Posted in Blog Series

Blog #6: A Family Affair

       I watched as Tasha fumbled with her fingers, waiting to hear me say that I won’t hate her once she tells me whatever news she had to share.
       “Well?” Her eyes met mine. “Tell me you won’t hate me after I tell you this.”
       I stood next to Tasha. “Sit down.” I pointed to the step.
       We sat, and for a moment we were both silent. I took my friend’s hand in mine. “I could never hate you. Whatever you have to tell me can’t be that bad.” After the day I’d had, I needed it not to be that bad.
       Her eyes watered.
       It was that bad. I braced myself.
       “I’ve wanted to tell you this ever since I found out, but I couldn’t. Mom made it clear that we weren’t to say a word to anyone until the right time. I guess it’s time.” Tasha shrugged her shoulders.
       “Then tell me.” I urged her.
       “You remember a few years ago when my mom was sick a lot?” Tasha asked.
       I nodded. I remembered it well because Tasha called every day worried that she would lose her mother.
       “Well, when we were told she had breast cancer, she immediately thought the worse.    She felt like she was going to die and wanted me to know the truth about our family.”
        The screen door creaked open behind us.
        “You told her yet?” Karen questioned right before she downed whatever clear liquid she had in her glass. Most likely vodka. Her drink of choice.
        “I’m trying to tell her now.” Tasha slightly turned in Karen’s direction. She kept that position for a second before rolling her eyes and facing me again. If the situation weren’t so frustrating, I’d probably laugh at the antics between Tasha and Ms. Karen. That woman has worked Tasha’s nerves ever since I could remember and probably before that. I’d never understand why Tasha chose to stay here in Bayou and deal with Karen for the rest of her life.
        “It don’t take that damn long to tell somebody y’all cousins. Hell just say it. Nadia, ya’ll cousins. See how easy that was?” Karen turned the empty glass to her mouth. “I need a drink.” She walked back inside leaving Tasha and me sitting there in a stunned silence.     Mine was from shock and Tasha’s was probably from being pissed that once again, Karen had to take over and do things her way.
       “Cousins?” I scooted away from Tasha so I could really see her face as she explained her mother’s words.
        Tasha took a deep breath. “When she was sick and thought she was dying she..”
        “Can you skip all that and just tell me what she meant?” My level of frustration and aggravation was at an all time high. I no longer had the time or desire for this rollercoaster conversation Tasha was taking me on.
         “We’re first cousins. My mother and your mother are sisters,” Tasha explained.
         I absorbed her words and no matter how I tried, I still couldn’t get them to make sense in my head. “What do you mean they’re sisters? What are you saying my grandparents gave your mother up or something?”
         Tasha shook her head. “Not exactly.”
        “Then what exactly?” I stood up and folded my arms. I needed answers and Tasha’s meek and mild attitude wasn’t helping.
        Tasha stood too. “We have the same grandfather. Your grandfather had an affair with my grandmother and my mother and Aunt Faye were the products of that affair.”
        Immediately the name entered my mind. “The children across the street. The children across the street were your mom and aunt. The children across the street were my grandfather’s children?”
        Tasha nodded.
        Now it all made sense. Now I understood why the hate was so thick between my grandmother and the children across the street. Of course she hated them. Who wouldn’t?
        “I know this is a lot to take in.” Tasha talked and I barely listened. I was still imagining what it was like for my grandmother to walk out of her house everyday knowing the children playing in the yard right across the street belonged to her husband.
        “I have to go.” I was in my car and pulling off before Tasha could say another word.   The short drive to my grandmother’s felt like an eternity. I wanted to go to her and hug her and tell her how sorry I was for all her pain. I know I didn’t cause it, but I still felt the need to comfort her.
        “Grandma Hazel!” I called for her as soon as I walked through the door. “Grandma Hazel!” I called again when she didn’t answer. I walked in the living room where I’d left her relaxing in her chair. She was still there with her arms folded over her stomach.
        “Grandma Hazel.”
        She didn’t move. My heart stopped beating as I watched her closely. I couldn’t see her chest rise and fall. I panicked.
        “Grandma Hazel!” I shouted as I shook her forcefully.
        Her eyes popped open. “What the hell! What’s wrong with you? You trying to give me a heart attack!” Her wide eyes stared at me.
        Relief flooded my body. “I thought you were dead.” I was still trying to calm my breathing.
        “Dead? Hell I’m sleep, but I’m half dead now.” She held her hand over her chest.
        “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I leaned down and hugged her.
        “You feeling better? You rushed out of here like the house was on fire,” She asked when I finally let her go and sat on the stool next to her chair.
        “Why’d you stay?” I asked the questioned I’d wondered ever since I was able to fully process the news I’d just received.
        “I couldn’t run behind you. I’m not as fast as I used to be.” Grandma Hazel laughed.
         I shook my head. “That’s not what I mean. Why’d you stay with Grandpa Will?”
         Grandma Hazel’s eyes narrowed. I understood the look of confusion very well. “What kind of question is that? You wanna know why I stayed with my husband?”
        “I want to know why you stayed after he cheated on you. After he had children with another woman.”
        She tilted her head and her eyebrows squished together. It was apparent she never intended for me to find out. “Who told you?”
        “A better question is why didn’t you? You hated those people and now I get it. Why couldn’t you tell me that?”
        Grandma Hazel looked away. “Your Grandfather was a good man.” She looked at me.          “He was a good provider and a good father. He made his mistakes and I forgave him for it. There was nothing left to say about it.” She raised her brows and gave me a quick nod. Her nod was her period, final,no more questions to be asked or answered.
        “That’s your story and you’re sticking to it right?” A voice came from the entryway.
         I looked up and into the face of the last person in this world I wanted to see today… or ever for that matter.
         I stood. “What are you doing here?”
        “I heard you were here. I wanted to see you.” Rachel walked into the living room and sat her designer purse on the sofa. She wore a fitted dress and heels, her signature look.   Nadia could never remember a time her mother didn’t wear a dress and heels.
        “Hey Mother.” Rachel leaned down and kissed Grandma Hazel’s cheek.
        “Hey.” Grandma Hazel was unusually quiet. Intuition said she’d set this up. I should’ve known there was a reason she kept mentioning Rachel yesterday.
        “You look beautiful.” Rachel’s watery eyes scanned my body.
         She stepped closer to me.
         I stepped back.
         She looked hurt, but it didn’t matter.
         “I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation when I walked in. I’m guessing your grandmother finally told you the truth.” Rachel looked at me for answers.
         I remained silent. I had no words for her.
         “She ain’t hear nothing from me.” Grandma Hazel suddenly found her ability to speak again. “I don’t talk about it and I don’t want to hear about it.”
         Rachel laughed. “I should’ve known it didn’t come from you. No, it couldn’t have come from you because if it had you’d tell it all. Isn’t that right?” Rachel looked at       Grandma Hazel who’d become a mute once again.
         “Right Mother?” Rachel folded her arms. “You wouldn’t have your granddaughter running around here with a half truth would you?”
         Grandma Hazel stood and walked in front of Rachel. “I called you here to fix things between you and your daughter. My life is none of y’all’s concern. I don’t wanna hear about this ever again do I make myself clear?” She looked back and forth between Rachel and me.
         “Very clear.” Rachel’s narrowed eyes showed she wasn’t done, but I was… for now.
I tried to hold it in, but I couldn’t remain silent a minute longer. “I’m so sick of all the secrets in this family. I’ve been here two days and everywhere I turn there’s another secret to be discovered. Why can’t we all be honest for once? This is why I don’t come home. I always leave more confused and with more questions than before I came.”
         Grandma Hazel looked at me. “You’re right, there are more secrets to be discovered, but the only ones you should be concerned with are the ones your mother’s carrying around, not mine.” Grandma Hazel walked to the entryway then stopped. She turned back to Rachel and me. “You walked in here so anxious to share the truth. Why don’t you start by telling your daughter the truth about her father.”
        With those words, she was gone. Rachel and I were left alone, smothered by the silence that wrapped around us. More questions. More secrets. More lies. The life I had when I arrived in Bayou two days ago felt like a distant memory. Who are these people? Hell, who am I?

Written by: L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 5: The Children Across the Street

      Grandma Hazel stared at me for what felt like eternity. I mentally prepared myself for this announcement that my grandmother was struggling to tell me.
     “Grandma, what is it?” I finally asked.
     “Doll, your mother’s pregnant.”
     “Pregnant?” My knees felt weak. Thank God there was a chair right behind me. Grandma Hazel sat next to me and placed her hand on my leg.
     “I didn’t want you to find out like this, but you needed to know before someone else decided to open their big mouth.” She looked up as if Ms. Betty could hear her.
     All kinds of thoughts ran through my mind. My mother, the woman who was responsible for setting my dad’s killer free, has gone on with her life as if nothing ever happened.
     “So much for God answering prayers,” I whispered.
     “What’s that ‘posed to mean?” Grandma Hazel leaned closer.
     I looked at the weariness in my Grandma’s eyes and I hated that I was the cause of so much of her pain. The one thing she wanted more than anything was for me to mend my relationship with Rachel.
     “Do you remember that day in court?” I lowered my head to avoid her sadness. I don’t know if she shook her head or not, so I just continued. “I remember it clearly. I sat on the front row behind the prosecutor who looked to be only a few years older than me. I couldn’t believe my dad’s fate lied in the hands of child, but I still trusted that the solid case against John, and my testimony, would lock him up for life. I just knew we had this, and then it happened. The Defense Attorney called Rachel to the stand and I was told I wouldn’t testify.” I paused for a moment as the floor became a blur through my tears.
     “Doll, you can’t keep doing this.” Grandma Hazel finally spoke.
     “I watched as Rachel stood and sashayed to the front of the courtroom. I still remember the tight black dress and red blazer she wore. I can hear the sound her six inch heels made as she strutted across the wooden floor. She demanded the attention of every man in there, including John. The man who murdered my father sat across from me with lust in his eyes for my mother.”
     Grandma Hazel rubbed her hand over my leg. “She can’t help how men look at her, Doll. Ever since she started developing guys were drooling over her. Your Grandpa Will used to have a fit when he’d catch one of em’ looking.”
     Grandma Hazel’s words flew right over me. My mind was still deeply engrossed on the day Rachel assisted in freeing my dad’s killer.
     “She stood on that stand, raised her hand, and swore to tell the truth. She swore… on the bible to tell the truth, and she lied. She looked at that judge, who looked at her as if she was some kind of rare delicacy that he was hungry to devour, she looked at him and she lied. She told him she believed what John did was an accident. An accident.” I didn’t realize I was screaming until I glanced over into the widened eyes of the couple sitting across from us.
     “Doll, you have to calm down,” Grandma Hazel whispered right before she offered them a smile and a wave.
     Reliving that day always caused my heart to race. I felt the same amount of rage twenty years later as I felt sitting there listening to my mother letting my dad’s killer off the hook. To this day, I still can’t believe it. Still didn’t want to believe that she cared so little for the man who loved her more than anything. My dad would’ve never forgiven so easily if the situation were reversed. He would’ve spent his entire life seeking justice, just as I thought we would if by chance things didn’t turn out our way, but Rachel’s testimony showed me I was all alone on this quest to seek justice.
     I stood and wiped my eyes. “I’m ready go.” I told Grandma Hazel, who wasted no time grabbing her purse and joining me. I’m sure I’d embarrassed her enough.
     We drove back to Grandma Hazel’s house in silence. I walked her inside and waited for her to settle in her recliner.
     “I’m about to take a drive. I’ll be back later.” I leaned down and kissed her cheek.
     “You going back to the grave?” Grandma Hazel removed her shoes then lifted the foot rest on the chair.
     “No, not today. I just need some time to clear my head.”
     I knew exactly where I was going, but I couldn’t tell her. I didn’t need a lecture. What I needed was a friend and there were only two people in Bayou that fit that description.  Since Tony was dealing with his own issues, that only left Tasha.
     I parked in front of her mother’s house, which happened to be her grandmother’s old house. Tasha’s mom, the oldest of five, inherited it once her grandmother passed away. This was the house that sat directly across the street from Grandma Hazel and Grandpa Will’s old house. Tasha’s mom and her mom’s siblings were the infamous, “children across the street.” The children Grandma Hazel and Rachel couldn’t stand. I’d never heard Uncle Ken say anything about them one way or the other. I assumed he held the same sentiments as his mother and little sister though.
     Tasha’s mom, , stood on the front porch with a too tight jogging suit on, and glared in my direction. Her eyes narrowed as she tried to figure out who was parked in her driveway. I stepped out and walked to the porch.
     “Hello Ms. Karen, is Tasha home?”
     She studied me a minute longer before she spoke. “Yeah, she’s inside.”
     “I’m Nadia Freeman, Tasha’s friend.” I reintroduced myself. It’s been years since we’ve seen each other, so I understand the look of confusion. In fact, I expected it.
     “Nadia Freeman.” The way she wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something foul, told me she knew exactly who I was. What I didn’t know was what I did to deserve such a greeting. In the past she was the only person who seemed to approve of our friendship. Tasha and I would hang out at her house. It was the only place we didn’t have to worry about someone running back and reporting to Grandma Hazel or Rachel that we were together. The whole town must’ve known about the rift between the two families. Everyone but us kids.
     “Is Tasha home?” I asked again, ignoring the look she was still giving me.
     “Tasha!” She slightly turned her head, and kept her eyes on me as she hollered inside the house. “You have company.”
     She refused to look away and I returned the gesture. I know Ms. Karen hadn’t seen me in a while, but you’d think she’d remember that I don’t intimidate easily, not as much as she used to fuss at Tasha and I about our attitudes.
     The door opened behind her. “Hey Nadia.” Tasha came out looking like a much younger version of her mother. She smiled as she made her way to embrace me. Something we couldn’t do at the store. What I loved most about Tasha is that I never had to say much for her to know what I needed. We were in sync that way. Years and distance didn’t have anything on our connection.
     Tasha released me and we both started to head up the steps when Karen stood at the top step, blocking our entrance. She folded her arms and smiled a wicked smile.
     “Mom, can you move?” Tasha tried to lightly move her to the side, but Karen didn’t budge..
     “You two have been friends a very long time.” Karen said, her smile still plastered on her face. “The older you get the more you start to look alike. Now I see the resemblance everyone else saw when you two were little girls.”
     “Mom.” Tasha left my side and stood next to her mother on the top step. “Go inside.” Tasha ordered.
     “Why? Because I said you two look alike?” Karen laughed. “You’re just as bad as those people.” She pointed to the empty land across the street where my grandparent’s house once sat. From what I heard, years after they purchased the land and built the house Grandma Hazel currently occupies, the little old wooden house they used to live in mysteriously burned down. No one ever figured out what happened, but arson was highly suspected. Everything in the house had been turned off so there was no way it was from a malfunction with wires or anything like that.
    “Stop it now.” Tasha narrowed her eyes.
     Karen pointed in my direction. “This is a grown woman. She’s not a baby and neither are you. Why shouldn’t she know the truth? Hell I told you a long time ago. She’s your friend isn’t she?” Karen questioned. “What? You think she wouldn’t want to be friends once she knows that the two of you are related?”
     Tasha kept her eyes fixed on her mother. I could see the fire in them from the side view I held of her. I felt her anger even through the space that separated us, but my thoughts were still locked around her mother’s words. We’re related? How?
     “If a friend can’t handle the truth, then she was never really your friend.” Karen swirled around and left us standing there alone.
     I didn’t know if I could mentally handle any more than I’d already been exposed to these past few days, but once again, curiosity wouldn’t let me leave without answers. It seemed that every turn I made in this town exposed more secrets.
     “What was that about?” I stepped closer to Tasha.
     “I’m so sorry about that.” She shook her head and rolled her eyes at the space her mom once preoccupied.
     “Save the apologies and tell me what she’s talking about? What does she mean we’re related? Related how and why is it such a big secret?”
     Tasha’s eyes watered. “I don’t agree with how she did it, but my mom’s right. It’s time for you to know the truth, but please don’t hate me.” Her voice cracked at that request.
     The thought of hating Tasha never crossed my mind, but for some reason I knew what I was about to hear was about to change our relationship forever.

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 4: Mommy Dearest

     I spent the next few days at Grandma Hazel’s swimming in emotions. My heart was breaking for Tony. I tried to keep talking to him, to keep his mind off his paternity issues, but nothing I said helped. I was seeing a side of him that I had never seen before. Especially when it came to Aunt Claudia. He’d always been such a momma’s boy. Would fight if anyone even thought of saying ‘yo momma.’ Now he’s the one scheming to bring her down. It didn’t make sense.
     “Doll, you in there?” Grandma Hazel called from the other side of the bathroom     door. Of course, I was the one in the bathroom. No one else was occupying this huge house besides the two of us.
     “Yes ma’am. You need me?” I kept my eyes closed praying the answer was no. I’d just ran a hot tub of water and planned to sit in it until it turned ice cold. My body was tired but sleep refused to visit me in this house. I don’t know if it’s the Pepto Bismol colored walls or the pink canopy bed, but something wouldn’t allow me to rest.
     “I need you to take me for a run when you get dressed,” Grandma Hazel instructed.
     I dismissed the thoughts of a relaxing bath. I washed up, got dressed, and prayed this outing wouldn’t take long, but knowing Grandma Hazel it was going to take most of the day.
     “Where are we going?” I stood next to Grandma Hazel while she locked the front door.
     “We’re going to the hospital.” She closed the screen door and passed by me.
     “To the hospital? Who’s in the hospital?” I assisted her down the steps and to the car.
     “Betty Jean. You remember Betty Jean Watkins?” Grandma settled in the passenger seat.
     “Of course.”
     “If you didn’t remember her, I knew you’d remember her grandson, Lawrence.” Grandma Hazel hit my leg and smiled.
     Heat flushed to my face. Lawrence Watkins was my first. Not my first love, but my first lover if that’s possible. Could you have a lover without the love? Well, he was my first sexual experience. He was my partner in crime in the woods. The woods across the street from Grandma Hazel’s house. The woods that could tell all my secrets if it could talk. Thank God, the woods can’t talk.
     “I knew that name would jog your memory. You used to be so crazy about that lil red freckled faced boy. He’s the only reason you were always so ready for church on Sunday mornings.” Grandma Hazel laughed. “He’s a big-time doctor in California now. You should call him. He’s not married.”
     I wasn’t crazy about Lawrence. I was crazy about the attention he gave me.
     “What’s wrong with Ms. Betty?”
     I blew the horn and waved at Mr. Jim who was sitting out in his front yard with his newspaper. Mr. Jim lived next door but not right next door. There was a field of empty land between the two houses. It used to be Mr. Jim’s farm many years ago. I remembered the hours we’d spend picking peas, beans, and corn. I hated that garden with a passion, but I loved the meals.
     “What’s wrong with her? She’s old child. Everything’s wrong with her.” Grandma Hazel laughed.
     I was about to point out that Ms. Betty and Grandma Hazel were the same age, but I figured I’d keep that comment to myself.
     I put Grandma Hazel’s handicapped sign on my rearview mirror and parked right in front of the hospital. I listened as Grandma Hazel chatted about nothing in particular. When we approached the hospital doors something hit me out of nowhere. I was fine until those glass doors slid opened and then I froze. I literally froze. My feet wouldn’t take another step.
     “What’s the matter?” Grandma Hazel looked up at me.
     “I…I…” I couldn’t speak. I hadn’t stepped foot in that hospital since the night my daddy was killed. Everything came rushing back to me. I felt sick. I tried not to give in to it, but I couldn’t stop the images from coming. It was like a movie playing on repeat. I could hear the doctors shouting orders to nurses and other doctors. I saw my daddy laying on the gurney being rushed through the hallway leaving a trail of blood behind. What smelled of disinfectant no longer reminded me of cleanliness. Now it reminded me of death.
     I mindlessly followed Grandma Hazel to the elevators. The very elevator that escorted my dad’s nearly lifeless body up to surgery. A surgery that never happened because by the time they reached the operating room he was gone. I refused to take another step. The elevator doors opened and closed and I just stood there staring, reliving that painful day. Grandma Hazel must’ve understood because she pushed the button and we waited until elevator doors opened once again.
     Grandma Hazel followed the nurse’s directions and led us straight to  Ms. Betty’s room. She was lying in bed with her eyes closed. Just like Grandma Hazel, age had taken over Ms. Betty’s body. Every wrinkle, every age spot, and every grey strand of hair showed a woman who’d walked this earth long enough to earn every geriatric badge that she had.
     “Hey Betty.” Grandma Hazel stood at her bed and touched her hand.
     I leaned against the wall and out of their way.
     Ms. Betty slowly opened her eyes. “Hazel,” Ms. Betty’s voice was soft and raspy, but very welcoming of Grandma. “How you doing Hazel?”
     “A lot better than you,” Grandma Hazel teased.
     Ms. Betty smacked her lips. “Ain’t nothing wrong with me. I told those people I just need a little Castor Oil and I’ll be fine.”
     My face tightened and my jaws tingled at the mention of that nasty stuff Grandma Hazel used to shove down my throat whenever I wasn’t feeling well.
     “You better listen to these doctors, Betty or else I’m coming to stay and you know you don’t want that,” Grandma Hazel warned.
     “Oh hush, Hazel. I ain’t doing nothing to these people.”
     “Well good.” Grandma Hazel fussed with Ms. Betty’s covers. Those two fought like sisters and they loved each other just as hard.
     The room was quiet for a second.
     “Hazel, who’s that you got with you?” Ms. Betty lifted her hand in my direction.
     Grandma Hazel smiled. “That’s my grandbaby. You remember Nadia, don’t you? Rachel’s girl.”
     “Yeah.” Ms. Betty gave a slight nod. “Come on over here chile let me look at you. I don’t think I’ve seen you in quite some time.”
     As Grandma Hazel sat next to Ms. Betty’s bed, I couldn’t help but notice Ms. Betty assessing me from head to midsection, that’s all she could see lying down.
     “You just as pretty as your Mama.”
     I forced a smile. Being compared to Rachel gave me nothing to smile about. My relationship with my mother ended the day she testified at John’s trial. I know the Bible says to forgive, but damn the dirt was still fresh on my dad’s grave, and she had already forgiven his murderer. At that point, I knew she and I no longer had anything to talk about. I moved out of her house and in with Grandma Hazel until I graduated and moved to Baton Rouge for college. The day after I graduated from Southern University with my degree in criminal justice, I moved to Atlanta with my college roommate. Building a life in Atlanta was necessary for my sanity, but some things stay with you no matter how far and fast you try to escape them. Rachel’s betrayal was that thing for me.
     “How is Rachel? I haven’t seen her a long time.” Ms. Betty pressed the button on her bed and raised herself up. She looked at me for an answer that I couldn’t provide.
     “She’s doing well. She lives in Texas now,” Grandma Hazel answered.
     “Texas? Is that where she run off to? I didn’t think she’d stay around here, not after…”
     “Betty, don’t you want something to drink?” Grandma Hazel asked quickly.
     Grandma Hazel’s interruption piqued my curiosity.
     “Not after what?” I asked Ms. Betty.
     “Huh?” Ms. Betty narrowed her eyes on me.
     “You were saying you knew Rachel wouldn’t stay after.” I reminded her.
     Grandma Hazel stood. “Betty you look tired. We’re gonna get out of here so you can get your rest and build your strength up.”
     My patience was growing thin with Grandma Hazel. Ms. Betty knew something that  Grandma Hazel didn’t want me to hear. She’d never tried to hide things from me before. Even as a little girl I knew way too much grown up gossip. From the preacher sleeping with most of the women in the congregation to the chief of police who was more crooked than the felons he’d arrested.
     Grandma Hazel and her Wednesday night home Bible Study always turned into a gossiping session and I was always close by to take it all in. I never told anyone though. I knew the consequences of talking outside Grandma Hazel’s house. I learned that lesson the hard way when I told Sister Mary what Grandma Hazel said about her nasty potato salad after church one Sunday. That was the first and only time Grandma Hazel ever tore my legs up with a switch from her fig tree. I was six or seven then. How was I supposed to know that was a secret? I thought Sister Mary knew her potato salad was nasty.
     “I’m so happy you came to see me Hazel. Tell everyone at the church I’ll be back soon.” She smiled as she lowered her headrest.
     “I’ll tell them.” Grandma Hazel held Ms. Betty’s hand and gave it a couple pats before we left.
     “What’s going on?” I asked Grandma Hazel as soon as we were in the elevator. “Ms. Betty was about to say something about Rachel, and you stopped her. Why?”
     Grandma Hazel took a deep breath. “I stopped her because I wanted to tell you myself.”
     “Tell me what?”
     The elevator door opened at the wrong time. We stepped off, but I refused to make another move until she told me what was going on.
     “Tell me what?” I asked again.
     Grandma Hazel was slow to speak.
     “Doll, your mother got married.”
     I tried to pretend that news didn’t bother me. After all, she could do whatever she wanted to do.
     “When?” Curiosity wouldn’t allow me to pretend I didn’t care.
     “Just a few months ago.”
     “Oh.” I looked down at my feet. “That’s nice.”
     “She wanted to talk to you about it herself, but you wouldn’t answer any of her calls.”
     I lifted my head and stared into my grandmother’s tired eyes. “I don’t know how to forgive her for betraying my father.”
     “Your mother didn’t kill your father. You’re gonna have to find a way to let go of that, but I don’t know how you’re going to handle what else I have to tell you.”
     Grandma Hazel took me by the hand and led me to the waiting room across the hall. I knew the moment she made me sit down that what she was about to say was going to rip me apart. I prayed I was wrong…. Unfortunately, I wasn’t.

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 3: Home is Where the Lies Live

“Where are you going?” I rushed behind Tony.

“Home. Where I was told to go.” He never looked back, just kept his fast stride to his car. Tony’s long slim legs moved fast and my five foot tall frame, struggled to catch up to him.

“I’m coming with you.”

Something on the inside told me it wasn’t a good idea to send him alone. My cousin didn’t inherit the Freeman temper everyone said my grandfather possessed, but his demeanor today showed that it could be in there just waiting for the right moment to come out. Grandpa Will died when I was a baby so I never got to witness it firsthand, but I heard enough to know he was no one to mess with.

“Can you tell me what’s going on?” I asked Tony as he zoomed out of the driveway and slung my body against the door.

“So you didn’t know either?” He glanced at me then back at the road. Tony’s brown skin was now pale. He looked like he was going to be sick at any moment. Unlike me, my cousin didn’t handle drama very well, which was funny considering the lifestyle he lived.

Tony pulled off to the shoulder of the road. He leaned his head against the headrest before banging the steering wheel with his fist over and over again.

I watched in confusion as my mild mannered cousin went into a full rage and I still had no idea why.

“Tony,” I lowered my voice so I wouldn’t set him off any more than he already was. When we were children and he’d get upset from the other kids picking on him, I was usually the only person who could make him smile. Tony was always different. Grandma Hazel hated it, and Aunt Claudia and Uncle Ken were too busy with their careers to care one way or the other. I’m sure they knew their son was unlike the other boys, but as long as he didn’t get into any trouble they were fine. I was the one who was there for him. Most days I’d know just what to say to make everything right, but my magic didn’t seem to work too well today.

He looked at me and forced a weak smile. Then he shook his head as tears ran down his face.

“He’s not my father,” he said barely above a whisper.

“What?” I leaned closer to him.

Tony swiped a tear that had just fallen. “You heard me. Kenneth Freeman is not my father. I know this because Kenneth Freeman is sterile and always has been according to the medical records I found.” He laughed a gut wrenching hearty laugh that was filled with pain and anger.

I sat speechless. I needed time to let the words register. Once they did I felt my eyes starting to sting. I didn’t realize I was crying until Tony wiped my cheek with his finger. Something about that revelation tore me apart. If Uncle Ken wasn’t Tony’s father, then that meant Tony and I weren’t blood cousins. The only person, other than Grandma Hazel, that I loved with everything in me wasn’t even related to me.

“This doesn’t change anything, Tony.” I said those words for my benefit as well as his. “We’re still cousins and Uncle Ken is your father in every way that’s important.”

Tony stared straight ahead. He ran his hand over his short wavy hair. He did that when he was stressed. When we were younger he’d twist it around his finger. He used to have long pretty hair. Way too long and much too pretty for a boy, but Aunt Claudia refused to cut it.

“Now I get it. Now  I understand why it’s so easy for her to hate me. It’s not hard when there’s no relation.” He shook his head.

“Grandma Hazel doesn’t hate you. She just doesn’t understand you.” I wanted to believe that so badly myself. Grandma Hazel did have a very strong dislike for Tony. She’d always say he’s not natural. God didn’t mean for him to live like that. She couldn’t accept that his dating pool was open to all genders, races, and sizes. It was too much for Grandma Hazel to handle.

“And she never tried to understand. I wasn’t important enough for her to spend the time to talk to me. Get to know how I was feeling. Do you know how it feels to get rejection from your peers and your family? That hurts.” Tony opened the glove compartment to remove a cleaning wipe. He rubbed it over the dashboard. Tony was a neat freak, unlike myself.

I wanted to tell Tony that it may help if he’d pick a side and stay on it, maybe Grandma Hazel would be more accepting, but even I knew that wasn’t true. The only side she would accept is the female side and nothing else. Tony’s lifestyle was quite complicated. His sexuality depended on his location. In Bayou and surrounding areas, he was a lady’s man. He’d built quite the reputation as being a player, but when he passed the state line he converted into Toni. The transformation was rather impressive, I must admit, but it’s also very dangerous. Tony never chose an average Joe. All his men were high profile in their professions. Most, if not all,  were pro athletes and A-list actors. People who would go to any extent to silence him if they ever felt like exposure was a possibility. I’d read the horror stories and thinking of losing Tony was depressing. I wish I could get him to see that, but he loved playing this game and it paid off well for him financially. He’d never had a real job, but he has condos in New Orleans, Memphis, and Houston, and a very nice two-story house here in Bayou.

“I have no idea who I am.” He spoke more to himself than to me.

The reality of what he’d just said was more powerful than he may have realized. He was right, he had no idea and he hadn’t known for a very long time. Maybe that would explain the split identities. When Tony turned into Toni, he went full force. Nothing about him said male, except for the Adam’s apple that was only slightly evident after he’d had it shaved down. He was searching for the real him. Maybe this reality would help him sort things out.

“So what now?” I rubbed his shoulder.

“I don’t know. My original plan was to burst in the house and confront them and go postal, but you messed that up by coming along and calming me down.” He jabbed my arm playfully.

I was relieved he’d said that. I couldn’t imagine a battle between Tony and Uncle Ken ending too well for either one of them. Tony’s lean and tall, but he’s far from weak. Then there’s Uncle Ken who’s just as tall and slightly bigger, and even though he’s older, I can’t imagine my uncle going down without a fight. It’s not in the Freeman’s to give up. I’d heard that line my whole life.

“You wanna hear something crazy?” Tony asked.

I shifted my body towards him and leaned against the door. “Yeah.”

“I always knew something was odd about our family. I mean look at us. I look nothing like my parents. How can you explain two high yella people making a brown child?” He lifted a brow.

“It is possible you know. Genetics are strange like that. Look at me and Rachel, we look nothing alike.” I stated with more pride than I should probably feel.

“Yeah, but you look like Grandma Hazel. At the very least you can say you resemble someone in this family. I don’t look like none of y’all.” His Bayou accent came out the more he talked.

“Don’t get caught up on skin color and stop jumping to conclusions. You may have proof that Uncle Ken’s not your father, but Aunt Claudia is your mother. Don’t let your anger tear you away from the only parents you’ve ever known. Go and talk with them and hear what they have to say.”

“Talk?” He threw the wet wipe in the cup holder between us.”Talk about what? How they lied to me my whole life? I have a whole family out there that I know nothing about.” Tony pointed out the window. “You don’t play with people’s lives like that. It wasn’t their choice to make. I have a right to know who I am.” His jawline tightened.

“So, what are you going to do?” I asked once I realized he wasn’t receptive to any advice I offered.

He turned his head slowly in my direction. His eyes narrowed, and I swear they looked a lot darker than they did a minute ago. “My parents are frauds. Lying to the people out there is one thing, but to the person you’re supposed to love more than your own life? The person you’re supposed to protect. The one you’re supposed to be there for when…” He took a deep breath.

“When what?” My heart beat harder waiting for the answer, but I got nothing but silence. Five minutes of silence and deep breathing.

“That’s just not right.” He finally spoke. “I think it’s time for them to feel the consequences of their actions.” Tony’s brow lifted.

Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia were both politicians. She was a councilwoman and he was a state representative ready to throw his name in the hat for Governor. The fact that they’re liars was no secret. It went with their occupation. A scandal of any kind could ruin their careers and reputations. They worked very hard to establish themselves as a power couple. If Tony thought they were going to allow him to tear down everything they’d built, he was wrong. This was not going to end well. I felt it in my spirit.

“Tony, think about what you’re saying. Doing something like that wouldn’t just hurt them, but a lot of other people too. The young people in this community look up to your parents, they always have.”

“Yes, because they don’t know the truth. They don’t know the real Ken and Claudia and I can’t allow them to be fooled any longer. They have everyone fooled, including you.”

I don’t know why that announcement didn’t shake me more than it did. Maybe because a part of me knew something wasn’t right about Uncle Ken and Aunt Claudia. They were too perfect and people like them always made me wonder how much was real and how much was an act. Though they may not be the people they’ve made us believe they were, they’re still family and we protect family, not destroy them. Unless the act is just that unforgivable, which would be the case between Rachel and I.

“You’re quite. I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m talking about, but believe me you’ll find out soon enough.” Tony stated, causing me to turn my attention back to him.

“Actually, my thoughts are about you. I know you want to teach your parents a lesson, but are you ready for everyone to know your business because trust me if you go for them they’re going to come for you and their swing may be a lot harder.” I paused for emphasis. “Don’t open a door to something you’re not ready to release.” I tilted my head and hoped he could  fill in the spaces I’d chosen to leave blank. 

He swiped a tear that was about to fall. “I don’t care about any of that. I want them to hurt the same way they’ve hurt me.  As long as they don’t come out on top then I’m good.”

I couldn’t believe this was the cousin I knew and loved. I understood why he was hurt, but this was on another level. This didn’t feel like a child with paternity issues, this felt a lot deeper and a whole lot darker.

“I’m not saying they were right for hiding this from you, but what if they were trying to protect you from something?” I was grasping for anything at this point. Tony’s rage felt unfamiliar and I didn’t trust that he wouldn’t go to his parent’s and do something crazy.

“Protect me from who? My real family? Why would I need protecting from them?”

He asked the question I couldn’t answer, but there had to be a reason they decided to hide this for so long. I already knew this was going to get worse before it got better. I was prepared to be there for my cousin in any way he needed me. This tangled web that was spun so many years ago was tearing him apart, and I had no idea it would eventually wrap me in it too. 

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 2: Deadly Deception

Beads of sweat dripped down my back. My nails dug into the palm of my hands. The urge to kill grew stronger and stronger the longer I stared into his dark eyes.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel  tugged on my arm.

“I’m not going anywhere.” I started to pull away from my grandmother, but even in the height of anger, my good senses prevailed. Disrespecting Grandma Hazel was something I’d never do.

“Listen.” Grandma Hazel pulled me closer to her. “I don’t have Sally so don’t start nothing.” She barely parted her lips as she spoke.

Sally’s the pistol Grandma Hazel kept underneath her bed.

“I don’t need Sally.” I’d never deny myself the pleasure of feeling the life seeping from his worthless body. I couldn’t say that part out loud from fear of Grandma Hazel thinking I’d gone off the deep end.

John Walker stood at least six feet seven and maybe weighed about two hundred pounds. He was a big man, always had been, but in my eyes and in my mind, he was as small and as cowardly as the crime he’d committed.

John cleared his throat and kept his eyes on Grandma Hazel as he spoke. “I’m sorry I just stopped by to pay my respects.”

The bass in his voice shook me to my core. As cold as it was outside, on the inside I was on fire. I could feel the heat warming my face. My golden skin never disguised my anger.   

“Respects? You came to pay respects? Did you respect him when you killed him?” I inched closer. Grandma Hazel held on a little tighter. “Was it out of respect that you aimed that gun at him and fired?” My voice echoed through the trees surrounding us.

“You need to leave.” My grandma’s hand trembled around my arm. “My grip won’t last much longer and I can’t protect you from the rage this girl’s been holding inside.” She warned him.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He stood a little longer. His weary eyes now stared at me. I glared back and refused to blink. I wanted him to see every ounce of anger I had for him. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of hiding behind it, not even for a second.

Without another word, he left.

My breathing was uncontrollable. I hadn’t had a panic attack in a long time, but seeing my father’s murderer standing at his grave triggered a major one. I tried to catch my breath as I sat in the cold grass at the foot of my father’s grave. At times like these he’d know what to say to calm me down, but my calming mechanism, my protector from all things bad, was no longer here. He hadn’t been here for a very long time. Over twenty years as Grandma Hazel reminded me earlier. Twenty-two years to be exact. My family calls it the accident, but what John Walker did was no accident.

“Doll, listen to me.” Grandma Hazel stood over me. “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself over someone like John Walker. Your daddy would not want you living like this.”

Grandma Hazel was usually right, but not this time. My daddy would want me living like this because I’m the only one willing to fight for his justice. Looking for the system to help was no longer an option. That hope faded with each year that passed. I’m my daddy’s only means to justice and it will come.

“Are you listening to me?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m listening.” I stared at the picture on the tombstone of my dad. I remembered that day so well. It was the day of my seventeenth birthday. My dad had surprised me with my first car. It was a light blue Honda Accord that’s still parked behind my Grandma’s house. I don’t drive it but the thought of letting it go makes my heart hurt. That was the last gift my father could give me, and I promised him that I’d keep it forever. When I waved, and drove my brand-new car out of the driveway, I had no idea what I’d be coming home to later on that night. I could still hear their voices as they argued over only God knows what. I followed the commotion to the back door and that’s when it happened. My daddy warned him not to come back there again. He took a step towards John and then there was the shot. One single shot that caused him to drop to his knees.

I didn’t realize how hard I was crying until Grandma Hazel leaned down and started making small circles on my back. That was her way of soothing me when I was upset. As a little girl she’d instruct me to lay on her lap while she’d rub my back and hum Amazing Grace, her favorite hymn. Back then it worked,  but today the anger overrode Grandma Hazel’s touch.

“Let’s go.” Grandma Hazel tugged at my arm again.

I held my finger up signaling that I needed a minute.

I crawled closer to my dad, forgetting about the high priced clothing that I normally took great pride in protecting.

“I’ll give you some time alone.” She smoothed the top of my hair down before she walked away.

“Daddy, I’m so sorry I wasn’t there sooner.” The warm tears streamed down my cheeks. At every visit I apologized. I should’ve been home to save him instead of out joyriding with Tasha.

I sat a while longer until I started feeling better. Even in spirit he had a way of making everything okay.  I stood and brushed off the grass that clung to my wool coat. I blew my daddy a kiss and slowly made my way back to the car.

The drive back to Grandma Hazel’s was filled with so many mixed emotions. I spent the ten-minute drive plotting how I could get away with murder, just as John had. Self-defense was his claim and the jury bought it, but that was no surprise. His dad was the most brilliant legal mind in Bayou. He had a lot of high profile clients from all over the world who paid him good money to make things happen in their favor. He’d never lost a case, and I’m sure it’s because of the stories I’d heard about him. In many of his cases witnesses would either change their stories at the last minute, or in some instances come up missing. It didn’t take a brain surgeon to know who was behind those mysterious disappearances.

“Oh Lord.” Grandma Hazel’s exasperated tone drew my attention to her.

“What’s wrong?”

She pointed towards her house at my cousin Anthony, or Tony as we’d always called him, sitting on the front porch.

My mood instantly lifted. Tony is my favorite cousin. His father, my Uncle Ken, is Grandma Hazel’s oldest child and only son. Growing up, Tony and I lived right next door to each other which was the norm here. Family tend to settle across the street, next door, or even in the same yard as other family members. Tony is the only person in our family who never acted like I was crazy when I shared what I saw the night my father died. No one believed John, sweet quiet John, would ever hurt anyone on purpose. It had to be an accident. That was the only logical explanation.

Tony loved me because I accepted his truth, just as he accepted mine. I loved Tony for who he was designed to be. I didn’t always agree with the way he spent his time, but I was the last person who could judge anyone for the choices they’d made. Grandma Hazel, on the other hand, wasn’t so accepting of Tony or his choices.

“Hey.” I wrapped my arms tightly around Tony, but I could barely feel his arms around me. I stepped back to examine his face. That’s when I saw the moisture in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” I placed my hand on his shoulder and tried to comfort him the best I could without knowing the cause of his tears.

“Did you know?” He looked past me and directed his question to Grandma Hazel who’d finally made it up the porch.

“What are you talking about?” Grandma Hazel’s narrowed eyes and snappy tone were evidence of  her dislike for her grandson. Her disposition towards Tony was something the public would never see. That’s what I meant when I said we Freeman’s were good at putting on a show for everyone else’s viewing pleasure.

“About my parents. Did you know?” Tony shifted from one leg to the other.

“I know a lot and you wouldn’t be able to handle half of it. I knew you’d find out one day, but the answer you want will not come from me, now go home.” Grandma Hazel stared at Tony for what felt like eternity before she finally disappeared behind the door.

I didn’t know what the conversation was about, but I knew enough to know it wasn’t good. I knew coming back to Bayou I’d risk the chance of being exposed to more family secrets. It always happened, which is why I chose to stay away. Pretending to be normal was much easier around strangers. I’d hoped this issue with Tony was it, but little did I know this was just the beginning. There was so much more I wasn’t prepared to learn or accept.

Written by L.A. Lewis

Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

Posted in Blog Series

Blog 1: Stranger at the Grave

I thought I was done sneaking boys in my grandmother’s house. Who knew at the age of thirty I’d still be doing it. Although, it’s not as bad as it sounds…well maybe it is. I couldn’t help but laugh thinking about Warren and I tiptoeing up the stairs, being careful to skip that one particular step at the very top that creaked with the least bit of pressure.

“Should’ve known I’d find you out here.” Warren’s baritone voice melted the chill I felt just moments before. He stood beside me as I rocked on the porch swing covered with my grandmother’s fuzzy throw that she kept in her special recliner. It had her vanilla scent all over it.

This November, unlike so many I remember here in Louisiana, was a bit cold. My grandmother’s front porch early in the morning had always been my favorite place. I could sit for hours staring across the street at the field that went back as far as the eyes could see. If the woods had a voice, I’d have to stay away and change my identity. I did things there I never would’ve done before the accident. The accident. At least that’s what my family called it. I call it murder and even if no one believed me I know what I saw and it was no accident.

“I have to get going.” Warren leaned down and kissed me, pulling me back from the dark place my mind was about to suck me into.

He always did that for me. It was as if he could sense when I was about to wander into the danger zone, so he’d use his voice…or his hands…or his mouth to pull me out. Whichever tool he used was a welcomed and very pleasurable distraction.

Warren’s from New Orleans, a three hour drive from here, but whenever I was in town he’d sneak in and out to see me. He couldn’t risk ruining his career and his reputation messing around with a woman half his age. It wouldn’t be a good look for New Orleans’ newest Mayor.

Warren was old enough to be my dad, but you’d never know it looking at him. He had the body and stamina of a twenty-year-old. That man never had a problem wearing me out in a very good way. My heart began to race thinking about last night. How my clothes practically melted off when he pulled me into him and kissed me like I was the sweetest flavor he’d ever tasted. It’s been over a month since we’d seen each other and every night he’d made it a point to draw a very good visual of all the things he wanted to do to me once he got his hands on me again, and last night he delivered on every promise. After half an hour, my mind said it was time for a break, but my body was eager to feel what was coming next.

Warren leaned down and  kissed me one last time. I placed my hand on the back of his head and held him close for as long as I could. I took a deep breath and inhaled the spicy scent that still lingered on his shirt. Thoughts of last night had me yearning for more even though I was still trying to regain the feeling in my legs. I can’t even begin to explain how I found the flexibility for some of those positions. What I do know is Jen, my yoga instructor, was worth way more than I’m paying.

Warren pulled away, but just enough so our lips still touched. “Don’t make me take you back upstairs.” He licked his lips, then flashed that sexy smile that showed a row of perfect white teeth. That’s the smile that caused me to lose my clothes the first night we met in Georgia a little over a year ago. The attorney I work for was hosting a charity gala, and hooking up with someone was the last thing on my mind. After months of working overtime to pull off such an elaborate event, the only thing I wanted was a strong drink and my soft bed. By the end of the night I had the drink, the bed, and Warren as a bonus. I couldn’t resist that deep voice that shook my core. That inviting smile that made me forget how tired I’d felt, and that low cut salt and pepper hair that’s always so neat and wavy. Distinguished gentleman was the best way to describe my sixty-five year old secret lover. Being with Warren felt wrong in my head, but from the neck down it felt oh so right.

“I better go.” He looked towards the house where Grandma Hazel was probably just waking up.

This wasn’t the norm for us. We’d usually meet halfway between here and New Orleans. Warren would always have everything laid out and ready for me when I arrived. I had to switch things up this time because Grandma Hazel hadn’t been feeling well, which is why I decided to come down a week earlier than planned. Thanksgiving was next week and I hadn’t celebrated it with my family ever since I moved to Atlanta five years ago. Being away made it easier to come up with an excuse not to come home. Whenever the entire Freeman family gathered in one place there was always hell on the horizon. It didn’t take much for someone to say the wrong thing about the wrong person and tempers would fly. I didn’t miss that at all. Take out and a movie had become my new Thanksgiving tradition. I’d explain to Grandma Hazel how demanding my work load was, and even though she’d pout, she’d understand and I’d be off the hook yet another year. My luck ran out this this year, and Grandma Hazel poured the guilt on thick. I had no choice but to come.

Warren’s swagger commanded my attention as he made his way to his SUV. When he pulled off the silence resumed. I almost forgot how quiet it was here. Living in Atlanta had trained my ears to hear sounds not so common here in the Bayou.

My mind instantly drifted back to Warren. After every visit I wondered if he’d still participate in our secret love affair if he knew me…the real me. If he knew my family and not the life we’d created for the public’s viewing pleasure.

“Doll!” I heard my Grandma calling me by the nickname she’d given me so many years ago. She said I looked just like one when I was born. Everyone else just called me Nadia. I loved to hear Grandma Hazel calling me by my nickname. It almost made me sound innocent. Grandma Hazel knew I was far from innocent, yet she still called me Doll, and that’s why I loved her so much. She loved me in spite of my many mistakes.

“Out here,” I said loud enough for her to hear. Grandma Hazel was starting to lose her hearing, but she refused to get a hearing aid. She said hearing aids were  for old people. Not sure what you’d call an eighty-six-year old woman, but apparently you didn’t call her old.

I watched as she opened the screen door and slowly made her way to the swing which was only a few steps away. Sadness invaded my body as I watched how slow she crept along now. She definitely wasn’t the same woman who used to play in the field with my cousins and me when we were growing up. Age had taken its toll on her and robbed her of all her spunk. I hate age.

Out of all her grandchildren, I was the only one who inherited most of her features and all of her disposition. I’ve seen pictures of Grandma Hazel back in the day, and if I didn’t know better I’d swear it was me. It would be hard for anyone to tell the difference with our almond-shaped hazel eyes and sandy colored hair. Grandma Hazel’s is now a beautiful grey. She keeps it pulled back in a ponytail that hangs midway her back. I’d contemplated cutting mine, but she’d kill me if I did. “A woman’s hair is her glory,” is what she preached over and over again. So for now, my unruly curly mane is here to stay.

Grandma Hazel grunted as she sat next to me.

I held onto her frail arm so she wouldn’t fall.

“Thank ya, chile.” She patted my leg. “You going to see Rachel?” Grandma Hazel looked out towards the road. Unlike most people who’d tend to ease into difficult conversations, Grandma Hazel always dove right in. Starting the day talking about Rachel  meant that today was already shot to hell and I should go back to bed and try again tomorrow.

I sat silently and watched her until she turned in my direction.

“I asked you a question.” Grandma Hazel tried to sound firm.

“A question you already know the answer to.”

She shook her head and turned her attention back to the clearing across the street. “At some point you gotta let it go. You can’t keep holding on to all that stuff. It’s been almost twenty years. That situation’s holding you hostage and you’ll never be able to move on until you let it go.”

“That may be easy for you, but I’m not so forgiving.”

“Rachel has moved on with her life. She’s happy. The only person your misery’s hurting is you.”

I folded my arms in protest.

“Your momma loves you.” Grandma Hazel used her feet to help me push us back and forth on the long porch swing. I had some great conversations on this swing. Ate some of the best homemade peach ice cream I’d ever tasted, and cried some of the most exhausting tears I’d ever cried, right here on this old white swing. The funny thing was, every memory I had of this swing involved Grandma Hazel. I guess in a way you could say she was my best friend. She worked my nerves with her unwanted advice about my mother. The woman I refused to call Mom. To me she’s just Rachel. I’d never give her a title she didn’t deserve.

“Love? She doesn’t know the meaning of the word love. If she did she never would’ve done what she did. She never loved my dad and she doesn’t love me either. She made that point clear during the trial.” There was very little my grandmother could do to get under my skin, but talking about Rachel got in there deep.

I stood  up and made my way to the front door.

“Where you going?” Grandma Hazel asked.

“I’m going to visit my father.” I barely had the screen door opened before she started again.

“You can’t keep doing that, Doll.”

With my hand still on the door handle, I turned to her. “Doing what?”

She lowered her head and her eyes shot up at me. She gave me the ‘you know damn well what I’m talking about’ look.

“You need anything from town?” I asked before she had an opportunity to say anything else.

“Nope.” Grandma Hazel grunted again as she tried to push herself off the swing..

I reached for her hand and helped her up..

“But I’ll ride with you anyway.” She announced as she moved past me and into the house.

I rolled my eyes and let out a silent, deep breath. Going to see my dad was our special time together. I didn’t need Grandma Hazel standing over me, rushing my visit. After only five minutes, she’d be ready to leave.

Driving through the town of Bayou brought  back so many fond memories of my childhood. I had a very good childhood. Really good in fact. No one could’ve made me believe that it wouldn’t always be that way. That before I graduated from high school my life would’ve been shaken and torn to pieces.

I pulled into Shop Mart, the only grocery store in Bayou. “I’ll be right back. You sure you don’t need anything?” I asked again. Grandma Hazel had a bad habit of waiting until we got back to the house to remember everything she should’ve picked up while she was out.

“I don’t need a thing.” She sat with her purse resting in her lap and her arms crossed.

I went straight to the aisle with the flowers. I had to find the perfect ones for Daddy.

“Nadia?” I recognized my friend’s voice before I saw her face.

“Hey.” Tasha wrapped her arms tight around my body. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home?”

I looked over her shoulder towards the window to make sure Grandma Hazel couldn’t see the exchange.

“Tasha.” I stretched my eyes and gritted my teeth knowing she’d understand the expression.

She flicked her wrist, “Girl I don’t care about these people.”

I picked up the first decent looking flowers I could find. “I’ll call you later,” I whispered as I passed her.

I never looked back to see if Tasha was still watching. I just paid and left.

Tasha was a product of the children across the street. Growing up I used to hear my mom and aunt talking about the children who lived across the street from them. They never had anything nice to say about them. I couldn’t understand the hate they had for these children and why that hate extended to their children and their children’s children.  It was so bad that my mom and Grandma forbade me to play with Tasha, even though we were in the same class all throughout school. I imagine if moving me to another class was an option, they would’ve done it, but being that there was only one teacher per grade, Tasha and I stayed together until we graduated. We played together too, but we had to sneak to do it. I guess you could say Tasha was my first secret relationship. Even now, after all this time,  whenever I was home, we’d have to hang out far away from Bayou.

I eased my QX8O down the dirt road leading to the graveyard, my dad’s permanent residence. I came to a slow roll when I saw another car parked in front of his plot. I didn’t recognize the car, or the body of the person whose back was turned to us.

I got out and left Grandma Hazel sitting in the car. She didn’t need to be out in this cold air. I walked closer and the sound of the leaves crunching beneath my leather boots caused the stranger to look in my direction. My mouth fell open when I saw his eyes. I dropped the flowers at my feet. Something told me to turn and leave, but I was frozen in place. My heart was about to burst through my body. I felt like I could peel off every piece of clothing and still not feel a thing. That’s how numb his presence made me. I hadn’t seen him in over twenty years, but he still had the same effect on me. Fear, anger, and hurt all mixed with rage. Not a good combination of emotions.

A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump. I didn’t hear that my grandmother had walked up behind me.

“What are you doing here?” Her presence gave me the strength to speak. Not that anything he could say would make his visit right. There was nothing right about this at all.

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Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

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Nothing Will Change in 2017!

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If you’re like me, you probably still have the same list of things you’re hoping will change in 2017. You still want to lose 20 lbs., the same 20 lbs. you’ve been saying you’re going to lose probably for the last 20 years. You still want to write that book before someone steals your idea. You still want to start that business that God’s placed on your heart to start. Well, I don’t mean to be a Debbie Downer, but nothing’s going to change in 2017 unless YOU change. Change doesn’t magically occur because the clock strikes 12 and the calendar starts over. Change is a mind thing, not a beginning of the year thing.

The reason we find ourselves making these same promises of change over and over is because mentally we aren’t ready to change. It sounds good. We know it’ll feel good, but the mind hasn’t accepted that new resolution yet. Change is something that takes time. It’s a day by day process. It takes determination and consistency to change something you’ve been doing, or not doing, for years. When it comes to change, it’s important to:

1. Change one thing at a time. Don’t take on too much or you’ll find yourself overwhelmed and eventually giving up altogether, well until Dec. 31 and then you’ll make the decision to try once again.

2.Celebrate the small victories. If you go to the gym and only walk for 10 minutes, that’s worth celebrating.

3.Set small goals. If you want to lose 20 lbs., don’t think about the whole 20. Set a weekly goal between 1-2 lbs. Doesn’t losing 1 lb. sound more doable than 20? Sure does to me.

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4.Get an accountability partner. You may be amazed how many people are seeking to make the same changes as you. I was on the phone with one of my writer sisters and she was naming everything she wanted to change this upcoming year and her list was identical to mine.

5.Don’t set yourself up for failure. If you know your lifestyle won’t allow you to write 1,000 words a day, then don’t set that as your goal. Be realistic.

6.Track your progress. Keep a daily log or checklist of everything you’ve accomplished or didn’t accomplish that day. Seeing those checks or happy faces, whatever you use, does something for you. Hey, who says stickers are just for children? We like them too 🙂

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7.Make it fun! Maybe going to the gym isn’t the right workout plan for you. What about dancing? Sports? No one says that the gym is the only place to lose weight. Try new healthy recipes. If you love cooking, then this should be fun for you. Don’t look at it as a chore, but as  fun life-change.

8.LIVE! Don’t forget to live and enjoy life. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you mess up, that’s fine just start over tomorrow. Look at tomorrow as your New Year. A fresh start. A do over.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE! It’s my prayer that you and I will have different goals for 2018 because we will rock these 2017 goals :)!

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Advice to My Younger Self!

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If I could write to my younger self, there’s a lot of advice I’d give, but for the sake of this blog and your time, I’ll keep it short… well kinda short :).

Advice #1: Listen to your parents. They really do know what they’re talking about. Money really doesn’t grow on trees. Checks and credit cards aren’t free money, and that amount you saw on your mom’s check stub really isn’t as much as you were thinking.

Advice #2: Enjoy childhood for as long as possible. It’s not that bad things aren’t happening around you, but it’s considered “grown folks business,” and your parent’s never discussed it in your presence. You have no idea how beneficial that is, but believe me, you should appreciate the “leave the room when I’m speaking with an adult” rule.

Advice #3: Making your own decisions and taking care of yourself isn’t as fun as you perceive it to be. I know you think your parents are old-fashioned and treat you like a baby, which by the way you really are, but trust me you’ll want to stay there and be their baby for as long as you can.

Advice #4: Stop waiting to the last minute to work on school projects or to start studying for a test. You can do a lot better if you apply yourself more. Those bad habits will follow you into adulthood, and you’ll spend most of your life trying to change. Do it now!

Advice #5: Stop pouting when your mom says you have to go to your grandmother’s house. One day you’ll wish you could go there again.

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Advice #6: When your mom comes in your room to watch The Young and The Restless tonight, cherish that time. Stare at her a little longer. Hold her a little tighter. Inhale her scent a little deeper.

Advice #7: Trust that there’s someone out there for you. There are going to be days when you’re much older, that you’ll start to question that. Don’t settle for less than you deserve. You’re #1 and if the guy clearly shows you that you’re not, run away and don’t look back. The one God has for you makes you feel special from the start. He’ll never give you a reason to question your role in his life. He’s the one!

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Advice #8: I know your brother works on your nerves and you think he’s the meanest person ever, but one day you’ll see him differently. He’ll become someone you not only love, but really like. You’re going to admire him more than anyone in the world. And the best part is, your parents would be proud of him too. I know that’s hard to believe being that he’s probably tormenting you as you read this, but just take my word for it 🙂

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Advice #9: Be comfortable being you. There’s going to be this thing called social media. Everyone’s life is going to look amazing on there. Just like yours, their life isn’t perfect either. Appreciate the life God’s given you, pain and all.

Advice #10: The most important advice I can share, so please listen carefully and write this down so you don’t forget. On July 2, 2015, when your dad calls….ANSWER THE PHONE! Trust me on this one.

P.S!!! One day you’re going to have a daughter who acts just like you, but don’t ever admit that to your husband. It’s your job to make him think she gets it from his side of the family LOL!

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P.S.S. I know you’re not the kissy-kissy type, but get ready because you’ll have a son who’s going to shower you with kisses each and every day. Even when he’s upset with you, he’s going to kiss you because according to him, your kisses make everything better 🙂

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What advice would you give your younger self?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2016! Need I Say More?

2016 has literally left my mouth opened. I don’t even know what to say other than #Really2016. Below are my Five Most Shocking Moments of 2016!

#5. No more G.O.A.T! The death of Muhammad Ali was a shocker. We all knew he’d been sick for quite some time, but still, we didn’t see death. At least I didn’t.

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#4. The Purple Prince! Prince’s death felt like a really bad joke. It took some time to realize it was real. He was actually gone. That’s the same feeling I felt at the loss of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Some people you just don’t think will ever die, not for a very long time anyway.

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#3. The Washington Parish flood. That one was very hurtful because my dad and stepmom’s house was destroyed. Losing my dad was bad enough, but then we had the task of throwing away all of his belongings. That wasn’t a good feeling at all.

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#2. The Great Flood of 2016. That one still has me feeling a certain kind of way. Though my house wasn’t affected, it’s hard to see so many neighbors, friends, and family going through. The weight of  knowing so many people are still out of their homes, four months later, is very heavy.

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#1. The Presidential Election. That’s all the time I’ll spend on that one because of health reasons 🙂

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Though there were some really bad events in 2016,  I must say there were also some really good things. Here are the Three Best Moments of 2016!

 

#3. The Cubs won the World Series after 71 years. That was awesome! I can only imagine how great that felt for the players and their fans. It showed what can happen if you just keep pushing. Hopefully our breakthrough won’t take 71 years, but hey push anyway 🙂

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#2. I published my 3rd novel. I’d worked on this book for so long and finally it’s complete and on sale. (www.amazon.com) wink! wink!

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#1. VEGAS BABY! I finally did something for me on my special day. My husband, cousin-sister Sheneda, and her husband Anthony, and I all flew to Vegas to celebrate my 39th birthday. I always said I wanted to do a couples trip, but never did it. Now I’m ready for the next one 🙂

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What did I miss? There were so many I couldn’t keep up. What were your most shocking 2016 moments? Post on FB or Twitter with the hashtag #Really2016. Don’t forget to tag me.

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Back Down Memory Lane

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With Christmas right around the corner, I can’t help but remember the Christmas of yesteryears. Christmas was, is, and prayerfully always will be my favorite holiday. I love the sights, sounds, and feel of it. It’s amazing how certain events can stick with you, and almost make you feel like you just experienced it a day or so before. Well, for me it’s Christmas as a youngster.

I remember the days leading up to Christmas I’d go shopping with my mom. Back then Columbia Street in Bogalusa was a big deal, and Fred’s was the major store. I used to love driving down Columbia Street with all the Christmas decorations and lights. Seeing it in my head now kinda feels like I’m watching an old movie. You couldn’t shop on Columbia Street and not get in the Christmas spirit.

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  This isn’t Columbia Street but a close reminder from back then 🙂

The night before Christmas, if the temperature had dropped, my whole family (mom, dad, brother, and me) would all sleep in the den. It was warm in there, and my parents didn’t have to worry about trying to heat the whole house. That was so much fun. Knowing everyone I loved was right in one room all warm and toasty was the best feeling ever.

I can remember waking up on Christmas morning and running to the formal living room which is where the Christmas tree was kept. My brother and I would tear into those presents. I knew to expect the latest baby doll and a surprise gift. One year I got a radio and a Whitney Houston cassette. I loved that radio and played it all the time. I’m sure I worked on everybody’s nerves having to hear Whitney Houston playing over and over again LOL!

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After we’d open gifts at home, we would put on our new Christmas clothes, pack up the car with more gifts for other family members, and prepare to take off for our thirty-second drive across the street to my grandparent’s house (seriously we did)

That’s when the fun really started. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins would come home for the holidays. My cousins and I played with our new toys. We ate the food my grandmother, mom, and aunts stayed up most of the night preparing. My grandparent’s house was filled with noise and laughter from the youngest to the oldest. I guess that’s why I can’t imagine a quiet Christmas. It wouldn’t feel like Christmas if I didn’t hear talking, laughing, and pots rattling from people going back for seconds or thirds.

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Cousins Sheneda and Sobrena Christmas 09′ at our grandparent’s house.

I can’t remember if presents came after or before dinner, but I do know that one thing never changed. My cousins and I all knew we were getting $5 from my grandmother. We did wonder if she’d eventually…maybe move up to $10 when we got older, but nope she stuck with her $5. Hey, it was $5 more than we had LOL!

Christmas is quite different for me now. Instead of trying to force myself to sleep and waking up extremely early, now I go straight to sleep and pray the children will at least sleep past six o’clock. These days, my joy and excitement come from watching my children opening their gifts. 

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I can say that even though many things have changed, some things remained the same. I don’t wake up early (voluntarily), I don’t get to eat my grandma’s cooking, receive her annual $5, or spend a cozy night with my parents, but every year God has blessed me to still hear and participate in the talking, laughing, and rattling of pots that let’s you know that it is indeed a very MERRY CHRISTMAS!

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