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Authors: Terry McMillan

Tags: #Fiction, #African American, #Contemporary Women, #Family & Relationships, #Friendship, #streetlit3, #UFS2

Getting to Happy (4 page)

BOOK: Getting to Happy
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“It’s not about my world, Mom. It’s yours. You don’t have a life. You’re too smart and pretty to live the way you do. My friends think you look like a movie star! That’s what you should do, Mom! Live your life like you’re starring in your own movie!”

“And who’d direct it, Miss Eye on the Sparrow?” I’m trying to go along with this little game of charades.

“You waste like ten amazing hours a day going to a dull job you get nothing out of, which is why I’m surprised you’re not popping ADs like Auntie Bern. In fact, maybe you should borrow some from her since going to the gym isn’t doing much for your endorphins. I mean, you’re in great shape, but what good does it do you if no one ever gets to appreciate it?”

do. And how do you know your auntie is taking antidepressants?”

“Taylor told me.”

“How does Taylor know?”

“Because she found her stash. By accident when she was over there. That’s not all she’s on.”

“What else is she

“Ambien and Xanax.”

“What exactly is Ambien?”

“Where have you been all your life, Mom? It’s a sleeping pill and it’s really no big deal. Everybody’s on something. Most of the kids at my school get their meds from their parents’ and grandparents’ medicine cabinets.”

“Are you telling me you’ve looked in my medicine cabinet for drugs?”

“No . . . well, yes. I just wanted to see what gets you through the day besides exercise. But you’re clean—I’m happy to say.”

“And what have you tried?”

“Ritalin. But I didn’t like feeling all wired up and zingy. Plus, I’m not running from anything. I haven’t had anything tragic happen to me yet, so I’m cool with my own head.”

How this child thinks amazes me and what comes out of her mouth is often astonishing. I never know what to expect but I’m thankful she has a mind of her own. “What about marijuana?”

“Now, that I like. I can’t lie.”

“You mean you smoke it?”

“No, I do not. I said I like it, which is why I refuse to do it. Anything that alters my mind can’t be cool. Too many of my friends at school are like totally zonked because they’re stoned all the time. Can’t study like that.”

“Damn” is all I can say. When I see a bank I remember I don’t have any cash and forgot to give her lunch money. I swerve into the parking lot. “I have to stop at the ATM. I’ll be right back.”

I take my debit card out of my purse, and right after I push it in the slot and it asks me for my password, I lift my hand to punch in the numbers but my mind draws a blank. I don’t believe this. I can’t remember my fucking password! I stand there a few more seconds trying to think hard and keep coming up with all these other configurations, but not the one I need.

Sparrow honks the horn and sticks her head out the window. “What’s wrong, Mom? Is it out of money or are you?” She chuckles.

I’m now perspiring. My forehead is beading wet balls. My deodorant isn’t working and I suddenly feel like someone turned a furnace on inside me and put it on a hundred degrees. Damnit! I don’t think I can go through this much longer. It’s unfortunate I’m still having periods, and I’ll be glad when they stop. I blow a tunnel of air out of my mouth and pretend I remember the password. This time I place my fingers on the buttons and let them press whatever numbers they are inclined to. When I see the screen change I’m ecstatic. I get sixty bucks and hand twenty to Sparrow when I get back in the car.

“Thanks mucho gusto,” she says and tucks it inside her bra. “Anyway, Mom, I’m on your side, okay? We’ve been card members from day one.”

“I get your point, okay?”

“But we haven’t even gotten to your social calendar. It’s totally blank unless you count my lovely aunties and your bi-monthly DVD outings, but all of you guys live too much by the book. I mean, when you get to be like fifty isn’t this when you should like really be kicking up your heels and kicking ass?”

I take my eye off the road and loosen my grip on the steering wheel. “What did you just say?”

“I went too far. I meant what I just said and I apologize for using that profane word. It was completely out of line, but you get my drift, don’t you, Mom?”

“Why are you on my case today?”

“Because it’s a beautiful morning and I’m about to enter a whole new zone in these few short years I’ve been on this planet and I was just your little girl in braces and thank you for these knockers, Mom—but have I grown up faster than the speed of light right before your very eyes or what?”

“Yes, indeed you have.”

“My point is that if I can see how fast it’s going, then I know you should be about ready to like let it rip! I mean, don’t you look at yourself some mornings and think, Damn, Robin—I mean, darn it, Robin—is this

“Of course.”

“Then how do you respond, Mom?”

“That is not something I feel like sharing with you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t, that’s why.”

“Is it something you’re ashamed of?”


“I mean, do you ever think: Wow, I feel like a cat trying to walk backwards?”

“What in the world are you talking about, Sparrow?”

“Never mind,” she says with a sigh, as if she just can’t get what she wants or needs to get out of me. I just wanted the girl to get her driver’s permit this morning, not put my life under a doggone spotlight for her inspection. I mean, who does she think she is? She’s the daughter. I’m the mother. What makes her think her opinions or her little teenage insights are worth their weight in gold? I know she means well. And there’s a small chance she may be right. But you shouldn’t let your kids know when they know more than you do.

“What I mean is, do you ever wish you could go back and do things differently?”

“Of course I do.”

“Like what, for instance?”

“I wish I had chosen a different career and been better at picking men.”

“Well, it’s not too late, is it?”

“I don’t know what else I’d do to make a living other than what I’ve been doing.”

“Have you ever given it any thought?”

“Yes. I mean no. I don’t know.”

“When I tell my friends you’re like an underwriter it’s hard to explain. But it sounds boring.”

“It isn’t boring.”

“But what do you get out of it?”

“Let’s skip the subject. Anyway, I’ll think about trying online dating.”

“Good, because I’ve already set you up on three sites. You can go in and edit your profiles, Mom, even though I told like major lies about you. I had a hecka good time pretending to be you. And for the record, please don’t lie about your age like some of my friends’ moms do, please.”

“I don’t have to lie about my age, and I said I’ll give it some thought.”

“You think long, you think wrong. Let’s be honest here, Mom. The only true loves in your life besides me are those stupid little dogs.”

“Romeo and Juliet are not stupid!” They happen to be my teacup terriers, who together weigh about seven pounds and are cute as can be.

“They don’t serve any purpose, all they do is bark and you spend a fortune on them. Plus, they don’t protect us from anything. A robber could climb over the fence in the backyard and walk right into our house and they’d probably lead him straight to my room.” She bites what’s left of her royal blue nails. Of course they’re chipped. Which drives me up the frigging wall. She has no idea what tacky means.

“They’re called pets, Sparrow.”

“Well, they get on my nerves, but you love them, so forget I said it. The point I’m trying to make here is that times have changed, Mom. Okay? You have to look for a guy the same way you look for a job. Online is the way to go.”

“How do you know so much about this?”

“Mom, this is 2005 in case you weren’t aware. Anyway, seventy-five to ninety percent of my friends’ parents are divorced, and their moms are always meeting cool dudes with paper and very little baggage, except for those monthly support payments. This, of course, is not something I’ve had the privilege of experiencing firsthand since my dad is a jailbird and all, but I don’t blame you for that. I just want you to be happy! I want you to fall into that deep hole called love I know nothing about except what I’ve seen on TV. Until then, can’t you at least get laid?”

“Didn’t you wear that yesterday?”

“You shouldn’t limit your options to just black men, either.”

“Who do you think you’re talking to?”

She leans forward, turns her head to the side and points one of those blue nails at me.

“Just because you only like white boys, don’t try to get me to follow in your footsteps, sweetie.”

“I don’t like them because they’re white, Mom. I just like them. A lot of black guys at school aren’t attracted to girls like me.”

“And what kind of girl are you?”

“I’m my own person. I don’t fit the mold.”

“Oh, so you’re saying that white boys don’t mind your not fitting it?”

“They make me feel special. Unique. To be honest, they make me feel even prouder than I already am to be black.”

“To each his own.”

“Have you ever even dated a white guy?”


“Why not?”

“Because I’ve just never thought about it. I have always been attracted to black men.”

“Yeah, and look where it’s gotten you.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing, Mom.”

“I’ve never been attracted to white men.”

“It’s because you didn’t look at them as men because they were white. I’ve heard that inside, they’re all just guys.”

“You still haven’t answered my question. Didn’t you wear that getup yesterday?”

“And?” she asks, looking down at this potpourri of clothing even I know is a
Don’t. She’s rolling the window down and I swear I wish every stitch she has on would fly straight out of this car into one of those trash bins lined up along the curb. Even though it’s January, she’s wearing too much of everything: a dingy white sweater that was once mine, jeans cut off at the knee and purple tights with holes or runs in them, and she has the nerve to wear them with teal blue hightop sneakers. She is clearly confused. As are a lot of teenagers. They don’t care how they look. Sparrow’s five ten. An inch taller than me. So she looks twice as bad as most of her girlfriends, most of whom happen to be white, which doesn’t bother me, but she’s a black Valley Girl even though all of Phoenix is a valley. All I know is the more missmatched they look, the cooler or more original they think they are. I have never had good taste, but I know from tacky. The only things on her that do make sense are the clusters of twisted hair that fall like branches of a weeping willow all over her head and over her eyes so she’s constantly pushing them to the side, more for effect than anything. Like using a bobby pin would kill her.

“I am trying to be a conservationist, Mom, in case you aren’t aware of our dwindling ozone layer. Look at that clay-colored cloud out there. Don’t you want me to live long enough to see that disappear?”

“Shut up, would you, Sparrow? You’re starting to get on my nerves and it’s not even nine o’clock. I’m going to be late for work as it is, and you better pass the stupid test or I might make you walk back to school.”

“I’d call the cops on you.”

“I’d pretend like I didn’t know you so they’d have to go to prison and ask to have your dad sprung so he could come get you.”

“Mom, you’re not playing fair! You promised never to bring him up when we play like this. You just broke one of our rules.”

“I’m sorry, my little birdie. You should know Russell’s getting out in a few months.”

“Mom, that’s like soon.”

“I know. Don’t go getting all in a tizzy. He’s always going to be your dad, plus he doesn’t even qualify as being a real criminal. He’s just done some really stupid things over the years that he should be more embarrassed about than anything.”

“He’s a drug addict, Mom.”

“It’s a disease, Sparrow.”

“Isn’t there a cure for it?”

“No, there isn’t. Abstinence. And you know how hard that is, don’t you?”

She gives me the eye.

“Can I ask you something? And I want you to give me an honest answer.”

“Oh, God, Mom, not one of these?” She lifts her right hand over her eyes like she’s about to salute and shakes her head.

“Are you ever embarrassed because I’ve never been married and your dad’s incarcerated?”

She drops her hand in her lap and looks at me with the utmost sincerity. “Absolutely not! First of all, Mom, it was your choice and your right to be a single parent, which makes me proud of you, to be honest. Haven’t we like had this conversation before?”

“Not really. I tried explaining to you when you were little why your dad wasn’t in your life. I don’t remember explaining why I didn’t marry him. Or anybody for that matter.”

“Well, I haven’t exactly been broadcasting that my biological has been living behind bars. I’ve told a few of my semi-close friends he’s dead, because to me, he has been.”

“Sparrow, that’s kind of stretching things, don’t you think?”

“Maybe. Most of my friends have never asked because they don’t care. Everybody’s families are like either so screwed up or like a really good mixed salad. I’ve got friends whose parents are lesbians or gay men, with kids that are white as snow to black as me and every shade of brown in between. Nobody cares anymore, Mom, get it? We are who we are and it’s all good. So, does that answer your question?”

“I suppose.”


“On a lighter note, I’m giving you a friendly heads-up that if for some reason unbeknownst to you your GPA falls below that three-point-oh, you can forget about any make or model with an engine, understood?”

“No worries, Mom. I’m taking AP geo this summer.”

I turn into the DMV parking lot, but before pulling into a space, I stop the car. “Get out,” I say. “I’ll be right behind you.”

She doesn’t move. “Mom?”

“What is it now, Sparrow?”

“Are you crying?”

“No! I am not crying. Now would you go!” I pop her seat belt and give her a little shove.

“Mom, would you do me a favor?”

“What now, Sparrow?”

“Wait in the car. This won’t take any time, believe me.”

BOOK: Getting to Happy
10.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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