First, a story:
I was 13-years-old, and everyone in my crew had a girlfriend. Everyone, except for yours truly. I did not notice this at first; it took me a while before I realized I was an outcast even though I was plenty welcome to hang out. My friends did not treat me differently than they had before, their girlfriends were plenty nice to me as well. The feeling, at first, was nothing more than a larger friend circle. But after awhile, even with my group’s good intentions in play, I began to feel like an outcast. Over time, that feeling carried itself from the school grounds into my house, where I came home sulking noticeably in front of my mom and Richard.
My mom pressed me to tell her what was wrong, but I knew even back then, as much as it sucked to be the only single person among my boys, it was a really silly reason to be moping around looking like Eeyore. When I finally confessed to her why I was sad, she was nice enough to let me have my moment, but also reminded me that it wasn’t important. I too would have my day with a girlfriend of my own, but my focus should be on my studies anyway. I knew what she meant, even though it didn’t ever make sense to me why I couldn’t study hard and have a girlfriend at the same time.
Then Richard came in, and he saw my face, still pouting. He looked at me and asked, “What’s wrong?”
I already had a hard enough time telling my mom, so I damn sure didn’t want to tell Richard that I was a little sad over the fact that all my boys had girlfriends and I didn’t.
He turned to my mom to ask her, “What’s wrong with him?”
Now I thought my mom had my back, and wouldn’t out me to Richard, but boy was I wrong. She probably thought I needed someone else to tell me how absurd I was being, so she snitched.
“Oh, he’s sad because he doesn’t have a girlfriend while all his friends do.”
There was an awkward silence in the room. I think Richard understood like only men could what I was feeling. It’s not so much I wanted a girlfriend as I wanted what a girlfriend represented: Approval from the opposite sex. I was young, pubescent, and I liked girls, which meant all I really wanted was for girls to like me back.
But my Pop thrived on teachable moments. He never wanted to see me fail at something, but he knew if I wasn’t successful there was an opening for him to teach me a lesson. Me tripping over the fact that I wasn’t the flavor of the month according to the girls at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School was that kind of moment.
“Boy, you actually have two girlfriends,” he said.
Confused, I looked up at him, “Huh? How?”
“Put your right hand out,” he said.
I did as instructed.
“Now keep that out and put your left hand out too,” he said.
I did as I was told to do.
“Those two hands, those are your girlfriends, and when one of them gets tired, you have the other one right here.” He then made a half circle with both hands and started moving them up and down through the air.
My mom was shocked and yelled, “RICHARD!”
“What,” Richard said. “I’m telling him the truth.”
Then he walked away, while my mom told me not to listen to him and go do my homework.
Again, I did as I was told, but Richard’s advice was still lingering in my head. I had no idea what he meant, but at 13-years-old it didn’t take me long to figure it out.