Brunch has easily become the most important meal of the gay. Once the gym bunnies have completed their Sunday morning workouts, the church kweens have sung their final, sunrise service hymns, and the house husbands are finished folding clothes, groups of same gender loving men convene for delicately prepared orders of blueberry waffles, cheese omelet’s and bottomless Mimosas. It’s a weekly ritual of sorts; one that gives gay guys everywhere a reasonable excuse to get tipsy and cheat on their tank top diets. Adorned in everything from oxford shirts and blazers, to simple cardigans and snapbacks, Sunday brunch provides guys who like guys with a comfortable setting to detail and discuss everything they didn’t have time to text during their iPhone group chats. It’s the one time each week where gay men can eat carbs without feeling guilty and drink before noon with no apologies.
Easter Sunday, I received three separate invitations to join male friends and associates for brunch at different restaurants. I turned down the requests, as I decided to spend the entire day with my family. However, it dawned on me during the early afternoon that the guys in my life really do enjoy ‘doing’ brunch. I thought about the more recent occasions where I’ve actually seen my buddies face to face. It seems we are always sitting around a circular table, early on a Sunday afternoon. We’re each eating pancakes, while running our mouths about the possibilities of falling in love again and desperately needing a vacation. I also then realized that it isn’t simply my circle of male friends and associates who get together each week to sit down and partake in this signature, midday meal.
Gay men specifically have become the most popular patrons at any restaurant or café that hosts a good Sunday brunch.
Here are 5 simple reasons why…
5. IT’S SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT: “I’m doing brunch with such and such” is something pseudo ‘FAB’ to say when casually asked about your day plans. Gay men love to feel that they are somehow a part of the crème-de la-crème. It’s very Nikki Newman & Katherine Chancellor-like to respond to a Sunday morning inquiry by saying, “Oh, nothing really. Ken, David, Jason and I are just about to DO brunch at the Marriott Waterfront”.
Of course, the gays aren’t sitting on sticky, wooden chairs at The Waffle House, or standing in a self-serve line at Old Country Buffet for brunch. When we get together for our weekly face to face, we’re dining on the rooftop terrace of the W Hotel’s, POV Lounge or sitting outside of some well-known, downtown café’. Some groups of friends keep it very cheap and casual. However, location has become as essential to our brunch dates as the items listed on the menu.
4. THE PICTURES: Groups of gay men tend to be a very ‘show and tell’ type of crowd. We love nothing more than being able to capture photos of ourselves out and about. A Sunday brunch session isn’t adjourned until our entire circle of successful, attractive, charismatic friends, otherwise known as the ‘bros’, are posed for the classic ‘GROUP SHOT’.
Aside from the signature, #MyCrewIsBetterThanYourCrew candid, taking pics of the food, perfectly positioned on fancy, white plates has become a BRUNCH MUST DO as well. Regardless of how dry the blueberry pancakes may look, how hard the eggs feel, or burnt the bacon may taste, for as long as the food photographs well, gay men will pull out their phones to snap a pic and upload the food display to all of their social media timelines.
3. BRUNCH GIVES SUNDAY A PURPOSE: Sundays tend to be filled with tedious tasks that we’ve put off during the entire week. The day is rather slow in pace. Fridays after work or class, many of us do happy hour with co-workers or random associates. Saturdays are designated for running errands, shopping at the mall and if we’re lucky, going on a hot, late night date. Then, we wake up Sunday morning to hit the gym, go to church or clean. Before facing the bustle of a new week, brunch becomes that special ‘something’ we have to look forward to.
2. THE TIPSY TALK WITH TRUE FRIENDS: There’s nothing more comfortable or fun than being able to say anything out of your mouth and knowing that your honesty won’t spill from the table. With our busy work and school schedules, there simply isn’t enough time to detail our daily life happenings online or during the iPhone group chats we engage in between meetings. When all of our buddies are buzzed and full of good food, everyone in the group has their guards down. We take advantage of brunch by using the occasion to tell-all.
1. THE BOTTOMLESS DRINKS: Gay men may spill tea, but they will never waste a good, alcoholic drink. Regardless of age, race or social standing, gay men everywhere generally love their cocktails. An event doesn’t officially begin until the alcohol is served, right? When we pay $30 – $50 per person for an upscale or down home, all-you-can-eat brunch special, it is expected that pitchers upon pitchers of Sangria and Bloody Mary’s will flow throughout the afternoon. And if the Mimosas are watered down with more orange juice than champagne, we will keep requesting glasses until a strong buzzzzz sets in.
Brunch is the most important meal of the gay for every reason aside from the actual food that is served. It’s the one time of the week where men who love other men can sit amongst friends, capture new memories on camera and bask in an end of week moment where diets and horrible, Saturday night dates temporarily don’t matter.
DISCLAIMER: the men who appear in the various above posted photos aren’t to be assumed as members of the LGBT community.
Even though some of the included photographs have previously been shared via the Xem VanAdams Facebook, Twitter and Instagram timelines, it was suggested that I archive these captures here at XemSays.com as well.
Over the past six years, God has given me an online platform that allows my written + oral human stories, experiences, ideas, opinions and points of view to reach thousands of others from across the country and beyond. Yesterday, I was privileged to meet a group of those individuals for lunch in New York City.
We gathered at the BBQ’s in Greenwich Village to enjoy food, cocktails, conversation and one another’s company, as well. Though many of the invited attendees expressed joy in finally being able to meet me, I felt most honored to see the faces of people who have been commenting and sharing my work since 8/8/2008.
They were shocked as they walked in and I was able to immediately identify them by their usernames. That goes to show just how loyal & consistent my audience is. Truly a pleasure! I’m now being encouraged to ‘take my show on the road’. LOL! Well… there’s no telling what 2014 has in store for US.
If God wills it, I would love to host a ‘Meet & Greet’ in every major city where my supporters read & watch my content. Lets put it into the universe now…
THANK YOU SOOO MUCH for being here ladies & gentlemen for this phase of my life journey. I am eternally grateful.
dedicated to our untold stories and shared experiences.
It was November. The fabric of the fall season had sewn itself against the backdrop of Northeast, DC. Sharp winds streaked across my windowpane, blowing dead, crinkled leaves against the early morning air. I was stitched between the tattered comforts of my worn mattress and the dingy, white, twin size comforter that had held me for the past fifteen years. The walls shook between an echoing of metal, clapped against cup-shaped, cast metal. It was one hard, resounding hit after another. The church bell hung inside of the tower directly across the street from my second floor bedroom. It wakes me at 6am everyday. As the striker hits back and forth on the flared, thickened rim, the wind recites, ‘ding-dong-ding-dong’. A heavy banging swings into the softening horizon. Rays of purple and yellowish sun rise beneath the arch of the clouds. Orange squiggles of light begin to dart between the two beige sheets that my stepfather has draped along the plastic rods on my window. It’s another, dreadful Monday. I knew that everyone in school would be talking about homecoming weekend. My best friends would verbally lash me for skipping all of the festivities and events. The day would somehow feel like my burial. I’d need a miracle to simply get through it.
While lying flat on my back, I saw shadows of tree branches quilting patterns along the ceiling. My mother would say it was the lord’s way of blessing our home at the beginning of each day. When we were children, she told us that the shadows were God’s arms and every room would be protected. Growing up, my mother instructed me to say my prayers whenever the shadows began to tap the listening walls. Without moving, I silently recited the same prayer I had been sending since the seventh grade. “God, its me…Elijah. Please, make me like all of the other boys.”
I’m counting down six weeks, three days and eighteen hours before Christmas vacation. The date is marked on my calendar of famous writers; highlighted in the same month that features my hero, James Baldwin.
I peeked across the room to make sure that my older brother was still buried in his bed. There was a half hour left before the force of Jelani’s clock alarm would yank him from beneath the sheets. Thirty peaceful minutes gave me just enough time to do what I always do when I first wake in the morning. I turned onto my left side to face the wall; making sure that Jelani would only see my back if he were to get up early. Placing my right hand on top of the blanket, I quietly slid Baldwin’s ‘Giovanni’s Room’ novel from inside of my pillowcase. It was the only copy stocked in our school library. A peering glow from the sunrise provided just enough light for me to travel between the lines of Baldwin’s infamous tales. His words made me think of a far-off day when I wouldn’t have to bow my head beneath the clouds. There would be no shame. No threats of having sin beat from my body. No one to forgive me for being black, feminine and frail.
My unclean thoughts could somehow fill the daylight and swallow up darkness. A place that had no language of rights and wrongs. Where I longed to be. I was so captivated by how ‘Giovanni’s Room’ detailed the social and romantic relationships between men. I would lie here for a moment, waist deep in helpless desires. My loins began to stretch. I had no power over this longing to feel and experience nakedness. A freedom illustrated between these pages. Since starting high school three months ago, I’ve read all of James Baldwin’s essays. My English teacher only required that we journal our thoughts and other findings from ‘Notes Of A Native Son’. However, I’ve begun to lose myself in Baldwin’s entire collection of work. He and I both paint the world with words.
I do not like being the first in the bathroom every morning. The cold licks my hideous skin, spreading across the unsightly pimples that are forming on my cheeks and my chin. My bare feet chill into clenched numbness against the freezing tiles on the floor. Standing in the bathroom mirror also forces me to see everything I hate about my face. Maybe Monday wouldn’t be so bad-looking had I not skipped my haircut on Saturday. I intentionally missed my appointment over the weekend to avoid the awkward, barbershop conversations. It’s uncomfortable having to change the topic whenever my barber begins to ask about the football game I clearly didn’t watch and whether or not I have a girlfriend.
I half sat and half leaned on the sink while brushing my teeth. I missed my father. Though most of my childhood memories include him nodding on the stoop outside of our house, he was always the first awake and walking around downstairs in the mornings. Even though he often reeked of whisky, I was too young to realize that he was an alcoholic. Some nights, my mother would yell for Jelani to help her drag my father from the curb in front of the church. Since he was always sitting there when I arrived home from school, I guess I thought his job was to guard the building. Whether my father was sitting outside at night or slouched across the couch in the living room, I always felt protected when he was around. I remember that he would carry me on his shoulders as we walked to the corner store on Saturday afternoons. He always wore the same pair of burgundy corduroy pants and a mustard yellow T-shirt. If it were cold outside, he’d throw on this worn, black leather jacket that smelled like mothballs. I’d hold mother’s grocery list in my fist, while gripping steadily the sides of my father’s head. He always bought me a twenty-five cent pretzel stick from the plastic jar that sat beside the register. He’d pull me from his shoulders as soon as we walked through the front doors of the store. My father would sit me on top of the counter and hand me two quarters from his sock. I’d pay the man with one and shove the other in my shoe. For years, I watched my father pull his dollar bills from inside of his sneakers whenever he needed to pay for anything. I guess I figured that’s where I was supposed to save my money too.
We’d leave the corner store, and my father would carry the see through, plastic bags back to the house. He’d then have a tiny, paper bag stuffed inside of his leather jacket. When I asked him what he bought, he told me it was his medicine. I remember a time when the brown bag fell onto the kitchen floor as my father lowered me from his shoulders. Glass shattered and dark liquid began seeping through cracks in the tiles. My father insisted that he’d clean up the mess, but my mother still began to cry. It was the first time I ever heard my parents screaming at each other. My mother would only shout in church on Sundays. And my father only yelled the time he caught me playing with Janna’s Cabbage Patch Kid. He yanked it out of my hand and said, ‘only sissies play with dolls Elijah!’
‘Get out punk. I need to take a shit’, Jelani shouted in his abrasive tone of voice. Even though I wasn’t finished getting dressed, I’ve learned to not argue with my older brother first thing in the morning. My stepfather will only defend Jelani, and my mother will argue with my stepfather for taking sides. Standing up to Jelani ruins the start of everyone’s day. Instead, I gave myself one final glance in the mirror, grabbed my navy, paperboy hat from the sink and began to walk out of the bathroom. Jelani slammed the door as I stepped away, hitting me in the lower back with the brass knob. A stabbing pain shot down the inside of my left leg. Gripping the top of the bannister, I fought back tears. Anger combined with helpless fury welled up in me. I grabbed my navy pea coat and grey, wool scarf from my bed. On my way leaving out of the front door, my stepfather yelled from the dining room, ‘why your pants so damn tight, Elijah?!’ I stopped and looked at him, very quiet. My stepfather had hardness about him. He chiseled his way through life, grunting his dissatisfactions. He rarely spoke two words to me, unless it was to criticize the way I walked, who I hung around, or even how I dressed. I placed my paperboy hat on my head and replied, ‘my pants aren’t tight…they just fit.’ My stepfather swallowed a fork full of scrambled eggs and then said, ‘well, your brother doesn’t wear his pants like that.’ Silence falls again. Before I could respond to yet another one of Glen’s comparisons between Jelani and I, my mother began to walk towards me from the kitchen. She was a sanctified woman who did everything she could to make life easier for me. My mother had a Cinderella soul. She was carrying my lunch in a white, plastic, grocery bag and wearing her sweet, nurturing smile. My mother shouted, ‘have a glorious day at school Elijah!’ Glen let out a huge grunt as he fell back into his chair. My mother then handed my lunch to me and wrapped her arms around my body. This was her way of defending me against my stepfather’s verbal lashings. I faked a smile as I turned away from my mother and walked out of the house.
The leaves created a natural quilt pattern that layered the ground in various shades of red, yellow and green. Adam was waiting for me in front of the church. He stood on the main sidewalk directly across the street from my front door. When I reached the pavement, I paused and looked in Adam’s face. He had clear, dark brown skin. His face was angular and his slanted eyes set deep within their sockets. He and I stood 5’10, shoulder to shoulder. The brown pea coat that Adam was wearing blended with the canopy of trees that lined the walkway. Adam and I called one another brothers, as we practically grew up together. His mother moved the family to our neighborhood when we were both five years old. We’ve attended the same schools since Kindergarten.
I was still wearing my make pretend smile. ‘What’s wrong Elijah?’ Adam asked. Adam knows my moods, even when I’m silent. He and I got to be, for each other, what the other missed. Adam had two younger sisters and always wanted another boy around. I had Jelani, but hadn’t felt close to him since my father passed away. I continued smiling and responded, ‘everything man. It’s everything.’ I put my hand on Adam’s back and nudged him to walk down the street alongside me. I didn’t want my mother to see me upset, as I knew she was watching us from the front window. Adam and I began to make our way down Branch Avenue. I explained to Adam that it was becoming extremely difficult to ignore Jelani’s bullying. Combined with my stepfather’s nitpicking, I told Jelani that it felt as if I was living with vultures. They both seemed to circle around and close in on me at the worst of times. It was as if they could sense my spirit dying, but circled lower to eventually feed off of me. Adam was already familiar with Jelani and Glen’s preferred way of living. He had been at my house enough to witness their ignorance towards everything and everyone that didn’t fit their one-way mold. Me included. Adam put his hand on my shoulder as I told him that I couldn’t wait to graduate and move out of the house. He reminded me of our lifelong pact to travel far away from Washington, DC. Our plan is to room together as freshman at whatever college or university that grants us both full scholarships. Adam said, ‘but in order to get to that point Elijah, you have to somehow fix your mind to get from one day to the next.’ Adam and I were both fifteen, but he spoke about life as if he had lived once before. ‘You have to avoid thinking too far ahead. Face the day’, he declared.
As Adam and I approached the bus stop, a group of boys stood clustered around the corner storefront. Most of them were dressed in dark sweatshirts, jeans and Jordan sneakers of some kind. I recognized one of them. He comes over to the house often to play video games with Jelani. I don’t know his name, but I definitely remember the face. He squinted while staring at Adam and I place our book bags on the ground. I slightly tilted my head back and chin up, to greet him like I usually do. He tossed his fist in the air and tilted his head as well. Now, all of the boys were looking at me. There was a stitch of silence amongst the group of boys before one of them blasted from the background, ‘you know that faggot?’ The group erupted in laughter. They playfully beat each around the shoulders. I leaned towards Adam and whispered for him to not turn around to face the boys. Adam prided himself on defending me. He wasn’t afraid to fight and he didn’t care about getting hurt in the process. Before Adam could utter a single word, loud music roared behind us. As I then turned around, I saw Jelani parking my stepfather’s pickup truck in front of the store. Jelani and I made eye contact. He turned his gaze towards the driver side door as his friend approached the truck. ‘I think it’s really foul that your stepfather lets Jelani drive his truck and he never offers you a ride to school.’ I responded, ‘It’s cool. I wouldn’t have anything to talk to him about in the car, anyways. Id actually rather catch the bus with you.’
The beat of the morning was unsteady. A mutable rhythm seemed to pace throughout the room. My math teacher stood at the front chalkboard. She requested volunteers to assist with our test review. No one responded. Even though I knew the answers, it was a heavy feeling of embarrassment that kept my hands pinned beneath the desk. Constantly being told that I sound like a girl or speak too softly weighed down my desire to talk in class. I was the only ninth grader taking Algebra II Honors. Sitting in the back section of Mrs. Beechman’s room, I tried to bury myself behind the rows of upperclassmen. I slouched down in my seat while keeping my gaze lowered between the series of math equations in my textbook. Mrs. Beechman made a habit of calling on me whenever we would make eye contact. As long as she couldn’t see me, I figured I would avoid answering any questions in front of the entire class. The room was quiet. A slow tempo of warm air blew from the ceiling vent. Mrs. Beechman slammed her teaching guide on the front table and told the class to close our notebooks. ‘Fine! Clear your desks and take out a pencil!’ Mrs. Beechman shouted. ‘If no one needs the review, it must mean that you’re ready to be tested’, she continued. The room erupted in sighs. A gush of relief flowed through my body. A pop quiz meant that we would be instructed to work in silence.
I met up with Janna between classes. She walked down the hallway swinging that thick behind of hers. I swallowed my grape juice while Janna shouted the lyrics to some Kelis song. Her voice sounded like pistols. People stared at Janna. She would lock eyes with the other girls especially and give them that yes-bitch-I-know-I’m-cute look. Janna had a round face, penny size dimples, hazel eyes and perfectly white teeth. She was pretty and had already become the center of attention at school. The first floor was filled with maroon streamers, gold balloons, sparkly confetti and various championship banners hung from the ceiling. Our football team won the homecoming game over the weekend. The entire school was still hung over with excitement. I, however, felt as if I was being embalmed alive. My physical body was present inside of the school building, but I didn’t exist amongst my classmates. Janna and everyone else around me seemed to have found their place within the crowd. Janna’s big hair and beaming personality naturally made people want to gravitate towards her. Even the upperclassmen girls who were intimidated by her popularity, still waved when we walked by. ‘I know! Lets take a picture!’ Janna yelled, as we were walking towards the cafeteria. I told Janna that I didn’t want to take a picture, as I didn’t like what I was wearing. Janna stopped in the middle of the hallway, turned towards me and gave my outfit her classic, once-over. She pulled her crinkled hair away from her face, raised her left eyebrow and looked me up and down. ‘What are you talking about Elijah? You look handsome! Best dressed boy here.’ I had on a pair of dark denim jeans that were cuffed at the bottom, black utility boots, a white oxford shirt and the black suspenders that Adam bought me for my birthday the month before school started. I guess I was still reeling over the comments that my stepfather made about how tight my pants fit. I didn’t want to pose with Janna in the hallway; drawing added attention to my skinny legs. Janna handed her pink cell phone to her friend, Melissa. She then pinned me against one of the grey, metal lockers. Poking out her butt and pressing her breasts against my arm, Janna instructed Melissa to take a full body shot. Playfully, Janna snapped, ‘Elijah, you better smile BOY…or do something sexy. Don’t ruin my damn picture.’ The camera on Janna’s phone flashed twice. I tried to look comfortable while posing beside her.
Janna and I have been friends since the first grade. While Adam and our other classmates were playing kickball or tag on the playground, Janna and I would be digging to China near the steep hill. Our teachers in elementary school always paired Janna and I as partners for class field trips. She would split her ham, cheese and cracker Lunchables with me, and I would give her half of my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Even when our seats would be placed apart from one another in the classroom, we’d still slide notes back and forth between the desks. Janna and I have just always been close. Whenever she meets new people, most of who happen to be other girls, she introduces them to me.
Now that Adam’s schedule has been changed, I felt awkward being the only guy sitting at a lunch table with Janna and her new girlfriends. They all talk to me, of course. However, I now wondered if everyone else in the cafeteria looked at me as being a sissy of some sort. At least when Adam would sit across from me at the end of the long, laminate table, it appeared as if we weren’t co-stars of ‘The Janna Show’. I was nervous about having to defend myself, again. Aside from Adam, guys in school never talk to me unless we are forced to work together on a science lab or other group project. The majority of my friends have always been females. I didn’t realize how different or weird it was until the boys in middle school began to tease me about it. Some of them would call me Elizabeth instead of Elijah. Janna would curse in response. She dared any of them to call me Elizabeth a second time, in her presence. She would pull her poofy hair into a thick bun and challenge anyone who made fun of me to also make fun of her. Janna has always been ready to defend me, especially if Adam wasn’t around.
From the corner of my eye, I could see Jelani standing against the floor to ceiling, cafeteria windows. His dark, masculine complexion and broad, vertical stance positioned him at the center of attention. He was posted up alongside three other juniors from the track team. I watched them with bitter eyes as they were laughing and pointing at the table of girls from my Creative Writing class. I hated the way Jelani treated other people, especially me. He doesn’t speak if he is walking with one of his friends. We at least played video games, watched television and walked to the store together when I was in the fifth and sixth grades. Now, I can’t even ask him for a ride home from school. Though my newspaper meetings end the same time as his track practices, he’ll say there isn’t enough room for me.
I’ve told him to stop pushing up on Janna. He makes repeated comments about her ass whenever he sees us walking together. His eyes always move over her body. Janna smiles and rolls her eyes at him, but I think it’s disgusting. It would seem that Jelani would look at Janna as his little sister or younger cousin.
As fourth period lunch ended, I could hear Jelani’s voice chanting above the cluster of other voices. ‘Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake! Cake!’ belted from him as I walked beside Janna and her friends. The harmonized laughter from Jelani’s track teammates infuriated me. They were following behind us as the crowd dismissed from the cafeteria. I had never before expressed to Janna how irritated I was by Jelani’s advances towards her. I figured that she wouldn’t entertain his nonsense. Janna was a big flirt when she wanted to be. She dropped her purse on the floor and stopped in the middle of the doorway. She stuck out her tongue, rubbed her fingers through the back of her hair and started shaking her ass. Janna was wearing grey leggings that accentuated her full curves. Melissa laughed and started chanting in unison with Jelani’s clown posse. I darted ahead of them.
I loathed crossing the big, burgundy corridors that led to the gymnasium. This is the worst part of my day. An intolerable heaviness formed in the pit of my stomach as I slowly dragged my body down the long, dark, basement hallway. While captains chose the other, more athletic guys to join their teams, I was always the last pick. As beige, concrete walls frame my journey to PE, I can’t help but to want to skip class, again. I intentionally missed eighteen days out of forty-five during the last quarter. I also only changed into my gym uniform eleven of those eighteen days. Coach Miller gave me a sixty-five as a first quarter grade. Even though it’s considered passing, my mother was very disappointed. In the teacher’s comment section, Coach Miller reported, does not participate fully in class, attendance is unsatisfactory and does not present proper and appropriate class materials. Avoiding gym class in middle school was easy since I played the saxophone. Band was a year long, mandatory elective for all members. During the first week of this school year, I begged the ninth grade advisor to assign me any other class other than Physical Education.
Adam was already changed into his gym shorts by the time I entered the locker room. He was standing shirtless, bow-legged and barefoot, while shoving his jeans and boots into his book bag. Since the start of second quarter, Adam has been weight-training afterschool, three days each week. I could already see results in his upper body. Adam’s pecs were sitting at attention, his back looked wider and his arms were definitely thicker. Before we started high school in September, Adam and I spent the summer talking about putting on more pounds. We were supposed to start lifting weights together. I instead joined the school newspaper. As I sat down at the end of the wooden bench, Adam laughed and said, ‘I see that sixty-five got your ass in here this afternoon.’ ‘Barely’, I responded. Adam grabbed my neck with one hand and playfully pulled me backwards. He then leaned over me with his little smile and said, ‘well, you’ll enjoy these next few weeks of swimming bro.’ The heavy knot instantly grew larger inside of my stomach. I was going to have to stand barechested in front of my entire gym class. While swimming is one of the few sports that I excel in, I hated my puny body.
The white, drawstrings on my gym shorts were tied extremely tight. I would normally have my tee shirt tucked in to prevent my shorts from falling down. Standing half naked around the pool caused me to freak out! My heart was beating like a fist banging on a locked door. I could feel my fingers trembling. They were cold and clammy like fish scales. Adam stood directly beside me while Coach Miller called roll. As each of my classmates names were called, I couldn’t help but notice their bodies. I avoided making direct eye contact with any of them as I snuck quick glances of their torsos. I was still the skinniest amongst the group. This was the first time I was seeing the other guys in my gym class half dressed. While changing in the locker room first quarter, I always took my clothes off in one of the bathroom stalls to avoid moments like these. I couldn’t wait for Coach Miller to blow his whistle so I could jump in the water. I desperately wanted to hide.
Wringing wet and funky with chlorine, I dried off while facing the lockers. My towel was wrapped around my waist as I slid my shorts off. I was afraid to peel my gaze from the cement wall. The fear of being seen naked or someone else seeing me, see them naked kept my eyes mounted forward. While Adam was rinsing off in the showers, some of the other guys walked into the aisle to congratulate me for swimming the fastest laps. It was the first time I had ever heard my name spoken inside of the locker room.
The remainder of the day felt like that moment between reaching the top of a roller coaster ride and dropping 144 feet into the depths of unknown territory. I was now tall. For once, I finally felt like all of the other boys in school. It made me wonder if God had finally answered my prayers by making me normal. I walked down the center of the third floor hallway with a gigantic smile on my face. Janna stopped me as I was headed to Spanish class and asked why I was grinning so big. I told her that I swam the fastest lap speed during gym. She jumped, brushed her hands through my wet hair and then grabbed me tight around my upper arms. Janna then shouted, ‘my winner…you Elijah, are MY winner!’ People were slowing down in front of Janna and I to see why she was once again yelling to the top of her lungs. Her enormous personality had a way of crowding open spaces. This time, the stares didn’t make me feel awkward or uncomfortable. In my mind however, I questioned whether or not this day would mark the beginning of my happily-ever-after. Had the listening walls finally heard my silent cries?
It was now four o’clock. Mr. Gibson ran afterschool newspaper meetings the same way he taught our last period, English class. Everyone sat around a semi circle of wood finish desks to toss ideas back and forth. It forces the group to engage with one another directly, I suppose. Aside from Mr. Gibson, I was the only other black sitting amongst seats that were filled by white students. I didn’t mind, for I rather enjoyed being the ONE everyone turned to for advice when completing sensitive article assignments. Since the majority of the student body was black, I did often wonder why I was the only African American student on staff. Mr. Gibson suggested I sign up to write for the school paper in the beginning of the year. He was impressed with my first thesis paper and said he enjoyed my unique, writing style. I guess he has become the only teacher I relate to outside of school. He took me to a journalism workshop in Georgetown a few weeks after I officially joined the paper. Hanging out with Mr. Gibson on a Saturday made me look at him a little differently than I do the other administrators. He’s only twenty-five, so our conversations reminded me of how Jelani and I would possibly talk to one another if Jelani ever spoke to me at all. I remember during our first staff meeting, the Editor-In-Chief of the paper assumed I would be interested in doing the sports column. She probably thought that black boys in Washington, DC didn’t enjoy life beyond the basketball court. I initially accepted the position, for I didn’t realize that I had the option to turn it down. Having no idea how I would cover games that I never attended, I later expressed to Mr. Gibson that I felt more comfortable writing editorial pieces. He spoke to the Editor-in-Chief days later. Together, they obliged my request.
An early fall sunset illuminated the tips of the bright red oak trees that framed my ride home. It was now a quarter after five. As I sat in the rear corner seat of the transit bus, I thought about Adam. He had been teaching me to take precautions when traveling the city alone. Adam insisted that I sit in the back row whenever we weren’t together. He said the back row provided the best view to see everyone. Adam said to never place myself where someone I couldn’t see would be able to watch me. I directed my gaze outside to witness the city get darker between each bus stop. I somehow didn’t want to go straight home. My mind wandered as I thought about James Baldwin’s adventures in New York City; the ones I had repeatedly read about. I recounted in my head the stories about him meeting other writers and artists in Greenwich Village. As I imagined living somewhere like Manhattan or Harlem, I envisioned myself sitting outside of a tiny café. I’d sip coffee beneath a white, bistro umbrella and people-watch between writing journal entries.
My daydream was then interrupted by the acrid smell of smoke. I looked up to notice three guys sitting near me in the rear of the bus. They all looked familiar, but I couldn’t immediately place their faces. The thicker one of the group had taken up two seats on the opposite side of the back row. He was looking at me from the corner of his eye and moving his lips soundlessly. The visible wear and tear of his clothing made me think that he had just left his job at a warehouse or something. I saw the other two staring at me from their seats as well. They kept tapping one another on the knee and motioning their fingers towards me. The bus driver peeked at me through his long, rearview mirror before turning into my neighborhood. It was then I realized that the guys were a part of the group that hung out in front of the corner store.
My stop was coming up. I wanted to ring the bell, but the muscles in my arms were frozen in fear. The thought of these guys following me off the bus made me wish I had Janna or Adam sitting beside me. My first mind told me to remain seated and simply allow the bus to roll by Branch Avenue. I figured the boys were getting off there anyways to do whatever it is they do on the storefront at night. If I got off at the stop after Branch Avenue, I could easily take the alley behind the church. Id cut across the street in front of Adam’s house to get home. Jelani nor my stepfather would care if I made it home tonight or not. However, I knew that my mother would be heartbroken. It was the thought of seeing her smiling face at the receiving end of this Monday that forced me to get up. As my mind raced between the ideas of being ambushed by the group and my mother finding my mutilated body lying in the street, I began fidgeting with my house keys. For a moment, I felt silly even having these thoughts about three guys I didn’t know.
I fearfully lowered my gaze to stare at my shoes. Though my tiny fists probably wouldn’t inflict severe pain during a fight, I knew the front of my utility boots could. Lifting my right arm to pull the bell, I stood and began walking towards the back door of the bus.
The boy wearing the black thermal shirt and black puff coat turned his head towards me. He was sitting in the seat directly across from the back door. His wicked gaze traveled from my shoes, resting on my book bag and up to my face. I caught only a glimpse of his eyes before turning to face the outside. I shuddered as I could see the window reflection of all three boys standing up behind me. I held tightly to the silver pole that was parallel to the back exit sign. My house keys were now clenched in my right fist. The taller, light skin boy had a devious smirk wiped across his face. He kept looking back and forth between the heavyset boy and me. Neither of them seemed too threatening. However, the guy in all black appeared to be someone who could be capable of anything. I recognized him as the one who called me a faggot after I spoke to Jelani’s friend at the storefront.
The bus finally stopped on the corner of Branch Avenue and Hampstead Road. As the backdoor swung open, I felt a brisk wind blow against me. My body filled with panic as I walked down the exit stairs. My throat tightened for a brief moment. I tried slowly to breathe-in the air that was smacking against my face. The tingling of pins and needles in my toes made it difficult for me to walk. I knew once the bus driver pulled away there would be no one to protect me. ‘Where’s your little boyfriend?!’, the one in black shouted. I didn’t respond. The two other boys laughed while standing behind me. He continued, ‘you heard me FAGGOT.’ I turned to face the group of boys and said, ‘I’m not that.’
A high-pitched squeak from the brakes on the bus drowned out whatever the boy in black said next. His eyes were cold and empty as he jumped towards me. He grabbed the collar of my coat and viciously shoved me to the ground. When my face hit the concrete, I heard a familiar ringing sound in the distance. It was a torn, chilling metal, clapping against the evening skies. Curling my body into the same fetal position that I usually sleep in, I covered the back of my neck with both of my hands. The thick lining of my coat seemed to cushion the heavy blows from shoes kicking and stomping my body. It hurt then it didn’t hurt. As angry hits then streaked across my face, I could still hear the chime of church bells in the background. Sharp knuckles pierced my skin causing blood to gush from my nose. I laid nowhere. Shadows from tree branches framed around me. My body was being protected. I wanted to scream for my mother, but I knew she wouldn’t hear me above this Monday night storm. It had come. It was doing its damage and then it would hopefully be gone.
The clouds would no longer cover my scars as dusk turns to dawn. I stumbled across Hampstead Road with my torn book bag still strapped to my back. The three boys had darted into the darkness. My foolproof plan to pray away my differences had been outnumbered. I was coughing and crying beneath the streetlights that lined Branch Avenue. The air was foul with the smell of mothballs and whisky; the same scent that stayed in my clothes for weeks after my father would lower me from his shoulders. I felt his presence in the series of short steps that led me closer and closer towards my front door. The dollar bills I had shoved deep into my left sock after buying snacks at lunch were now soggy and sticking to the bottom of my foot. It was as if my father was taking this walk ahead of me. A barrier of protection from the intolerable world. He spoke a silent language in my ear this night. Over and beyond the thoughts of what I would tell my mother or how Janna and Adam would react, I heard my father saying, ‘Get home, Elijah.’ Blood trickled down the side of my face, but I somehow wasn’t in physical pain. Shame fell away from my heart, even knowing that Jelani and my stepfather would see my wounds. I felt no more threats of having to defend myself against their verbal lashings or the physical blows from strangers. There was no need to be forgiven for my being feminine, soft spoken and frail. I began thinking about what Adam said to me in the morning as we walked down this same street. And he was right. I had to face the trials and tribulations of each day in order to celebrate the triumphs of tomorrow. There was no majestic place I could travel to escape my way of living. No faint ability to blend into the crowd. No miracle. No miracle on Monday.
There’s a scene in the 2004 movie classic, MEAN GIRLS, where the ‘evil teen queen’, Regina George, states that she ‘invented’ Cady Heron. Cady is the new girl in town who Regina embraces as one of the members of her elite circle of ‘Plastics’. This is the popular clique in school that everyone admires and looks to for the latest trends. Regina leads this group as they stand above their socially awkward classmates. As tides begin to turn and Regina slowly loses grip of her reigning power, Cady slowly moves up the ranks. Regina is told that Cady is hosting a big, Friday night party that all of the popular kids in school are attending. Upon discovering that she wasn’t invited, Regina goes on a rampage to make it clear that no one would have ever known or paid attention to Cady if it weren’t for her efforts in ‘creating’ this girl into who she now ‘thinks she is.’
Someone who you once loved and adored can easily become an enemy or distant stranger. As the friendship or romantic relationship that the two of you shared comes to an end, the individual who you thought you knew so well, suddenly displays attitudes and behaviors that you’ve never previously witnessed from them. Their vengeful and vindictive character traits have risen to the surface. This new demeanor seems to dictate every decision and statement they make in reference to you. Somehow, the pain they feel as a result of the breakup or dissolution of the friendship, wont allow them to respect the sanctity of what once existed. Not only are they threatened by the fact that you’ve successfully moved on with your personal life, but they’re also declaring the idea that they’ve ‘INVENTED YOU’.
Your ex or former friend has ignited a public campaign against you. He is negatively mentioning your name and stating claim to your accomplishments in every conversation or interaction that he has with another being. His goal is to discredit every personal stride you made during the period that the two of you existed on good terms.
Your ex or former friend may have introduced you to certain people, places, styles of clothing and social opportunities during the relationship. However, he wants the world to think that he is solely responsible for everything you have become. Nevermind the fact that he too benefitted from the physical pleasures, emotional comforts and financial stability that you also contributed to the relationship. This man has decided that without him, you would have never achieved anything beyond the common threads of daily life.
When two people establish a bond based upon love, comfort and common interests, it should be accepted and understood that there will be an even exchange of ideas and support throughout the relationship. The level of support that is extended should be delivered without an ownership or return policy.
As time progresses, the friend or lover who may have entered the relationship with low self esteem, will naturally gain confidence as they continue to receive nurturing from their partner. Additionally, two individuals who spend countless hours alongside one another, will begin to dress similarly or even look-a-like to some. The friends of one partner will gradually extend themselves unto the other; therefore creating a casual association that will most likely continue beyond the life of the central relationship. Publicly, others will automatically take notice of the partner or friend who is always seen, positioned and photographed online alongside the individual who is already a fixture on the social circuit.
All of these elements exist as the result of common, human interaction. The ways in which someone’s confidence, style, appearance or notoriety evolves over time is a reflection of their natural growth as an individual. Yes, being involved in the relationship may have contributed to those levels of maturation. However, one person should never feel entitled to state claim or receive credit for ‘making someone else’ into who they’ve become. The changes would have still occurred under other universal circumstances.
Circumstances of a relationship that allow two people to see one another daily provides the opportunity for both individuals to feed off of one another’s strengths. That feeding cycle is what ultimately builds each person into who they become as they move beyond one another.
It should be understood that in life, nothing can come to be for an individual who doesn’t desire to build upon their character. The passion or desire to ignite these changes are the seeds we plant in our own lives. No one else can force this process beyond a verbal suggestion. Our decisions and choices to act in accordance with what we want or how we wish to build, are the steps taken towards improving ourselves. As a result, regardless of what someone else may physically do to contribute to our lives, it was our initial decision to seek change that determined the present outcome; the INVENTION of our own destiny. NO ONE ELSE ‘CREATED’ YOU.
Rihanna has just announced the dates for the US leg of her upcoming ‘Diamonds’ tour. One of your best friends is a major Rihanna fan and has supported the rise of Rihanna’s superstardom since the dawn of her music career. As tickets are scheduled to go on sale within hours, your friend asks if you will do them a favor by purchasing two seats and exclusive VIP passes to the local show. Your friend has never met Rihanna face to face. They also insist that the seats be as close to the stage as possible; as they refuse to watch Rihanna from the nose bleed section. Without hesitation, you agree to buy the tickets and passes; deciding to simply charge the fees to your credit card. You tell your friend that they will have to pay you back. Your friend excitedly responds, ‘Of course…thank you! We’re going to have sooo much fun. AHH! Rihanna!’
It has now been three weeks since the two of you danced the night away to Rihanna performing all of her number one singles, live. Sitting in the fourth row of the downtown arena, the two of you enjoyed all $383.00 worth of your concert ticket price and accompanying VIP passes. You have since paid off the $766.00 charge to your Citibank Visa. However, your friend still hasn’t made mention of the half they still owe you. Meanwhile, you remember that your friend purchased a new outfit and a pair of shoes to attend the concert. They have been eating out and doing happy hour events with co-workers over the past few weeks. Their household bills are obviously paid, as the gas, water and electric were still powered on during your recent visits. It simply appears that your friend has neglected to pay back the money you fronted for them to see their favorite pop star in concert. Now, you’re beginning to ‘feel some kind of way’.
As time continues to pass by, you find yourself growing increasingly annoyed. You don’t want to be a jerk by having to ask for the ticket money. However, your personal financial obligations are still pending. The optimistic side of your character is whispering, ‘maybe my friend forgot about the money and simply needs to be reminded.’ Meanwhile, your logical side is screaming, ‘the bitch doesn’t want to pay the money back now that the show has come and gone!’ You don’t want to be negative or focus on the reality of your present situation alongside your friend. However, you can’t help the fact that your feelings are now hurt.
A friend borrowed a large some of money, agreed to repay it, and is refusing to acknowledge their debt. If they are facing a financial hardship and can’t repay the money at this time, you’re wondering why they haven’t communicated their issue with you. You’ve assumed that the two of you are close enough to discuss problems of any sort. Still, more than two months later, he or she hasn’t said a thing. To make matters worse, it seems your friend is avoiding your calls, text messages and emails.
Loaning or advancing money to a friend can create major issues in the relationship. My father has always taught me to never expect to receive a pay back when loaning large amounts of money to friends or family. He said, in certain situations, if someone had the extra finances to repay a loan, they wouldn’t need to borrow money in the first place. Often times, we allow our friends to borrow money, but we rarely give them a specific expiration date to repay the loan. Since we are usually lending friends money from the kindness of our hearts, the idea of receiving it back isn’t an initial issue or thought. Some friends will take advantage of this kindness; especially as they assume that ‘you got it’.
No one forgets when they owe someone else a large sum of money. What some friends will do is selfishly begin deducting from the amount owed; ‘Remember that time when we were in line at Rita’s, you didn’t have your card & I just paid for both of our ice cream cones?’ As they are fronting money when the two of you are hanging out, your friend is actually subtracting the little amounts from the large sum they haven’t repaid to you. If they have swiped their card for two tickets at the movie theater or paid the tab for drinks at the bar one night, somehow, they believe these purchases are helping to clear the debt.
To avoid these discrepancies, it becomes extremely important that we treat the process of lending money to our friends as a business transaction. It is not rude or offensive to create verbal or written terms regarding the dates and installments that money should be repaid. Always be detailed and clear with people about when you want to be repaid and if its okay that they pay half in two weeks and the other half a month later. Open the conversation in the very beginning, and tell your friend that if they run into a financial bind, contact you ahead of the day that you are expecting to receive your money. Request to be repaid in the same form that you landed the money as well. If you loaned a friend $350.00 in cash, tell them whether or not you are willing to accept a check in return.When one friend is charging everyone’s Rihanna tickets on their credit card, it should be discussed that the amount to be repaid must include the taxes and other associated fees. These terms should be agreed upon at the exact time the money is loaned and borrowed.
When arrangements are openly discussed, there leaves little room for a gray area of misunderstanding or confusion.
Also, lend money to your friend with caution and care. Don’t loan what you can’t afford to lose. If they are asking you for $1,000 and you know they don’t have the income to repay such a large amount, possibly offer them $500 instead. You may also consider loaning them the $1,000 and only requesting that they repay half. We must accept responsibility for the financial decisions we make for the sake of family and friends. It isn’t intelligent to ‘lend’ money to a friend who has proven over time that they do not pay their debts in total…if at all.
As uncomfortable as it may make you feel to approach a friend about money, you will feel a lot worse having to let go of their friendship altogether.
A few weeks ago, I spent several hours on a Saturday afternoon uploading a series of ‘ARCHIVE’ photos via my INSTAGRAM#XemSays social network. The set of 30 collage pics featured me posed alongside some of the most important individuals in my life. Many of the women and men you saw are people who have existed in my life for 10-25 years. I posted these ‘Throwback/Archive’ photos of my friends and I as a a celebration of those who have existed in my life through just about every phase I have experienced. Through my childhood, teenage years and young adult life, many of the people you saw sitting and standing beside me have become my extended family. We don’t see one another often. However, when we do get together for brunch on Sundays, a wine tasting gathering or someone’s birthday bash, the time we spend makes it seem as if not a day has gone by. I enjoy these moments most, for its spending time surrounded by my friends that truly reminds me of who I am as a human being. I don’t have to care how I’m dressed, if my skin is breaking out, if I mispronounce a word or slur my speech from having three too many mimosas. During the hours we sit across from one another talking and verbally sharing our lives, I don’t have to monitor or censor what comes out of my mouth. I can suspend the fear of my personal business being shared online, for my friends have no motive to prove to the public that they ‘truly know me.’ I don’t see the people closest to my life on a regular basis. Our relationships aren’t dependent upon daily, face to face interaction. That’s usually the basis and foundation of associations. When I part ways with a friend, following a quarterly ‘catch-up session’, I usually feel happy, inspired, calmed and often grounded. Each person who I call a friend serves a different purpose in my life. I don’t talk to them all about the same issues and I don’t spend time with each of them engaged in the same activities. Each of my friends are different and each of them has contributed various elements to my life.
It’s once an individual begins sucking the energy from my spirit and no longer serving a purpose in any facet of who I’ve become, that I know its time to let go of the friendship or association.
As human beings grow and begin changing in different ways, our relationships with certain individuals aren’t meant to stand the test of those forward and backward strides. Most often, we risk our happiness and well being in an effort to keep a friendship or association alive; one that is no longer serving our social, mental or emotional needs. We tend to close our eyes to certain faults and flaws of someone who we CALL A FRIEND, even though we no longer FEEL CLOSE TO THEM AS A FRIEND.
It’s unwise, naive and unhealthy to ignore your present passions or current priorities in order to maintain an association with someone whose life doesn’t fit into yours. There is a huge difference between accepting someone for their good and their bad qualities, and tolerating someone for the simple fact that they’ve been in your life for years. Many of my friends don’t share my interests, immediate passions or ideologies. However, each of them contributes a sense of joy to my life. I don’t walk away from our outings or phone calls feeling angry or drained by the interaction. It’s when your life changes no longer leaves room for someone else’s lack of change that you know it’s time to walk away.
Severing a relationship of any kind can be extremely painful. Many of us invest a great deal of heart, time and energy into the people who we consider to be our friends. However, these bonds should not take the same level of conscious effort as our romantic unions in order to naturally work. Friends are precious and rare to hold on to in today’s social climate. Friendships should be considered and maintained over a lifetime. If you can no longer imagine sharing the intimacies of your life with someone, over a prolonged period of time, that particular friendship may have run its course.
In contrast, be mindful of the fact that friendships can also be seasonal. Don’t be dismissive of someone simply because the level of friendship they offer doesn’t fit your present climate. Depending upon the moods you are experiencing, the interests that have taken precedence and the issues affecting your personal life, certain friends will be called upon to meet your needs during those times. Last season, I was looking to return to my online platform and begin sharing myself with the world again. As a result, I found myself subconsciously spending time with my friends who are more artistic, dreamers and more likely to think outside of the box. There will be periods of time where you will find yourself engaged with one particular person or a group of individuals more often than you are paired alongside others. This does not make one association or set of friends more important or special in your life. It’s important to consider the fact that circumstances, situations and environments play a huge part in which friend or set of friends we turn to for comfort, entertainment, gossip, or advice during certain periods and phases. It very much depends upon the season; figuratively.
Also, don’t mistaken someone’s absence as a lack of their loyalty or devotion. With life change, also comes the different rates by which we each grow and take various steps. A friend who is now enrolled in graduate school and simultaneously working a full-time job, is not going to have as much time on their hands to socialize when compared to the friend who teaches one or two classes each week and takes yoga one hour each night. You can’t allow time spent or the lack thereof to determine the significance of someone’s friendship in your life.
Overall, be mindful of how someone’s company and distance makes you feel. Remember, a friend is someone who can be physically absent for months, but whose spirit you feel and miss on a regular basis.
It’s when you have to close your eyes to how someone ‘really behaves’ or how they ‘truly carry themselves’, that you know it’s time to reevaluate the friendship.You always want to be in a position where you have removed the negative individuals in order to create space for new, nurturing and vigorous relationships.
IT MAY BE TIME TO LET GO OF YOUR FRIENDSHIP OR ASSOCIATION IF…
. You monitor everything you say via phone, text, email or IM in fear that they will repeat, forward or copy and paste your business to their other friends and associates.
. You have to mentally prepare or physically numb yourself with alcohol in order to endure an evening or daytime activity spent alongside them.
. You find yourself always having to apologize or accept blame for situations in order for the two of you to move beyond it.
. Whenever you have a serious issue or problem festering in your life, they are the last person you think about calling or reaching out to for comfort.
. You are apprehensive about mentioning or introducing your new love interest to him/her, in fear of them going online to find the person or intentionally bringing you ‘social gossip’ about the potential boo.
. None of your other friends or family members thinks this person has your best interests at heart, and is constantly able to pin point situations of disloyalty, disrespect and a disregard for your feelings. Its often those closest to us that can see danger approaching before we open our eyes to it.
. Every time you share good or promising news with this individual, he/she laughs, criticizes or points out everything that can possibly go wrong. This person is unable to be happy for your opportunities and rarely expresses joy for the advances you are making in life.
. You’re embarrassed to be seen in public with this person, for they are constantly creating scenes, igniting drama and instigating problems with other people.
. You no longer believe half of the stories he/she shares now that you’ve caught them in numerous lies and false tales over the past few months.
. AS YOU’VE CHANGED, GROWN, MATURED & SET YOUR SIGHTS ON HIGHER GROUND, HE/SHE IS STILL ENGAGED IN THE SAME CRAP THEY WERE DOING WHEN THE TWO OF YOU FIRST MET…YEARS AGO.
It is tough to let go of someone who once served a major purpose and role in your daily life. First, acknowledge to yourself that someone no longer feels like a friend. Accept that the only reason why you still call them a friend is because of the years you two have known one another. Be honest with him or her about how you feel. Move forward in your life without them; knowing that you have now made room for a new friendship that will UPLIFT YOU as oppose to always UPSETTING YOU.