My Summer Rewind: An Ode to Self-Care 2-“Keep it Real”

There is an almost 3,000-word essay, lodged in a folder on an external hard drive. Hell, the hard drive said essay resides is attached to this very computer. But this is an exercise, so it’s too early in the process to feel lazy and share from the archives to meet an intense quota I set for myself. It exists as part of the now-60,000-word novel version of #Summer98. I’ll make it available at some point, when I figure out what else I want to say to close it out and ultimately release it.

I often say Spotify’s system is a troll because there are way-too-many coincidences where it the streaming platform played a song to perfectly fit a scene, scenario, or feeling, often without the utterance of a word. Somehow, some way, Spotify always found the perfect song to play at the perfect time and it both humors and scares the fuck out of me. “Keep It Real,” by Jon B, Coco of SWV, and JAY-Z from the soundtrack to the 1998 film, Hav Plenty, was one of those moments on a June evening in 2018.

I left the exit ramp of LaGuardia Airport and merged onto the Grand Central Parkway, headed home after a long day at work, and a detour to the Bronx. My playlist #Summer98-a list of songs from the summer of 1998 I drew inspiration to write about-blared in my jeep and was quite-hip hop heavy. There was a large part of me that’d hoped Spotify would do its trick and play a song to summate how I’d felt in the present moment. The sun had begun to set in my rearview mirror as I headed east, and I needed the universe to both compliment and parallel the end of a chapter as two people headed on journeys in separate directions.

A few weeks earlier, Fly Light Skin drove all of her belongings and moved. She’d come back to gather the rest of what she owned and call another place home.

A few months earlier, she informed me about her move, and we’d met up a few times after. One evening, she called and asked me to help her wrap up her dressers and drawers too large and heavy to do on her own. Before we began the work, I picked her up, we ran a few errands and went ate at one of the many places we’d frequently dined during the summer and fall of 2015, something we used to do almost every weekend for about eight months.

On the ride back to her apartment, I made a joke about how impressed I was with myself because I still knew my way around this area of the Bronx. Fly Light Skin then chimed in “make a right here and then get on the Hutch[inson Parkway].”

I quipped “How did I not know about this?!”

“I learned it from you” FLS replied.

This evening was the last time I set foot in Fly Light Skin’s apartment. Between the winter of 2016 and her departure, I’d seen her a few times; but this felt different. We were years removed from when we first met, and each time felt as if it was a nod to how much time we once spent around one another.

We bumped into each other on numerous occasions as we wrapped furniture. To lighten the tension, I addressed the Freudian-like occurrences with a joke: we keep bumping into each other to break the touch barrier. FLS laughed. It was for the sake of folly; but I think there was truth. Nothing else happened and we continued with the furniture as Migos played from her phone.

A week before her flight, I reached out to FLS and asked about one last meet-up. I won’t write about it yet, my playlist has another song on it and I’ve already planned how I’d like to write about it.

The last ride from the Bronx to LaGuardia airport was mostly silent. I felt as if I too was saying goodbye to her old neighborhood. I’m not from the Bronx, I don’t know anyone else who lives in the area, and only knew it very well because of Fly Light Skin. There was a little dialogue and a few jokes and laughs sprinkled in; but for once, neither one of us had anything to say until we got closer to our second-to-final destination of the evening.

After we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, I started to feel sad. Even if we hadn’t seen each other but a couple of times a year, FLS was no longer a thirty-five-minute drive away. I have a complicated relationship with closure and part of the reason I felt sentimental was because for once, I had it. To do so, on my own-and not fate’s-terms, was an exercise in self-care; something else I can say I have a complicated relationship with. I didn’t realize the last sentence until I wrote it.

I called one of my best friends, Kofi to talk some shit out and of course, he was right there to listen.

Kofi explained why I needed this moment. In his West Memphis, Arkansas drawl (he would correct me if I said “Memphis”), my friend who’d known in explicit detail about every relationship since 2006 when I told him “I’m starting to date this girl, Timile” in college kept it very real. His outside-in perspective, based on what I’d told him, was FLS and I really liked each other but we kept walls up, and never expressed how we felt to the other.

Kofi was right. I must have liked Fly Light Skin quite a bit if I drove the distance and paid a toll to cross a bridge-twice-to see her. I did have and kept a wall up. When she said “we shouldn’t date and be friends,” I took her words for face value and didn’t try hard. Well, I did try hard; but I didn’t lead with words and let my actions act as a compliment or reassurance. I’m certain it frustrated the fuck out of her.

Whenever Fly Light Skin wasn’t paying attention, I checked her out. She used to do the same thing; but she would sometimes do so with intent. She told me how she felt in an indirect fashion, a la “I learned it from you,” or a compliment to show how much attention to detail she paid to things I’d said and done. It wasn’t until later in life-like a few months ago-I learned such actions and compliments are a woman’s way to blatantly tell a man she’s interested and “shooting her shot.” I feel bad her feelings were a casualty of my naivete and cynicism.

Even though we only talked and dated for about six weeks out of the eight months we spent around each other, my time with Fly Light Skin was the closest experience I had to a healthy relationship since Timile died in 2011. We had a couple of arguments and got on each other’s nerves; but she was always good company; something I’ve said is truly what we seek and hold dearly in lifelong commitment. Neither of us were ready. However, I’d like to think the role we played in each other’s life was a break in the monotony and times that always felt as if they were worth it.

Fly Light Skin and I have spoken once on the phone since she moved. We’ve texted a few times and interacted with each other through social media. Our paths have completely diverged and to see each other on Instagram is more than enough to keep tabs on one another. She met someone in her new home state and seems to be very happy and in love. I’m happy for her and glad we crossed paths when we did.

On another note, in the mid and late-nineties, JAY-Z was the king of cameos on r&b records. There’s the Jon B records I’ve now written over 4,000 words to, “So Many Ways” by the Braxtons, “Things We Do For Love” by Horace Grant, “All of My Days” by Changing Faces and R. Kelly, “You’re the One (Remix” by SWV, “Call Me” by Blackstreet, and “We Ride” alongside R. Kelly, N.O.R.E., and Cam’Ron.

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