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    Saturday
    Jan012011

    Re-Memory

    Hindsight is not always 20/20. 

    Sometimes the more distant the image in the rear view becomes, the more likely it is that we’ll recall what never was.  Or at least distort it beyond recognition.

    And so it has been when I’ve reminisced about my time at my alma mater, a historically black university.  When using only my selective memory, I remember those four years as idyllic:  For the first time in my life I was surrounded almost entirely by beautiful black people who, like me, made the conscious decision to seek an education that, in addition to satisfying standards for accreditation, was informed by and infused with a history that had been cast aside by other institutions of higher learning.  Though I had been led to believe that households containing both black mother and black father were rare, here there was no shortage of students who came from two-parent households with figureheads who were real-life versions of Mr. and Mrs. Huxtable.  The campus was a beautiful fortress that was shrouded by trees, the bay and ducklings nipping at toes.  Real-life Dewayne Waynes, Whitleys, Freddies, and Shazza Zulus frolicked together in the moonlight. 

    In rose-colored moments, I loved every moment of my time. 

    In my adaptation, the festive postures displayed in photographs do not reflect just static moments, but are unobstructed reflections of my time at my university. 

    Yet, when I remove the spectacle of illusion, I remember that I felt entirely out of place from the moment of my arrival.  It is a feeling that I still haven’t shaken. 

    I vividly remember my first moment in my freshman dormitory:  The way that it looked (the long blue.green dimly lit walls); The way that is sounded (the shrieks of girls reuniting with long lost friends, punctuated by bangs of luggage); and the way that I felt when my new roommate’s stepmother (upon glancing at my long braids, flowing dress and flip flops) sneered, “Michelle (n.1), we can always find you another roommate.”  I wavered in shock, feeling as if I had been sucker-punched.  Down for the count.  Knocked out in the first round. 

    The depth of this statement, and all of its unspoken signifiers, still stings.  There remains a not-so-faint scar. 

    While watching my new roommate unpack I quickly realized that my style (from floor grazing dresses to baggy jeans and Timberlands) did not neatly fit into the matrix of boot-cut jeans, heeled footwear and Halle Berry cuts--traits that my roommate and her gaggle of friends possessed.  As they gathered around my queen bee roommate, shared tales of meeting crushes at the lakefront and picked out “Big Caf” outfits, any stubborn hope that my roommate and I would forge a friendship was dispelled.

    Looking back, I’m sure that being housed with her contributed to years of self-doubt.  While I would like to say that I didn’t care about the rejection, in moments of complete honesty I must admit that I was wounded.

    While that first experience with my roommate (as well as being berated by a group of Ques after mistakenly stepping on their plot and repeatedly hearing that I would be pretty “if only…”) set the sepia-tone for my time at college, my memories have also been tainted by the disappointment I felt at never having bonded with a core group of women-especially during my first three years.  While I generally had one friend to hang out with at any given time, I could most usually be found eating solo in the Small Caf, writing on the lakefront, or (after my freshman year), sitting on the stoops... 

    This is not to say that I was entirely despondent.  Like Booker T. Washington advised, I cast my bucket where I was.  In both my sophomore and junior years I became fairly active in certain “peripheral” organizations and activities.  And while I never really felt at home with these groups (for braids aren’t as righteous as locks), I usually had many casual acquaintances (who also functioned on the fringe).  Still, my time was largely spent in isolation.  While I secretly wanted to join the revelry of those who chilled in front of the Big Caf, attended off-campus parties and gallivanted on the lakefront, I felt that the best course of action would be to treat the rejection as mutual.  They didn’t want me, and I didn’t want them… (At least that’s what I told myself).  It was the blanketed mantra that  provided both warmth and comfort. 

    And yet, by my senior year, my hair “relaxed.”  My affiliations changed.  My clothes became punctuated with pink and green.  Suddenly, I was deemed pretty.  I could kick it with my sorors, obnoxiously belt out the Student Leader’s anthem, and roll to cabarets and parties with a whole line of women… I had arrived. 

    But it was too late. 

    I knew that my pass was only provisional.  I knew that I had only reached the outer-most ring of the inner-circle:  I was a student leader, but I was never bestowed with the dubious honor of becoming a member of their secret sub-group.  I was “Greek,” and while I had a gaggle of line sisters I walked alone.  I could never shake off the feeling that I didn’t entirely belong.  And now, I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to. 

    The rejection that I felt during my first few months became an intricate noose around my neck that, though fastened by someone else, was knotted by my own hands. 

    While I would like to believe that I’ve finally loosened the chokehold, I sometimes still feel the grasp of those experiences.  It’s probably why I don’t feel entirely comfortable at events for “young, black professionals” (though I certainly am one), don’t have a large group of friends (I still only have one) and shudder at the idea of homecoming (for with whom would I kick it?)  I scoff at Facebook “friend requests” initiated by those who once ignored me (and who are now burdened with loveless marriages and 20 extra pounds) and look askance at those who only recall my last moments at our home, having recast their memory of me. 

    And yet, how can I fault them when I too would like to do the same?  I look at my alma mater as one does an old lover who could have been the one.  If only...

    ----

    n.1  Name has been changed.

     

    ©  blackgirlblue.com-2011.  All rights reserved.

    

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