by Tracey Michae’l Lewis-Giggetts
Our first kiss was the most passionate exchange I’d ever experienced. Something happened on the inside of me that day standing outside of the meeting hall where the Panthers met. In the cold but warmed from the inside out. Yes, something shifted. It was like everything within me buzzed when Reggie’s lips touched mine. I know that most people describe kisses as being hot. But this was more like a shock of electricity that went from my toes to my fingertips, making a pit stop to freeze my brain. It was like I’d just bitten, teeth first into an ice cream cone. Chilling. In a good way. At least I thought it was in a good way. Maybe that was the first sign that I should have walked away. That our liaison would prove too dangerous. But I didn’t think that way back then. Back then, the feelings birthed by his kiss were so foreign to me that I was intrigued by them. Desire grew from a place I’d never known existed. I couldn’t explain it. I just knew that he sold me with that one kiss. With one strong arm wrapped around my waist, holding me like the precious jewel I never knew myself to be, he gave me a glimpse into the love for which I longed for my entire life and a license to give him any excuse to ravage my spirit.
* * * * *
He loved big cars. Reggie had a 1969 Cadillac Deuce and a Quarter—the King Kong of sedans. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, no one was overly concerned about the environment and gas fuel was our only option. To the brothers I knew, a big ride made you feel good. It was a kind of big-bodied protection as you moved about the streets. Unfortunately for me, even wrapped cozily in two tons of steel, I was not protected.
“Why don't we take Michigan? It’s quicker,” I said nonchalantly as I gazed at the rows of brown and grey stoned homes through my window.
Reggie’s response was razor sharp.
“How many times am I going to tell you to not tell me how to drive? I’ve been living in Chicago all my life. I know which way to go!”
We’d been together at that point for almost a year. I was used to his outbursts by then.
“Okay. Okay. Don’t get so uptight, I—“
Before I could even finish, the right side of my face was smashed against the glass pane of the window I’d just been looking through.
Never taking his eyes off the road, he screamed. “Now look what you made me do!”
I always thought it was funny (in a not-so-funny way) that he said I made him do these things. As if his inability to resolve conflict without violence was my problem. Lord knows I was the least provocative person at that time. I guess I should've known when he’d hit that last line of coke before we walked out the door that it was one of those evenings when I should’ve just been quiet; invisible, even. Ironically, while I’ve always felt voiceless in my life, whenever I did speak, I always seemed to speak at the worst possible times. This was one of those times.
“Let me see your face!”
He was still very self-conscious about me showing up bruised and battered to meetings, particularly meetings with other Black Panther chapters in the region. I didn’t turn my head not because I was trying to be even more contrary, but because it hurt to do so. He punched me in my leg with his fist for this disobedience. A better spot, I suppose, because the bruises wouldn’t show.
“Let. Me. See. Your. Face.” His voice was staccato with anger.
I turned toward him wincing.
“Ahh, it’s not that bad. You got your make up with you?”
I kept pressed powder in my purse because I never knew when he would go off.
* * * * *
“Do you love me?” I asked him after we’d gotten back to the house that night.
“Girl, what you talking ‘bout?” he said.
That was not exactly the answer I was looking for. I rolled over and fixed my eyes on his profile.
“Do you love me?” He continued to stare at the ceiling for a while before closing his eyes altogether. I was nervous. Was this something that he really needed to think that hard about, I questioned? We’d been together for a year.
I remembered the advice of my other aunt, Aunt Terry. She still lived down south in Alabama and only came “up north” once a year to visit her sister, my Aunt Billie. According to her, she could only stand the big city for so long. Anyway, she used to say that a man knows within thirty days whether he loves you or not. Well, Reggie and I were long past 30 days, and he still hesitated.
His eyes fly open as if he was startled. As if I was interrupting his thoughts.
“Well what?” he said.
“Do. You. Love. Me.” It was no longer a question at this point. It was a statement that implored him to say something, anything to soothe the cracks that were forming on the surface of my heart.
Still no answer.
At this point, you’d think I’d get a clue. But I wanted so bad for him to say yes. To not dismiss the question but to hear my heart somehow. I thought it would make everything else I had to deal with worth it. This is likely just the reason why I think God never allowed Reggie to say those words, at least not outside of our intimate moments. Even I knew those times didn't count. I wanted him to say it, but I wanted him to say it when he was sober. When we weren’t fighting. As he looked me square in the face.
Reggie lifted his lithe body, vertebrae by vertebrae, out of the bed. After sitting on the edge of the bed with his back turned to me for five minutes, he grabbed his towel and walked into the bathroom.
Still, no answer.
* * * * *
Is that why you hit me?
Because my love crowded your heart,
making it swell in ways that you missed as a child.
And instead of kissing me in thanksgiving,
you rebel against the nurturing
you so desperately need.
Or maybe you strike my face in anger
because its softness reminds you of
the feather-stuffed pillows that held
your secret tears and silent sighs
as you heard your own mother’s
sharp and desperate cries.
Are you punching me like the time clock that
steals your passion,
ticks away any tenderness,
denies your dreams?
All in hope that I might pay you back in ways that
the Man refuses to.
Does the blood that flows from
the open wounds on my face,
somehow bring a temporary closure to the one in your heart?
My mind asks the questions
my mouth dares not ask.
As I lie here,
the memory of the space just below your elbow
being tucked snugly on my throat,
I want to wish away my emptiness
But there’s one more query pressing me.
Just because you are already dead,
do you have to kill me too?
This story is an excerpt from the novel, The Next Thing is Joy: The Gospel According to Vivian Grace, available on Amazon and BN.com.
Tracey Michae'l Lewis-Giggetts is a writer and educator based out of the metro Philadelphia area. In addition to authoring seven books (including "The Next Thing is Joy"), Tracey has written for numerous publications online and in print including TheRoot.com, ForHarriet.com, Dame Magazine, Denene Millner's MyBrownBaby.com, Heart and Soul/BlackHealthMatters.com, xoJane.com, Philadelphia Weekly, African American Career World, and The Chronicle for Higher Education. She is also a professor of writing and publishing at several colleges in the metro Philadelphia area. Visit Tracey Michae’l online at www.traceymlewis.com.