I met “L” in 1985. “Where are you from,” I asked. “From England. I’m part Nigerian, like Sade,” she said with a hint of sass in that English accent. It was a cool association. Sade was all the rage then. I was twenty-two. I prejudged “L” as this urbane creature who’d never hang out with the likes of me.
But we wound up at the local diner with mutual friends a few times. We went with a group to a Patti Labelle concert — it was horrible – Patti Labelle had feathers all over her, screaming, walking back and forth like a duck. “L” and I became friendly. She helped me to get my first apartment in her building. She gave me a starter plate, fork and knife from her own dishes.
Years after I had moved, I found that “L” had moved to my neighborhood. She had been using a hairdresser up here for years. We had dinner together. I used her hairdresser. “You were referred by “L”? She’s a good person. She never complain,” said the Dominican hairdresser. This is “L’s” hallmark – an upbeat, humble disposition, nothing like the idea I had of her when we first met. We’ve since hung out a few times.
I saw her before my second mammogram a couple of weeks ago. I was in bad shape because it hit when all this other stuff was happening. “Do you want me to come with you Sandee?” “L” said. “Are you sure? It could be hours,” I said, then I thought of my morning episode with panic and self-pity, and told her that I would appreciate it if she came.
For the trip there and in the waiting room, “L” was a pleasant distraction. She spoke matter-of-factly about getting through her own trials. She hadn’t been depressed or angry at the world because these things had happened. She was simply glad to have had resources to take care of them. I learned how I might get through a trial without self-pity and anger, which had become my best friends again. We talked and laughed in the waiting room. She was thrilled when the nurse said that we’d have to go to the other waiting room where there would be soda, coffee, and snacks. She was all set up with her crossword puzzle, coffee and graham crackers when the nurse came for me.
Way back, because of ignorance, her kindness was unexpected — I had stereotyped a very attractive woman with an English accent. “L” was a powerful example for me that day. I accepted help in an emotional time and got more than that. I had also witnessed her kindness to other people and it had a great effect on me as this was clearly a consistent trait of hers. Remembering her being this way in the past made the impact stronger. I only hope to be able to pass on what I learned from her in a rippling effect because it was such a gift.
Your reward for reading this whole thing is a Sade song about a commitment to a relationship — a different kind of relationship than the one that I spoke of but hey, she’s Nigerian and English, just like “L”: