Want to Be a Pen
I want to be a pen
So I can feel the orgasmic flow
Of liquid ink run through me
So I can feel the words
Instead of hearing the words
That way I can truly understand
The words of truth
And not the lies that come out
Of twisted minds
Instead of open minds
Of open eyes
And contain it all
I want to be a pen
So I can be passed around
And feel the emotion of the writer
Just by the way they grab and hold me
Or was it the way they dropped me down
When the poem reached its last verse
Or when the story reached its end
I want to be a pen
So I am always working
Always wondering who
My next employer will be
But always working
I want to be a pen
So I can be placed behind one's ear
And feel the humming of ideas
Within their brain
And memories remembering
Until the thought process
Turns into the sleeping process
So I can be justly lazy
And let others do the job
I want to be a pen
So my name could be Bic or Sharpie
I would be known by all
So I can be the one who wrote
That famous speech or
That ten minute sketch on a bus transfer
I want to be a pen
So I can fall out of pockets
Roll down grass hills
And train platforms
Roll out of doors like
Meatballs that fell off spaghetti
Get lost in Italy
Or was it China?
Travel near and distant lands
More cultured than the owner
I want to be a pen
So I can be
Passed around to help
Pass numbers or even
Y2K ready e-mail address
I want to be a pen
So I can
Write that Dear John letter
Or that love poem
That created that love moment
I want to be a pen
So I can spell the words of healing
And aiding souls
And creating lives
I want to be that quick fixer-upper
I am not that pen
I am not that pen
Because I am that writer
I am that thinker
That thinker that picked up that pen
And wrote down
I want to be a pen
I sat looking at
the envelope as if it were an unidentified foreign object;
something from another time and place. The return address, neatly printed
in the top left corner, read:
Hattie Mae Peterson
414 Cooper Court
Gainesville, FL 32601
I knew who
Hattie was. I grew up two doors down from her house, but that was a long
time ago . That was when people called me
Junebug; I had long since shaken that name
and didn't want to be reminded of it. It wasn't so much the nickname but the
time that it represented. I was never meant to be poor
and I resented the fact that I was forced to
grow up that way. As a matter of fact, I convinced my wife to elope with me so
she wouldn't have to meet the people whom I considered
figments of a long and forgotten past. I was doing
just fine until Hattie decided to get on the Internet
and look me up. She didn't understand that whatever
dealings I had had with anyone from home were over the
day mama died. She was the only reason I would ever have gone back there and now
she is six feet under. As far as I was concerned there
was no cause for anybody from my past to know anything
about my present; just as no one from my present
needed to know anything from my past. I am Preston
Johnson, a broker at a prestigious investment firm in
Los Angeles, California, not some southern farmer's son named Junebug. I decided
a long time ago that this was the life I was meant to
live, in a big house with a pool in the back, a
beautiful wife with a perfect body, complete with long flowing blonde hair, and
a daughter who will never know what a hot comb is.
Hattie possibly want, I wondered, she probably has a house full of
kids living on welfare and is asking me for a handout.
The answer would be a definite no; I refuse to
support the child of some worthless Negro who wouldn't take the
responsibility for his own offspring. I have my
own children to care for.
surprise when I opened the letter and read:
I know that it's been a while since we spoke and you have a new life in
California, but I fee1 it
is my duty to let you
know that your daughter is graduating. from high
school next month. I never told her about you because frankly I didn't think
she needed you. I have a husband who has been the
only father she has known. He has't once
complained that she was not his child biologically. Lately, however,
Theresa has been asking questions and I feel that it
is time for her to know the truth. So if you are willing I
will send you a ticket to her graduation. You can contact me at this
address or at my law office, 238-555-7903. I look
forward to hearing from you.
"So, you've decided?"
He asked, his gaze directed towards the nearby playground, where a group of
youngsters, bare-chested in the rain, were engaged in a noisy game of soccer .
"I've decided." She
answered, the words barely audible.
"Yeah. Right. So, what
about me, don't I have a say in this?"
Now she turned to face
him, a slight frown formed across her face. Her eyes quickly shifted to the
floor as if searching for a decent reply; with no luck she turned her head
towards him, avoiding eye contact. Her long skeletal fingers nervously glided
through her silver thinning hair. They stood together in the narrow storefront
doorway, as the breeze shifted the rain in their direction.
"C'mon, let's go
inside, we can't get too wet out here or you'll be calling in sick tomorrow."
She said, reluctantly changing the subject. Her voice was very deep and strong;
was amazing how such a confident voice bellowed out of such a frail delicate
figure. As she entered the small old-fashioned cafe, her shiny black cane made
several slight "thumps" against the concrete floor, resembling the beat of a
calm heart. He followed close behind awaiting her decision.
It wasn't just a café.
It was a home away from home meeting place, especially for the black folk in
Sweet Berry County. Everyone came from miles around to indulge in the home
cooked meals at Ma Suga's Soul Food Café; her specialties included her
juicy sweet potatoes, seasoned collard greens, golden cornbread, and her
homemade pies. Ma Suga played the role of everyone's grandmother and kept
everyone's belly full.
The café was no bigger
than a minute; six small square tables, surrounded by wooden stools, rested in
the comer of the floor. A long wooden bar stretched from one side of the wall to
the other and a window, cut along the back wall, exposed the kitchen. The gray
walls were overflowing with black and white photographs displaying beautiful,
proud black folk. A jukebox rested in the right comer spewing those oldies but
goodies tunes. You wouldn't call it a sight to see, but the love and warmth
produced by Ma Suga and the small community made the place aesthetically
"Ma Suga, I just want
you to know that you brought this community together.. how could you do this to
your own people?" The young boy asked, as he pulled the lid off the pie
dish, grabbing a warm sticky slice of apple pie.
"What are you talkin'
about? Do what to my people? All I did was bring those people together, but if
they can't stay together without me and my café, then there's a problem with our
own people." Ma Suga replied, as she limped her way to the small metal cash
register, the thump of her can echoing her footsteps.
"You see, that pie you
eatin' ain't nothing like what I use to bake back then, I use to put my foot all
in it... now, I got arthritis in my hands and my body's getting too tired to come
up here everyday." She said, gazing through the café window at the new soul
food restaurant across the street. "Plus dem white folks tryna put me out of
"Is that what your
worried about, can't nobody put Ma Suga out of business. I've been your helper
for nine years and best friend since I was eight years old; I don't want to work
anywhere else with anyone else." Jason replied, as he devoured the last piece of
pie, wiping his hands on his crème colored apron.
"I'm sorry, Jason, but
I had a good run and I'm proud of this lil' café, but some things you just have
to let go." And with that she slid the Out of Business sign toward the boy. "Now
put the sign on the door. It's 5 o'clock, closing time...
All God's Chillun's Got Shoes
The trees here swayed gently, tickled by a
breeze that made its way steadily
outside. The leaves joined in, rustling in fits of laughter, showing their
delight. The sun,
though momentarily hidden by passing clouds, shone brightly up there in its blue
Lionel watched the scene from his window.
He seemed to be up there too,
somewhere between those white heavenly bodies floating by. Of course, the paint
given off from the window's fresh white coat didn't do much to bring him back
The parade of families outside dampened his spirits, calling up the urge
somewhere in his gut to discard his shoes. Perspiration dotted the foreheads of
fathers, smiling under the weight of box after box. It seemed pulled straight
pages of the novels where someone moved into college for the first time.
There'd been no gleaming parents waiting for his things at the Greyhound station
upon arrival. Only his muscled arms were there to bear the burden of seventeen
worth of living, packed away in a suitcase and chest. As had been for a long
alone stood ready to carry the load.
And so the shoes--nice brown loafers given to him by his grandfather last
evening-had been desperately thrown aside. His chest and suitcase both stood at
foot of the wooden bed frame beneath the window. He'd sunk into the springy,
blue-striped mattress that was to be his very own, and was content now to lean
windowsill while he rubbed his uncovered feet against the glossed, wooden floor.
coolness of the wood filled him with calm, and the grooved creases seemed about
same width as those in the floors at home.
He looked away from the Carnival of families below and took a second glance at
the Orientation folder placed atop a desk of his very own, a desk he could now
well into the night without fear of waking anyone else. His name ran so neatly
top of the glossy maroon folder. He took a moment again to scan the print--Lionel
Bartholomew Strong, Arkansas.
The orderliness of it all had captivated him for two
minutes when he'd first arrived. He'd been so amazed by the neatness, so
he'd forgotten the suitcase outside. The print across the folder's center,
positioned in the
exact middle of the desk, all balanced and together. He'd never known such
precision, and it came as a welcome change. He hadn't wanted to disrupt the
the folder still sat unopened on the desk.
He continued working his feet into the grooves of that floor and reveled in the
grandeur of it all. Little Lionel, quiet church boy with a heart as wide as his
away from home for the first time, and all the way up North, too. College boy
a folder and a desk and a wooden floor to prove it. Even the Heavens seemed to
offering its approval, the hosts whispering their delight through the rustling
It seemed a perfect fit, and there Lionel sat, feeling the beauty and order of
new surroundings through the soles of his feet.
To See Them Dance Again
If I was going to hull some peas,
I knew it wasn't going to be in my kitchen; that
would have been too much. Not in the house.
The air out on the porch carried telltale signs of fall; the chill and the smell
leaves lying idle on my front lawn. My nose even caught the smell of somebody's
that had sat in the stove too long.
You could hear a choir of grumbling stomachs from
one end of the block to the other. Seemed like each stomach knew Sunday
the meal always kept close company better than a calendar. Maybe I'd call
was down to have some peas.
I had a whole bag full, some of Mike's finest, still hiding beneath their purple
Where they'd found such plump ones this time of year I hadn't the slightest.
Probably too many for one person, especially a little lady like me; although,
don't get me
wrong, I can still eat. But not this big ol' bag full. Buying for one was a
lesson I had yet
My aluminum chairs were chipping a little bit. This set had seen many a season,
and rust seemed to be sneaking up on them like the nights did this time of year.
I sat in
mine, the seat closest to the door, and put the bag in the other, his chair. The
bowl I set in
my lap, and rocked, making quick work of separating peas from the hull.
That Mike was a fool, I thought, laughing out loud. Said his days hadn't been so
bright since I'd last stopped by. That little boy probably ain't had a cold day
since he got some hair on his chin. Seemed like every little hummingbird at
his praises, him being the only black man in the county with his own market.
Told him, I just didn't have anybody left to cook for. He nodded, his eyes
to his hands.
Truth be told, I just haven't had any taste for Mike's peas since the funeral.
There' d been so much food after the service for my Donnie, chicken and yams.
brought over some other macaroni and cheese, and that Eloise, who know she ain't
any business near a stove, brought some greens anyhow.
There was cake and pie and
cobbler to last until Jesus stopped by to pick up my soul, and a wrapped up
But I never touched them peas. Donnie and I, we were peas, everybody said, peas
from the same pod. The one's after the funeral had got all cold and still in
that pot, and
Donnie and I were never like that.
We were always close and together when we were
young; both waiting to be let free. And everybody always watched us on the dance
when the jukebox put on one of them fast records. They'd say, "Aw, ya'll better
out the way now. Here come Donnie and Dora." And' we'd sure 'nuf put on a show.
Jumping and shaking 'til we were both panting and sweating, and couldn't do
but fall into each other's arms.
We'd grown from the same root, he was my strong and supple stem, and I was his
delicate bloom. Two peas, everybody used to say two peas from the same pod.
But we were never cold and still like them peas after the service; I threw them
away as soon as everybody left me alone. If I ate some peas, I wanted them to be
and jumping, playing around in that boiling water just the way Donnie and I used
My water was waiting in there on the stove. The chair groaned as I stood up, and
pulled the bowl of peas into my chest. I was ready to see some peas jumping, and
if I had
to do a little jig myself, them peas was gonna dance again.
You don' haffa dread to be rasta, ayyaa. It's
not a dreadlock thing. The music blared
from the plastic radio; tagged with stickers, cigarette burns and hearts that
professed high above
school love. Mark began to read the penciled etchings and think to himself.
Mark loves Julie, Mark loves Tanika, Julie loves Tanika? Wait, that's not right.
did I write that? I must have been tired. Hhmmm, you don't have to have dreads
to be rasta, so
then you don't have to be rasta if you have dreads, right? But I wear the colors
and listen to the
music, so I guess I fit the description. Wait, that sounds familiar. 'We're not
saying you did it,
but all we're saying is that you fit the description.' I fit the description of
what, a criminal? I'll
cut my locks the day my people are recognized as kings again. I guess that means
me and these
locks are in for the long haul. Each of my locks has a different name that
represents each of my
personalities. Benvolio, Mercutio, and Romeo; I used to have this thing for
Juliet is for the feminine side my girl thinks I have. Juliet is the smallest
dread though, don't get
it twisted. Twisted, yeah, I do have to get my hair re-twisted. I think I'll use
Shea butter this
time. I used to date a girl named Shea. She was a freak, too. She loved my
dreads. She used to
tug on them with her soft, petite hands and scratch my scalp with her long
Ghetto fabulous. But purple is the color of royalty; of divinity even. I
remember when I believed
in divinity; well, my divinity anyways. I remember when I thought I could fly,
but my wings just
hadn't grown out yet. Wings, yeah that's what I want, with some bleu cheese. I
delivers. They delivered in that Trick Daddy video. Who did he call? I have some
Charms on the fridge though, so I'll be straight. I'll be straight. Right, that
was the last thing you
said to me before you drove off in that car, youngin'. You hated when I called
you that. An AK-47 and a temper worse than mine. They were your homeboys, alright. Your homeys
leave you to fend for yourself once everything turned to shit.
"There are lots of signs in life, some that you may not like. You may be living
minute, the next minute you're gone away 'ay. Hold up your heads my brothers.
. ." Mark turned
the stiff volume knob on the radio up to maximum output as he closed his almond
drifted off to sleep. He rested in the wicker chair as the rocking soothed his
spirit. It had been his
brother's favorite chair to go to sleep in, and as he sprawled out on the worn
leather sofa, Mark
found comfort in the chair this time. He wanted to remember the time he believed
I remember what if felt like when my mom greased my scalp. I used to run to the
bathroom and fetch the pink Afro comb and the bottle of Blue Velvet. Next, I
would go to my room and get a pillow. Returning to the living room I would give
my mother the utensils and place the pillow between her legs to sit on. My Mom
would then take out each pigtail, one by one, making sure to hold the top so she
wouldn’t hurt me when she caught a kink. As she parted each section of hair and
massaged the greasy substance into my scalp I wished I were outside playing or
in my room reading; getting my hair done was not my idea of fun. I’m sure my
mother was having no picnic combing through my thick hair either, but it had to
be done. Such a trivial activity may seem unimportant or pointless to write
about but whenever I feel scared, alone or just plain beaten by the world, I
think back to the comfort of that pillow, the security of my mother’s legs and
the confidence of her sure and capable hands. Drawing upon this memory I find
strength and I can’t wait for a time when I am able to give my own daughter the
self-assurance of a comforting memory.
Thoughts of a Man without a Father
I could feel that the water was hot enough to
sting as I rinsed the soap from my face. I gathered more water into my
hands and rinsed a second time. I felt the hot water trickle down my
face as I directed my attention to the mirror in front of me. I watched
as a single drop of water rolled from the edge of my left eyebrow to my
cheek. It rested there for a moment before continuing down my cheek, off
my chin, and back into the sink. I studied my countenance for a moment.
They tell me that I look like him. I haven’t seen him in almost fifteen
years so I couldn’t form an argument opposing or supporting what they
say, However, every time I see my reflection, I almost think that I can
Maybe we have the same eyes, I thought. I began to study
mine. Some guy once said that the eyes are the gateway to the soul. If
that is so, I am thankful for having the darkest eyes possible. They are
dark brown; almost black, which was perfect for concealment. I am sure
his are the same color. Lord knows he has a lot to conceal. I searched
my eyes for more proof that they were like his. They tell me that when I
smile, I have my mom’s eyes. When I am angry, I have his eyes. They also
say that I smile too much, so maybe, I don’t have his eyes.
have his nose, I thought. No, I definitely have my mom’s nose. The nose
that everyone think is too big. But I’ve never seen what everyone was
talking about. I mean, I like it. There are these tiny brown freckles on
it that no one notices but my mom and me. This is because she has them
too. He doesn’t have them. I don’t completely remember his face but I
remember he doesn’t have them.
Maybe it was the facial hair, I
thought. He had a lot of that and I’m beginning to get some too. But
then again, most men grow facial hair. In fact, maybe the only thing we
have in common is the fact that we are both men. I am his son, so I
guess I should resemble him a little. Physically. I could never resemble
him mentally. I could never think the way he must have thought in order
to cause as much pain as he did. I would never think or act like him. I
am a product of negativity but that does not mean I will produce
negatively. And so far, I am not doing too badly.
This is definitely
something to smile about, I thought. Therefore, I smiled at this and
proceeded to dry my face. This is part of my daily routine where I
strive to have a positive day.
“Ice cream, ice cream,” the children would cry on
hearing the ringing of the bells. Everyday of spring and summer he came
to the neighborhood selling ice cream. It was amazing how, upon noticing
the faint sound of the bells, children’s participation in tag and
hopscotch was temporarily interrupted. Some of the youth only had to
reach in their pockets for change, while others had to run to their
The bells grew louder and the truck stopped in front of the
children. They created a neatly formed line in anticipation of a cool
and smooth treat. His truck was always shiny, his service impeccable. He
was the epitome of an ice cream man, always having in store whatever
they wished so there were no disappointments. Now and then an adult or
two would join the line, always giving pride of place to the children;
but you rarely saw them with snow cones or creamy pops.
ice cream man stopped visiting the neighborhood; his departure abrupt
and without warning. No one knew the reason for his disappearance. In
two years since he was last seen some of the children still speak of his
absence. It was later discovered that ice cream was not all he sold out
of that truck. It was rumored that there was distribution of another
type, but nobody wanted to talk about it.
The air that hung over the crowd in the bar was
thick and smelled of smoke and corn chips. There were a couple of people
lounging around at the tables, sipping on cold beers and passing the
time. The small, red jukebox in the corner was playing an old
Temptations’ song when the two guys walked in. Grant, the taller of the
two, wore a gray button-down shirt with black slacks. He had a creamy
chocolate complexion with almond colored eyes. The dim room seemed to
light up from the diamond shining in his left ear and his million dollar
smile. He frequented the gym often, which was apparent with one look at
him: his shirt failed miserably to hide his bulging pecs. Next to him
stood his lifelong friend, Joseph. Joseph, standing about five foot even
and wearing a green sweatshirt and jeans, had always walked in his
friend’s shadow. Compared to the muscular Grant, it was evident that
Joseph had never missed a meal. He was short and pudgy, with caramel
skin and dark, curly hair. When the two of them walked in, their eyes
both fell upon the same exact thing: a woman sitting at the bar, wearing
a tight red dress and matching high heels, with her hair up in a French
twist, carelessly sipping an apple martini.
“You see her?” asked Grant, straightening out his
“Yeah, I see her. I bet you a hundred dollars I
can get her number.” Joseph answered.
“Ha, save your breath. A hundred dollars says
she’ll give me her number…when she leaves my place in the morning.”
“Whatever G, “ Joseph sneered. “I feel lucky
tonight.” The two walked over to the bar and sat on opposite sides of
“Hey there beautiful. Can I buy you a drink?,”
Grant said in his deep, seductive voice, noticing her glass was nearly
empty. The woman smiled at him but didn’t respond. Just then Joseph cut
“Umm, you know if I could rearrange the alphabet,
I would put U and I together,” he replied reaching for the bowl of
pretzels. Grant laughed to himself, knowing his buddy didn’t stand a
“Oh, is that so?” the woman remarked, motioning
the bartender over to refill her drink.
“What’s a gorgeous woman like yourself doing here
alone?” Grant asked.
“Well, I was trying to relax after a long day of
work.” She answered, apparently annoyed.
“What do you do?” Joseph asked. “I bet you’re
probably a model.” Grant tried again to hold in his laughter. With those
lame lines, he now understood why his buddy hadn’t had a date in so
“Nah, you seem way too smart to be a model,“
Grant interrupted. “I bet you’re a lawyer or some big executive with a
big office making a lot of money.”
The woman rolled her eyes at Grant, “The little
guy is right. I am a model.”
She shifted her body towards Joseph. Grant’s face
stung with embarrassment.
Grant bought himself a drink, while Joseph and
the woman continued their conversation. He went over to the jukebox,
selected a song, and returned to the bar. Shortly after, Joseph got up
and walked over to him.
“So, I’m going to be looking for my money
tomorrow,” he whispered with a smile on his face.
“What? You mean she gave you her number?” Grant
“Well, not yet. But we’re about to go back to her
place, so I guess I could get it then.” Joseph winked at him and walked
out the bar, arm in arm with the woman.
Grant sat at the bar by himself, shocked at what
had just happened. For as long as he’d known Joseph, he was always the
one that got the girl. In high school, Grant was the popular jock while
Joseph presided over the chess club. He couldn’t believe that he had
just walked out of the bar with that beautiful woman. He really couldn’t
believe she’d chosen Joseph over him. His thoughts were soon interrupted
when the bartender walked over to him
“Seems like you’re friend is in for a wild
night,” he remarked.
“Yeah, real funny.” Grant snapped, believing the
bartender was attempting to rub his defeat in his face.
“Actually, the laugh is going to be on him,“ the bartender snickered,
“that woman he just left with.. is really a man.”
Simone S. Bridges
the edges of his plate, creating that high pitched screeching sound. He
shoved the last forkful of spaghetti and meat sauce into his mouth. He
lifted the tall glass off the table and guzzled what was left of the
Brita water. As he eased back on his chair, he tilted his head toward
the ceiling and signed. He reviewed the day’s activities in his mind and
“What’s wrong?” Carmella asked tenderly. Joe
“I just had a long day, that’s all. I think I’m
going to shut it down early tonight”, he announced.
Carmella responded, “Humph, already? We just got home. Besides, we have
Joe looked her up and down, and then closed his
eyes. He did this every time he committed some foolish and unnecessary
offense against their relationship. He thought that maybe he could get
to bed before his infraction was revealed.
She began, “I checked our account today and my
check from last week is missing. Any idea of what happened to it?” She
knew exactly what happened to the check. She just wanted to see how Joe
would handle himself.
Joe fiddled with the fork and knife between his
fingers like a drummer would play with his drum sticks. Carmella sensed
his nervousness and confirmed it as guilt.
“What did you do with the freaking money Joe?!”
Her tone was high-strung and her patience was worn thin from his history
of paycheck squandering sessions at the uptown dog fights. Joe had
gotten them into serious debt six months earlier. Carmella was the one
to bail them out. Now they were living off Carmella’s bi-monthly
paychecks. She was determined to get on top of things again and not to
let Joe set them behind again. She slammed her fist on the small round
wooden table. She threw her question back at him.
“Answer me now Joe!” Her voice cracked as she
tried to yell but couldn’t. Joe’s eyes browsed every corner of the room,
but never met hers. Still, no words were spoken. He dropped his head and
a tear of shame dropped from his eye. He knew he was wrong but didn’t
want to admit it. His mouth was getting dry, which made it harder to
speak. He made a final attempt.
He stuttered, “I-I – just borrowed it for-”,
Carmella cut him off and let her disappointment and anger explode.
“Save it! I can’t believe this. So I guess you
have a way to pay the rent on Tuesday?” Once again, she knew the answer
to the question she had asked. The kitchen was quiet. Her tears were
running down off her face and her red silk blouse was getting damp.
“Of course you don’t”, she continued. She left
the kitchen and started to move around the house frantically, grabbing a
bag and stuffing various articles in it as she yelled. When Joe heard
her run up the steps, he thought she was done scolding him. With
Carmella upstairs, Joe thought there was hope for him to slide out of
the house, or at least to another room, with some dignity. But before he
could plan a real escape route, Carmella ran down the steps, dropped her
bag on the tan leather sofa and stomped back into the kitchen.
“Boy did I play myself marrying a sorry money
squandering man. Never again!” she hollered. At first, Joe didn’t
realize what she was doing. His look of curiosity made Carmella explain.
She shot her fiery words at him.
“I’m leaving you Joe. I told you that was it. You
had a chance. I guess you thought I was playing. But it wasn’t me
playing games, it was you.” She stood and waited for a confession or
some expression of regret from her man.
Joe just watched her. He desperately didn’t want
her to go, but he knew he couldn’t stop her. So all he could do was
stand against the peach painted kitchen walls and watch her.
Carmella finally stopped crying and crept toward
Joe. With tears still in her eyes, she raised her hand slowly, and then
with all her strength, she slapped Joe’s left cheek. The blow hit him
hard. His nostrils flared, but he didn’t flinch. His lack of response
surprised and disappointed Carmella. She stood there frustrated and
wondered if this was the man she’d met just six years ago. The same man
who seemed to have his life under control. No one knew he like to
gamble. Carmella realized the truth after she found her personal
accounts exhausted six months ago. She realized he had no control. His
entire life was a farce. It was one thing to waste his money, but he
squandered hers as well. Joe had spent more than half the week gambling
in the street. He had a different story every week to conceal his
behavior. Carmella knew the consistency she required in her life was not
with a man with gambling, and more importantly, lying habits. She though
maybe after she struck him, he would finally see how serious and hurt
she was. She wanted him to realize that he squandered her love like he
had squandered their money, and that’s what hurt her the most. She
turned around quickly and raced out the kitchen into the living room.
She snatched her bag from the sofa and finished packing.
While Joe stood there still comprehending that he
was losing his woman and that he just got slapped, Carmella yelled out
to him, “You know, I used to tell people about you. I used to say ‘you
know that guy Joe Williams, who lives in the big house at the end of the
street? The one that everyone says has money and that he’s unmarried?
The first time I really saw him up close and noticed how young he was, I
said to myself, that’s my man. I’m going to be Mrs. Williams; I don’t
know him yet, but I will.’” She giggled to herself, then begun to cry
She went on, “I can see him through his own eyes and he’s who I want to
love.” Joe took his weight off the wall and ran into the living room
like the house was on fire. He grabbed her and hugged her with tense
arms. He released her reluctantly because he remembered, she was not
staying. He had struck out.
As Carmella wiped the last tear Joe would ever
see off her face, she caressed his swollen cheek and whispered softly.
“Now I’ve seen all I want to see and…” He voice
trailed off as she made a sharp turn and walked towards the fireplace
behind them. She took a deep breath and with the pace of an arthritic
woman, she slid her wedding band off her thin finger, placed it on the
mantle under their wedding picture, grabbed her bag and left.
Politics As Usual
Robert "Robye" L. Anderson, II
Williams lived in the big house down at the end of our street.
Everyone said she had money and she was unmarried. The first time I
saw her, I noticed how young she was. I never thought for a second
that someone my age would have developed enough wealth to become
fully self sufficient and live in our neighborhood. Most of my
neighbors were old, black… well at least they would say they were
black, and rich. Mrs. Kelly, the older woman whom I was walking with
at the time that I saw Janet for the first time, was immersed in
conversation with me, as I helped carry her groceries back to Kelly
Place, or as I called it Kelly Palace.
young man, I just don’t understand why you decided to go to Harvard
Law instead of Howard Law,” said Mrs. Kelly as she spoke up to me in
a rather raspy voice. "Your mother went to Howard Law, your father
went to Howard Divinity, and your brother and sister are down at
Morehouse and Spellman taking classes, why do you have to be the odd
I’ve told you, everyone in my family, and everyone in this nosey
neighborhood countless times, I’m going to live my life the way I
want to, the way I chose to, not the way everyone else…" I said in
yes yes, we’ve heard that one before, too. You know Dr. Butler down
course I know him, he’s only been lecturing me all my life about why
the Kappas are so much better then the Alphas."
well he went to Georgetown to get his undergraduate degree, but he
came back to the right side and went to Howard Law… and good thing
you brought up Greeks too! You can still join at the graduate level
you know, no shame in doing that… well that’s what they say anyway."
not joining a Greek, I never met a Black Greek in my life. All the
Greeks I know are white. Isn’t it kind of dumb to call these social
groups Black Greeks anyway? I thought Greece was in Europe, not
all that smartness coming out your mouth, you’d think you’d be smart
enough to go to a Black Law school."
"Sorry ma’am for disrespecting you, it was not my intent," I said in
said Mrs. Kelly in a voice which sounded like she was the one with
pity for me.
had these conversations over and over countless times throughout my
life. My parents may have gotten to my brother and sister about
which schools and Greeks they should be a part of, but not me. I
wanted to look at the world in the big picture, not the Black
picture. Even in my youth, I didn’t want to be a part of this
section of society which I was born into. It was full of competition
and alliances simply because of what fraternity of sorority one
belonged in. I always strove for a different being, a different me.
As we arrived at the white painted iron gate which was Ms. Kelly’s
row house home, her little mutt that she calls
started to run around gingerly when it saw its owner.
my Precious, have you been a good girl when mommy was away?" Now
holding the rug of a dog in her weak, withered, flabby, feeble,
arms, she turned around to make sure the dog got a good look at me.
"Precious, look who I brought with me. Say hi to Daniel. You haven’t
seen Daniel all summer since he graduated from the big white school
in Maryland and decided to go to another white school for graduate
school," she said in an ancient, playful but sarcastic voice.
‘GRERR… ROOF! ROOF! ROOF!" That was Precious’ usual greeting toward
me, so I just patted the dog on the head as we entered the house.
Daniel, you can put up all the groceries in the kitchen, and when
you are finished pour me a glass of lemonade and bring my Macadamia
nut cookies to me and Precious here in the living room."
Now that’s one thing these rich old black people do, that I have
never understood. As much information as they love to give, they
sure are stingy when it came to giving anything else, unless it
benefits them in someway.
son, what is it?"
"Since I did mow your lawn before I brought, packed, and carried all
your groceries, I am just a little parched. Is it at all possible
that I may have something to drink?"
Daniel, of course. You just go ahead, get you a glass, and pour
yourself some water from the sink."
As I was just about to sarcastically ask for just a little bit of
the pitcher full of lemonade which she was having, the doorbell
"Daniel, would you go see who it is for me."
I walked over to the door and opened it. To my surprise it was the
new girl from down the street, Janet Williams, holding a cake in her
"Hello Janet," I said before she had a chance to give the formal
greeting of a new neighbor.
She was dressed in an ivy green business suit, with a pink blouse.
On her lapel she wore the infamous Alpha Kappa Alpha pin, and around
her neck she wore a beautiful golden necklace. She was obviously
politicking, as I called it, or attempting to build her connections.
I don’t believe we have met before."
"That’s a nice cake, did you make it?" I said.
I did make it, I’m glad you think it looks good, mister…"
"Graves, Daniel Graves," I said rather confidently with a hint of
arrogance, but with special intent. I’ve been through this song and
dance before. My family name is a well known name. So I threw it out
there to see what she would throw back. If she was all about
politics, she would say something like ‘Ah, so you’re Mr. Graves,
and blah blah blah.’ However, if she was about more then just
getting her family name out, then she would greet me first, then
perhaps make a stupid small talk joke that would engage in
flirtation. Personally, I was hoping for option number two, because
she is a cutie.
so you’re Mr. Graves, nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much
about your accomplishments…" she continued on.
It was a mild tragedy, because she is a petite young woman with a
big round backside that was just waiting to get out of that ivy
business suit, and on to some Big Dan. However, that was just
another example of why I left this life behind, because it is
usually just politics as usual around here. I did not respond to
her. Instead I called for Mrs. Kelly to get her shriveled ass up an
get her own door. Of course I didn’t say it like that… well too loud
anyway. Before I left, I took the rest of Mrs. Kelly’s cookies,
drank most of her lemonade, kicked her ugly dog, took a handfull of
mints from Mrs. Kelly’s living room, and cut a slice of Janet’s
cake… okay I took almost half the cake, as the two of them looked on
in amazement at the portion I took.
to have met you Janet… hope to see you more fully next time. Bye,
Mrs. Kelly, thanks for lunch.”
…And I left.
Robert "Robye" L. Anderson, II
remember yesterday like it was today. Wait it may have been today,
or maybe it was two days ago and it only seems like yesterday. My
memory's a tad bit off. Well, lets face it, my memory's pretty
abysmal. However if there is one thing I do remember, it's_ her.
her skate into the sunlit park about an hour past noon that day, but
I see lots of girls skate in the park all the time when the leaves
are green and the breeze is cool, so I paid her little mind. At the
time I was playing basketball in our fence caged basketball court,
commonly referred to as "Da Cage." The sun beamed on me as if I had
caught the full attention of all the gods and legions of the heavens
as I worked on my game. Usually, when this happens, in an effort to
concentrate solely on my game, I ignore every aspect of life around
me. I become so entranced in my activity, that the only feeling that
matters is the way the sound of the ball swishing through the metal
net makes me feel.
Through all my lay-ups, mid- range jumpers, and three point
attempts, I did not notice that the other Catz from the
neighborhood, who were playing at the other half of "Da Cage" were
gone. The only thing that brought me out my concentration was a
breeze that hit me hard enough to make the sweat on the back of my
neck crust up and give me temporary goose-bumps. In my pause from
action, I saw her skating around the court. She stayed on the vacant
side during my brief rest. Still disinterested, I resumed my
Suddenly, I was distracted to a point that I would not recover that
day. As I was about to leap up to throw down a dunk, a figure caught
the corner of my right eye, then the sound of skates clackering
smoothly against the asphalt turned my head and I was able to get my
first good look at this girl. She wore an orange laced bikini top
that was tied in a bow that fluttered downward toward the small of
her back. As her laces led my eyes further south on her anatomy, it
took my attention from the metal pole that held up the basketball
rim which was directly in front of me. Luckily my thigh cushioned
the impact and it allowed me to somewhat trip awkwardly but smoothly
onto the blacktop. Even luckier, the girl did not even notice I had
fallen into her path of skating, and she fell right into my lap.
Though we were both dazed from our collision, I made a point to
recover quickly because I wanted to examine her thoroughly. She had
long black hair that stretched, tickling the middle of her back
slightly. Her eyebrows were slim, arched, but gave a seductive
mystique to her. Her eyes were closed at the time of examination, so
I proceeded deeper into Dixieland. Her breasts were larger than
many, smaller than few, and perhaps the breeze made it seem as if
they were looking right at me_ well maybe her left nipple was
looking over at the ball which was rolling down the court about to
hit and rattle "Da Cage" fence_ it didn't matter.
continued my hurried anatomy lesson, I noticed that she had the
cutest, well sexiest little belly button I had ever seen. It was a
small inward belly button with a little grape-like tip attempting
pointlessly to climb out of its hole.
eyes were starting to wander too much when her eyes snatched mine
into her focus. Her eyes were hazel and hypnotic. I was back into a
trance, but now it was over this girl. It was as if I knew
everything about her, and the trance gave me the ability to tap into
her mind and predict her future actions.
before she was about to say excuse me, I jumped up and told her my
name, "Ryan! My name is Ryan_hello." As I anticipated her telling me
her majestic name, I started to ponder all the things we would do
together, like_ play basketball at "da cage," and skate together
through the park.
she spoke, "Ryan_.MOVE!!! Let me up you no basketball playing, Air
Gordon wearing, Allen Iverson wannabe, probably no job having, women
she hastened up to skate feverishly away from me, we both noticed
that she mistakenly dropped a hundred dollar bill onto the blacktop.
As I was going to retrieve it and give to her, she yelled to me, "Oh
so, you're not just a groper, but a thief too!!! You know what, you'
re not a man at all, you're just a little_!!!"
bent over, picked up the hundred dollar bill, looked at me one last
time with the most wicked gaze I had ever seen, and skated out of
even thought she though I was Lucifer, I will never forget her.
only sound that could be heard in the room came from the old,
mahogany grandfather clock in the corner. Outside, the sky was a
dark, somber gray as the rain pounded hard against the window. I sat
alone on the bed with thoughts filling my mind. Glancing over at the
pillow near the headboard, I remembered all the nights I’d waited
for him to come home. I’d clung to that tear-stained pillow, hoping
to procure some kind of comfort as I would cry myself to sleep.
the early hours of the morning, he’d return to fill that empty spot
next to me in the bed, but never completely filling the emptiness in
my heart. He’d assure me that his actions were innocent and that I
was the only one; but I knew better. I knew he lied as he had done
on so many other occasions. For almost ten years now I stayed with
him, remained right there by his side. I’d made up my mind to leave
him many times. But every time he’d promise to change and, like a
fool, I believed him. Honestly, part of me knew he’d never change,
but the other part of me hoped and prayed that, just maybe, this
time would be different. For so long I’d seen our relationship going
down a dead-end road, but refused to accept it. Even though my
friends had urged me to leave him, claiming he did me more harm than
good, I ignored their advice.
the night stand was a picture of the two of us taken years before.
But, as the picture faded, so did the memories of the happy times we
had together. There was a time when I had thought I’d found my
prince charming, my knight in shining armor. He was the one with
whom I shared my hopes and dreams, the one to whom I poured out my
heart. Through good times and bad, he was always right there. Then,
without any warning, things suddenly began to change. What caused
the change? I suppose I’ll never know. It didn’t matter anymore
because it wouldn’t-- it couldn’t change anything. The one who used
to bring a smile to my face was now the one responsible for the
tears that clouded my eyes. The touch that used to make my heart
skip a beat, now made my heart ache.
Walking over to the closet, I retrieved the remainder of my clothes
and put them in the suitcase on the bed. I let out a heavy sigh as I
took one more look around the place that, now, felt more like a
prison than a home. I didn’t want to leave; I just wanted things as
they were before. But I knew that we’d reached that point of no
return a long time ago. As I was closing my suitcase, he hurriedly
stopped in his tracks when our eyes met and then, noticing my bags,
rushed over and begged me to sit down, pleading with me not to go.
With not a single word spoken, I picked up my suitcase and headed
out the door. He made one last attempt to get me to stay as he
hurried to me and grabbed my arm. I quickly spun around towards him.
Instead of me looking at him through tear-filled eyes, the tears now
blurred his vision. He was about to speak, but my unsympathetic,
cold stare stopped him. It was then that he finally saw all the pain
he’d caused me from all his lies, the hurt from his neglect, and the
disappointment from all the broken promises.
lips mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry’, but no sound came out. I stared
at him for a moment, wondering if he really meant what he attempted
to say. My heart longed for the man I once knew and loved, but that
was no longer the man who stood in front of me. His eyes then
followed mine as I looked down at my clenched fist. I slowly opened
my hand to reveal the small, gold wedding band that used to adorn my
finger. His hand slowly fell from my arm as we both watched the ring
fall to the floor. He realized then that he’d finally pushed me too
far and I was fed up.
Life As a Story
Justin A. Groves
were still streaming down my face. I sat there thinking to myself;
how could this have happened to me? I was successful at everything I
did, and suddenly it all came crashing down. Everything and everyone
who meant something to me were gone. I had no one to turn to,
nowhere to go, and no reason to live; this was my only alternative.
I took one last look at the city I had come to call home before I
stepped to the edge of my apartment building’s roof. My heart’s pace
began to quicken as I thought of what I was about to do. There was
no turning back now. I placed one foot over the edge and my mind
began to drift into the past; memories of my younger years were
invading my consciousness. The wind speed picked up. I peered over
the city skyline at the setting sun. That’s when I blanked out.
wind was blowing faster now. I opened my eyes to see a young boy
speed past me on his bicycle. When I looked closer, I couldn’t
believe my eyes. The little boy looked like me. He came to a stop,
jumped off the bicycle and ran to his big brother shouting with such
joy. It was the first time he ever rode a bike. I smiled, because I
remembered when I first rode my bike successfully. It was my, as
well as the young boy’s, first real accomplishment in life. I wanted
to congratulate the youth, but as I made my way over to him, my
thoughts wandered again. I was sweating; there was no breeze to keep
me cool now. I looked around and saw that I was in a packed
conference hall. Everyone was paying attention to a boy and a woman
on the stage.
“Spell, braggadocio,” she asked the boy.
Everyone held their breath as the minor flawlessly spelled the word.
The crowd cheered, celebrating the little man’s victory.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the woman said, “I present to you this
year’s Spelling Bee champion.”
youngster received a standing ovation for his feat. I joined in with
the crowd but soon got emotionally overwhelmed because this was also
something I had experienced. I decided to leave the building before
I broke down in tears, but instead of walking out into the parking
lot which I knew to be there, I was walking onto a soccer field. I
looked around and saw a scoreboard displaying a tied score with one
minute left in the game. I looked onto the field and saw someone
wearing a jersey with the number 15 on it, similar to the one I used
to wear, step up to kick a shot. The ball flew past the goalkeeper,
and it was obvious that the youngster had scored the winning goal.
His teammates and schoolmates ran out to him and started praising
him. This was getting too weird now. Why was I dreaming these
stricken, I ran out of the stadium, only to find myself running into
my old high schools auditorium, where that same soccer star was
being rewarded for his excellence in English. Everywhere I turned, I
saw familiar images. All of a sudden, it all made sense. I was about
to commit suicide, and now my life was flashing before my eyes. I
was revisiting all the moments that meant something to me. Suddenly,
everything started moving faster. Images of my first kiss, my first
girl, my college acceptance, my first business, college graduation
and all the successes, leading up to my downfall, flooded my head.
It was then and there that I realized that I was making a big
mistake. Why was I going to kill myself? I had lived such a happy
life so far. I broke myself from the trance, only to find myself
plummeting toward the hard surface below. Then there was silence.
there, feeling a sharp pain attacking my body. I could hear people
talking, probably onlookers trying to look at my limp body. There
was a warm, wet substance on my face now. I mustered up enough
energy to open my eyes only to see two beady little eyes staring at
me. I almost jumped out of my skin, but realized that it was only
Trina, my pet Pekingese. She was licking my face, probably trying to
get me up. I looked around and noticed that I was in the living room
of my apartment. I still felt in pain, but quickly realized that it
was caused by me lying on my Playstation 2 console.
must have had a bad dream,” I said to my dog.
just looked at me pathetically and walked away. I looked at my watch
and saw that I was going to be late for my 11:10 class. I hurried to
the bathroom, and while I was taking my shower, I thought about my
dream. Was it a form of divine intervention, a message of some sort
from God? It must have been; there was no other explanation. I was
now the master of my own destiny. I now held in my hands the pen
which I would use to script my future as I saw fit. From now on I
would write the story of my life; my life as a story.
What’s a Hundred
Dollars between Friends?
Justin A. Groves
was almost two thirty in the morning. The night sky was filled with
clouds and the eerie glow of the moon. The wind chimes played with
the air, old friends they were. The bamboo trees whistled a sad
tune, one I never heard before. It started to drizzle again. I
stared out the window trying to calm myself down. I was on edge and
in need of a shot of cognac. Why was I going through with this? I
know; Doug was my boy, my neighbor and I owed him one. My cell phone
started to vibrate. It was Doug. He was outside and ready to go. I
downed two more shots and headed out the door. My pet dog Skippy
watched disapprovingly as I entered Doug’s snazzy little sports
coupe. He glanced at me and nodded, his eyes cold as ice. My
uneasiness returned. What had I gotten myself into?
Twenty minutes later, we were there. It was by the old airport, on
an abandoned airstrip. This is where, for the last three years, my
friends and I would meet. We would always come here on a Wednesday
night to race, just for fun though. Eventually, people caught on and
wanted in on the action. That’s when it became all about the money.
The crowds got bigger and bigger by the week, but tonight the crowd
was unusually huge. When I got out of the car, there was silence. I
had gained the respect as one of the top racers in town, maybe
because I was used to the track. I hadn’t been on the circuit in a
while, but tonight that would change.
night went by slowly. The novices went first, as usual; their
entrance fee was only $500. It was a good laugh seeing these
youngsters try to conquer the track on their first try, but it
somewhat reminded me of myself. However, I wasn’t mad when their
turn ended, because next up were the professionals. Their entry fee
was $2000. These were the people that had been on the circuit with
us for a year or two now and had earned some respect among the
fellow racers and fans. The difference could be seen in the style
and finesse of these racers, and as the crowd gasped and cheered, it
was merely preparation fpr the masters. That was the elite group to
which my friends and I belonged, the so-called legends of the track.
We only raced once every three months, and tonight was one such
time neared, I strolled over to my car. It was a 1999 Mitsubishi
Evolution 5, with a V6 engine. The baby blue paintjob was glistening
in the moonlight and looked sleek and sexy with a few raindrops
trickling off its sides. I wasn’t sure if I was going to race
tonight though, because that same feeling I had was still there.
Doug, being the cocky one, put his entrance fee on his car and dared
anyone to race him. The crowd stared in awe as the neatly folded
coil of hundred dollar bills lay there on his ride. To me, that was
$5000 of easy money. I had raced Doug once before and won, but we
had vowed never to race each other again. Time was going by fast,
and nobody dared to race Doug. The crowd started to get uneasy and
looks of disappointment could be seen on their faces. Doug strolled
over to me and started boasting that nobody was brave enough to come
against him. Suddenly, I looked down and saw a hundred dollar bill
floating in a puddle. I picked up the note and Doug held my hand.
man, that’s my money,” he blurted.
looked at Doug, confused as to why he would think that was his
“Excuse me; you think this is yours?” I questioned him.
course it is. Come on Jus, if you wanted some money you only had to
ask,” he said mockingly.
now a crowd had gathered around us, and Doug was enjoying creating a
scene. I stood my ground though and refused to hand him the money.
Nevertheless, the inevitable occurred.
know what, enough of this bickering,” he shouted. “Let’s put this to
an end and you race me for it”
crowd liked the idea and proceeded to chant us on. I wasn’t down for
this though. We had made a pact, and now it was supposed to be
broken over some petty stuff? I don’t think so. Everyone started to
tease me and say I was chicken. They even went as far to suggest
that I was no good. Even Doug joined them, boasting how he had
beaten me ten times before. That was the last straw. I raised my
hand to silence the crowd.
race,” I said softly, staring into Doug’s eyes.
The crowd lined up at the starting point, everyone anticipating the
biggest race of the night. I was pumped and ready for action, but
something was still bothering me. The marshall came between us and
raised three fingers; when he dropped them, it was on. I glanced
over at Doug and looked sympathetically at him. I knew what happened
in the past, and I knew that my car was superior to his, but I guess
I had to prove it to him again. As the marshall dropped his fingers
we were off, and I had the edge. I hugged the corners and swerved
around the course with such familiarity like a man writing his name.
When we came on the back stretch, heading towards the finish line, I
was half a car in front of Doug. People were chanting my name and
staring in awe at the power of my machine, and then the unspeakable
happened. Doug tapped my rear bumper, sending me spinning off the
road and flipping into the air. He crossed the finish line first and
was ecstatic, almost as if he had done it fairly. However, some of
the crowd didn’t share his enthusiasm, for they had seen what had
happened, but that didn’t phase him, he had won bragging rights.
emerged from the wreckage unharmed. I walked over to Doug and threw
the hundred dollar bill at him. He laughed in my face and called me
a sore loser. I paid no attention to his taunting and walked slowly
away from the crowd into the darkness of the night. I would never
speak to Doug again. The person I grew up with and shared all my
childhood memories with was now just a thing of the past. I looked
back and saw the man whom I’d called a friend basking in his glory
and I held my head in shame. He wanted to win so badly that he
almost killed me, and for what? A measly hundred dollar bill.
Raymond Ward III
Walking across the yard is no small thing for me. It takes a giant stretch of faith in oneself to have the courage to walk backwards in time and space, to be confronted with everything you once were and are now, and to realize one thing; you don’t belong here now, and you didn’t belong here then.
I’ve been here for years, and I’ve had the privilege, or the punishment, of seeing Howard’s Yard go though transitions. I was here when everyone flocked to the yard, sporting new tattoos, listening to Master P and fighting each and every single day. The Howard men all wore their jeans around their knees, and many of the athletes had the dubious distinction of having made it here despite their criminal records. This was a party place, where they drank cheap corn liquor and smoked marijuana openly, because everyone knew that Campus Police did not come out until the sun went down.
The freshmen women could be identified through their location and their dress. They were always within twenty feet of the football team, who sat on the benches by Douglass Hall and watched the young fools parade for them, faces painted like harlequins and dresses pulled up farther than their designers called for, even in 50 degree weather.
On the other side of the Yard, closer to the flag pole, you could watch the intellectuals, with their newly acquired red, black and green bandannas and even newer black militant philosophy, converse loudly about the place of the black man in the universe even as they proclaimed loudly that the revolution would not be televised. Whatever else it was then, the Yard presented a mixture of ideas and people, diametrically opposed, but still somehow getting along, more or less.
Back then I was a squeaky clean kid, barely old enough to drive. I was very skinny and very shy, so I didn’t talk to too many people, especially the militants. I had no tattoos, no criminal record, and my sport, wrestling, was not yet popular enough for me to sit with the cool kids and bask in my inherited glory. There were no women parading for me.
For about two years the Yard lost its fun. A day on the Yard meant a day watching the freshmen, who thought they knew what the Yard was about, sit and look confused. They had run everyone else out because there were so many of them, like fleas on a street born dog. It was impossible to get them out of your hair.
Gone were the criminal records and the real criminals who held them. The Yard instead was where the freshmen men sat and posed, dressed all in blue or red if they were from California, or in black with Timberland boots and hats twisted to the left if they were from anywhere even remotely close to New York. There was no more Master P, because the band practiced on the Yard, every afternoon, and all you could hear was Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” If there were any conversations, they revolved around two central questions: “How can I get your phone number?” and “Who was better, Biggie or Pac?”
The militants were beaten up and forced into the valley. They were never heard from ever again. I still didn’t fit in. I wasn’t a freshman. I listened to alternative music, spoke proper English, and was never inclined to impress anyone with a made up story of how I sold more drugs than anyone in my city and spent time with all of the most notorious gangs. Not that they would have believed me. I always wore the wrong colors.
After that, the Yard proclaimed the existence of neo-soul. The Fine Arts kids played their guitars and sang in front of their building. People took their blankets and began laying on the grass for the first time. The favorite spot was the grass by the flagpole, so the band was pushed to the football field and asked to keep it down.
The athletes were still there, but in fewer numbers and for less time. There were no more criminal records, or even college thugs, but still the athletes sat by Douglass, basking in the inherited cool of their athletic forefathers. The women were still there posing, and making excuses to walk over from time to time, but there were fewer of them as well. It had begun sinking into their minds that these men were never, ever going to play professional sports, and those who did were not going to take them along for the ride.
The casual drinking ceased and was replaced by casual hits of cocaine. It was smaller and easier to conceal. If you wanted to drink, you knew you had to go somewhere else, so the Yard seemed to hold fewer people. The freshmen were put back into their place, and forced to stand or sit in the grass, while the upperclassmen sat on the benches, protected by the shade of nearby trees.
If anyone even thought that the sun was likely to come out, it was an unofficial holiday, and no one went to class. The women still dressed to advertise themselves, and the men congregated around them like puppies in a pet shop, tails waggling and tongues hanging out. A Day on the Yard meant a day the men spent trying to seduce each and every single woman who walked by, even through the use of group presentations; it also meant watching the women walk away from each and every single one.
I actually enjoyed my classes, so I always attended, even if it meant being the only one there. I had been around long enough to be inoculated against the presence of mass beauty, so I felt no special need to walk around the Yard in clothes I couldn’t afford anyway. I was an American Eagle boy.
Despite these changes, there are three statements that will always hold true for days on the Yard. The Yard will always be the Yard. I will always be me. And the two of us will never quite mesh
Two weeks ago, I was on my way to Pittsburgh, armed with the sole intention of thoroughly ravishing love, which for me, was personified in the adoring face of my boyfriend, Earl. After boarding the bus and flopping down in the first available space, I realized that I was one of the few passengers who had actually managed to avoid sharing a seat, and so when the honey-suckle haired woman, who was obliviously running late, boarded the bus, struggling vigorously to make her way safely down the narrow aisle with a pregnant, green duffel bag slung casually over her left shoulder, I tried earnestly to pretend that I didn’t see her plight. I watched her curiously through my peripheral vision, slightly amused as her blue, ice-chip eyes frantically searched the crowded coach for an empty seat. Determined beyond reason not to have to share my space, I quickly snapped on my headphones and turned up the volume to an obscene decibel, clinging to the fragment of hope that if I appeared to be occupied, then there was a remote possibility that she would just leave me alone. I recall that I was sitting sideways with my back pressed up against the windowsill, and my left leg draped possessively across more than half of the aisle seat. I bowed my head and desperately prayed that the woman would just walk past me and go ask some other poor, unfortunate passenger if she could sit with them, because by that time, I had already spent the last twelve hours of my day riding next to a burly cowboy named Jerry from Dallas, Texas, who was, unfortunately for me, plagued with nasty hot, onion breath. Needless to say, after enduring that tragic experience, the very last thing that I’d wanted to do right then was to be forced to once again share close quarters with another weird stranger, for the last six hours of my trip.
I peered over my slightly crooked, black, wire-rim glasses, hoping that while I had been reliving my most recent nightmare, the woman had already targeted a vacancy on the bus, and had sat down. Unfortunately for me, however, just as I had prepared to shift my gaze from her plain, pasty face back to my lap, she met my glare of smoldering resentment head-on, and then proceeded to act on it. She asked me if she could sit down in the seat next me, and so, of course, I was left with no choice but to nod reluctantly as I slowly slid my leg from its territorial position, and folded my thick limbs into the sweltering confines of my window seat. After a quick, yet efficient analysis of her face, I sadly noted that she was one of those young women who were cursed to wear decades of pain in the darkening shadows of their feline eyes, and centuries of chronic distress in their smile, and I pitied her fate.
For an entire four hours, we rode in complete silence, probably because the entire time I feigned periods of deep sleep at random intervals. In all fairness, however, I must admit that she did try to stay in her own space as much as possible; nevertheless, I knew that eventually, at some point in the trip, she would blindly cross the invisible barrier that I had so deliberately placed between us, and initiate some form of pointless conversation, because white people, in my experience, always did. For some inexplicable reason, I have discovered that white people always seem to be compelled to share intimate and utterly personal information with absolute strangers, as if they find a certain security in sharing all of their business with someone that they are sure they will never see again, and this woman proved to be the same.
She was a modest woman in stature, about 5’4’’, with sharp aristocratic features. She was plainly clothed in navy-blue Adidas jogging pants, a horribly wrinkled white tee, and scruffy, grime-encrusted tennis shoes.
“So, what do you think that noise is?” she asked me finally, referring to the loud squeaking sound emanating from the front of the bus, as she tried to focus in on my face, despite the darkness.
“I’m not sure,” I replied, inwardly rolling my eyes. It had begun, I thought; the vicious cycle of polite questions, cloaked as genuine interest, and the even more polite responses, designed to appear sociable, while at the same time exhibiting well-deserved caution about relinquishing the private details of one’s life. At that moment, I couldn’t explain why her question irritated me so much, I just knew that it did. Maybe it was because the bus had been making that same nerve-racking noise ever since we had left D.C., and she had just then decided to comment on it.
Anyway, I waited expectantly for her to continue the conversation, while I mentally braced myself for the downpour of unprovoked information that I was sure she was going to drench with me with within the next few minutes. Bingo! She did not leave me disappointed. In exactly five minutes, according to my new K-Mart brand watch, I knew this woman’s entire life story. To begin with, her name was Gladys, and she was originally from Claremont, Pennsylvania, but for the last three days she had been in South Carolina, nurturing and coddling her aging grandmother, who was unfortunately, slowly dying of cancer. She was the proud mother of three boys, ages six, two, and seven-months. Yes, she did have a boyfriend but no, their relationship was anything but ideal. She assured me however, that even though their relationship wasn’t the best, she really had missed him in the few days that she had been gone, and that she had talked to her kids every single day that she wasn’t home.
I sat there watching her, politely listening and not listening, knowing that that’s exactly what she had expected me to do when she started the conversation; to be a cooperative and compassionate listener to whatever she had to say. As she continued to go on and on, I took note of the subtle quiver of her voice, and the barely noticeable twitch of her hand as she made a series of abrupt gestures during her monologue. I became slightly irritated with myself as my attitude towards her began to soften significantly, due to the fact that I could wholeheartedly identify with the signs of a desperate woman in dire need of propping her distress on the first available shoulder presented to her. More than anything else in the world, I could see that at that particular moment she felt the need to have a mere second of relief from the hefty burden that she had been toting alone for far too long; a willing soundboard to launch her vulnerable pleas at, as she begged God to hear her cry, and waited anxiously for Him to echo a response. My first instinct as I listened to her relate the seriousness of her grandmother’s fatal condition, was of course, to convey my sympathy, and to helplessly murmur a heartfelt, yet inadequate, “I’m sorry”, because that’s what I had been taught was the proper response to any lamentable situation.
Funny enough, she never gave me the chance to even say that I was sorry, since she clearly dictated the entire one-sided conversation. In reality though, I don’t think that she really wanted to hear the words “I’m sorry” from me, or anybody else for that matter, and so she rambled on to keep me from getting one of those cliché phrases in edge-wise. I understand now that my newfound sympathy wouldn’t have really meant anything to her, and it damn sure wouldn’t have changed her grandmother’s situation. After all, she was just some random white woman baring her soul to an accommodating, black female, who just happened to be riding the bus with her, right? I mean, how could I really identify with her pain?
It wasn’t until she drifted off to sleep though, that I began to think about my own grandmother, who was diagnosed with lung cancer less than six months ago. The diagnosis didn’t surprise my family one iota, and it sure in hell didn’t surprise me. I mean, it was no secret that my grandmother loved cigarettes. She always said that smoking those cancer-sticks made her think better, that they calmed her nerves, and that they offered her guaranteed comfort with every nicotine-laden puff. In fact, I don’t ever remember seeing my grandmother without a cigarette clutched securely between her middle and forefinger, except for when she was in church, and so it really didn’t surprise me at all when the doctors said that both of her lungs had become disturbingly similar to big, black ash trays. I thought about how much my grandma had already begun to decay in her mind and spirit, and pondered how long it would be before her body followed suit. I thought about the countless brimstone-like summers that my sisters and I had spent in the aching soul of the East Side of Detroit, sitting on her front porch, clasping crisp $1 bills in our palms, and waiting eagerly for the ice cream truck to cruise through the neighborhood, so that we could buy a cool treat to replenish our waning energy. Grandma always let us get whatever we wanted, regardless of the cost, and despite the fact that there were five of us. We basked in the warmth of her lavish attention, thoroughly enjoying the fact that going to visit her was always like taking a vacation or celebrating a holiday. The truth is, she spoiled us shamefully, and we loved it.
I thought about the way she danced in her sanctified church, three-inch heels clapping and smoking as she picked ‘em up and put ‘em down, picked ‘em up and put ‘em down, her jerky movements perfectly synchronized with the boisterous organ music. That has always been my favorite part of old-school Baptist church service, especially since nobody could shout faster or harder than my grandma, and the funny part about it was that the entire congregation seemed not only to recognize that fact, but to also respect it, and so whenever my grandma would get wound up and excited, they would all just move out of her way. Even the Pastor would yield the floor to her and take a seat in his royal pulpit until finally, my grandma was panting for breath and limping with the aftershocks of sanctification, as she gingerly made her way back to her seat, her mocha-colored face soaked with Holy Ghost-incited perspiration. Afterwards, the congregation would clap enthusiastically like an appreciative audience after witnessing a phenomenal performance by their favorite celebrity, and I would smile all proud, basking in her glory and thinking smugly, that’s my grandma.
I remembered how the doctors’ seemed to be optimistic about the potential of her future if her chemotherapy treatment proved to be successful. What they’ve always failed to realize however, is that in order for my grandma to thrive in her body, she has to equally be alive in her mind, and she’s isn’t. Her faith is gone. I don’t think that she even believes that she’ll be healed of this mess anymore. I feel like she’s just giving in to it; as if she has no choice in the matter; as if dying is what she really wants. I thought about all of these things as the bus joggled past the welcome sign to Harrisburg, and then cruised lazily through the Pennsylvania turnpike. I wondered if maybe one day I’d be the weary, disheartened passenger heading home after helplessly watching somebody die a little bit each day, as I wrestled tirelessly with heaven and hell just to keep them alive. I pondered whether or not that random white woman’s story would one day become mine to tell, just with different characters and an alternative setting, and suddenly I felt a deep sadness.
When the bus reached Pittsburgh, I gathered my tattered luggage and hauled it up onto the curb as I prepared to tug it through the entrance. I looked back at the melancholy white woman as she transferred to some other bus, and I nodded to her, bidding her a pleasant farewell, this time with more sincerity and compassion than irritation. I silently prayed for her peace of mind and for God to grant her the strength to remain formidable even in the face of her adversities.
Through the fingerprint covered glass door I could see my boyfriend grinning in open anticipation, desire twinkling in the depths of his eyes, as he waited impatiently for me to amble to the exit. I greeted him with a firm kiss on the lips and tugged him towards the row of payphones that I had already spotted plastered against the walls.
“ Where are we going?” he asked, looking around the crowed bus terminal.
To make a phone call,” I replied in a sing-sung voice, pushing my way through the small packs of people, who were all waiting to go somewhere.
Who are you calling?” he continued, looking slightly confused by my tenacious stride, but obediently following me.
My grandmother”, I answered, as I dug into the pocket of my khaki pants, searching anxiously for loose change.
Is everything okay?” he questioned, concern brimming in his hazelnut eyes.
Yeah, everything’s fine. I just want my Grandma to know that I’m thinking about her, that’s all.”
I placed my money in the correct slot of the payphone and waited for my call to go through, then I listened impatiently, growing more disappointed by the second as my grandmother’s phone continued to ring, and ring, and ring. Finally, her answering machine came on, and I left her a short, sweet message conveying my unconditional love. I also left a number for her to call me back. I walked away optimistic that she would return my call and planned on setting up some time soon when I could go and visit with her. You see, I had decided just before getting off the bus that if Gladys’ story was in fact going to become mine, then as the author, I had the sole right to either alter or re-write the ending as I wished. Therefore, I came to the conclusion that for this particular book, only a miraculous ending would do, because I recognized that a miracle was exactly what my grandmother needed to be victorious over her war with cancer, and so, because I was determined for my grandmother to be able to continue living a full and blissful life until God called it through and beckoned her home, later on that night, in my boyfriend’s living room, I began to re-write her story, and here’s the first draft of Chapter one. I call it “Resurrection”.
At the Green Dolphin
Lust is a hell of a drug. I had my first taste of it when I was a trumpet player in Fast Eddie Green's jazz band two years ago. Fast Eddie was the owner of the Green Dolphin speakeasy and one of the most well-known hustlers in Chicago. He runs the numbers game in Bronzeville and has one of the largest liquor supplies this side of Capone. The only difference between him and Capone is that Fast Eddie's black and Capone's a wop. Fast Eddie was so bad that when the cops put up signs about the new Prohibition law, he gave them all the middle finger and kept the liquor flowing at the Green Dolphin.
Anyway, I don't think I'll ever forget that night. Business at the Green Dolphin was booming as usual. Thick clouds of cigarette smoke cast a haze over everyone in the dimly-lit joint. The working stiffs, usually janitors, butlers, and porters, sat on barstools at the shiny mahogany bar loudly slapping their knees, telling jokes, and talking shit about their bosses over glasses of scotch, rum, corn liquor and whiskey. They were easily recognizable, in their undershirts with suspenders holding up ratty slacks and soiled, calloused hands.
Next came the high siddity pretty boys who acted like they better than everybody. It's great that Bronzeville got doctors and lawyers and bankers and dentists coming around on the regular. And not all of them are full of themselves, but most of them are. Think just 'cause they got some fancy degree from Morehouse or Howard they're thirty-two thousand feet above everyone else. They try to act sedate but give them a shot of whiskey and they show their asses soon enough.
The ladies, decked out in their flashy dresses, and glossy black hair cropped short and wavy, sat in the front of the club, close to the stage. They did that to push up on me and the other musicians, giving us their phone numbers and addresses, begging us to go home with them. All right. Let me be honest here. The women that came in there, usually went for the other musicians. No one cares about the trumpet player. It's all about Fast Eddie, the leader and sax player and then the bass player, the pianist and even the gotdamned drummer.
The ladies tend to overlook me. I don't know why. I can afford the latest European suits. My light brown hair is always conked and fresh. I used to get compliments on my green eyes but it doesn't seem to matter so much no more. I guess now that everyone has this Marcus Garvey nonsense in their heads, they don't want to be bothered with someone who…well…who looks like a white man. But is it my fault my mama's half-white?
Anyway, it was a Thursday night when I saw her float through the glass door. Myra Jones. We were playing "My Funny Valentine" and at that moment, it seemed as if that song was written especially for her. It was actually kind of cold that evening so I was surprised that she wore a sheer, sleeveless white dress. It stopped just before her knees and her legs, covered only by silk stockings seemed to go on forever. She had cocoa colored skin, a short black bob, and a fiery red mouth twisted into a bemused smile, as if she was in on a private joke. She had a mole under her plump lower lip and a strand of shiny white pearls wrapped around her long, slender neck. I never took my eyes off her. She took a seat at an abandoned table and she never took hers off mine during the whole set.
We played this game every night for the next six months. Everyone knew she was with Fast Eddie. Been with him for a couple of years, actually. But she always stared at me. Smiled at me. Flirted with me. She tempted me. And she knew exactly what she was doing.
After we wrapped for a ten minute break Myra walked toward the stage, her wide hips swaying seductively side to side. She was staring straight at me. I thought she was coming to talk to me but Fast Eddie grabbed her waist and kissed her full on the mouth in front of everyone. Damn. I wiped my sweaty forehead with a cloth and ran a hand through my hair, shaking my head. Fast Eddie ain't even good-looking. What's she want with him? Money, of course. That's all any of these heffas want. Then she opened her eyes and stared at me while she kissed him. I tore my eyes away, walked to the bar, and ordered a double scotch on the rocks. I drank it all in one greedy gulp, letting the amber liquid burn my throat and stomach and distract me from these ungodly thoughts about Myra. Finest broad in Chicago and she's Fast Eddie's. I shook my head. He'd slit my throat if I did anything with her.
" What's wrong with you, Fred?" Calvin, the tall, portly bartender asked me while drying out a water glass. "Woman problems?"
I sighed. "Something like that, man. Can I have another?"
He cackled. "You'll be too drunk to play that horn if I give you another shot, kid."
I shrugged. "I can hold my liquor. I mean, what's the point of being in a bar without drinking no liquor, man?" He furrowed his brow just like my old man did when I told him I was dropping out of Illinois State to join Fast Eddie's band. Calvin shook his head but poured me another glass anyway.
I drank the scotch in another quick gulp and dug a cigarette out of my trouser pocket. I searched my jacket pocket for my lighter but to no avail. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there she was. God, Myra was beautiful. She held up a silver lighter, the gold flame already flickering from it and smiled at me, revealing rows of teeth as white as her pearls. "Looks like you could use this, Fred," Myra said.
" Thanks," I said. I took a long drag of my cigarette. She just kept batting her huge brown eyes at me.
" How long are we gonna do this, kid?" she finally said.
" What do you mean?"
Myra looked over her shoulder to make sure no one was listening. "You know exactly what I mean, Fred. I know you want me. And I know I like you. So, let's make something happen."
My face grew warm. "I'm, uh, not sure---"
" All I'm saying is, I'd like to get to know you better, Fred. What's wrong with that?"
I knew precisely what she meant by that. And she knew that I knew what she meant. Maybe she was trying to get us both killed. Everyone knew that Fast Eddie didn't become who he is by being a nice guy.
She pressed her body into mine and whispered in my ear, "I live at 4213 S. Cottage Grove. Meet me there after the set." She looked into my eyes once more. "Or not. Choice is yours, Fred." She smiled slightly and sashayed away from the bar. I let out a deep breath and gripped the edge of the bar. I could still smell her sweet flowery perfume on my clothes. I wanted her so badly. But she belonged to Fast Eddie.
I could barely concentrate on the second set. I was sweating and shaking so badly I almost missed my cues twice. Myra had made me a nervous wreck. After the show was over I really was planning on going straight home. I really, truly was. I meant to walk down Halsted, not Cottage Grove. I meant to go back to my shoebox of an apartment, practice my trumpet, heat up some soup and go to bed.
I didn't mean to walk to Myra's doorstep and knock on her wooden door. I didn't mean to wrap her in my arms and let her lead me through her lavish home, to her small bedroom, lit only by candles. I didn't mean to slip off her white silk nightgown, kiss her, caress her, and spend the night with her. I didn't mean to wake up the happiest I've felt in months. I also didn't count on opening my eyes and staring down the barrel of a pistol. Guess who was on the other side of the gun?
" You bastard," Fast Eddie growled. "I gave you a job. I gave you the best gig in the whole gotdamned city. I gave you a means to eat, nigga. And you pull this on me? Sleeping with my fiancé?"
I gulped. "Myra's your---?"
" Shut up!" Fast Eddie screeched, his black eyes widening with fury. "Shut the hell up! Now you listen to me and you listen good boy. You got till noon to get out of here, pack your stuff and get the hell up out of Chicago. If I see you anywhere near here, you will die, I can guarantee that, boy. Now get the hell up out of here." It was 10:53 AM.
I've never dressed so fast in my life. That day, I packed all my clothes, some pictures, and my trumpet and hauled ass to Union Station. I bought a one-way ticket to Kansas City, Missouri and never looked back. Now I play little gigs here and there. I gotta clean toilets at the office buildings downtown. No more clean suits and steady gigs for me. The saddest thing though, is that I don't regret what I did with Myra Jones. I mean, Myra Green. I don't regret it all. I stared death in the face because of that woman but truth be told, if I had a second chance, I'd do the same thing again. Myra was just that damn great.
A Note for My Wedding Album
This morning I determinedly approached the regal monstrosity, known as the local Catholic Cathedral, out of nothing but sheer desperation, and the funny thing is that it didn’t even matter to me that I wasn’t Catholic. All I knew was that something heavy and burdensome was weighing relentlessly on my heart, and even though I was fully aware of the fact that my wedding was scheduled to commence at the elite Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church at exactly 1:00p.m.in the afternoon, I still found myself hustling up the narrow, flagstone path, skipping up the huge, granite steps, and pausing at the grand threshold.
Amsterville, North Carolina has never seen a more beautiful sunrise than the one that brilliantly ascended into the yielding sky early this morning. I had always dreamed of getting married on such a gorgeous day and so after taking a brief moment to inhale and relish the sweet aroma of mid-May-dew-drops, glistening like expensive crystal jewels on the freshly-cut spring grass and newly planted daffodils, I forced myself to walk through the impressive, cherry-oak doors in search of Father Matthew Johnson, the 70-year-old priest of the church.
Even though I had never been inside the Cathedral before, I intuitively knew where to find the confessional. I bustled down the long, checkered hallway, gawking at the magnificent murals of idolized Saints and admired apostles adorning the walls. The church was an artistically and ingeniously mixed splendor of bloodstain reds and exquisite gold; everything shinning flawlessly, the air so silent and still. My heart was pounding rapidly, and I could feel the growing moisture soaking my palms.
Finally, I reached the confessional. I moved aside the heavy scarlet cloth, which was cleverly designed to ensure both the privacy and intimacy and entered the small, stuffy box. Immediately I noticed that there was a small, brass bench with a soft velvet cushion placed up against the wall for the comfort of those callers who wished to sit, as opposed to kneeling or standing. I, however, chose to kneel, pressing my face as close as possible to the small opening in the wall which was created by interwoven pieces of sturdy straw. I waited impatiently for the Father to acknowledge my presence, extremely anxious to absorb every word of wisdom that he could bestow upon me.
“My child,” he began, “how long has it been since your last confession?”
“Actually, Father, I have never been to a confessional,” I answered, somewhat reluctantly.
“I see. Well then, you must have recently decided to follow the divine plan that God has so graciously arranged for your life. Are you one of the many new members who have recently joined our parish?”
“No, Father, I am not. The truth is that I am not Catholic at all.”
“I’m sorry, my child, but I don’t understand.”
“Well, you see, Father, the thing is that I am getting married today at a Baptist church a couple of miles south of here. I, myself, am not a Baptist or even affiliated with any other denomination, but my fiancé is. I was never really raised in a church, but I have always believed in God. In fact, just recently, I got baptized at a Christian retreat in Isreal, where I was sent by my job to cover a story that we were featuring in the next issue our magazine.
“So, you are a writer then?”
“You could say that. Right now, I actually work here in the city as a journalist, but I really have a passion for poetry and fiction.”
“And so, why exactly have you come here today?” he asked, clearly confused.
“Well, I don’t really know. I guess that I just needed someone to talk to, you know, someone kind of spiritual guidance, and I figured that maybe you could help me out.
“But you have already admitted to me that you are not of the Catholic faith. You don’t follow our doctrines or even believe in the truths that we hold so dearly. How do you think that I could help you?”
“You could hear me out,” I answered desperately, determined beyond belief to convince him of giving me a fair chance to speak. “That’s all I really need you to do, and I mean, as a priest you must have had years of listening to peoples’ hardships and struggles, and you had to at least offer most of them sound advice, right? I know you have. I’ve had the opportunity to watch you, Father, on several different occasions, and you seem to be such a kind, considerate man. I feel like God led me to you this morning, and even though we very well might have different doctrines, at the very least, we both share one common truth---we both believe that there is a God; a wonderful, awesome God, whom I have come to love and reverence. Please, Father, don’t send me away. I’m begging you . . . I just need you to listen to me.”
There was a lengthy, almost unbearable lull in our exchange. I waited nervously, praying that despite the stifling silence, he wouldn’t ask me to go away.
“How can a Shepard knowingly turn down one of God’s children, who seems to be in such great need?” he finally asked. “I can’t,” he continued gently, “Go ahead and tell me your story, child,” he finished, and for the first time that morning I smiled.
I immediately launched into this elaborate spill about how I was getting married today and how wonderful Marcus really is. I told him about how Marcus makes me feel good to be a woman and babbled on about how I love him more than I have ever loved anybody else in my life. I told him that Marcus graciously accepts me with all of my flaws and imperfections. I explained that he never talks down to me or ignores me, and that he’s always right there when I need him the most. I rambled on and on about how Marcus is my kind of rain; you know, the warm, sweet kind that sprinkles in the early spring, the kind that makes grown women wish that they were little girls again with tatter-tot breasts and unscathed imaginations, so that they could recapture the pure bliss of tilting their heads back in the middle of nowhere, and letting the rapid, wet drops of ecstasy burst on their skin until their Old Navy T-shirts are drenched and plastered tight against their adolescent chests. .
Finally I said,“ Mostly though, Father I love him so much because he has shown me how to enjoy life, as opposed to just living it. He makes me smile and laugh, and he’s so pure of heart; so strong and silent,” I continued. “I would have to say, Father, that after all the men I’ve dated, this one is the best and I want to marry him today. I really do, and so, with all of that said, Mark is most definitely not the reason why I’m here today---my father is.”
Telling the priest about my father was actually much harder than I had anticipated. The deal is that my father has been nowhere to be found in the last fifteen years. As you already know, my dad was a cop, and he took a very lucrative job in Maryland when I was ten-years-old; a temporary job according to my mother. My mother said that they offered him a better salary and more benefits than the precinct in Amsterville, and of course, since he had a family to feed, he took it. The original plan was for him to transfer back home after one year, but that never happened. My brother Peter and I used to ask her everyday when he was coming back, but after a couple consecutive years of hearing her plethora of noncommittal answers, we just stopped asking.
She refused to divorce him, and I know that he asked her for one because I saw the papers one day when I was dusting off her bedroom nightstand. For a while, he used to call on a regular basis, and sometimes he would even write us letters. We could never get into touch with him though, because he never seemed to stay put in any one place too long. He always said that “it wasn’t safe for a cop to be too predictable.” Anyway, for five years Peter and I got birthday and Christmas presents, money for good report cards, and even store-bought chocolates on Valentine’s Day. One day though, the presents just stopped coming; he didn’t call or write, and my family was left utterly devastated. My mother had no idea where he was, or even if he was alive.
That was the day that I think I started hating him. I knew that I shouldn’t, but I felt angry, and betrayed, and abandoned. My father was the first man whom I ever loved, and the first man in a long line of losers who could never really love me back the way that I deserved to be.
“And so here I am, Father, on the morning of my wedding day, waiting to marry the man whom I thought I’d never meet, and all that I can think about is how cheated I feel because my father won’t be there today to walk me down the aisle. I know that after all these years it probably shouldn’t even matter to me anymore. I mean, I had my first date and he wasn’t there, the night of my prom---he wasn’t there, even my high school and college graduations---he wasn’t there.”
I noticed then that at some point during the emotional process of me revealing my pain and disappointment to the priest, I had begun to cry. I hastily wiped at my tears, irritated that I was still mourning for my father, a man who didn’t deserve my time, let alone my sorrow.
“I just don’t want to hate this man anymore, you know?” I asked, “I mean, how do I just forget about everything that he did to me and my family and move on with my life?” I continued, eager for him to impart some much-needed light.
“My daughter,” he began tenderly, “you are a writer are you not?”
“Yes,” I replied, uncertain of where exactly he was going with this irrelevant question.
“And do you find that often times when you sit down to write a story or a piece that you write about yourself or your own personal experiences?”
“Yes. Most of the time that is exactly what I write about,” I answered, contemplating what exactly he could be hinting at.
“Then the answer to your question should be very apparent to you,” he continued.
“Look, I don’t think that I understand what exactly you’re trying to say, Father.”
“What I’m trying to say to you is that we all heal in different ways. Some of us find solace in singing a song, whereas others of us may paint an extraordinary picture that serves as our personal portrait. Some people find relief in cooking an elaborate feast, while others seek solace in the planting of a delightful garden. My point is that whatever your method of coping with the tribulations of this life may be, it ‘s unique and it’s yours.”
“So you’re saying that . . .” I began, trying earnestly to hide my growing frustration.
“What I am saying very plainly, my child, is that you are a writer.”
“So---,” I pressed.
“So,” he continued, a gentle and compassionate smile in his voice, “you must write a poem for your father.”
I took the Father’s advice. I walked down the aisle today by myself, smiling adoringly at all of my friends and loved ones who had gathered together to help Mark and me celebrate our union and to wish our marriage well. I felt extremely blessed to have both my brother there and my mother’s portrait, along with an elegant corsage of white roses and baby breath placed lovingly on the first bench of the bride’s side of the church, where she would have proudly sat today if she had been alive. When the minister asked, “Who giveth this woman away?” I boldly raised my hand, and to the dismay of many of my guest proudly replied, “I do.” I then read the poem that I made time this morning to write for my father after my memorable exchange with the priest. Here it goes . . .
It’s when we think that we’ve been stretched
To the fringes of the earth
That we grow.
When our eyes dry-heave for the
Lack of tears that refuse to flood
That we begin to see.
When the agony of a love lost
Gouges out the barest layer of our souls
That we really begin to feel
What we’re all so scared will burn
Because we know betrayal to be caustic and true.
Dark and naked
Nothing beautiful or superb,
And the sad thing about it
Is that we can’t even run from it
This kind of distress
Only takes hostages.
But I’m so glad that
Little girls without daddies
Still become roses
Still bloom gorgeous
Still rise above it
Because my Mama
That little girls without daddies
Still blossom into women
And women,” she said
Are incredibly strong.”
And so here’s to those
That you really missed
But I saved and harbored
Between the sanctity of my lips,
For the trips to the moon
That you promised me
But could never really make good on,
And for the butterfly-giggles that
Always made you smile.
This morning, Daddy
I realized that I had to do
Something just for me
I had to let your dusty ashes tumble and blow
In the turbulent wind of my language
So that I could move on with my life,
I had to set you free
And regardless of whatever continent
Those ashes may land on
I wish you well
Because I have come to believe
That you and me,
We just met in the wrong lifetime,
That somehow galaxies collided
And it just wasn’t the right time
At least that’s what I’ll continue to tell myself
When I find myself still missing you.
So I guess that what I’m really trying to say
Is that I’m sorry I ever called you “Daddy.”
Because “Daddy” is obliviously a man
That you weren’t ever ready to be.
My virginity has always been very important to me. My mama used to tell me that it was one of the few things in life that I actually had control over, and so I had to exert my authority responsibly. She told me that only I could decide whom I gave it to and that I also had the right to dictate when they could have it. I used to think that my virginity was supposed to be saved until marriage, due to the fact that ever since I haphazardly trampled upon the strenuous path of puberty that is exactly what my parents doggedly engraved into my head; however, now that I am a bit older and a little more experienced in the dangerous field of passion, I have come to embrace the concept of abstinence until marriage on my own.
The revelation and confirmation happened about six or seven months ago, when I came dangerously close to “doing it” with my boyfriend. I mean, closer than I have ever come with anybody else in my entire life. First of all, you should know that Jarvis and I have been dating since the summer of my sophomore year in high school, which has exactly four whole years now. We met during his senior year while we were both working on the school’s newspaper. Jarvis was editor/chief of The Hilton Gazette, and even though I was just a lowly underclassman, my exceptional writing ability made it possible for me to be promoted to the head of the layout/printing committee. Consequently, the two of us spent a lot of late nights together, laboring tirelessly to ensure that every story we printed was quality work and that the paper, as a whole was error free. At first we were just really good friends, but as time trudged on and the nights grew longer, we were eventually forced to acknowledge the arousing chemistry between us and to recognize our mutual attraction.
Today I can say that I am hopelessly 100% in love with Jarvis Thompson. I have never known a more perfect man in all of my life, and I have yet to meet anybody else in the world who evokes my emotions or stimulates my mind in any way as he does. When Jarvis enters a room, he makes me feel electric, and almost instantaneously lightning bolts of affection surge through my veins. I love absolutely everything about him, even the annoying way that he snores and drools when he’s really, really tired, and I know that he feels the same way about me. As you can probably already imagine, all of these profound feelings and affections intertwined with madness of adolescent hormones made it incredibly easy for the sexual tension between us to escalate to the point of being nearly unbearable in the developing stages of our relationship. I suddenly no longer knew how to be close to him without wanting him, especially given the fact that we’ve always had this crazy-kind-of connection that spans way beyond physical attraction, or lust, or even infatuation. Everything about us just seems to click. When our eyes meet, our very souls make love, and to me, that’s way more intimate than any sensual caress or stroke could ever be.
Everyday I found myself just wanting to be with him. He lingered on my mind, his woodsy scent swirling havoc in my nostrils, his papaya-sweet taste ever-present and fresh on my lips. I kept his watermelon smile in the front pocket of my mind, just in case I had a bad day and I needed a reminder of sunshine. He teased me under the haven of flickering street lamps and cuddled with me in a primitive bed of prickly, spring grass. Jarvis was so much like midnight; so mysterious, yet enchanting. I often found myself suppressing the frequent urge to seep into his darkness and rummage through all of his most intimate secrets.
With all of that being said, it probably doesn’t surprise you at all that several months ago when he took me to the Ramada hotel instead of the movies, as we had planned early that afternoon, I didn’t protest or ask what he was doing. In fact, I didn’t say a word. I watched as he skipped eagerly through the revolving door and jogged to the front desk to get the notorious room key, and I still didn’t say anything. I let him lead me by the hand to the room, gently lay me down on top of the plush lavender comforter, and I still didn’t say anything. He slowly began to unbuttoned my cashmere blouse, while tenderly kissing the beckoning hollow between my breasts, and I still didn’t say anything. I was entirely engrossed in the rapture of his flesh-branding touch and the fact that his amorous caresses felt so good, so right. I felt as if for the first time in my life I was touching an angel; as though I was sunbathing in a miracle. I burned with the desire to mesh every fragment of my being into his, and I probably would have if he hadn’t taken so long to find a condom. I tried earnestly not to become irritated as he stopped kissing and stoking me while he frantically searched his pants pockets and wallet for a trusty Trojan.
“Unbelievable,” he uttered, clearly frustrated, “I could swear that I grabbed one of those before I left the house.”
Obliviously, however, he hadn’t, and as pissed off as I was at that moment, I can actually look back on that whole situation now and honestly say that I am glad he hadn’t. Yesterday we celebrated our four-year-anniversary and Jarvis proposed to me at sunset in the student parking lot of our old high school. We are planning to get married right after I finish my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan and even though we still haven’t had sex yet, we are both surprisingly okay with that. It seems that waiting all of this time has only whetted our sexual appetites for each other, and personally, I plan to pounce on the first opportunity that I have to satisfy Jarvis’ craving, and I will----the right way, on our wedding night, when I honor him as my husband with the very best that I could ever give him . . . the sanctity of my innocence.
Breathing for Two*
Love is the one thing in life that can’t be confined or restrained; it has no precise definition----it just is. I make it a point never to judge the way others love because I don’t want anyone critiquing the way that I show affection. Love is all about freedom, the freedom to be bound and entangled in the very essence of another human being. Therefore, my enslavement is not forced---it’s chosen, and amazingly enough, even after all of these years, I can still say that I love my wife crazy when she’s silent, but I love her even more so when her misty, gray eyes are resting and still, and her willowy curves are pressed tight up against my buttercup skin. I love her when she lets me hold her without complaining or squirming, even though I know that she’s only doing so because she is asleep, and in the sanctity of her dreams, my arms become his. Today we’re sprawled across the chilled, autumn grass, her limbs wild in sleep—her smile drowsy. We’re breathing together—slowly, as if time is irrelevant and tomorrow is at our beck and call. In and out; up and down, her chest drums to a beat of its own, something saucy and Cuban; and my eyes dance with her, lovingly counting the seconds in between each shallow breath.
The truth is, I’ve had to become content with just watching Aley sleep, as opposed to sleeping with her. I am her provider, her ever-present guardian angel, struggling to excel at this tiresome task that God has entrusted me with—protecting Aley. Over the years, I’ve noticed that sometimes when I watch her sleep she forgets to breathe, and so I have to breathe for her. You see, my wife seems to have this really exhausting habit of dreaming so hard and so intensely that her breath rises and stalls right in the back of her throat, abandoning her heartbeat in mid-rhythm, leaving her small breasts high and full; they wait anxiously and painfully to fall, and so I have no choice but to either breathe for her, or to nonchalantly abandon her to the sorrowful tragedy of suffocating in her own ecstasy.
Nevertheless, even with all of that being said, I would never leave Aley; not by any means. I relish the fact that I am the only one able to adoringly whistle my clutter of concerns against the sweet slant of her neck; my breath and words like molten honey against her mahogany. I bask in Aley’s angelic glory as I passively navigate her through her subconscious hell from an almost unbearable distance---this is how I masterfully orchestrate beautiful music. She is my wife, the woman whom I want to spend the rest of my life with, and so yes, of course I want her to continue dreaming, just not so hard.
Today, however my wife is too silent. There are no groans or whimpers to help indicate to me what she is really thinking, which means that I have pretty much no chance of reaching her. She’s gone farther than I can follow and way beyond the boundaries that she will permit me to invade, and so now all that I can do is patiently wait for her to return to me and consistently send silent affirmations of my love. Nevertheless, I will always be here, splitting the seconds, waiting eagerly for her to return home because, unlike my mother, Aley always comes back. I will say, though, that in all honesty, every once in a while it drives me absolutely crazy that a substantial amount of her trips are longer than others. Sometimes it seems as if she can sleep for days that slowly drag into weeks, and I feel stupid because there I am, sitting around like some sad, little puppy, waiting on her, holding her, wanting to be the first face that she sees when she wakes up. Only recently has it become a tad bit easier for me to accept the frequency of her trip, but that is only because I have finally discovered where it is that she’s always leaving me to go.
You see, Aley is with him. She is with the one whom she is really laughing with when she glances at me so bemused and smiles right through me. The one whom she makes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for that I’m forced to eat because she haphazardly forgets that I am allergic to peanuts, and I don’t want to start a fight. The one whom she calls out for after we’ve made love and she’s so high that she can’t even remember my name or that it was me inside of her a few moments ago and not him. She is with the one whom I know she secretly wishes had fathered the child emerging inside her womb, so that at least then she wouldn’t be forced to close her eyes and dream so hard to find him, because he’d already be right there; living through the soul of our child.
I hate that she wants all of the things in life that I can’t give her. She wants to melt into a rainbow with practiced ease and quiet grace. She wants to wake up in the morning peeling layers of burnt orange and ruby red from the horizon, delightfully savoring their delicacy on the tip of her tongue until scorching fire tap-dances on her taste buds. She wants to submerge her coconut body in the jubilant waves of the Atlantic until she becomes an ocean and her soul transforms into a sandy shore. She wants a rush, and she really doesn’t care whether it comes by way of gushing water or raging wind, she just wants to feel alive; experience the joy of life nibbling away at the tips her toes, and I can’t say that I really blame her. I mean, I have dreams too, it’s just that all of mine seem to revolve around her, and so all that I really want to know is why there are some things in this world so lovely and yet still so dangerous. I want to know why it is that beauty can be preceded by caution and ecstasy proceeded by death.
I want to find love waiting for me in an extra large hammock supported by two grandfather oak trees behind a modest lake house. I want to be married to Aley for the rest of my life, spontaneously and gallantly whisking her off to Italy, France, and Australia on a pink yacht. I want to kiss God’ face just to see if the mere touch of my mouth against his cheek will sear my lips crimson from the blazing intensity of his holiness. I want to see a miracle so outrageous, so supernatural that the whole world takes notice, and I want to start with my own. I want Aley to really love me, I mean, really love me. I want us to have a small, white house with a picket fence and a lavish garden, and I want to give her little, chocolate covered babies, and grandbabies, and great-grandbabies that we can spoil rotten and kiss goodnight on the forehead.
And I guess that right now you’re probably thinking that I’m really the foolish one, because here I am settling for mediocrity and being half-loved, as if that’s all I’m really worth, and you know what? Maybe I am. Maybe I am only worth being half-loved by a woman who notarizes my very existence; and if that’s the case, then I’m more than willing to go on playing the fool, because at least when I’m loving her, and holding her, and she’s half-loving me back, I can breathe. You see, Aley is my nationally craved dose of caffeine; she wakes me up in the morning and drives me through the day. She is the reason why I pray diligently every night to God that one day she’ll be able to muster enough strength to leave her coveting dreams behind and to happily wake up to me; why I pray that someday she’ll start loving me just as fiercely as I love her, and so that is exactly why I will keep on loving her silently, patiently—foolishly, regardless of whether she can do the same for me in return, because as long as I possess the assurance of clutching at least half of Aley securely between my fingertips and embracing her infectious warmth in the depths my soul, then and only then can I continue to be strong enough to breathe for the both of us.
*Adapted from ICONS©
Without a Voice
I am twenty-five years old, and for thirteen years of my life I feared using my voice. And to think the person I have to thank for stripping me of my fear, tried to shoot me and steal my purse. I always left my humdrum job feeling overworked and uninspired, but I never said anything. I walked around with my head hung low, so low that I began to remember patterns on the sidewalk and forget what the stars looked like. I became accustomed to not saying anything, and even when the store clerk shortchanged me more than once I still couldn’t bring myself to open my mouth. The first time it happened I remembered looking up with amazement and injury in my eyes. She appeared to have a sixth sense and knew I wouldn’t challenge her. So I took my ten seventy-five, even though she and I knew it should have been thirteen dollars and I left the store with my head down. No matter how I tried my best to avoid her I somehow would almost always end up in her checkout line, and after awhile I just stopped caring.
I’m not quite sure exactly when I became a selective mute. I am positive my grandmother’s passing had a tremendous amount to do with it. She was the only person in the world who encouraged me to talk. My parents were always too busy; they had “adult things to do.” “Go talk to Big-Momma” they’d say, and that’s exactly what I did. Big-Momma was no child but she was just as disregarded and ignored as I was. I think my parents just began to think of her as another dependant. Who would have thought that one rainy afternoon would have such an immense impact on me? The one friend I had was away at her cousin’s house and my sister and brothers were “too mature” to talk to me; I took my parents’ advice and wandered into Big-Momma’s room.
When I looked at Big-Momma she looked as bored as I felt. I quietly knocked on her door, she smiled and I remember in that instant I felt butterflies in my stomach for the first time. We talked and played games all day until I forgot that it was raining outside, or that everyone else in my life was “too engaged” to spend time with me. From that day forward I forgot about everything else. After school I ran straight home, hurriedly did my homework and headed to the back of the house where Big-Momma would be waiting with that wonderful smile of hers. Big-Momma’s presence and companionship alone were enough to fulfill any desire I had for friends or extra curriculum activities. The day she died was more than just the departure of a weary body; it was the removal of my voice and delight. Time went on and no one ever seemed to notice that I began to only answer when I was asked direct questions, or that I never had a friend--new or old, or that I habitually didn’t look up from the floor long enough to see the color of their eyes. It continued on that way through high school, college, and now five years at my monotonous job.
I knew my limited ability to speak was unhealthy, but I didn’t know what to do. I tried a psychologist. It was obvious my lacking capacity to answer his questions frustrated both of us, so I just stopped going. I honestly didn’t know what was wrong. My brain processed what I should have said, but somehow the signals must have been interrupted because the only thing I would do was slightly open my mouth and close it immediately. Speaking had become a laborious activity for me. So, that evening when my boss asked me to stay late to complete a task that I tried to complete two weeks earlier all I did was reluctantly nod my head as she scurried away.
When I finally left the office it was past eleven. The evening was dark and intimidating, as most nights in New York City were. I knew I should have hailed a cab, but lately the drivers would almost always try to spark up conversations with me, and rather than subjecting myself to the monotone of their voices and unwanted questioning I decided to walk home. My apartment was about a mile and half away; I didn’t mind the walk, I was used to it and the breeze comforted me. I made sure I was aware of everything that was going on around me and I held my purse firmly to my body as I had learned to do. My bag weighed on my left arm and as I shifted it I caught glimpse of the necklace I had picked-up during my lunch hour. I had miraculously found a small resale shop the week before that had a very enticing window display. I decided to go in and there, sitting in a fingerprint covered glass, was a dull, but gorgeous locket. I knew it was one of a kind because as soon as the owner handed it to me something strange happened. For the first time in over thirteen years I felt butterflies in my stomach. I had to buy it. It was restored, engraved, and on the inside was my favorite picture of Big-Momma and me. Smiling to myself I allowed my mind to drift away. Suddenly, pulling me out of my pleasant daze was a hand jerking at my bag. My heart pounding, I turned to face my assailant. I saw every contour of his face, and the gun he held inches away from me. “Give me the bag!” he yelled. All I could do was think of my precious locket. “I said give me the bag! NOW!” he yelled again. The picture of Big-Momma and me flashed through my mind. I heard the cock of the gun and as fast as lightening I pulled the pepper spray from pocket. I sprayed him in the eyes, ducked down under the gun, and yelled NO! I sprayed in his direction again and lunged him in his mid section with my elbow as hard as I could. “NO!” I shouted over and over. I ran as fast as I could as directionless gunshots rang in the air behind me. I burst into my apartment and called the police. There was strength in my voice, and when the policemen came to my home I was able to ignore the lure of the floor and look the officers directly in their eyes. I went to sleep confused; I felt stunned yet liberated.
The next morning I rose to the sight of the beautiful sun, and in my heart and mind I knew that overnight I had become a new person. I noticed that when I dressed I didn’t mind looking at myself in the mirror anymore, and that reluctant feeling to experience a new day dissipated. I put on my locket and walked out of my apartment with my chin up, smiling as I hadn’t done in a long time. I closely examined every face that passed by, and noticed how good it felt not having my eyes glued to the despicable New York City concrete. I reached my office sooner than I expected. My boss was in a frenzy, “Julie, did you complete that proposal?” “Yes I did!” I said assertively enough to stun my boss. I unlocked my desk and handed it to her. “You’re welcome.” I said, smiling. She stood there frozen watching me take my personal belongings from my desk. I grabbed the last picture of Big-Momma and me, and said, “Mrs. Sanderson, I quit!” I was out the door before her brain could fully process what I had just stated. I walked to my apartment, holding my locket and saying “hello” to any and everyone who passed me by. For thirteen years I lived without a voice. I smothered it under fear and uncertainty. Today I walk with my head up and joy in my step, and to think the person I have to thank for my revival is a thief.