An arrangement of sunflowers greeted me at work the next day. The note read, “Sending you sunshine to make the next few days brighter.” My sister Yolanda can be a pain in the ass sometimes, but I would not trade her for anything. I had not seen much of Danita since around the Fourth. She had been busy working double shifts to ensure that when the first day of school arrived on August 16, Devon and Nia would be ready. With less than twelve days to go, she felt all the needed pens, pencils, and hand sanitizers had been purchased. That being the case, she felt secure enough to spring for dinner. I broke the news to Danita as we split a carafe of sangria at a Mexican spot in Knightdale. She responded with a big hug, a broad smile and an offer to be a shoulder for me to cry on whenever I needed it.
“After all honey, I have soaked enough of your shoulders,” she said, digging into her burrito.
“It’s all good. By this point, I am like ‘Lisa Lisa, all cried out.’ Last night was hard, but after talking to Yolanda, making me a hot toddy and getting up this morning and throwing out all those bridal magazines, I started feeling better.”
“Making the right decision will do that for you. You remember how messed up I got after meeting with the divorce attorney the first time. But, as time passed and I began to realize I could be happy again, it got better.”
“Word,” I said, cutting into my enchilada. As our waiter approached with new chips, Danita and I appraised the way his chinos highlighted his thighs and pelvic area. He had a killer smile and a head full of thick black hair. I found myself smiling extra hard as I declined his offer of more salsa. Yep, I made the right choice.
All week, I threw myself into work to avoid thinking about what awaited me when I would see Martin. I removed my ring as if taking off the symbol negated the commitment. I did not feel comfortable telling my co-workers my decision so if they asked about the wedding, I changed the subject.
Friday, as I battled weekend traffic, butterflies fluttered in my stomach as I headed out to meet Martin. It seemed traffic parted for me so I could not use it as an excuse to delay the final note to the end of our song. Pulling up to his apartment, I sat in the parking lot for a few minutes, steeling myself. As I unlocked the apartment door, Martin sat sitting silently flicking channels. It was a repeat of some many Fridays past, only this time I felt no sense of homecoming. Without a word, I put the engagement ring on the coffee table. Martin did not look at it or say a word, he just continued to race up and down the channels, the colors flashing in front of his face, the sounds a crescendo of confusion. Not knowing what to say or do, I sat beside him.
“Are you hungry? You want to get something to eat,” he asked in a monotone.
I shrugged my shoulders. Without another word, Martin got up, grabbed his keys and walked out to his car. Stilted could not describe the conversation as we struggled to make light conversation without either of us bursting into tears while we drove to what once was “our” restaurant.
“You know Paul called me this week. He and Rodney were checking when I was coming home for us to go pick out tuxes. I told them they were off the hook. There wasn’t going to be a wedding,” he said without expression.
Knowing Martin’s two brothers, they would not press the issue or ask about the reason for the cancellation. They worked in the family business and as all good funeral directors, possessed a keen sense of discretion and knew when to push an issue and when to give you space. I can just imagine his mother’s and sister’s reactions. Both of them took their time warming up to me so I’m sure nothing good was going to be said about how I broke their poor son’s/brother’s heart. That weekend, it seemed Martin tried hard to get on my good side. We saw my favorite movies, went to my favorite restaurants and even had great sex Friday and Saturday night. Still my decision stood, we were through.
Before I left home, I cleaned my house of anything remotely connected with Martin. Since he did not believe in leaving too much stuff behind, it did not take me long. The final tally: a pair of sweatpants, two sweatshirts and a pair of raggedy briefs. A callous woman would have put everything in a grocery bag and brought it to him. My mom raised me better so I packed it in the empty tote I needed to cart my stuff home. My clothes, shoes, and hair accessories took up half his closet. As I packed on Sunday, Martin sat silently in the same spot he had occupied two days earlier. The ring box still sat on the corner of the coffee table.
“You weren’t bullshitting. You really are breaking up with me,” Martin said as I took my bag to the car.
Trying not to cry, I said, “Yeah,” and went out the door to put the tote in the car. I hoped I would not have to ask for my key back. I figured since we were not together, he should not have access to my house whenever he wanted. Martin must have read my thoughts because as I walked back in, the key to my apartment lay beside the ring box. I wordlessly picked it up, put it in my pocket, and put my key down in its place. As I turned to say good-bye and walk out, Martin spoke in a soft, hurt voice I never heard before.
“I will always love you,” he said as I stood in the doorway willing myself not to be weak. I’m-doing-the-right-thing cycled through my thoughts.
“I will always love you too. I do not want to ruin both our lives. Something is not right between the two of us and I need to figure out what it is. I’m sorry,” I said, and then rushed out to my car. Backing up, I saw Martin standing in the doorway and as I drove out the parking lot, he gave a half-wave and closed his door. It was like the door to my past, present, and future closed. Half of me wanted to run back to the safety of Martin but the voice inside of me, which knew best, kept my foot on the gas.
Back home, I cleaned up my already clean house to avoid thinking about our final goodbye. As I was scrubbing the floor, the doorbell rang. Despite my swollen eyes and wet shorts, I opened the door to see Danita and her kids.
“I was in the neighborhood picking up the kids from their Dad’s when I saw your car,” she said as Devon and Nia rushed into my living room and turned on my TV. My angel of mercy bore food and beverages. I guess she knew firsthand that ending a relationship is better with beer and pizza.
“I remembered you were going to Greensboro this weekend and I figured you might need someone to talk to. The kids have already eaten so this is just for us,” she said, heading for the kitchen.
“Don’t go in there. I just mopped and waxed the floor.”
“You waxed this small ass floor. You really are upset.”
“Don’t even talk about it. Let’s go upstairs.”
“It’s your house. Nia and Devon, if you touch anything, it’s your ass.”
In a droning voice, they said, ‘Yes ma’am’ as they lulled themselves into a trance with video games.
“Danita, he looked so sad when I took him his stuff.”
“You did the best thing for both of you by calling off the wedding.”
“I know, but it still hurts,” I said as Danita put her arms around me.
“Don’t worry, you don’t need a man to complete you.”
“So you say, Ms. I-gotta-have-a-date-every-weekend.”
“Girl, I’m trying to find a father for my kids. You, on the other hand, are young, black and free. Celebrate, enjoy your freedom. You’re attractive; I am sure if you need the company of a man, you can find one willing to lend an appendage. After all, you can always put another ad in the paper. I would urge you to seek a black man this time. You remember last time you tried some white meat?” I smiled and laid my head on Danita’s shoulder as she smiled back at me.
Our back to school issue, which rolled out at the end of August, was one of our biggest each year, so work occupied the hearts and minds of my co-workers. Even Sandi stopped inquiring about the wedding as we worked to make complete all our assignments.
So, for two weeks, I kept my secret. The news about my cancelled wedding started spreading after I told Gwen Bell, our lifestyle editor, I would not be putting my wedding pictures in fall weddings issue because there would not be a wedding. My male co-workers did not bat an eye when I told them about the canceled nuptials, but the females put all their journalistic skills into play to find out what led to the break-up.
“So did you catch him cheating?” April Clark, our business editor, asked on Monday as we stood at the drink machines.
“No, we just realized we weren’t right for each other.”
“So did he catch you cheating?” said Mari Wilson, one of our advertising reps, asked as I passed her in the hallway Wednesday morning.
“No, we just realized we didn’t need to get married.”
Reading over my shoulder while I worked on a story about the new law governing tattooing, Kimberly asked, “How long was the relationship?”
“So tell me, what really happened?” Sandi said as we walked out to our cars to go home at the end of the day Friday.
“I realized I didn’t love him anymore.”
“That’s a good reason to call it off,” she said, talking over the hood of her car.
“Yeah, but I still feel bad. Yesterday, I got an early wedding gift from my college advisor. I sent him a letter telling him I was getting married and told him the date. Since he is going to Russia for six months he figured he would send his gift early.”
“Well what are you going to do?”
“Send it back and hope it reaches him before he leaves.”
“What is it?”
“A framed copy of some love poem writing by an obscure Russian poet.”
“By all means send it back. We only accept gifts we can use in the real world. You want to come to my house for dinner? We are having tacos.”
“No thanks, my friend Danita is taking me out.”
“Alright, see you Monday,” Sandi, said getting in her car.
* * * *
I agreed to meet Danita at LaCounts, this kick-ass soul food restaurant. Located across the street from St. Augustine College, it was a part of Raleigh’s black landscape. Regulars sat
in the same place each time they came and didn’t have to order from the menu. By the time they made it from the door to their seat, their plate was hitting the table. When I arrived, I saw Danita was not alone.
“Vet, this is Karen, Karen this is Vet. We went to FSU together and she just moved down. Since both of us are divorcees, we figured we would gang up on you, tell you our war stories and make you feel better about dodging the bullet of marriage,” Danita said as I sat down.
I could do nothing but smile at my friend’s attempts to cheer me up. The two of them looked like such opposites they would have no choice but to be friends. While Danita looked every inch the former college athlete, Karen looked like the girl who spent her four years in the library stacks. I could not get a good read on her height, but as I gauged the fact her head only came to Danita’s shoulder, I figured she shopped in the petite section. Over a plate of pork chops and collard greens, I learned Karen hailed from my birth city, Baltimore. She relocated to Raleigh after getting a job as a trainer for one of the local banks. As we devoured our food, we shared stories of growing up in the New South and being professional black women in the white world.
“So anyway, I’m working for Capital One after graduation and I decided to wear my hair braided one day to work,” Karen said, cutting her meatloaf.
“When I came in, all my white co-workers oohed and aahed and wanted to touch my hair. They were just so dumfounded that overnight my hair went from near the top of my neck to my shoulders.”
Talking around the squash casserole I just placed in my mouth, I said, “You too? Girl, I have been there so many times, it’s not even funny.”
“But you know what I hate?” Danita jumped in. “I hate being in a meeting and saying something but not being taking seriously until a white person repeats it.”
“Truly,” Karen said putting a forkful of black-eyed peas in her mouth.
“I know there are people at my job who are convinced the only reason I got my job was to keep a discrimination lawsuit from being filed. You know I am the only chocolate drop in the place. But I prove my worth every day by pulling stories out my ass and doing twice the work some of them do,” I said.
“Oh you know it’s the black woman’s plight in America. Work twice as hard for half the pay,” Danita said, shaking her head over her baked chicken.
“So you have those who give you the side-eye just for doing a good job, then you have the ones who want to be your best friend when it’s so not necessary. When my co-workers come up in my face trying to show how down they are by talking about rap music, I just tell them I don’t listen to N.W.A, I listen to NPR,” I said.
“I will go you one better. I tell them I’m into country music,” Karen said.
“For real? Or that something you hand them?” I asked surprised. I was not the only twenty-something black female who counted Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn as some of my favorite singers.
“For real, after my break-up with Phillip, my new theme song was ‘D-I-V-O-R-I-C-E’ by Ms. Tammy Wynette.”
“Good for you. I’ll drink to that,” Danita said as she lifted up her iced tea glass. After we clicked the plastic cups together, we each took a swig.
“Damn, this tea is kicking,” Danita said.
“I was getting ready to say the same thing. Makes me think back to the tea my momma used to make when I was smaller,” Karen said.
No matter how civilized our Southern culture gets, nothing is more sought after than a good batch of iced tea. People have spent their lives searching for the right blend of tea, lemon and sugar that could rival the brown elixir they sipped while sitting on their granny’s front porch. Many a Northern transplant received a shock when they ordered tea in a restaurant and received a tall glass with a slice of lemon hugging the side of the glass. In fact, when I was in college, a Black Revolution era poet in town for a speaking engagement caused more of a fuss by asking for hot tea rather than for his mile high Afro. LaCounts knew how to do tea the right way and we kept our server busy with refills as we talked into the night.
After we finished eating, we went out dancing and drinking. For the first time in a month, I laughed and enjoyed myself. After our third rounds of screwdrivers, we were a trio devoted to being happy. I must admit, we made a unique looking group: Me, a cocoa-colored, near-sighted sister with braids and a slight gap toothy smile; Danita, a café-au-lait Amazon who carried her height with pride, and Karen a 5’2”, black coffee, no sugar, no cream sister whose dark brown eyes shined like diamonds behind her frames when she smiled. I would not need a man to make me happy as long as my girls were around, I thought as I watched them cut the fool on the dance floor as I rested my feet. I was going to be okay after all.