| Anyone Who Has A Heart |
By Jacqueline Powell
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"Theresa, you okay in there?" I gave a mumble resembling that of a sane individual. Due to the circumstances, that was about as close as I was gonna come. Pretending the queasiness in my stomach that had caused my knees to buckle, leaving me doubled over on the commode, hadn't gotten the best of me.
The light in the bathroom was off. Nothing but the illumination from the Glade plug-in deviated from my plan. I was not to look in the mirror under any circumstances. Not even to rescue loose lashes from drowning in the tears that were decorating my beet-red face. My eyes were irritated, burning. My bare feet had paced the carpet until my path was visible-to the door and back to the tub. Someplace in between I was supposed to make sense of it all. Make what was happening to me somehow appear to be real.
"All right, I'm going back to bed." Vince's voice was too close for comfort. He had pressed his face against the door, expecting the frame to hold his exhausted mass of weight. He'd just come in from getting my son Dameron some pull-ups when he caught me in the middle of another full-fledged, arm-flailing nightmare. This was the seventh in just two weeks. They were becoming more frequent,.more real. And so had my habit of drinking. Rum, vodka, a cooler, whatever was around. Even found myself passing outonce while Dameron was at a sleepover. That night Vince happened to stop by unexpectedly and threatened to leave me if he ever caught a whiff of alcohol on my breath again. My mother viewed it as a noble deed. But to me, it only meant I had to sneak.
My son's father, Don, was the primary reason for my pain. He died before he even knew that I was pregnant. He was a firefighter. One who lost his life in the line of duty. We were engaged to be married and planning a future together. Then suddenly he was dead. Dropped all of those dreams in my lap and left his baby to fill my womb. I took his death extremely hard. I'm even sad to say that I tried to take my own life. And though I know in my heart that Dameron was God's way of helping me cope, and even with counseling and some of my girlfriend Nikai's meditation tips, I haven't been able to get back in control of my own destiny, let Don rest in peace and bury the past.
The darkness engulfed me as I stared at the door to the linen closet. There was a fifth of white rum shoved behind some cleaning supplies and a cardboard box. I had hidden it there the day before just in case my nerves got bad. Just in case the soothing sounds of the ocean on a tape that my momma sent me from Atlanta to help me sleep didn't work. And it hadn't, which meant that a watered-down swig was in order.
A pair of Vince's Sean John jeans were hanging on a hook. I stood and checked his pockets for a lighter. Reached behind me and lit the two yellow and black candles with Asian writing that translated to "wisdom and sincerity." Grabbed a Dixie cup and drank to them both. If I was lucky, one of those virtues would become part of my being before the sun came up.
As the reflections of the flames danced on the wall, I remembered the night I realized that Don wasn't coming back. The feeling of emptiness was simply surreal as I sat in the same pink sweat suit for days, surrounded by his clothing, pictures and heroic plaques. The very ones that I occasionally pull out of my secret compartment in the wall of the hall closet just to hold and smell. I can remember thinking that I'd never love again. But now that almost three years have passed with hardly a decent night's sleep, I'm coming frightening close to knowing it.
Vince was the first man I'd shared myself with since Don was laid to rest. There was one after that, but Vince was the most memorable. I guess because he said everything I thought I needed to hear: Theresa, you didn't die with him; life goes on. And the one that really anchored my panties to the floor: Widows are worthy of love too. That one made me feel sorry for myself. Sorry that I had to go through such heartache. I felt so damn sorry for myself that I began to view sex as a treat or reward for not trying to commit suicide again. Felt I owed it to myself for holding up so well. But in actuality, I didn't deserve a reward for the simple stuff people do every day.
I shook my head in disgust and snatched the colorful satin scarf off of my wrapped auburn hair. Ran my fingers through my oiled scalp. Rested my elbows on my knees and listened to the quietness in my apartment. There was a small portion of peace surrounding me, demanding I take notice. Instead, I took another swig.
I hadn't even had time to place the cup back down before someone with bad timing was ringing my phone. I hopped up and tried to grab the doorknob. I missed it and ended up sending Vince's jeans falling to the floor. The flames that calmed me only seconds earlier were now beginning to confuse me. Even blurred my vision, made it hot in there. Harder to breathe.
I turned the cold water on and splashed some in my face. Bugged my eyes and caught my damn reflection. Saw what I didn't want to see-the eyes of a self-destructive woman.
This time when I tried to grab the knob it was like ice-skating uphill. I turned to dry my hands and began knocking things over-the bottle of antibacterial soap, a hand towel and three Dixie cups. The flames moved when I moved. Scrambled atop the candles like they didn't have a clue which way to go. Seemed as though they were aware of the urgency, how badly I needed to get to that phone before it woke Vince. I picked up the hand towel, got a good grip on the knob and opened the door.
Vince was sitting on the bench in front of my brass vanity. One hand was propped midway up his thigh. The other was slowly waving the phone in my direction. His navy-blue pajama bottoms were almost as wrinkled as his brow. I could tell from all the way across the room that his right cheek was twitching as he grit his teeth.
"What's goin' on?" he asked. I looked blankly at the phone. Had to play crazy and keep some distance between us so that he wouldn't smell the rum on my breath.
"I was trying to come out here and grab it before it woke you."
"Yeah, I heard. What were you doing in there?" I opened my mouth to speak. I really can't say if what was about to come out was a lie or the truth, but a loud shriek cut me off and changed the subject completely. Wisdom, sincerity and the smoke detector all conspired while my back was turned and was givin' up the goods in surround sound. Telling what little business I had left. Vince ran past me into the bathroom and picked up the candle that must've fallen and ignited the cover on the commode. He grabbed a towel and smothered the flames. Stepped back into the doorway, and looked at me with fury in his eyes.
"What in the hell is wrong with you?" He was holding the bottle of rum, and just to add insult to injury he turned the light on so that I could see the crushed Dixie cups lying on the floor. The stench raced out and met me like an impressionable military inductee. Held my attention, damn near sobered me up.
"I was thinking." "Thinking about what? What could be so wrong that you have to drink?"
Vince was so livid that he didn't take the time to stop the smoke detector from alerting the neighbors that I had issues. "Stop that thing before it wakes Dameron," I insisted. "You're not concerned about Dameron, or otherwise you wouldn't be sneaking and drinking. What is it, Theresa?" It seemed the frustration had seeped through his pores and been replaced with the desire to understand. His tone was more distraught than angry. As though he were at a loss for words, the end of his rope.
"Theresa, you told me about the nightmares with Don. I wanna help you, but this is not the way." Self-pity, coupled with the alcohol, took hold of me and wouldn't let go. I stood before him crying and trying to prove my worth.
"I'm scared, Vince. Don keeps showing up in my sleep. Tellin' me about how he loves me and misses me. Saying he's ready to be with me. I'm trying to help myself but I know how you look at me like I'm crazy when I explain it. Those looks make me feel so alone, so I drink. I drink so that I don't think about the dreams."
I buried my face in his chest as he reluctantly wrapped his long virile molasses-toned arms around me. Finally the smoke detector gave way to the moment.
"So what do you want me to do? I can't get inside your head and make sure Don doesn't show up in your dreams. You're not giving me very many options."
I whispered, "Help me." There was silence and then a lengthy sigh. Another forced hug and then more empty words that sounded strangely close to surrender.
"I wish I could." Vince pulled away and handed me the bottle of rum. Never looked me in the eye. Not even when he began to pack his things.
"It's one in the morning," I said. "I know. That's why it's so important for me to go. One of us has got to be able to keep our word."
I didn't rebut, and that's not like me. A schoolteacher always has a response, should always be prepared to answer anyone at any given time. Even at one in the morning. "But it's not about Don" was all I could mutter. Vince pulled his white T-shirt over his head and asked, "Then who is it about?"
Silence took over the moment. "It's about us," I finally told him. His mouth fell open as he stared at me like an unsolvable equation. Removed the gold band from his left ring finger that we'd exchanged six months ago as a sign of commitment to one another and placed it on my dresser. Then Vince resumed with packing while shaking his head in disbelief. "You're wrong again, Theresa. There is no more us."
I lay across my bed on my back and stared at the ceiling while listening to the door catch as Vince left. It took him all of ten minutes to gather up everything he owned. I spent nine and a half of those begging him to stay. It wasn't an all-out beg for mercy on my alcohol-inflicted soul but one that let him know there was supposed to be more between us. Substance that was thick enough to bond us through tougher times than these. I glanced over at the digital clock across the room. It read 1:14 A.M. Wondered who that was calling me so late. I reached over on the nightstand and grabbed the gray and white phone. Pressed the review button. The Caller ID screen read: Nikai Parker. I dialed her back and she picked up on the third ring. "Hey girl," she answered.
I rolled onto my back and said, "Nikai, you called?" She whispered, "Yeah, but I can't talk right now." "Kalif in the room?"
"He's in the kitchen. What are you doing this weekend?"
"You know I'm taking Dameron to Atlanta with me to visit
"Wait a minute. Hold on."
She put the phone down as the faint sounds of Lauryn Hill's "MTV Unplugged" acoustic performance reverberated throughout the loft they lived in on Tucker near downtown. Nikai and Kalif were night owls; they stayed awake all night and never got up before noon. He was a music producer. She was a singer who had sung the "I cain't get a record deal to save my life" blues for three years. She swears it's not important to her anymore but I see that as a defense mechanism. True friends always see one another clearly.
"Yeah, I'm back," she told me. "So what's goin' on?"
"I thought Kalif still had company but he doesn't. So now isn't a good time to talk. Mind if I come by the school tomorrow during your lunch?"
"I don't care. But you're okay, right?" She became quiet. It was the sort of quiet that made me wish we were face-to-face. Nikai and I had both lost and survived a lot together. She was there for me when Don died and I was there when her ex Robert's memory had done the same. She didn't sound well. Not at all like the gutsy woman who had confided in me last week that she was ready to tackle another battle with infertility again.
"I'm losing it, Theresa." I sat up and tucked my feet under the powder-and-navy-blue plaid comforter on my bed.
"Welcome to the club. I can't maintain a relationship strong enough to withstand a bottle of Puerto Rican rum." I chuckled. She didn't. That scared me. Nikai was sillier and more sarcastic than I've ever been. She rarely passed on an opportunity to laugh.
I asked, "Do you need anything?" She didn't respond. I could tell that she was preoccupied with something else.
"I'm sorry, Theresa. Now what did you say?" "Nothin'. We'll talk about it tomorrow. I asked if you needed anything."
"Yeah, I need you to not be judgmental." The stench of burned carpet and melted wax wafted out of the bathroom and shook its shimmy under my nose. I turned away, only to rest my eyes upon Vince's ring. Rejection in the highest form. It was taunting me. Reminding me that I'd failed. Reminding me that I was losing again.
"I've got no right to judge anyone," I told her. "Don't speak so quickly. You've got no idea what's been running through a sista's mind."
"Will it get you five to ten?" "No, Theresa. Now I've gotta go. I'll see you tomorrow."
Excerpted from Anyone Who Has A Heart , by Jacqueline Powell . Copyright (c) 2003 by Jacqueline Powell . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top