Authors: Terry McMillan
Tags: #Fiction, #African American, #Contemporary Women, #Family & Relationships, #Friendship, #streetlit3, #UFS2
“Yes, I made it. As a matter of fact, I paid two.”
“Thank you. And have a good time,” I say, without moving my fingers, which are frozen two or three inches above the keys. I cosigned for this loan to help him start his business. After it took off, he took over the payments. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered by default that Isaac isn’t as proficient managing his finances as he is at building. To this day he refuses to hire a bookkeeper, which is one of the reasons his taxes are always late.
“Good luck on your research,” he says, and heads for the garage. He is so disingenuous. He hardly ever watches my shows anymore. For years he pretended he was interested, but over time he couldn’t fake it anymore. He thinks my stories show problems that can’t be solved, so what’s the point?
I finally hear the door shut. I turn around and stare at it. It’s red. My bright idea. I’m hoping to hear the garage door go up. There it is. Then the engine roars in his truck. Instead of turning my attention back to the screen, I wait for the handle to turn. Sure enough, in he comes.
“I forgot my cell phone.” He dashes down the hallway to our bedroom. To this day Isaac reminds me of a black Paul Bunyan, except he’s finally getting a few strands of gray. His mustache and goatee look like they’ve been sprayed with silver dust. He’s still sexy as hell, which is a shame, because it doesn’t seem to be serving any purpose. I shouldn’t dog him too much. Isaac is a good man. I just think marrying each other wasn’t the best thing we could’ve done for each other.
He stops dead in his tracks, pivots, comes over and kisses me in the exact same spot. This time he lets his lips stay a millisecond longer. I appreciate the gesture. “I’ll call when I get checked in.”
I make myself some French toast, put a few strips of bacon in the microwave and sit back in front of my laptop. My mind isn’t on teen pregnancy, so I bookmark the sites I may want to look at later. I’m thinking about the man who just left. The one I once loved harder than any of the others.
I was a forty-year-old love-starved black woman who’d never been married and didn’t think it was still possible. I met Isaac in church. He was tall, dark and handsome. (Aren’t they always?) I was sitting near the front and found myself going deaf as the minister delivered yet another guilt-laced sermon about the evils of temptation, because I was slowly being hypnotized by Isaac Hathaway’s soft black eyes up there in the third row of the choir. This was a small church. It was as if he’d appeared out of nowhere. I certainly would’ve noticed him before. Not that I went to church every Sunday. And not that I didn’t have faith in God. I did, and still do. I’d been on a whole lot of folks’ prayer lists and God had known for years my address was still III Unlucky-in-Love Avenue. On this particular Sunday, this man followed me down those church steps to the parking lot and seduced me with my clothes on after he smiled at me, introduced himself and in a slow baritone said, “You are absolutely beautiful.” I blushed brick red because he was lying through his teeth. I was not then, nor am I now, even remotely close to beautiful.
Now, I’ve been known to be attractive on special occasions, and I do my best to project as much beauty as I can muster from deep inside, though I often fail. On this particular day, I was wearing a boring brown dress I thought was perfect for church since it’s not a venue for which I dress to draw attention to myself. Back then, I hadn’t gotten into the habit of exercising on a regular basis, and my dress didn’t conceal enough of my curves for my taste, so Isaac couldn’t possibly have been moved by my breasts since they were and still are close to nonexistent. The pearls were noticeably fake, which should’ve given him a clue I wasn’t loaded, although I made out okay. Besides, who under fifty wears real pearls to church?
I never did hear him sing solo. I would later think God had saved the best for last. Any woman in my position would’ve felt the same way and probably done the same thing: parachuted into his arms. Or was it his bed, first? Who can remember? Who cares? He was intoxicating, and any fool would’ve wanted more of him. All I know is he made me feel brand new. Lit a fire in me that burned bright orange. His smile reduced me to mashed potatoes. I loved that he held my hand wherever we went and stroked my palm with his thumb.
We prayed together. A few months later, he moved into my house. I knew I’d gotten lucky, because I’d found a man who wasn’t afraid to admit his faith in God and also came with his own tool belt. Nothing stayed broken for long. Isaac had magical hands. He would shampoo and condition my hair, brush it at night and oil my scalp. He massaged my feet while I read and he watched television. He put lavender and ylang-ylang oil in my bathwater and let me lean way back. I could’ve lived forever in his arms. He made me feel safe, necessary, to the point I started believing I
beautiful. For years, he kissed me twice a day. Every single day. And not a peck, like that bullshit he gave me today, but a warm, slow, succulent kiss complete with arms I dreamed about when I was alone in a hotel bed on a business trip. Isaac is the best kisser in the world. And to date, the best lover I’ve ever had in my life. He was my Mr. Wonderful. I thought he was going to be my Mr. Once-and-for-All.
There was no escaping the hold he had on me or the spell he’d put on me. After a year of complete bliss, I surrendered and said of course I’ll be your wife. When he lost his job putting up the fence along the Arizona-Mexico border because the company had gotten busted for hiring illegals, I wasn’t worried. He was only twenty-six units shy of getting his degree in engineering.
Unfortunately, my world started shrinking not long after I married Mr. Wonderful. Since I didn’t have kids, I was used to doing what I wanted and going where I wanted. I ate out at least two or three times a week. Enjoyed going to plays and live concerts and dance performances. Loved foreign films. Didn’t mind the subtitles. In fact, I used to go to the movies at least once a week except in August, when the slashers came out. I loved reading in bed. Unfortunately, Isaac couldn’t fall asleep without the television blaring. Turns out he wasn’t keen on eating in restaurants except Denny’s and The Olive Garden. I never saw him open a book but he couldn’t get enough of
Dream Decks & Patios
. He didn’t like taking bona fide vacations because it was a waste of good money. He was also afraid of flying, which meant everywhere we went had to be by car. We rented movies, except during holidays. Isaac also liked fish, so once a month we went to the aquarium. Yahoo.
Last August, I flew to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention and was able to hear the young senator Barack Obama give a speech that sounded like it might go down in history. Flying wasn’t the only reason Isaac didn’t want to go. Right before the 2004 primaries, I inadvertently opened his absentee ballot. He had the nerve to be registered as a fucking Republican! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I don’t know any black Republicans. I was not only offended, but confused. I felt like I was married to a Nazi or something.
“Of course you have the right to align yourself with whatever party you so choose,” I said when I confronted him. “But what on earth would possess you to support the Republican party, Isaac?”
This was Mr. Millionaire’s answer: “Because they make sure we get the best tax break.”
I left his ass standing in the bathroom dripping wet, since he was waiting for me to bring him a towel. So it was his dumbass vote that helped reelect that dumbass George Bush. Twice. I wondered who in the world I was really married to. It worried me.
I can’t lie, I spent a lot of energy trying to give Isaac as much love as I possibly could as often as I could for as long as I could. Right after he lost his job, I tried to make him feel valued. I asked him to share his dreams with me. I listened. He changed his mind about getting his degree in engineering, opting instead for a construction management program. I paid his tuition. When he talked about all the things he wanted to build one day, I shared his enthusiasm. I also slowed down, said no to some travel. The Olympics in Australia was the biggest. I cooked almost every day. Washed and folded his work clothes. Took pills for car sickness. Everywhere we drove: “You see that sagging fence right there? That’s a sign of a rookie.” Watching the History Channel and
This Old House
was like foreplay. And wrestling: like witnessing phony cavemen perform acrobatics. I went to football games, which I didn’t like because it was violent and took too long to make a fucking touchdown. I went camping and fishing but I didn’t like getting dirty and putting stinky things on the end of a pole, and grabbing a wiggling fish that was headed for a hot skillet gave me the heebie-jeebies. Did I complain? No, I did not. I tried to do what made my husband happy.
Over the years, Isaac stopped showing interest in what I felt or what I did. I had to bribe him to go to or do anything that didn’t have an outcome. Whenever I wanted to talk about my stories, he always seemed to have the remote in his hand. I’m tired of not feeling respected. Since he’s become a successful entrepreneur, Isaac’s arrogance has pierced right through his beauty, which is why I don’t like him.
Make no mistake, I still love Isaac. I haven’t been
love with him for quite some time. It’s not an easy thing to admit. I’m not one of those women who feels I need a man to
me. I also don’t think there’s just one person in the world meant for you. Sometimes you luck up and sometimes your luck runs out. I’m beginning to wonder if a good marriage is even possible. What I do know is I’m tired of feeling navy blue when I have a right to feel lemon yellow.
Ever since I turned fifty I’ve become more aware of the passage of time and what I’m doing with it. If I dropped dead today, what legacy would I leave? Would I have done a lot of the things I wanted to do? Seen some of the places I wanted to see? And would I—if I took a few minutes to think about it—feel as if the time I was blessed with was well spent or had I just bullshitted my way through it?
Even though I have an interesting job, it still feels like I should be doing more. All I ever wanted was to do something with my life that would have a positive impact on other people. To do something to make us look in the mirror or slow down long enough to see what our behavior really says about us. Mostly about our inhumanity, since it leaves red marks. I believe the only way to evaluate how we’re living is how we’re not living.
This is why I’m on a mission to start doing things that make me feel good. I’ve made a vow to start eating healthier and exercising on a regular basis because I know better. I’m twenty-five pounds away from being fat. I don’t want to have to start buying all my clothes in
at Nordstrom’s. My goal is to be fit at fifty-two and sixty-two and seventy-two. I want to feel better than I look. I’m not trying to be a middle-aged centerfold, I just want to look at myself naked and not be disgusted. It may sound naïve, but I always thought as you got older the quality of your life would improve, that things would be smoother, calmer, and you could finally exhale.
I’d probably be in the nuthouse if it weren’t for my girlfriends: Bernadine, Robin and Gloria. Fifteen years ago, we thought we were hot shit. I was thirty-six and had just moved here from Denver, where I’d been a publicist for the gas company. Thrill thrill. Bernadine and her then husband, John, talked me into moving here after a visit, when a position in PR opened up at a local television station. The three of us went to Boston University together. I was her bridesmaid. She worked in finance for a real estate developer, had become a C.P.A. She introduced me to Gloria, a single parent who had her own hair salon. And Robin: Miss Congeniality. She worked in an executive capacity at an insurance company but was still on the verge of becoming a slut. She was and still is a hoot.
After years of our being casualties of love, Gloria is the only one who’s happily married. Times have certainly changed. We’re all busy. We don’t hang out like we used to, don’t run our mouths on the phone half the night the way we used to, don’t gossip about each other the way we used to. We send e-mail or text. Who can be bothered reaching out all day long like teenagers? Forget about happy hour. (Do they still have them?) We haven’t been drunk since I999. Haven’t set foot in a nightclub since Rick James had his last hit. We dance at home. Apparently, we’re too damn old to have fun in public places.
I don’t know why we stopped being social creatures, but it’s why Gloria came up with the idea of having Blockbuster Night. Once a month we kick up our heels at one of our houses. It’s something to do. Bernadine cooks, since she’s our black Julia Child. We make our husbands and children disappear. We don’t care where they go, as long as they’re gone for at least four hours.
I finally get out of my pajamas and take a cool shower. I put on a pair of purple running pants and a pink sweatshirt and grab a bottle of cold water from the fridge. I go back to my laptop and start looking at some of the sites I’d bookmarked. I hit ENTER. The screen turns cobalt blue, then goes completely black. I lean back in the chair thinking the battery must be dead, but I always plug the laptop in when I’m at home, and when I look under the counter, it is. I power off and wait for it to reboot. I don’t hear that low blender sound. I don’t hear anything. I hit the power button again, this time praying I’m not a victim of one of those apocalyptic viruses. I’ve got tons of irreplaceable information inside the soul of this computer. Nothing I do resuscitates it. I’m glad I have a backup disc at work.