Neo, I been watching your career grow and grow. Twenty years ago both of us was much younger when I had it in my head that I knew everything about men. I remember like it was yesterday when you started your first paper and would show up at the salon in a tie with your camera and how excited all of us was to see ourself in the ads you made. Everybody couldn’t stop talking about how smart you was. Most of the girls was scared to approach you but I saw a chance to get you for myself.
When you had your open house, I couldn’t believe how many people showed up. Two floors and a balcony got filled up with people standing outside on the street who couldn’t get in. I sat up in that balcony through the whole program and watched you get introduce after everybody else twice our age. I have to admit the words you use was way over my head but I remember you spoke about us as black people and the hope you had for us with the things you was doing. When you got done all I could see was the whole place on their feet clapping so hard. I knew I wanted you because I felt like you was going somewhere.
I finally got my date after flirting with you every time you came in the salon. I still remember everything you cooked. I never had a man cook for me before. I never had any man treat me with that kind of respect before. I got it in my mind that I wasn’t going to do anything to mess up getting with you. I made a point to be interested in anything you was doing because I knew it was the best way to keep any other females away from you.
You used to tell me how hard it was to get a black woman to stand by you and I just knew I was the one. But all the stuff I thought I was going to be, you didn’t need. You didn’t need me to cook. You didn’t need me to clean. You didn’t need me to stroke your ego. You didn’t need me to sex away your frustration. I mean I was lost because you wanted my company. You wanted to know me. I didn’t even really know me.
I remember laying with my head on your chest listening to you talk about your dreams and you had it all straight in your head about what you wanted to do and how much you was going to just let God tell you when the right time was going to be for what. And then you asked me what I wanted and I just said to be with you and you told me that wasn’t good enough. You told me I needed to be my own person so I wouldn’t get lost in your dreams and be strong enough to stand beside you equal.
I didn’t understand you because I knew I was never going to be as smart as you. I thought you was rejecting me. So I did what I learned from women in my family. I tried to smooth it out trying sexing you and you got mad and kicked me out. I never had a man turn me down like that. I drove home and cried to my girlfriend, my mamma, my auntie and anybody who listen.
Everybody told me I better find a way to keep you no matter what I had to fake like I understand. So I came back and said I was sorry and I thought that was going to smooth it over. You asked me what I was sorry for? I didn’t understand so I just said, for what I did. Then you looked at me and ask me if I really know what I did and if I did then I should be able to tell you why I was sorry and what I learned.
You really messed me up with that so I cussed you out and left. I thought you was putting me down.
That was 20 years ago. It took me the past couple of years reading your stuff for me to finally wake up and see what you was trying to tell me back then. Every man I tried my bag of tricks on after you never turned me down. They just took and then turned me loose or left me for somebody else.
I didn’t start to find me until I went back to all our talks when you challenge me to be my own woman. I understand now that you was on your way to doing something big and you was going to need somebody strong enough to stand next to you and not behind you or just under you with her legs open.
I wasn’t ready to be that woman back then. I know I am not ready to be her even now. But I want to thank you for the woman I am becoming because I had the chance to know you back then and how different you was not like the other men. I never got the chance to say I am sorry for cussing you out and for any hurt I made you feel because I know I am at least one of them black women you wrote about who did you wrong but I really didn’t mean it. I just didn’t understand.
You are a special man Neo. I was scared to talk about you to anybody because I didn’t want to explain what I did to hurt you. But I read so much on your web and your books where I know you forgive those things but I didn’t want to assume that include me. I thought I was grown back then. I was wrong. Im stil growing and Im glad to see you where you at. I know sometimes you share when somebody write you. If it can help somebody not make the mistake I made, please go ahead and share my letter.
I hope you can forgive me.
(name removed for privacy)
Whatever pain you may have caused was turned over to God many many years ago. What I truly feel at this moment is joy that you have found yourself. You were not the first nor the last to get upset over the challenges that come with getting to personally know me. What I recall most about your spirit is that even though your methods came across as shallow, there was a deep part of you that really believed that was how a woman needed to try to keep a man. I am sure my ways totally confused you.
You were the first black woman in my adult life to make an honest effort to even try to understand and get with me without trying to change me. That is something I have always honoured you in my heart for these 20 years now. You helped me to know that it was possible to be the black man that I am and still be loved by a black woman. I never looked at what you did as rejection- just misunderstanding.
I realize how different I was back then to everything you were used to from a man. Ironically I am told the same thing today although I don’t get cussed out nearly as much. Who I am is because mama, daddy, granddaddy, grandmama and all their kin marched and put their lives on the line for my freedom. It’s going to take a while before black men like me don’t come across as so strange or unique. And that is why I do what I do without apology- to make the road clear for those next bruthas to carry on after me.
I know it took a lot for you to write me and I am thankful. All I can say is that we were young and there is really nothing I feel needs forgiving but if you need to hear me say it, then yes, I forgive you. If anything, your letter is a spark of hope that there may yet be someone who can pull it together in time to walk the rest of this journey beside me on her own two feet; not on her back or being dragged from behind me, while there is yet life to be enjoyed together.
I rejoice in your liberation.