I remember the exact day I stopped being shy. It was in 10th grade and some boy made a comment about me never cursing. Even as a teenager it always bugged me that it intrigued people MORE that I didn’t curse* than it did that I preferred not to. Anyway, I lit into him, heated and quick with nair- one curse word uttered. When it was over I knew I couldn’t go backwards. I was on the path to stepping up and speaking out. Because change is good.
Before then I was perfectly fine being shy. It wasn’t painful, or something I even thought much about until somebody else mentioned it. In fact the only person to ever truly make a big deal out of it was Harold Mayo. He found my nerd girl happiness to be a personal affront. I used to beg my mama not to make me go with him on the few occasions that he actually called and asked to pick me up. She always left the final say so up to me, but she’d lace the conversation with things like, what about my cousins and aunties wanting to see me too. The guilt would soon come and before you knew it I was packing a little bag with happy black girl (hbg) supplies so I wouldn’t have to interact with him too much. That caused him concern too. Me and my books. Me and my pencils and note paper. When he banned such things from being part of our time together I upped the ante and brought my younger cousin Piggy (Prentice Jr) along for company. He point blank asked me why I felt like I needed a bodyguard with me just to go school shopping. I was too shy to tell him I just needed a friend.
I’m not sure if my perceived awkwardness made him feel responsible or not. But the whole situation often made me feel self conscious. So I mostly kept quiet when I was in his presence. He soon tired of it and stopped coming around all together. Years later when he pretended not to recognize me at his Mother’s funeral ( Rest In Peace Inez) I was hurt, but I didn’t show it. Instead when I read the eulogy my voice shook and his was the only name I messed up. You could hear the sudden hush all over the church. He slouched in the pew. I kept my head high and moved on to the names I knew loved me though.
When my HBG sister Valerie asked me to send her a baby picture I procrastinated on going to my mama’s and finding one. Instead I rummaged around my own stash and found this one of me and my Aunt Erma (Harold’s Sister) who we all just call Auntie. It was taken during a Mayo Family Reunion at Kearney Park, when I was around 10. My mama dropped me off at Auntie’s that morning because I didn’t wanna ride with Harold. She was cooking in her kitchen and listening to Marvin Gaye when I got there. To this day whenever I hear “Got to give it Up” I think of that morning helping her in the kitchen while she cooked and sang. She never cared if I had books with me or not, she only cared that I knew she loved me and that it was okay if I had a stupid daddy (her words not mine) who was intimated by having a smart kid. I think I must have tucked that memory away because I just remembered it this very moment.
Over the years I sort of kept in touch with my father’s side of the family but not like I should have. Makes no sense that I allowed my strained sparse interactions with Harold to cloud what I could have built with everyone else. But regrettably I did.
Over the years I’ve shed a lot of the awkwardness of my youth away. The only real hold over from that era is my weirdness about being viewed sometimes even complimented. When I turned 30 I tackled it and made myself write poetry just so I could stand on a stage and recite it out loud in front of strangers. It remains the most powerful turning point in my life. Only I somehow made myself believe that I was cured because of it. Not true. I still lag a little in that area but I do want to change. So when Chelsea, (a sweet girl I had only met once previously) hit me on Facebook asking if she could snap pictures of me for the site I said yes. But my mind kept telling me no. (Ha…that R. Kellyism was totally unintentional by the way). By the time I was actually in Oakland though I’d talked myself out of it completely. I had brunch and then tried real hard immediately following to justify a way we could just save it for another time. She didn’t back down though, she broke out her giant camera and for 20 minutes snapped away. She didn’t seem annoyed that I didn’t know how to stand or hold my hands or stop laughing. She was calm and kind and eventually it was over.
When she sent them to me I didn’t automatically have that feeling I sometimes get. It came after photo 50 but still, baby steps are important yo. She emailed me and asked if I wanted her to crop or edit anything. But you know what? This really is who I am. It’s who I was when I was 10 and probably who I will always be. No amount of comments from others or myself for that matter will change that. It’s time to let go and stop owning that awkwardness as truth. I’d much rather own the HBG in me. It feels so much better. It feels long overdue.
It’s a blessing to be here. Thank you Harold Mayo. This is for you. Wherever you are. – Devoya
*I do curse sometimes. You know how it is.