Some Sharp Cheddar With My Whine

I’ve been in a funk for awhile. I’m not sure if it can be tied to any specific event; sometimes my blues have a trigger, and they have their ebbs and flows. Unlike those temperamental glum patches, this one is deeper, dealing with aspects of life that I hold dear. My sense of self, my self-esteem, dating and parenthood: all things that have been in some state of flux, now seem to be plummeting from a cliff more real than the so-called fiscal one. And unlike the past, I’m not sure if I can pull out of this one anytime soon.

***

Back in the beginning of October, I returned to work after an eight-month unemployment spell. After debating what city I would relocate to, I ended up staying in Phoenix. This had its positives and negatives: the positives being that I had an established life here–knowledge of the metro area, a few friends, a library card–and I didn’t have to move myself somewhere; and the negatives being that my support system was severely lacking, and that I felt really lonely.

The support system idea weighs on me a lot. Before I moved to Arizona in 2005, I was always within 2 hours of family. (My college was about that length of time from my mom’s house if I was loose with speeding.) Aside from my four years of higher learning (actually, two; my brother went to school with me during my junior and senior year), I could lean on family if I had any issue–from house-sitting to car troubles. This all changed when I packed my car and made my way west.

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I had a few established friends in Phoenix, and I leaned on them during the first year, but I was mostly left to my own devices. And though I widened my social circle by making friends at work and in the community, I still felt like I was lacking. I made some efforts to get out of my shell and my own way. I took improv classes and found myself in a cool community. I joined several groups through Meetup.com that spoke to my interest. Still, friends came and went due to life changes and evolving priorities, feelings were hurt (mine), and I felt (and feel) adrift. I felt like a stranger tagging along to others’ good times, like I had invited myself into their party, and I probably did unintentionally at one point or another.

It’s a shitty feeling when your mind makes you think that you’re not a part of something, or that no one cares. That sense of doubt has led to passive-aggressive behavior on my part to protect my feelings, which I am not proud of, but I felt that I needed to do what no one else was doing and think of me.  Even now, I believe the friends I’ve made merely tolerate me to certain degrees–none of them that of feeling like an integrated part of their lives.

I don’t know if my feelings toward Phoenix, its inhabitants, or my place within it will change anytime soon, but it feels like my tenure will continue to be one of self-reliance and angst.

***

A month later, Barack Obama was re-elected president of the United States. The volatile campaign contained a brewing undercurrent of racism that bubbled to the surface in political rhetoric, pundit commentary, and outspoken zealotry. And yet, the thing that bothered me most was several days later when websites posted stories about the outpouring of racist Twitter tweets (mostly from the South) regarding President Obama’s victory.

I’m not a fool to believe that racism is dead. The idea that America is a rainbow-arced wonderland of Post-Racial! attitudes is as far-fetched as a lyrically thoughtful Flo Rida song. Still, the naked hate that flowed from Twitter users’ fingers was upsetting, and that ignorance mounted into secession petitions submitted from all 50 states to The White House’s website (NOT WhiteHouse.com). The people that wanted their country back did so because the idea of four more years of a biracial president trumped their sanity.

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And that prejudice has tested my sanity. I’ve been an African-American for 32 years (though I experimented with other races in college), and it has been a tough road–filled with hostility, altered expectations and limited viewpoints. Whatever progress blacks have made in this country seemed to be disappearing due to the forceful rewind of racists, whether it was politically, socially or via the media. And the institutions that we have made a foothold in–from academics to entertainment and sports–are still fraught with inferior treatment by obtuse dickheads (those in charge, those that cover the stories, those that are a part of those industries). Who is to say that the next generation won’t suffer these same problems?

All of this has tainted my view of my place in this world and whether I want to bring life into it. I’ve known for most of my life that I would have to overcome more barriers and suffer more emotional hardships because of my ancestry. And with subtle and outright racism running neck-and-neck as the retro-is-chic cultural fashions, I am afraid to raise a child of color for fear of how they will be treated. At best, they will smart from years of institutionalized racism but persevere to do good things in the world; at worst, they will succumb to the negativity and become an unfortunate statistic that will reinforce uninformed people’s beliefs about blacks. And the worst would be another Trayvon Martin or Jordan Davis tragedy: murdered because of their skin color.

For the longest time, I’ve felt an emptiness with life, like there is a purpose that I’ve yet to fulfill. I firmly believe that purpose is to be a parent. I’ve wanted to be a father for years, and family and friends, perhaps placating my ego, think I would be a good dad. I want to give all the love I have to a young life to make them feel wanted, supported, and as appreciated as they would make me for those opportunities to teach them, learn from them, and do right by and through them. And yet I can’t shake this feeling that they would be born into a world that will ignorantly despise them, and that all of my affection wouldn’t be enough. And that saddens me.

***

It’s been about 5 years since my last serious relationship. That’s an eternity in the dating field, and it hasn’t been for lack of trying. Almost immediately after my breakup, I made my way through dating sites and a lot of coffee outings, but nothing stuck. Perhaps I wasn’t truly emotionally ready for that next step, and not much has changed in the time since.

Giving your heart to another person is one of the most vulnerable feelings imaginable. You are putting your trust in another person that your affection and emotional attachment will be reciprocated, and any imbalance will hurt in some way–not to mention anything that is done that trivializes those emotions. It is a leap to put yourself out there to expose yourself to pain, but that is also the same risk taken to experience the most passion and joy you can comprehend.

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All of these and more are why social media is terrible. Not only can you keep tabs on your exes, but you can do so and experience great sadness from the excruciating details. (That last serious relationship? She is now married and has a one-year-old child.) And that’s before websites like Facebook take Draconian measures by automatically creating relationship pages for couples. (I guess that saves that annoying couple you know from sharing one profile, BUT STILL.) And then there are other friends you may have that plaster every interaction with their boy/girlfriend via text, video and audio on their profiles.

***

The feeling that people are progressing through the societal steps of being Normal through having that social network, being the “right” race, and coupling makes it all the more awkward to be a loner, black and single. Add to that the bleakness of a future of being alone and lonely, and it’s no wonder that life ain’t penny whistles and moon pies. I have a feeling that it’s gonna take a miracle at this point to feel better. PROVE ME WRONG, LIFE.

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