Read an ExcerptA Dead Rose
By Rhonda M. Lawson
URBAN BOOKS Copyright © 2008 Rhonda M. Lawson
All right reserved.
Chapter One I wasn't really perfect before getting married five years ago. I can honestly say I was young; I was just beginning to understand my attractiveness and sexuality. I wasn't terrible, but I had done my share of dirt. Let's just say I had been around the world a few times. Probably a few times too many.
I was the type of girl who, as I used to like to say, "was alone, but never lonely." Yeah, I always had a man around. Even when I didn't have a so-called boyfriend, I had somebody I could call to keep me company, take me out, or just warm my bed. Sadly, it was the "warm my bed" part that got me into trouble.
That was the part that earned me a few broken hearts, a couple of bruised egos, more than my fair share of trips to the clinic, and an abortion that I still have trouble thinking about. I know, I was a bad girl who never seemed to learn her lesson until it was too late. I can say that now because I've finally grown up. It's true what they say about hindsight being twenty-twenty.
Looking back, I can clearly see that my problem was my not saying no. I seldom went out looking for men, but I had no trouble attracting them. I was a five-foot-seven-inch cocoa brown woman who had been working out five days a week for the past eight years. I always made sure I looked good when I went out. I didn't need anyone to tell me; I knew I had it going on.
I wasn't a gold digger, either. Everything I had, I worked for. I was raised to get it myself, and if I couldn't afford it, I did without until I could. I didn't make a lot as a receptionist, but living in Radcliff, Kentucky, where the cost of living was decent, helped me stay comfortable. I had a two-bedroom apartment with nice furniture in one of the better parts of town. If anyone walked into my place, they knew right away that they were dealing with a sista with taste!
The root of my issues was my location. I lived near Fort Knox, an army post, and most of the men I dealt with came from that hellhole. You have to understand that Radcliff isn't that big a town, so about eight out of every ten men you meet there, especially if they're black, are most likely in the army. Now, if you've never lived near an army post, or near any military base for that matter, let me explain something to you: those guys are like some kind of fraternity! It was always amazing to me that I could meet two men in two totally different places, and before I could even introduce myself, those bastards would tell me they already knew me! Then, before we could even finish talking, I would find out that they knew me because word around post was "Isis is an easy fuck!"
That pissed me off, but when I think back on my life then, I did deal with a lot of guys, and even when I didn't plan on sleeping with them, I wound up doing the deed, anyway. They would touch me in that certain spot, or gently kiss my neck (that feels so good!), or slowly run their nails up and down my body. I'm a sensitive woman, and that stuff sends tingles up my spine that I can't even begin to describe! All I can tell you is if I was even halfway attracted to the guy, he was gettin' some that night.
Damn, I was pitiful! But don't get me wrong. People still had no right to say the things they said about me. No woman deserves that type of disrespect. Those words can be hurtful for any woman, no matter who she is. Some may think it's just a sport to say things about people that may or may not be true. I never understood that. People will build themselves up by constantly putting someone else down. And, many times it's the woman who pays the price.
For me, it was a high price that really wasn't worth it. As much as I enjoyed sex and tried to pretend I was carefree about it, I'd be lying if I told you the gossip didn't get to me. Women would roll their eyes at me. Many guys wanted nothing more than to sleep with me. Even the ones who really did like me for me had some type of issue that would mess things up between us.
Case in point was Norman. When I met him, I was giving up nothing. I had a feeling he was married, and even when he convinced me that he wasn't, I wanted him to want me for me instead of for what he thought I could give him. It worked for a while. But then I started getting feelings for him, and eventually, I gave myself to him.
One day he showed up at my apartment, wearing dirty clothes and nursing a scraped knee. When I saw him, I went right into mother mode.
"Norman! What happened to you?"
"I got into a fight," he breathed as he limped over to my beige leather recliner. Under normal circumstances, I would have been pissed about him sitting on my clean fabric, but this wasn't the time to nitpick.
"About what?" I asked. I walked into the kitchen and wet a towel. He was quiet until I came back and began wiping his bloody knee.
"I had a fight about you," he said quickly.
I sighed deeply and looked up at him. I knew what he was going to say, but I asked, anyway. "Why?"
"I was leaving the barracks, and some guys were standing outside. They asked me where was I going, and I said, 'To my baby's house.' They said, 'Who?' I said, 'Isis.' Then one of them called you a bitch, and then we started tusslin'. It didn't last long. When they broke us up, I got in my car and came here."
My face got hot. I was so tired of the things I was hearing about myself and the names I was being called. I also felt ashamed because this guy, who I really liked, had gotten into a fight because of me. I sat back and leaned against my sofa. "I'm sorry you don't have a girlfriend you can be more proud of."
"Isis, let me tell you something," he said, taking my hands and gently pulling me close so I could face him. "Since we've been together, I've had this feeling. I ain't never had this feeling before, and if it's love, then so be it. You make me feel good, and I don't think about anybody but you."
That made me feel so good! I knew then that I really wanted it to work between us. He had declared his love for me! I went and told all two of my friends how much Norman loved me and about the way he had told me. They thought it was so sweet.
But the next few days saw him acting strangely. He stopped showing up when he said he would. Then, when he did come over, he wouldn't spend the night. He'd make excuses, like having to get back on post so he wouldn't have to fight traffic in the morning. It was starting to stress me out, but then I found out the truth-he was married after all.
You wanna know the trip part about it? I found out about Norman's so-called marriage from another guy. He worked in the personnel office at Fort Knox and had photocopied Norman's records to show me that he really was married. The guy had been trying to get with me for a while, and I guessed that he photocopied the evidence to make sure I would believe him.
I wasn't sure if I was madder at Norman or myself. Yes, he had lied to me, but I had known the truth from the beginning and had convinced myself that I was wrong. I had started making excuses for his behavior and accepting his half-truths, and this was what I received in return. I learned then that we have to listen to that little voice in our heads; many times it's God telling us to wake up!
When I confronted Norman and asked him who this woman was, he lied again! To this day, he still won't admit that he's married. He claims that this woman who shares his last name is just his baby's mother. And I still don't know the truth behind that little tussle he had outside of what turned out to be his friend's barracks.
The issues never seemed to stop. I could change a couple of facts and put a different man's name with them, but they all turned out the same-issues! All I wanted was a decent relationship with a guy who wouldn't cheat on me, with somebody whom people would automatically associate with me. When people saw him, they would see me and vice versa.
Was that so much to ask for?
Don't get me wrong. I had met my share of good men, but it never seemed to work out. Actually, I had been engaged four different times but had never gone through with the marriages. My sister, Cleo, accused me of being choosy. I rejected that description for a long time, but you know what? I am choosy! Marriage is forever, and if a woman can't see into forever with her man, then why go through with it?
That was why I broke up with Darren, Michael, and Shawn. I actually broke it off with Shawn twice. I'm sure that he will always love the ground I walk on, but I knew I would never make him happy, because I couldn't love him the same way in return, no matter how hard I tried. And I really did try. Love has always been my ultimate goal. Not money. Not status. Just love.
I really did love Darren and was both surprised and elated when he proposed. I was eighteen at the time, but I was sure of our love. At least until the last time we slept together. At that moment, something felt wrong. When he broke off the engagement a few weeks later, I wasn't heartbroken. In fact, I didn't even care. He tried to get back together a few months later, but for me, the thrill was definitely gone.
I met Shawn a couple years later, but like I said before, it would have never worked between us. I even accepted a proposal from Michael, whom I knew I didn't love. He was a military guy who was leaving soon. I think that was why he proposed, and I got caught up in the romance. But soon he acted like he couldn't decide between me and another woman, so I helped him make the decision. I left.
Shawn proposed again about a year later, armed with a diamond ring. Unfortunately, I still couldn't do it. Maybe I loved him more than I thought. I loved him so much that I knew he needed someone other than me.
After that, I was resigned to live life with no man and an overworked libido. I had given up on finding that special someone. I was tired of the issues, and I was tired of guys who called me because they were horny. I figured if God meant for that special guy to be in my life, He would send him my way. Until then, I was going to chill and just enjoy me.
I began hanging out more with my girlfriends, Kendra and Michelle. Every Friday night was ladies' night. We would either go to a movie, hang out at a club, or just go to dinner. I enjoyed my Fridays because they weren't about who looked the best or who had which man; they were about us bonding and having fun.
I truly valued my friendships with Michelle and Kendra. They were the only two women I knew who didn't judge me for what I did. They didn't roll and cut their eyes at me. They actually made me feel good about myself, and it had been a long time since women had done that for me.
I also began working on finishing my degree. I had left college after my sophomore year at the University of Louisville because I needed a break. Hell, I had gone straight from high school to college and had also worked during the summer. A sista was tired! My parents, however, weren't too happy about my decision to quit school, but I promised them that I would go back. Unfortunately, three years later, I hadn't even taken so much as a correspondence course. I had forgotten all about school when I got that job as a receptionist at Sparkle Advertising in Elizabethtown.
Once I finally decided to channel my energy into something other than men, I took a couple of classes at E-town Community College after work. I wanted to take more, but with ECC being a junior college, there weren't many courses that would help me. I was really a junior, and there weren't many 300-level classes I could take. So I spent that time retaking classes that I hadn't done well in before and taking a couple of electives. Besides, my plan was just to get my feet wet until I could get back to U. of L. next spring. Sparkle had a branch in Louisville, so I planned to put in for a transfer so I wouldn't have to worry about a commute.
But I think the most important thing I did was return to God. With the life I had been leading, I, naturally, had gotten away from going to church. I'm not saying it was right, but when I would hang out on Saturday nights and not go back home alone, I would oversleep so much that I got used to not getting up on Sunday morning. But I never strayed so far away that I couldn't hear God talking to me. I knew it had been too long, so one day I got up, got dressed, and shocked many of the members of Mount Calvary Baptist Church by showing up for the adult class at Sunday School.
In short, I was having fun without the added stress of searching for a boyfriend. I liked my life. I was getting my stuff together and dating when I wanted. I still took care of my sexual needs every once in a while, but things just felt different. I was happy. At least for the most part.
Chapter Two It was Friday evening, and I had just gotten in from work. I didn't have to meet my girls for another couple of hours, and there was no class today, so I decided to kick back and watch TV. I slipped out of my shoes, curled up in my recliner, and began flipping through the channels. I watched the last fifteen minutes of Good Times, dropping the remote just in time to hear J.J. say, "Dy-no-mite!"
The show was just going off when I heard a knock at my door. "Who is it?" I called from the recliner. I was comfortable, and if I had gotten up just to refuse another kid selling candy or magazine subscriptions for their school, I would have been mad. Unfortunately, I would have to get up.
"Girl, open the door! It's Kendra."
Kendra and I lived in the same apartment complex, so she must have seen me drive up. Only she was allowed to make surprise visits to my door. I liked my privacy, and with the number of guys I dated, I couldn't have someone sneaking up on me while I had company. That had happened to me once, and it wasn't pretty. Besides, since I was a single woman living on my own, opening the door for just anyone wasn't safe.
"Hold up," I said as I lifted myself from my perch and walked to the door.
"You check your messages yet?" Kendra asked as she walked in. Her shorts and T-shirt told me that she was relaxing, too. My girl would never be caught going out in that outfit. Whenever she went out, she looked like she'd just stepped off the catwalk.
"Not yet. I didn't even think about it," I replied, sitting back on the recliner. Kendra took a seat on the sofa, which was beige, like the recliner.
"I figured that, since you didn't call me back."
"Michelle called me from work and said some guy she knows is giving a party at Rumors tonight."
Rumors used to be a "twenty-five and older" club, but they'd recently opened it to twenty-one-year-olds. Partying with younger people wasn't really my thing, but since I would be with my girls, why not? At twenty-three years old, I wasn't that far away from twenty-one myself, but I never did like partying with people in my age group. They got into too many fights and never knew when to stop drinking. Whatever, I thought. I guessed I wouldn't be taking anyone home that night.
"You wanna go?" Kendra asked.
"It's cool. What time?"
"Well, since it's in Louisville, you know we'll have to leave a little early. What about ten o'clock?"
That was the biggest drawback to partying in Louisville. I didn't mind so much driving out there, but the ride home was what got me. Who wants to drive for an hour when you're already tired and you've had a couple of drinks? But hey, that was the price we paid for good partying.
"Why don't we leave at nine so we can stop at T.G.I. Friday's and get a drink first? I'm not counting on those kids to have money to buy us a drink," I said as I checked the clock on the VCR. Leaving at nine would give me about two and a half hours to get dressed. "Who's driving?"
"Not me," Kendra replied, shaking her head. "I plan on getting my drink on. I've had a hard week."
For Kendra, getting her drink on meant that she planned to get pissy drunk. I sucked my teeth as I thought about the last time she'd gotten that drunk. It had taken almost a half hour to drag her ass up the steps to her apartment and another fifteen minutes to get her to her bedroom. Then she'd started calling out some man's name, like he was in the room or something! I really didn't want to put up with that tonight, but she was a grown woman. At least she wasn't driving.
"I hear you. I guess I will. I'm not depending on Michelle's clunker to get us to the Ville and back."
That meant I wasn't drinking too much tonight. Damn, Kendra. It was okay, though. I never got drunk when I went out, but that didn't mean I wanted to always get stuck being the designated driver.
Excerpted from A Dead Rose by Rhonda M. Lawson Copyright © 2008 by Rhonda M. Lawson. Excerpted by permission.
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