I made one man my whole life.
I put him before God and
he left me; but,
God sustained me, cradled me, took all of my pain away; and
now I find that all is meaningless without God— a chasing after the wind.
(Inspired by the book of Ecclesiastes)
Copyright 2017 Elizabeth Griffin
All rights reserved
P. O. Box 43561
Philadelphia, PA 19106-3561
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from author.
RULES TO LIVE BY
don’t call his name in vain
don’t disobey parents
don’t commit adultery
don’t work on the Sabbath
don’t have any other God
don’t create idols
Love, the word escapes from my lips in a sarcastic tone. It is an emotion I am going to avoid like all hell. I am afraid of it and what it can do to me. I am not interested in heartbreak— or pain.
I'm talking some serious pain— the kind that will not leave me alone. It stays with me day and night. I cannot do anything with it but endure.
Oh no! Love is not for me. I can deal with anything else, but that.
I grip my BMX handlebars as I leap from the cemented curb. The rubber beneath my hands secures my hold. My entire body is on fire— anger rages through my veins.
“Humph,” I grunt with discontentment. “I don’t ever want to fall, jump, stagger, crawl, or bump into love.”
It is an emotion I despise. It is a disaster waiting to happen, but it won't happen to me. I've got strategies— plans. So it better not try getting in my way.
I feel the spring breeze running across my parted hair— tousling my thin cornrows and causing them to whip about my shoulders like laundry hanging from a clothes line on a windy day.
The bicycle soars through the air turning slightly to the left as my body dictates. I complete a 180 degree half-turn with little effort.
I position the 20-inch wheels for a smooth landing. I feel the black rubber touching the ground with a practiced skill. I speed down the street; my mind is racing fast.
Why am I so adamantly against love?
I have one gigantic reason. And, I'll tell you.
It's because I can see what it is doing to my sister, DeAngela. I watch quietly while it takes away her dignity. I say nothing as it breaks her down into little pieces.
Every problem has its starting point. There is that moment when chaos appears and happiness no longer seems possible. For DeAngela, it occurred after she gave birth to her fourth son, my cousin Demetrius.
That is when her marriage began to unravel and my sister changed. That is the moment when the arguments with Daniel Green started— the moment when money became the center of all of their problems.
I don't get it. I do not get him.
Visually he is okay to look at. He stands 6'5" in high top sneakers and he has that dark chocolate skin with the same dark eyes. I think women consider him attractive, but I do not.
He lives inside our local gym and he is always working out, trying to impress the world with his body.
Again, I'm telling you, 'I ain't impressed.'
Before Daniel Green came on the scene, my sister never allowed a man to dictate her life. She made her own decisions and she didn't hesitate for a second.
But now things are different. She is completely in check. She will not do a thing without his approval.
I can mimic her voice right now, 'Does this cost too much Daniel? What do you think of that? Are these alright—'
I can also barely tolerate hearing his name. Just the sound of it bothers me to no end. When I hear it, I cringe and hold my breath.
He hurt my sister and I am not sure she will ever recover from it. She let him take her pride away. How can she do that— give another person that much control? How did she get to that point?
I do not know all of the details— All of the things he did to her, but I do know she is alone now. She is trying to raise four boys— raise their family— the kids they made together which brings me to another rule in this game of love.
Don't have children. Not now— not ever. Just the thought of the act makes me sick. I do not want some boy trying to kiss me. And, he sure as hell is not going to touch my body.
“Uuaagh!” I snort.
DeAngela does not talk about how bad things are, but I know a divorce is coming. I've watched too much Judge Francine and House of Divorce to not recognize the signs— not to mention Liars which is my favorite TV show.
A shifting of the chain sounds in my ear as I adeptly maneuver my thumbs over the gears— clicking to the appropriate number on the ten speed allows me to climb the steep hill at the base of 51st and Chester Avenue. I stand up on the pedals and pump. The climb becomes easier.
Like I say, I have no time for love. It is not real. It is a phony emotion which people put too much hope in, but not me. I am going to learn from my sister’s mistake.
I have got a big NO for love. If it tries to come my way, it can keep on walking because I am not the one. I don’t believe in that Disney love. I do not want a so called prince charming trying to sweep me off my feet.
I can take care of myself. If I want happiness, I will find it myself. I am not making some boy my whole life.
Why should I give him the starring role in my life? He is not getting all of the props. I am not giving him the right to choose me. He has no say. He will not approve or reject me. I will not give him that power.
I never did like Disney anyway and it is not because most of the chicks are white— although that does not help. It is because the girls care too much about the boys— what they think— what they do— forget them.
What about the girls? What do we want? Don't our feelings count for anything?
Well that's how I feel about love and I do not care who disagrees with me.
My name is Dana Monique Rochelle McIntyre. I am fifteen. Right now I should be home watching music videos and dancing my butt off because it's the weekend, but I am not.
I am instead racing down the avenue at 6 o’clock. Doing what? Buying ice cream. And what is the emergency? Four little boys. They are my cousins and I love them a lot. They are going through it right now. My sister finally left Daniel. So whatever I can do to make them smile, I do. I am tired, but I promised to get them a treat. So here I am.
It is Friday PM, and I am still thinking about school. It was crazy. It started out whack and did not change. I woke up late because the alarm clock did not go off.
I thought I set it. Maybe not. My fault. Anyway, that meant, I had to rush. I jumped into a skirt I had abandoned yesterday which hadn't fallen completely to the floor—instead it seemed to stand in place— suspended by air pockets—waiting for me I suspect.
I grabbed a yellow button up shirt from the back of a chair. I sniffed it under both arms. I made a face, but it would have to do. The ring around the collar was not too noticeable. I could get away with wearing it one more time. Laundry was not my thing; I hated washing clothes, but I would have to do something this weekend. I grimaced. Hygiene was not my top priority, but my friends were only going to endure so much.
My boys were one thing, but my girls; they just did not understand that if it came down to choosing between racing the streets with my BMX or laundry—that laundry would lose almost every time.
This weekend was going to be the exception though. If I did not wash my clothes, I would not have a single girlfriend come Monday morning.
Breakfast was two blueberry pop-tarts with icing, and a cup of milk. I snatched up my jacket and backpack. Then I was out the door with my BMX on my hip. We bounded down the steps together leather shoes and rubber wheels sounding in unison. At the base of the steps, I straddled my bike and began to pedal. My transportation was not conventional, but so what neither was I.
I love my bike. I've had it for five years. It is my best friend. When I am sad, we ride out to Cobb Creek Park and do stunts. When I am happy, we cruise Woodland Avenue in search of other riders. Usually they are boys between the ages of eight and eleven—
We race up and down the avenue never tiring. Our black wheels are spinning fast alongside the metal trolley tracks that line the streets, but they never make contact. Sometimes we even race the trolleys until the drivers decide to call the police. It is such a high. Every once in a while a pedestrian will get in the way, but we make allowances.
Sometimes I swerve to avoid a hit, or leap from a curve if that maneuver does not work. There are lots of days when we ride from one part of the city to the other, picking up riders along the way. These are the times when it is worth risking my curfew.
Girls for some reason outgrew the passion of coasting down a long steep hill or racing a gang of noisy boys with the city air assaulting our faces with grit and grime. The street dust in our eyes and an occasional rock attack are the hazards, but riding is my life.
The students at my high school were-still entering the building as I skidded to a stop in front of it. I U-locked my bicycle. It was close, but I made it on time.
Thinking about it now, I can smile. But this morning it was not funny.
My first period teacher does not play. Mr. Wright will mark you late in a minute. And three lateness equal detention in his class. I was not interested in that so I hustled.
Like I said Friday was hectic. The last day of school usually was. My current events paper was due.
Once a week a topic was picked and written about. This week it was The Philadelphia Riots.
The questions on everyone's mind were: Why had one city erupted into a night of total chaos? Did the Cambodian owner of a corner store have the right to shoot a thirteen-year-old boy for stealing? Why were Blacks always coming to the defense of a criminal? Was rioting the solution?
I tried to write my report objectively, but I could not understand why death had to be the final outcome. Why was one boy dead? Why was one man free? Wasn’t there another way?
I had an algebra test in fourth period, but everything seemed so trivial after current events.
Who cares about math after something that serious happens?
The test was a long test. It was difficult. It took forever. This teacher never cut you any slack so of course the night before I was up doing some real studying.
In class, I took a deep breath and jumped right in. It took all of my energy to get through that period.
I still have formulas and equations running through my head…
I exhale, because school is over. I am out for the weekend and it feels good.
“Damn Dana,” a male voice exclaims. It interrupts my thoughts as I pause at a red light. I rotate my weight back and forth on the bike to avoid my feet having to touch the ground. I slowly turn my head to one side and check to see who is calling me.
I click my teeth. It is Timothy Ferguson. What does he want?
“What’z up with the bike?” he asks pointing in my direction. “You can’t be serious—are you still riding that thing?” As he grills me, he pumps up the speaker volume— filling the car with a rap classic from the early 80”s. Vintage rap is making a come-back.
Keeping myself suspended on the pedals, I look at him blankly. Like he is speaking another language—
His smile broadens, confidence allows him to slow his car, “You need to grow up and park that thing. Let me take you for a real ride,” he offers.
Is he stupid?
I didn't want to be seen in public with a boy like him. I would not even go to the corner store with him.
My eyes sweep over him briefly. If I had a list of boys to avoid, his name would be the first one printed—probably written in red ink with all kind of Xs and warning symbols scribbled around it.
I open by mouth and begin speaking very fast. This seems to throw him off his game, “Do you really think I care about your opinion. You aren’t even important—” the traffic light changes to green. “See yah,” I say shifting my legs into motion and resume pedaling. The expression on his face is too much. He is stunned, disbelieving.
“Hold up,” he shout pushing his foot to the gas. He trails my speeding bicycle for a moment before I make an abrupt turn and disappear down a side street with a traffic sign prohibiting him from doing the same.
It reads: ONE WAY!
“You ain’t all that!” I hear him shout from a distance. “Stuck up…”
I dismiss his words. So what if he thinks I am stuck-up. Most of the boys in Southwest Philadelphia believe the same thing. They do not get as vocal as he, but they let me know on the sly.
Either they ignore me when I come into the grocery store. Or they warn one of their friends in my presence, “Hey man, don’t even go there. She may look like all that, but she’s conceited— she don’t got time for ordinary brothers like us. She’s let her looks go to her head.”
I hate that! I am not conceited. I just do not want to be like my sister. I do not want to be used.
And I don't want to get by on my looks. Where is it going to get me? I see other girls doing it. Playing on their looks. It does not make them happy. It just has them thinking they have power—can make a brother do whatever they want him to do— but most of the time, they end up getting played because there are lots of pretty girls in this world.
Anyway in case I haven't said it, my nickname is Red. That's my favorite color and practically everything I own is red— my BMX bike, my backpack, my rubber bracelets...
I look an awful lot like my mother, but I will not admit it to her. We both have the same thick, long hair. We share the same reddish brown skin. Most people confuse us for sisters— now that's an insult. Do I look that old?
Or does she look that young? I do not really want to consider either question.
Anyway, most people think I’m attractive and I do not have a problem with that. I think I am too.
No, I’m not conceited. I already told you that.
What I like most about my face is my eyes; they make my face stand out, I guess it’s because they are so big. They are like a television. If you want to know what I am thinking, take a long look. They immediately show every emotion I'm feeling. With me you don't have to guess. It's there right up front. My eyes are big and brown.
If I have not mentioned it, I live on Chester Avenue. Between 68th and 69th Street. It is not much to look at now, but that’s because the people around here stopped taking care of the neighborhood.
This block used to have all kinds of businesses lining the Avenue: A Woolworth store, a furniture store, a Jewish grocery store, a hardware store, a real estate agency, a driving school, two supermarkets, a pharmacy, and a black owned bakery.
That was a long time ago. Now the only businesses remaining are: the pharmacy and the supermarket. All of the rest are gone. They either closed or went out of business. All that occupies the neighborhood are Chinese Stores...
I do not trust them. Sometimes I think they sell 40 ounce bottles of beer to kids. I have not proof, but it's a feeling I have. And, I am not going to get into the cigarette sales they make to teens my age. They have a monopoly here, and it seems to be okay with everybody.
But I know how it used to be. My mother is constantly talking about the way things were. She grew up around here so she can remember the old days.
'Back then,' she says. 'There were options if a person thought he was being ripped off, but now there are few choices. And the Chinese Stores charge us whatever prices they want. And most of us paid them.'
But not me.
That is why I’m riding to Turner's Mini-Market. I will not go into a store where the people do not respect me. I am not a dog and I am not going to be treated like one. I don’t steal so do not look at me like I do. And no you are not checking my bag. If I have to go through all of that, I’ll go someplace else.
I am not saying all stores treat me like that, but too many do. So I preferred to go to the only black supermarket in our area, Turner’s Mini-Market. I like the owner Mr. Turner, and he likes me too.
He never checks me, or makes me feel like I am a thief. He is the one black man I can say I look up to. And let me tell you, he didn’t get that recognition overnight. It took him three years to earn it. He knows my whole family as well.
He has a heart. I have seen his kindness plenty of times. I have seen him let people get food knowing they can’t pay for it. But that doesn’t bother him, he simply smiles at them and says, ‘Don’t worry about it. You can pay me when you get your EBT stamps.’
The first time it happened I was amazed at how understanding he was.
I will never forget that day.
I walk into Turner’s Mini-Market expecting to see the owner, but he isn’t at the cash register. I am disappointed.
“Is Mr. Turner here?” I ask the older boy behind the register. He looks about eighteen or nineteen. He is new. He is tall; and if I were into guys, I’d say he is cute.
He has light brown skin— the color of fried cinnamon apples. His eyes are slanted, and they too are an usual brown. His hair is freshly braided; tight, shiny cornrows zigzag away from his hairline and disappear along the back of his head.
I see his mouth began to form an attractive smile. But I ignore it, ‘cause like I say, I’m not into that boyfriend/girlfriend stuff.
“No he’s not,” says the older boy.
“Where is he?” I ask wondering why he is still smiling. Nobody is asking about him. “You can cut the smile, before your face cracks.”
Now that wipes the grin off of his face. And fast. I almost burst out laughing. But he doesn’t think it is funny.
“I see it doesn’t pay to be polite to some customers,” he says dead serious. “I won’t make the same mistake twice. Mr. Turner is out of the store on business. I’m his assistant manager. Can I help you?”
I feel foolish. I mistook his smile. I thought he was trying to crack on me. I guess I was wrong.
“Sorry,” I mutter and turn away. I’d better get what I came here for and go home before I make a bigger idiot out of myself, I think as I leave.
He doesn’t say a word.
I continue to walk away from the counter. I pick up a blue basket and quickly move toward the freezer.
I open a glass door and find a 1/2 gallon container of vanilla ice cream. My cousins love vanilla bean. It’s the only kind they’ll eat.
Then I wander to the diary section and pick up a container of chocolate chip cookie dough for myself.