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This Is Me... Now

A lot of things have changed since the 2020 BLM uprisings... including me.

By Jonathan ApolloPublished 23 days ago Updated 23 days ago 14 min read
Top Story - March 2024
31
All illustrations from Bing AI

Like many, witnessing the events leading up to and during the Black Lives Matter uprisings of 2020 changed me.

In the past, comments about other’s perceptions of my Blackness made me feel disconnected from other Black people. However, seeing the ever-growing list of names and faces of beautiful Black men, women, and children meeting horrific ends at the hands of police, neighborhood watchmen, and the occasional Karen, along with other injustices, forced me to not only take back my Blackness from those people but own it.

Today, I am louder and prouder than I have ever been. I come from a glorious land of Kings and Queens, people of power and grace. I know now that no one – not even other Black people – has the right to take an iota of my Blackness from me. This is my Black life... and it matters.

Still, for the longest time, I felt like a fraud, and not just because of the peanut gallery.

Earlier this year, I channeled the strength to share my story about what I experienced at my last job. In that post, I mentioned instances of what I believed were displays of white privilege, racial microaggressions, and outright racism. The trauma of that experience has yet to leave me, and I’m sure it will stick with me for some time. It was the worst job I’ve ever had (and I’ve worked in retail).

Part of the reason it took so long for me to make those thoughts public, admittedly, was fear – specifically, a fear of retribution. Some of my co-workers are notorious for their pettiness. While I have blocked as many as I could find on each of my social media pages, there was one who wasn’t blocked: My best friend.

Pagr break image taken from PNGTree

“I never thought I’d share these words with anyone…”

That line was one of many included in the initial draft of “Black, Out,” first written in August of 2023. The final draft which I shared earlier this year omitted that line and many others related to Cory*, my friend of more than 20 years.

We talked nearly every day – during work hours, off-work hours, and any other hour we had time for one another. It had been that way for as long as I could remember, but more so after I lost Momma. Cory wasn’t just my friend. He was my person, the one I could go to no matter what I was feeling or thinking, and feel safe in my vulnerability.

I loved Cory dearly, and I had since I first locked eyes on him at the NYC Port Authority in 2005 (we first met one another online three years earlier). He was tall, Southern, had wavy hair down past his shoulders, and blue-grey eyes that, I swear, he could change at will. He was the most beautiful human thing I had ever seen.

Unfortunately, he knew that, or rather, he knew how I felt for him.

All of the details of his first visit aren’t necessary to retell, save for one specific event. That moment will come up soon, but I lay this groundwork now for good reason. Our final bow as friends would channel back to that event.

The first red flag rose in late 2020. As the Color Panorama began its course of world domination, Cory started working for an online food delivery app. He would often call me during his shifts to keep him company, or just complain about his work day. During one of these shifts, he accepted an order for a customer while I was on the line.

After making the delivery, he received a notification on his phone that the customer had requested a refund. I could hear him grumbling as he climbed back into his car – depending on the complaint, refunds could either come from the app or the driver’s pockets. In this case, it was the latter.

As I tried to calm him, he re-read the complaint and stated the customer’s name; one that painted a very clear photo in my mind.

“Oh, they were Black,” I realized, wrongly assuming he had been dealing with a Karen.

Without so much as a breath, Cory responded in anger, “Of course they were Black!”

I immediately laughed – partially out of confusion – and waited for him to join in. He never did. For nearly a minute, he said nothing at all. When he did speak again, his voice quivered with emotion.

“I’m sorry, I need to go,” he said hurriedly before hanging up.

It took at least another minute for my brain to catch up to what just occurred. There was no way he meant that in that way. He was just frustrated and said something without thinking, right? Cory would never say, think, or feel like that. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. No way.

About ten minutes later, Cory called back.

“Sorry about that,” he expressed with his usual charm and emotional clarity. “I just needed a moment.”

He attempted to move forward. I wasn’t there yet.

“Did you mean that,” I asked.

“Mean what?”

“Cory… did you mean that?”

There was more silence (other than his car driving down the highway).

“I did,” he eventually answered. “And it scared me. That’s why I hung up. I’m sorry.”

It was my turn to be silent for a while.

“Cory, I need to go,” I said after a few moments. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. I hung up.

I avoided Cory for a few days after that. I didn’t know what to say to him. I didn’t know what to say to myself.

When I realized what I wanted to say to him, I reached out. I needed to hear why he said what he did.

After a long breath, he started.

“Do you know how I always joke that I might be a bit racist?”

Cory had this habit of starting his hot takes with the line, “I’m going to say something controversial,” or occasionally, “I’m going to say something racist.”

For the record, it was never anything overtly controversial or racist – maybe stereotypical, at best, but never racist. Perhaps that should’ve been my first warning, but as someone rather opinionated, I felt I had no right to judge anyone.

“Well,” he continued, “I might genuinely be a bit racist.”

He then shared a story about his past that I had heard many times. Out of respect (and karma), I won’t share many details here other than it involved Black people and an act of violence. Ironically, it was another Black person who came to his aid following that traumatic event – but the event itself rebooted a mindset he believed he left behind in the Sundown Town he once grew up in.

As he shared this tale with me again, I couldn’t help but think of all of the Black people he claimed to befriend since then: the Black drag queen who lived with him for a time, the Black co-worker from Dunkin’ Donuts, the Black fiancé of one of his closest friends. And then, of course, me.

Was he a “bit racist” when it came to all of us? Was he a “bit racist” when he hopped on a Greyhound Bus to NYC to visit me 15 years ago? Was he a “bit racist” when he met my mom (who adored him almost as quickly as I did)? Was he “a bit racist” when…

No. God, no.

I had to ask. I didn’t want to, but I had to.

“Is that why you lied to me when I tried to have sex with you?”

“No,” he shouted almost immediately. “I swear that had nothing to do with it.”

After a fun, drunken night with friends during his 2005 visit to NYC, Cory and I returned to my place, climbed into bed, and… well, things went on from there, except they didn’t. Midway through making out, he moved my hand away from his body, gave me one more peck, then turned around and went to sleep. I did the same.

When I brought it up to him after he returned home, he claimed that he was “too drunk” to remember anything from that night – including that event. I felt guilty for years, believing I had crossed a line with someone who could not consent.

Over time, Cory would admit he wasn’t as drunk as he claimed to be and remembered everything. In reality, he chose not to take things further because he wasn’t as into me as I was into him. He had only come to NYC as a way to make another dude jealous and distract himself from heartbreak.

Maybe that should've been the first red flag, but I digress.

As you might guess, it was tough to believe his denial about that night or anything else he was saying. It’s not easy to stun me to silence – case in point: you're about 1500 words into this post – but he managed to do it. I didn’t know what to say. I was hurt and confused. I felt betrayed. Had I been friends, all of this time, with someone who felt this way about people who looked like me?

“Can we get past this,” Cory asked, breaking me from my silence.

It took a moment for me to respond: “I don’t know.”

I still didn’t know a month later when Cory called me and told me how much he missed me, and how sorry he was.

I still didn’t know when he vowed to change and “grow,” with the first sign of that “growth” being a crush on a Black dude he just met.

I still didn’t know when he broke his promise to fly up to NYC after Momma died to help me through the loss.

I still didn’t know when I passed his resume to my supervisor to get him out of the delivery app, and he was quickly promoted to a position he wasn’t qualified for.

Worst of all, I still didn’t know when I allowed Cory to come up for a visit early last year, and he used me once again to get over a different boy who had broken his heart.

The only change this time around was he wasn’t drunk when we got in bed together… and this time, he didn’t say no. I wish I had, though.

After his last visit, the cracks in our friendship that we – or maybe just I – had done so much to patch up and seal throughout the years began to show up and show out. We argued a lot more than we ever had before over what I saw as habitual disrespect. We would go days without speaking to one another, other than at work (until I quit last October). We were becoming different people… or rather, I felt like I was.

This realization would lead to another argument where I stated I needed different things from him if our friendship were to continue. I had long felt neglected and continually disrespected. In turn, he claimed to be tired of my paranoia and constant disregard of his feelings. The “paranoia” came from all of the negativity caused by white co-workers and supervisors making me feel less than the good employee I was (which I shared with him). Even worse, he would bond with those same white co-workers and supervisors, and become close friends with some of them.

Somewhere along the way, Cory reconnected with an old friend of his, Wesley*. Wesley was, for lack of better phrasing, bad news. Cory claimed to know this within 10 minutes of linking up with Wesley again, and promised that he would not take him on as another “project” to fix.

“Been there, done that,” Cory said.

Just a week later, Cory allowed Wesley to move in with him. It was none of my business and I treated it as such… until Cory attempted to make it my business.

Initially, Cory thought it would be fun to give me a call with Wesley on the line. Within moments of that conversation, I found a way out of it. I then texted Cory:

“It’s kind of awkward to involve someone in our conversations that I don’t know well, other than some light details. Do you think you can ease me into getting to know him?”

About 30 minutes later, Cory texted back.

“Won’t happen again.” No apology given.

After this, Cory’s calls and texts became more sporadic. I assumed, at first, that he had taken offense to my request regarding Wesley and was avoiding me. When he would reach out, he seemed disinterested in keeping a conversation going. I mirrored his actions by engaging with other friends and activities, to which he claimed I was being distant. I would reverse course and try to reach out more, only to get the same aloofness from him.

Still, he would come through when I needed him most – but just long enough to help, then disappear again. Things went on like this for a while until just recently.

On a random Sunday, Cory texted me to check-in. We went back and forth for a bit before he asked to give me a call, which I allowed.

Before he could dive into whatever topic he needed to vent on, I needed to ask him something:

“What the hell is going on with you? You’re never this distant with me.”

Cory assured me that he wasn’t holding any grudges, but he had, indeed, been a lot busier than usual – mostly because of Wesley.

It turned out Wesley hadn’t been too honest with Cory about his troubles before moving in. In some ways, I saw this coming – Captain Save-A-Ho, saving everyone but himself. It was Cory’s worst habit.

What I did not see coming was the other reason why I hadn’t heard from Cory lately, which was also related to Wesley.

Cory went on to tell me that Wesley grew up in the same Sundown Town he had. However, where Cory felt his mindset had “matured” since leaving, Wesley’s hadn’t. He still made racist comments and jokes; some more offensive than others (which means they were all offensive), and Cory was doing his best to get Wesley to "change."

And then, he said it.

“If you ever hear Wesley saying something racist in the background, please excuse him. He’s not racist – he just says racist things.”

Right then and there, that’s when I knew.

I knew that I couldn’t get past Cory’s original comment. I knew that he hadn't grown at all since his comment. I knew that I had been friends with someone who held racist beliefs. I knew that I had been friends with someone who protects others with racist beliefs.

Most of all, I knew that our friendship was over.

And a few hours later, he would know it, too.

“While you were busy trying to ‘change’ someone you had no obligation to,” I texted, “you’ve consequently shown that the ‘growth’ you experienced after 2020 was anything but. Maybe I am growing into someone different – a person who complicates your world and mindset by speaking out when necessary. You are allowed to live a life that best helps you navigate this crazy existence; but, so do I.

And I can’t be friends with someone who not only thinks as you do, but also would go out of their way to defend someone else who thinks the same way.”

And just like that, my 20-plus-year friendship with Cory was over. Am I okay with it? No, not at all. It sucks, actually, but it had to be done.

I don’t speak for every Black person or every Black experience. However, when it comes to my own, I can’t live dishonestly. As much as I cared for Cory – and probably always will – it would be wrong of me to have someone like him remain in my inner circle: A person who stunts my personally growth by his inability to do the same. Going against the grain is uncomfortable, but that’s part of growing up. It took me so long to find my pride, my beauty, and my truth in being Black. Too long, some might say (even if that “some” is only me).

Who would I be if I kept silent with friends who possess ignorant ideas and mindsets? What would happen if that ignorance led to other acts of injustice that wrecks or ends the lives of people who look like me?

I’m not the person I used to be before 2020. I’m not the person I was in 2005. But you know what? I’m okay with that. I have changed. It was scary and uncomfortable at times, but I’ve changed and I’m not going back.

This is who I am. This is what I stand for. This is me… now.

*- names have been changed

humanityfriendship
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About the Creator

Jonathan Apollo

I bang my keyboard and words come out. Sometimes, they're worth reading. Sometimes, they're even good.

40-something, M, NYC. He/Him/His. #TPWK

https://twitter.com/JonnyAWrites

http://www.facebook.com/JonnyAWrites

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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Comments (17)

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  • ROCK 15 days ago

    New subscriber; well earned top story!

  • Anna 16 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!🥳🥳🥳

  • Ameer Bibi19 days ago

    Congratulations for your top story and yeah that really hurts when Friendship ends

  • Shirley Belk19 days ago

    Sounds to me like you are the only truly mature and caring individual in the bunch, even if everyone was the same skin color. I think you gave him plenty of chances to have a heartfelt, honest discussion after his "self-awareness" trip. But did he ever even ask you how you were feeling? I say you are much better off without him. Just pray for him. He probably isn't truly over his trauma and fear. That seems to be the basis and root of all racism we (as a society) inflict on others. I'm sorry about the loss of you beloved mother. I'm sending you a big hug. I hope you will find someone who respects you, your culture, and your feelings, Johnathan. Don't settle for less!

  • Rosie Clifford20 days ago

    I want to say a very big thanks to Dr Jumba for the wonderful work he did for me in helping me to save my marriage, my husband filed for divorce because of the little misunderstanding we had in the past few month, And i never wanted this because i love my husband so much and all our investment was a joint business and i don't want to be far away from my family and my two lovely kids. My friend told me about Dr Jumba and how he also helped her with her marital issues, so i had to contact him because i want to stop my husband from completing the divorce letter and i want to keep my family together and after contacting him, i was told what i needed to do and when i was going to start seeing the result, I did as Dr Jumba has instructed and after 3 days my Husband call me and start asking for my forgiveness and it was all like a dream to me and we are all living happily together again all thanks to Dr Jumba . wiccalovespelltools@gmail. com. via website : drjumbaspellhome.wordpress. com

  • Andrea Corwin 20 days ago

    OMG, this infuriated me: "Even worse, he would bond with those same white co-workers and supervisors, and become close friends with some of them." Your story and writing are so eloquent! Cory is a user, unfortunately. It is hurtful. The saying "when someone tells you who they are, believe them the first time," is so true. It is also hard to claim in the moment when you want to BELIEVE in your friend, lover, relative, your person. BELIEVE they don't mean it. But there it is, in front of you, openly or sneakily and that little voice inside is warning you. I'm sorry you lost your friend, but so glad you are now aware and not afraid to call out the bullsh*t. Good job and thanks for sharing this story, Jonathan. Congrats on TS!! (37 yr mixed marriage, speaking from truth and my heart)

  • Hannah Moore20 days ago

    I'm so sorry for the loss of your friendship. But I also applaud your courage. It's a gnarly road, I have found. I hope I am not racist, overtly, in my conscious mind, but I am becoming increasingly aware of where the systemic racism which is part of my context creeps in. I work in a context where we try to keep that on the table, we have time to address it as colleagues and think about it together and where and how that might impact us. It's useful, for sure, but it's a process. We all need grace to catch things we want to do better. It sounds like you fave that grace generously for a long time, and the space wasn't used to do better.

  • Mario Taylor 20 days ago

    Bravo

  • Marie Wilson21 days ago

    A great read full of essential insights. Thanks for that and congrats on top story!

  • Wayne Ince21 days ago

    Bravo 👏🏽

  • Lamar Wiggins21 days ago

    I was secretly hoping he got his world together because you two seemed like you genuinely enjoyed each other as friends. So happy you ended it though. He has too much to learn still about what it means to be someone’s best friend. Leave the lies and drama at the door. Congrats on your Top Story!

  • Congrats for top stpry and thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Sandra Matos21 days ago

    Excellent read!

  • Rebekah Conard21 days ago

    What a powerful and layered experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  • Isn't it great that, when given the time, we can completely adapt, becoming someone better

  • This was an absolute fantastic read, your reflection and smooth writing had me engaged the whole time. And just the way we hold onto friendships and people that we know don’t really SEE all of us. We excuse things. But also, the resurgence, and the self advocacy, and saying “no more”- it’s so powerful

  • Josh Mitchell22 days ago

    Brilliant and visceral. Felt every word. Thank you for sharing your journey!

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