One of the first things tsunami mentioned to me the first time we shared a table was the admission that I am ‘real’. While the comment was made in the form of a compliment, the choice of words bothered me in some capacity- how can I not be real? I am living and breathing. I am not implanted with a secret AI even with the vaccine supporting my immune system. But looking back at my lack of friendships in the high school realm, I began to understand his observation as not establishing my sense of self in the approval of the hypothetical other.

This active practice to live to the best of my ability is nothing new to me. I would say the root of my choice in this was seeded by poverty or some mutual comradeship to seek a way out of systemic poverty augmented by witnessing family struggle to keep everyone off the streets in some capacity but it is not the case. Looking at the state of material acquisition in the homes of my family, my ability to dismantle my home of nine years within 36 hours would not be a foreseeable assessment of their property. This comparison is not where I would use as the measuring stick for anyone’s real state. I have seen the people that break their figurative arms living a pseudo modest life while their conversation borders on the level of a cult recruiter or the collective disdain attributed to vegans moaning about meat-heavy restaurants not offering a diverse menu.

When it comes to anyone with a dietary restriction, most in this uncommon fraction space are often educated to research the place they are hoping to break their fast before entering the establishment. It is a level of lazy assumption that one’s personal choice to change themselves would immediately augment the world around them. I do not understand the amount of ego that accompanies such ideals; the world is not built around one person’s idea of how they choose to navigate the world. However, depending on the turn of phrase and state of being this person carries with these expectations, I have a level of admiration for these people that make efforts to earn such a mindset.

But those kinds of people are a level of authenticity that approval seekers hope to achieve. Approval seeking, a noticeable social tick my tsunami noticed the absence of in my table manners, are people that place their personalities on the same chopping block as the king with the sword of Damocles over his head. In this Greek parable, the threat over the king is justified. His state of being should be at the approval of the people that put him there. He is a servant of the public and as such should meet their expectations or face their wrath. Approval seekers create this threat in their everyday, seeking the approval of their peer groups with no titular enforcing a rule book. Peeople creating such ideals are creating a frail social fabric that is re woven at the scent of something supposed trendsetters deem worth the consumption of mass media.

I am not averse to joining the marketed bandwagon. As a Black woman with the strains of my culture diluted and augmented by the scraps of disdain proffered with my community’s faux freedom of slavery and its social chains, I have to fashion my own interpretation of what it means to be Black in addition to being a representative of America. The idea of being Black is often shaky as it is nick picked by its own community members with a haphazard knife hoping to establish a unified hospitality that immigrants from the Asain community enjoy upon landing. Much like the reason Black Californians shot down being included in the Speakers of Another Language educational fold, being Black in America is drastically different than people fresh off the boat seeking a level of social reprieve and economic freedoms.

Listening to the music from any culture, the themes will always touch on pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship, maintaining or achieving a social status, recalling a former state of being, the energy of a good time or a political message. Granted there are others topics but in my teen home, these were the constant themes in the music sold to my part of the country. I am fond of it as it laid the basis of the passive listening skills I apply to my evolving musical taste. Part of my awakening depended on recalling music that I put on repeat for me. I was drawn to one song by the group, TLC, that described the preferences in a partner that focused on the partner’s financial status, their sexual prowess both in practice and physical assets. Looking at the opening of the song, the partner is being lauded for their emotional acumen but this pales in comparison to the perceived lack in the bedroom offerings and obvious wealth.

I admit I enjoyed the song as a teen for the delivery of the disdaining bridge, the cheekiness of the chorus, culminating in the curation of the album leading into this particular song. At least, that is what my hindsight is choosing to attribute to my teenage self. What I do recall from my teenage self was a disassociation of any possible relationship to the music around me. Not to suggest that my music choices did not have an impact on my conversations on the subject of romantic partnerships, I think this separation of prescribed social requirements in a mate were not enforced or sought out in music. I think about the scene in HBO Girls where a song was a tool in her medium to express her emotional upheaval. My education on what is romantic or the optimal standard did not have the pairing of socially insecure friends and commercial musings offered up like mnemonic devices.

I don’t know if to bless or curse not being a part of these social circles growing up as I still can not obtain a level of ease around members of these loose-knit social circles and my brushes with them often skim close to caustic as my brevity is no longer looked at as curious but an affront to their sense of well being. I may have mentioned running into a high school classmate and her query on how I have acquired a passion for any topic placed on the table. This classmate’s query still puzzles me and makes me swell in gratitude that I can count the number of times we shared words in that part of our educational careers. Reflecting on this exchange, I still take pleasure in our limited interactions. I hope to keep it that way in some capacity despite the new social ties of their friendship to my former sister-in-law and my niece.

But to let ‘real’ be the constant word chosen when reflecting on people like me still baffles me? I wonder who the approval seekers use as their rubric? How are the factors chosen that one needs to be kept in their chosen societies? Who is checking that one is adhering to these ideals? Learning that my former sister-in-law was not sharing the bed with my brother filled her with shame. She thought I harbored judgment about this practice in her house- a place I have visited less than 20 times. That number has no ability to increase with my West Coast address. She spent time on this observation as if her self-image would be rocked by my knowledge of this.

My brother's actions in their separation are evolving from the same place in some way. His choice to make unprompted declarations of his actions in this transitional space is revealing about his mental mindset and his regard for the closure of this part of this relationship. He is harassment of our family with these unjustified accusations suggest informing us is something his peer group takes as the standard. He forgets that his peer group never sees us. I imagine the women of the family are in the same state of bemusement when he chooses to make these attacks. It is sad that the measuring stick that prompts him to take any action to inform us of his relationship status is tacked on as if it is not asked for or set up as a requirement in his romances.

So I am real if the fictional social hammer is the Geiger counter that I have knocked over like a forgotten glass, thank the goddess I did not step on the broken shards to make a noose around my neck.

Taking my words out to ‘lunch’.