What a Sista Should Do

Chapter One

It’s a shame that I don’t even want to go into my own home. I really don’t, but I can’t sit in the car all night, because I know that my children are probably starving. And, I know my home is no doubt in shambles. Plus, on top of everything else, I have to use the bathroom. Most of the time, before I enter my home, I just sit in my driveway like this, for a good half hour, listening to Lauryn, Jill, Erykah or Angie. It’s the only quiet time I get all day.

Compared to my home life, my job is actually a walk in the park. I work in lovely, corporate America. Yes, that’s right. I’m a professional Black woman. It has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? The only thing is, it’s not really all that it’s cracked up to be. I know that I’m blessed to have gainful employment, but corporate America is definitely overrated.

I tell people that I have a job and not a career, because shouldn’t a career be something that you love? I don’t love what I do. I don’t even like it. I keep telling myself that it’s a means to an end, although I’m not exactly sure what the end is. I used to know. At any rate, it keeps my babies’ bellies full (and their father’s too), a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs.

When people ask me what my husband does, I really don’t know how to answer. I say that he’s a record producer/ talent scout/songwriter, because that’s what he says he does. But, in the truest sense of the expression, he is a starving artist.

Troy was a musician when I met him. It was one of the things that attracted me to him. I loved his mixture of creativity, rebellion and ambition. Back then it was sexy, but after two kids, two repossessed cars and a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the thrill is gone.

As soon as I open my car door, I hear the loud music coming out of the house. I look to my neighbors’ house. As cold as it is, Miss Betty, our elderly next door neighbor, is sitting on her porch. Her arms are folded tightly against her ratty looking wool coat. I can barely see her face peeking over the fur trim, but I don’t need to see her to know that her lips are pursed and her eyes are narrowed to little slits. She’s probably just waiting for someone to give her a reason to dial 9-1-1 as Troy has caused her to do on numerous occasions.

“Hi, Miss Betty. How are you doing?”

“I’d be doing a whole lot better if I could have some peace and quiet.”

“I know Miss Betty. I’ll tell them to turn the music down.”

I place my key in the lock, but I don’t turn it. No one knows I’m here yet, and if I want to, I can still escape. I can sneak off to the library or just walk around Ann Taylor trying on the things that I would buy if I had some extra money.

I guess I take too long deciding, because my daughters are looking at me through the living room window. They are waving and laughing. I can’t help but smile, and I wave back. Cicely is only six years old, but her face, the spitting image of her father, is starting to mature. Cicely’s cocoa skin and huge inquisitive eyes are almost the exact opposite of her younger sister Gretchen. Gretchen has my honey coloring and my head full of auburn curls. When she laughs, her eyes just about disappear. I’m not trying to boast, but my children are positively beautiful. They’re the one thing that Troy and I have gotten right. Finally, my husband, wearing an asinine grin, swings the door open.

“Hey everybody!” He says. “The queen is home.”

Queen? Now that’s enough to make me laugh, and I’m not talking about a chuckle. I’m talking about a sidesplitting, belly-grabbing, knee-slapping guffaw. How many queens do you know of that are responsible for cooking, cleaning, washing and basically waiting on everybody in the household hand and foot?

There are a grand total of seven people lounging in what should be my living room. Troy has transformed it into a recording studio. Resting atop my peach sofa is a gigantic speaker with a tangled mess of cords hanging from its rear. In the center of the room there is a makeshift booth that Troy has crafted from fiberglass and foam rubber. Off in the corner, there are four keyboards, a drum machine and a personal computer. It looks like a disaster area, but Troy expects to become the next Barry Gordy.

Troy is working on some sort of hip-hop street compilation to showcase all of his so-called artists. It seems like he’s been doing this forever, although it’s only been more like five months. Before that, he was investing all of his time and all of our money into creating demo tapes for major recording studios. He got discouraged when he didn’t get any responses, so he’s decided to become an independent label. I wonder how long this new venture will last.

I recognize most of the young people crowded into the room, although I must admit, after a while they all start to look similar. There is a young man named Dark Shadow, and that’s exactly what he looks like. Then there is the rap trio, Blades. They consist of two boys and a girl, and they’re all still in high school. I asked them once why they picked the name Blades for their group; they told me it was because their rhymes were sharper than knives. I’m sorry, I don’t get it. It just sounds too violent to me. Ethan is tapping on one of the keyboards. He’s supposed to be Troy’s production assistant. Truthfully, Troy just likes the poor boy. Even I can tell that he has absolutely no talent, and less than stellar looks, but he’s determined to be a star. I wish he’d take himself to college.

To be fair, the house isn’t as messy as I thought it would be, but it reeks of cigarette smoke. Troy knows I can’t stand the smell of cigarettes, because it gives me a headache. Troy also knows that I don’t want my children inhaling second hand smoke. We’ve had the conversation more than enough times for it to be a permanent fixture in his memory bank. The most disturbing piece of all this is that the tiny girl that has the cigarette hanging from her mouth, doesn’t even look old enough to buy them.

Troy has always been good at anticipating when I’m about to go off. I suppose it’s a gift that he has developed over the years. Just as I’m about to show my ugly side, Troy slides across my hardwood floors and snatches the cigarette out of the young girl’s mouth.

He says, “My wife doesn’t like cigarettes, Lisa. Besides, they’re bad for your voice.”

“Sorry, Troy. I wouldn’t want to upset the wifey,” she smirks.

Okay, Miss Lisa has no idea who she’s dealing with. She better be glad that she looks all of fifteen, because if she were legal I’d swear I’d knock the taste out of her mouth. Lisa has skin the color of milk, and her eyes are like two perfectly shaped spheres of onyx. The front of her hair is an intricate mass of cornrows, and the back cascades over her shoulders. She’d probably be gorgeous if her attitude didn’t leak through her pores.

“Mommy, I’m hungry.”

I look down at my baby. They should’ve eaten already. Mrs. Franks, Gretchen’s babysitter, is good enough to pick Cicely up from kindergarten and bring them both home, so that Troy doesn’t have to leave the house. The least he could do is fix them a snack if not dinner. I smile at Cicely, because I try not to take my stress out on my girls, but I can’t say that I’m always successful.

“Hi Hungry. My name is Mommy.”

Cicely laughs at my joke, “No mommy! I’m Cicely. My tummy is hungry.”

“Me too!” Pipes Gretchen, not to be outdone by her older sister.

“Alright. Let mommy take her shoes off, and then we’ll see what’s in the kitchen. Why don’t you two go in there and wait for me. Okay?”

Cicely and Gretchen race to the kitchen at breakneck speed. I know Gretchen is going to be a track star one day, because she’s fast with her short muscular legs. She outruns her taller sister every time.

“Troy, have the girls eaten anything since they’ve been home?”

“I’m not sure Pam. I think they had a cookie.”

“A cookie? What do you mean you’re not sure?” I hear myself start to rave but I can’t stop myself. “Did you give them anything to eat? They are six and four years old Troy – they are not capable of preparing their own meals. I left you a note Troy that you were supposed to give them a sandwich. Two slices of bread and some peanut butter. You were too busy for that?”

Troy looks at me as if I’m speaking Greek. I know he saw my note. I posted it on the bathroom mirror before I left for work.

“I guess I was just too busy working, honey. I’m sorry about that.”

I don’t know how one person could be so selfish. I just roll my eyes and walk out of the room, because anything that comes out my mouth right now is going to be ignorant.

Troy calls after me. “Wait a minute, Pam. Before you do that, I want you to listen to this track. Tell me how you like it.”

Despite the looks of starvation on my children’s faces, I go back into the living room/studio. I wouldn’t want anybody to think I’m not supportive of my husband, because as much as I complain, that is simply not the case. If anything, I want him to blow up worse than any of these weed-smoking teenagers all propped around my living room. Troy plays the song that he’s apparently been working on all day, and everyone in the room is bobbing their heads. I can’t really get into it, myself. Hip-hop soul is not really my cup of tea. Give me some gospel, some old school rhythm and blues, or even some of these neo-soul artists.

“That’s tight ain’t it, Pam?”

“Yeah, Troy. It’s really hittin’.”

I cannot stand the way Troy talks when he’s around these young wannabe superstars. He acts like he isn’t thirty-three years old and a grown man. What I really want to tell him is that the song sounds just like all the other songs he writes.

It takes me all of two minutes to make bologna and cheese sandwiches for the girls. I guess I could make them something warm like a can of soup, but they seem to be satisfied with what they’ve got. Actually, they look grateful. I wonder when they last ate.

Troy pokes his head into the kitchen. I know he’s about to ask me for something. It better not be money. All I have anyway is my tithe, and husband or not, he is not about to get the Lord’s money. I made up my mind on that a long time ago.

“Honey, we have a show on Sunday evening. Are you going to be able to make it?”

“Not this time. I’ve got evening service.”

Troy looks disappointed, but I don’t care. He knows full well that I spend all day Sunday in church. Why would he schedule a show on Sunday if he wanted me to go?

“You mean to tell me that Jesus is going to be mad if you miss one service? Come on Pam. You’ll still be saved.”

“I know I’ll still be saved. I don’t need you to tell me that.” I said. “That’s not the point. Sunday is the Lord’s day.”

Troy responds sarcastically, “When do I get a day?”

I can’t believe my ears. “How’s Monday through Saturday sound?”

“What? Oh, you mean the days I share with the Usher Board, the Nurse Guild and bible class and prayer meetings. You mean those days? It sounds like the whole week belongs to Jesus. Seems like after you went and got yourself saved and all, you forgot all about me. Am I right?”

I’m not even going to respond to Troy, because he is just allowing the devil to use him. I walk right past him and on upstairs to our bedroom. This is my sanctuary. The comforter may be five years old, and the flower print faded, but it has the alluring scent of my favorite fabric softener. Everything is in order in this room. The mostly empty bottles on my dresser are lined up neatly and there’s not a speck of dust to be seen. I lie across the bed and let the last of the day’s sunlight cover my body.

I hear myself sighing out loud. Why does he always have to throw church up in my face? I’ve got plenty of things to throw right back at him, like his chronic unemployment or his phantom music career for that matter, but I don’t.

It’s true, I do spend a lot of time at church, but so what? It’s not like he misses me around here. He’s always got company. If I was home, he probably wouldn’t even notice me. He’s got a lot of nerve. He should be grateful that I go to church so much. It’s the only way I’m able to put up with his sorry behind.

I go to the master bathroom and turn the jets on in the Jacuzzi tub, which is, by the way, the best investment I’ve ever made. I missed a lot of hair appointments and passed up on several new outfits for this little treat. A grown woman needs to indulge herself sometimes. I’m getting relaxed just looking at the water swirl around.

I can feel a whole day’s worth of tension melt away as soon as my entire body is immersed in the scented water. I close my eyes and travel to my fantasy world, the one where I’m a world famous novelist and socialite. I’m young, beautiful, high school senior thin and single. I’m sitting in my luxurious boudoir waiting for my maid to bring me breakfast. She knocks at the door.

“Come in Olga.” I say.

The knocking continues, and suddenly I’m jerked back into the real world. Someone is actually knocking on the bathroom door. It never fails.

“Who is it?”

“Mommy, it’s me Gretchen. I have to pee.”

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