“#Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves, without any insistence that they satisfy you.” – Wayne Dyer
I have the makings of a monster. I really do. I could have been one of the great, manipulative lying sons of bitches God ever let live. Let me give you an example of how I know it. And why I believe I’ve dodged that bullet.
When I first met Tananarive at the “African Fantastic Imagination” conference at Clark Atlanta University in 1997, I heard her tell a story about how she got Stephen King to give her a cover blurb for MY SOUL TO KEEP. She used her position on the Miami Herald to talk to humorist Dave Berry’s wife. Berry played in a band, “The Rock Bottom Remainders” with King. They’re a bunch of writers who live out their fantasies by playing at book fairs, and T told Mrs. Berry that she’d like to play keyboards for them. It turned out that their keyboard player was going to be singing instead of playing, and there was a position for her. She used this (and the fact that she looked great in a leather skirt) to catch King’s attention, talked him into looking at her book, and the rest is history.
I sat in the audience and was transfixed. We’d met two days before, and I’d been impressed by her energy and aliveness as well as her intelligence and writing skill, but hadn’t responded to her on a personal level. Treated her like a little sister. But the instant I realized how calculating she was, how she had used a lifetime of preparation to CREATE an opportunity for herself (writing since the age of 4, keyboard skills, her Miami Herald column, personal courage. And looking great in a leather skirt, of course) I said: “WOW! She did a three-wall bank shot on him! She’s REALLY smart.” And then, as if noticing that gave me permission to notice something else, I thought: “and she’s REALLY cute, too.” And a chill ran down my spine. A chill runs down my spine EVERY time I tell that story.
And I said to myself: “oh, Steve…you’re in trouble.”
I’d never felt anything like that before. Something very special was happening here. I knew that mentally, emotionally, and physically (she danced great, and had terrific shoulders and a tight little waist…ahem) we shared the same values and were on a similar wave-length. Could we actually be a couple? I didn’t know. What I DID know was that she lived in Miami, and I lived in Vancouver, Washington. It would have been difficult to be further apart in the continental U.S. Our trains were going in opposite directions, and just crossing at the station. Pulling out the next day, in fact.
I had just hours to make some kind of a connection with her, or she might be gone forever. I looked frantically around the room as T came down from the stage and started signing autographs. What could I do..?
And sitting in the front row of the audience was a woman with a baby in her lap. A light bulb went off in my head. I walked over to her and said: “excuse me, ma’am…may I borrow your baby?”
She looked at me, startled. She knew who I was, of course, but my request was a little strange. “I don’t want to take her out of the room. I’d just love to play with her a little. Right here in front of you.” Still a little startled (I definitely got some side-eye, but after all, I was a Famous Author!) but she agreed. I got down on the floor right there between the mother and Tananarive and started playing with the baby.
Oh, that was dirty pool. I KNEW that there was no way in hell a professional black woman in her 30’s could observe an available black man play with a baby without her hind-brain going “DING!”
It just wasn’t fair. Totally bypassing her forebrain. Twelve hours later we were sitting in Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport holding hands, leaning our heads against each other like a couple of kids, talking about how we could build an empire together.
If I hadn’t been sincere, hadn’t been 100% open to an actual lifetime with Tananarive, what I’d done with that baby would have been horrific. Actual evil. I had nuked her reproductive circuitry.
Given something like that, how can I claim that I’d played fair? That I had HER interests at heart, and not just my own?
We courted via internet, telephone, and me flying down to Miami to see her. Months later, she was on a book tour to San Francisco, and I met her there and we drove up to Vancouver together. At the time I was living in a side-by-side duplex with my ex, Toni. The reason was that we had a daughter to raise. When Nicki came home from school she came to my side. When Toni came home from work, Nicki would go there.
The very first thing I did was introduce T to Nicki, who ran up to her and hugged her (nope, I hadn’t bribed her. She’s just that kind of kid) Then I walked her into Toni’s house, sat the three of them down, said: “you guys talk about whatever you want” and left the house. Went over to my side for an hour.
I wanted T to have a chance to ask whatever she wanted to about me, talking to the people who knew me best. Either Toni would say good things or bad things. Let’s say she said bad things (probably after sending Nicki out of the room!) That would mean one of only a couple of things:
- I was a bad person. She should not trust me.
- I was a STUPID person, a bad judge of character to have married Toni. She should not bond with me.
But if Toni said good things? Well…that would be a big vote in the “take this relationship to a whole ‘nother level” category. I desperately wanted T to make a solid decision. To know what she was dealing with. To have ALL the information she needed to be as certain as possible.
Because I could see and feel that she had her own destiny. She had, and has…force. She is a lioness, and a lioness needs a lion. Someone who would not be intimidated by her, not try to slow her down or stop her, not sabotage her efforts. She deserved to have a wonderful life, and damned if I would stand between her and that destiny, no matter how much I wanted her.
Hell, Harlan Ellison thinks she’s a better writer than I am, and you can imagine how much THAT stings someone with my ego. I have to deal with THAT, under my own roof.
And if I cannot…I don’t deserve her. Period.
Yeah, I’m a manipulative bastard. I go after what I want. No slightest question about it.
But I also want people to make the right decision for THEM. THAT’S who I am. And she needed to know both sides of that. And if that was what she was looking for…
There I was, open heart and arms, saying: “let’s do this.”
I believe that selfishness is not a problem. Defining “self” as ending at your skin is the problem.
I believe in love, but that you MUST start by loving yourself.
I believe in Soulmates, but you have to know your own soul to recognize them.
I believe that loving another person is the second step to changing the world, to living a wonderful life in alignment with your values, one of the Big Three things we must admit we crave to be in honest communication with our own hearts.
That’s MY story about love, and life, and how it fits together, and how Tananarive and I found each other.
Love, storytelling and martial arts are the absolute core of my life and teaching. If this path speaks to you, please join us at www.lifewritingpremium.com. Get your free copy of THE ANCIENT CHILD and start a journey that starts with healing your heart and ends with changing the world.
We’re all alone in this…together.