Yesterday was my birthday. Usually I’m all about waking up, tossing off my blankets and dancing on my bed to Uncle Luke’s “It’s Your Birthday” like a washed up go-go dancer, sans the boots and the pum-pum shorts. (Surely, my daughter would inject a heavy sigh of relief about that part.) This year I wasn’t feeling too festive, though. I’m reeling from a heartbreaking split with my now-former boyfriend of two and a half years, so my attitude is, in a nutshell, eff a mickey flickey birthday. And Uncle Luke, too.
Sorry Unc. Nothing personal.
Despite wallowing in a cloud of downtrodden funkiness — and being on a fairly successful diet — I treated myself to Chick-Fil-A. I went hard, even getting a 2 million calorie milkshake, and trudged back to the pile of unfinished work waiting for me at my desk with my taste buds happier than any other part of my person. A few minutes after I plopped back down, one of my friends called.
“Hey birthday girl, I’m taking you out for lunch!” she sang, all chipper. And all late and wrong, I might add. I told her as much. The Chick-Fil-A was still happily lingering on my palate and even I, the sumo wrestler of overeating, was too full for another round of lunching.
She sucked her teeth and huffed into the receiver. “Why would you do that?” she scolded. “You never, ever give folks a chance to do things for you. You haul off and take all the fun out of it. Every time.”
What you won’t do, I teased, is call up here chastising me on my born day. It was either be still and starve — and deprive myself of all of the Chick-Fil-A goodness that awaited me — or sit in anticipation of some far-flung invitation that might not have shown up. If it comes down to relying on other people or myself, even in matters as small as birthday lunches, I choose myself.
She’s right, though. I was not raised to be an asker or a wait around-er. I grew up under the auspices of a single mother who is, to this day, fiercely independent. If something needs to be fixed around the house, she fixes it, only calling on a professional in the direst of circumstances. Doesn’t matter what it is. Ratched plumbing, flat tires, broken screen doors. That orange tool box comes out of the hallway closet and I see my mama crouched down, making it work with the engineering of her own hands, the help of a monkey wrench and the spirit of sheer determination. I can only thank sweet baby Jesus that she decided to call Home Depot this past weekend to replace the shingles on her roof, which I have no doubt came after much deliberation and inspection on her part.
Mommy is the mistress of do-it-yourself, and she taught me not to build sandcastle dreams on the arrival of a man who, according to the fantasies of helpless damsels, is supposed to take care of heavy duty or unsavory tasks around the house. He might never show up or, if he does, sometimes he’s too flawed to properly perform his function. And then what? Let the trash pile up? Let that dripping sink keep dripping? Let the unshoveled snow on the sidewalk morph into an icy pathway of doom? Rather than be a victim of unwarranted hopefulness or socially imposed gender roles, my mom’s mantra is learn how to do everything yourself. That way, if he shows up, you know how to do for self. And if he doesn’t show up, you still know how to do for self.
So I’ve been doing for self for the almost 10 years I’ve been out on my own and, judging by the recent meltdown in the romantic part of my life, I’m gonna keep on keepin’ on, too. My rabid self-sufficiency isn’t limited to just men. I would rather hustle my blood plasma and fertile eggs than ask a friend to borrow money. Ever. The thought of it, even just in writing about it, makes me feel flushed. I went through the hellfires of a personal recession a few years ago after I lost my job and Congress put the kibosh on unemployment benefits for what seemed like for-freaking-ever, which meant I had zero income. Yet I could not bring myself to ask for help. No one knew how badly I was going through: not my mama, not my friends, not even my own child. I was too prideful and too independent to allow myself to be helped — even when my prideful, independent tail was facing an imminent eviction — which made me an island in a sea of potential resources.
The same problem also presented itself whenever The Man offered to help me pay a bill or front the money for something. I was adamantly, vehemently, bullheadedly against accepting any assistance. I didn’t want the cloud of I-did-such-and-such-for-you to hang over my head and I didn’t want to feel like I owed him anything. And I certainly didn’t want to feel like I was betraying the independence that I am so proud of, that is the calling card of us Harris women. As a result, he stopped asking if he could help me and, in some way I guess, felt less like we were a team and more like I was determined to be a one-woman show. In retrospect, he probably figured I could do bad all by myself, which I’m sure didn’t help his man ego (though that’s not directly why we parted ways).
I don’t blame my mom for raising me to be too independent. I’m not even sure if there is such a thing, especially for a Black woman in our generation. My own life experience has taught me that I do need to learn when to wield that do-for-self spirit and when to fall back and let other folks help me. Just a little. I’m so deep in my I-don’t-need-nobody-ness that a complete 180 is an unforeseeable change and one that I’m really not even willing to make. Next year, I’ll take a baby step and let somebody take me out to lunch. Here’s to hoping the offer will even be on the table.