13 May Be My Guest: Michael Arceneaux
This week, I introduce my dear readers to my very first dear blogger. His name is Michael Arceneaux and I discovered him right in the comments section of my blog. He makes me laugh out loud. Both on my blog and on his own blog, where he introduced me to the Stanky Leg and the Halle Berry dances. We’re also following each other on Twitter. A few weeks back, he mentioned on Twitter that Mary was his favorite singer. Not because her voice was perfect. But because of a special story. I asked him to share it with me. And he did. Then I asked him to share it with all of us. And he did.
I encourage you all to check it out. I’m very proud of Michael’s work. Both on this piece. And in his life.
By Michael Arceneaux
There is no contemporary album that bests My Life. I’ve been bumping it since I was 10.
I would lay in bed with with my Audiovox CD player, (the Sony Discman was too expensive), and play this album over and over.
Unfortunately, I shared a room with my younger brother, Marcus.
“How many times you gonna listen to this song?” he would say, as I played the title track once more.
Everyone else was practicing TLC’s choreography and rapping along to Nas, Biggie, Big Boi and Dre. I had their music too, but I was stuck on Mary. I felt like we had a connection. My Life was about pain, heartache and confusion.
I was very familiar with all three.
From a very young age, I knew that I was gay. And I was conflicted and confused about it. It didn’t help that when I was six, I went to a funeral for an uncle who died of AIDS. He was a drug addict, which led to his ultimate death. But when people think of AIDS they instantly think of homosexuality. I quickly learned the word faggot after my uncle’s funeral as people made assumptions on what happened to my uncle. Were people going to say that about me? Is that what I was?
I didn’t have the worst childhood ever, but there were many instances where I felt unhappy, alone, and like no one understood me. I could see a lot of myself in Mary.
Watching her fight for her happiness over the years made me feel like I could overcome my own obstacles.
I never imagined that I would get the opportunity to share this with her, but in the summer of 2003 I did.
I was interning at a radio station in Houston. When I heard Mary was coming to the studio I was ecstatic. I immediately tried to think of a way I could tell her how much her music had meant to me over the years.
I was 19 that summer and still turned to her music for comfort. I continued to struggle with my sexuality. Only now I debated over whether or not I should act on my feelings or continue to bury them. Whenever I got burned out on that internal debate, I’d cue up Mary, lay back, and let my Discman (I upgraded) give me a few minutes of peace.
I wanted to let her know how much of a help she was. But I had a dilemma: Did I risk acting like a groupie when I should be a professional at my first internship?
I decided to write her a letter and try to sneak it to her.
I got on my laptop, and poured my soul out.
Your album was the first album I ever purchased. And I’ve been playing it non-stop for nine years. Even when I didn’t understand everything single thing you were talking about, I could feel your sadness, and it helped me cope with my own. You’ve helped keep me sane and want to keep going.
I know what it’s like to feel miserable and unloved, I know what it’s like to have people constantly criticize you and I understand what it’s like to want to be happy but simply can’t be. I know it’s mainly women that admire you. But I wanted you to know that I, too, appreciate the honesty in your work and the fact that you’ve been brave enough to be so open throughout your career.
Before she came to the studio, there were whispers over how she would act. Apparently the last time she came with her sister, LaTonya, the two weren’t all that pleasant. I believe the word bitch was used a couple dozen times.
Kandi Eastman, the jock I interned for, stepped out of the studio for a moment. And when Mary arrived, I was the only one there. She entered the room wearing an all white jacket and a big smile.
“Hey,” she said. “How you doing?”
Before I could even answer, Mary extended her arms out and gave me the biggest hug. Maybe she thought I was the DJ, but who cares. I was hugging Mary without having to post bail as a result.
“I have something I wanted to share with you,” I said. “Whenever you find the time to read it.”
“Cool,” she said. She placed the letter into her Louis Vuitton bag.
She did the interview and that was it. I wasn’t sure if she’d actually read the letter or if it would just end up in the trash.
A week later, I was in Los Angeles at the Staples Center watching a charity basketball game.
During halftime I picked up my phone and saw that I had voice mail.
“Michael, how you doing? This is Mary J. Blige”
My eyes lit up and I almost fell out of my chair.
“I read your letter finally,” Mary said. Her voice was wavering. It sounded like she wanted to cry. “I just want to say to you. You have no idea. You made my day. You made it to where I want to go on. I thank God for you and this letter. ”
I was stunned.
She even left a number for me to call her back.
When I called back, her then fiancé, Kendu, answered the phone. I could hear Mary grab the phone when her husband said my name.
“Hello?” she asked.
“Hey, this is Michael, I’m the one who wrote you the letter…in Houston?”
“Hey Michael,” she said. “I remember you.”
“Thank you for taking the time to read my letter,” I said.
“No Michael,” she said. “Thank you for writing it.”
After that call, I realized I could make a connection with people through my writing.
But it wouldn’t be until this year that I got that personal again.
Last month, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover, an 11-year-old Massachusetts student, hanged himself after enduring bullying at school. Days later another 11-year-old boy, Jaheem Herrera, from Georgia, also committed suicide.
Both were on the receiving end of countless gay slurs leveled against them.
I’ve never written about my sexuality. I’ve given hints, danced around it, and dropped some obvious clues, but I’ve never written the words “I am gay” in any published piece. Though much of that had to do with worries over being placed in a box as a writer, I also feared that I would be alienated from my family.
But when I learned of these two boys hanging themselves, I needed to say something.
I thought about all of the people who called into the radio show that day to thank Mary for sharing her story. It made me realize that sometimes it’s not about me, it’s about those suffering who need an encouraging word.
Since the article has been published, I’ve gotten letters from people thanking me for my honesty and for keeping the story of Carl and Jaheem alive.
I don’t regret my decision.
Years ago, Mary told me that I encouraged her to go on. It’s taken me a few years of listening to her voice mail to actually get it. But I get it now.
I can’t sing a lick, but I’ve learned from Mary another way to use my voice.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard-educated freelance writer now based in Los Angeles.
He maintains blogs for The Root, BET.com, and TV Online and also contributes to outlets like XXL and Comedy Central Online. Actually, he’ll write for any publication that still has an actual budget.
When he’s not writing for others he’s comparing his Uncle to Rick James and sharing fun facts like which pop artist resembles a Teddy Graham on his site, The Cynical Ones.
dear readers, have you had moments in your life where you had to step outside your comfort zone for the greater good? Have you had an encoutner with a celebrity that changed you? (For better or for worse.) Was there a particular album or artist that really had you open at a time when you were impressionable and vulnerable?
Michael and I would love to hear from you…