Today is the first Friday of the #FreewritingFridayChallenge I said I wanted to start on Twitter yesterday and I’m excited to share this little piece of something that I wrote recently just to keep my mind and fingers sharp. Doesn’t have a title, but it definitely has a moral to the story so enjoy and jump on in with your own rough drafts and freewrites on your blogs!
Being a man is funny. We say and do some cruel things to women with our broken psyches and emotional vacancies, but we expect them to love and nurture us like the mothers we often shame with our unresolved issues from a perceived lack of caring and affection, their defense mechanism against the men who had already done to them what we were doing to the current generation. Vicious cycle.
I am well aware of this and I’ve never tried to make a potential lover responsible for my well-being and self-love. Then one day, a woman came along and decided I had held back for too long. As much as I resisted, she persisted. When I stepped back, her lively hips swayed forward. When I implied she wouldn’t understand, she stood up to me – and for me. She taught me to accept love. But oh boy, being the man I am, the men that we are, it didn’t come easy.
I silently moved through life with the humdrum, mundane acceptance of “Why change?” My job paid me for 40 hours of work each week, even though it was closer to 34 because I’d mastered “Work smarter, not harder.” I caught a bus home because I was still recovering financially from cleaning up the irresponsibility of my mother that almost saw all of us out on the streets. Once at my stop, I’d get off the machine, throw some chicken franks on a Foreman grill, eat those and then catch a game or go to bed. Rinse, cycle, repeat.
But she wanted for me. She saw more for me. And to think I was too fucking stupid to see in myself what she saw in me for a while. And how fucking foolish I was to almost let her get away.
We met, cliché as it sounds, in the grocery store. My boy Eddie, a true jerk who meant well, called me at home one Friday night and said “You need to go to the store.” Didn’t ask me because he already knew my answer would be yes.
It was kind of a charmed night. The hipster-serving store was actually playing an iHeartRadio station that filled the cavernous, airy aisles with Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye and other legends of soulful song. However, the song that was playing when she caught my eye was actually “You Should Be Mine” by Jeffrey Osborne, or as it’s known by its hilariously catchy hook, “Can ya Woo Woo Woo?”
She was beautiful outside – 5’8 or so, butterscotch complexion, busty and curvy in what we consider all the right places and fire engine red locs covered her head and draped her shoulders. She was in the cleaning supplies aisle, somewhere I desperately needed to be for reasons other than romance, so I just walked through and straight for the Clorox clean wipes. She looked over her shoulder at me, I looked back at her with a smile and then we started talking.
Her name was Niara, one that would eventually become my favorite song to sing, even as I hated my own plain, resume-friendly name of Benjamin.
“So? It’s a cute name. A cute name for a cute dude,” she consoled me whenever I’d grumble about it.
Niara was an artist – a true one. She performed in and directed plays at the community theater, wrote and recited hard-hitting poetry at spoken word nights throughout the city and was even taking a screenwriting class. She lived her life with meaning and purpose, seeing every day as a new scene to do something daring, something different. Something memorable. Any man would be lucky to have her, so why me? The dumbest question a man can ever ask himself, or if he’s really remedial, ask the woman herself.
Niara cared about all of me. Not just the goofy, voice-mimicking comedian I could be when relaxed and de-stressed, not just the intelligent, open-minded and entertaining conversationalist I could be when I was REALLY feeling good, but the dominant side of me – the depressed, glass-half-empty loner who’d come to accept his lot in life, not happily of course, but what else could he do?
Niara showed me what I could do.
The first time we made love, I watched in amazement as she undressed to reveal an amazing canvas of curves, thickness and softness. I looked down at my pudgy, non-heartthrob body and was already apologetic about how unsatisfied she would be once we consummated.
“Stop that,” she insisted. “I wouldn’t be here with you if I didn’t want to be.”
And as she smiled a wide-eyed, wise-gal smirk of approval once I dropped my pants, the cloud of insecurity and self-loathing disappeared into a swirling twister of ecstasy, passion and pleasure. She cooed in the afterglow about my attentiveness as a lover, how I listened to her and her body, helping her climb a peak few men had ever assisted her in achieving.
It wasn’t enough.
I waited for the other shoe to drop.
Some handsome, 6 foot 5 skyscraper motherfucker who wasn’t as dark, was in better shape and with a baller-ass career was going to sweep Niara off her feet an there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
“I don’t know how long this will last,” I would say, “But I’m glad I got to be with you.”
She’d joke at first, growling “Who is she,” with mock anger, but as I continued to speak an executioner’s tongue over our thing, she stopped joking and…just stopped. Period.
The day I knew it was over or close to being over was the day I told her I finally got up the nerve to submit a short story for inclusion in an anthology being released by one of the few (and most successful) Black publishing companies in the country, she dryly said “Cool” over the phone.
She was cool on me.
My inability to accept her fiery love had frozen her heart solid and I had no one else but myself to blame.
For days afterward, I fell back into familiar patterns. Not caring about myself. Going through life because I had to, not because I wanted to. Days became weeks and I once again, I was dealing with the old standby of acceptance. Acceptance that my toxic issues had fatally polluted what was potentially the beautiful life with someone beautiful that I longed for deep down.
Of course, Niara persisted. Swayed forward. Stood up to me. Stood up for me.
The ring of my cell phone on a dreary looking Tuesday snapped me out of a solemn, glum trance as I prepared to clock out.
“I’m down in your lobby, Ben. Come on.”
The ridiculously rapid beat of my heart and the measured shallowness of breath sounded as loud as anything I’d ever heard before in my life on the elevator ride down. She was sitting on one of the sectionals, looking unbothered but with a purpose as I walked over to her.
She took my hand and forcefully led me outside to her car. Instead of dropping me off home or going to her place, she drove us out to a deserted park on the river, got out of the car and flipped off her ballet flats and walked barefoot in the growing grass.
I joined her, kicking off my Black dress shoes and stuffing my work socks in them.
Niara came to a sudden stop, just steps from the riverbank and I caught up to her.
“Ben, do you know why we’re here?”
I hesitated, took a deep draw of air into my lungs and slowly breathed it back out.
“Because I pushed you away.”
“See, I knew you were smart!”
We both chuckled, but Niara got serious again.
“You guys don’t get it – not every woman is the monster you’ve made us out to be in your sexist imaginations,” she said, letting the chilly breeze embrace her flawless face. “I know you feel like I’m too good for you, that I’m only leading you on. That’s the worst attitude to have, because instead of lifting me up, you’re making me feel like shit for choosing you. Never question a woman’s choice if you truly want her, because odds are if she’s chosen you, she really does want you.”
I could only nod, ashamed of myself.
Niara continued, “I see you, and I see a great guy who feels stuck, but has everything necessary to turn his life around. But baby, I can’t want it for you more than you want it for yourself, you know?”
“Yeah, I know,” I softly said, looking at her profile as she continued to stare out into the gliding river.
“So you have to let me know,” she concluded as she turned to look me squarely in the eyes. “You know I’m here for you and would do anything for you. But love is a two-way street. I can’t be the best for you if you won’t even try to be there for yourself. And you definitely need to be the best for me. I know you can. The question is Benjamin, do you want to?”
Standing on a deserted riverbank with a woman who in spite of my ineptitude was ready to love me without question, my mind flashed of all of our wonderful moments together and it was at that point I knew I couldn’t let her down again. And I damn sure couldn’t let myself down again.
“Yes,” I finally answered her. “I’m sorry for questioning your love. I’ll gladly take your word for it and give you the love you deserve in return.”
“And I’ll cook and clean?”
Niara laughed as she walked over to hug me tight and kiss me on the lips.
“And give yourself the love you deserve. That’s how we’ll last.”