrows; and lips that were patterned in a plumped, sensuous bow. I remember thinking then that he was a pretty boy. I just couldn’t say that out loud because I didn’t have the strength to stand against the backwash that would follow such a comment. But, I, too, knew that he was different. Something not quite boyish enough about him, more like me than like the boys.
We taunted him. We didn’t have a name for his difference at our age; we just saw the difference as if it was a label with the letters missing. And it drew us to him, made us tease him, allowed us to enjoy watching him hurt from the words we slung and gestures we threw just because he was different. Oh, I remembered.
I remembered my cowardice when I saw his pain and recognized my feelings on his face. The flashback to when it was me on the side that he now stood, wondering why nobody liked me. What had I done to make them so mad? What did my weight have to do with them? So, I stopped and stood away from it. Not too far. I needed to look as though I was one of them. It had taken me too long to be accepted. I had the distorted thought that I had worked too hard to earn my place among the other children to relinquish my new accepted status for him. But I couldn’t tease him any more. I couldn’t help make him feel like I use to feel. That, I remembered, I couldn’t do.
Now here he stood, in my path. “Do you remember me?” He asked. As I stared at him while the thoughts of our childhood rushed through my mind and embarrassed me, as if it was only the next day.
“I remember you.” Then I stood baffled as he smiled closed-mouth, the way he did when he first met me as a child, happy to see me but not sure if it was all right to be. I returned his smile with sincerity.
“So, you live here now?” It was a question of status. Standing in the hall of a dilapidated apartment building, an obvious step down from the fifteen years of where we both grew up.
“Yeah, I’m staying with a girlfriend of mine.”
“A girlfriend! Oh, r-e-a-l-l-y?” An instant look of camaraderie appeared.
“Not that kind of a girlfriend,” I immediately clarified.
“Oh. Well, I just started working here.” I noticed the security guard uniform, but it hadn’t registered. This was a bad building in a bad neighborhood. I was shocked that they could find any company that would accept a security contract, much less find a person to work in the area.
“You sure you want to work here?” I looked around the building and got side tracked. It was amazing how people could deface brick and mortar, de-grass a lawn, shatter bus stop windows, and destroy cemented paths, but couldn’t manage to earn enough money to live. I wanted to question their placement of energy, but I knew it was about frustration. Who was I to question their circumstances? I, too, was living off of someone else’s charity.
“You still look the same. Girl, give me a hug. It’s good to see you.” He embraced me then, as if we had been two best friends who hadn’t seen each other in years. He held me, and I felt his muscles, smelled his cologne, and acknowledged that he was no longer a pretty boy. He was a phenomenally good-looking man. He looked rugged, as if he’d learned how to bench press; not fanatical, just enough to tighten the right spots, round the chest, and expand the shoulders. Very masculine, except for the voice.
“Girl, you still look good. And you feel good!” I didn’t know why he made the comment, so I didn’t respond to it.
“I noticed you didn’t answer my question. Are you sure you want to work here?” I asked again.
“It’s a job. I don’t care where they send me. I can take care of myself now. I’m not like I was when I was a kid, you know.” I recognized the pained memory that flashed across his face, in a nanosecond. Or, at least I imagined that I saw it. Guilt–induced? Maybe.
“Yeah, I can see that.” We stood staring at each other, a million unvoiced thoughts bouncing between us.
“Well, I’ve got to get in the house. I’ve got on ten-minute shoes, and I’ve been standing in them for over an hour. It’s good seeing you.” I gave him another sincere smile and headed to the apartment.
“Girl, you know you’re crazy,” he laughed a rich, alive laugh that bounced along the hallway wall. “I work nights, so if you want some company, give me a call on the house phone. Ain’t nothing going on around here, you know. It gets kind of boring. In fact, give me your number, I’ll call you.” I heard a plea over the suggestion. I sensed that for some reason he really did want to talk to me, so I gave him my phone number and left.
Part 1 | Part 2