“They say people in your life are seasons/And anything that happen is for a reason…”
While the above lyric is from Kanye West, Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” has been a normal part of my daily routine since its release earlier this month. Brushing my teeth, it’s playing on my iPhone. On the highway, it’s playing in my car. At the gym, it’s playing on my iPod. Pre-gaming for a party last weekend, it was playing in the background. At this point, Frank’s 10 minute audio documentary is as important in my life as my cargo shorts and my Simply Raspberry Lemonade.
Much more than an infectious melody and haunting delivery, “Pyramids” is rib-clutching largely because of the storytelling. With the first half detailing a wonderful account of ancient history even your junior high school social studies teacher would blush over, the second half failed to truly hit home until the fourth or fifth listen. Frank details the story of a young lady named Cleopatra. Frank is Cleoptra’s pimp, but through years of working together, he eventually falls in love with her. She’s special to him, as any woman who captures the heart of a man would be. Through the unwritten bylaws of their profession, however, his love is no match for the rules of the game which were established long before he or she rose to power.
With this being a personal account, names will not be mentioned. There’s a good chance the female I’ll be referring to her may come across this page. For lack of a better description, I’ve lived in the second half of that song. No, I’ve never been a pimp, literally or figuratively. No, I’ve never fallen in love or made a housewife out of any woman who didn’t deserve such. That said, the last four minutes of “Pyramids” was graphic because it took me back to a time when I dealt with a friend who eventually grew into Cleopatra. She was cool, down to earth and easy to talk with. We hung out together. We drank together. We engaged in all types of anti-sober activities together. Pretty much, we were both at a point in each others lives where we desired the same thing – nothing. And it worked because when nothing is expected, disappointment is all but eliminated from the equation. Operating on a strict code, Shawn Carter summed up best, “F*ck tomorrow, as long as the night before was sweet.” We lived that life – and smart or not – we loved that life.
The young lady was my friend. Hell, she still is. Over the years, we eventually took two different paths. I moved away and she stayed. We both dealt with the effects of the present day economy in our own separate methods. I busted tables at restaurants, interned at other places and eventually attended and completed grad school. She, on the other hand, struggled through college, took time off and eventually became an exotic dancer.
In that industry, money’s the motive over everything even over one’s own morals at times. Stripping occasionally led to out-of-club parties. Those private parties open Pandora’s box to “more” in what would become the her world’s version of Players’ Club if such a comparison exists.
As fate, destiny or whatever word used to describe the indescribable moments in life would dictate, we crossed paths again. She was still well dressed, pretty as ever and her body was just as amazing as it had been the last time we kicked it with one another. She asked about my life and I, in turn, inquired about hers. Within minutes, she began opening up about her “line of work” narrating stories about the highs, lows and x-rated ins and outs. The sex was part of the job, the travel was better and the money was the holy grail. Establishing or finding anything past a physical, one hour attraction, however, was about as impossible as it was frequent. Settling down and how she paid bills were oil and water. She held a “real job,” but only to have something to put on her résumé once she truly committed to abandoning her other profession for good.
How the game works is something sold, not told. Understood, but rarely explained. And how the world operates on its own checks and balances system. Everyone gets pimped to a certain extent regardless of what he or she does for a living. As someone I saw as a friend, I asked what made her travel the route she did. I wasn’t disappointed in her. I wasn’t even upset. I couldn’t be. I enjoy strip clubs, so attempting to belittle her for entering the same world I’ve expressed enjoyment over would paint me as the world’s biggest hypocrite. By that point, I was left with one simple question – how much longer is this going to be your life? Her answer was sincere, yet cold.
“As long as it takes me to get a better life. We’re both chasing dreams just on different paths.”
How exactly does one refute that? She has her own life to tend to and me, mine. The rest of our conversation flowed smoothly and I ended it by telling her to just be careful. She’s in a world where money comes fast, but one wrong decision could alter the rest of her life, or worse, end it. She looked at me, smiled and said, “Ok, Justin. I got you.” That one conversation has stuck with me to this day and once my friend Sophia alerted me to the true meaning of “Pyramids,” these words – in a therapeutic sense – typed themselves. Not that I’m secretly in love with her, because I’m not. Rather, she’s good people and that’s all that will ever matter to me at the end of the day. She’s always been able to take care and fend for herself, but the world has an uncanny ability of humbling the strongest-willed individuals when the time comes.
During my near twenty-six-and-a-half years of living, I’ve learned one lesson. Life is all about taking the course at its own speed, learning from your own mistakes and being about to decipher what’s right for the heart and what’s right for the mind. My friend – we’ll finally refer to her as Cleopatra – is doing just that. She’s living at her own pace while hopefully learning from her mistakes along the way.
And this weekend, as I take a sip from the liquor we would once drink until everything became numb – and she may indeed be working at the pyramid that night – I’ll simply hope her mind and heart can one day ride (no pun intended) in harmony on the same wavelength. You can never truly understand how authentic the “black girl lost” mentality is until it hits that close to home.