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"Marcus? Marcusâ€¦did you pack those Clorox wipes I gave you?" Josette yelled to her son as he bounded up the stairs, his size-thirteen Air Force Ones taking two steps at a time.
She closed the lid to the medium-size brown box she was packing on the dining-room table, paused for a moment and then reopened the box. She scanned the contents again, a nagging feeling that she'd forgotten to include something important staying with her and causing her to feel uneasy.
"Marcus?" she shouted again.
"Yeah, Ma, I've got the wipes and the disinfectant and the Glade PlugIns, too," Marcus yelled from the top of the stairs.
He shook his head and traded a conspiratorial grin with his father, who was passing him on the second-floor landing. Father and son were striking reflections of one another. Tall, athletically built men, their complexions identical shades"the color of a brand-new copper penny. Eyes the color of roasted chestnuts hinted at the virtues of their humble personalities. Wide, easy smiles lived on both of their countenances most of the time, even when they were trying to appear stern. The only real difference was that Seth's chiseled physique had begun to soften ever so slightly, rounding out to reflect his age of forty-seven.
In Marcus, Seth saw himself of twenty-plus years ago"a hard, young body, lumbering about with the freedom and agility of youth. Watching his son now, he was proud to have raised the boy into manhood and did not feel one ounce of resentment for what the dual meanings that Marcus's virility translated into for his own. In fact, it amazed him that Marcus could be the product of himself. He believed that he had beena good father. In a day and age when young men seemed to be struggling ferociously to establish their identities, being swayed by too many of the wrong images of what masculinity meant, Marcus was a refreshing example of the positives. Seth truly believed that in many respects, young African-American men had a much harder way to go than he did. When Seth had been born in the fifties, he'd been taught that to be a man you must first watch a man. As he'd grown up, he'd had all types of men around him to watch"his father, the fathers of his friends, Mr. Ned, the man who'd owned the grocery store in their Harlem neighborhood, and Mr. Phillips, the principal of his high school. Even Big Lou, the man who'd owned the pool hall, had been a shining example of what it took to be a man. They'd all worked, taken care of their families and had respected women. Mr. Phillips had taught the students, especially the young black boys, about men of importance who had come before them. Who ever heard of a principal coming into the classroom and assigning research projects? He'd done that, however, and much more.
Seth's own father, Ernest Crawford, was easily the biggest influence. He was a man who had worked with his hands most of his life and had moved his young, pregnant wife up to New York from Mississippi because he did not want his child to be born under the laws of Jim Crow. All of Seth's life his father had taught him that the black man's biggest fear and, subsequently, his biggest enemy was himself. He commanded Seth not to be afraid of his own power and his own abilities. He also told him that if he ever took no for an answer when pursuing his dreams or taking care of his family, then he would be less than a man. To this date, at seventy-two years old, the elder Crawford was still taking care of his family, supporting and nursing his ailing wife without complaint. Seth's mother, Betty Ann, needed round-the-clock care due to the kidney disease from which she suffered. Although she had a full-time nurse caring for her, Ernest preferred to take care of all of her personal needs, assisting her with bathing and dressing, cooking her food and helping her eat it. The only assistance Ernest would allow was that he permitted Josette to come by every other weekend to wash Betty Ann's thick hair, grease and massage her scalp, and then braid it. Otherwise, Ernest felt it was his responsibility to take care of her.
Seth had followed his father's wisdom and the example of all the other black men in his life to a T. He'd tried hard to instill those same values in Marcus and even though Marcus's life had been a walk in the park compared to what his ancestors before him had had to endure, the boy had truly learned to appreciate what he'd been given. Seth believed that Marcus had turned out to be the kind of man who never had to look to his peers for acceptance or approval, or to see what was either acceptable or unacceptable. Seth could only feel pride in the fact that he and Josette had raised such a fine man. For him, Marcus's departure into this next phase in his life was cause for nothing but celebration.
Josette closed the box in front of her for the second time since she'd filled it and made a mental note to go upstairs and check the other two boxes in Marcus's room later on. She'd wait until he went out because she didn't want to be accused of snooping through his things or not trusting him" a teenager's most fierce complaint. God forbid she just wanted to make sure that he had everything he needed for his first experience away from home, not counting summer camp and the visits to her parents' place in California.
Josette remained in the dining room, staring absently out of the bay window on the north wall. She searched the lavender sky for unattainable answers as she wondered where the time had gone. It seemed as if it were only a mere five minutes ago, a day at best, when she and Seth had moved into this magnificent house. The brick-faced center-hall colonial was situated on a full acre of property, bordered by dense woods in the town of Larchmont. This small Westchester County, New York, community had been a haven for young, newly successful couples who were starting out in life. They had been the first African-American family on the block and, despite their initial anxieties, they had been received well. In fact, the friendships they'd developed over the years with their neighbors over card games, dinner parties and barbecues were ones that they cherished.
Their daughter, Simone, had been one and a half years old at the time and Marcus had been just a bubbly infant who had barely cut his first teeth. Simone had been a chubby, butter-pecan-complexioned baby who'd been an eager explorer even then. She had run around the entire house that first day, wanting to see every nook and cranny. Filled with the natural curiosity and fascination of a toddler, she'd worn herself out and fallen asleep on top of a pile of pillows on the living-room floor. The memories of how Simone had torn through the house daily, later dragging her baby brother with her, were as vivid for Josette as if they were yesterday. This was the only home Marcus had ever really known, and Josette couldn't believe that now he was leaving it. Moisture formed in her eyes as she thought about the fact that this meant that he was also leaving her.
Seth Crawford approached his wife from behind. At six feet three inches and a hefty two hundred and fifty pounds, Seth was still a handsome, rugged-looking man. He had a head full of curly, jet-black hair, the silver streaks now running through it here and there only an enhancement to his attractiveness. Women half his age still fluttered and fussed when he entered a room, yet he never seemed to notice. Sometimes, Josette noticed but she never remarked on it, for it didn't make sense to bring attention to a fact that obviously didn't affect her husband one way or another.
He greeted everyone with the same warmth and sincerity, a trait that had made him the successful attorney he was today. Seth placed his thick hands on Josette's shoulders, giving them a firm squeeze. He inhaled deeply, the sultry fragrance of his wife even after all of these years still stirring his loins. Lately, he didn't get close enough to enjoy her scent very often, for she was always running here and there, doing this and that. Sometimes at night, when she was fast asleep after a day of doing, he would inch closer to her and lay his head on her pillow, allowing the scent of her to stroke him as he slumbered.
"Relax, honey, you've already given him more than what he needs," he said.
He only meant to reassure her as much as he himself was reassured about the fact that their son would be okay without them.
"Relax? I am relaxed. He'll be the one calling me when he realizes that he's missing something, saying, â€˜Ma, can youâ€¦'," Josette snapped.
She knew that she was being hard on Seth, but she was so tired of everyone telling her to relax. She was not uptight. So what if she'd spent the last couple of months shopping, packing and planning for Marcus's departure? She'd been preoccupied ever since the day he'd announced that he'd decided to go to the University of Miami in Florida. She had hoped against all hope that he would join his sister at Stockton College in South Jersey. Alternatively, he had the grades as well as the character and social skills to get into just about any school to which he wanted to apply and could have chosen either Princeton or Harvard, both schools more suitable to Josette's taste due to their closeness to home. However, he'd chosen to go south, and since she and Seth had raised both of their children to be independent and follow their own minds, his decision was nonnegotiable. When Simone had left for college last year, it hadn't seemed like as big of a deal. The fact was she would only be a two-hour drive away from home and they continued to see her almost as much as they had when she was in high school. It was nothing for Simone to drive home on a Tuesday evening because she needed an outfit out of her closet or wanted her mother to make her a pan of her signature eggplant lasagna or crispy fried chicken. She'd stay over and leave early the next morning in time to return to classes. Josette was very happy to accommodate Simone, too. She always had been.
Josette knew that Seth thought she spoiled the kids, but she didn't care. She took pride in knowing that all of her children's needs were met, and it didn't matter how old they got, nor how far from home they traveled, she would always be there for them. Marcus was headed off to a college at the other end of the east coast, but she wasn't about to send him off unarmed. She was his mother, and no one could tell her that it wasn't her duty and her right to make sure that he would be comfortable in his new surroundings.
Seth didn't reply. He let out a barely audible, defeated sigh, released her shoulders and lumbered away. He knew that no matter what he said, Josette would continue to worry, and she would race about to and fro until the last possible second taking care of their kids. It was what she did best. He mournfully recalled a time when he had been the center of her universe, and she'd run around catering to his every desire. They had been married for almost twenty-one years and, while he still loved his wife dearly, he had never expected the burning embers of their love to be replaced by lukewarm companionship. Josette was still a beautiful woman in his eyes. He used to call her his own personal DiahannCarroll-Lena-Horne. She even had a sexy, jazzy singing voice, which she shared occasionally during family gatherings around the piano, but had mostly saved for late-night seduction in their bedroom in the early days of their union. Now, it was fuzzy slippers and flannel pajamas, along with reading glasses and five-hundred-page novels that greeted him every night. Sometimes it seemed that if she didn't have something related to the kids to talk about or a problem at work plaguing her thoughts, she had nothing else to say to him.