"Emotion (Ain't Nobody)" Remix (2014), "Swimming Pools (Drank)" (2012), Child Abuse, College, Domestic Violence, Emotions, Family, Kendrick Lamar, Leaving, Loneliness, Maverick Sabre, Moving, Pitt, Politics of Respectability, Poverty, Respectability Politics, Self-Awareness, Self-Discovery
I left for Pittsburgh and for the University of Pittsburgh on this day/date twenty-eight years ago, my first trip on my own. It was my first trip out-of-state since my Mom took me and my brother Darren on a bus trip to Pennsylvania Amish country in June ’78, nine years earlier. At 5:51 am on the last Wednesday in August ’87, with my older brother Darren’s help — and with my Mom and three of four younger siblings watching us from the living room window — I packed my luggage, Army sack, and two boxes of bedding and materials into a Reliable Taxi. We headed for East 241st to meet up with my dad. From there, we took the 2 Subway all the way to Penn Station, with enough time to board and get all of my stuff on the 7:50 am Pennsylvanian train to the ‘Burgh. For the second time in a row, my dad was sober, and gave me a glassy-eyed hug and shoulder squeeze. Darren was both sad and happy to see me go.
I’ve gone over the trip to Pittsburgh and my transformation from a seventeen-year-old with the pent-up emotions of someone who hadn’t left May 31, 1982 behind throughout my eight years of blogging and through my memoir. I’ve written about moving on to Pittsburgh before. What I haven’t really written about fully is how I thought and felt in leaving Mount Vernon, New York behind. The short answer is, I was somewhere between terrified, joyous, embittered, and sad to go, and all at once.
I was terrified. It was my first trip on my own, to a city I’d never been to before, to a university I never visited prior to saying yes. I could meet people who might catch on that I was someone who had spent the previous six years with few acquaintances, much less friends. I was hopeful, but had zero idea what to expect.
But I really was happy to leave. Between my decade living at 616, the abuse, the poverty, the Hebrew-Israelite years, the constant ridicule, the years in Humanities, the constant work of watching after Mom, my dad, my siblings, I was through. Throw in a summer of obsession with and emasculation by Phyllis, and five years of realizing that I needed to get out, and going to Pittsburgh was a no-brainer. Heck, if I’d been a bit smarter about my application process, I could’ve just as easily applied to the University of Washington, Stanford, Northwestern, Georgetown, Michigan, University of Toronto and UPenn and almost certainly gotten in. It didn’t matter where I was going, really. I just needed to go and find my myself, and my education with that.
That last year or so in Mount Vernon had let me know that even with an academic scholarship (after a private investigation) from Columbia, staying would’ve been a huge mistake. Between the silent disdain and snickering of Black teachers at Mount Vernon High School around my sullen presence and the whole Estelle Abel episode at the end of four years of torment. Add to that the years of Black middle class folk talking at me about how my life was so much better because they marched or protested somewhere before I was conceived, or because they prayed for me. Add to that this insistence that I “give back to the community.” As if Black Mount Vernon had given me anything but a hard way to go since I was knee-high to a boil weevil.
As I saw it, the only difference between the vapid, seething facade of White liberalism among paternalistic White Mount Vernonites and the false smiles and frequent excoriations of Mount Vernon’s Black middle class was skin color. They drank deep from swimming pools full of what we now call respectability politics, born out of a need to be good examples to the world, like Kendrick Lamar described in “Swimming Pools” (2012). (Pour up [drank], head shot [drank]…faded [drank]). This isn’t the same as doing the right thing at the right time or speaking truth to power. You make money, wear nice clothes, drive a nice car, stand up straight, look a White man in the eye while firmly grasping his hand. And apologize for not being as assimilable as you pretend. It was 100%, USDA-approved bullshit, and it smelled like it a lot of days, too.
I was sad to leave, too. There was a part of me that still wanted to fit in, out of loneliness, if nothing else. I still liked Clover Donuts and some of the breakfast places on the South Side. I longed for some sort of acceptance, an acknowledgment that I was a real person, even though that would’ve required being around real people at 616, and in Humanities, and in the rest of Mount Vernon. I knew that I’d miss the close proximity to The City. I’d put my hopes and dreams in a place in which I knew I couldn’t afford to stay, literally and figuratively. That longing would come to haunt me in the coming year, but I’d eventually learn, I could always visit New York.