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Friday, January 7, 2011

The Road Not Taken

One day, about twelve or so years ago, my very best friend Claire* and I were hanging in her bedroom talking about her prom date. He was the older son of a good friend of her mom's who her mom had since fallen out with. She told me as a result they'd lost touch but she had still nursed the crush on him she'd had since adolescence. I asked if she knew his full name, she replied "of course I do!" and I suggested she look him up on Anywho.com. She did and found him-first name, first try. They reconnected, dated for a while before going their separate ways (because that's how that type of sh*t works for Claire- for me he'd have said "great hearing from you" and then hung up the phone never to be heard from again). They never really got serious and it ended about as drama-free as it began.

Though I only technically met him once, I, like Claire when they dated, was completely caught up and thought he was fabulous: cute, smart, a writer for XXL Mag (with a big name law degree he didn't use), knew everyone in the Hip Hop world worth knowing, traveled, wrote articles and wore (insert harps and angels singing here) a "Press" badge. Really, as I toiled at my little no-name internet mag (before that was a respectable thing) he was kinda living the life I wanted (replace XXL with Honey). I mean, my fantasies were his life crossed with dream hampton's. When she would relay to me all the fabulous stories that he would tell her about this person or that, I was in seventh heaven. For example, the time Erykah Badu sent him a birthday card with a $20 bill in it and the note to have a dime bag on her (I mean how f*ckin' cool is that?!?) His life rocked! Hard!

But like I said it all fizzled out- they broke up, he went to Vibe as the music editor, didn't publish a thing and was promptly laid off when the executive editorial staff changed over (in the Mimi Valdés days I think). And here's a little secret- Claire doesn't like lack of ambition, as a character trait (Which always makes me wonder what the hell she's friends with me for?) Anyhoo, during that time their moms reconnected (none too happy that she and he had been dating) and thus even after the break-up Claire was able to continue to keep up with his progress (or lack thereof) through them. It would be no exaggeration to say things took a serious turn for him- really like everyone, including me, after 9/11. In retrospect, perhaps the break up hadn't been quite as amicable as I thought. Periodically we'd have a laugh at his expense as he we heard he appeared to be circling the drain: lights cut off, deep in debt, lost his apartment, borrowing money from mom, then flying off to France inexplicably- and marrying an older Black American ex-pat he met there. (Secretly, a little of this impetuous behavior still impressed me but the question of how he was getting by day to day in a foreign country scared the sh*t out of me).

So fast forward ten years- he and Claire are FB friends. Claire's happily married and living in PA, he and his wife have two beautiful boys and he seems to be doing the d@mn thing in France. Nothing extreme or that extraordinary, but it looks like his bills are getting paid, he seems linked into the ex-pat community out there and he's continuing to do what he loves. He has his little website that he writes for… and did I already say, he lives in f*ckin Paris! I'm just so incredibly jealous. Yes, what he did initially seemed stupid, and I more than co-signed when Claire was bashing him for recklessness. But in hindsight- right down to the useless law degree, I wish I'd had the nerve to do it too. I mean I'm in debt, still haven't managed to get into grad school, am borrowing from parents- if I didn't have them to help out, my lights would have been cut off long ago, my life is generally a mess. How is it so different (or better) from his life, that I was gleefully ridiculing a few years ago? At least, he can say he went for it. He can say that sh*t has been rough but he's living the life he chose (not that chose him). I continue to this day, to this minute, to let my mortal fear of the unknown constrain me.

Five years ago, I went to his book signing (did I mention he wrote a book?) at Hue-man Bookstore in Harlem. I was one of five people in attendance, including his dad. He didn't recognize me (I didn't expect him to- in fact that was part of the point- a little reconnaissance for my BFF). But I realize now, that night I was motivated in two parts by envy and by curiosity. He did not look any worse for wear. He was warm, charming, happy and grateful, doing a small tour before rejoining his family overseas. I allowed myself to be cheerfully disdainful; thinking of how the once mighty had fallen- blithely tearing down his achievement in my mind. I never read the book he inscribed. And then today I actually saw his website for the first time. Read some of the stories of the different Ex-pats- who, admittedly had far more going for them than I do, but moved to Paris to just live their lives. And so ultimately, the real point is that they did it, they made it happen for themselves. They grabbed their proverbial balls and manned up. Truth be told the site was nice and I'm genuinely happy for him.

Like one of my favorite poems goes…"it's a fierce thing, this enlightenment."


*Name changed to protect the guilty

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