E. Lynn Harris...again
I'm currently reading the second novel in the Raymond Tyler series that began with Invisible Life. I remember a friend of mine giving it to me to read back in the Summer of 1997. It blew my mind. Every Black man I knew was gay according to that book or leading a secret, double life. I trusted no one. It was funny and it was sad, but it also did Black woman a favor. It opened our eyes and gave Black men going through this "invisible life" a platform to speak about it to those that were important to them.
My friend also handed me the second book in the series, "Just As I am" , but for some reason, I never finished it. I couldn't figure out why. But as I perusing the book store several weeks ago looking for subway train reading material, I saw Harris's book and bought it, trying to remember why I put it down in the first place. It was considered a better read than Invisible Life.
As I began to pour through the pages, I became familiar with main characters once more. Nicole Springer and Raymond Tyler, once in love but broken apart by Raymond's bisexuality. Throughout the book Raymond's character is described as handsome, smart, with a baritone voice that melted anyone who heard it. All of sudden I found myself back on my former college campus. All the characters in the book were people I personally knew. On my way to work, I slammed the book into my carrying bag and subconsciously vowed not to open it again. It was hitting far too close to home for me. I was worked up. Why?
I knew a Raymond back in school. I don't know if he was bisexual or not, but the pain he caused me mimicked the one Nicole the character in the book felt.I loved him so much, I know he knew, but whatever his reasons were, he did not feel the same. I never accepted that fact. How could he like me enough to be my friend but not see all the wonderful things in me to love me romantically? From that time until now, I literally stopped putting any effort in my appearance the day I realized we would never be. My confidence and self-esteem had never recovered. I would never be pretty enough, light enough or good enough for him. I really believed that. I knew deep down inside that he couldn't help how he felt, that it was not a reflection on me and that I couldn't fault him for it, but I did. I was so angry and defensive. Part of me still is. And just after years and years Nicole didn't get over it, neither did I. I also related to the pain and relationship Nicole had with her fairer skin mother. The words were all too real for me and I couldn't deal with it, I realized at that moment why so many years ago, I put the book down. Homosexuality, bi-sexuality, the reality of down-low brothers, skin color issues, interracial dating- these are all hot button issues that many people in the Black community have a hard time dealing with and talking about and that includes me.
Now, almost 14 years later, unlike the characters in the book, I'm still in the same place. As weird as it sounds, I'm determined to finish the book so that I can get on with my life. And I hope that E. Lynn Harris has the characters I so closely identify with do the same. I'm ready to get over my "Raymond", I'm ready to love my "Kyle" completely and I'm ready to accept the beauty of my ebony skin regardless of others and forgive those who were cruel to me because of it. I'm ready to accept my mother's relationship for who she is and move forward. Well, maybe. But more importantly, I'm ready to face the truth. Because that is what E. Lynn Harris's books specialized in. Not letting us hide behind what we are ashamed of and don't want to feel, but be truthful and proud of who we are.
I'm sorry I never got to finish his book and I'm sorry I never saw him the several times he spoke at my school because I'll never get the chance to thank him. I've been hiding my feelings for so long beacause I was embarrased by them. But it's time to come clean. Finally.