Freeing yourself was one thing, claiming ownership over that free self was another. -Toni Morrison
Fun fact about me…I don’t like feet. No matter how clean and groomed you may pride yourself on being, I think feet are the ugliest part of the human body. There is just something very alien about feet. The way the toes move on their own and almost have their own personality is like a never ending telling of “this little piggy…”
I’m 5’7″ so I have never had the luxury of “cute” feet. I carry with my frame the necessary foundation to carry it without falling on my face. I wear a sturdy size 10 shoe. I try to stay “polished” (as my mother calls it when a woman is neatly groomed) so my feet are as “pretty” as they are ever going to get. Nevertheless, when reading, We’re Going To Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union I had to think long and hard about a reference she made. There is a point in the book where she discusses the intimacy and seduction involved in a foot rub. It is a fleeting reference and not a topic she dwells on long. It’s like when you are reminding a reader of the childhood affinity they may have with eating an ice cream cone on a summer day. She just brings attention to connecting with a feeling that will place the reader in a subjective, emotional and deep sense of innocence. My first foot rub was not sexual at all. There was no brown skinned R&B group reject boy massaging my big ass feet with oil. There were no candles. There were no dimmed lights. There were no tingles up my spine. There was only Matthew Franklin.*
Matthew Franklin was a friend I made my first year at Pace University. He was kind, highly intelligent, well read, cultured, and slightly…off. That’s what people would say. Women would say he was “off.” Men would call him “gay.” To me, he was no different than the other male friends I had in my music and arts high school. Men who were considered “gay” or “effeminate” because they were “artsy.” Matthew was definitely polished! He was the first man to tell me about Vitamin E oil for my skin and hair and to point me in the direction of where I could purchase it cheap. He saw right through my tough exterior the FIRST day of classes. There I was attending a private university on a partial scholarship (I use this term loosely but I’ll save that for another post.) Our school was downtown Manhattan post 9/11 and the campus was beautiful, elite, and predominantly white. I grew up in Jamaica Queens. My parents were sure to place me in extracurricular activities where I was exposed to all cultures and most importantly vast socio-economic environments AKA what is now coined as “black excellence.” However, being in private school most of my life and the square of the hood I was determined to prove myself to be “urban” and accepted by my peers. I went to college in flight jackets (Generation Z, you may have to Google flight jackets) of every color and fitted hats over my perfect perm. I looked the part of the character that was being cast in the John Singleton movie that only existed in my own head. Matthew invited me to the cafeteria immediately after Anthropology class. There we talked about Franz Boas and pygmy colonies and every other geeky thing we could cover while eating very expensive croissants and drinking Alize out of Starbucks coffee cups to avoid judgement. It was so much fun! Eventually we attracted other closeted dorks and developed a crew of minorities. We had two Haitian girls (one of whom I still keep in touch with), Jamaican girl, 2 Black American girls (one was me), a Puerto Rican, A Dominican, and later a Filipino friend. As time went on we attracted more and we had some great adventures my freshman year. There was another group affectionately known as G.P.A (The ghetto peoples association) and we became cool with them too. We never got too cool with G.P.A. Many of them were men of color from Brooklyn who lived (how do I say this?) …lives that could be categorized as criminal. Most of them majored in political science so they could beat their own cases should they end up in an unfavorable circumstance. THESE were the guys from the movie directed in my head. These guys didn’t particularly care for Matthew Franklin. So we were “cool” from a distance.
I remember being in Matthew’s dorm on Fulton street. It had hardwood floors and stainless steel appliances. We were all chilling in there watching a Mya performance with AJ and Free on 106 & Park (Again Centennials you may have to look this up.) Everyone was casually eating junk food and being intellectual or so we thought. It was hot and Matthew didn’t allow shoes in the dorm so I left my flip flops at the door. I remember him sitting on the floor next to my feet and looking at my heel inquiringly and saying, “Damn girl, your feet are ashy!!!” I was so embarrassed but he quickly grabbed some cocoa butter and started to rubbing. At first I was shocked and then I was immediately humbled. Up until that point no one rubbed my feet. It just wasn’t a thing. I guess, that’s why I neglected it too! I remember growing up Catholic and seeing the depiction of the washing of the feet ** in church. I would be so grossed out. “Ewwwww, I thought. Look at them touching, washing and rubbing strangers feet.” I lost the connection and the representation of humility and submission and service. The whole 11-15 minutes that Matthew rubbed all the black girl magic into my feet (cliched cocoa butter and all) I felt real friendship and belonging. It wasn’t sexual and sensual like in the movies. It was just kind.
In 2004 there weren’t as many discussed titles. There wasn’t unclouded science to human sexuality. At that time, (to my knowledge) you were gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or straight. Or at least that’s what was commonly discussed. As I continued getting to know my friend Matthew, I know he would be considered today as pansexual.* There was no released pansexual flag he could have waived in front of his traditional Caribbean parents then. There was no sexual identification that G.P.A would have accepted. He allowed “off” and he dismissed “gay” as the titles people found necessary to identify him with. He continued being himself.
I didn’t stay at Pace. The tuition was a little too pricey for me to continue being a Pace Setter. I became a Stony Brook Seawolf my sophomore year but I lost touch with Matthew Franklin long before I transferred. All we know is he just didn’t come back Sophomore year. A part of me thinks he was tired of the crap. A part of me re-visits the day we saw the news headline about a gay student who committed suicide on a nearby campus. According to the note, he would rather fly out of that window than tell his parents he was gay.
My thoughts on human sexuality are to be determined. I consider myself liberal, open-minded, Christian and human. I always want to be understanding of the humanity in everyone and I want to be compassionate. I am also a parent and I wouldn’t want my children to experience the scrutiny and violence that oftentimes affects that community. It’s a sensitive topic (to say the least.) At Stony Brook I remember watching television one day while supposedly studying and seeing Matthew in a commercial. I was elated! He wasn’t dead, beaten or some loser somewhere. In my young naive mind, he was successful because of that commercial and he was okay.
I don’t think I ever thanked him for that foot rub. I don’t think I ever thanked him for being my friend and truly hyping me up and telling people I was this brilliant poet. I never thanked him for sticking pepper spray in my coat pocket one night when I left campus a little late and I was taking the J train home. Its funny the memories a random line in a book can send your way. Thanks Gabrielle. Thanks Matthew.
*Name changed for privacy.
By: Shaun Liriano
RIP Toni Morrison, the woman who unapologetically told stories whether we were ready to hear them or not.