Help Yourself: Part One

I’ve decided to start this new thing where I don’t talk shit about all my friends. It’s a New Year’s Resolution! It’s February 9th. It’s a Chinese New Year’s Resolution! It’s part of my grand plan to get people to like me more in 2008. It’s 2009, asshole. I’m on C.P. Time! The other phases of my grand plan include: stop throwing parties where I insist that everyone take off their pants, reduce my use of the phrase “awkward faggot” by 35% especially when directly addressing people (i.e., “I like your jeans. They make you look like less of an awkward faggot.”), Oprah, and joining a gym. The last item is also part of my grand plan to make people want to make out with me.

I do think, however, I should stop talking so much shit about the people I like. It’s not bad shit, per se. Just me being frank. And nobody likes Frank. (He has halitosis.) (I’m sorry, Frank. But it’s true.) I can’t help myself. The older I get the less I’m able to keep myself from saying things that I consider to be blatantly obvious. You have a drinking problem; you are an awkward faggot; your boyfriend doesn’t like you; that shirt doesn’t match. But I love you! It’s a trait I’m picking up, I think, from Dr. T, who, as I recall, frequently gets herself into trouble for speaking her mind. When my father was made a deacon at out church, the wives of the deacons—the deaconesses—assumed Dr. T would be all Michelle Obama about it and become a deaconess, too. This entailed ladies lunches, home visits and working in the kitchen for church dinners. When they approached her, the story goes, she told them in no uncertain terms, “I couldn’t be less interested in joining your little club. Go find some other sucker.” Gosh, I love Dr. T. She really doesn’t have any room for bullshit and I’ve grown to love it. She’s not a bitch nor is she particularly pushy; she just says what she thinks.

About a year and a half ago Dr. T had a stroke. This was extremely scary for all of us, Dr. T included, mostly because strokes run in our family and we’ve watched a number of family members waste away as tiny parts of their brains atrophied. The concern-—mine and everyone else’s—-was that she was setting off on that same grim path. When called and told me the news I was in the middle of watching a YouTube video of Fantasia singing “I’m Here” from the musical “The Color Purple” on Oprah. I was already near hysterics when I answered the phone so you can imagine how well the conversation went. That video is like the Michael Phelps of making me cry.

This is a partial list of things that make me cry instantly:
The Color Purple
Montages (of anything. Show me a series of cupcakes with a sad song playing and I’m a mess)
Angel’s funeral in “Rent”
Kids crying
When the milk goes bad
The Hours
Other people’s success
Engagements (for pretty people)
The 7th glass of Sauvignon Blanc (please stop me at 6)
The last 50 seconds of this video

Just writing this list has me sobbing. I can’t even see the keyboard. I’m crying like in the movies, like shaking, snot coming out of my nose, doing that uncomfortable grunting thing. Like, unnhh, unnnnnnh. I’m like McIraqi on Grey’s Anatomy. My roommate, Lisa, just ran in and wrapped me in a big bear hug. Chandra Wilson is here too. Hugging. Apparently applying pressure to a person when he or she is going batshit crazy calms the central nervous system. Who knew? It also cures Ausperger’s Syndrome?
I have no idea what the hell they’re talking about on Grey’s Anatomy 68% of the time. I’m just staring at the TV waiting for a catastrophe or comic sexual interlude. A side note: Dear world, when did Grey’s Anatomy become The L Word? Please get back to me in writing by Wednesday.

Anyway, so Dr. T was in the hospital after her stroke. I came down to Baltimore and gathered at her bedside with my brothers and my father. “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” by Alicia Keys was playing quietly somewhere nearby. Dr. T launched into a speech about all the things the stroke made her realize, all that deep stuff about seizing the day and facing your mortality. She pulled a family photo album out from behind her pillow and began thumbing through pictures of all of us at happier times. The birth of my youngest brother, my graduation, that time we had the really good biscuits at Golden Corral. I nearly lost all control of my emotions. Fortunately, my dad intervened. “That’s enough of that, Dr. T,” he said. “You know how Eric is with montages.” She shrugged, put the album away and turned off the stereo she’d hidden under the bed. “Anyway, you people,” she said, “I realized I’ve spent the last 26 years worrying about you, trying to solve your problems and make the world right for you. And I can’t afford to do that anymore. For health reasons. So you’re on your own. You’re going to have to help yourselves.”

I looked at my brothers and they seemed not to share my particular panic. So I looked at Dr. T directly. “Lady, you have lost your mind. I am only 26 years old. There is no way I can possibly handle all the crazy that’s inside my head. Or get out of bed in the morning. Or solve my own problems. So, I’m going to give you a week to feel better and then I’m going to resume calling you sobbing because I can’t find matching socks. And we’re going to pretend this messy business never happened. Thanks. Now may I please have the rest of your hospital meal? My blood sugar is getting low and I’m feeling very cranky.”

But, despite my efforts at diplomacy, we found that our relationships with Dr. T did change after that. Slightly, barely perceptibly. She just wanted us to grow a pair. So, grow a pair I did. And now, these days, in an effort to be more independent and to make my own way in the world I find myself inheriting her “Tell It Like It Is” crown. And only crying in the bathrooms at work, as opposed to at staff meetings. Still, as I said, I feel the need to scale it back a little. Maybe not be such a blunt instrument. Because, really, a brilliant black teacher lady with a doctorate and a spotty medical history can basically say anything she wants. Me, not so much. When I say these things, though, I'm only doing it out of love. I want to help you. But my desire to help you like me and maybe return my calls supercedes my desire to help you. So, I’m resolving to say nicer things. Well, not necessarily nicer things. Just things that aren’t mean. Actually, mean things are okay as long as I say them in a nice way. About people I don’t hate. Sometimes. It’s all part of the grand plan. For you. Sometimes I’m so wonderful I can hardly stand myself.

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