To the lady who wears the fly hats:
I apologize that I was so long in getting back to you. You email has been sitting in my box for quite some time now, and I have read and reread it, and I have turned your question over and over in my head until I was forced to admit defeat and just gave up.
I have no idea why African American men act as they sometimes do. I have no idea why so many African American men seem intimidated by marriage. I have no idea why so many African American women are walking around disillusioned, discouraged, convinced that they will never find a mate.
But I think you paint with too broad a brush. I know a good many African American men who do not conduct themselves or think in the manner you have described. Not only that, these men make the same complaint and ask the same question in the opposite direction: “Why is it that now when I want to settle down, when I want to be married, I cannot seem to find the right woman?”
But I digress. The reason that I finally decided to respond is that I thought of you and I thought of your email today when I attempted to call upon a good friend, a female friend. As I was passing by her home one afternoon, I happened to spot her car in the driveway, and the garage door was up, so I knew she was home. However, her curtains were drawn tight.
I stopped in front of her house, and I thought just for a second about giving her a call to see if she wanted company, but I got the strangest feeling, a feeling that perhaps something just wasn’t quite right. I paused for a second then I just drove on.
You know, my friend is perhaps a little older than you, and she has articulated the same questions, the same reservations as you on many occasions. But she was not always this cynical, this skeptical back when we were much younger. She left and then returned, and now she is changed. It is almost as if someone has drained the life out of her, stolen her joy. And I feel that there is a narrative there, a story, but I get that narrative only in bits and pieces that I have to fit together.
But you should have seen her back in the day. She was something else. I cannot begin to describe her beauty, and she had the most engaging personality and an absolutely wonderful sense of humor that drew people to her. Plus, she excelled in everything she did, so when she landed in dream job in Baltimore, she surprised no one.
On the eve of her departure, she had dinner with me and my family. And as she left that night, we congratulated her. She hugged each of us, and then she hugged each of our children especially long, especially hard. And then she addressed us, but her eyes never left the children. “All that is left now,” she told us, “Is for me to find love. I’m going to find you an uncle in Baltimore, babies.”
After she left for Baltimore, we tried to keep the lines of communication open as much as two busy people can, but as sometimes happens in the maddening crush of living, we lost touch. But after about two or three years of not having any contact, I thought I saw a familiar face in the crowd.
She was much thinner than I remember, almost frail. And her hair was starting to turn gray along the edges, and it even appeared to be thinning. But she was still beautiful.
So we set about the business of catching up. But the first thing I noticed was her personality had changed for the worse. And that sense of humor that I remember so well, that I adored so much, had turned sarcastic and biting. It was almost as if she was two persons. In the middle of a conversation, if you said the wrong thing, she would simply flip out. One minute she would be laughing, and the next minute tears would fill her eyes, and she would abruptly ask me to leave or just run off.
But between episodes, she would tell me bits and pieces of the story. And I began to piece together a theme of hurt and betrayal. I began to see how drastically her experiences with love, in love, had changed her, had caused her to become cynical and untrusting.
But I could also see how each experience, each relationship, affected the next; she could hope for no better future because each new experience was indelibly colored by the last. She wanted love. She so desperately needed to love and be loved, but she would not put guard down long enough to allow it to happen. Each action or inaction on the part of a potential lover took on exaggerated importance as it was always held up in comparison to the failures and shortcomings of the lovers that had come before.
I suspect that now, though, she needs a good friend much more than she needs a lover. I suspect now, though, that she needs someone to help bring out that old personality, that will help her to laugh out loud again. She needs someone to allow her to love her again, to trust others again, then she might be in a better position to love someone else.
But I don’t think I’ll be able to get through to her. I don’t know how to help her or what to say. Just as I have no answer for you, hat lady, I have no answer for her. But I do know that no one will be able to reach her, no one will be able to get through to her, if she keeps pushing people, especially those that care most about her, away, and if she stays cloistered, cut off from the outside world, with her curtains drawn tight and blinds closed in the middle of the day.
Lady in the fly hats, I think there is a narrative there. I think you have a story you want to tell, you need to tell. Why don’t you let me tell it for you?