It was a Saturday night, and I went out with my cousin Bria in London. A few weeks earlier I had arrived in London to begin my semester abroad, and Bria decided to show me around my newly adopted city. Although I was away from home and outside of my comfort zone, I felt excited and ready for new beginnings. Bria brought me to her friend’s party and introduced me to almost everyone in the room. I would be telling untruths if I said I did not want to meet someone special that night. I did. Yet initially, I mentally noted that I didn’t see anyone “of interest,” so I decided to relax, enjoy the night and spend time getting to know my cousin. After all, I was excited to meet her. She was one of the cousins in London I constantly heard about but had never met. This defined the essence of my night until I felt a slight tap on my shoulder. I am certain that my face gave away the surprised and pleased look when I turned around and saw a handsome man standing behind me. Right away I noticed the high cheekbones and wide smile. I smiled back in return.
His name was Justin. Like me, he loved to read. He came to London from Harlem to visit family and get over his writer’s block. “Harlem was just in my backyard,” I thought, "this was kismet." I asked him about his work, which led to an engaging conversation about James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurtson and our favorite authors from the Harlem Renaissance. As we talked, I found out that Justin was 39 and to “his dismay,” he realized I was only twenty. I too felt a tinge of disappointment; yet, he intrigued me. Nevertheless we exchanged numbers, and near the end of the night Justin said to me, “I was attracted to you physically when I saw you, but now I am even more attracted to you because of your intelligence and your mind.”
Justin called me a few short days later to see an exhibition with him at the National Gallery in London. We found out we both loved art, and he told me I just had to see the exhibition. When I arrived, Justin presented me with a carefully wrapped present. Inside I found a book by James Baldwin and a Billie Holiday CD collection. An avid jazz and blues lover, Justin told me, the jazz and blues rookie, that I needed to own this music collection to start me on my jazz and blues journey. Now years later, I still cherish those gifts. After the gallery, we sat down to talk, and he reiterated his disappointment that I was only one-half his age. He wished I were older. He was ready to settle down and have children. Still a college student, I wanted other things. In that moment, I did not mind the age difference, but Justin remained a man of integrity and did not once try to take advantage of my youthful naivete.
During my six months in London, Justin and I stayed in contact. As always he was respectful, always mindful of the age difference between us. We stayed on the phone for hours at a time talking about life, the Harlem Renaissance, music, books and art. He was one of the few people I have ever met who did not mind discussing literature with me at great lengths. He also shared some of his works with me and I was doubly impressed when an online search led me to discover that he he was published and well reviewed. Not once did he tell me this, and his humility warmed me to him even more.
After leaving London, Justin and I kept in touch via e-mail sporadically. One day, I bumped into him randomly in Grand Central station in New York. We chatted briefly and promised to keep in touch before I rushed off to catch my train.
Justin unknowingly taught me valuable lessons during our friendship in London. He valued my mind, my insights and interpretations on various subjects. Not once did I ever feel that I had to dull my shine or "dumb down" with Justin. As I matured, I later learned that not everyone allows you that freedom. In an effort to put some people at ease or to earn love, many women hide their talents and intelligence. Today I know for sure that any friendship or relationship that demand that you diminish your shine , talents or your gifts is not a relationship or friendship worth pursuing. I wished I had told Justin that he was one of the best parts about my semester abroad in London. Life happens, and somehow we lost contact, but I never forgot the important life lesson that he taught me.
****Names have been changed in the interest of privacy.