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Something She Can Feel
By GRACE OCTAVIA
DAFINA BOOKSCopyright © 2009 Grace Octavia
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJuly 7, 2007 Tuscaloosa, AL
I'd been nervous most of the morning before the wedding. Still wondering if I'd made the right decision. Evan was the only man I'd ever dated-we'd been together since the third grade. I loved him, and he loved me, and everybody loved us together. And coming from where I'm from, that was supposed to be enough to last a lifetime. Everyone, including Evan, expected us to get married right after college. But I wasn't so certain. I thought that just maybe there was more to see and do and that, well, perhaps Evan wasn't it for me. He was the perfect man. Good to me. And I loved him dearly. But something in my throat stopped me from saying, "yes." So against everyone's wishes, I made Evan wait ten years before I agreed to walk down the aisle, so I could be really sure. And I was for a while.
But when I woke up the morning of the wedding, something in my gut said that something else was missing. It was screaming and tossing inside of me like a banshee. But then my mother came to me wearing her pink bathrobe and rollers all over her head and told me this was normal. A case of the "cold feet" she'd had at her own wedding. We prayed together, both of our hands on her grandmother's Bible, and she reminded me of everything I loved about the manwho was waiting breathlessly to be my husband.
Evan had done a lot of growing since he was a pudgy-faced, yellow boy with acne and chicken legs chasing me around the town when we were kids. Once his face slimmed and testosterone thickened his muscles, every girl from our street to Birmingham was asking so-and-so for the who-and-what about Evan DeLong. By the time we began freshman year at the University of Alabama, even I had to admit that Evan was easily the most handsome boy on campus. His face had the kind of refined charm that made him the perfect escort to the cotillion, the man on whose arm you wanted to be seen. But he only wanted me-the girl who everyone said looked like his sister. My Alabamian roots drew back to the days when African slaves, Choctaw Indians, and poor white Irishmen often married, and I was a few shades lighter than Evan's sandy-colored skin. I had brown hair that was streaked the color of corn during Alabama's long, hot summers, and despite a voluptuous size 18 frame, Evan and I did look a lot alike with our perfectly nana-pinched noses and clear, light brown eyes. My mother said it was because, like her and Daddy, we were around each other too much as children.
With those memories of who Evan was and the honorable, distinguished leader he'd become, my mother assured and reassured me, laced me up in the corseted, princess-styled gown we'd shipped from Milan, patted me on the back and held my hand until I walked down the aisle, whispered "I do," and Evan slid the shiny, platinum wedding band on my finger. Even then, I turned to look to her tearful, honey-colored eyes for certainty and waited for the thought of "something else" to fade.
And then it did.
The reception was at a refurbished twenties mansion at the end of a long, winding road on the outskirts of Tuscaloosa. Evan and I'd found it one day during a "get lost" drive when we were just teenagers. After jumping out of his first car-a silver, hand-me-down Mustang-and walking around a bit, we fell in love with the stately white columns and romantic, oil-burning light fixtures that led to the front door. We dreamed of one day living in that house; however, when it went up for sale just before we got engaged, we knew we couldn't afford it-I was a music teacher and Evan had just assumed a position as superintendent of the local school system. But Evan decided we should try to have a little piece of it and he got the real estate agent to let us use the five acres in the backyard to set up a tent for our wedding reception. With weeping willows and a still lake in the background, it was the ideal Southern setting for our new beginning together. The tent was draped in cream roses and silk ties; soft white lights and candles brightened every surface.
We arrived hand in hand, sitting atop the backseat of a fire engine red, convertible, 500 Series Mercedes-Benz. My dream car. It was brand new and Evan had somehow talked Sam Meeks down at the local dealership into letting us borrow the car so we could make what he'd called our "grand entrance as husband and wife" at the reception. "A car under the tent?" I asked when Evan told me his plan.
"It'll be fabulous. Don't worry," he said with his eyes sparkling. He loved attention.
So after the "I dos" and vows, and my daddy giving his blessing, we were riding into the reception, sitting at the back of that pretty red car, and waving at 350 seated guests like we were king and queen of the prom again. Evan clutched my hand and I looked to him to see him grinning and looking at me the way he always did.
"Do you remember what I told you when you said you would marry me?" Evan asked, his hand still holding mine as we rode slowly in the car on a path through the middle of a wide ring of tables. Everyone was waving and smiling at us as the DJ called our names and played a sweet Ray Charles song my mother selected for our arrival.
"What?" I asked.
"I told you," he began as his cousin Lenny stopped the car in the middle of the circle. He turned to me and looked into my eyes softly. "-that I'd give you the world."
Before I could say anything, the DJ stopped the song and began speaking to the guests.
"Now, I know everyone's excited that our couple has joined us, but please remain seated, because the groom has something he wants to say to his new bride."
Everyone began cheering and I looked at Evan, unsure of what was going on. We'd said our vows at the church. I certainly hadn't been prepared to say anything else. The DJ rushed over and handed Evan the microphone and with his usual charisma during such happy occasions, Evan jumped up and helped me out of the car.
"Now," he said into the microphone when we were standing beside each other next to the car, "I was just reminding my wife-"
When he said "wife," all 350 of our guests began to cheer wildly and even I felt myself blushing.
"That's right ... my wife," he went on. "I was reminding my wife that when she agreed to marry me, I said I'd give her the world. If nothing, I'm a man of my word! And I intend to do just that. So, Mrs. Journey DeLong, I have something I want you to know."
"Yes," I said shyly. Evan wasn't big on surprises. He was a planner and he seldom planned anything I didn't know about.
"He's pregnant!" my younger brother, Justin, hollered and everyone laughed.
"No, that's coming though ..." Evan said playfully. "But seriously. Journey, you know that dream car you always wanted?"
"What?" I asked. "You mean-"
"Yeah, that car right there." He pointed to the pretty red car. "Well, darling, you don't need to dream about it anymore."
"What?" I shrieked this time.
A steady mix of "wow" and "ohh" came rising from the tables around us. I turned around to see my parents looking on arm in arm. My dad gave me a quick thumbs-up.
"What?" I cried in disbelief this time. "What?"
"Yes, it's yours." Evan smiled, and we hugged tightly.
"I love you so much," I whispered into his ear. "How did you-"
"Wait, y'all," Evan said into the microphone as people continued to applaud. "There's more ..."
"More?" my best friend and maid of honor, Billie, shouted. "I hope there's a car for me!"
"Are you ready for this?" Evan asked me, holding the microphone behind his back with one hand and using the other to hold me. His eyes were now intent and serious.
"What is it?"
"There's a house in front of this tent," he whispered. "Eight bedrooms, ten bathrooms, a three-car garage-"
"No-" I broke loose from his embrace and looked at him, covering my mouth with my hands.
"And a master suite with a walk-in closet," he went on, "that now has every item of your clothing inside."
"Evan," I said happily as I began to cry. "We can't ... we can't-" The indecisiveness I felt earlier was fading fast. I was Cinderella at the ball right there in that moment.
"No such thing." He placed his finger over my mouth before I could finish and handed me the microphone. "You tell them this one."
"He bought the house. He bought the house," I said, keeping my eyes on Evan. I couldn't believe it. I felt like I was living a fairy tale. And if I'd been looking for something when I woke up that morning, now I had everything. The perfect husband. The perfect house. The perfect car. What else could I ask for? Right?
Chapter TwoApril 19, 2008
For the first few months of our marriage, I was above the clouds. Somewhere out in the cosmos, starring in a novel, living every day happily ever after. I was in love with being in love and sometimes I had to remind myself of how I felt just hours before I got married. I'd look at my ring and thank God my mother was there to prop me up. Our marriage was everything Evan had promised and as we decorated our house, hosted parties, went to church, and just settled into our life, I knew for sure I'd made the right decision. Other people were fighting and some were even breaking up, but Evan seemed to only want our lives to be perfect. And it was.
With Evan's new position in the school district, our recent nuptials, the house, and the pretty red car that seemed to get attention wherever we went, Evan and I had grown into a kind of celebrity couple in Tuscaloosa. People smiled when we walked into the grocery store, sent us expensive gifts and cards during the holidays, and we were on the invite lists of every event in town. We didn't even have to save spaces at the Alabama tailgates that season; other people held them for us.
Evan, brimming with pride at the kind of stature he'd sought since we were young, relished in the attention-committed himself to memorizing the names of all the important people we'd cross paths with each day, meticulously answered each holiday card and gift with a quick thank-you note boasting a picture of us sitting beside the fireplace in our mansion, and extended his arm to lead me into rooms filled with people as we continued to make our "grand entrances." While he was often over the top, this was just Evan. He was a true Southern gentleman-strong and gallant; full of honor and always wanting to exceed expectations. At times, it seemed like to him our life was a sitcom where he played the doting husband and I was the overjoyed wife. He was never angry and seldom raised his voice. One day, I pointed out that we never talked about anything that was serious, upsetting, or confrontational. I wanted to discuss what was happening in the world, who we really were, where we were going. Big stuff that I hadn't even thought of. To challenge and be challenged. To see outside of our little world into the big world in ways that would make us love where we were from that much more. Not planning my family's annual "Roll Tide" homecoming tailgate where we'd do our screaming duet of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and what red was actually crimson and what crimson was actually red. To this, Evan grinned and, after kissing me on the forehead, said I should be happy we didn't need to argue over stuff on the nightly news. He did that all day at work and didn't want to come home to it. We were happy and safe from all of that. This was a good thing.
While I was just as excited by the idea of happiness and living a carefree life, sometimes it felt so unreal that I wanted to scream and just argue about something. Anything I could bring up. It felt childish, but I wanted to prove that we were alive and not just these perfect robots. But I always failed. I'd jab about the laundry piling up and Evan would smile and call for the housekeeper. I'd complain that we needed to spend more time together and he'd clear his calendar for the day. It was wonderful. Amazing. But as we neared our one-year anniversary, I started to feel like I was suffocating. Caught in a tumbling storm of happiness and contentment with my life that made me feel like I was more dead than alive. I felt the need for something again, and just as they had before, both my mother and Evan seemed to have their own ideas about what that something was ...
"When you gonna have a baby?" Opal Ivers, a student in my fourth-period chorus section asked abruptly one Friday as I waited to begin class. Opal was a petite, brown-skinned girl, who might have been pretty if she'd gotten braces when she was younger, but now her teeth were bucked and seemed to part comically with each passing week. The kids had a habit of teasing her, but that didn't stop Opal. She loved being the center of attention and took their laughs as encouragement.
Sitting at my desk behind the shaky piano I dared not ever use, as not one key was in tune, I frowned and dismissed the bold girl's question with my eyes, but she was reading my mind. In what had become a habit of late, Evan had hinted about a baby over breakfast just that morning. He'd pointed out that I was about to turn thirty-three that Sunday and that my own mother kept saying it was time. "My mama said a married woman got to have a baby," Opal went on. "That's why you get married in the first place. Your husband rich, too!"
"Opal," I started as the room continued to fill up with faces, "not all women want to have children ... or can. And as far as my having a baby, that's private."
While I did want children, I just wasn't sure if it was time for me to take that step in my life. Yes, like Opal and her mother had pointed out, I was married and had a wonderful husband and home, but I still had other things to figure out. That, and not to mention, there was a school full of other babies that needed my attention.
The bell rang and a few stragglers came rushing in without apologizing-as I would never have done when I was in high school. But a lot had changed since then.
Last to arrive as usual was Zenobia Hamilton, a mother and second-year sophomore whose child's father-a second-year senior-was expecting another baby this summer with Patrice, another one of my students (luckily, she was in first period). Zenobia walked into the room with an air of marked carelessness; her feet were angled at a lazy ninety degrees and her lips were turned under into a nasty frown. Her short hair was undone and standing all over her head as if she'd just rolled out of the bed and onto the school bus.
"Ms. Hamilton," I said, signaling for her to come to my desk. I unbuttoned my suit jacket and slid it onto the chair behind me.
"Ummm-hum?" She was trying her best to communicate attitude in her voice. She rolled her eyes and balanced her weight on one of her ducked feet. This kind of unnecessary and unwarranted anger so early in the day used to perplex me eight years ago when I started teaching at Black Warrior, but now I'd figured out that mistreating me and mistreating their education, which for most of the students in the poorest school in the county pretty much made up the only structure they had in their day, was simply how they dealt with the emotional minefields that had been titled their life. Zenobia knew she was wrong for most of the things she did, but being bad and stepping out of line was the only thing she thought she could control. If I was fifteen, poor, and had a child with a high school student who was now expecting another baby with my classmate, I might be duck-walking and rolling my eyes, too.
"First, it's, 'Yes, Mrs. DeLong-'"
"Yes, Mrs. DeLong," she said under her breath, repeating my words with no trace of sincerity.
"And second, what's wrong with your hair?"
"I ain't felt like combing it today."
"But you knew you had to come to school, didn't you?"
"Yeah, but my mama took my braids out last night and then my auntie ain't come over to braid it."
"Personal situation aside-what's the rule about hair grooming at the school?" I asked. The classroom grew quieter with each exchange. I didn't want to embarrass her, but the hair was really standing up high and now that she'd mentioned that she'd just taken out braids, I noticed that it hadn't been combed out and drifts of dandruff cradled her balding edges.
"I know the rule. We can't come to school without our hair combed."
"You know I have to send you to the office."
"It ain't my fault," she said. "I told my mama my auntie wasn't coming. She took my mama's money and went to smoke it."
It seemed every student knew what she was talking about-some had drug addictions of their own-and it was no longer a hidden Southern secret, not something these children felt they should be ashamed of. Zenobia hadn't lowered her voice.
"Ms. Hamilton," I whispered, leading her to the door. "I can't allow you to sit in my classroom with your hair like that."
Excerpted from Something She Can Feel by GRACE OCTAVIA Copyright © 2009 by Grace Octavia. Excerpted by permission.
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