A Dream Deferred

I wrote this blog for the high schooler in St. Louis and the young lady on the brink of her college graduation who hit me on my work e-mail to ask how she could get to where I am. I’m humbled that anyone could look up to me and I take that responsibility (because that’s what it is, really) so seriously. Thank you for reading.

I got a call today from an old college associate. I haven't heard from him in 7 years, at least. He found my work number on an email many weeks ago and so he decided to call for a chat. Far and long ago in the Old Country, he'd extended a few courtesies to me-- the driveway in his off-campus apartment when the lot was full and I needed to park my car and a few waves into the VIP section when he was a promoter of note and I was just one of many wide-thigh southern girls on the less prestigious side of the velvet rope. I don't forget people who look out, even if it's in the smallest of ways. Anyway, we had a 20 minute conversation and at the end of it, I was baffled as to why exactly he'd called and made me promise to stay in touch via email and cell.

He told me he hated NYC. (He's from here.) He made a point to tell me that he works at an advertising firm that's #1 in the country and he's the #3 person there. He wants to move back to DC because there, his name rings out. It’s like Norm on Cheers when he walks into room, everyone is excited to see him. I had to remind him that he only gets that reception because he doesn’t live there. I feel the same way when I go home. Everyone drops all their plans when I come in town to hang out. When I was having difficulty trying to make my way in New York I debated moving home because I got so much love there. Tariq pointed out that was only because I was visiting. I thought he was wrong until I went home three weekends in a row and by the third weekend, everyone was like “oh, hey. D’s here… again. Sorry, I got plans.” The old associate told me that the information I’d just given him was like telling a kid there was no Santa.

He then reminisced about the good old days. When he, in his estimation, was the man to know. He told me in detail about a fellow alum and so-called journalist who made a nationally infamous name of himself by fabricating stories and how he was the one to help him get his start in college by getting him news and putting him in contact with sources. Allegedly, dude used to beg him for contacts because he was so popular. (I don’t recall this, but perhaps I was out of the loop.) Then he told me of all the contacts he had now, of all his clients, and how because he knew me, he’d be willing to extend them because I was always a cool chick. (Evidently, I am poor and pitiful and contact-less and cannot do this on my own.) He rattled off a list of names, many that I know because I know the people personally. They come to my annual house party or I party with them on a regular basis. One of those people he name dropped with pride, I take the B train to work with most mornings (I swear, I have to write the Social Hour on the B train blog, Every morning it’s like going to an industry event.) He told me that the guy we had in common was a good dude. Funny, I—and everyone else I know who knows him— complain about what an asshole he is. (Very industry. Only becomes friendly when you drop your title and professional affiliation.)

He reminisced about freshman year, told me that I was a pretty girl prone to fucking myself over by the way I dressed and wore my hair. He always thought I could be so much more if I would just be pretty and not “try so hard to be different.” People would kill for my hair and my body, he said. So why did I try so hard to detract from my beauty? I told him that many seem not to find a problem with my look. For better or worse, I only pull businessmen, lawyers and IBs, which I am not complaining about. I can’t get an “artist” to save my life. Then he offered to take me on a tour of his job, which he spoke of like it was The Chocolate Factory— not R. Kelly’s, but Willy Wonka’s. He asked if my look would be appropriate for such a monumental event as walking through the production room of his place of business. I informed him that I currently have a mohawk, to which he responded, “ugh!”

He concluded by telling me what he could do for me, if ever I was just to ask. All the right contacts, all the right people, the world could be at my feet, if only I would cross the threshold into his friendship. I am aWire fanatic and hang on every phrase. I remember a scene from Season 4 when Norm, the political advisor, cautions could-be Mayor Carcetti not to make an enemy. He said (something like): “A man does not burn a bridge unless he can walk on water. It’s an old Ashanti proverb.” (He was speaking of the African tribe, not the singer.) I thought of that and held my tongue to keep from blurting out, “dude, I work at XXXX. There are very few people who won’t take my calls or make nice with me.” Instead, I thanked him for the offer and gave a promise that if I was ever in need, I would indeed hit him up. I have an ego, yes, but you never know who you might need and when. I got to where I am—and I’ll get to wherever I go—by remembering that.

When the conversation about then and when ended, I was baffled. “When I used to” and “When I get to” are not places I think about all that often. I think about tomorrow, maybe a week or two in advance, and I plan each day thinking of what I can do to get me to chilling in a Miami condo overlooking the Atlantic when I’m 80 (just one of the homes I’m grinding to eventually get. There’s also one in Paris on the eventual horizon.) Mostly, I think about now. I am happy where I am, I am taking concrete steps to get to the next stop and then the mountain top (I have a dream dammit!) but reminiscing on the glory days that have past, just isn’t something I do. I’ve had a great life, but I firmly believe the best days are right now, and whatever comes with the next rising of the sun. Every now again, I think, “damn, that was great!” and as soon as I think that, I wonder what I can do to top it and make moves to do that.

I felt sorry for dude at the end of that call. His surface conversation came from his perceived superiority and his great place in life, but it was overshadowed by his sense of failure. I call it failure because that’s what life is when your best days are behind you or in a distant future that you are not working toward.

When I was miserable in DC at the tender age of 22, I thought I’d fucked up my life by leaving New York. (I’m so dramatic. Can you even fuck up your life at 22 short of going to jail on a life sentence?) I was complaining to a good friend, Mazi, about my best days passing and how miserable I was currently—- at my job and in my life. He told me that I had a choice, whether I knew it or not. Every morning, I chose to stay in DC, to get up and go to a job I hated, stay for 8 hours, and go home. If I wanted to, I could get on a bus, go to New York and never ever come back. If NYC was where I wanted to be, I should just go, if that’s what would make me happy. Happiness, he said, was a decision, not a dream.

I took a lot of paths that scared me. Didn’t always make the safe choice, didn’t do what everyone who wanted me to be safe and warm wanted. I leapt, although that’s not what I ever really think of myself as doing. But anyone who grows up in DC will tell you, leaving is a leap. I never gave up on my dream. Sometimes I wonder if it will all be worth it in the end. If I should have ignored Susan Taylor’s advice (“Make your own path. You’ll get lost following someone else’s road map.”) If I should have chosen a big salary over my passion. If I should have stayed in DC and followed in my Dad’s footsteps. If I should have married my ex. If I should bare myself for all ten thousand(!) of you in these posts…

I talked to this dude for a third of an hour and I know for certain that I made/am making the right decision. There is no one more miserable then someone with a dream, who chooses to defer it.