Saturday, June 4, 2011

Losing My Cool - Glimmers of hope for Thomas

Slowly, and in very limited amounts, Thomas begins to raise his head above the disasterous culture he so desperately wants to be a part of and sees glimpses of another life. Thomas spends several weeks sick with infections leading to asthmatic attacks. Separated from his few black friends at Georgetown at this time he befriends a couple of "white" dormmates (to him, everyone not black is white, regardless of actual race).

He begins to be exposed to music, food, entertainment, and language previously unknown. One particularly humiliating experience occurs when his new friend "Playboy" asks him to pick up a baguette from a ritzy food market. Thinking "baguette" is French for "little bag" he brings a little bag. When Playboy realizes that Thomas doesn't know what a baguette is, the split-second look of pity/confusion/understanding pierces Thomas' soul and he must decide. Revert to the carefully crafted 'hood persona and rage about useless knowledge of types of bread, or realize that the tiny world created by he and his friends in which bread or any other fine food is never discussed has left him stilted and shallow. He suddenly sees that in trying so hard to be genuinely black, he has missed out on huge portions of life that white people enjoy every day.

He becomes excommunicated from his black community at Georgetown for questioning the hierarchy, the rigid caste system of "coolness", and moving in circles outside the group. He decides he no longer wants to sit at the "colored table" at lunch. He returns home for the summer to place no longer holding the attraction it once had. He is stunned at the life he once lived and the friends who still live it. They lived stuck in permanent adolescence.

Returning to school, he realizes, "An appearance cryogenically frozen at age fifteen can be appealing for so many reasons, none more powerful thant he fact that abusing sex, reeking of ignorance, using drugs, fighting, and flunking all appear more appropriate when - regardless of numerical age - you look like something less than a adult. I decided to I was ready now to take responsibility as a man for my appearance." This change, wearing size 26 ranther than size 36 pants, eschewing the "pajamas" as he called the ubiquitous sweat suit, and lacing up his shoes, led to startling revision of himself and the way others treated him.

In Thomas, I am starting to see glimmers of hope that he can become a full-fledged version of the man he was born to be. But, even by his own reckoning, his circumstances are so rare and the pull of black authenticity so strong, I don't know if there is hope for too many others.

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