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.




Edited by: Gina Phillips Johnson

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