A Black Family Memoir from A Different World


Since I see no reason to add to the thousands of think pieces EBONY magazine’s November cover story, “Cosby vs. Cliff,” undoubtedly will spark–and since Awesomely Luvvie won the think-piece contest already–I’ll tell you a story instead.


I know as soon as I see the kitchen sink that this will be a long night, even without the tears that I don’t know are coming. I haven’t planned my time well, and once again, here sit the dishes. I fill the dish pan with pink Dawn detergent, turn the hot water on, and grab my iPad as the suds rise.

My kitchen has a small shelf that lowers from the underside of the cabinet above the sink. I think that in the 1970s, or whenever these cabinets were installed, the shelf was intended as a place for cookbooks to rest. For me, it’s a TV-on-demand stand. I often set my iPad on the shelf and watch television shows I’ve missed during the week, or movies on Netflix.

Tonight, Netflix prompts me to continue watching A Different World. The Cosby Show spinoff has been in my queue’s rotation for a few weeks at this point, and watching it as I wash dishes has become a ritual of sorts. I knew the show’s entire run had been available on Netflix for several months, and that Black Girl Nerds ran a Saturday morning live tweet of the show, but I wasn’t that invested in it until a friend asked me if I remembered A Different World being as perfect as it was.

He didn’t mean that the characters were pure, wholesome, and flawless. (The producers tried that in the first season and almost got the show canceled, it was so saccharin.) He meant that the show had a cast with all the talent and chemistry, characters with all the personality, director with all the brilliance, and atmosphere with all the blackness it needed to make the last few black babies born into Generation X and the first few born as Millennials love it.

In my 30s, I’m watching A Different World to see all that my friend sees, to get myself through the chore I loathe the most, and to reclaim some of my childhood, now that Netflix has removed The Cosby Show from its online video vault.

I hit “play” on the touch screen, and after I hear the theme’s bluesy guitar notes and Aretha Franklin’s voice, I see a series of confusing images. Street lined with brownstones. Light blue sofa with white polka dots. Telephone slightly hidden behind it on a sofa table. Grandfather clock in the right-hand corner. Two cream-colored pillars centering a staircase with wooden handrails and beige balusters. Oriental rug on the landing. Black art on the walls.

“Wait, is that…”

I look around my kitchen knowing I live alone but hoping to ask someone to confirm what I think but can’t believe is on the screen. And then–

Gasp. “Ohmigod, Ohmigod, Ohmigod!”

She enters. Claire Huxtable is on my iPad screen! 

“It’s Claire! That’s Claire!” I say to the cabinets.

Then Theo Huxtable sails down the stairs, suitcases in hand.

“It’s Theo! Theo!” I scream at the pub table in my breakfast nook.

Vanessa Huxtable pounds down the stairs next. Theo kisses his mom on the cheek, jokes with Vanessa and exits as Vanessa opens the front door—cream to match the pillars, frosted windows with a faux border—to her fast-talking friend Kara.

At this point, I don’t yell at the refrigerator or the window or the neighbor’s dog I can hear incessantly barking outside of it. At this point, I just cry. It’s not an ugly cry like you do when your lover has left you and it rained on the outdoor festival that would’ve cheered you up. It’s the cry that hits when you finally feel something that you didn’t was hurting you.

Through that silent cry, I listen to the Huxtable family’s banter. Through those tears, I see that living room, that staircase, Claire’s grace, Vanessa’s and Kara’s girlish giddiness, Theo’s good son manliness.

I dry my hands, find a tissue to dab my eyes. And as the scene fades from the Huxtable home to the Hillman campus where Claire, Vanessa and Kara will spend the weekend, I remember the patriarch absent from the scene.

Recall the man who made him famous.

Envision nondescript pills landing on alcohol-laced tongues, a spinning room

settling as blurry eyes land on panties discarded in the corner, a painful wetness

between a woman’s thighs. And I say, to the man I who made me love Cliff and his clan,

“You muthafucka.”


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