Archive for January, 2013

Jade Image

“Jade, I done told you to get up out of that chair and go to the store,” said Mama way beyond mad and holding in her hand an empty container of baby formula. She stood there with disbelief in her 50 year old eyes, as I continued clipping photos from a travel magazine I had retrieved from the “free bin” at the library while enjoying my chocolate snack pudding cup. I was getting slow at jumping to her beck and call. I was tired.
“Hey, a girl gotta live her life don’t she?” I said under my breath. I loved traveling the world and eating in exotic foreign restaurants. Even if it was through extensive scrap booking and fanciful daydreams. I didn’t aspire to be the next Cover Girl, but I was big, black, beautiful and nothing was gonna keep me from going to the furthest corners of the world.
“This child can’t wait one more minute for you to finish with that foolishness girl. You really need to grow up!” Mama breathed fire. “By your age I already had three mouths to feed.” With a whimpering and hungry baby hung on her hip she was a little worn. But, Mama was rarely happy anymore anyway. The days of happiness and fun ended when mama saved my six month old niece, Aleeya, from foster care.
“I told you I’m going,” I said in the retaliatory tone that came so willingly from my tongue lately. For all the work I was doing I never felt less appreciated. Run to the store, heat a bottle, change a diaper, mow the lawn, do the dishes, respond to the crying child at three o’clock in the morning; on-and-on it went. Without looking up I knew I was one step away from a serious tongue lashing. The electricity in the air was thick and if her breathing was any indication of just how close I was to doom I thought better of saying what was on my mind, “You wanted the baby. How about you go?”
“I’m sorry,” I said instead, with my eyes averted so she couldn’t see just how disgusted I was feeling. I sat the scissors down and used my fingers to clean the bottom of the pudding cup, then licked my fingers clean. I reached for my tattered hand-me-down flats that were laying next to my chair. While slipping on my shoes I asked, “How much money is in the account?”
“The check came Boo,” she said wild-eyed, in disbelief. “You think I’m going to send you to the store with no money in the account?” Her lips were quivering and she was perspiring, “And leave that funky mood in the streets before you get back.” Aleeya started to wail. I grabbed my jacket and purse and left without looking back.
As I walked down the numerous steps of our old Victorian rental, each individual step rendered an account of its age with creaks and groans beneath mv feet. I was thankful that almost everything was within walking distance in this lame town. Mama and I didn’t drive. It was all about walking. The only bus that came through this town was the one that took people to utopia.
I reached into my purse, pulled out my iPod, and put the buds in my ears. The distraction of some funky music was a staple in my life. As I walked along I thought about how much life had changed over the past few months. My 13 year-old niece had given birth to Aleeya, and lost her to the authorities. When Mama caught wind of the situation she had jumped into action. “No great-grandchild of mine is going to be raised by strangers,” she vowed. To some degree I think Mama was trying to make up for what she hadn’t done for her children. For years she had played slave to drugs and alcohol. My oldest sister had once told me, “You got it good. Mama ain’t who she used to be.” I was by far the youngest sibling, and maybe I didn’t endure what they had, but I knew without a doubt that this was not the good life my sister alluded to.
Only one block to go. I was almost there. The smell of Burger King french fries invaded my nostrils. I wanted so badly to stop and get some, but decided not to since I hadn’t asked first. As I approached the market I knew it would be a feat to walk past the magazine rack at the entrance and not stop to look at the latest edition of Travel and Leisure, so I planned my venture into the store carefully. I couldn’t stop anywhere with a starving child singing the blues back at the house. As I entered I took a deep breath and purposefully looked in the opposite direction. Then I exhaled and headed to the formula.
The check-out lane was unusually long. It made me think about just how unlikely it would be for Mama to smile when I walked back through the door with the liquid gold. I would give anything for one of her smiles. I glanced to the front of the lane. “Dang!” I must have said out loud, as the guy in front of me turned around with a curious look on his face. There at the front of the lane was an old woman writing out a check for her purchase. People still write checks? I thought to myself. The story of my life.
At last. The checker scanned the formula as I consecutively slid the debit card, and then said with a less than sincere smile, “Your balance due is $1.99.” It took me a second to realize she was asking me for money. Surprised, I stood there for second not sure what to do. I started rummaging through the bottom of my purse for change, knowing there wasn’t any more than a handful of pennies.
Feeling humiliated I stammered, “Le-le-let me see what I can find.” I placed five pennies and one nickel on the counter and continued to search, hoping for a miracle. I felt like fainting.
“You still owe $1.89,” she said with raised eyebrows.
“Are you sure there isn’t more money on the card?” I asked mortified.
“Slide it again,” she said in a bored tone.
A male voice behind me said, “Here. I got it.” And he placed two, one dollar bills on the counter.
I turned around, “Thank you sir.” He was a handsome old man with a gray beard and ponytail. I wanted to cry in appreciation of his kindness.
“It’s okay,” he said kindly. “You better go feed your baby.”
I said thank you again, and almost ran from the store. I didn’t have a baby. Thank God.

As I approached the house I could hear Aleeya howling at the top of her lungs. The front door and screen were wide open. I ran up the steps and into the house. “Mama?” I called out. Aleeya was in her crib with tear-drenched eyes. I picked her up and headed to the kitchen to make a bottle. I called out again, “Mama, I’m back!”

Sitting on the kitchen table was a hypodermic needle and a small crumpled, empty brown paper bag.

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Posted: January 19, 2013 in Life
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As I sat squished on the Bart train between a young black too-young-to be-pregnant teenager, and a middle-aged, tattoo-laden blue collar worker with a toothpick danglingCashmere from his mouth, I pondered my current affairs. After looking for work for over one year I had finally landed an interview for the job of my dreams. The economy had been playing hardball with my pocketbook and I was on the verge of losing the only thing I had left to my soon to be changed name – my home. If I didn’t land this job my house would go into foreclosure for sure. I only had enough funds left in the bank to make another two payments at best, with perhaps a few cents to spare. At least my divorce had left me with something over and above the heartache of being married to a man who had decided to become gay after 25 years of marriage, and the birth of our beautiful daughter. Thankfully she was old enough to understand she wasn’t the one to blame.

The train groaned to a stop and allowed another large group of commuters to join the mosh pit. A young Mexican guy talking on his cell phone snuggled his way into my personal space by grabbing the rail above my seat and stood so close I could see that the thread on his third button was the wrong shade of blue. The doors closed and the train took off so fast nearly everyone standing went over like bowling pins at a U.S. Open Championship. Grumbles and resounding expletives filled the air along with a sudden and very sharp elbow to my ribs. For a moment I couldn’t breathe, but as my head spun around to the source, I was met with the face of a woman in intense labor whose chocolate-colored face had beads of sweat gathering around her quivering lips. The screech she then emitted left no doubt to the matter – she was in active labor.
I turned to the two men closest to me and shouted, “Would one of you please pull the dammed emergency cord?” They looked shocked. The one on the phone continued to make plans for what sounded like a hot date, and pointed at his phone. The tattooed dude said, “Yeah, like I can move lady.” The girl grabbed my hand and squeezed it so hard I was certain I would never use it again. Just then warm water flooded our seat and splashed Valentino’s $200.00 basketball shoes. “Oh, my god!” he yelled. The shock of his shoes being baptized by less than holy water caused him to lose grip on his cell phone which landed in the puddle at his feet. The look on his face was priceless.  An observer with a heart and common sense pulled the emergency cord and dialed 911 on their cell phone, which had been handed to me via tattoo guy, “Tomorrow is my birthday and I never knew my mother,” he said with tears welling in his eye. “I was deserted at birth.”
“Hello,” I said to the emergency operator.
“I understand you are sitting next to a woman in labor,” she said in a perfunctory manner. “I will stay with you on the phone until the EMTs arrive at the next stop. Okay?”
“Yes,” I responded. Just then another scream along with a motion which caused me to believe she had begun pushing. “No, don’t push,” I said in a panic. “Please breath. Just breath. Don’t push!” I mimicked the exaggerated breathing technique I had learned in Lamaze twenty years earlier and begged her not to give birth, hoping it would delay her bodies response to do just that.
“Are you still on the line with me?” said the operator.
“Yes, and she’s pushing!” I responded in a panic.
“Make room for her to lie down,” the operator said in an urgent tone. “And, make her as comfortable as possible.” As she spoke these words I pushed my buddies into the gawking crowd and gently moved her into a more comfortable position. The movement brought on another groan, push and blood curdling scream. I stripped my cashmere sweater from my body and placed it under her bottom. As I did so I saw that the baby was already coming.
“It’s okay little mama,” I whispered loudly not so much to her as myself. “We are having a baby.”
I felt the train’s brakes being applied. We were coming to a stop, but not soon enough. She gave another push and we had a healthy newborn child. I gently grasped and wrapped the baby girl in the soft sweater and handed her to the new mama just as the train came to a complete stop and the doors opened. Everyone clapped and spoke congratulatory words.
The new mama smiled up at me and said, “Thank you.” She fondled her newborn child in her arms and smoothed the sweater with a gleam in her eye. “Her name is Cashmere.”

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