As my 40th year approaches, I look into the mirror and see how I’ve aged. I’m balding. But to cover that up I keep my head shaved. I have three new gray hairs on my chin. But I wear these with pride like a Boy’s Scout badge of honor. At times I forget my age.
I forget that I’m old enough to have a child that can vote. I forget that I’m old enough to be a grandparent. I forget all these things and more until I see my former classmates from high school posting pictures of their children and grandchildren on social media.
Where has my life gone?
I’m single. I’m a black male. I wasn’t designed to be married. It wasn’t in the cards to have children. Singlehood is in my cards–this is something I used to fight, but now I’m quite comfortable with it. I can’t imagine now, at 40, opening myself up to not being selfish and not thinking of myself first. Knowing that makes me a better person I feel. I’m constantly thinking of my previous struggles and can’t imagine if they were to pop up again in my life and if I had to feed another mouth or support a spouse. I don’t know how people do it. To me, it would cause an ounce more of stress at the end of the day knowing others depended on me.
I came into this world on January 20, 1977, the same day Jimmy Carter was inaugurated; and 40 years later, I’m given Donald Trump as a wonderful gift. I’ve been asking myself is this gift symbolic for what’s to come for the next 40 years in my life? I surely hope not as the previous 40 didn’t come easy, though I’ve been amazing at covering up the hurdles and making things look flawless.
I’m beginning to question the ultimate definition of success. And, to me, it’s coming up with individual goals and fulfilling them. Last year, I wanted to come up with a list of 40 items to complete before I turned 40. Quickly my friends and some family became skeptical. They told me that the list was something people wanted to accomplish in a lifetime–not one year before their 40th. I agreed. I put the list away and never looked at it again. But one thing stuck on my mind–I wanted to buy property. And I wanted to purchase it before my 40th.
One thing I learned during this timeframe was to keep individuals out of my personal business–where and how I wanted to spend my money was my decision. I didn’t need to seek approval. If I wanted to purchase property, the the property type or the location, too, was no one else’s decision nor should I seek approval from folks when they aren’t contributing financially to my goal or emotionally to my well being.
I accomplished that. I purchased. December 2016, one month before my 40th, I closed on a 3 bedroom condo–and the best thing about it is I purchased it in cash–zero debt. It feels good to have something like this and have zero debt toward it. This is what makes me feel accomplished–having zero debt, for starters; and working hard to save up the money to be able to do this.
But again, I ask where has my life gone? I don’t feel old and many say I look young for my age.
There are days when I think of when I initially moved from West Virginia to New York, summer of 2000–where I planned to stay with a friend, not knowing her house was a 24/7 drug delivery hub. I think about how my mother became extremely ill during this time period and I felt like I had nothing left to live for; and what made it worse was when I experienced the events of 9/11 and the aftermath of it—finding someone to confide in, to bond with, to discuss experiences of how I had to also walk through rubble of Ground Zero for 6 months after the fall of the towers, simply to get to work. I was young. I was in my early 20s and at times, I didn’t know if I would live until the next day.
I’m also reminded of the $30,000 of credit card fraud that happened against me–which ultimately framed my 20’s and 30’s. And, I’m also constantly reminded, and many times, bitter like a blackberry for a few minutes of how when my mother was sick, I felt like my confidant, the person who would have believed and helped me–could not; and all of the others I would have sought advice from never helped and believed I committed the $30k of debt myself. And, for that, I grew up. I had no safe haven.
When your safe haven is no longer safe, you must create a new one. Even if it’s a new family.
I was in my 20’s, living in New York, working from 9am-5pm at one job; and 7pm-3am at my second job, and barely making $35k a year. Luxuries didn’t exist. Life was simply complex. Life was lonely. Life was a struggle and I was forced to grow up and depend on myself to prove I was successful and I could do it. I sacrificed my happiness for many years just to prove I could be successful. But I was working to live–that’s not what life is about. Struggles are necessary; struggles are real and individual; but one should not have to struggle just to live.
But things got better for a while.
By the time I turned 30, I published my first book and I was able to quit my job and went on tour, speaking at colleges and touring with my books. And, again, while I was finally happy and fulfilling my dream as an author and public speaker, life got difficult again. Close relatives, individuals who are kin, but not raised with me–chose to misinterpret my art, my writings and send horrifying emails and phone calls to the venues, colleges and universities with defamatory and slanderous information for no reason at all except to cancel my book tours. I kept all those emails (written from their government email accounts) and had to threaten each of them. I kept them, printed them as a reminder to trust few. What they did was unacceptable and unforgivable. After all, how many young black men can say they were able to support themselves with their art? My dreams were being destroyed. And again, I had no one close to me to assist with these hurdles.
That was okay. I learned.
I learned that people try to destroy when they can not build. When this occurs, people are eager to attack you, rather than discuss. I also learned that family is not family; and family is not always a safe haven.
I never liked New York. But I was meant to be there. I was meant to experience life to ensure I would not be a naive adult.
It was meant for me to experience 9/11; it was meant for me to be robbed a few times; held at knife point; jobless; friendless; and a victim of fraud. It was meant for me to have roommates when I couldn’t afford my rent; it was meant for me to have my electricity turned off a few times. It was also meant for me to never tell anyone when I was hurting and struggling. All of these were in the cards for me and allowed me to be me. And it allowed me to learn.