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By Xenia Ruiz
Warner BooksCopyright © 2005 Xenia Ruiz
All right reserved.
ALEAD US NOT into temptation ...
Most days I truly believe that prayer is a very powerful thing. I am a staunch believer that prayer has the ability to heal wounds, grant blessings, and rescue a person from the deepest, darkest troubles in a way that defies earthly logic.
... but deliver us from evil ...
The line from the Lord's Prayer was running through my mind because at the moment, I could not take my eyes off an almost perfect image of one of God's finer creations standing a few feet away from me in the Native American book section. I was farther down the aisle, in the Latin American section where Border's Bookstore had decided it belonged, along with the various "others"-African American, Asian American, and Women's Studies.
Just then, the man looked up and I looked away to where a couple was busy groping each other as if they were in the corner of some dark club instead of a bright bookstore chain that sold a variety of books, coffee, and biscotti. Lately it seemed couples such as these were taunting me wherever I went.
Please Lord, lead ME not into temptation ... I prayed. A big part of me deeply believed in the power of these words. I believed that if I kept repeating them over and over, I could cast away the temptation, will this man away from me. But another part of me wanted him to stay right where he was. I wanted him to try to give me his best line so I could shoot him down, to prove once again how powerful was my endurance. But what I really wanted was to have an intelligent conversation with a man, something I hadn't had in a while.
That other part of me, the carnal side, the part that wasn't dead, couldn't help but steal looks at him, taking inventory-one peek at a time. He was about five-nine, not very tall, with a pleasant chiseled face, like it had been sculpted by a surgeon's knife, and probably was. I've heard of people who have their cheek fat sucked out, or their back molars removed so they can obtain such statuesque definition. His curly, close-cropped hair glistened in the sun that blazed through the plate-glass windows. Even though he was dressed in blue sweatpants and a fitted T-shirt-his biceps, forearms, and back fighting for space-he looked debonair. Bam-Bam, my sister, Maya, would coin him, referring to a man's muscled physique bursting at the seams.
I have always been attracted to Black men. Perhaps because to me they resemble the café con leche to coffee-colored cousins and uncles in my Afro-Latin family. Or maybe because they were the first ones to notice me when the Latin boys in high school had passed me by. And it wasn't that I had a preference for Black men as some men and women had accused. Back when I was in the world and it came to men, I didn't discriminate as far as their ethnicity. But I felt a special connection when it came to Black men that went beyond the physical-something along the lines of kinship, something I didn't feel instantaneously with Latinos or men of other nationalities.
This man, although not exactly cover-model fine, had an attractive quality about him. Or maybe I was getting so desperate that any man would do it for me. After all, it had been five years since I had been with a man.
I wondered why he was in the Native American section, then I realized my hidden prejudices that came from living in America all my life were showing their true colors. Maybe he found out he had a Native American grandparent. Or perhaps he was one of those people obsessed with Native Americans, as if they were some kind of extinct species. As I wrestled with my carnal nature, I knew I should take my behind straight to the Spirituality-Religion section and nourish my soul. But my feet were not listening to reason and I could not move.
The next time I glanced up, he was looking right at me and I knew my cover was blown. Having gone directly from work to my boxing class, I was still clad in my Lycra capris and tank shirt with my warm-up jacket tied around my waist. My hair was pulled back and up into the usual hasty ponytail I used when exercising or when I was in between touch-ups. I felt exposed. Losing my courage, I started to slowly inch farther away, scanning the shelves like I was searching for a specific book. When I looked up again, he was walking away and I thought that I had never seen a back as beautiful as his. The shoulders were slightly hunched, the blades poking out, enticing me. I wondered why God had made men's bodies so appealing, but yet expected women to practice restraint. I had hoped for some supernatural courage to overtake me that would allow me to engage the man in conversation over a book, or on the topic of God, or perhaps invite him for a cup of coffee, but it was too late. He was about to turn the corner, headed toward the exit. I felt disappointment, but at the same time, relief.
"Excuse me, sir? Can I ask you a question?"
I whipped around to find my best, and soon-to-be-dead, friend, Simone, going after Bam-Bam like she had no shame. I grabbed her T-shirt, which was tied in a knot at the back of her waist, and tried to usher her in the opposite direction. But she resisted and, having several inches of height and toned muscle on me, I lost the tug-of-war.
"I'm going to hurt you," I whispered viciously, knowing eyes were upon us from all directions.
"Shut up, here he comes."
When I turned around, Bam-Bam was sauntering toward us, so I pulled out the nearest book, The Latina's Bible.
"My friend and I are collecting data for our class on human sexuality," Simone lied matter-of-factly, clutching her legal pad and pen. "We were wondering if you could answer a few questions." I couldn't believe her. We were getting too old for this stuff.
The man looked curiously at us-first at Simone, who at just under six feet with heels stood several inches taller than he, then down at me, trying to hide my humiliated face in the thick paperback book.
"What are you, grad students?" he finally asked.
"You don't look like undergrads."
"We go to night school, okay?" Simone retorted. The one thing Simone disliked was when people assumed she was older than she was. With her svelte figure and chin-length hair in a curly natural, she looked at least fifteen years younger. No one could wear an Afro like Simone. She was the kind of woman who could make a potato sack look good, the kind of girl others had hated because boys were drawn to her; the kind of woman other women envied but for all the wrong, petty reasons, because she stole the spotlight the minute she entered a room.
"Now, do you want to participate or not?" she chided him in that teasing, reprimanding way she used on men when flirting.
"Sure, why not?"
"Shall we?" She pointed toward an unoccupied table with four chairs. They sat down, but I remained standing.
"Eva, come on, this is your project, too," Simone insisted so innocently I almost believed her myself. I debated whether to ignore her and just walk out, pretend I didn't know her, leave her hanging. But knowing Simone, she could always embarrass me worse than I ever could her and she wouldn't even care about the unwanted attention. There was no shame in her game.
"Okay, um ... What's your name?" she started.
"Don. Hey, you're not going to use my name?"
"No, we're using numbers. But you don't want me to call you by a number, do you?" Simone looked up at me. "Eva. Are you going to sit down or what?" she said in her most impatient tone, the one she would use on her child-if she had one.
"Yeah, come on, Eva," Don said, smiling, taking me in from head to toe in one sweep. My attraction to him was slowly fading.
I smiled feebly and sat in the chair nearest to me, but at the other end of the table, browsing through my book like I was seriously interested. I realized that The Latina's Bible was not a bible at all but a resource book of love, spirituality, and family.
"I'm Simone," she introduced herself, pronouncing her name "See-mo-NAY," the stage name she had created for her new modeling/acting career. I rolled my eyes and held back from saying, Your name is "Seh-MOAN" from the northwest side of Chicago. Ever since she had turned forty a couple of months ago, she had undergone a midlife crisis of sorts, getting a leopard tattoo on the small of her back and a navel ring, in addition to legally changing the spelling of her name to "S'Monée," including puncutation marks. I told her I didn't care if she had court papers, she would always be "Simone" to me.
"This is Eva," she added.
"So I heard."
I glanced up from my book and saw him leering at her chest, recently purchased with her last few modeling jobs.
"Okay, Don, pay attention, sweetie. I'm up here. Question number one ... What do you think of celibacy?" Simone asked, reading from a fictitious list of questions.
"I ... I don't know."
"Do you think it's natural, normal?"
"For some people, I guess it's natural, like priests, or nuns."
"But what about normal, everyday people? Like, say, a woman who hasn't had sex in five years."
I knew that if I made any movement, any facial expression, any noise, he would know she was talking about me. Giving her dirty looks was almost routine for me so it was hard to keep a straight face, but I kept my cool and kept my head down as I slowly turned the pages.
"I guess if she's happy not having sex, well, I say go for it. But I mean, I can't see how, for five years ... unless she was like, unattractive, you know, or really fat."
I could keep quiet no longer. "That's a really nasty thing to say," I said, looking straight into his mocha-colored eyes for the first time.
During my teenage years, I had fought anorexia when I wasn't even overweight, before it had become a popular women's problem, before I knew it was a disease with a scientific name. Then years later, when I did gain weight, I went on yo-yo diets, losing and gaining the same thirty pounds over and over. The only good thing that came out of my last relationship with a man was that he helped me lose the weight that had been dogging me, and I had succeeded in keeping it off after the breakup. Still, I carried a sore spot for overweight people and took it personally if I saw or heard anyone criticizing them. Inside, I was still like them.
"I mean ... I just don't think it's normal for an attractive, healthy woman to deny her sexuality," he continued, not really apologizing at all. "Unless she has some leftover issues from her childhood."
Jerk! I wanted to yell. I got up, ready to go, and then I heard Simone go too far. "Well, Eva's celibate."
I shook my head in disbelief even though she had done this to me many times before, when we partied long ago before I got saved, but back then we were usually drinking and I was able to laugh it off. I dropped the book on the table and spun around and walked away. She called me but this time, I didn't look back.
Being celibate has its advantages. First of all, I had cleansed my body of what I considered to be unclean, germ-carrying men-the men I had slept with in my past without using latex protection, men who had been with countless other anonymous women. Even before the AIDS hysteria, before I found a reliable birth control method that gave me a false sense of protection-from pregnancy but not from STDs-I thought celibacy made sense. Second, celibacy gave me control over my body, which in turn, gave me power over my emotions and my life. I was free from the drama that came with sex. I didn't miss the games, waiting for calls that never came, and the taking for granted that happened once a woman gave herself to a man. But most important of all, being celibate had spiritual advantages. The knowledge that being intimate with a man outside of marriage was wrong went back to my religious upbringing and was reinforced by my mother's warnings. To know that I was pure once again in God's eyes was the biggest reward of all.
So I was proud to be celibate and even wore the T-shirt-"Celebrate Celibacy!"-which Simone had specially made for me on my first anniversary. As one of the leaders of my church's youth ministry, I counseled preteens and teenagers to lead lives of abstinence. I felt blessed when Maya would tell me of her never-ending drama with Alex, her husband, or when I saw how depressed Simone became after men dropped her once they realized they were being used. So why was I so angry with her?
"You were the one who said you wanted to have stimulating conversations with educated men, with similar tastes. Were we not in a bookstore? Is that not where educated men go? I was just trying to help a sister out. I love you, you know I love you, but I hate to see you denying yourself what is fundamentally a human right. A basic human right that should be covered in the Constitution. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and getting your groove on. I mean, why does it have to mean anything? Why can't you just have sex and stop attaching so much baggage to it?"
I had forgotten Simone was in the car. When she followed me out of the bookstore, I refused to talk to her, and realizing she had crossed the line this time, she sat in the backseat instead of next to me in the front. She knew my anger was the one thing over which I hadn't gained control. Because of my unpredictable temper and because Simone and Maya thought I hated men, they called me "Evileen." Most of the time, it didn't bother me because I knew I didn't hate men, I just didn't have much patience for the majority of them. However, the nickname still stung when I wasn't in the mood.
"Are you going to stay mad at me all day?" she asked when I didn't comment on her tirade.
We didn't speak for the next couple of miles, ignoring each other: me driving in contemplation, her thumbing through her latest movie script. She was currently starring in an independent film about a woman who couldn't decide between the two men in her life, a role that was written for her by one of her two lovers, an amateur screenwriter-producer-director eight years her junior. The other man, an older man, was the owner of the salon where she worked, her day job.
At the next light, I braked extra hard, jerking her forward.
"That was totally unnecessary. And childish," she said.
"Put your stupid seat belt on," I told her.
A car pulled up next to us at the light and I looked over casually at a late-model Mercedes, then at the brother with a bald head, wearing a business suit and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to a Ramsey Lewis tune on his radio.
"Unfortunately, Don was involved with someone," Simone continued.
The brother bopped his head over in our direction and nodded in acknowledgment. Still upset, I ignored him.
"Hello," I heard Simone call from the backseat.
"Hello," he answered, smiling over his shoulder at Simone. "Why are you in the backseat?"
"My friend likes to pretend she's my chauffeur."
The light changed and I hit the accelerator, jerking her back.
"Do you have to speak to every man you come in contact with?" I said, disgusted.
"Why does it bother you so much?"
"It doesn't bother me. I just don't understand why you have to flirt with every man who speaks or smiles at you."
"It's basic human nature. I am woman, I like men; ergo, I flirt." She explained this with her expressive, salon-manicured hands and her slow, clipped English. "I can't help it if you don't like men. Miss Evileen."
I decided to let that one go. "Just because I don't screw men as often as I go to the bathroom doesn't mean I don't like men," I told her, hoping my words would hit their mark and shut her up. "Just because sex is basic human nature doesn't mean you have to act upon every desire. You're not an animal."
"For your information, I don't screw men as often as I go to the bathroom-which is a tasteless analogy, by the way. You need to stop being so self-righteous just because you have a low sex drive. I can't help it if I'm high-natured." Through the rearview mirror, I could see her glaring at me, furiously snapping the pages of her script.
"How many men have you been with?" I asked her.
No response except the flipping of pages.
"Are you ashamed? I mean, if you're so high-natured, and it's such a basic human need, why can't you tell me?" I pressed.
"Because it's too personal. And no, I'm not ashamed."
"You know my sexual history. I have nothing to hide."
"I don't either, but that doesn't mean I'm going to confess the intimate details of my life to you."
"Is it that you don't know or you can't remember?"
Excerpted from Choose Me by Xenia Ruiz Copyright © 2005 by Xenia Ruiz. Excerpted by permission.
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