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Shattered Souls
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Shattered Souls

4.9 13
by Dywane D. Birch

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A thought-provoking, emotionally charged novel that explores the lingering effects of childhood turmoil on four thirty-something friends. Since meeting in college, Britton, Indera, Damascus, and Chyna have each gone on to success and acclaim. But beneath the surface, all four are struggling with demons, striving to mask the deep emotional wounds they sustained long


A thought-provoking, emotionally charged novel that explores the lingering effects of childhood turmoil on four thirty-something friends. Since meeting in college, Britton, Indera, Damascus, and Chyna have each gone on to success and acclaim. But beneath the surface, all four are struggling with demons, striving to mask the deep emotional wounds they sustained long ago.

Through riveting first-person narratives, Dywane D. Birch reveals the secret that keeps each character tied to the past, unwilling or unable to commit to a loving relationship. As repressed childhood memories creep back into their lives to haunt and control them, and carefully constructed veneers begin to crack, the bonds of their friendship are tested as never before.

In candid, raw prose, Birch explores the potentially devastating consequences of childhood abuse and mistreatment, but also pays tribute to human courage and perseverance in a heartfelt, unforgettably powerful novel that heralds a remarkable talent.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Dywane D. Birch is destined to become one of the best-known authors on the literary scene today. If you have not read this book, what are you waiting for?" — New York Times bestselling author Zane

"Snappy dialogue, trash talk...and steamy sex keep the proceedings moving as the four...attempt to hold it together." — Publishers Weekly

"Shattered Souls really enlightens, encourages, and forces us to examine our lives." — Collen Dixon, author of Simon Says and Every Shut Eye

Product Details

Strebor Books
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Britton: Life

Damn, life is good. Here I am sitting out on my terrace in the nude, listening to a Tracy Chapman CD, drinking lemonade, and taking in the most mesmerizing view of sparkling turquoise water. Right at this moment, I feel blessed and I'm thankful. I give thanks for my life — I am debt-free, stress-free, and carefree. No one believed me when I said I was packing my bags and leaving the States. But I knew, from the first time I set foot on this island four years ago, that this would become my home. Was it a difficult choice to make? No doubt. But it was something I needed to do for me. See, I am a firm believer that no one else can live your life for you. And your life shouldn't be consumed with trying to satisfy everyone else all the time. There comes a time when you have to make choices for yourself and live accordingly. And now that I've had time to reflect and to become more in tune with what my needs are, I have finally come to realize that there is a big difference between making a living and having a life. I got tired of just going through the motions. I got tired of living among the walking dead. And I was damn sure tired of putting other people's needs before my own. I knew that if I didn't make changes in my life, I would have fallen into a deep pit of depression. And I was afraid of being haunted by the "would've-could've-should've" syndrome. So, for once, I threw caution to the winds and said, "Fuck what others think or feel." I worked three jobs to save enough money to live here comfortably. I paid off all my bills, sold my town house and car, rented out my condo, and placed all my valuables in storage. Then I made sure I had access to enough emergency cash just in case things got crazy, cut up all my credit cards except for my platinum American Express, and bought a first-class ticket to the Dominican Republic. So here I am, living on one of the most beautiful tropical islands in the world, with peace of mind.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying life has always been kind to me, because it hasn't. And it damn sure isn't perfect. Trust me, I have survived my share of personal storms. Some with more wind and rain than others. But I've weathered them. From light drizzle to hurricanes, I've endured the beatings of cold droplets and heavy gales. I am convinced it was a higher power that gave me the mental and physical strength to pick myself up, brush myself off, and press on. Although the skies have cleared for now, I know lightning and thunder can still strike at any time. That's why I try my best to take nothing for granted. At this point in my life, I am better prepared, with experience and well-taught lessons, to pay closer attention to life's storm warnings. Basically, I've made a conscious choice to keep dead weight and negativity out of my life. For good!

I think the hardest part of packing up and moving was knowing I wouldn't be able to spend much time with my friends and family. When I told my mother I was moving, I thought she'd flip, but she didn't. She hugged me and said, "Good. Just make sure you have enough room for me because I'm going to need a place to stay when I come down for vacation." Then she smiled and said, "I love you very much and I just want you to be happy, so if this move makes you happy then I'm happy. You deserve it." My eyes were heavy, but I didn't let any tears surface as we embraced. I knew then I'd miss her more than I'd thought. It seems like mothers always know the right things to say at the right time.

Now, my sister, on the other hand, felt it was her duty to let me know exactly what she felt about it: "The Dominican Republic? Isn't that one of the poorest countries? Why in the world would you move there? Boy, every time I turn around, you're running off somewhere. I don't know why you gotta keep moving around. Don't you know you can't run away all your life? And what do you plan on doing down there?" My sister is four years older than me and can be overbearing and too opinionated. So, of course, when I told her I planned on doing nothing, I thought she was going to blow a gasket. "You mean to tell me, as hard as it is to find a good job, you are giving up a good-paying job to lay around on some beach?! Sometimes I just don't understand you. You're not going to be able to live off your savings forever." I love this girl dearly, but I wish she'd try harder to just be my big sister instead of my mother.

Yes, I gave up my full-time job as a school psychologist, a job that I'd had to struggle to keep because of all the political crap that goes on within school districts. They had a problem with me not conforming to their rules and with being too vocal. I guess I was a bit too rebellious for them. Well, I had a bigger problem with them. Anytime I had a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old in front of me who read and wrote on a third- or fourth-grade level, I wanted to know what the hell was going on. How in the hell do you just pass a child from grade to grade without ensuring that kid has mastered every task on or above grade level? Each time I had a fifteen-year-old still in the eighth grade, I wanted to know what alternative support was being offered. And what would really set me off was the school's audacity in allowing students to graduate without being properly armed educationally to survive in this world. Come on now, if children can't read or write, then that means they can't fill out an application. So how do you expect them to become self-sufficient? As far as I was concerned, someone in the school system failed those children and I wanted schools to be held accountable. I really couldn't get with the concept of just throwing students out of school or classifying them "emotionally disturbed" just because they were disruptive. Yes, there are some youth who really do have significant emotional problems, but many disruptive behaviors in the classroom are due to teachers failing to properly educate and prepare our youth for the next grade level. It just seemed like no one was really interested in trying to understand that maybe some kids disrupt the class because it is the only way they know how to avoid being embarrassed by the limitations we have imposed on them.

So, when we fail our youth, what do we do? We expel them. Bottom line, it just seems much easier to throw these children out of school or classify them as requiring special education than to deal with the real cause of the problems. And because many parents don't know that legally, most schools can't just drop students from their rolls — they can't suspend or expel them without providing an alternative learning environment — I would inform parents of this and challenge teachers and school officials on it, and remind them of their responsibility to properly educate our youth. So, in a nutshell, my presence in the school system wasn't welcomed with open arms. But, hey, I never cared about being liked as long as I was respected. And respect is what I got, regardless.

I also gave up my cushy part-time job as an adjunct professor teaching psychology. But that still doesn't explain why my sister should concern herself with my job security. After all, I do have marketable skills, and I'm confident that I'll have no problem getting a job when I decide to move back.

Anyway, a part of me knew what she was really getting at. She thinks I moved because I was running away from commitment or another failed relationship. I'll admit that when I was younger, I did use moving from place to place as an avoidance mechanism. It was my way of trying to control my feelings and ensuring I didn't get hurt. But this was different. I moved as a means of letting go. True, I pulled out of a relationship. But I didn't run off or move on because of it. I moved because I needed to be alone. I needed a sabbatical year, or two, to collect my thoughts without interruptions. I needed space to sort through my own emotional baggage, far away from family and friends. Okay, so maybe moving here was going to the extreme but sometimes I am an extremist. I'm either hot or cold. In or out. Sometimes downright impulsive. There is just no in-between with me.

To be honest with you, I could sing the blues all day and all night about some of my impulsive behaviors and failed relationships. But why bother? It's not like I can change what's already happened. As far as I'm concerned, the past is a chapter in my life I don't wish to revisit. I am living for this second. Hoping to live for another minute. Another hour. Another day.

Nothing in life is guaranteed, so I am living for the moment. I'm just hopeful that I will continue to awake to another day, and I'm thankful when I do.

Whenever I call home to get the 411 on what's happening in the States, I get hit with the 911. Someone has either been robbed, killed, raped, beaten, or all of the above. It's really a damn shame. The U.S. is supposed to be one of the most advanced technological forces to be reckoned with, and it can't even properly protect its citizens. Makes you wonder what the country's priorities really are. Hell, that's probably one of the reasons I never felt connected there. Never pledged allegiance to the flag. For what? I've always questioned the U.S.'s allegiance to its people's struggles. I'm not necessarily referring to the individual struggles of being African American. Although that is a key issue. I'm talking about the struggles within our families. Within our communities. Within each race. Well, one thing's for sure: As long as there is no justice, there will never be peace.

I will say this: Living here has definitely given me a whole new attitude about life and the things we take for granted. Like family and true friends. I think sometimes we get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of just trying to survive that we tend not to tell the ones who mean the most to us how important they really are to us. I know in the past I was guilty of that, on more than one occasion. Family for me consists of my mother, my sister, and my nieces. My extended family? Puhleeeeze. Let's just say I don't play 'em too close. I know I can't control who I'm related to, but I can sure control how I relate to them. As far as friends go, and I mean real friends, I have only three — Damascus, Indy, and Chyna. That's my clique for life.

Damascus, who goes by the name Tee, is the first and only male I can honestly say I've embraced as a soul brother. Even though we've had our disagreements and a couple of fistfights, we've still been able to keep it real with each other. I've admired his strength in being able to come out on top despite having no one positive in his life to guide him. On the surface, he comes across like a self-absorbed ruffian from the 'hood who's only concerned with his own self-indulgences, but I know better. Hell, we were roommates for three years, and one thing's for sure: You never really get to know a person until you live with him. So all that slick shit he talks—let's just say I know what's underneath the steel armor. Still, he is probably one of the most conceited and sex-crazed brothas I know. I've always believed his mother meant to name him Narcissus. I swear, he is stuck in that stage of development in which his body is the object of his own erotic interest. I've always teased him about falling in love with himself the first time he saw his reflection in the mirror. But I'll give him his props; he is a smooth-looking brotha, and a lot of females are big on him. I've just always had a problem with the way he measures manhood.

Indy gets the award for having the most attitude and I love it. I like the fact that she calls it like she sees it, and she's not afraid of challenges or taking risks. She doesn't care what comes out of her mouth; if she feels it, she says it. She tells you from the gate what her expectations are, and if you can't flow with it, then she just moves on without blinking an eye. I tell her that that's not always a healthy way of handling things, but she says, "Boyfriend, please. It's my way or the highway. Besides, how you gonna give me advice you don't live by?" Anyway, aside from being angry with almost every man in the world, she is a very successful businesswoman who will not settle for anything less than the finer things in life. In layman's terms, she's materialistic as hell. But then again, people say that about me.

There's a rawness about her that is exciting and provocative and men love it. There's also this kinkiness about her that seems to drive men crazy, figuratively and literally. I've warned her to be careful because that could be dangerous. She has this remarkable way with words that just cracks me up. You have to hear some of the things that come out of her mouth to understand what I mean. Nevertheless, despite her sometimes sharp tongue, she is a very sweet person as long as you don't cross her. If you take her kindness for a weakness or try to play her, watch out! And when she says she's gonna do something, that's what she means. Trust me, she's a woman of her word.

Out of everyone, Indy is my road dog. Back in the eighties when we were away at college we used to travel back and forth, by car or plane, between Virginia and New York just to get our weekend workout in at The Paradise Garage, Nells, The Tunnel, you name it. Oh, and I can't forget about Club Zanzibar out in Jersey. We used to tear those spots up. We'd carry our backpacks filled with bottled water, baby powder to make the floor slippery, and a facecloth and towel to wash and dry off the sweat. We'd change into our dancing gear, move toward whoever was generating the most energy, then find a nice corner to spin until daybreak. We took road trips to the Aggie-Fest in North Cacky-Lackey, the Freak-Nic in Atlanta, and the Greek Picnic in Philly (then on to the Belmar Beach in Jersey the next day). And no summer would be complete without the annual Labor Day weekend in Virginia Beach. That's where we first met and clicked. The summer of 1983.

Now, Chyna is what many brothas would refer to as a "dime-piece." She's gorgeous. She's flawless. She's just one classy, sophisticated woman who carries herself like a lady at all times. I don't think I can ever recall her cursing or saying anything negative about anyone. Imagine a young Lena Horne with green eyes and long, sandy brown hair that flows past her butt. She's the only one of the three of us who's married and she has four children — one daughter and three sons. Her husband, whom none of us can stand, is a successful businessman who has given her every material thing imaginable; yet there's always been something missing. We — no, let me speak for myself — I don't like him because I've always felt like he treats Chyna as if she were his trophy. If you met him you'd understand what I'm saying. Granted, he has a great physique, but that face—Aaaagh. Let's just say he has the body of Hercules and the face of Magilla Gorilla. Outside of that, I just don't feel he appreciates her the way she should be appreciated, nor has he encouraged her to do anything other than be dependent on him. So I consider her knocked up and locked up by a man who likes being in full control of her. But I do give her a lot of credit, and I'm proud of her. Even though she was a young teenage mother and wife, she still didn't let that hinder her from completing her undergraduate studies and then going on to grad school to obtain two master's degrees. It's too bad she's done nothing with them. She chose to be a full-time mother and wife instead, for which I commend her. Having a home filled with love is something she's always wanted. Well, she has a gorgeous home in pristine suburbia; I just wonder how much love her husband has been able to fill it with.

The four of us are different yet so much alike. We come from different backgrounds, but our struggles—let's just say we've been able to look to one another for support, encouragement, and understanding. That's probably why our friendship has survived for fifteen years. Now, I'll be the first to admit, Indy's mouth has sometimes created tension among us, probably because she says what she feels. But she says what needs to be said out of concern — nothing more, nothing less. In any event, there's mutual respect among us, and nothing any one of us says to the other would or could put a wedge between us. Hell, our friendship has been sealed with tears, laughter, and unconditional love. Besides, I know all their secrets.

I'm sure one of the reasons I love being in the Dominican Republic is because there is a sense of family and community. The community is your family. An outsider who has gained their confianza will be embraced as family. Believe me, it's not something easily gained. Personally, I like the fact that trust is highly valued here. It's too bad it's not the same way back home. Maybe the world would be a better place to live if it was. There just seems to be a lot of phoniness at home. I have never been able to get with the superficial people and smiling faces who'll stab you in the back with the same hand they extend to you. There's always some type of hidden agenda. That's cool, but I'm not the one. And I'm definitely not with all the negative energy they generate. I only wish we could embrace one another for who we are instead of for what we have. Perhaps a pot of peace and happiness would be found on the other side of that rainbow of madness we slide across.

Here, life is sweet and simple. There's not that sense of urgency that you experience back home. Everyone is so laid-back and friendly. I have to admit, I've had to make some adjustments in my attitude and get used to not having many of the expensive luxuries I thought I could never live without like my 325i convertible, the fifty-two-inch-screen TV I hardly turned on, and the convenience of buses and subways. It really took me a while to get used to riding a moped to and fro. I haven't got up the nerve to upgrade to a motorcycle yet. But I'd rather do that than ride in a passenger van that carries people and animals together. I tried that once and threw up from the thick July heat, the smell of sweaty bodies, and the odor of funky farm animals.

I also had to get used to the fact that here, friends and relationships are more important than work or being on time for appointments. Sometimes I laugh trying to imagine waltzing or whistling into work forty minutes late because I was talking to a friend. Ha. Not in Jersey. Friendships and family are definitely not priorities there. The one thing I still struggle with is the fact that privacy is unimportant here more so in the rural areas. Now, I don't mind company from time to time, but this popping in and out is not my cup of tea. Here, doors are kept open and it is considered strange to close them and not accept visitors anytime, day or night. Whether invited or not, guests will be offered something to drink and asked to stay if mealtime is near. Hell, back home, if you came to my spot unannounced, I wouldn't let you in. And if you continued banging on my door or ringing my doorbell, I might just throw a mixture of bleach and shit down on you. But I'm changing. Slowly.

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm gonna finish listening to my Tracy Chapman CD, finish reading this book by Ernest Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying, then pack my luggage. In two days, I'm off on a seven-day Carnival cruise. Yes, this is truly the life. And I have to agree with Tracy Chapman: "Heaven's here on earth."

At 5:00 a.m. I was up pacing the oak wood floor in my bedroom. I couldn't sleep. My mind raced with thoughts of the character in that book I read last night. The book was deep. I really hate it when a book can stir up feelings in me. I felt angry, sad, and happy all in one reading. I think what touched me the most was his diary to the teacher. I honestly had tears in my eyes and for a minute, I almost allowed them to flow. Almost. But I opted to run. I ran two miles in the sand along the water's edge. The wet sand felt good under my feet, and when the cool water pulled back into the ocean, I could feel myself being gently pulled in too. I ran fast and hard against the ocean's soft morning breeze. I needed to outrun my thoughts before they caught up with me before the tears I felt for the character in that book overwhelmed me. So I ran and ran and ran until it hurt. Until I could think of nothing else except getting home and back to bed.

Before I even got through the door, the phone rang, and I knew it could be only one of five people calling. But I guessed it was my sister because she's the only one who calls me all hours of the day and night. She seems to think that because I don't have to get up to go to work every morning there are no time restrictions on when she should call.

"Good morning, snookems," I said while glancing over at the round wood clock hanging over the door. Six-thirty a.m. This better be good.

"Hey, Brit," she said in a sullen tone. "You're up awful early. What are you doing?"

"I was just sitting here waiting for you to call," I said sarcastically. "What's wrong?"

"It's Daddy. And before you go off, just listen to me, okay?"

I asked her to hold on, lit two sandalwood incense sticks, pulled off my wet clothes, sat on a wooden barstool, then took two deep breaths and picked up the phone. "I'm listening."

"Daddy's real sick and he really wants to see you. He knows you won't call him or accept any calls from him, but he wants to talk to you."

"About what? I have nothing to talk about and I'm not interested in seeing him."

"My God, Brit," she said with annoyance. "Can't you just let go of whatever it is that's been eating away at you? Our father is dying, and the least you can do is give him a chance. I don't know what you think he's done to you or hasn't done for you, but he's tried to be there for you. You've always pushed him away."

"Look, we've gone over this a thousand times already. I don't have any ill feelings toward him. I just have no use for him. I let go a long time ago. Now, I'm sorry to hear about his health but I can't feel something I — "

"No one is asking you to feel anything," she snapped. "All I'm asking is that you, for once, stop being so damn selfish. Just go see him or at least call him. Please. He's our father and he needs you. You owe him a chance."

He needs me? Ha! That's a laugh. What the fuck was he doing when I needed him? She acts like I should embrace him with open arms because he's on his deathbed. That's not my problem.

"I don't owe him shit! You know what? I'm really not feeling this right now. So let's either change the subject or hang up. Better yet, if you feel the need to mention him to me every time you call here, then I'd rather you not call me at all. I'm glad you have a relationship with him. I respect that. So why can't you try to respect the fact that I don't want one with him? Never have, never will."

She sucked her teeth, then took a deep breath. "Brit, you've never tried. He's your father. Just give him a chance before it's too late. Can you at least do that? Brit, don't you understand life can't always be about you? People make mistakes, and just because they don't measure up to how you think they should be or should've been doesn't mean they can't change. You need to get off your high horse and stop being so stubborn. You act like you're so damn perfect."

I let silence fall between us for what seemed like minutes before I went off on her. She was really trying to get on my last nerve. It's a good thing I don't smoke 'cause I would have killed for a pack of Newports right about then.

I knew what I needed: air. This wench was suffocating me with this shit. I walked over to the patio, pulled open the double oakwood doors, and leaned against the frame.

The reddish-orange sun had finally risen to its spot in the sky. The blue Atlantic Ocean rolled calmly up against the white sand. I could see a young couple holding hands while they walked along the beach. She stole a kiss, then ran off with him chasing behind her. Although they couldn't see me, I could see smiles on their faces. It was picture-perfect.

"Perfect! Amira, get over yourself. There's nothing perfect about me, and I don't come off like I think there is. So what the hell are you talking about? You call here like you know what's best for me. I'm thirty-five fucking years old and I don't need you telling me what to do. I live by my own rules, and rule number one is: I will do what the fuck I want. Rule number two: Don't call my fucking house telling me what I need to do. I love you very much but you have plucked my last fucking nerve."

Click. She hung up on me. She calls me, works my nerves, then hangs up on me. I really didn't mean to snap on her but I asked her to drop it. But no. She just wanted to keep flapping her jaws. I'll call her later to apologize, maybe. She acts like I'm supposed to fulfill his last wish or something. Why should I? He didn't fulfill mine. So what if he didn't know what my wishes were? He should have asked. And so what if I pushed him away? I was only a child, and he should have been there for me, regardless. No parent should let a child dictate to them how they should react or respond to their children. Parents have a responsibility to love and protect their children as best they can. His best was not even trying. So, as far as I'm concerned, he gave up on me. He failed me as a father and I won't forgive him for that.

After I took a twenty-minute shower, I ate a fruit salad, put on my Oleta Adams CD, opened the glass balcony door, then lay across my unmade full-size bed. I drifted off to Oleta singing "Get Here." When the phone rang, I jumped. I glared over at the clock on my dresser. I had slept for four hours. I contemplated whether or not I should answer it, then picked up on the eleventh ring. "Hello."

"Okay, you dirty-birdy. Are you ready for round two?" It was my sister. "I don't appreciate how you went off on me this morning. But I'm ready for your ass now," she said, ready to attack. "I've had my coffee and a good fuck; now it's on, boy." Her voice was stern. I burst out laughing as I imagined her standing with her hand on her hip and her finger in my face looking and smelling real raunchy after "a good fuck."

"What the fuck is so funny? Don't make me have to fly down there and curse your ass out then fly back home."

I sat up on the edge of the bed and stared out the window. "Oh, girl. Kiss my behind. I'm sorry for screaming on you. But sometimes you don't know when to just drop shit. If I go see that man, let me do it on my terms. If I don't, then it's on me. Let me be the one to live with whatever decision I make. Please just respect that."

"Brit, my childhood was affected by him as well. But that was years ago. He's tried over and over to make up for his mistakes. No one is asking you to have a relationship with him. Just listen to what he has to say. That's all. Please think about it, okay?"

Again, I became silent. I walked out onto the balcony, leaned against the railing, then closed my eyes real tight. When I opened them, I spotted a man and a little boy building a sandcastle on the beach. The man hugged the little boy, then kissed him on his forehead. I answered, "I'll think about it."


I sighed heavily. "Yes, Amira, I promise."

"Good. Now, guess what?" she asked, then answered before I could guess. "I'm pregnant."

Pregnant? Her house is already overpopulated, and she's excited about bringing in another mouth to feed. "Damn, girl. Seems like every other year you're spitting another baby out that cooch." I laughed. "Don't you think eight crumb snatchers are enough?"

"Nope. I already told Wil we are going to keep trying until I have a boy. But he says he's gonna have a vasectomy."

"Well, good for him. That's probably the smartest thing he's said. For his sake, I hope it is a boy," I said, sounding sympathetic. "Maybe he just doesn't have any extra Y chromosomes to pump out."

"Well, I'm not consenting to no damn vasectomy, so he better start drinking a whole lotta protein shakes."

I shook my head. That poor man. I don't know how in the world he puts up with her. All she does is sit at home and have babies while he works two jobs just to make ends meet. She loves to argue, but he lets her fuss, which she hates because homegirl likes to rumble. He never raises his voice or his hands to her. But when he puts his foot down, she changes from a lioness to a kitten. Yep, she really lucked out when she married him. I don't think anyone expected them to stay together this long. She was a feisty city girl and he was a laid-back country boy who was ten years older than her. Twenty years later, they're still going strong. I don't care how many hours of the day he works; he always has time for his girls, including my sister. And on his days off, he watches the youngest girls so my sister can have some free time for herself. My nieces are lucky to have a father like him.

"So, Brit, when you gonna settle down and have some kids? Your nieces would love to have some little cousins, and I'd like a few nieces and nephews of my own to spoil rotten."

I snapped out of my daze, then walked back into my bedroom and stood in front of the floor-length mirror. I ran my fingers through my thick braids.

"Excuse me? Girl, you musta lost your mind. Never. I am never having kids, and I'm as settled as I'm gonna be. I'll leave the baby-making for you and Wil."

I've already been there, done that, and I don't want to go there again. Yes, I was married. A long time ago. My family thought I had gone mad. Of course, my sister had the most to say. "Boy, you're too damn young." "You should get to know her better before you run off getting married." "What in the world is your rush?" Telling them my intended bride was four months pregnant nearly shifted the earth's axis. "Pregnant?" My sister's eyes almost popped out of their sockets. "How in the world are you gonna support a baby and stay in school? I know you don't think you're gonna drop out." "It's probably not even yours." "Girls will try to trap a man in a minute, especially if they think he's a good catch." "And you're fine as hell, got good hair, and she sees success written all over you." I was flattered by my sister's concern, but my mind was made up.

I was barely nineteen, a sophomore at Howard University, and still living off my father's child support. So what? I was in love and there was nothing anyone could say or do to change my mind. My mother just shook her head and said, "This is not the kind of life I wanted for you. But it's your life, so you're gonna do what you want. I just wish you'd wait until after the baby's born." I could hear the disappointment in her voice as she tried to sort through my earlier rambling about how I didn't want my baby born without being married. I saw the hurt in her eyes, but like she said, it was my life.

Celeste was three years older than me, a junior studying English and communications, and already had a five-year-old daughter, whom her parents were raising. Apparently, she had peeped me way before I even knew she existed. We were in a few writing classes and electives together, but I didn't notice her much because I was too busy setting my sights on another Howard cutie. Sad to say, I was a sucker for a gorgeous girl with pretty hair, and H.U. was notorious for having some of the finest women on any campus. Celeste was definitely one of them. She was walnut brown, with wavy brown hair that she wore in an asymmetrical bob. She had beautiful brown eyes and the body of a young Tina Turner. She was the sophisticated, prissy type, the type I always fell for. You know, the type who always has her head in the air. It's sometimes hard to tell if it's out of conceit or just confidence, but for her, it was definitely both. Her makeup was always done to perfection, her hair and nails were always on point, and she always rocked a designer pocketbook and wore expensive shoes. A sista pumping a nice handbag and rocking a sweet pair of matching pumps always got bonus points with me. However, I didn't particularly care for her at first glance because she had a snottiness about her that I couldn't digest. She came off like her shit didn't stink, and if it did, nobody would care because it was all about her. I guess she had reason to think that way since a lot of brothas sweated her and gassed her head up to no end. Besides, the snobs were usually the ones who liked to get their freak on the most. But I wasn't one for sweating no one's child, no matter how fine she was.

Anyway, to get to the point, I let Celeste talk me into going back to her place after a Kappa Alpha Psi formal. As soon as we stepped into her sparsely furnished studio apartment, she seduced me. Well, actually, I'm not sure if she seduced me or if I just gave myself to her. We both were feeling no pain from the countless shots of Hennessy we took to the head. From that night on, it was nonstop sex. At her place, my place, in the backseat of my bronze Eldorado, in the dark at Rock Creek Park. Anytime, anyplace—we sexed it out.

So there I was, many orgasms later, standing at the altar in a beige double-breasted suit, nervously waiting to take a girl I'd known less than a year as my bride. Any uncertainties I'd had faded with the sound of the organ playing "Here Comes the Bride" as I watched the mother of my child wobble down the aisle, eight months' pregnant, with the twinkle of stars in her eyes and the most illuminating glow I'd ever seen. I was determined to love her "till death do us part." We said our I do's and pledged our love in the presence of a few friends and family at a small chapel in Maryland. The first and only thing my sister said to her was, "If you try to dog my brother out, I'm gonna whup your ass." My mother embraced her halfheartedly but was able to say an almost sincere "Welcome to the family." That's when it hit me: I am nineteen, married, and about to become a father. What the hell am I doing?

Life was full of twists. Everything was happening so fast. Before I could really think it through, it was too late. The damage was already done, and the honeymoon was over as quickly as the flip of a light switch. Reality set in. I had to juggle going to school fulltime, working fulltime, being a husband fulltime, and mentally preparing myself to become a dad fulltime, something I wasn't prepared to be. Not at nineteen. But I was in love.

Then, during the still of the night, I was awakened by loud screams coming from the bathroom. "Pleeeeeeeease God, stop these pains!" It was two-thirty a.m. I leaped out of our full-size bed to find my wife huddled in a corner between the tub and the sink with her arms folded around her swollen belly. She was sobbing and rocking, rocking and sobbing. My heart jumped in my throat; beads of sweat lined my forehead, then slid down the bridge of my nose and down the sides of my face. The seven minutes it took for the ambulance to respond to my 911 call seemed like an eternity. We were having a baby.

After fifteen hours of labor, I could see the crown of my baby's head. It was then that I felt the most wonderful feeling I ever dreamed possible. A life I helped create was about to emerge into the world. I silently prayed to God to give me the strength to be a good father. The doctor coached Celeste on when to push. First came the head. The doctor gently held it. Then came the shoulders. "It's a boy!" the doctor announced a few moments later as he placed his hands under my baby's head and back, then slowly pulled the rest of his body out. Our eyes lit up with joy when we saw our beautiful baby. I kissed Celeste, then smiled. I felt this rush of energy go through my body as I repeated, "It's a boy! It's a boy!"

But our baby wasn't breathing. There were codes sounding and doctors yelling, "Stat," and nurses scurrying around and Celeste screaming, "What's wrong with my baby? Don't let anything happen to my baby." And then there was me. Standing there in a fog. Seeing everything but hearing nothing. People's lips were moving, but I couldn't make out their words. The only thing I heard was, "I'm sorry, Mr. Landers, there was nothing we could do." I had gone from elation to devastation in a matter of seconds. My son was stillborn.

"You still think about your son, huh?" Amira paused, then sighed. "He woulda been almost sixteen."

"Yep," I said solemnly. "Sometimes I wonder what he'd be like if he were alive. I wonder what type of father I would have been." I paused, trying to keep from choking up. "I don't want to go through that kind of experience again. Never. You know, Amira, I never told you this, but the whole time Celeste was pregnant, I asked God to please let me have a pretty baby with good hair. I just took for granted he would be born alive and healthy. I've felt so guilty."

There was a moment of silence between us. "You would have been a great daddy. It's not your fault. Everything happens for a reason. That doesn't mean it'll happen again. I love you," she said, then kissed me through the phone.

I did the same. "I love you too, sis. Thanks."

"For what?"

"For always being in my corner. I really do miss you."

"Hey, that's what big sisters are for. I miss you too. Well, I gotta go. Don't be such a stranger. Keep your promise and give Mom a call before she starts bugging. Your nieces say hello."

"Give 'em all big hugs for me and tell my brother-in-law I said he's in my prayers. I'll keep my promise."

We hung up. My smile was replaced with a frown as I slowly walked back out to the balcony. It's moments like this when I wish I were back home. I could really indulge my addiction right about now. I guess being here has forced me to stay strong and not fall prey to my weakness.

Yes, I'm an addict who's been in recovery for almost three years. Moving here has helped my treatment. Lord knows I'd be hell on wheels right now if there were a Bloomingdale's or Saks. Hell, I'd even settle for a Macy's. That's right, I am a shop-a-holic. Oh, don't tell me—you thought I was a drug addict, huh? No. Not the kid. I think anyone who falls prey to drugs is extremely weak. I've seen too many people waste away from drugs. In fact, drugs are what destroyed my marriage.

A few months after we buried our son, I was offered a job as a bill collector for a small finance company in Norfolk. We both agreed a change of scenery would do us good. So we moved, transferred to Norfolk State for the fall semester and hoped for the best. Well, not only did the scenery change, so did Celeste. She started hanging out late, sometimes not coming home for two or three days. Stopped going to school. Stopped taking care of her self. Stopped caring. For one year after our son's death, I chased behind her from crack house to crack house trying to keep her off that shit. I know she was hurting. I was hurting too. But I couldn't keep coming home to shit missing out of the house or having money stolen out of my wallet while I was asleep. It's not like I didn't see the signs. When I found the small bag of baking soda in her pocketbook, she told me, "I use that to brush my teeth." Well, I guess she used the tablespoon with the burnt bottom as her toothbrush. When I found razors with white residue on them, a mirror with powdered residue on it, a bottle of cigarette ashes, cigarette lighters and makeshift pipes that had aluminum foil with tiny pinholes wrapped around them, I had to face the fact that I was sleeping with a basehead.

By the time I finally realized I couldn't keep trying to save someone who didn't want to be saved, I was already on academic probation and had been fired from my job. It became clear to me that she loved the streets and the drugs more than she loved me — or herself. And I damn sure knew it was time to bounce when I found out she was out tricking for product. I loved her. Seeing what she had become was just too much for me. I watched one of the finest girls on Howard's campus become one of the living dead. I thought I could love her enough for the both of us. Boy, was I wrong. I found out the hard way. But when you're in love, you see only what you want to see.

Since that time, my anthem has been that song "It Takes a Fool to Learn that Love Don't Love Nobody," which is why all of my relationships have been tenuous. I'll have a fling here and a fling there but nothing more than that. My heart has been under new management with a sign that reads Love Don't Live Here Anymore. Period.

Between my sister and that book, I don't know which to blame for my sullen mood. I'm so glad my cruise is tomorrow. Seven days of rest and relaxation is just what I need. I'm not gonna stress myself. Tonight, I'm gonna light every candle — I have about fifty — in this joint, listen to Curtis Mayfield's New World Order, and just chill. I'm not letting nothing or no one disrupt my groove.

Copyright © 2007 by Dywane D. Birch

Meet the Author

Dywane D. Birch is the author of Shattered Souls and From My Soul to Yours. He has a master's degree in psychology and is a clinically certified forensic counselor.

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Shattered Souls 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dywane Birch manages to write a novel that's engaging, enlightening, and hilarious and this all happens after the first two chapters! Shattered Souls was fun reading from the first to the last page and it's a highly recommended book for anyone who likes a great storyline and erotica thrown in together. Buy Shattered Souls and enjoy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not stop reading. Entire book in less than 48 hours. You must read!!!!!
DarleneGinn-Hargrove More than 1 year ago
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Look ladies and gentlemen this author got it going on!!! this book was awesome! i loved the characters in this book especially indera!'she kept me cracking up' kudos to you brotha for writing a great book! and i will be getting the sequel!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am in love with the characters that Mr. Birch used in this electrifying novel. It lets readers know that holding on to your past does nothing for your future. A must read to readers who enjoy an outstanding book. So dont waste time go pick it up!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Four friends. Four survivors. Four conflicted souls. Four vastly different paths leading to one inevitable destination: no matter how long they try to run from their past, Brit, Tee, Indy, and Chyna are destined for a head-on collision with fate. They soon learn that denial is not an option, and only honesty holds the cure, in Dywane Birch's aptly titled Shattered Souls. As a former director of an adolescent crisis shelter, Birch is more than familiar with the kinds of lives depicted in his tale, thus ably lending it the requisite humanity. He has seen and heard first-hand the scars left in the wake of years of mental, psychological, and physical abuse. Learning in more detail, then, about Brit's abusive father, Tee's molestation in foster homes, Indy's wicked stepmother, and Chyna's familial history of mental illness - you get a very real sense of the muted pain millions of children are made to endure everyday. The tribulations of Birch's protagonists bring to mind the old phrase, 'That which doesn't kill us only makes us stronger': even though it fractured their souls, the years of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment at the hands of others has actually strengthened the friends, bolstering their collective survivor's will. At the same time that date/gang rape has inexorably tainted Indy's spirit, it's also fostered a fierce independence within her that shields her from ever being so wounded again. Likewise, Brit comments to his father on his dying bed that the years of his brutal treatment of Brit's mother has, in turn, made him realize just how real men should treat their families, making him vow never to subject his own children - or anyone else's, for that matter - to such treatment. Shattered Souls evokes many of the same feelings as Antwone Fisher before it: we cringe at the gruesome depictions of abuse & molestation and their damning consequences, but we also rejoice at the redemptive power of healing. You may not agree with every choice that the friends make, but you root for them nonetheless after all, who among us isn't striving daily to liberate ourselves from the chains of our past? Dywane Birch does a commendable job piecing together seemingly unrelated phenomena in relating them to a greater, more troubling whole. In so doing, he skillfully reminds us that everything we do yields karmic repercussions the likes of which we can't begin to imagine. Beneath it all, though - and as Indy herself tragically discovers: no matter what others have done to us, the only fate we ultimately have any control over is our own. For its uncomfortable honesty, its striking candor, and chiefly its unapologetic humanity, Shattered Souls is a highly recommended read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
After hearing lots of good things about Shattered Souls, I decided to get the book. Not finished reading yet, but must say the Indera character is out the box. When you read her chapters, you won't want to miss a single word, not one. She's a funny, sharp, quick-tongued woman who takes nooo prisoners. Someone you'd want to hang out with just so you can laugh -- and learn. This author is going to blow up. I'm a fan. Great work, Dywane Birch.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a very dear friend. Once I cracked the spine of this novel, I could not put it down. Shattered Souls will keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense, as well as make you split your seams with laughter... I recommend this book for all Bookclubs...
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is well definded as the best book of 2002. This book will make you change emotions so quick you won't even realize your doing it. To me this book is very unique and special. I congradulate Daywne D. Birch on his wonderful book and i wish him the best in many more book. I look foward to reading his next sensation.