The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
At only eleven years of age, I was a cyber ho. Looking back, I’m embarrassed. For me. For my parents. But oddly enough, my cyber social debauchery is indirectly correlated with my current status as a so-called internet pioneer. It all started when I began catfishing—creating characters and transmitting them over the internet—though back then people just called it “lying.” Had my father not signed my entire family up with America Online accounts for the computer in our modest Potomac, Maryland, home I don’t know that I’d have had the tools to exploit the early ages of the internet.
Two years earlier, my oldest brother, Amadou, had gone away to college at Morehouse, freeing up the coveted computer, which was housed in the basement, for my use. Before he decamped for college, I would spend hours at a time watching him type the commands into MS-DOS that would transport us to the magical kingdom of Sierra’s King’s Quest VI on our IBM. I never had a strong desire to play the game myself—I always assumed I wasn’t smart enough to play it on my own—until Amadou graduated from the house and I no longer had anyone to excitedly observe. I looked up to my oldest brother as the epitome of intelligence. He knew everything, though he was too humble to be ostentatious with his knowledge as I would have been had I been as smart. So I simply observed. At eighteen, he was an official adult, and he had a duty to selflessly spread his intelligence to the world, other people’s younger sisters included. His absence left a void in my heart and in the basement, particularly where the use of the computer was concerned.
I wasn’t next in line for the computer, but my second-oldest brother, Malick, was too preoccupied with football, girls, and high school to care. He’d occasionally make use of it for term papers and Tetris, but otherwise, it was mine for the taking. Using the computer wasn’t foreign to me, by any means. I had an old Apple computer in my very own room (a double source of jealousy for my younger brother), where I played Number Munchers and self-published my stories on perforated paper from an excruciatingly noisy printer.
“Jo-Issa, are you wasting paper again?!” my mother would yell from her makeshift home office, tipped off by the mechanical snitch. When alone, and mom-approved, I actually loved to hear the robotic crunching and whirring that the printer made while laying to ink my very own written words. But the computer in my room paled in comparison to the one downstairs, in the basement. For one thing, the large floppy disks—I think they were actually called hard disks, what the f%4# 90s?—were becoming extinct, and rightfully so, since the data on those things could be lost with the smudge of a finger. And since my computer took only the “hard” disks, my game choices were limited to nerdy learning games and text-based adventure games with no visuals. BLECH. BORING. BOO.
The other reason my computer wasn’t a huge triumph for my preteen self-discovery was because it lacked a modem, which meant no dial-up internet for me. But AOL changed my life. Specifically, it changed my social life. To be more precise: AOL gave me a social life. It ignited my social development and expanded my concept of sexuality. Because of AOL, I had imaginary friends that weren’t imaginary. I had elaborate conversations devoid of awkward silences. And, perhaps most valuable of all, I could actually talk to boys. At my command!
Before my parents caught wind of frightening news reports of child predators, I spent my days and after-school evenings in chat rooms, learning to speed read, talking to kids my age who were also ahead of the curve. Or pedophiles, who were remarkably creative and persistent in their forbidden pursuit. Pedos actually had it made in the mid-nineties, before the media exposed them. Talk about the glory days.
My friends at school, other fifth graders, didn’t seem to relate when I mentioned “chat rooms” and “profiles” or when I sang along to the dial-up internet song I made up in my head. It seemed that, for a brief moment, only I was privy to this alternate American universe that lived online.
By the time my family moved to Los Angeles to join my dad, a pediatrician, who had seized an opportunity to open his own family clinic there, my relationship with the computer had grown immensely, much to the dismay and irritation of my mother.
“You’re always on the computer! Go do your homework.”
“I already finished.”
“Well then, go outside and play!”
She just didn’t get it. Only recently, in my late twenties, did she come to realize that my excessive computer use is what led me to becoming the self-employed, almost-focused career woman I am today.
By the summer of 1996, more of my friends from Maryland had adopted AOL. It helped us bridge the three thousand miles between us. By then, I was already over the handwritten letters of yesteryear. That was a form of communication of the third world, reserved for pen pals from Ghana and Spain. Besides, the “You’ve Got Mail” greeting was way more exciting than the dead silence of receiving a letter. Exclaiming, “I’ve got mail!” in the foyer to yourself isn’t the same—trust me.
It was through electronic mail that I’d tell my friends back home about my Hollywood adventures. Never mind the fact that I lived in Windsor Hills, thirty minutes away from Hollywood, and that I was struggling to make friends. Or that my sense of style was horrendous, and my middle school had done away with lockers so the authorities could better monitor drug use. ALL I EVER WANTED WAS A LOCKER! I felt robbed of the middle school experience I saw on Boy Meets World and Doug, but my friends didn’t have to know that. I led them to believe I was on the brink of stardom, just by breathing in the recycled smog of other celebrities around me. Plus, I lived down the street from Ray Charles’s old house. I was famous by association.
Our move back to Los Angeles also fulfilled a dream I’d held on to for five whole years: we were finally reunited with my father. He’d visit us in Maryland once every two to three months for an extended period of time, but for the most part, I spent my elementary school years without him and, in his absence, had constructed a superheroic, Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque Father of the Year image of him in my mind. My dad was the man, and whenever I’d tell my teachers my father was a doctor who was too busy to come to Back to School night, their surprised and delighted “Oh!” always gave me a sense of pride. I didn’t speculate then that they were making an assumption about my family’s income and placing my blackness into a Huxtable category. To me, their reaction implied that a doctor was an important profession, which meant my dad was important. And I wanted to be just like my dad.
I so longed to live with him and see my family complete, I neglected to figure out that the reunion meant double supervision. The only computer in the house was in my dad’s home office, and now internet activity was being monitored without my knowing it. Going through puberty during the dawn of the internet could have left me unscathed if my dad weren’t so annoyingly tech savvy. If only he, a native African, were like the tribal stereotypes I read about in my middle school history books, I would have gotten away with so much more. Instead, I found myself sneaking to look up “sex” in the encyclopedia and then cross-referencing my findings with the Yahoo.com search results. Also, unbeknownst to me, my dad had added a kid-safe image blocker, so I was always limited to boring text-only definitions.
I was wrought with hormones and obsessed with finding a boyfriend. All I knew was that boys cared about sex and I didn’t know enough about it. I was too embarrassed to ask my peers. They were already über-judgmental about my naïveté to all things black after I accidentally exposed myself when Tupac died. “Two-pack died? What did he sing?”
Normally, I would have been spared from middle school humiliation by asking my two older brothers directly. They would have happily explained who Tupac was and I would have happily plagiarized their responses and relayed their feelings about him as my own. But my second-oldest brother had by then also graduated from the house to go to college and I was left as the oldest in the house. If I had trouble attracting the boys at my school before, my ignorance about Tupac destroyed any remote chance I might have had.
All I knew was that I had all these developing feelings for boys and that I wanted desperately for them to notice me. They did, but for reasons that didn’t help my quest: my nap-tural hair; my underdeveloped, seemingly concave breasts; my white-girl accent, and my tomboyish appearance. The prototype of lust for the boys my age was a light-skinned girl with long hair, and I just didn’t fit that profile. But I didn’t want to believe that. So I would imagine instead that I held the interest of all the boys and often convinced myself of that. All the while, I remained the continued object of disdain from my peers. I often found myself emboldened whenever a guy would show me any attention at all, i.e. “Ay, you did the homework? Let me copy,” or “You got ten cents for the vending machine?” I blame any misread social cues on Saved by the Bell. Zack and Kelly’s romance was something I wanted so badly to emulate.
My first-ever junior high school dance was approaching and, with the help of a Saturday morning marathon of Saved, I built up the courage that Monday morning to talk to Remington, an eighth-grade-looking sixth-grader who I’m pretty sure had been held back (though nobody talked about it). He had thick facial hair and muscular, athletic arms. He loved women, and frequently expressed his sexual desires in a way that hinted at experience. In my eyes, he was the answer. And I had so many questions. One of them, I worked up the courage to ask in front of his friends. I approached him right after our Environmental Studies class was dismissed, casually, waiting for him to pick up his only school supply, a single folder.
“Hey, Remington,” I started, shyly. “Are you going to the dance?”
He didn’t miss a beat: “Not with you!”
His friends didn’t even try to hide their laughter. Not a single one. I smiled and tried to play it off.
“Oh. No—I didn’t mean that. You thought I was asking for me?”
But it was too late; they had already pushed past to leave me in the classroom alone, my Environmental Studies teacher avoiding eye contact with me.
Ever optimistic, I went to the dance by myself, with the hope that maybe a boy there would ask me to dance. Maybe it would be Quentin, the skinny, half-albino/half-effeminate boy to whom I’d been sending “secret admirer” letters. It was the least he could do, after excitedly exposing to the class that I had been writing him love notes for weeks.
AwkwardBlackGirl 01 OpenDuration: 22s
AwkwardBlackGirl 02 INTRODuration: 08min
AwkwardBlackGirl 03 Ch1Duration: 16min
AwkwardBlackGirl 04 Ch1aDuration: 13min
AwkwardBlackGirl 05 Ch2Duration: 24min
AwkwardBlackGirl 06 Ch3Duration: 05min
AwkwardBlackGirl 07 Ch4Duration: 22min
AwkwardBlackGirl 08 Ch5Duration: 15min
AwkwardBlackGirl 09 Ch6Duration: 18min
AwkwardBlackGirl 10 Ch7Duration: 15min
AwkwardBlackGirl 11 Ch8Duration: 06min
AwkwardBlackGirl 12 Ch9Duration: 23min
AwkwardBlackGirl 13 Ch10Duration: 19min
AwkwardBlackGirl 14 Ch10aDuration: 15min
AwkwardBlackGirl 15 Ch11Duration: 17min
AwkwardBlackGirl 16 Ch11aDuration: 20min
AwkwardBlackGirl 17 Ch12Duration: 03min
AwkwardBlackGirl 18 Ch13Duration: 19min
AwkwardBlackGirl 19 Ch13aDuration: 14min
AwkwardBlackGirl 20 Ch14Duration: 08min