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SANDERELLA’S SONG may be a supersoldier, but I sure as hell ain’t no Superwoman. Yes, it’s true my hand is steady, I have the eye of a marksman, and I can hit a moving target dead center at four hundred meters, but when it comes to making clever love decisions, I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
While I look pretty lofty in my spit-shined combat boots and razor-sharp battle dress uniform, like a lot of young sisters from the ’hood, I’ve taken a few wrong turns down the back alleys of life. I’ve tooted my share of reefer, popped the ring on many a cold brew—I’ve even dropped a tab of acid during a brief moment of insanity, but I must have been out of my mother-scrunching mind the moment I let crackhead Sonja Reed talk me into reaching for that twenty-dollar heart attack wrapped in tinfoil.
“Damn, Sandie!” Sonja poked me in the ribs with her pointy elbow. “Why you always so uptight, gurlfren’? Here.” She passed me a tightly wrapped silver package. “Have a treat. It’ll help your square ass fit in—you know, relax!”
Sonja and I were sitting at the vinyl-covered bar of the Sugah Shack, a smoky blue-lighted hole-in-the-wall for the local indigents. Neon strobe lights blinked intermittently from far corners of the room before ricocheting off a shiny silver ball that dangled from the wood-beamed ceiling. Outside, Jack Frost was busy duking it out with Jay Hawk, but inside it was moist and warm, courtesy of the one hundred or so of “us” crammed into the tiny joint.
I’d just completed my final-semester exams and decided to check out the party scene, a luxury I seldom enjoyed since enrolling in night classes at City College. The house music pumped with a thunderous beat, and although I was feeling pretty mellow, shaking my bones and jitterbugging with the fellows, I still flirted along on the fringes of the real action.
“C’mon, chile,” Sonja coaxed. She curled her tongue around the tip of a white plastic straw as the metallic disco lights rearranged her features into an erratic jigsaw puzzle. “Come on over here and get your head right so you can relax!”
Relax? I was twenty-two years old with a three-year-old daughter, a part-time job, and a full college load! Relax just wasn’t in my vocabulary. But Sonja had one thing right. When it came down to drugs, the sistah was a straight-up parallelogram with four equal sides. Aside from social stimulants like marijuana and that dumb encounter with acid, I’d never really been tempted. Real drugs cost real money, real pride, and real self-respect, and with no hope for a return on my investment, I was real slow to give up any of those treasures.
But on this particular winter night I was feeling my Wheaties. Mama Ceal had offered to baby-sit, I’d studied like crazy and would graduate with straight A’s, and my boyfriend had just dumped me for my best friend’s sister.
Relaxation was just what I craved.
So when prompted by Sonja with a sure nod and a half smile, I lowered my head to the shiny black counter and did as I’d seen her do. I inhaled two thick lines of prime white ghost straight into my malfunctioning brain.
“Yeahhh.” Sonja giggled as I puckered up my face. “That’s it. Now relax.”
I relaxed all right. Kicked back so far you would’ve sworn I was in a coma! Slouching all over the barstool, my body went limper than Michael Jackson’s wrist!
For a moment.
Suddenly my heart started pounding like a funky bass drum and my hands got to trembling like a set of wayward brass cymbals. Then I got hot. Real hot. Like I was being steamed like a lobster—but from the inside out!
My mouth went Sahara and my nose went numb.
I dashed out of that lean-to of a firetrap and ran the entire two miles to the projects without stopping.
And then I ran back!
Shaking and heaving, I collapsed in the dirty snow behind the Sugah Shack and listened as the bass thump-thump from the music inside competed with the wheeze-bang-whomp! in my pulsating chest cavity.
Right then and there I swore off cocaine.
That was it for the sistah. Damn if I would be the same fool twice. Cocaine caused too many bodily changes and left you with absolutely no self-control. It just wasn’t worth it—all that drama for a sore throat and a postnasal drip! But the experience scared me. My own stupidity appalled me. My judgment was suddenly suspect. Six million coke addicts couldn’t all be wrong. Would I someday graduate to bigger and better highs? The mere thought gave me the shakes. Paranoid, petrified, and perplexed, I pondered my chances of survival in my Brooklyn ghetto.
They looked slimmer than an anorexic on crack.
In a desperate attempt to veer off the path of self-destruction before I backslid and sampled any more of Sonja’s “treats,” I fled my drug-induced demons and rushed headlong into the waiting arms of my favorite relation.
“Act in haste and repent in leisure!” is what my granny used to say, and you know she was right, because from the moment I raised my right hand and swore to defend my country from all enemies foreign and domestic, I’ve been repenting on a daily basis.
During my early years in the Army I billed myself as a harder-than-a-rock native New Yorker. I was rough around the edges, and my personal motto had been: “Don’t start no S-H, won’t be no I-T!” Gradually, I assimilated into the military community and its socialized way of living. Bit by bit the harsh edges of my project demeanor softened, and I managed to shake the ghetto chip from my shoulder; but if you backed me into a corner, I could still go homegirl on you in a New York minute!
But I had a slight problem with protocol.
I was an enlisted soldier, and everyone who outranked me was, in effect, my boss. Now, they don’t tell you that mess when you sign up, and they sure as heck don’t show it to you on those slaphappy “Be All That You Can Be” commercials. As a lowly buck-private-E-nothing, any Joe Blow in a pair of boots could basically tell me what to do and when to do it. That didn’t sit well at all with the sistah. I hated being the low man on the totem pole.
“Hey you! Mop that floor! Hey you! Hump that rucksack! Hey you! Dig that ditch!”
Private Benjamin I was not.
I didn’t see why I couldn’t flip my collar and become an officer, then give the orders instead of taking them! Army Officer Candidate School became my one burning mission, and I swore on a stack of Bibles that someday I’d get there.
By hook, or by crook.
But in order to get within a country mile of an OCS application, I had to really humble myself, show my teeth to the powers that be. I had to play lots of political patty-cake, and I played it to a T.
Despite the odds that were stacked mile high against me.
As any fool can tell you, the large-and-in-charge in this great country are typically male and white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and you can search that acronym from Texas to Timbuktu but you will not find a description of me. Although all women in the armed forces have a tough row to hoe, the black woman has it toughest.
Simply put, a female soldier had to have a pair of balls.
A black female soldier had to have a pair of balls that were heavily structured, riding low, and swinging in the breeze—yet big enough to block the sun!
She had to be a survivor. And I am.
Yet, as astute as I’ve been in my professional life, there have been times in my love life when I’ve been as dumb as dishwater. Too gullible! And for the life of me I can’t figure out why. I mean, there’s just no excuse. Lord knows Mama Ceal taught her girls better, but we still went out and bought our own sense.
While I can’t speak for my sisters, Ladelle and Bunchie, I know what my problem is: I make pitiful life choices. Take birth control. I’ve had three children by three different men, only one of whom I married. Now there’s not a drop of shame in my game, but if it were you instead of me, I’d be the first in line to tell you about yourself. I’d probably say some raw shit like, “Girl, if you’re gonna give it up out of both drawers legs, at least have sense enough to use a condom!” So if my expert advice is good for you, why hasn’t it ever worked for me?
It started with Kevin. My first love. Too fine, boo-black, and always broke. A so-called actor whose starring role was that of a dimple-faced, together brother with a good head on his shoulders. Kevin said he worked in the lab at Harlem Hospital, when actually he swept that mother and took out the trash! He was responsible for three of my pregnancies: my daughter, Jamillah, and two “whosits” that I deposited at the Women’s Health Clinic.
Talk about fertile Myrtle?
Jamillah was just three months old when I bought one of those at-home pregnancy tests and killed another rabbit. Mama Ceal took me down to the Women’s Health Clinic, and I don’t know what hurt worse, getting rid of that baby or climbing off that table and facing my mama. Well, ten months later, dizzy me had another chance to ponder it. This time I rode the subway down to the clinic alone and deposited “whosit” number two, then cried like a baby and kept my mouth shut about it to Mama.
After that I swore to Jesus and all twelve of his disciples I’d never kill another baby, so help me. And I haven’t. I’ve pushed out the rest of my children on a delivery table, and they’ve all come home with me. To this day, Mama Ceal doesn’t know about that second abortion. Or does she?
Five years later, while stationed in California, I met my ex-husband, Maurice. A fine-ass red bone with sticky fingers and shit for brains. I must’ve been feeling fine on cloud nine when I took that short trip down the aisle. I didn’t even know the guy! Not three months passed between us saying our first “hello”s and our final “I do”s. It was six months before I figured out my new husband could steal the oink off a pig.
Talk about impulsive!
I guess that’s part of my problem. I don’t take enough time to figure out what I can and cannot stand about a man before finding myself knee-deep in his crappola. And somehow Maurice managed to knock me up when I wasn’t looking. Just when I was ready to bet my last dollar that he was shooting blanks, tah-dah! Out rolls my youngest, Kharim. Light, bright, and damn near white. Just like his daddy. I don’t regret it, of course. It just amazes me that our final round of marital copulation produced such a stunningly beautiful child. Go figure.
And in between the liar and the thief, there was Antoine “Two-tongue” Thommson.
I will never forget him.
Antoine was a cute dark-chocolate ’Bama slammer, my afternoon delight and midnight snack, my ever-ready Freddie whenever I was inclined to step out on Maurice. Built like he chopped trees for a living, Antoine’s body seemed chiseled from stone or maybe even granite.
There’s something about a soldier!
But Antoine was a superfreak. Always talking about how he wanted to “sop me up wit a biskit.” Those country boys are a mess! He’d have kept me barefoot, pregnant, and spread-eagle on the kitchen table if I’d let him, because to Antoine, sex was a national pastime.
And talk about a tongue? I could’ve sworn he had two!
That boy could work his tongue six ways to next Sunday.
Antoine popped poontang like it was a delicacy, which, of course, I thought mine was. I tell you ole boy had such an outstanding technique he should’ve been granted an honorary doctorate in the Art of Good Head!
But believe it or not, you can get too much of a good thing. All of that tonguing can work your last nerve. My stuff must have been like sweet black Maxwell House coffee—good to the last drop—because I couldn’t keep him off me! Every time I turned around he was lapping at me like a half-starved kitten at a bowl of warm milk! So I got paranoid. Thought he was trying to steal my love juices, like they were superenergy power crystals or something. I finally had to cuss him out and then call the military police and request a base transfer.
That boy had my kitty cat bone-dry!
Antoine gave me my first son, Hanif, a brilliant and wonderful replica of his daddy, who got out of the Army last year to buy a dairy farm. Yep, a dairy farm. On the fifth of every month I receive a postal money order with an Alabama return address, some little rinky-dink town way back in plumb nearly. Plumb out the state, and nearly out the country! Milk them cows, honey!
But on the real tip there have been many nights when I’ve wished for a dresser drawer chock-full of disposable Antoine tongues, because I have yet to meet a vibrator or a man who could match his pace. So although my head may be a bit too hard, my behind a tad too soft, and I run about a quart low on men sense, my shit is still straight.
Even when it’s crooked, it’s straight.
I just haven’t had any luck making the right love connection, that’s all. I’ve been through many love affairs, like sorting clothes on laundry day. Sometimes I wish I could relive those loves of mine. Just shake them out like the wrinkles in a blanket and erase the slate. Like everyone else, I’d do a lot of things differently, but maybe I’d leave a lot the same, too. Although I’ve been through some risky changes, I’ve also learned a lot about myself. These days I know my own worth. I don’t need a man to empower me or to motivate me. I’m self-motivated, and my mama empowered me with the strength of a lion.
Can you hear my roar?
I think I’m ready to try again. Ready to learn how to trust, just step out on faith. I could use a warm embrace from a pair of strong, honest arms. My body is dying to explode from something other than my own probing fingers, but I’m scared. I still believe in good old-fashioned relationships. I was blessed with positive examples in my father, Franklin, and my brother, Bailey, so I still have faith in black men. Hell, it’s us black women who raise them! I’ll just have to give some mother’s son a chance. Like I said, step out there naked. High on faith. But I can tell you this, the sistah is straight, and never again will I settle for less than what I’m worth.
What I deserve.
I don’t need no half-stepping, half-a-man-looking-for-a-woman-to-make-him-whole man. I’m already a whole woman, a whole lot of woman. And I need a whole lot of man. Someone who knows where his head is, and preferably not stuck in a mirror or up his own ass. Someone who won’t feel threatened by my accomplishments, by my spirit.
By my funk.
A man who is self-confident enough to view my fortitude as an appreciated asset instead of an enviable liability. I need a man who loves himself. A man who loves his mama, his sisters, and his life. Someone who will love my children as much as he loves his own. Someone whom my kids can love and admire, too. I need a brother with a bank account—not overflowing, but rainy-day solid. A financially fit brother who is cognizant of the term future needs. I need a man with his own car, or his own bike, or his own skates—just as long as he has his own ride. My days of climbing out of my warm bed at the crack of dawn to chauffeur a grown man home are over!
And he has to be clean.
I don’t want no nasty man or no man who has bad bites. Certain flaws are simply unpardonable, and bad breath and body odor are two of them.
And I can’t stand no mama’s boy. No man who’s still on the titty. My man must be as self-reliant as I am, if not more so. And my man must be decent in bed. A gentle, tender, and considerate lover. Not the kind of lover who, when you whisper, “Baby, you came too fast,” hollers back, “Naw, baby! You came too slow!”
Last but not least, my man must be single, uninvolved, disengaged, and disenfranchised. Let the church say “Amen,” because I don’t want nobody’s husband and that’s the God’s honest truth. None of that if-lovin’-you-is-wrong-I-don’t-wanna-be-right crap. That’s a dead-end road for sure, because the only things a married man can offer you are his poor wife’s headaches and heartaches. Been there. Done that. Thanks, but no thanks!
I guess I need that “Whatta Man” Salt-N-Pepa are always bragging about. Someone dignified. Mighty and exalted.
Hell, with my grandiose expectations, high standards, and endless laundry list of qualifications, I’m gonna need to look for more than just the average bear! My man’s gonna need an imperial lineage, a royal genealogy. He’s gonna have to be a prince.
No, bump that. A king.
I need me a king.
From the Trade Paperback edition.