by Vince Rogers
Part I: Awakening
I tried to go back to sleep, but once I’m up, I’m up. I got up and walked into the kitchen, as if breakfast would magically be on the table. That didn’t seem to happen anymore, since Kedra moved out. I looked in the fridge to see what was in there. There wasn’t much, since I didn’t have a chance to go to the grocery store this week. I walked back into the bedroom and decided to get back in the bed for a minute. I felt like I broke some kind of unspoken promise to Jesus by deciding not to go to church, so I turned on the radio to listen to the Gospel show on WCLK. As I reached for the radio, I saw that the message light was flashing on the phone. I scrolled through the caller ID and saw that Kedra called seven times yesterday.
Kedra and I were together a little over three years. On paper she was everything I should have wanted, but there seemed to be something missing. She came from a good family, she had a good job and she didn’t need a man for anything. When I met her she was working at Jomandi Productions and I was designing their sets. We hit it off immediately and were living together before we knew it. We both know now that we moved too fast. I had decided it was time for me to stop looking for the “perfect” woman and I should see how far the relationship could go. As for her well – I’m irresistible.
I turned down my radio church service after about an hour, so I could make my weekly call to my Mother in Baltimore. Hearing the Anointed Pace Sisters in the background would at least keep her from asking me if I went to church. While I was talking to my mom, the phone beeped and I saw it was Kedra calling again. “Is that your other line?” my Mom asked. I resisted telling her it was Kedra, because she wasn’t a big fan of the girl and if she thought I was still talking to her after what she did, I would never hear the end of it. Of course my Mom didn’t really need to know the details, before she began to make her feelings known about the situation.
“Clif, baby I know you think you loved that girl, but you know she wasn’t right for you.” Now when Mom got going, about all you could add to the conversation was “Okay and Allright” Besides I was still kind of tired and by now I was really hungry. “….Baby you’re going to find somebody else, you’re a good man and you deserve somebody good in your life.” Talking to my Mother always seemed to make me feel better, whether she was getting on my nerves or telling me what I needed to hear. On the other hand, if you didn’t let her know you got the message she would go on forever and I was ready to get off the phone.
I knew my Mother was right, but the way me and Kedra ended things made me feel like we might have been able to work things out. I told her we needed to spend some time apart. I felt it was the right thing to do, even though what happened probably could have been fixed. The more we got into our careers, the less we seemed to talk about settling down or having a family. I think we both still wanted that, but the more we seemed to have other things to fill up the spaces in our lives, the less we seemed to need each other.
I decided I wasn’t going to solve this great mystery of the universe sitting on the couch holding the phone, so I decided to get dressed and go get something to eat. Maybe if I would have gone to church, the answer would have come to me. As I was going out the door, the phone rang. “Clif, it’s me. How’re you doing?... I saw your friend Keith at church, he said he saw you a couple days ago… I’m going out of town Monday, but I’ll be back in time for your Homecoming concert….Can I see you before I leave?” My instincts pulled at me to make an excuse not to see her, but I told her I was going to get something to eat and I could stop by on my way back. “That’s fine” she said, “Can you pick me up some Jerk Chicken?” I guess that meant I was eating Jamaican too. The presumption of her request made me realize that I was probably making a mistake by going over there. Well I guess like the man sang on the radio this morning, I gotta go on and see what the ends gone be.
Part II: My Old New Room
Moving back to Atlanta had its pros and cons. On one hand, I was close to my family. On the other hand, I was close to my family. My Mother still treated me like a little girl. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I didn’t mind that much these days. Besides, I was living in her house for the moment and like she used to say “As long as you live in my house, you live by my rules.” Usually when I woke up, she waited a few minutes before she came out of her room and started getting all in my business. Today was Sunday, so I assumed she would take a little break. Before I made it all the way out of my bedroom door, she came out of the bathroom with her slip on and rollers in her hair. As she attempted to put on her first earring she exclaimed. “Cassandra do you know what time it is? Girl we gone be late!” I had to collect myself before I spoke. “Late for what Mama?” I inquired. Now I had no plans to be late, early or on time for anything because it was Sunday and all I wanted to do was sit on Mama’s back porch with a glass of iced tea and try to figure out how I ended up in her house again. Then I remembered. I promised I would go with her to church today. I remembered before she answered and said “What time does it start Mama?” I kind of shouted but, you know just enough to express I didn’t really want to go. “Eleven o’clock, don’t you remember?” she asked.
I went in my old new room to get dressed. As I sat on the side of the bed putting on my stockings, I tried to remember if I really said I would go or if I said I would let her know or whatever. I realized it didn’t matter though. She was almost dressed, it was already Ten Seventeen and I’d never hear the end of it now if I said I didn’t want to go. Now we both knew the real reason she wanted me to go to church, was to see if there was any poor unsuspecting man she could try to palm me off on. Mama was old school, so of course since I was Thirty One and unmarried, she felt like I should wear a clearance sale sign around my neck at all times.
She never really forgave me for leaving Spelman after my sophomore year to move to Los Angeles. She was always the loudest one at every talent show I won, in the front row hollering “That’s my baby” at the top of her lungs. She was there for me whenever I won a pageant and always made sure I got the best Easter speech at church. I thought she’d be happy for me when I announced I was leaving school to go to LA and follow my dreams, since she was always my biggest fan. I guess that shows how smart I really was. She told me that yes I was good, but there would be lots of other people there who would be just as good and that a lot of people helped me get into Spelman and I couldn’t let her and them down. Although I understood, my heart was broken. All I could hear at the time was that she never really believed in my dreams at all.
Since Daddy died, Mama’s social life revolved around weddings, funerals and church. She went to church mostly to find out about the next weddings and funerals to go to. Her usual date for church was my Aunt Rena, but Rena said she had to take care of some “business” before church so she would be late. The church was full of people who I vaguely remembered from childhood, but all of them seemed to remember me and spoke to me by name. I tried as best I could to remember all of the Tom Thumb weddings and Christmas pageants they tried to remind me of and I was as polite and poised with them as I learned to be all those years ago. I figured some of these people were the people Mama said I let down, so it made me feel kind of obligated to tell them what they wanted to know. The ones who saw some of the commercial work or soap opera walk-ons I did in Tinseltown still seemed more impressed by my nine year old’s rendition of Going Up Yonder. I remember too, because it was the bomb. One woman did remember when I danced on stage with Patti Labelle at the Grammys, but mostly everybody wanted to know if I was married, what was I doing now and if I planned to go back to school.
After Mama and I did all the catching up I cared to do, I finally ushered her inside the church to find a seat. Finding a seat was no problem, because Mama sat in the same seat every time, in the middle, about thirteen pews from the pulpit, on the aisle, so everybody could see her and she could see everybody. Mama was a beautiful woman who still had the cute little figure that made her the head majorette at Booker T. Washington high school. The old boys in the church had a thing for Mama, but she didn’t have much use for them since she went to school with practically all of them and through her Sunday afternoon church ladies telephone worldwide web, she knew all of their business. As I looked around the church, to be honest with you I was kind of disappointed that there weren’t more fine Brothers there. The ones that were there were either married, had prettier hair than me and because I was still in touch with some of my old Frederick Douglass high school and Spelman classmates via e-mail, I knew all of their business.
As we sat on the hard pews trying to look cute, Mama kept looking back and asking me “Now where is Rena?” Aunt Rena was my Mama’s baby sister and her sidekick. They did everything together, which mostly consisted of shopping and talking on the phone. Sitting next to Mama in church made me feel more like the little girl I was, more than I care to admit. I had not been back to Ebenezer for quite some time and when I came here, I always felt like the Lord was going to tell my Mama about some of the things I wanted to stay buried back in Los Angeles. I didn’t really do drugs or drink or party too much, but I did do some things that weren’t completely square with my upbringing. I often ask myself whether I would have gone farther if I had done some of the things I refused to do. Hollywood turned out to be a lot tougher than I thought. I realize now that no matter whom I would have slept with or partied with, things probably would have turned out the same. Damn, I guess mama was right all the time. So now I’m back here in Atlanta, listening to everybody tell me how good I was in Purlie Victorious, trying to figure what I’m going to do next.
After church was over, we stood outside to speak to more people and Auntie Rena finally showed up. “Rena where you been girl? I been looking all over for you.” Mama asked. “Girl you know how that traffic is coming from my house on a Sunday” Rena said. Standing behind Aunt Rena was a tall, well educated looking, chocolate Brother who had 100 Black Men wannabe written all over him. Apparently scooping this fool up and bringing him to church was the “business” she was taking care of. Without even speaking to me first Rena announced “Cassandra this is Keith he goes to the church, he went to Hampton, he’s about your age, he told me he saw you on Soul Train one time and he wanted to meet you.” all in one breath. Apparently this clown with the cheesy grin worked with Rena and I guess she showed him a picture of me or something, so she brought him with her to Club Jesus. “Pleased to meet you” I said as polite as I could manage, fighting the urge to turn to Mama and Rena and chastise them for this tired ambush. Keith and I chatted for a few minutes and tried to find some common connection of mutual friends who might have gone to Morehouse, Hampton or Spelman. It seemed he knew a whole lot of girls who went to Spelman. A whole lot. So after a few minutes Mr. Player, Player gave me both his day job business card and his Noni Juice representative card and we exchanged goodbyes, nice meeting yous and hope I see you agains.
On the ride home Mama didn’t say anything for a few minutes but smiled the slick smile of somebody who had unleashed a witty plan. They were serving dinner in Fellowship Hall after church and I was hungry since I didn’t have a chance to cook breakfast. Of course Mama didn’t want to go down there and eat anything, since she has this thing about not eating just anybody’s food. Besides, she already did what she came to do. Finally Mama started talking about church, how short Johnnie Mae’s dress was and who’s poor child was on crack now. Then as subtle as an elephant in the china department she asked me “So what did you think about Keith?” “Not much” I said, hoping foolishly that the conversation would end there. How long had I known this woman? Amazingly, her speech about my choices, getting my life together, finding a man, finishing school, making sacrifices and sometimes having to change your whole way around, was somehow masterfully finished at the exact moment we pulled into the driveway. Plus she had some new scriptures she just heard to throw in there. On the way home I learned that I was Thirty one, single, smart, pretty, had a lot of talent, living with my mother and needed to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I love my Mama, she’s a genius.
I dropped her off at the house and told her I would be back shortly. Although I did leave because I didn’t want to continue the conversation right now, truly I left because I really wanted something to eat. I went to a Caribbean restaurant on Auburn Avenue that sold my favorite Brown Stew Shrimp. I walked in and was pleased to see that it wasn’t crowded so I could get my food, sit by myself and hopefully eat in peace. There were only a couple of people sitting and waiting for their take out, so I was able to walk right up and place my order. I walked away from the counter, found a seat and waited. One of the men waiting for his order stood up, but instead of walking up to the counter, he walked toward my table. He looked familiar, but he seemed to have a touch of fear in his expression. Oh Lord, I thought to myself, Who is this fool. “Cassandra, Cassandra Highsmith? He said” I looked at him and a feeling of disconnected but pleasant familiarity came over me, or maybe I was just hungry. “Yes, do I know you?” I responded with a slight bit of reproach, just in case he was some crazy psychic Brother who guessed my name or worse. “It’s me Clifton, Clifton Broadnax” he said. That Oh Lord turned out to be more appropriate than I would have ever thought.
When I started at Spelman, I met Clifton at a meeting for Freshmen who wanted to work on the Morehouse-Spelman coronation. Clifton was an Art major and an aspiring production designer. He was also a fine, dark, muscular Brother who was on the basketball team. We were both running around freshman year trying to make moves, do our thing and enjoy the little bit of freedom we had between studies, as we made our various attempts at trying out all the new freedoms of being grown. However, when we did spend time with each other or run into each other, we would really, really talk. We would talk about any and everything. When we would talk on the phone or study together, we would spend hours just talking. I had a boyfriend most of Freshman year, but he attended Tuskegee so I would never see him during the week. Clifton was a gentleman, a very serious student and he played basketball, but more importantly he never had a shortage of girls around him. We made a brief attempt to make a go at a relationship toward the middle of second semester Sophomore year, but he would have to go home to Baltimore for the summer and I had already made the decision to go to LA. I didn’t tell him or Mama about my decision, until I had already made plans to leave.
We both went up to the counter to get our orders, but I asked the cashier to change my order to go. We went outside and continued our conversation. Somehow we were both unable to get in our cars and leave. At first it was awkward and nervous, but at the same time it was an unexpected pleasure. I wasn’t sure how Clifton felt about how we left things. Much to my surprise, I actually seemed to want to prolong the conversation more than he did. Although he seemed pleased to see me, I got the feeling that if I would have stopped talking, he would have gotten in his car and driven away at any time. I didn’t want that to happen. Then he said it. With a slight crack in his voice and moistness in his eyes he said “You know I really loved you. You really broke my heart when you went away. Every time I saw you on TV, I would be so proud and I would always tell my girlfriend or whoever, “I went to school with that girl” and I could tell they knew how I felt about you. I was so proud of you. So what brings a big Hollywood star like you to town? Homecoming ain’t until next week.” A million possible responses went through my head, but I simply responded “It was time for me to come home.” After we talked a while longer he gave me his business card and wrote his home number on the back. We gave each other a long hug and reluctantly managed to drive away.
I walked through the door with my container of Brown Stew Shrimp in one hand and my keys in the other. I placed my keys on the kitchen counter and the bag on top of the stove. Mama looked at me to see what type of mood I was in before she started back in on me. Much to her surprise I was smiling, so she smiled too. I would still hear it later though, for going to get something to eat when I knew she was cooking. I placed my purse on the dining room table then pulled out the business card so Mama would see it. I gave her a long hug, and then I picked up the cordless phone off the charger and walked into my old new room. “God is good” Mama said “God is Good”
Part III: Kedra’s Turn
I know it hurt Clif when he found out I had the abortion, but I honestly didn’t think he would leave me. I wanted him, but I wasn’t sure I should have the baby, because I wasn’t sure if we would stay together. We were happy at first, for the most part. Somehow though, deep in my soul I always thought he was measuring me by some standard of a perfect woman, like some ghost from the past. Then one night we were watching television and I saw the ghost with my own eyes. He pointed out some girl on a rerun of Living Single who was playing Kyle’s girlfriend. His eyes lit up like he was watching Serena Williams playing tennis butt naked. I asked him about her and he just said, “I went to school with that girl.” I knew there was more to it, but I let it go.
When I met Clif I knew he was a good man and I wanted him. He was irresistible. I made sure I got him too. I saw him for the first time at the theatre. He looked so confident and in charge that I knew he was the kind of Brother I needed in my life. His business was getting more and more successful and running a struggling theatre company was demanding, so as time went on we saw each other less and less. To be honest though, I threw myself into work because as much as I loved that man, I wasn’t sure if he loved me and work was the only place where I always knew I was in control. Maybe the baby was exactly what we needed to keep us together. I’ll never know now.
When he get’s here I’m going to really let him know how I feel. I think I can accept it if he decides not to be with me, but I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I even went to church today and prayed about it. I just got off the phone with him and he’s supposed to be bringing me something to eat. Maybe I should have cooked. They say that’s the way to a man’s heart. No I’m not playing games anymore. I’m going to let this man know exactly how I feel about him and I’m not going to play any more games. If he can’t accept me for who I am then I guess it’s not meant to be. It’s time for him to stop chasing that ghost. Maybe I should call my Mom before he gets here. Oh Lord, I hope you heard my prayers.