“Ain’t no mountain, ain’t no sea/Maki-da-da/Keep my sister ‘way from me/Maki-da-da”
–The Color Purple
African-American lit has always informed my views of true friendship. Not that I didn’t have good homies in real life, but who could compete with Janie and Phoebe’s kissing-close bond, Celie and Nettie’s sisterly love and even Nel and Sula’s fragmented friendship, surviving separation, distance, ill health and even betrayal?
Recently, I had a few Maki-da-da moments when saying my goodbyes to sisterfriends on the East Coast. When the Escape from Beckyville book tour stalled temporarily (okay, for three months) in my hometown of Norristown, PA, I reconnected with several friends from high school and college that I hadn’t seen in years. We laughed, we cried, we reminisced about old times, and their love seemed undiminished by the passage of years. It was sweet sorrow pulling out of my mom’s driveway in Pennsylvania, en route to Los Angeles, leaving behind those beloved faces.
I’m a loner by nature, which is why La La Land is the perfect habitat for the solitary diva. You tolerate the stalled lunches, air kisses and false unions, feeding the illusion of friendship, while at the same time feeling secretly relieved at not having the burden of true “commitment.”
But I wasn’t always so cynical about sisterhood in the City of Angels.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles in the late 90s, I didn’t have any family or friends in the city. My neighbors were nice enough, but I was shy and unsure how to transform a smile on the elevator or at the mailbox into a lunch date or a movie night. To complicate matters, I was overweight with a bad weave and a wardrobe from Ross. Most of the women I encountered were size 6 industry wannabes decked out in designer duds, always rushing off to the next audition or networking event. The plus-sized chick was rarely asked to be a plus-one. When I shed thirty pounds and the elastic-waisted skirts and blazers that had become my uniform, I would venture to the Hollywood parties on my lonesome. I preferred it this way. Men were impressed with the independent woman who could buy her own drink at the bar, who didn’t seem on the prowl for a date or a sugar daddy. And I wasn’t. Those late-night odysseys were strictly business. I kept a copy of my screenplay in the backseat of my car, hoping I would run into a studio exec or A-list actor who could give my project the green light.
I never made the acquaintance of an industry bigwig at those parties where I was the single wallflower blooming among a pretty garden of Venus flytraps, but I did accumulate my share of superficial girlfriends along the way. Those fickle beauties had cars but expected me to drive to all the functions (and would demand gas money the one time I hopped in their ride.) They would hug me and surreptitiously squeeze the back of my head, trying to feel for any telltale tracks. (I would have proudly disclosed that I was wearing a weave. After all, I was living in the fake-hair capital of the world.) They would call to see if I had the haps on any celeb events, but had no shame bragging about the star-studded soiree they attended the night before (the one they neglected to invite me to.) More so than these petty acts, there never seemed to be any heartfelt conversations outside of “making it” in the business – no talk of favorite colors or beloved books or childhood dreams.
I’m guilty too, not only for cultivating such a shallow sisterhood, but for neglecting my true BFFs in the process – the ones who have seen me without makeup, who have cooked for me, who have blotted my tears.
I don’t want to give the impression that L.A. is a vast wasteland of soulless poseurs (maybe I am), but I’ve been fortunate to befriend some phenomenal folks in the decade-plus that I’ve been living on the Left Coast. True intimacy is hard work, unless you’re comfortable with the relics of failed friendships cluttering your emotional landscape. The digital age makes it easier than ever to reconnect with people from your past, but also harder than ever to foster authentic communion. Nowadays, liking someone’s status update or retweeting them is the minimum interaction that most folks engage in with their homies, but real relationships can’t subsist on virtual dap. I’m guilty of this as well. I realize how much I miss loving, quality face-time with my friends. I feel genuinely sorry for the birthdays I missed, the weddings I skipped, the phone calls I ignored when I was hustling to survive.
I’m grateful for the grace of my friends, sprinkled like fertilizer on my garden of weeds. I’m thankful for their voluntary amnesia about the years I was M.I.A. I live in L.A., but I haven’t “gone” L.A. At least I hope I haven’t crossed the line into that no (woman’s) land. I can’t erase the times when I was a superficial girlfriend, when I was known as someone who never kept in touch with anyone. All I can do is celebrate the friendships that have been revived on this cross-country journey that has also become a journey into self.
I’m grateful for Nicole, my name twin, who welcomed me into her beautiful family, who cooked for me, treated me to dinners and wouldn’t let me pay, who slipped “seed money” for my business into a card.
I’m thankful for Carol, who drove sixty-four miles from Riverside to L.A. to air out my apartment while I was gone for four months, who shipped me winter clothes and bought me a sweater because all I had was a suitcase filled with summer clothes, and I couldn’t afford to buy a new warmer wardrobe.
I’m grateful for Kimmie, who was my spiritual sounding board, who didn’t discourage me from quitting my job and embarking on a zany nationwide excursion to spread the word about my book, who always reminded me that I don’t operate on the world’s economy, but on God’s.
I’m thankful for Keyneica, who made my cross-country move to Los Angeles possible, who gave me shelter, who ignited my creativity, who is my sister from another mother.
I’m grateful for Princess J, who sent me texts reminding me that life on the road is not for the faint at heart, who urged me to be confident on my journey and to always make room for God to drive.
I’m thankful for Kate, who always checked in from La La Land, who read my blogs and kept up with my travels, who wanted to see me succeed and kept me on my toes about the business of writing.
I’m grateful for SoJo, who forgave me for being out of touch, who took the train from New York to Philly several times to visit me and accompany me on my readings, who was a bookkeeper extraordinaire, collecting and tallying money from my sales.
I’m thankful for Bunmi, who took me in when I didn’t have a place to stay, who prayed for me, who always reminded me that I never had to substitute anyone else’s dreams for my own.
I’m grateful for Kenya, my fellow dreamer, who always believed she would see me at the top, who calls me “superstar” when I feel Z-list at best.
I’m thankful for Toi, who introduced me to the works of bell hooks and Audre Lorde, who encouraged me to live on my own terms, to embrace womanism, to find God in myself/and love her fiercely.
I’m grateful for Courtney, my road dog, who coaxed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to be a woman of faith, a woman of purpose, to believe in the beauty of my dreams.
I’m thankful for Belinda, who showed me the meaning of forgiveness, dignity and faith, who has gone on so many journeys with me, who refused to let me languish in my failures.
I’m grateful for Toni Ann, my “beauty guru,” who made sure I was eating healthy on the road, who applauded my successes and encouraged me to find meaning in my setbacks.
I’m thankful for my Antioch University sisters – LaCoya, Brenna, Imani, Nancy, Jackie, Ceeairrah and Heather – who gave me permission to call myself a writer, who read my ramblings and found worth in them.
I’m grateful for so many people that I can’t name them all in one blog post – the pitfalls of being so dormant in my communication, I know. I know. I’m thankful for the friends who leave the solitary comment on my Facebook page, who pray for me, who encourage me, who sustain me, who text me to say, “I’m blessed by your friendship. I believe in you.”
Before I ever experienced true intimacy, I knew how such kinship would feel because it first caressed me through the pages of an African-American novel – whether it was Nel’s plaintive cry, “We was girls together!” or Pilate’s dying whisper, “I wish I’da knowed more people. I would of loved ‘em all.” Love can be scary and awkward for the solitary diva, but it is possible. My BFFs have shown me that. The Escape from Beckyville journey isn’t over. My travels will continue to provide the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends, but to also tend the flowers of my newly weeded garden with patience, grace and love.