As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed, I noticed a video one of my college friends had posted. It was a clip from Spike Lee’s School Daze, one of my favorite movies. It was the scene where the Gamma Rays were singing the song, “Be Alone Tonight.”
In the comments, another of my college friends had written a comment that sent me reeling into my story. She mentioned the names of two other college friends and said that she recalled all of them performing this very number for the SAW (Summer Academic Workshop) program we were all a part of before we started our freshman year at NU. She also mentioned my name and said maybe I had performed in this number as well.
That comment stung. Here’s why: For one, she couldn’t remember if I had performed in it or not. I had. And that comment made me feel invisible. But I have to take a step back because I was not very social even back then and I’m not very social with the alums I went to school with now, so it makes sense that she wouldn’t remember. We haven’t really reconnected as adults so there are no real memories to bond over. So that I recognize. And more importantly, who cares if she remembers if I performed or not? I remember. And that’s all that matters.
Now, here’s the other part that really stings. Whenever I think of this performance, I’m taken back to a memory of us rehearsing one night. The lead singer wanted to hear us backup singers so we did our parts and she could tell someone was off key. So we each did our parts individually and when she got to me, she kept asking me to re-sing it and re-sing it because clearly I was the offender. I was so pissed after a few attempts, that I went off on her like, “I’m doing the best I can!” And then silence. And laughter. They thought it was hysterical, but inside I was seething. At the time, and still often even now, I took myself too seriously and couldn’t laugh at myself. I felt humiliated. Like I was being picked on, singled out and ultimately, not nearly good enough. I was already loaded down with feelings of inadequacy from childhood and here they were being proven out. It was not my finest moment.
Seeing that comment makes me recognize that the people mentioned in the post, particularly the lead singer will probably remember that incident—as funny. And it probably was, if it had happened to someone else is how I feel, but people laughed and that was really that. But you know how we blow things up in our head like we’re super important and everyone knows how we feel. Not true. It was just a moment in time, a raw moment for me, but it doesn’t mean I was less than, then or now. It just happened. And I put all these heavy emotions onto that one moment. But from then on, while at school, it shaped my experience. It made me feel like I was always the ugly duckling, the unpopular one, the less savvy one. And on and on and on.
The truth: That’s how I felt but that was not the reality, I’m sure. And now because I feel so inadequate and so much shame during those years, I don’t go to reunions, especially not the black alumni reunions. I never really felt like I fit in then and now that more time has passed, I still don’t feel like it. But who knows? Maybe when October rolls around again for homecoming, I’ll change my mind and jump back in. And maybe I’ll be able to see myself in a whole new light, my authentic light. Until then, I will continue to work on my story and work through my story to get to the real me.
Photo cred: malikaziz.com