Here Wilhite goes into detail how he imploded his own relationship years ago through infidelity, giving a first-hand account of how a man could do what he did, why and what he learned from it. For instance, he now knows he can’t juggle two women at the same time.
WHAT I DID TO LESLIE NIA LEWIS IN MY EARLY TWENTIES
I even forgot her name for a time—this kind of forgetting implicates me. Her name is preserved in my primeval print design portfolio in a layout for poetry called “Red Beans and Rice”—in the second issue of Freestyle magazine. Her name is Leslie Nia Lewis.
Leslie Nia Lewis represents the blemish on my intimate relationship record. I am certain you can successfully find more women from my life with a truckload of blemishes but to me this is the one. This was clearly me being completely stupid and inexperienced. You see, she showed up to my crappy, family-issue apartment at the Wilhite Family compound in Inglewood, California during the so-called “Rodney King riot.” The phones were out. She drove all the way from Burbank—from her apartment where she slept on the floor and wrote scripts for a storage container at Disney. She brought a bag of groceries for me. Her car could break down on her any minute. Remember folks: she was driving through streets of burning buildings. I could see the strawberries at the top of the bag. Very romantic.
You see she is a writer. I assume that she is still a screenwriter which makes her a close relative with novel writers. They can completely go into their own world. You kind of feel lonely in their presence sometimes—often in the heat of ‘passion’ when you would expect them to very present and focused on you. Instead, with Leslie Nia Lewis, I felt like a doorman who opened a way for her escape—and she would leave me there just holding the door. I resented this ‘abandonment,’ so when she showed up with the groceries, her romantic riot strawberries, my concern went out for my crappy computers. I think I had a 386sx and a 286 at the time.
I was concerned about my computers because another woman was inside the apartment, she is the woman from the poem “Bryan Wilhite: 0.5 the Sisters”—the one who won’t get off my foot while I was doing all of the cooking—the one who is, by my measure, the most powerful poet I have ever met in person. My stupid-ass assumption was that letting Leslie into the apartment would make a fight start—and this girl fight would somehow break my computers. This was a stupid idea. We all were wearing clothes—and my father told me later via telephone from Decatur, Georgia that I should have invited her in and we would all have a civil discussion (even though the woman who would not get off my foot hid herself in the bedroom).
Outside the apartment door, I mumbled to Leslie that ‘someone’ was inside like a big baby expecting mercy for doing something wrong. She immediately understood that I was just another big baby and began rocking her head from side to side to keep herself from crying as she methodically walked back to her car (with the groceries). She drove away. The car was working. I was not. From that moment on—even though nothing even remotely like this ever happened by me again in over 15 years—I was full of shit. No matter what ideals I have about African womanhood you can always answer, “You are full of shit,” and be correct.
This is what should have happened:
- I should have written “0.5 the Sisters” before I met Leslie Nia Lewis. The understanding preserved in that poem represents the possibility that at least Leslie and I would be friends to this day. This also implies that no ‘great’ poetess would have hiding in my bedroom.
- I should have spoken about my ‘doorman problems’ directly to Leslie. I’m a writer, right? Can’t I be challenged and focused to articulate such an alien feeling to a twenty-something year old? Unfortunately, at the time I was preoccupied with me and self deprecation. This culminated in the “Self Pity Portraits” stored in my chapbook, the adolescence of the cool.
This experience (and many others far less dramatic) leads to some conclusions:
- Two writers might make a lovely couple but a writer and reader—especially a reader that’s an editor—certainly makes for a great couple.
- I’m too “arrogant” to have two or more “girlfriends” at one time because the production of energy required to tell lies (and remember the lies) is expensive, demeaning and disgusting to me.
- The meaning of loneliness is more complex. The meaning of intimacy is more complex. Simply having access to the woman’s physical body is not enough for me. Does this sound scary to you? Well, that’s probably why you haven’t called me.