Okay, so when your books come out so close together, you end up acknowledging the same people over and over. Since ain't much changed in my life since last year, this will be short.
As always, I thank you, God, for the gift of writing. I'm loving it more and more, and I pray that you continue to use me to affect the lives of others. You know my favorite days are those where I sit in my pajamas all day at the kitchen table, eating cereal, listening to jazz and sipping coffee, making my characters come alive. I'm trusting you to make that my full-time gig . . . soon. Oh yeah, and all the other stuff we dream about too!
To all my family and friendsâI will definitely forget someone, so please consider yourselves all loved and thanked.
To NorineâI can't thank you enough for all the evenings you sat at the kitchen table with me, listening to me babble on and on about these five women like they were real people. You're the perfect sounding board. I thank God for your friendship, love and support.
To Yvetteâthanks for all the help with the television producer stuff. I didn't realize how much I had gleaned listening to your experiences over the years. One day, you'll be running black television and making it look like God wants it to look.
To Mommyâthanks for helping me birth these characters. Thanks for your tireless work as an assistant, publicist, sounding board, and being the world's greatest mom.
To Daddy, the little brown manâthanks for telling me it was too preachy. I fixed it!
To my best friend, Kathyâthanks for all your love and support and for all the books you've bought and gotten sold. I love you forever!
To Rhonda McKnightâyou are invaluable as a sistahwriterfriend. You are becoming one of my favoritest people in the world. Thanks so much for your wisdom, endless resources, encouragement, reading/editingâI could go on and on. Your emails are the bestâyou have no idea how happy I am whenever I see your name in my Inbox. Looking forward to your release and making this author journey together. (Issues of the HeartâUrban Christian, December 2009âmake sure you guys read it!)
To Dee Stewartâyou are amazing as a sistahwriterfriend, and even more amazing as a publicist. Sorry I'm so high-maintenance. I promise to answer all your emails and send you those interview questions as soon as I get this manuscript in the mail. Really.
I can't wait to see your books on the shelves. It's only a matter of time.
To Kristen Hemingwayâthanks so much for reading and commenting and helping me bring the story together. Looking forward to seeing your words in print one day (you have to be a writer with that name.) To Erika, thanks for listening to me as I birthed the story. Thanks for letting me borrow your name.
To Victoria Christopher MurrayâI know I mention you in every book, but as long as you're the wonderful mentor/ godmother to me that you are, I have to give honor where honor is due. I know God will continue to bless you with awesome success and favor because you give so much to all of us that are following in your footsteps. Thanks for always being a blessing!
To my wonderful writing group, ACFW-VIPâit's great doing this writing thing with my sistahwriterfriends. Let's continue to love and support one another until everyone gets published.
To my pastors, Steve and Lindy Hale and Scott and Lacy Thompson, and my wonderful Bethel Atlanta family. Thanks for your love and support and for pushing me to be everything I'm called to be in God.
To my cousin, Pastor Corey Kelly, and his beautiful wife, First Lady Tishâthank you so much for your love and support with my releases. I pray God's greatest blessings on New Hope Baptist Church! Thanks to Garbo Hearne and Pyramid Art, Books, and Custom Framing for all your support with my releases.
To all my readers, book clubs, women's groups, and churchesâthank you so much for your support of
My Soul Cries Out
Dance into Destiny
. I appreciate all the emails, guestbook entries and MySpace comments that let me know that what I'm trying to do is working.
ick, tock, tick, tock . . .
There it was. The sound that had been growing louder and louder in my brainâuntil now, it was no longer background noise. Groaning, I rolled over in bed and pulled a pillow over my face. I peeked out and cast an annoyed glance at my nightstand clock, but it was digital, so it couldn't be blamed for the relentless ticking in my head. No, it was my own internal clockâthe proverbial biological one.
And now there was an alarm to go with it. An alarm with no snooze button to make it stop. The AMA alarm. Today was my thirty-fifth birthday, and I was officially AMAâadvanced maternal age. The age at which my eggs, encased in my ovaries since birth, started to get old and decrepit. If, by some magic, I were to meet Mr. Perfect tomorrow and we fell overwhelmingly in love and got married within the next six months, then got pregnant right away, mine would still be considered a high-risk pregnancy just because of my age.
I sat up on the edge of the bed and stretched my arms upward, resolving that today I would celebrate my life with thanksgiving, hope, and faith.
Hey, God. Thanks for waking me up healthy, beautiful and strong this morning. Thanks that I turned thirty-five today . . .
And then, for no apparent reason, I burst into tears. Sobs, actually. I rolled onto the floor and curled into a fetal position, crying like someone had died.
I guess someone had. The thirty-five-year-old woman I had dreamed I would be when I was a little girl. Married to a gorgeous, black Ken look-alikeâplastic smile and allâwith two beautiful children living in a castle on the hill with two ponies in our stable and a thriving career as a firewoman or a ballerina.
Okay, so I was seven.
But still. I didn't expect to be thirty-five, single and childless. I was supposed to wake up to breakfast in bed cooked by my wonderfully loving husband and two beautiful daughtersâall bouncy, bubbly and giggly. They were supposed to burst into the room and scream, “Happy birthday, Mommy” and cover me with kisses. My husband was supposed to kiss my cheek, say “Happy birthday, dear” and give me a knowing look that said as soon as the girls got off to school, he was going to really wish me a happy birthday.
But instead, I was all alone in my king-sized bed. Well, actually on the floor next to it. I grabbed a pillow, then pulled the comforter off the bed and snuggled underneath it. I could see God looking down from heaven shaking His head. He'd elbow Jesus, who would roll His eyes. They'd both look at the Holy Spirit as if to say, “Please, go help Our pitiful child.”
I imagined the Holy Spirit swiftly coming to my rescue. He'd come and get under the comforter with me and hold me in His arms, promising to love me until my earthly husband came along.
“God, for the millionth timeâwhy can't you take it away? Just make me completely satisfied with you and you alone. If you're not going to fulfill it, then take away my desire for a husband and kids.” I yelled at Him from under the comforter. I imagined the Holy Spirit hugging me tighter. I appreciated the fact that He wasn't moved by my angry outburst. He loved me no matter what.
I relaxed in His arms. Imagined myself snuggling into His chest, and instantly felt better. “God, why can't You send me a husband just like You? Send me You wrapped up in chocolate.” How awesome that would be. To be married to a guy like God.
I must have fallen back asleep in His arms, because when the phone rang and I looked at the clock, it was two hours later. I wasn't in the mood for the onslaught of phone calls from people wishing me happiness for my birthday. I should have gone out of town like I'd originally planned. Instead, I had let my friends talk me into a “Girls' Day”âsome big surprise they had planned. Much as I loved them, I wasn't in the mood for surprises.
All I wanted to do for my birthday was be alone with God.
The phone rang again and I ignored it. I thought about getting up to do a quick half-hour Taebo tape. Maybe some kicking and punching would get rid of some of my frustrations. Billy Blanks had become my best friend in the year right after my divorce. There was just something about being violent and calling it exercise. I had joined a gym with a big punching bag that I pretended, on a regular, was my ex and his mistress. I got a reputation at the gym as the girl no one wanted to spar with and would never want to meet in a dark alley.
My stupid ex. This was all his fault. My marriage should have never ended. After eleven years, he decided that twenty-one was too young to have gotten married and that he needed to see what else was “out there” . . .
Fresh tears flowed down my face.
What in the world?
Was I really crying over my ex? Really? My divorce was final almost three years ago. I hadn't cried over him, or even thought much about him in the past two years. Had to check the calendar when I got up off the floor. This
to be my hormones.
I guess it wasn't my ex I was crying over. It was the fact that the marriage hadn't worked. That I was thirty-five, divorced, childless, and oh yeah, hormonal.
My cell phone chimed to indicate that I had gotten a text message. I picked it up and looked at the screen.
Get up off the floor. Dry your eyes. Get dressed and get ready to be celebrated. I promise the day will get better, but you have to get up first. Happy birthday. Please, girlâget over it. Thirty-five is not that old! Love you!!!
I had to laugh. My girl, Vanessa. I decided to take her word for it. Maybe the day would get better if I just picked myself up off the floor.
I pulled up at Vanessa's house an hour laterâfresh faced and comfortably dressed as I had been instructed. As I got out of my car, I took authority over my hormones as I did every month. I could overcome most battles in my life, but once a month, the day before my cycle started, I wound up crying endlessly and reacting irrationally to the dumbest things. Amazing that a strong, successful womanâproducer at the nation's newest up-and-coming black television stationâand experienced spiritual warrior could be reduced to such ridiculousness by some estrogen.
Please, God. Not today
Vanessa must have been watching for me because, before I got out of my car, she threw open the door and held her arms out wide, walking toward me. It was rare that her petite frame was casually dressed in jeans and a simple blouse. She was one of those elegant suit ladies who wore shimmery stockings and four-inch heels with the perfect, short, sassy haircut. In spite of her casual attire, her make-up was flawlessly applied as if she was about to do a photo shoot. Wearing her signature brilliant smile, she sang out, “Happy birthday, Michelle!”
She looked so happy to see me and her eyes were so filled with love that I burst into tears. A look of horror flashed across her face. “Oh, no!” She shook her head slowly in disbelief. “Hormone day on your birthday? What was God thinking?”
I laughed a little. She took me into her arms and held me for a few minutes. Her comforting voice spoke directly in my ear. “Oh, Father, help us today. We take authority over estrogen gone awry.”
I laughed a little more.
She broke our embrace and grabbed me by the shoulders. “Fix your face, girl, and snap out of it. It's your birthday brunch.” She rubbed my arm and smiled. “Actually, you know what? It's your party and you can cry if you want to.”
I laughed more and sniffled. I wiped my eyes as she led me into the house.
Vanessa was my
-ro. She had kept me alive and sane during my separation and divorce. She was the ministerial counselor at our church. Through our sessions, I decided that not only did I want to live, but that life could be good after divorce. Not too long after she released me from therapy, her husband died tragically in a car accident. I could only hope I was half the friend to her then that she had been to me. Our losses and our relationships with God had bonded us together into one of the best friendships I'd ever had.
Vanessa's house was immaculate as always. I was amazed that a single mother of two teenagers, full-time counselor and minister could keep her five-bedroom house perfectly clean without a housekeeper. I, howeverâsingle with no kidsâcouldn't seem to keep my townhouse straight to save my life.
As we entered her two-story foyer, I looked above the winding spiral staircase and saw a huge banner reading
35th Annual Michelle Bradford Celebration Day
. Simultaneously, I heard several voices cry out, “Happy birthday, 'Chelle!”
At the foot of the steps stood my girlfriends, Nicole, Lisa, and Angela. I burst into tears again. Lisa and Angela ran over to hug me.
Nicole stared at me. “Are you serious?” She looked over at Vanessa, who winced and nodded. Nicole picked up her purse. “I'm out. You know I can't stand her when she's like this.” She got halfway to the front door before Vanessa grabbed her.
“Stop playing, Nicole.” Vanessa put her hands on her hips.
“Who's playing? I can't stand being around her snotting and crying because a butterfly splattered on her windshield or Revlon discontinued her favorite lipstick color. Naw, I'm out. I'll meet you guys for the big celebration later.” Nicole turned toward the door again.
“Nicole.” Vanessa put on her mother voice and evil eye that always snapped her kids into perfect obedience.
Apparently, it worked on Nicole too, because she took her purse off her shoulder and came over to hug me. “Happy birthday, Michelle. You know I love you like a sister, but dangâcan't you take the pills for this? I know God is a healer, but for real though, until your manifestation comes, you need some earthly medicine.”
“Nicole.” Vanessa said it like Nicole had one more time before she got sent to her room for a time-out.
Lisa and Angela disappeared into Vanessa's massive gourmet kitchen.
I had to laugh. It was funny to hear Nicole using spiritual lingo. She had just gotten saved two years ago and was still a little awkward when it came to using spiritual terms.
She gave me a big hug, which set off a new flood of tears. “Dang, girl.” Nicole called into the kitchen. “Can y'all see if Vanessa has some olive oil or something? Shoot, some Crisco will do.” She looked at Vanessa. “Can't you lay hands on her and cast out this estrogen demon so we can all enjoy our day?”
That sent me into a fit of uncontrollable giggles. When I laughed really hard, I couldn't stop myself from snorting. Snorting the snot from crying made me cough until I could hardly breathe. Vanessa pounded me on the back.
Nicole stared at me and let out an exasperated sigh. “What a crackhead.” She disappeared into the kitchen to help Angela and Lisa with whatever they were doing.
I was glad Vanessa had only invited my closest sister circle for brunch. At least they all understood my condition. Premenstrual dysphoric disorder was what my doctor called it. Insanity was what my friends called it. Hell on earth was what I called it. Fortunately, it usually only lasted a day in my case. I hoped it would pass before the big celebration later that Nicole had mentioned.
Vanessa led me to the breakfast room table and sat me down. Angela, Lisa, and Nicole emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later, each carrying a tray. Vanessa fastened a tiara onto my afro, wavy from being let loose from two-stranded twists. “Today, we're celebrating you with your favorite things. Sit back, relax and enjoy.”
I looked down at the trays my girls had brought from the kitchen. There were finger sandwichesâpeanut butter, honey and bananas on wheat breadâchocolate-covered strawberries, mango slices, crab cakes, jerk chicken wings with rice and peas, fried plantains, and ginger beer to wash it all down with.
I clapped my hands and laughed. “All my favorites. Kind of weird together, but still. It's so nice to be loved and for you guys to know what I love.” I looked up to see everyone holding their breath, as if they were afraid I was going to cry. “Loosen up, guys.” I smiled. “This brunch is perfect.”
I frowned at two capsules filled with greenish stuff on the side of my plate.
Vanessa answered before I could ask. “It's St. John's wort. The herb I told you about. I picked up some at the health food store.”
I stared at the pills.
Nicole put a hand on her hip. “God gave us plants for natural cures, so it's not like you're not having faith for healing.” She picked up the pills and shoved them at me. “Look, we're the ones that have to spend the whole day with you. The least you could do is try them.”
at Nicole. “Girl, stop being evil. You'll only make it worse.”
Lisa chimed in, “Yeah, Nicole. At least she can blame emotional craziness on hormones, and it only happens once a month. What's your excuse?”
Nicole shot Lisa an evil stare.
I obediently swallowed the pills, ignoring the organic taste in my mouth.
We filled our plates with my special treats. Everybody was silent for a few minutes as we started eating.
Lisa finally spoke. “So, Michelle, you're thirty-five today. How does it feâ”
She stopped talking when Angela elbowed her in the side and shook her head. Everybody kept eating.
After a few minutes, Vanessa said, “Michelle, we want you to know that . . .” Her voice trailed off.
Nicole rolled her eyes. “This is ridiculous. We're all afraid to talk because we don't want her to cry? I tell you what. Michelle, talk about what's bothering youâwhat we know you cried about when you woke up and in the car on the way over here. Let's get it out in the open and deal with it, so we won't be dancing on eggshells all day. This is supposed to be a celebration. Sheesh . . .”