Is it possible to fall in love at 8 years old? I did. I can’t say his name, because he went on to become well known in the Manhattan music scene. Part of me itches to write it; and accidentally reach him, this man I’m still a little in love with.
He lived upstairs from me. We became “boyfriend-girlfriend” 3 year later, in middle school. I was 11, he was 12. My first kiss. His mouth tasted like warm honey.
People say love is blind. Which includes color blind. He was black, I was white. We didn’t say “African-American” back then. I didn’t see his color. Or rather, my love for him transcended it.
I was 11 the first time someone hurled this vituperation at me: “N-word Lover.” I was confused. Yes, I loved him. What did that even mean?
He was an incredibly talented drummer. He lived for music, and for me.
When we were in 8th grade, boys from another neighborhood chased him into a deserted area.
Hunted him, like an animal.
And broke his arm.
It healed. I did not.
By high school, we were apart, and I knew the agony of first love ended. Off he went to Music and Art, as New Yorkers call it. High School of Performing Arts, the school the movie “Fame” is set in.
We’d broken up before that. Our families stepped in and demanded we split right after he’d been attacked. These words awaken a memory that pierces me afresh. Details have been imprinted permanently; then veiled. Now the veil is lifted.
I had that revilement hurled at me many times over the decades that followed. Anytime I dated a man of color, I was abused by both races. White people felt I was somehow betraying my race. African-American or Hispanic people felt I was “stealing” from them, dating men I had no business dating.
It’s No Man’s land.
In the end, I was a coward. I married a white Jewish man I shouldn’t have crossed the street with. Because he was one of my own “kind.” I’m not saying I didn’t love him – I did. Deeply. But by the time I met him, I only dated Caucasian men. I’d had enough.
I live in an area where there are almost no Jewish people. I didn’t know that when I bought my house. Even if I had- it wouldn’t have mattered. I just don’t think about those things.
But now I have a child. And I have to think about those things. He is always the only Jewish kid in his class. He feels very alone. He suffers for it.
He had a best friend last year. His mother sought me out on Back-To-School Night. Came in, calling out, “Where is Little Dude’s mom, Andrew cannot not stop talking about him!” We exchanged numbers. They were BFFs from the first day of school. Inseparable for months.
Until Andrew found out we were Jewish. After that, he never spoke to my son again.
When you have a kid, and they hurt like that…it’s different than your own hurt. It’s much, much worse. It’s an amalgam of your pain and theirs. Times one hundred.
And this week, yet again. We’re hosting a holiday breakfast in his classroom. The class mom emailed the 4 of us running it, asking who would like to read a holiday book. Little Dude was all over that.
“Mom, please, YOU be the reader!”
He’s been listening to Christmas books for the last 5 years. So I volunteered. The class mom asked if we needed the librarian to help us choose something.
“No thanks, he’s picked his favorite Hanukkah book. It’s hilarious, and the kids will love it.”
She sent me an email. No holiday books allowed. The teacher only wants winter-themed books.
After I could breathe again, I starting working on how I was going to present this to my son. I ended up just saying it very offhandedly,
“Oh, Mrs. Dugan wants a winter-themed book; we should go the library to get one.”
He’s too smart for that. “What? Since when? That’s crazy! They read a Christmas book every year” and on and on. That night he cried himself to sleep, which he hasn’t done in years.
I needed to put the pain of this somewhere. I wrote a post about Real Life Trolls attacking me. I titled it:
“Confessions of a N-word Lover.” I spelled the word out.
Because of all things in the world, I abhor racism the most. Because I’ve proudly loved black, white, and brown men. Because I thought I would use that word blatantly and take the stigma off of it. Like the artist who inspired me to become a writer – Patti Smith.
I contacted Le Clown, because I was borrowing a phrase of his in the post. I wanted to make sure he was comfortable with that.
And then he took the time, because he is the incredible Clown he is, to tell me that he was worried for me. That he feared I would be attacked, not by trolls, but by well spoken people. And that it was perhaps not my place to take the sting off this word, because using it lacked sensitivity.
I took it down.
If people don’t read you, then your message exists in a vacuum.
Mostly, I took it down because the thought of hurting anyone is abhorrent to me. As immune as I am to that word in print, others are not. Others did not grow up desensitized to it through repetition.
Le Clown was right.
After I posted today, I went on my reader to comment on some posts. Bloggers had unfollowed me; beloved bloggers.
And now? Now I have to sit with the fact that I hurt some of you. Maybe many of you.
What if you unfollowed me because you’re African-American? Or if you’re married to someone African-American? Or you just thought it was disgusting?
This post is to say, if I hurt you, I am sorry. I was insensitive. This was a hard lesson.
Yes, I am provocative and edgy. But to hurt people? The way I’ve been hurt? The way my son is being hurt? To do the exact thing to people that incited me to write the damn post?
It’s tearing me up. And now I have to live with that.
We have to do better. Intentions are not enough. If my actions are insensitive; cause pain, whether intentional or not, I need to examine those actions. Better yet, to think before I act.
I wish I’d had the courage to marry the boy upstairs.
And we were sitting here right now, and he would kiss me with those beautiful, honey flavored, color blind lips.
Kiss these tears off my face.
Kiss these words off my lips.
Did I do the right thing, taking that post down? Talk to me. I’m listening.