PILLARS OF REGRET (A SHORT STORY)

**I wrote this about 15 years ago originally. I came across it today and decided to post it.

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A Pillar of Regret

by P.L. Caesar

They met for lunch at a popular café in the middle of town. He’d picked the place because it was centrally located and would be easy for both of them to get to from their respective parts of town. It was a cold, blustery day, and though the calendar said it was spring, Mother Nature hadn’t gotten the memo. Snow flurries whirred through the cold crisp air and the gusty wind blew people along the street faster than their feet could carry them. He got there first, and was surprised that she was not inside. He knew she’d gotten there before him because she’d called to tell him so and to see how long he’d be. He told her he was five minutes behind her, and then asked, “so, are you excited? About seeing me?” That question took her aback. She was looking forward to seeing him, but excited wasn’t exactly how she felt about it. But she didn’t want him to think she was not looking forward to lunch so she said, “I’m very much looking forward to lunch.”

He paused. “You’re not excited?”

“I didn’t say that,” she responded, laughing. She lied a little. “Yes, I’m excited.”

He knew she wasn’t, and now felt silly that he was. “I’ll see you soon.”

He had the hostess seat him near the rear of the restaurant, with his back against the wall, gangster style. He wanted to be able to see everyone who came and went. Scanning the restaurant one more time to confirm that she wasn’t there, he called her and said, “where are you?”

“I’m right outside, on my cell phone. I apologize. I got a call that I had to take. Where are you?”

“Inside the restaurant. I don’t know how I missed you.”
“Me either. But let me wrap this up and I’ll be right in.”

He folded his phone shut and closed his eyes. When he opened them, she was there, almost as if by magic, standing near the entrance. She was looking right at him but seemed not to recognize him. But he recognized her immediately. She was very fashionably dressed and for a moment he considered his very casual appearance. She only recognized him by the familiar way he looked at her. She didn’t notice what he had on, but she felt the warmth from his eyes reaching out to her and drawing her closer.

She walked over to where he sat. He stood to greet her. He’d planned to hug her but something in her demeanor prevented it. There wasn’t exactly a wall between them…it was more like a veil. He knew instinctively that he wasn’t supposed to lift it. She wasn’t accessible to him at this moment. She’d always been kind of mysterious, difficult to read, like a walking breathing Mona Lisa. She knew he’d planned to hug her and was glad he restrained the urge. She was still trying to decide how she felt about having lunch with him, and her defenses were on alert.

“Hey you,” she said softly to him as she took a seat. He sat down as well.

“Hello Sarah Jones,” he said in a formal tone that made her smile. The waitress trailed behind her, greeting them and offering menus, departing after taking their drink orders. ‘In The Air Tonight’ by Phil Collins began to play over the loudspeakers.

“Oh my goodness,” she said. “Do you remember this song?”

“Yeah I do. This is all they play here…eighties music.”

“Oh this is going to be funny. I get to hear all the music that was out when we were dating.”

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He nodded, and she began to sing, horribly off key. Her head bounced vigorously, and she was oblivious to the stares she got from the tables nearby. But the patrons seemed to approve of her outburst, for they began smiling and bobbing their heads along with her.

“It’s so good to see you,” she said as David Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ replaced Mr. Collins.

“It’s good to see you too. It’s been much too long, and it’s mostly my fault.”

“We should have done this sooner. But I know you’re so busy, and I’ve been kind of busy myself.”

They smiled at each other and looked directly into each other’s eyes, over twenty years of familiarity steadying their gazes. He studied her face, and reached over to touch her cheek. “You know, I still see the same shy little girl I remember from years ago. I really do. Still shy and beautiful with the bright sexy eyes.”

She blushed. “I wasn’t that little when we met. I was what, fifteen? Sixteen? And I am the same shy person. I tell people that all the time. Just because I’m in the public eye a bit doesn’t mean I can’t be shy.” She grew redder and redder with each word she spoke, and was positively crimson by the time she was done. He was touched to see he could still make her blush, remembering how much he liked to see her cheeks become ruddy as a result of his compliments.

He removed his hand from her face. “I guess I just thought you’d be…different.”

“I am.”

“Maybe I don’t see it. You look the same. Except the hair. But you have the same face, the same eyes.”

“A lot of the changes in me aren’t things you’d necessarily see with the naked eye.”

“Things I wouldn’t be aware of in public, huh?”

She shook her head, trying to ward away the suggestiveness of the comment. Her voice was tinged with excessive firmness as she said, “no.”

There was a pause as the waitress brought their drinks, then took their orders…a large crab dip appetizer for them to share, shrimp salad sandwich and baked potato for her, honey roasted chicken, wild rice and a salad for him. Bowie was replaced by The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’, and she began to sing again. He touched the naked ring finger of his left hand and sighed. He hadn’t worn it in years, in spite of his wife’s protests. It was the only sign of resentment that he’d consistently held on to regarding his marriage; he’d worn the ring on his wedding day, and promptly put it away in a lockbox when they returned from City Hall.

It would have been normal for two old friends who had been apart for so long to ask about spouses, kids, pets, and careers. They didn’t have to do this because they both already knew all the answers to those questions. They had never totally severed the cord between each other, both quietly keeping track of each other, each making discreet inquiries of mutual friends from time to time on the status of the other. He was still married with five kids. She had never married, but had one child who was mildly autistic. Both had lost a child. Her son had been one of twin boys and the other died in utero; he had lost an infant son to SIDS many years ago. He had become a state trooper, eventually finding his way to college to major in computer science, with an emphasis on computer security issues. He combined his law enforcement experience and his degree to start his own successful security business, doing everything from installing sophisticated alarm systems to investigating identity theft to providing bodyguards and personal protection for athletes, celebrities and events. She had attended several colleges, finally earning a degree in English. She’d been a part-time graphic designer, then worked at a dot com that folded. She cobbled together an existence for herself and her son with a hodgepodge of part-time jobs while continuing to live with her parents for a long span of time. She finally got her own apartment in a two-story walkup in a suspicious neighborhood that he arranged to have patrolled without her knowledge until she moved into a nicer place. Since she was a single mom and her son was disabled she was able to collect Supplemental Security Income for him, and she got food stamps and a small cash assistance check. She dated sporadically, and never very seriously. In the midst of all of this she was always pursuing her writing as if possessed, and little by little managed to have some success. Her first big break was landing a fairly steady spot a contributing writer for the local alternative weekly newspaper. Now she was on staff at the paper with her own column, she covered the arts scene in the area, and she had recently published her first novel that was generating good buzz. He’d been shot once and was severely injured, almost fatally so. Her son’s pregnancy had been a high risk one for her and nearly killed her. He’d gained almost eighty pounds since he last saw her, but tried to keep it under control by going to the gym as often as his schedule would permit. She had maybe gained thirty, and her formerly slim curves had become more voluptuous. She’d grown her hair long and it hung down her back now. He’d been shaving his head bald for years. Her eyes and lips were exactly as they were in 1983, and this caused his mind to wander to a sensual place briefly. She noticed that he was larger and had developed strong bulging biceps. She admired the perfect round symmetry of his head. But neither said a word about any of this…they just continued smiling at each other, he quietly and insistently, she continuing to sing as she stared.

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As the music faded he said, “you actually remember the words to this stuff! You’re really are stuck in the eighties, aren’t you?”

“I think you’re stuck in the eighties too, which is why we’re having lunch today.”

Spandeau Ballet’s ‘True’ was next up on the play list. He said, “I have always loved that about you. The way you express yourself. So open and honest.”

“One of us has to do it. You were always so secretive.”

“I wasn’t secretive…”

As the words left his lips he watched them register in her eyes, and watched the veil transform into a wall. The last comment was a lie, and he regretted it instantly.

The last time he saw Sarah before today was the day she rang his doorbell and his very new wife had answered the door. She had not known he had married. Almost six months previously he and Sarah had gotten into a huge argument…the worst they’d ever had. He couldn’t even remember how the argument started now, but he remembered the noise and the emotions running so high in his tiny apartment that the walls began to vibrate. He remembered her leaving, saying she never wanted to see him again. He remembered going to his friend Ricky’s place to talk to him about what happened, and that his sister Denise was there. He’d dated Denise at one time. He remembered the gold tequila clearly, but only vaguely remembered the night he spent in Denise’s bed calling Sarah’s name. He remembered finding out Denise was pregnant seven weeks later from Ricky. Denise refused to abort the baby. He remembered feeling set up. He couldn’t remember if he’d used a condom or not because of the tequila. He never contacted Sarah to explain. He didn’t see the point.

On that day when he heard Sarah’s voice at the door, asking for him, he rushed from the back of the apartment just as Denise said, “sweetheart, who is this woman? Is she a friend of yours?” He arrived in the doorway just in time to see Sarah’s face crumble to the ground as she took in the simple gold band and the ample growing belly in Denise’s possession. Sarah jumped into her Chevy Nova and drove blindly down the street. He’d jumped into his 280Z and caught up to her quickly. He waved his arms at her, trying to get her to pull over so they could talk. They drove down the road like this for several blocks until she suddenly turned off, the heavy traffic preventing him from changing lanes quickly enough to catch her.

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He’d sworn off impulsiveness the minute he said, “I do”, and as he drove the few short blocks back to the apartment he cursed at himself for allowing Sarah to make him forget his word to Denise and their unborn child so quickly. Mentally firming his resolve, he returned to his home and his new family, ending his youth as he shut the door behind him. Since that day he slavishly devoted his life to being a column of strength to his family, a rock of stability to the brood that grew by leaps and bounds over the years that followed. Even in his work he made people feel secure, protected, and safe. He was intensely committed to his life decision most of the time. Denise to her credit seemed determined to repay him for the trickery she employed to snare him by giving him a good life in every way she could. She actually turned out to be a pretty good wife, a good money manager, and an excellent mother. If he had known about the good qualities she possessed before he might have fallen in love with her on his own. He often thought it was a shame that Denise never knew how wonderful she truly was and thought she had to manipulate people to get what she wanted. That was the one thing he had never been able to fully digest about her even though they had been married close to twenty years.

He grabbed Sarah’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m sorry Sarah.”

She squeezed back. “I know you are.”

“I’ve always been sorry about how badly I treated you…”

“I know.”

“I always wanted to tell you that I never meant to make you feel like you didn’t matter. Because you did. You were always special to me. I cared for you deeply, and…”

She cut him off. “It took a long time for me to understand how you could…why you could…but it was so long ago. We were both young and you were trying to do the right thing. I definitely understand that now. I admire your high level of commitment.” He squeezed her hand again, and the ghosts of their past officially joined them at the table. Then she suddenly blurted out, “science!”

She began to bob her head again, and repeated the word. He finally caught on. Thomas Dolby’s ‘She Blinded Me With Science’ was playing now. It had been one of his favorites too, so he joined her in singing. He stumbled over many of the words, but she remembered every one and laughed at his memory lapses. Music was how she remembered things, especially him. They were transported back in time to days when he’d visit her and she’d play this music and dance for him, him sitting in her living room as she pranced around in her skintight Calvin Klein jeans and her pink Izod polo shirt, grabbing him by the hands, encouraging him to dance with her, ignoring his pleas that she stop. He remembered taking her to see ‘Pretty In Pink’, ‘The Breakfast Club’, and ‘Sixteen Candles’ to satisfy her obsession with Molly Ringwald. He was always trying to talk her out of dying her hair flaming red. She suddenly recalled his favorite faded sky blue Ocean Pacific corduroy shorts for some reason. Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ was next up as the waitress brought the crab dip appetizer. They grabbed crusty bits of the warm baguettes and began dipping. She dipped and blew on hers and he admired the O shape her lips formed. He was hungry and hurriedly dipped and tried to eat, but the hot dip burned his mouth. He dropped the bread and she laughed. She picked up a fresh piece of baguette and dipped it in the crab, blowing on it to cool it and passing it to him. Instead of taking it with his hands, he opened his mouth slightly, and she placed it in, smiling. Feeling impulsive for the first time in decades, he grabbed her hand and licked the bit of dip that had escaped the baguette off her fingers. The people at the tables around them smiled approvingly, imagining them to be lovers. But she froze the minute his tongue made contact with her flesh, and she pulled her hand from him as gently as she could. She knew she’d started it so she couldn’t be angry, but she hadn’t expected him to cross the line so readily and eagerly. A strand of her hair fell over her shoulder and he reached over to push it back. She pushed it back herself before he had a chance.

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She spoke, breaking the spell. “I hope you didn’t bring me here just to apologize,” she said sincerely. “I do appreciate the gesture, but it really wasn’t necessary. We could have talked about this over the phone. Or you could have e-mailed or IM’d me.”

“You didn’t want to see me,” he asked playfully.

“Well, no, its not that.”

“Does it hurt to see me?’

“It stung at first. But only a little. Does it hurt to see me?”

He swallowed a large sip of his soda. “I’m very glad to see you. And I’m very proud of you too.”

“Why proud?”

“Because you did what you set out to do. I respect you a lot Sarah. Very few people in this world do what they say they’re going to do. People have dreams, goals, wishes, talents…and life gets hold of them and they never do what they really want. They use all kinds of excuses, and just spend years dreaming and not doing. But you found a way to make your dreams real. You always said you’d be a writer, and you are. You have no idea how much I respect that.”

She was blushing again. “I respect you too.”

He was surprised at that. “Why?”

“Because you are a responsible person. As much as what happened back then hurt at the time, I do admire what you did. You could have easily abandoned the situation, but you didn’t. You recognized what was important to you…giving your child a two-parent home, a stable home. You knew you wanted to raise your children every day of their lives, and did what you had to do to make it so.”

“You don’t think you’re a responsible person?”

She began to scrape dip from the bottom of the serving bowl. They had gone through it pretty quickly. “I’m not entirely sure. The choices I’ve made in my life haven’t always led to…stability. Even after I had my son. I just wanted to write so badly…I was so driven, just consumed by it. I guess once you and I…well, I became kind of self absorbed, just wanted to do what I wanted to do, make myself happy. Other than that all I thought about was writing, being successful at writing. I should have just pursued a nine to five, a normal career. All those years on welfare while I was trying to get stuff off the ground, only taking part-time jobs, buying groceries with food stamps, living off my son’s SSI money, when I knew I could have just gotten a decent job and taken proper care of him…”

He felt compelled to interrupt her. “You are a great mother. Especially considering the extra hardships with his autism. I can only imagine how you got through it all alone. But you had a dream, and you didn’t let your circumstances stop you. Look at all you have to show for it now.”

“Sure…now I have a little something. But there were lots of times, especially when Noah was younger that there wasn’t a lot in my life. I couldn’t give him things. We lived with my parents for what seemed like forever, and then a shabby apartment after that in a really bad neighborhood. Even now, though things are better, the rug could get pulled out from under me any time. After all, it’s just me. I don’t have anyone else to lean on really. My art is supporting my son and me. There’s not a lot of stability in that. That’s pretty scary sometimes. Sometimes I wish I’d taken a more traditional road like you did. You have a great life…nice truck, charge cards, beautiful home that you actually own, a life partner, decent credit…” she chuckled and he joined her as she continued. “I have this pseudo-bohemian lifestyle, a rented duplex, a used car in desperate need of some work…”

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“You did what you wanted to do Sarah.”

“But you did what was right.”

“We still ended up in the same place though, huh?”

They both paused at that fork in the conversation. The sounds of Toto’s ‘Rosanna’ felt into the quiet.

“This was one of my favorite albums,” she said in a low voice, almost to herself.

“Yeah. Mine too.”

They listened to the yearning, mournful lyrics of their youth as the waitress brought out their food. Sarah’s head was bowed. She was saying grace. He joined her, lowering his head. When he heard her murmur ‘Amen’, he looked up at her. She smiled, and picked up her sandwich. He grabbed his utensils and began to slice his chicken.

They were both ready for their food so talk was temporarily suspended so they could eat. The silence that fell between them was comfortable this time because they had something to do. Toto gave way to Hall & Oates’ ‘One On One’. She vented her feelings by singing bits of lyrics between bites of food, and finally acknowledged the look on his face by saying, “is the nostalgia bothering you?”

He wanted to be truthful this time. “It’s hard sometimes, looking at the path in life you didn’t take.” There was a shift in the air around them. The veil was lifting now, and he knew it was because he was finally being completely honest.

She nodded as she chewed and swallowed. “That’s one of the hardest things to acknowledge about life. You can’t travel every road. Ultimately you only travel one, and hope for the best. But I guess hearing this music and being in your company today…it does sort of give us a chance to peek at the road not taken. I love Robert Frost. That’s one of the most beautiful poems in the history of words.”

He signed. “You’ve just seem so…free to me. I wish I were. I was afraid to be. I was afraid of what I might become if I was left to my own devices. As much as I cared about you, in the end I still didn’t do right by you even though I wanted to. And I never wanted to be responsible for hurting another woman like I hurt you. So I did what I thought was right. You did what you wanted to do, and your life still came out okay.”

“And you seem so…stable to me. Believe me, I wish I could be. But I know I’m selfish. I felt like I deserved it after what happened between us. I gave myself to you and …well…I just started being all about myself after that. Plus I was afraid I’d have all these regrets and longings if I didn’t give in completely to the desires of my heart, especially once I started writing. You did what was honorable. And guess what…your life still came out okay too.”

Not that honorable, he thought to himself. He had cheated on his wife during the early years when he still was rebelling against his choices a little bit. They went to marriage counseling and things were better after that. He had been dodging memories of his sex life with Sarah since she’d sat down at the table, but suddenly he felt too tired to run. Prince’s ‘Little Red Corvette’ joined in, providing an appropriate soundtrack for his thoughts.

Back then they spent a lot of time in his car, exploring each other. To this day he got an erection whenever he saw a pint of Hagan Daaz Vanilla ice cream because of one of their escapades. Once he got his own place they would often forgo dating and just wile away the hours in bed. Occasionally she seemed sad and withdrawn after they would be together, and it troubled him. He wanted to please her more than anything, and did everything his relatively inexperienced mind could think of back then to please her. He often wondered if she had orgasms with him, but was too embarrassed to ask.

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“Why did you look sad sometimes after we made love,” he asked, almost to himself. Then louder, speaking more directly to her, “I mean, it wasn’t all the time. A lot of the time you didn’t but…sometimes you did.”

She met him head on. “Because sometimes I didn’t think you loved me. I thought you just liked having sex with me.”

“That wasn’t true at all. Sometimes I felt like I couldn’t make you happy in bed. And you always made me feel so good.” He could still remember how every inch of her felt on him, next to him, under him, beside him, around him, over him, invading him from the inside out and the outside in, microscopic bits of her spirit clinging to his life…her eyes, her lips, her tongue, her hands, her legs, her feet. In all the years of marriage he hardly ever slept with his wife without thinking of Sarah. Sarah had learned not to think of him while being intimate with others, and left her memories of him for times when she pleasured herself.

She thought back to those days. She was still learning to be comfortable with her sexuality when they began being intimate. She was not at all experienced, and since he was older, she imagined he’d been with a lot of women and that she wasn’t measuring up. (She was too afraid to ask.) Sometimes felt like she wasn’t satisfying him. She feared that their closeness in the bedroom was what mattered most to him. Young women always worried about that kind of thing…trying to balance their desire to be respectable with their need for physical intimacy, and she was no different. It was a hard dance to do back then, and she never quite got the hang of it while they were together. But in spite of her insecurities, most times being with him gave her so much pleasure she felt compelled to hide it. And still did to some extent.

He had to laugh when he recognized the first few notes of Madonna’s ‘Like A Virgin’. He saw her face light up and he said, “they’re playing your girl.”

“I know they are,” Sarah said.

“I can still see you with all that clunky plastic jewelry on…the beads and bracelets and lace headbands and gloves. I could hear you coming a mile away with all that clanking racket.”

“I wasn’t that bad.”

“Yeah you were. Remember the “Boy Toy” belt your mom wouldn’t let you buy?”

“Oh gosh, now I do since you mention it! I was so mad about that at the time.”

“And you lip synched this song at the talent show. Remember that weekend?”

She laughed hysterically, recalling herself eighteen years younger and fifty pounds lighter, clad in a skimpy white dress with a bustier top, writhing around on the floor onstage at the local community college.

“Where did you get that dress?” he asked. “It was pretty hot if I recall. I can still see it now just as clearly.” He became lost in the memory, and, finding it impossible to resist, she joined him. They smiled dreamily as Madonna sang, and he remarked softly, “you looked so good that night, I didn’t want to ever let you go.”

After the talent show (she’d won first prize), the two of them had gone out dancing, then to an all-night diner to eat, and finally they had collapsed in his bed. He wanted to undress her slowly and seductively this night, and he began working at getting her out of the outfit. The bustier part of the dress had at least a hundred hooks and eyes. He struggled mightily to get them open, trying to contain his longing for her and make his fingers work all at once. She began to help him after laughing at his struggles. Those moments were highly erotic for both of them, her helping him reveal herself, his fingers pressing against her here and there, together exposing her soft skin to his touch little by little, sharing in the quest to make themselves naked to each other. Just when he could take it no longer the last hook released and her breasts came fully into view. She unbuttoned his shirt slowly as he undid the buttons at his cuffs. The rest of the weekend they spent so enmeshed it was impossible to determine where she ended and where he began.

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She’d finished her food and he was nearly done. Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ was on. The waitress brought them back into the present by coming to the table and asking if they wanted to see dessert menus. He looked inquisitively at her and she shook her head. He was torn, trying to decide if he wanted to extend their lunch, and decided he did. He asked to see the dessert menu.

She looked at her watch. “Are you sure you have time for this?

He looked at his watch. “Well, I’m going to make time for it today. Who knows when we’ll get together again? Plus the carrot cake here is excellent.”

“I thought maybe you were working up the nerve to proposition me. But since this is just about carrot cake, I’d love a piece.”

He had to laugh as he ordered two slices of cake. Once the waitress left he beckoned to Sarah. Their heads came closer together over the small table and he whispered to her, “you look really beautiful today.”

“Thank you.”

“There have been times when I’ve really missed you. Sometimes I’d go months and years and not think about you at all. Especially at first. Then, as I got older, something might happen that would make me look at my life, at what I’ve done with it and the first thing I’d always do is think of you. And then I’d think of you all day every day for weeks.”

She silently took in the weight of his admission.

He tried to finish his thoughts. “I know I can’t really offer you…anything now. At least half of my life has gone by, and you weren’t there to witness it.” He took a deep breath. “But I…I’ve missed…”

The look on her face stopped him.

It was the first really uncomfortable pause of the day between them. Her heart began to faintly ache. She chose her words carefully.

“Seeing you here today does make me look at my life and consider…other options I had. Maybe I shouldn’t have run off that day.”

“Maybe I should have caught up to you.”

“Maybe I should have written you a letter…”

“Maybe I should have followed you to your house.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have argued with you, and walked out that night…”

“Maybe I should have told you before I did it. Maybe I shouldn’t have ma…”

But Sarah cut him off. “Don’t say that. Don’t ever say that.”

“Why not? Why can’t I say it?”

She sighed. He sighed too. ‘She Drives Me Crazy’ by The Fine Young Cannibals started coming through the speakers.

They both thought about how funny life was. It truly was a circle, and you eventually stood at every point in that circle, your perspective always rotating and changing as you learned about yourself, about others, about love, about sacrifice. The waitress brought over their carrot cake.

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“Its funny to see you so willing to…throw caution to the wind,” she said thoughtfully.

“It’s funny to see you so unwilling to.”

They both laughed, somewhat nervously and a bit regretfully. No matter what you did, time had its way with you like an inconsiderate lover – it was only the manner in which it had its way that differed for each and every person.

Simultaneously, they picked up their forks and began to eat their cake. It was delicious, freshly made, chock full of bits of carrot and walnut, moist and covered with sweet sticky cream cheese icing. They both used their fingers to wipe frosting from their plates once the slices were gone, and laughed at each other. They each ordered a piece to go. She finally hugged him as they waited for the waitress to wrap the desserts, and they held on tight for a long moment to fully create the memory, making sure they would remember the feeling. They left the restaurant arm in arm. They were parked at opposite ends of the block, and turned to face each other, kissing gently and warmly on the lips. The gusts of cold wind became spring-like as their mouths touched. For ten seconds it was 1983 again. But as quickly as it came, it left. Like soldiers going off to war, they squared their shoulders, turned their backs to each other and marched off in opposite directions, each taking something sweet with them as they went. Both were afraid to glance back lest they turn into pillars of regret.

(VIDEO): IN CASE YOU MISSED IT — BRAND NUBIAN AT THE BAMBOU

Video by Reuben Dubscience Greene

Check out Brand Nubian’s recent performance in Baltimore at The Bambou courtesy of Speakerbox Magazine’s own Reuben “Dubscience” Greene.

 

THE LIGHT – A SHORT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE STORY

light 1The thing I remember most about my ex-fiance hitting me (strangely enough) is the light. Or, as I officially refer to it, “The Light”.

RVB de baseThat’s not to say I don’t remember other things. I remember him yelling at me. I remember him calling me names, using all the things he knew about my weaknesses against me, to tear me down and make me feel small. I remember feeling ill-equipped to deal with these things. I grew up in a home where voices were NEVER raised, where I was never physically disciplined at all for any reason. I was totally unfamiliar with this kind of rage, with this kind of fear, with this kind of harsh and violent response to anything. I had not been taught to fight as a child – I never had to. I never had to protect myself from anything or anyone – at least not my close loved ones. So when he cursed and yelled and accused me of all sorts of things I hadn’t done, it was like a foreign language to me. But his raised fist crashing down on my face always broke through the language barrier.

And that was always when The Light came.

light 3It was a tremendous flash of the brightest light that would come as I squeezed my eyes tightly just before he would strike me. Just as the force of the blow took place, the burst of brilliance would leap from my brain and explode in front of the insides of my eyelids. It was as if the impact of him hitting me was a light switch, and just as my eyelids pressed themselves as tightly together as they could, The Light flooded in. It was a thousand times brighter than any lightning I had ever seen, much brighter than any spotlight or any explosion or anything I had ever seen or heard about. Sometimes the burst would be full of bright colors like some kind of discordant rainbow that had gone horribly astray, but when he hit me the hardest it was always sharp super-white bright light. And he always made a point to hit me hard, so usually the bright white light was what I saw when I shut my eyes. In fact I could shut my eyes so tightly even tears couldn’t escape them, and I could see the light through the tears trapped inside my eyelids, and the tears seemed to magnify The Light, and it would seem to grow bigger and brighter, and it seemed to move towards me as if it was trying to swallow me whole.light 5

The Light was how I knew he’d hit me. It was never the pain that immediately followed, or the blood that would begin pouring from whatever wounds he inflicted. It was the light. The light was what frightened me. Because I knew on the other side of The Light was pain, and hurt, and bruises, and swelling and lies about what had happened to me. Sometimes if he’d hit me hard enough The Light would seem like it was leading to me the other side of some great divide, almost as if I was dying and heading towards Heaven. But I never died, ever. At least not permanently. The Light never took me away from the horrors being inflicted on me. The Light never freed me from my hurt. It just illuminated it, and made me fearful and afraid and unwilling to even try to defend myself by fighting back.

light 4 with person

As the abuse continued, I found that bright light to be what I was most afraid of. The Light was what I wanted to keep away from me. When I would cry out, it wasn’t always in pain – it was often in fear of The Light consuming me. To this day, when a man yells at me, I can see The Light in my mind’s eye, and it still frightens me as much as it ever did.

To this day, I am still fearful of The Light.

anger

THE DEATH OF KINDNESS (?) — HAVE MEN REALLY DECIDED TO STOP TREATING WOMEN WELL?

kindness 1So, after experiencing a lot of painful, angry, difficult, and downright devastating actions and words from the opposite sex, (ESPECIALLY THE PAST FEW WEEKS), and giving all of these experiences a lot of thought, analysis, and consideration, I think I’ve finally figured out the issue I’m having with the men in my circle right now.

It is the absence of kindness.

kindness 2

I am a kind person. It’s not always a good thing, but it Is who I am. When I say I am a kind person, this is not to say I am kind all the time. When I am hurt, angry, or feel I have been wronged, I am not always kind, though I try to be. But I do fail at times. I say hurtful things. I lash out. But once that flash is gone (and it never stays for long), I am back to being the kind person I truly am. And I am not just kind as some sort of saintly unselfish act. I enjoy kindness…I like the sensations being a kind person gives me. I like the way kindness feels in my soul, in my spirit. I like the softness of it, the gentleness, the warmth it conveys. I like the connections it helps me make to people. I like the way it helps me combat my awkward shyness. I like how people open up to me when they sense my kind nature, and I enjoy the closeness that it encourages. For all these reasons I try to keep as much kindness as I can as close to me as I can.

kindness 3

Of late, I have been hard pressed to find kindness from the men in my life — friends, lovers, and others. These are men I have consistently been as kind to as I know how. Now some may say I should not expect kindness from anyone I’ve extended it to. I’ve never been part of that bullshit “no-expectation having” camp. As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing wrong with having expectations of how others interact with you and holding your interactions with them to similar standards – it is called reciprocity and its a good thing.

But back to kindness.

kindness 4

Not only have I been hard pressed to find kindness in the men in my life, what I have found in its place are lots of reasons why they refuse to be kind. The reasons come together and make a stew full of chunks of misogyny, bitterness, grudge holding, hurt feelings, selfishness, misunderstandings, an inability to consider someone else’s perspective, and absence of clear honest communication. But when its all said and done, kindness is absent.

And it hurts.

Instead I find men who actually look for reasons to not be kind — especially to women. Whether its “why should I just because she’s a girl” or “she shouldn’t feel so entitled” or “she needs to be taken down a notch anyway” or “she made me mad so fuck her” (no matter what happened to make her angry), or “why should I do what she wants just because she wants it”, more and more I’m finding men with very little ability to be kind.kindness 5

Now maybe kindness isn’t a very valued commodity among men these days. But I thought men were kind to those they cared for, those they valued, those they loved. But I am finding men in my life have lost their ability to be kind to me, in spite of the many ways I’ve been kind to them, even when I didn’t want to. More and more I’m finding men who have no problem with explaining exactly why they just will NOT extend kindness to women…period. It is almost as if they’ve decided to teach us women a lesson by taking away the one thing that when they do it, makes us most happy — being kind. And a kind man is such an amazingly beautiful thing to a woman.

This is particularly hurtful for me because most of the men in my circle had always been exceptionally kind to me. They extended themselves to me time and time again. Friends, lovers, and others. They just treated me with so much care, and I love them all for it. I’ve felt like I was buoyed along in life with their always-present compassion, empathy, and assistance. They’ve talked to me at 3 a.m., or let me cry on their shoulder, or paid on my cell phone bill when I was short, or made soup for me when I was sick, or picked up my kids from school. Or I’ve watched them extend extraordinary kindnesses to others that I have witnessed. But suddenly, out of nowhere, these men simply do not want to be kind. I miss their kindness tremendously, and I fear them now in a way. My awareness of their lack of ability to be kind causes me to put them at a distance. Their resentment of women is palpable. I feel their bitterness When I talk to them, it rises up out of their cruel words and stinks, or their silent refusal to be kind to me poisons my well and makes my waters unclean. And I don’t know what to do.

kindness 6

I am not perfect, as I said earlier. But if that is a requirement for kindness from those who claim to love you, we will all shit on each other endlessly all the time. I miss the kind men who were in my life, who made my life happy, who made me smile, who I could think about when I would hear women say “there are no good men out here.” If you are a man who is kind to a woman just because…I beg of you to please continue to treat us well. Make that your personal standard – not based upon who the woman is, but based upon who you are.

And please introduce yourself to me, because I need to see you too.

Saying Yes…

Inspired by Jonathan.

This is a post about saying yes.

yes in clouds

In the very late spring of 2012, a young man struck up a conversation with me on Facebook. I’d seen his name in discussions and under comments made by mutual friends we had – and we had quite a few mutual friends. I don’t usually engage in conversations with people I don’t know who randomly hit me up on social media. And I was in the midst of a really bad breakup at the time and just didn’t want to be bothered. For those two reasons, I initially decided to blow him off. As he introduced himself, I prepared myself to be coldly polite but uninviting.

no face

But then I did something unusual. I ignored my logical rational self and said yes. And I talked to him.

yes

I found I enjoyed talking to him. He was intelligent and interesting and funny and quirky and nerdy like me. We both loved food and music and the arts. We talked for weeks and weeks. I found talking to him to be a welcome distraction from my broken heart, and I looked forward to our conversations. He let me rant and rave and cry about how I was hurting, and he became part of my healing. He was very gentle with me, never applying any pressure or pushing me in any way. It was if he knew how fragile I was at the time, and he was going to make sure he didn’t damage me in any way.

As summer started drawing to a close, he asked me out on a date. Now while I might have agreed to becoming Facebook chat buddies, I definitely wasn’t going to go on a date with him. And to make matters worse, he had the exact same birthdate (both born on 2/16) as my ex did. I was so traumatized from my ex that I couldn’t imagine dating a man with the same birthday. I felt it was a sign. I had put Aquarians on my list of Zodiac signs to never date. I was all prepared to turn him down.

no with hand

But then I did something unusual. I ignored my logical rational self and said yes. And we went on a date.

yes with checkbox

We met for drinks, which became dinner. We walked through the streets of town, talking and talking like old friends with a lot to catch up on. It was wonderful. It was beautiful – right up until I asked how old he was. It turned out that he was a LOT younger than me. He knew I was a few years older than him, but insisted he didn’t expect me to be significantly older. We exchanged driver’s licenses, both shocked and at a loss for words as we compared our birth years. I did all kinds of equations in my head, calculating how old I was when he went to kindergarten, how old he was when I got my first job, how old I was when he graduated high school, etc. But he said he did not care, and asked when he could see me again. I knew I couldn’t date someone so much younger. It wasn’t a smart move to get into something that couldn’t possibly sustain itself. I approved of all the good common sense ringing through my head.

nope neon

But then I did something unusual. I ignored my logical rational self and said yes. And I agreed to our second date.

We continued to date, and eventually our dating became a relationship. We were very happy together for a while.

After being together a few months, we had a break up that I honestly thought we would not recover from as he left town for work. I agonized when we parted, and coupled with the previous breakup, I felt supremely defeated when it came to matters of the heart. I was dying inside and very lonely. Worst of all, I was angry that he’d taken me through this, especially after knowing how wounded I was when we met. I hated all those yeses I had just thrown about willy-nilly to be with him. Yes. Yes. Yes. Over and over again. Hadn’t my last relationship taught me anything? Had I said no to that asshole, I wouldn’t be the wreck I was now. All I needed was to have used my no, but I hadn’t. And now I was a mess.

what part of no

But after a few months of us being apart, he contacted me, asking if we could try to reconcile and be together again, saying he missed me and missed us and didn’t want to continue on without me in his life.

I wanted to turn him down. I wanted to send him away. How dare he! I didn’t do that kind of thing – take men back after they’d decided they didn’t want me anymore. Once I was gone I stayed gone. A man lucky enough to have me should get it right the first time, and not assume they could come back to me after some epiphany. I was going to tell him hell no, he couldn’t come back after he’d hurt me like he had, especially after knowing all my history.  I yelled at him. I cursed at him. I cried. I prepared my “go to hell” speech.

no red pencil

But then I did something unusual. I ignored my logical rational self and said yes. I agreed to try to work things out with him.

I’m so thankful that I did, because we’ve been together and happy ever since. From the outside looking in, it makes absolutely no sense. It shouldn’t work. It looks strange as hell. He and I shouldn’t fit. We are two opposite ends of all kinds of spectrums. He is young, me not as much. He is hyper, I’m laid back. He is gregarious and outgoing, I’m more introverted. Even our complexions are opposites. But it works. We work. He and I as a couple make perfect illogical sense.

the odd couple

The moral of this story is that you have to say yes to things sometimes that from the outside looking in you think you should say no to. Every yes I said to that man was scary. Every yes I said to that man was said while my brain was screaming no. Every yes I said to that man was the opposite of what I was “supposed” to do. Every yes I said to that man made me uncomfortable, and made me face my fears about myself and my deepest insecurities. Every yes I said to that man challenged the stories I’d always told myself about why my relationships never seemed to work. But ultimately saying yes to that man instead of saying no brought me what I said I always wanted, though it looked nothing like I thought it would (which means I wouldn’t have recognized it anyway so it’s just as well.)

say yes to me

The tricky part of course is knowing what no things you should say yes to. The best recommendation I can make is that having as little fear as possible helps when considering a yes when you might have said no. Saying no to things comes from fear – fear of what we may lose, fear of what may happen to us, fear of experiencing things we don’t want to experience. We protect ourselves by saying no. I understand that, because I’ve done it. But you have to reach a point where you feel like your no doesn’t work for your life anymore. You have to believe your no is doing you more harm than good. You have to see your no as a deterrent to your life, not a protector of it. I have said no to a lot of things, and I can’t point to anything that I am absolutely sure my no gave me that improved my life. Sure, MAYBE it saved me from something, but I can’t say that with any certainty. But for all the no no no I’ve been doing, I should have something to show for it. You should too. Do you? So why not try something else, like a yes? Was me saying yes a risk? Sure. But I was sure risking nothing was giving me just that – nothing. Once I wasn’t afraid of whatever the yes brought me, even if it was not pleasant, I didn’t run from it. I embraced it. So you have to get fed up with your no before you can let it go.

Are you fed up with your no yet?

fed-up-copy

 

 

 

Six Things The City of Baltimore Must Do If It Really Wants To Improve

Baltimore-City-aerial-view

1.    Elect a mayor with passion and vision for the city.
City leadership has become shamefully staid, almost as if they are bored with running this city, particularly our city’s mayor. She seems to be asleep at the wheel and looks absolutely irritated when I see her at press conferences, as if governing the city was taking her away from some vitally important mani/pedi appointment. Where are the leaders who clearly love the city, who have crabmeat and Old Bay seasoning running through their veins? Where are the passionate Baltimore mayors who grew up here, spent key years of their lives here, the ones who love every dysfunctional corner of this town from the junkies in front of Lexington Market to the lines of folks out on Pulaski Highway getting pit beef sandwiches as the aroma assaults their noses?

William_Donald_Schaefer  clarence du burns Kurtschmoke

Whether I agreed with Mayor Schaefer, Burns, or Schmoke’s policies during their respective tenures as mayor, I always knew they LOVED Baltimore and they truly felt their policies would better the city. This city MUST FIND leadership who isn’t solely dedicated to securing their next political positions, and who is firmly focused on Baltimore’s present and future, not just their own. When I see this city’s next mayor on television, I want to see the fire in their eyes and hear the zeal in their voices when they speak about this city. Fervor is what I want from this city’s next mayor. I want a mayor unabashedly in love with the city and unwilling to let it down.

2.    Keeping graduates of local colleges/universities in the city.
coppin Johns_Hopkins_University's_Academic_Seal loyola MICA_Logo morgan Peabody_Institute

Baltimore attracts tens of thousands of young adults to attend the numerous colleges and universities in the area. This includes a Catholic institution (Loyola), two HBCUs (Morgan — which graduates the largest number of African American engineers in the nation and Coppin), one of nation’s finest music schools (Peabody), one of the nation’s finest art schools (MICA), and one of the nation’s finest medical schools (Hopkins). But if you check out the numbers of the out-of-state graduates who stay in the Baltimore metropolitan area once they graduate, you’ll find very few do. You mean to tell me these students spend at least four years in this area pursuing their education, and often become involved in the area’s nightlife and culture, and nothing in that time spent here makes them want to stay? These young adults are exactly the types of people who would make good citizens of this city – college educated, highly trained and skilled, and career oriented in many cases. Baltimore needs to do a much better job of encouraging these people to stay and take root in the city. Their new blood and fresh perspectives on the city as people who aren’t as enmeshed in the city are vital if Baltimore wants to move successfully further into the 21st century.

3.    Long term improvements in the city’s public school system.

baltimore city public school building
It makes me so angry when I hear all of this talk about attracting people into the city to live without any real discussion about improvements to the school system across the board for the long term. The city seems to enjoy forgetting that while singles who enjoy urban living might find Baltimore a hip, fun place to be at first (which it can be) will sing a different tune the minute they marry and start families. With some quick Googling, they will quickly discover just how poorly the schools in the city perform. They realize a good deal of their financial resources must be spent avoiding Baltimore City Public Schools if they want their kids educated and not assaulted – resources they discover they don’t have once they check the tuition at Gilman or Garrison Forest School. Most city public schools simply do lousy jobs at educating children, point blank period.

baltimore city public schools

There is the occasional elementary school that happens to be cloistered away in a “good” neighborhood, but those neighborhoods are hard to find permanent housing in for that reason. So these dual income households, the very types of tax-paying households the city is in dire need of leave the city because they cannot find suitable free education for their children. Until the city can offer a school system that offers a quality free education, no one is going to stay here and subject their children to the piss-poor schools this city has if they don’t have to. But how seriously can a city take improving education when one of its former mayors manages to “lose” over $50 million dollars out of its education budget?

4.    Realistic real estate development that includes affordable housing projects.
I get that the multi-million dollar harbor side real estate developments are sexy and hot looking, overflowing with amenities like Starbucks lattes on tap and organic free range chicken boxes (or so I’ve heard).  But I always wonder what makes these real estate developers think there is a sustainable market for these million dollar plus units in this area.

Baltimore-Inner-Harbor-CondoDomain

I mean, do they really look at the population of this city in a realistic way? How do they conclude that there is a great need for luxury condos starting in the millions, and luxury apartments that start at over fifiteen hundred dollars a month? Really though?  Where is the pool of folks in this area that can afford those digs?  Those that can afford them tend to be a transient group because they often have careers that take them from one city to another, seeking opportunities to be more upwardly mobile, build their resumes, and earn more money. This means they move out of these units after a year or two. For the onest that stay,  as soon as those folks need to educate their children, they check out the aforementioned tuitions at the local private schools and figure why not move a few miles down the road and have their kids attend high quality public schools in other parts of Maryland or Northern Virginia? Then the developments are occupied way below capacity, are auctioned off at bargain basement prices that average Baltimoreans still can’t afford, and eventually become beautiful half-empty buildings.

affordable housing 2 Michael Barland and Kevin Bell

Of course affordable housing isn’t this glamorous thing – it’s not sexy, but it is necessary. It is the type of real estate development that could go a long way towards stabilizing the city by providing real homes for mid-level income earning tax-paying citizens who aren’t on the kind of career fast tracks that require moving around a lot, and are looking for stability and a home in Baltimore (especially if done in concert with #3.) But even affordable housing cannot be successfully created in troubled neighborhoods without making some effort to address that neighborhood’s issues. Real estate developers tackling affordable housing development in this city are going to have to look at the neighborhoods that are still at least somewhat stable and viable (“buffer neighborhoods/blocks” if you will, where there is still a decently high percentage of home ownership), place small projects in those neighborhoods, and create larger regions of more stable areas with home ownership as a foundation that can grow out from those core “buffer” zones, and slowly impact the more troubled neighborhoods by making them smaller by increasing the size of the safer “buffer neighborhoods” little by little. I see “affordable housing” being attempted in some super-high crime areas of the city and it makes absolutely no sense. The houses will remain vacant because those who can afford them still won’t live in them.

5.    Massive, properly funded, fully supported and spearheaded, and  effective programs to address the city’s drug addicted population.
Conservative estimates say ten percent of this city’s population is addicted to heroin. Keep in mind that’s just ONE drug, and that also means that conservatively, there are roughly 60,000 heroin addicts in Baltimore right now. As much as the non-addicted population likes to pooh-pooh the staggering junkie leaning folks that move through the city’s streets, this is the very population that wreaks havoc on the city internally and externally, both in public and in private, in part  because they have very few treatment options available. They drain the city’s resources with their health care needs and their use of other federal and state resources with no end in sight because there is no rehabilitation in sight, and the few treatment options available to the general public are overburdened. In fact, the corner considered the most dangerous in the country in a recent study of crime nationwide, the corner of Gay Street and North Avenue in East Baltimore, zip code 21213, is home to one of the city’s most popular free drug treatment clinics.

methadone clinic

Whether it is the functional addict who is poorly performing at whatever job he/she has managed to hang onto through their addiction, or the long-term addict who has relied on crime to feed their addictions, this city
simply cannot afford to lose ten percent of its human resources. There is too much work to be done and we need ALL hands on deck. Drug addiction is killing this city and draining it of hard-working, tax-paying people that are vital to the city. Continuing to not acknowledge that a huge commitment of resources needs to go to this problem is doing this city a HUGE disservice — especially in a city whose major employers and real estate owners are hospitals whose facilities stand right in the middle of many of the communities being strangled by the outcomes from its citizen’s untreated drug addictions.

6.    Re-funding of youth centers and programs for at-risk youth/young adults

recs
Crime crime crime. Yeah, the city’s got it. Sure there are lots of things that could be done that might provide relief. But if I had to put my efforts into a single enterprise with an eye towards reducing crime, I would pick this one. We need the rec centers back. ALL OF THEM. And we need them staying open LATE, until midnight during the summer months when school was out like they used to. We need BNBL (Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League for those too young to remember) back. We need summer job programs back. We need someone to finally build a legitimate sizeable dirt bike course so these kids could at least have the option of racing there. We need every type of program that directs youth’s energies to positive things. We need everyone involved, from the big area businesses to the small ones. It kills me that these are the first programs to go when the cutting budget time goes, but a youth jail miraculously appears in the place of these things. You have no idea what could be avoided if a young man could say to his friends, “nah man, I’m going up to the rec. I’ll get at y’all lata.” So please give them other options.

rec center

Just my two cents mind you. What do you recommend?

2013 IN NUMBERS — CHECK OUT MY STATS!

Thanks to everyone who supported “Tula Talks” in 2013. Yes I will be writing more here this  year, but I wanted to give you some numbers to show how supportive (nosy) you all have been!

For example…

This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2013. A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

May I continue to be as brave and open in my writing in 2014, and may all of you, and even more of you, continue to be supportive (nosy) in 2014!

–Tula

TULA TALKS IN 2013 — Stats from Word Press!

Click here to see the complete report.

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