Art of Appreciation by Lawrence Christopher © 2000
Art of Appreciation: The Conversation by Lawrence Christopher © 2000
Art of Appreciation: No Secrets, No Lies by Lawrence Christopher © 2001
Art of Appreciation: Now, If not Forever by Lawrence Christopher © 2002
Art of Appreciation: Here and Now by Lawrence Christopher © 2005
THE first time I laid eyes on her we were in a bar at Chicago's O'Hare airport. I was waiting to catch a flight to Atlanta. As I sipped on the cognac in front of me, I was admiring how attractive this woman was sitting just a table away. I had no intentions on approaching her for anything, not even to learn her name. All the assumptions about her had run through my mind. She's too pretty not to have a man. If she does not have a man then she has a woman. She is probably too high maintenance to date as well.
So instead of saying a word, I sat and stole glances at her between sips of my drink. If I were to compare her beauty to any celebrity, it would be hip-hop singer Lauryn Hill. From her Cimmerian colored skin tone, fine black hair and pearly white smile, she was the embodiment of an African American beauty. Yet, I was content with just watching her. That was until . . .
"Shoot!" Spoke the very attractive woman as she frantically searched through what looked like a personal organizer notebook. The agitated woman kept pulling out papers and cards but it was pointless, what she was looking for was not to be found. She slammed the small notebook on the table.
"Is something wrong?" I asked. When she looked at me directly, I was not sure I could bare the brightness of her eyes. But I did.
"I packed my wallet with my money in my luggage. I can't pay for this food I just ate."
I was thinking “do the words Dum Dum Sucker appear across my forehead”. Immediately my defenses were up, like when the guys on the street walk up to me asking for spare change because they ran out of gas down the road. I am like, yeah right. I am not some backwoods bumpkin. I know a scam when I hear one and what I heard from her had all the makings of a big one; a beautiful damsel in distress, sitting in an airport bar, preying on guys passing through. This was the new hustle in town no doubt.
I was bored, so I played along. My guard was up, even though her beauty weakened my defenses. I would not hand over any money to her. I would simply pay her tab with my credit card, even though she had not yet asked, was what I proposed after introducing myself.
"My name is Allen Edmonds."
"Hi. I'm Monica Price."
"Well Monica, if you don't mind I will add your bill to mine."
"Well, thank you. I can't really object since I don't have any money. And I doubt that I could get to my luggage which is probably loaded on the plane by now."
"Where are you headed?" I asked.
"Home to Atlanta. Actually, I live in Decatur, Georgia."
"Really, that's were I'm headed, to Atlanta that is." Monica gave me this skeptic look as I followed her eyes scanning the bar area. I was sensing she thought that I was about to hit on her.
"I really appreciate your offer, Allen, right?"
"But I'm going to try and work something out with the manager. Thanks anyway."
Monica gathers her organizer and walks toward the bar. I observed the conversation between her and the bartender. After a short discussion, the demeanor of the two changed from casual to defensive. Monica's arms are flailing. She turned and looked at me, catching me watching. If this were an act, then she put on a good show. I was convinced that it was not indeed an act. A dejected Monica returns to her table and lets out a frustrated sigh.
"Can you believe he threatened to call security on me?" Monica tells me.
"Yeah, talking about, 'people try to do this sort of thing all the time.' So he thinks I'm trying to run some kind of scam or something. He pissed me the hell off." I could see the genuine irritation on Monica's face.
"So now what?"
"This is messed up." Long pause. "I guess I'm going to have to take you up on your offer. If it still stands?"
The waiter presented Monica her check with an air of rudeness. I did not like it. I impeded his handing her the check with a show of my American Express Gold card. The waiter looked at me, the card; he flipped it over as if to check the signature. When the waiter returned the bill with both our charges totals close to $50, instead of my customary fifteen percent tip, I drew a big fat zero on the slip. Then I pulled out a penny and placed it on the table. That brought a smile to Monica's face and what a bright and brilliant smile it was. The sight of that smile was worth a lot more than a single red cent.
We left the bar toward our respective gates. As it turned out, we were on the same flight to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. There was still some time before we had to board the airplane. We sat together in the pre-boarding area waiting to be called. In that time I learned from Monica, that she was a model. She was in Chicago on a hostess job. I said to myself, "of course you are." She had been working in Chicago over the weekend. I asked myself, how much better than this can it get. I not only rescue a beautiful woman but she turns out to be a model.
I informed Monica that I am an editor for my own online men's magazine. My travel to Chicago was to interview Michael Jordan. She was not impressed. We continue with small talk until the announcement is made for our rows of seats to board the plane. It is then that I learn Monica is flying first class, while I am traveling coach. She gives this apologetic look at the point of our separation. We say our good byes.
Two hours or so later our plane lands in Atlanta. When I leave the plane, I see Monica talking to some hulking size of a guy. I am trying to match his face with one of the football players from the Atlanta Falcons. No luck. I turn to head for baggage claim, when I heard my name called. Monica is walking toward me. I am looking past her at the guy she was talking to, trying to gage his reaction. He stays put.
"Allen, I wanted to pay you back and to say thank you so much." She hands me a $20 bill.
"You're welcome." I take the money, and try to make it appear as close to a business transaction as I could. My tip for my Good Samaritan gesture was to have Monica once again display that captivating smile. We said our good byes and went our separate ways. Almost that is. We met once again at the baggage claim area to retrieve our luggage. I tried not to notice her and the guy she was with. It was the guy who seemed to not be able to take his eyes off of me. I am a decent size of 5'11" and 195 pounds. Still this guy was an intimidating specimen of man and muscle.
It was what I suspected in Chicago. Not only did Monica have a man, but a brawny and probably very jealous one. And why would he not be jealous? Any man with half vision would be interested in Monica. That included me. And that was all I intended to do, be interested from afar. I grabbed my bag from the turnstile and began walking away, when yet again I heard my name being called. I turn in response and Monica is walking toward me. This time, the big guy is close behind. I swallow hard.
"Allen, this is my little brother Rodney. Rodney, Allen."
"What ‘sup." I am relieved to learn of their relationship.
"Can't call it." Rodney replied, with an unfriendly face.
"In a couple of weeks I'm working a mixer at the Shark Bar Restaurant on Peachtree Street downtown. Do you know where it is?" Monica asked.
"Here is an invitation. I hope you can come." She offered with a rewarding smile.
"Thanks. I will mark it on my calendar."
The invitation was a postcard with a colorfully painted sifter on it. Written on the card was "The Art of Appreciation program." The program was sponsored by Martell Cordon Bleu. On the back was the logistics of the time and place for the professional's networking mixer. As I had told Monica, I marked the day in my planner.
THE day of the mixer, my company had a computer server problem. I was tied up all that day on the phone and in meetings between my web server Internet provider, technical support and my own employees pointing fingers at one another for the problem. By the time my web site was back online, it was close to eight o’clock that evening. I was not in the best mood for meeting people.
I did not promise Monica that I would be at the mixer. My reason for going was just to see her again. I had not forgotten her smile. My turn off North Avenue on to Peachtree Street brought me a block from the restaurant and the crowd outside. It was close to 9:30 p.m. by the time I found a parking spot and found myself entering the Shark Bar. The place was filled with black urban professionals engulfed in dialogue with either the person standing next to them or someone on the other end of a cellular phone.
I made my way to the bar to order a drink. The mixer was not just a networking opportunity for Atlanta's black professionals. It was also to introduce a new cognac by Martell called “& Company” or “& Co”. The product & Co. was aptly named for such a mixer gathering, because its purpose was to be used in mixed drinks, hence the name & Company. By itself, the cognac was sweet like an after dinner liqueur. A sample of this & Co. was what I was given from the bartender.
With drink in hand, I searched the room for the woman who invited me. During that search, I noticed a number of attractive women dressed in black dresses working the crowd. It was as if with each one I saw, the next hostess was even more sexy and appealing. Some of the women carried trays of small cups of the & Co. Other women carried trinkets and novelty items with the Martell & Co. emblem. I had not found Monica after ten minutes into my search. Just as I was about to give up looking, from behind me I heard a soft voice over the noisy crowd calling my name.
"Allen. I was afraid you weren’t going to show." Monica expressed, who herself was dressed in a body hugging black dress and silk scarf ensemble which was draped around her neck. She looked gorgeous, with a pair of dangling silver earrings highlighting contrasts to her dark complexion.
"Well, it's been a long day. I started not to come."
"Poor baby. Come with me and let me take care of you." Monica's consoling words went straight to my heart. There was no other woman in my life who cared about my personal struggles of trying to run my own business. And there was Monica showing me what appeared to be sincere concern.
I followed Monica to a booth table at the back of the restaurant. She introduced me to the guys sitting in the booth as Information Technology consultants. Then she left me. In a very short time, I collected business cards from my booth companions and set appointments with each. Later that evening, Monica made her way back to the booth.
"How's it going?" She asked.
"It's flowing," was my answer.
"Good; and this is for you."
Monica handed me a small bag. Inside was a collection of the novelty items and trinkets that were being given away. There was a key chain, T-shirt, a magnetic phone organizer and a glass sifter, all with the Martell & Co. trademark. Monica placed her hand on my shoulder and gave a congenial smile. She was then off again to work the room. The brothers at the booth were all looking at me after they watched Monica sway away from the booth. Some of them made objections and asked "what about me?"
"Is that your girl man," asked one consultant.
"No. We just met a few days ago."
"Man, that's some chocolate I wouldn't mind melting in my hands or my mouth. You know what I'm saying?"
Yes, I knew what he was saying. The jealous ribbing from the other guys at the booth continued. I liked the attention and notoriety Monica had given me. When the night's event had come to a close, at the table there remained one rival, and me. We talked business for most of the night. When Monica returned to the table to say her good-bye, things between the guy and I became personal. Monica, now off duty, sat next to me in the booth. Still wishing to object the consultant spoke out.
"Okay girl, now that you're not working, why don't you give me them digits?"
"That's okay." Monica politely declined.
"Come on, you done gave my boy here enough play for the night. He said that you ain't his woman so what ‘sup?" He insisted.
"I'm not his lady and I don't want to be yours. Excuse me." Shoots back Monica as she gathers her things and proceeds to leave the table.
"Monica, wait up." I followed.
Monica said good night to the few remaining hostesses. I walked in close proximity behind to escort her to her car. She was aware of my presence, but we walked in silence. Not until we reached Monica's Saturn coupe, were the first words spoken.
"I'm sorry. I just don't like guys who are pushy. Just because I'm nice to someone doesn't mean I’m an easy pickup." Monica states.
"Right." I say with a reluctant and disappointed agreement.
"He doesn't know what's going on between us. I mean except for you telling him that I wasn't your girlfriend. Still he doesn't know that we could be talking later on."
"Right." I'm confused.
"Allen, I invited you tonight to say thank you again."
"I'm glad you did. So is this it? Will I have a chance to see you again?"
"It's possible. I leave town this week for New York. We're doing this again at the Shark Bar there."
"You will be back?" I asked.
"Yes." We exchanged cell phone numbers and said our good nights.
OUR conversation picked up two days later when I called Monica. We talked for forty-five minutes on that first call. There was a lot we had in common, a love for jazz, mystery novels and professional football. I'm thinking, she's beautiful and she likes sports. Then again, she told me that her little brother was being scouted by the NFL. Monica and I had shared the guilty pleasure of watching the television show “Cheaters” and would call each other late at night, on the phone while the show was on.
From that first phone call, we spoke everyday until she left for New York. I was in disbelief that I was actually involved with such a beautiful and intelligent woman with such a beautiful personality. Many times the two are not synonymous. Attractive women have a tendency to have the ugliest personality.
I met Monica at the airport, upon her return arrival from New York. New York was the last of her assignments for Martell. It was a late flight in and she was tired and wanted to go home. I helped carry her bags to the door of her condominium. We said our good-byes at the door. It was obvious to me that Monica did not want me to come inside. For picking her up at the airport, she rewarded me with the most endearing kiss I had ever received from a woman. She cupped my face with one hand and kissed me deliberately and softly on the cheek.
A couple of days later, Monica called asking if we could get together. I said sure, and we set a date for that night. I suggested dinner out. Monica suggested a quiet evening at home if I did not mind. She was tired of going out, especially since her last job-playing hostess. I said, "Okay; a quiet evening it is." I told her that I would have to stop and pick up some things for the dinner, because I wanted to cook for her. I gave Monica the directions to my house and she would come over later that evening.
Leaving work early, I made a stop at Whole Foods gourmet store and bought some orange roughy fish. To serve with the fish, I sliced and broiled some potatoes, light mushroom soup and peas. For dessert I made banana pudding. In about fifty-minutes, dinner was ready. For background music, I loaded the CD player with Al Jarreau's Tomorrow Today, JK's "What's the Word", and Club 1600. For after dinner entertainment, I pulled out two videos for Monica to choose from; Saltimbanco Cirque Du Soleil and Yanni Live at the Acropolis.
Monica arrived at 6:30 p.m. looking marvelous. I was hoping my neighbors were being their normally nosey selves. Before we sat down to dinner, Monica had kicked off her shoes and was walking around the house in her stocking feet. I liked how she made the atmosphere comfortable and herself at home. After dinner, she chose to watch Cirque Du Soleil. While watching the acrobatic troupe, Monica fell asleep. Figuring the traveling was catching up with her, I let her sleep. It was after eleven when she woke. She was upset and frantic that she had fallen asleep and stayed so long. After another kiss on the cheek, Monica rushed out saying she had to go.
FOR two and a half months we kept in touch and saw each other when we could. Monica was often traveling out-of-town to other modeling jobs, which she was not too pleased about. When she was in town, I was not guaranteed a chance to see her. Though we would talk on the phone regularly, she would claim to be too tired to go out or to entertain company. A kiss on the cheek was all that affectionately passed between us. I felt our relationship waning.
That was until Monica called me one Saturday afternoon and asked if she could stop by for a little talk. I was thinking, "here it comes”. Two o'clock Saturday afternoon the doorbell chimed. My heart practically stopped when I opened the door to find Monica standing next to a smaller image of her. The little girl looked as if she was five years old. She was a splitting image of Monica wearing identical outfits and hairstyles. I looked to Monica trying not to appear shocked.
"Allen, this is my Tresor. She's my daughter." Monica answered the unasked question.
"Hello. Come in." I invited the bookend beauties. Addressing the little girl, I asked, "What’s your name?"
"My mommy told you. Tresor," replied the little girl. Her name is pronounced "treasure."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Well hello Tresor."
"I thought it was time you met her," Monica stated.
Monica explained that she did not tell me about her Tresor before, because she did not want her daughter getting attached to me if our relationship did not last. I told her I appreciated her discretion and respected her decision.
"So does this mean that I've won your trust?" I asked.
"Yes and I appreciate your patience." She answered.
Truth be told, learning that Monica had a five year old daughter that I did not know about did bother me. Being involved in a ready-made family was not something I had ever considered. Not that I had anything against the idea, it was just something I had not thought about.
In my early thirties, I was doing well as an entrepreneur of my own Internet men's magazine. I still felt I was in the prime of my life. I made decent money and travel personally and professionally at the drop of a hat. I had a nice financial portfolio to fall back on. I was my own man.
After meeting and hooking up with Monica at O'Hare airport, I thought fate was finally getting around to me. It was obvious when I saw Monica that she was beautiful, but for her to actually be in the profession that acknowledges her beauty made her all the more a desirable catch. With my vicarious life style, I knew that having a model as my woman would be perfect. After dating a few months, I imagined traveling together, attending upscale functions, and me being the envy of every man who gazed upon us.
Those hopes and dreams may have been dashed once I met Tresor, who was nothing but the sweetest little girl one would ever want to meet. She put me in mind of the young Rudy on the Cosby Show. Tresor was well mannered and behaved. Obviously, Tresor was bright and a joy to speak with.
Nonetheless, I did not want to become too comfortable with Tresor, maybe for the same reasons Monica chose not to mention her to me after a few months of dating. What if we did not make it as a couple? Tresor may have been affected by our breakup.
With my industrious schedule and Monica's in and out of town modeling jobs, we barely saw one another. We spoke on the phone constantly exhausting our cellular phone minutes each month. Monica would not let me pass her doorway when I dropped her off at her condo. I thought it was just her way of being careful.
Even after months had passed, we had not been intimate. Monica invoked her three month rule; which was no sex until at least three months of dating. Honestly I do not know if it was the three month rule or what, but I thought we were on the brink of breaking up until the day I met Tresor. That Saturday afternoon Monica brought her over for the first time. The visit ended with a precarious tone. Before leaving, we engaged in an intense conversation.
"Are you okay?" Monica asked.
"Yeah, I'm cool." I lied. Sometimes men lie not to conceal, but to protect or postpone a response. We can only use half a mind when it comes to dealing with issues. Whereas women can use both halves of their brains to ask and answer questions, men tend to concentrate on one or the other.
"I don't mean to press the issue, but you act as if something is bothering you."
"Look, I said I was cool!" The snap came from out of nowhere.
"See, I knew this was going to happen."
"Nothing has happened. I just didn't expect . . . you know the surprise."
"So you do have a problem with Tresor."
"No, I didn't say that. I'm saying I didn't expect it. Don't twist my words around."
"What, did it mess up your fantasy of being the first man to get between my legs?"
"Where in the hell did that come from?"
"I've heard it before. Men see me and think they got them a trophy piece they can show off to their friends or boss or old girlfriend."
"Oh, so since some of your other boyfriends did you that way, I'm supposed to be like them. I see your daughter isn't the only baggage you came with. Sounds like you have some other issues you have to deal with."
"Baggage! Issues! Tresor is not baggage. She is my daughter and I love her first and before any man. And as far as issues go, I'm about to rid myself of the only issue I know of right now."
Monica tramped out of the kitchen where we were secluded from Tresor. I stood there for a moment thinking, "I’m not going after her. If she wants to leave, then she can go." Once you start chasing after a woman, they think they can always keep you running. I was not chasing after any woman. After all, it was her who accused me of having a problem with Tresor. I did not really. I just needed time to adjust to the idea of her existence. When I thought Monica had enough time to gather Tresor and their belongings I joined them at the door. Monica was still visibly upset. Tresor appeared hurried. Even though, she still found the time to say "goodbye Mr. Edmond."
"Bye Tresor. It was nice meeting you." I sincerely conveyed to Tresor and to Monica, "Is it okay if I call you later?" I asked Monica.
"I don't know if that would be such a good idea. Come on Tresor."
Replaying the event, which had transpired, I wondered what had come over me. My snapping response, defensive posture and my own accusations that Monica had unresolved issues is not how I normally react. So why did I behave in what I considered for me was out of character? I felt resentment. Monica had proved to be able to handle something that I ran away from some time ago. Monica had a true treasure in Tresor and she had maintained her modeling career even as a single mother.
The thought of Monica’s accomplishment caused me to take a personal look at myself, which meant for me to delve into my haunting past. There was something I had not dealt with, that needed closure. It was time for me to make a phone call and apologize.
"Hello. May I speak with Linda?"
"This is she." Her voice was filled with the smoky resonance I liked.
"It's Allen." I expected the long moment of silence.
After all, it had been almost two years since we last spoke. Then, a phone call came from Linda at two o'clock in the morning. We had not spoken with one another for three months prior to the call. I was sound asleep. Linda said she was bleeding vaginally and needed a ride to the hospital. I gave some lame excuse why I could not drive her, something about my car being low in gas and I needed it to make it to work. It was not until after I gave that weak evasion, did I question why she was calling me in the first place. That is when Linda told me that she was in her first trimester of pregnancy and I was the father of the baby she was carrying. I immediately challenged Linda's allegation, just short of calling her an outright liar. We went back and forth with strong words before Linda hung up the phone in my ear. I later learned from a mutual friend, Terry that Linda miscarried that morning.
"How have you been?" I broke the silence since I made the call.
"Okay I guess."
"I don't exactly know what to say here, other than I am so sorry for the way I reacted." She said nothing.
For the next forty-five minutes I must have said, "I'm sorry" a dozen times. Linda was short in her responses giving me every opportunity to speak my peace. She was engaged. Her fiancé' was Terry, the guy who told me of the miscarriage, who also took her to the hospital that fatal morning. After Linda allowed me to unload my deeply repressed guilt, she said that she had forgiven me long ago. It was the only way she could move on with her life. We said goodbye and wished each other well.
I am not ashamed to say that tears began to stream down my face. I made no attempt to wipe them away or to keep them from coming. It helped me relieve my mind of deep seeded sorrow. When the tears no longer fell, I felt ready to make another call for another conversation.
No Secrets, No Lies
"Hello, Monica." Click.
The click was the disconnection of my call from the other end. From then on it became routine. My phone calls went unanswered and un-returned from left messages to Monica Price. I was going to be a man and admit that I was wrong about my initial reaction to Monica's announcement of having a five-year-old daughter, after we had been seeing each other for nearly three months. It was not that I was unhappy about the news. I was merely surprised. How did she keep Tresor, her daughter a secret? It was easy.
Monica and I saw each other as often as we could where our work schedules allowed. I traveled a lot getting face-to-face interviews for my Internet men's magazine. Monica being a model traveled even more frequently than I did across the country for photo shoots and events. In fact, we met in an airport lounge. Monica had packed away her wallet in her check in luggage by mistake. So I paid for the meal she ordered. As a show of appreciation, she invited me to attend a professional mixer in Atlanta, hosted by cognac distributor Martell. Monica was working the mixer as a hostess at the Shark Bar Restaurants in Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York.
A relationship sparked from the night of the mixer. It was a slow growth relationship with the usual dating activities of dinner, movies and hanging out at one another's home. Strike that. I rarely made it passed the threshold of Monica's condo. When I was in her condo it was just long enough for Monica to retrieve a sweater or something for our night out. Most of the time we spent at home was at my house. Monica never spent the night; though she made herself at home enough to fall asleep on my couch. Spending the time at my place is why I had little chance of learning of Tresor. So when I learned of the darling little girl, I simply was not prepared.
I made a snap judgment and made snapped responses to Monica, accusing her of having issues and carrying emotional baggage from past relationships. Monica did not receive my words well and I did not offer an immediate apology for them. I let her gather her things and her daughter and walk out of my door and my life. The truth was I was the one who was carrying the mental baggage from a previous relationship. Monica managed to raise a daughter as a single parent and somehow maintain a demanding career. I on the other hand dismissed a haunting call for help from a former girlfriend, claiming not to have enough gas in my car to help her and to get to work the next day. If I had answered her call for help that night my child may not have died from a miscarriage. The combination of Monica's secret and my lying to myself about the way I felt about learning of Tresor might have cost me the happiness I was sure I would have found with Monica.
Six weeks had passed and no word from Monica. I missed her in my life. Where we had not been physically intimate, Monica had made love to my mind. She revealed to me her pleasures, which I noted and returned. Monica was a woman of her own mind and opinion. We did not always agree on topics of interest, but agreed enough to where it mattered. Our conversations were in-depth and personal.
Though she had a successful and sure job modeling, Monica wanted to pursue a career in journalism to make good of the degree she earned at Spelman College. I remarked how compatible we were with me having an online magazine and how Monica could work for me. She scoffed at the idea and said “why should I work for you when I could start her own ezine or go work for Time Warner”. Monica had a mind of her own and she did not mind sharing her opinion on anything. We had a pretty open relationship.
This again was why I was so taken aback at learning of Tresor. Again, I admit to being wrong. I am a determined man in my professional and personal life. But I was not sure what it was I could do to make a difference in gaining Monica’s forgiveness.
My mom said that a man should pursue a woman. In today's society, that pursuit could be viewed as stalking. My dad said, "when a man wants a woman, he does whatever it takes to get her”. I am not used to chasing a woman. There are too many women available who are willing and waiting for me to just show up. Maybe that is what made Monica different. She did not appear to care if I showed up or not. She was obviously used to being chased. I had chosen not to bother with the cat and mouse game. In fact, I had given up, going against both my parents' advice. Just when I became content with my unpopular decision, fate stepped in.
While sitting in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport waiting for a flight to Ohio, I heard a familiar voice being broadcast throughout the gate area. "Hello. I'm Monica Price and this is CNN Headline News." I looked in the direction of where the voice was coming from which was an overhead speaker in the ceiling. Then I searched for the source of the broadcast. Even from afar I recognized the attractive woman on the television screen delivering the news of the day. My wanting eyes confirmed that it was Monica.
When my flight landed in Columbus, Ohio I called a friend of mine who worked at CNN as a producer. I gave him the lowdown on Monica and I to a certain degree, enough that he would help me.
"You lyin'! You and that fine honey used to kick it?" Ronald asked in disbelief.
"What the hell was wrong with you for letting her get away. Every brother up in here, even some white boys is makin' a go at that babe."
"That's why I need your help."
"If I can't have her, I might as well help a friend who might have a chance. Nobody around here is even getting close."
Ronald told me Monica's schedule. When I returned to Atlanta he got me access to the CNN studio. The last part of the favor that I asked of Ronald was the biggest. It was for him to place a personal message on Monica's teleprompter "Breaking news; Allen says he misses you. Will you meet him after work?" After reading the message and spotting me in the booth, Monica delivered the answer I was praying for. She nodded yes, just as the station break had ended. When Monica's shift ended, we met and walked across the street to Centennial Olympic Park. The weather was a comfortable 72 degrees in the evening. The sun was slowly setting, casting an orange hue.
"How did you . . ." Monica started in with her questions. I told her how it all went down with Ronald and I was ready to plead my case and ask for forgiveness when Monica came at me with an unexpected query. "So what, are you stalking me?"
"Yes. How did you know where I worked?"
"Hello. Your face is being broadcast around the world."
"And you thought you could just come here and be cute with your little message and I'm supposed to forgive you? I don't appreciate you coming on my job and thinking you know me like that."
"No. The message was to get your attention since you wouldn't return my phone calls. As for forgiving me, yes, I had hoped that you would after I explained myself. But fuc-get you!"
"Excuse you? I don't appreciate you . . .”
"I CAME here with every intention to make amends for a mistake I made. But hell naw. I'm not going to do it. You are partly responsible for me reacting the way I did."
"How in the hell do you figure that? Oh you done bumped your head."
"If you had told me about Tresor in the beginning this wouldn't have happened."
"I told you why I didn't want to bring Tresor into the picture in the beginning. I didn't want her to get hurt in case things didn't work between us."
"I can appreciate that, but that didn't mean you had to keep her a secret. We still could have been together until you felt the time was right, and then it wouldn't have been such a surprise."
"Yeah, like if I had a told you in the beginning you would have stayed around."
"How do you know what I would have done? And if I hadn't, then that would have been that. We wouldn't have wasted each others time."
"So I was a waste of time?"
"That's not what I said. Apparently I don't feel that way since I'm here. If I wasn't willing to be a part of a ready-made family, that's my choice. You entrapped me by getting me to feel something for you then sprung a child on me. That wasn't fair."
"How did I entrap you?"
"By being the woman I want to have in my life. We like the same things. You're smart, ambitious and you don't look half bad." She smiled. "There are cute things about you that I couldn't stop thinking about since we've been apart."
"Oh. Like what?"
"When you slept, you would blow spit bubbles."
"I did not."
"Yes you did. You owe me your life. I had to sponge you off to keep you from drowning."
"You lie." Monica began playfully punching me. A policeman peddled by on a bicycle and I called out to him.
"Hey, I'm being attacked over here."
"You must have done something wrong to upset the pretty lady." The policeman responded, without stopping.
"A lot of help you are." I kicked back. Monica stopped her assault.
"He's wrong." She spoke.
"It was partly my fault. I did mislead you, even if I thought I had a good reason to. Can we start over?"
"No. I don't want to start over." Before continuing, I waited for just the right moment when I thought Monica's bewildered emotions would overcome her. "I don't want to start over because I want to pick up where we left off and make it better. Let's vow to have no secrets, no lies and only truth and love between us. Agreed?"
"Agreed. And Allen . . ."
"I was wrong about what I said earlier. I do appreciate you."
Now, if not forever
"I Allen, take you Monica, to be my wedded wife; to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health, to love and to cherish 'till death do us part. And hereto I pledge you my faithfulness . . . now, if not forever."
From my heart, I felt and spoke those words on our wedding day. It was a small-attended ceremony that took place in the large church sanctuary. Monica was a beautiful bride and Tresor; her then, six-year-old daughter was an even more beautiful maid of honor. My friend Ronald stood by me as my best man. The sanctuary was filled with tears of joy . . . and a few wails.
Here is a flashback on what lead up to our wedding day. Our relationship began by a show of appreciation. We came together with honest and open conversation. We promised to have no secrets, to tell one another no lies, to only have truth and love between us. That is how we wanted it and that is how it was, for now, if not forever.
In the past, I dated women to fulfill my specific needs. I had social and physical needs. There were women who did not mind playing the role to meet those needs. After I began dating Monica, I obviously stopped seeing any other women. The socialites called me when they were bored. A few booty calls came from the women that I dated for physical reasons. None of those women knew me or cared to know me. The same went for how I felt about them. It was different with Monica.
Monica knew me better than any woman I had ever dated. That became plainly evident to me one evening we were out to dinner. The waitress brought the bill and I proceeded to pay for it with my American Express card. I signed the bill, handed it to the waitress and she left.
"You put too much energy into your writing," Monica remarked.
"Excuse me?" I queried.
"When you write, you try too hard with your strokes."
"That means you like to be in control. That explains why you own your own business. You don't like taking orders from others or letting others control you." Monica noted.
Monica was right. The control factor was a lot more personal than I would let Monica know. When I was growing up, my father and mother both worked for the same company. The company went out of business, as a result of it, my parents separated. They eventually got back together, but we went through painful times. I swore that I would never let it happen to me, where a company would control my household in that way. Because of that, I never dated anyone I worked with.
"So, what else, Miss Monica?" I said with a Jamaican accent.
"Before me, you probably had several girlfriends. You picked and went out with them as you saw fit. If you got tired of one, you'd go to another. Am I right?"
"What did I get wrong?"
"You said before you, I had several girlfriends. What makes you think I don't have any others now?" I asked jokingly.
"Well Mr. Edmunds, because if you do, I would kick your butt. Besides, now that you have me, you won't need any other woman." Monica punctuated her statement by giving me a kiss.
Monica's displayed confidence, told me that striving for a successful relationship with her would be worth the effort. My mother repeatedly told me when it came to choosing a woman; "if it is easy to get, then it's easy to keep and to let go." She went on to explain that if a woman is quick to be had, then it won't take much on the man's part to keep her. A man can do whatever he wants, no matter how little, and women will accept a token of what they call love. Monica was by no means being easy. She explained why she wanted to extend the “three month rule” to waiting until we decided to marry before we would be intimate.
"Obviously I’m not a virgin Allen, but to you I can be. I'm going to admit this to you. I have slept with men in the past and afterwards they left. They seemed to lose interest in the relationship. The last guy I had sex with . . . you don't mind me telling you this do you?"
"No, go right ahead. I'm, I'm cool."
"Not if you keep asking me. Now go ahead."
"I'm just trying to be honest with you."
"Okay. Anyway, we had sex, and then I wanted to slow it down. When I told him that I just wanted to be friends, he decided that he couldn't do that. He chose sex with an old girlfriend instead of continuing our relationship. So . . . Allen, I guess that this is your chance to leave."
If there was a defining day in our relationship, it would have to be the Saturday of my family reunion. I picked my two ladies up early on Saturday morning. When they emerged from the house, they looked like twin angels. They both wore white caps, sky blue T-shirts, white shorts and sneakers. The only distinction between them was Monica tied her T-shirt in a knot in front to expose her inny belly button. They climbed in the car.
"Hey Tresor," I greeted the little angel.
"Hi Daddy." Monica and I both snapped our heads to look at the other.
"Where did that come from?" I mouthed to Monica.
"I don't know." Monica lips in reply.
"I'm gonna have a daddy, a daddy. I'm gonna have a daddy, a daddy." Tresor began singing.
We both looked back at the tot as she buckled herself in. The next thing that happened was Monica bolted from the car. I caught up with her just inside her condo door. She was crying, muffling it when I came close to her.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
"Allen, I don't care about me, I just don't want Tresor hurt."
"Listen baby, I care about you and she won't be hurt."
Meeting the family was the clincher. The fellas were off the hook, especially Uncle Ray-Ray. All the guys were sitting around bench tables talking. I had Tresor with me, who did not want to leave me. She stayed close, smelling of lavender.
"Allen, looks like you got yourself a Cupie doll," said Uncle Ray-Ray.
"I'm not a coopie doll," Tresor defended.
"Oh. What are you?"
"I'm a dau----. Daugh--. He's going to be my daddy."
"Can I be your daddy?" Uncle Ray-Ray asked.
"No! Only him." Tresor points to me. The guys laugh. Monica comes over. The laughter stopped.
"Allen do you want me to fix you a plate?" Monica offered.
"No, I can get it."
"I don't mind. Tresor, why don't you come help mommy”? Monica grabs Tresor by the hand and makes one of her runway turns and walked away.
"Gotdamn boy! You must have sold your soul to get that woman," Uncle Ray-Ray exclaimed. The guys joined with supporting laughter.
"Nah. I just live right and keep it cool," I corrected him.
"Live right, my ass. I'm-ma start calling you CW, for Cool Whipped." The laughter grew to a crescendo.
It was time to move to the women's table. The older women all fussed over Tresor. She became their little darling. "Ain't she a little angel" was repeated over and over again by Momma Ruby Mae. She also told me in no uncertain terms, "You better marry that girl. Do you hear me?" What more could I say other than "Yes ma'am?"
It was the out-of-town Allens versus the hometown Allens. The softball game was the highlight of the family gathering. Mostly the young and able of us participated. Teenage cousins and nephews took sides, having to pull up their sagging pants and tie their shoes in order to play. A few of the older Allens participated just to show they still had some play left in them. Most of the female family members and friends sat by to cheer on their men. Those women, who did play, were like Monica, young and athletically fit.
Though Monica looked the part in her shorts, with those long, pencil legs, she was not athletic. Her legs were for strolling down a runway catwalk, not for running around bases. The family insisted on Monica playing in the game, though she complained of a headache and being tired. She agreed and took her place at bat and in the outfield. Three times at bat, Monica struck out. When the ball was hit in her direction in outfield, she threw the ball like a girl, with the ball barely reaching halfway to its intended catcher. But it was fun to have her participate and be part of the family.
Monica's fourth time at bat pulled me further in love with her. While the men were cheering her on, I am sure because they liked seeing her at bat . . . the women spoke amongst themselves with player hater comments. My twice-divorced cousin Desiree smiled innocently at me when I overheard her refer to Monica as Miss It. I did not return the smile. Monica had three strikes against her as far as the women saw her. She was young, pretty and smart. The other men, and myself included, saw those qualities in Monica as homeruns.
At bat, Monica had swung twice and missed. Tresor who sat in my lap cheered her mother on, "you can do it mommy." Uncle Ray-Ray followed with his show of support. "Yeah, you can do it mommy." Monica called for a timeout, walked over and kissed Tresor, and Uncle Ray-Ray. I asked, "what about me?" Monica covered Tresor's eyes and planted a soft sensuous kiss on my lips that brought cheers and jeers from the onlookers.
Monica returned to home plate and brought the bat up to swing. The pitch came. Monica swung and connected with the ball sending it fair, down the third base line. The in-town Allens shouted, "RUN!" Monica made it as far as second base. Uncle Ray-Ray was next up to bat. He shouted out to Monica, "Don't worry sweetheart, I'll bring you home." His wife Rosa countered with; "No you won't," which brought laughter from everyone.
Fortunately for him, Uncle Ray-Ray pop-flied out. It was my turn at bat. I kissed Tresor for good luck. Then, I ran out to second base and kissed Monica. On the very first pitch, I connected, hitting the ball deep into the outfield. The yells to run went out to Monica. I was rounding first base when I saw Monica tag at third on her way to home. About midway, she stopped. She stopped, turned and looked at me coming toward her. I remember the strange look on her face as she stretched out her arms to me. The family was all yelling "RUN!" But Monica did not respond. Just as I reached her, she collapsed in my arms.
That day seemed like an eternity away, six months later. Monica was practically bedridden as a result of medication and chemo treatment to treat her Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL) - also known as acute childhood leukemia. Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia is defined as a malignant cancer characterized by an accumulation of immature white blood cells. Symptoms of this disease include but are not limited to: prolonged bleeding, skin rashes, fatigue, bone pain, and weight loss.
It is rare when an adult contracts ALL, as in Monica's case. The doctors gave her less than a year to live. Everything humanly possible had been done to preserve the love of my life. A bone marrow transplant did not take and the chemotherapy had sapped the life out of Monica's fragile shell. The powerful painkillers practically kept her incoherent. Family, friends and love ones had been very supportive. Prayer vigils had been held and visits had been non-stop. Even so, Monica's will to live was practically broken and she was about to give up. That was when I made my decision.
"Hey babe," I quietly spoke.
"How's it going?"
"About the same. Allen, I want you to promise me something."
"Always be a part of Tresor's life."
"Well of course, just as I will always be a part of your life."
(Faintly smiling) "You are so sweet, but we both know that’s not going to be for very long."
"Sure it is. It's going to be long enough."
"No, it's not."
"It will be long enough for you to marry me and we will live happily ever after. That will be for as long as you, Tresor and I are together as a family." Even in her weakened state, Monica was able to muster a look of surprise.
"What do you mean marry? Look at me Allen?"
I did. Monica's hair was all gone, replaced by a wrap around her head. Her face was pale and drawn in. Each day Monica's mother would come by and draw on her eyebrows for her. It did not matter to me that Monica no longer looked like the fashion model she used to. I had grown to see and know her inner beauty.
"I'm looking at you Monica and what I see is the woman I want to love and cherish."
"But why Allen...why would you want to marry me knowing that I'm going to..."
"Babe, it's sad but true, we're all going to die. I want to marry you and celebrate life with you and Tresor, now if not forever."
Hear and Now
¯I looked in your eyes, and there I see . . . what happiness really means. The love that we share makes life so sweet . . . Here and now, I promise to love faithfully . . . ¯Plays the lyrics and chorus of the Luther Vandross love ballad “Here and Now”.
Standing at the threshold of the door leading into the church sanctuary, I have the moment to look at the veil covered face of my daughter Tresor, whom I am about to escort down the aisle. At six years old, she stood bravely by my side at her mother’s casket clutching my hand as tightly as she is holding onto my arm here and now. I told her then that her mother was taking a long nap. When she asked for how long, I broke down. Then she asked, “Will you still be my daddy”. Right then and there, I dedicated myself to being the best father to Tresor I knew to be.
When Tresor wanted to be the captain of the junior high school cheerleading squad, I practiced cheers and routines with her. Our practicing paid off as she, was chosen to be co-captain of the squad. In high school, is when Tresor began to demonstrate her mother’s strong and opinionated will. There she became the captain of the debate team. She worked on the school’s newspaper and yearbook staff throughout high school. When she graduated to college, Tresor majored in journalism. After graduating from her mother’s alma mater Spelman College, Tresor became a field reporter for a local television station.
While working at the station; Tresor met Byron Tucker a cameraman. When they were dating, Tresor would tell me how much of a gentleman Byron was and that there were not many guys around like him. She said when she told him about her “three month rule”, he agreed with no questions asked. I smiled thinking back of when her mother invoked the “rule” on me. I also remembered the first day that I laid eyes on Tresor. Who knew how that day would change me for the rest of my life? Now, here I am; the father of the bride.
“Yes dear.” I am brought out of my state of reminisce.
“Where were you?”
“Oh, just remembering my little girl.”
“Well, your little girl wants to say; I appreciate you for being the man in my life and role model for me. You helped me to know what kind of man I should marry and spend the rest of my life with. I love you daddy.”
Dedicated to Nicole and Jeffrey