"I Would Die 4 U" (1984), Anger, Black Masculinity, Crush #1, Crush #2, Depression, Disillusionment, Emasculation, Maturity, Objectification, Obsession, Pedestal, Phyllis, Pitt, Prince, Rejection, Sexism, Text Messaging, Wendy, White Plains Galleria
In Boy @ The Window, I have a chapter on my first year at Pitt and the baggage I carried from my last months in Mount Vernon, New York, Phyllis (a.k.a., Crush #2) included. I haven’t discussed Phyllis much in the six and a half years I’ve been running this blog on all things related to my memoir. Mostly because once I got over my crush-turned-internalized-obsession, I realized that she wasn’t really all that as a person. Still, given the number of posts I’ve done on my Mom, my late idiot ex-stepfather Maurice and Wendy (a.k.a., Crush #1), Phyllis does deserve some mention, along with my stumbled-filled transition to manhood that went with the years between December ’85 and August ’88.
A key point for me in this transition was in October and early November ’87. I finally worked up the courage to write Phyllis a note about an incident earlier that summer, one in which she all but emasculated me at the White Plains Galleria. As I wrote in Boy @ The Window:
I got the address, bought her a card for her eighteenth birthday, and sat down and wrote her. About how I liked her and wanted to know if she “ever liked me.” I needed to know if she and her sister really were talking about me at the bus stop that day, “one way or the other.” I wanted to know what she thought I needed in order to impress someone like her in the future. Then I added “Happy 18th Birthday!” I sent the card off on the second week in October, just a few days before her birthday.
On the second of November, I got her response. It was in purple ink, with heart shapes and circles for dots over “i”s. Reading her letter was like reading the liner notes off of a Prince album. Like the song “I Would Die 4 U,” Phyllis had decided to limit her English skills to the ’80s equivalent of sign language on paper, a real “revolution” on both their parts. I remember she started, “Thank U 4 your card 2day,” an insult to my intelligence. She would’ve been better off with, “Yo nigga, ’s up wit’ ya sweatin’ me?” She wrote indirectly that she did like me at one point in time, but added “but we’re in college now . . . around lots of nu people” She admitted that I was her and Claudia’s topic of conversation that day, but “I needed 2 get over that.” She hinted that I shouldn’t write her again, and that was it. No apologies, no attempt to understand how I felt…
After Phyllis’ wonderful response, I all but stopped going to class. I missed most of my classes the month of November, only showing up for exams or if my mood had let up long enough to allow me to function like normal. The weekend before Thanksgiving, I allowed my dorm mates to cheer me up by getting a couple of cases of Busch Beer. These were the Pounder type, sixteen-ounce cans. After getting Mike to get us the cases, we went back to Aaron’s room and started drinking. I downed four cans in fifteen minutes, and was drunk within a half hour. I started throwing around the word “bitch.” Anytime anyone mentioned Phyllis’ name – or any woman’s name for that matter — one of us said the B-word and we’d guzzle down some beer.
In today’s world of text messaging, I would’ve found Phyllis’ response so ridiculous that I probably would’ve shared it with close friends and laughed about it for weeks afterward. But as someone with the emotional and psychological maturity of a twelve-year-old in the fall of ’87, Phyllis’ response really, really, really hurt. Her letter shattered the pedestal on which I had placed her, and reaffirmed every negative thing I’d felt about myself for the previous half decade.
It also left me so depressed that I finished that semester with a 2.63 GPA. That, and spending the holidays at 616, made me determined to use the anger I felt toward myself and Phyllis as fuel for the next semester. And even though that worked so well that I made Dean’s List, I still hadn’t really gotten over Phyllis’ rejection by the time the school year was over in April ’88.
It took one last look at that letter — that unbelievably trifling and simple letter — to realize that even under the best of circumstances, Phyllis and I would’ve been a match made only in a mad scientist’s laboratory. I’d never be interested in a human being who talked down to me, as if I was unworthy of anything other than some simple shorthand language. Or in any woman whose expectations of men were about as objectifying as Mike Tyson’s views of women. I realized that I had finally gotten to know the real Phyllis, and in the process, had begun to know the real me, and what I needed to change about myself in order to build a better, 2.0 version of me. With that, like so much from my freshman dorm at Lothrop Hall, Phyllis’ letter became part of my garbage pile.