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Congratulations: A Short Story

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by Jasmyne K. Rogers

I stood up from my center in the middle pew. The mustered hope abandoned my being; my legs grew weak from the pressure. More than three-dozen pairs of eyes studied me, awaiting my motive. I had practiced. Practiced well in my vanity mirror the night before. Wrote the speech in my leather bound journal praying that my scattered words would discover conformity in the margins. However, my words betrayed me, abandoned me at show time, and left me in awkward silence. The preacher tilted his glasses on the bridge of his nose with the bible cupped firmly in his hand. His eyes searched and waited for my announcement.

I had nothing.

Damon’s mother sat in the front pew on the right side and my eyes met hers for a fraction of a second. She knew I was in pain and her eyes immediately met the tiled floor in avoidance. Someone coughed and it brought me back to reality: standing up in the middle of a packed church witnessing the love of my life marrying another.

The abandoned thoughts called upon fear and before my legs failed me completely, I rushed down the aisle and out of the chapel doors.

I heard a faint, “You may kiss your bride,” as I tripped down the last concrete step leading from the church to the parking lot. Tears welled in my eyes for the rest of the world to see. I quickly gathered myself and shook uncontrollably to bridle the raging emotions. I pressed the keyless entry remote to my Acura and slid in the driver’s seat as the hot leather warmed the back of my legs. Before I knew it, my hands firmly gripped the steering wheel as warm tears stormed my reddened cheeks.

I imagined the chapel doors would burst open and I would make out a tall, medium-build man running in my direction through my blurred vision. He would tap my car window lightly as I pushed a stray curl behind my ear and let down the window. He would give me a faint smile and wipe my tears with the back of his hand and say,

“I love you, Nena. I want to be with you and only you.”

Tears stormed my face again when I realized my imagination would never manifest into reality. The chapel doors were still closed and there was no man in a tux running toward me.

No one showed up for me.

I sped off into the horizon at the quite rude awakening and revelation that punched me squarely between the eyes.

I vowed to never return to Lowndes County, Alabama as a result.
***

Nina Simone filled the room as my head bobbed rhythmically to the melodious tunes. The sweet aroma of freshly baked pastries and chicken stir-fry saturated the room as I poured a glass of white wine for two.

“Thank you, baby,” he replied. He took his glass and resumed gazing at me with wild curiosity.

I began humming and really getting into the beautiful vibes of being “young, gifted, and Black” that Nina sung of, unapologetically. His eyes marveled at the sight of me simply being on that Wednesday evening.

“Nena,” he whispered.

“Hmm?”

“I have a question.”

I turned the stove eye down to low and covered the saucepan and sat down on the barstool next to him.

“Tell me why you don’t want to go home to visit.”

I chuckled and darted my eyes, wanting to avoid the subject altogether. I did not want to travel down that road. The path was painful.

“That wasn’t exactly a question.”

“Will you tell me?” He pleaded, gently grabbing my hand.

“I pulled away slightly and got up from the barstool.”

I wasn’t ready to go back there—referring to the physical and mental state where hurt engulfed me. I had finally started gathering my Self and getting back to happy. I did not need to detour and travel down that road. It had taken so damn long to find my way. I blocked the memory.

“Nothing’s there for me,” was my simple reply.

He rubbed his eyebrow and I knew at that point, it would be a long night. He had asked the question before and I avoided it all the same—usually by bringing up a different subject, turning on some soul music and engaging in a dance, or initiating passionate lovemaking. Or all of the above. Before I could switch from Nina to Marvin, he had grabbed the iSound remote and powered the music off. I shifted my weight from one foot to another. He studied me in my awkward silence. My eyes darted around my petite kitchen as I searched for words.

None arrived. “That’s your home and I know you love your family, Nena. Why do they have to always come here to see you?”

“They like visiting me, Tate. They enjoy getting out of the country and coming here for a spell.”

He wasn’t buying it. He shook his head as I watched his expression change from concern to puzzled.

“I don’t get it, Nena. You speak so fondly of your younger years growing up in the country. Your eyes light up when you tell me the stories. What changed? What made you not want to go back there?”
I closed my eyes and tried my hardest to block the memory attempting to surface. Tate’s concern was triggering it. This was not the time to deal. This was not the time for tears to storm my face as they had done five years ago.

“Can we just talk about this later?” I pleaded as I uncovered the saucepan and stirred the stir-fry.

“Fine,” he said. I forced a smile as I walked to his space, rubbed my hand across his Caesar fade, and planted a subtle kiss on his forehead. He wrapped his right arm around my waist as his left hand powered the iSound back on. Marvin Gaye filled the room as his left hand searched and felt the warmth between my thighs. The brewing passion trumped the remnants of pain that wanted to escape; they all meshed into one under the guise of lovemaking.

***

I awakened to someone gently playing in my hair. I looked up and smiled at the sight. Tate smiled and planted a kiss on my forehead.

“You were crying in your sleep again.”

Before I could mutter a word, he kissed my lips with fervent passion.

“I understand. The revolution of the soul in silence. I love you, Nena Sims.”

The revolution of the soul in silence.

***

The old file cabinet opened with a clunk as I fished through the manila folders. Shoot, it has to be in here somewhere. I kept fishing through the folders until my hand ran across the leather bound. And there it was, tucked away between the 1 World 4 Love and Engine Number 9 folders for my nonprofit affiliations. I drew a deep breath as I grasped the leather bound journal. The journal had been one of many graduation gifts from my father. “Write life in here, Neen. Nothing short of it,” he had said, as I watched the tears glaze his eyes. It was more than just the tears that glazed over in his eyes that engrossed me. It was the subtle, yet powerful fight that resided in his being. He fought with the courage and grace of an African warrior. It marveled and saddened me, simultaneously. The increase in aggression signaled the worsening in his condition. “Daddy, I love you so much,” I had said as his fragile body vibrated from our embrace.

“I love you too, my Neen. Be great.” I found solace in my daddy’s embrace for two more weeks. He transitioned in his sleep and I felt pieces of my soul transition with him to glory. It transformed me something serious and I found myself appalled that the world didn’t stop because my daddy passed away. Now I realized that during that time I was searching. Searching for something to fill the void. I wanted Damon to fill the void so badly. He became my attraction and distraction. He encompassed everything that made my world all right.

My heart started to flutter from the repressed memories that wanted to surface. Tears flowed freely as I opened the leather bound journal. Soon as I flipped to the page dated 06/29/2011, my iPhone danced across the cherry oak desk.

“Hey honey.”
“Hey, my love. How’s your day?”
My eyes smiled as Tate’s voice calmed my world’s storm that was surely brewing.

“Slow day today so I’m just catching up on paper work,” I replied, running my hand over the journal.

“Cool cool.”

“What’s wrong, Tate?” I pushed the journal aside and looked out the window.

“Have you made up your mind about going home?”

My eyes shifted from the two men scatting on the corner outside to the journal now on the edge of my desk.

“Nena…”

I listened to the men conjuring the raw magic of jazz fuzzed with blues. The man wearing a periwinkle blue tee and wrangler jeans lifted his head to the friendly skies as a hard melody escaped his soul.

“Tate,” I whispered as the melody penetrated my soul. It reminded me of something. It was familiar.

“Give me some time.”

“Okay baby. Talk to you later. Love you, moon.”

A faint smile formed. “Love you too, sun.”

I drew a deep breath and focused my attention to the men outside.

The man dressed in periwinkle blue had found his rhythm and his raw magic transformed into a passionate truth. His buddy snapped his finger and bobbed his head—effortlessly attaching ad-libs to his rhythm of blues. His music brought life to the corner of Edgewood and Courtland. It brought life to my soul and a soaring revelation:

It was high time I faced the music and the truth that I forcefully tucked away in the corners of my mind and in the delta of my soul. It was time.

I grabbed the journal and opened the first page.

Graduation night, May 2010.

Today was dope! I finally walked across the stage and received my degree. Everyone was so proud and glowing in their caps and gowns. God is so good and has done amazing things in my twenty-two years of life. It especially made me happy to see my daddy’s eyes sparkle. They haven’t sparkled in a while. Damon says he has a surprise for me tonight. Marriage, maybe? ;) I cannot wait. Today is hands-down the best day of my existence! Thank God for life!

-N.S.

Memories filled my office as I remembered graduation night. Damon picked me up around eight that night and we went to the park. I remember his cologne—it was a perfect combination of fragrant and strong. We had frequented the park many times, but that night seemed quieter. Damon’s eyes darted from the smile outlined on my face and his phone that vibrated endlessly in his pocket.

“Nena,” He called to me as I twirled around the cherry oak tree—feeling like a carefree little girl.

“Can we talk?” His eyes met the ground.

For the first time that night, I noticed a shift in Damon’s demeanor. My own happiness had clouded my awareness of his behavior.

“Sure,” I said, walking a straight line from the tree to the swings.

He took a seat next to me. I begin to propel and lift off the ground until he grabbed the chains of the swing, preventing me to fly.

“This is serious.”

I looked him squarely in the eyes as his eyes searched everywhere except my eyes.

“I haven’t been happy. I have a lot going on and lot to figure out. I don’t have time for a serious relationship right now. I want to live a little.”

The words gut-punched me and I choked from the unanticipated hurt. Things had been going so well for me. Hell, it was the day I graduated from college.

“Why now?” I managed to splatter the words into the night air.

“Because. I felt it would be the best time. I did not want to tell you while you were studying for finals. I was being considerate of you and what you had going on.”

I sucked my teeth and rolled my eyes.

“This is beyond fucked up, Damon.” I removed myself from the space in his presence and walked down the sidewalk.

“Nena, where you going, man?”

“Home,” I yelled into the night air.

“I drove so how you getting there. Wait baby, I’ll drive you.”

I turned around and my eyes could stop bullets in mid-air.

“Baby? I’m not your baby and I don’t need you to take me home. I can walk.”

“Don’t be mad, Nena.”
“Fuck you, Damon.” I said and stormed off into the night.

He remained on the swings gripping the chain with one hand. His phone had finally stopped vibrating. I heard his low voice soothing another.

The tears didn’t fall until I made it home to my bed.

Whatahelluvaday. May 21, 2010.


The music was louder now and a crowd had started forming. The men continued as though it was still only them. Still scatting. Still conjuring raw magic and passionate melodies erupting from their beings. A tear trickled down my cheek as I watched their music heal themselves and others, simultaneously.



My hands trembled a little as I lay diagonally across my bed and flipped through the journal. Erykah Badu’s Baduizm Live album from ’97 played softly from the iHome speaker—creating a soft and peaceful ambience.

The date glared at me and I couldn’t fight the tears.

For the first time in a long time, I allowed myself to weep as Badu soothingly coaxed me with “you don’t have to cry/cause I’ll be right by your side.”

My entire body shook uncontrollably as memories shifted into the present.

The day of my daddy’s funeral fucked my world up. 06/29/2011. Breathing seemed hard. It seemed selfish. My perception was blurry. Everything seemed a mirage. Nothing was real except my daddy’s cold, lifeless body in the blue casket. I remembered Marvin Gaye’s “Distant Lover” playing over and over in my mind to keep me calm. I remember my mother’s deep and piercing moans from losing her best friend and husband of sixteen years. I remember the pain. Everything else was fleeting, but the pain stayed.

My pillows were soaked from years of pain being released. I did not even hear when Tate called out to me softly and got in bed beside me.

He caressed my head as I cried myself to sleep in his arms.

Badu still bellowed softly in the background:

You don’t have to cry. Cause I’ll be right by your side.
***

I awakened to a mild headache at the top of the morning. I gazed up at Tate as he slept with his left arm wrapped around my abdomen. I smiled at the sight and thanked God for allowing this man to merge onto my path and enter my life with love, patience, and passion. Tate Williams inspired me beyond measure.

His energy. Damn, his energy.

He made me melt even in his calming silence.

I slid from underneath his arm and went into the kitchen for an aspirin and glass of water. It was still pitch-black dark outside. I drew the kitchen curtains and swallowed the aspirin and gulped down the filtered water.

Badu trailed from the bedroom into the kitchen. This time she was singing of packing light. The song allowed me to drift into my Self. I sighed and tiptoed back into the bedroom. Tate was still sleeping peacefully with his left arm now thrown across the plush satin pillow I arranged as a makeshift prop in my absence.

I flipped the leather bound journal open as I sat Indian style on my wooden living room floor.

06/29/2011:

He never even said goodbye!!!!

My nerves turned somersaults in my stomach as my mind finally reconnected to the memory I had blocked for five years: the day of Damon’s wedding in my hometown.

Everything grew silent. I could no longer hear Badu. I did not even hear the birds chirping to welcome the morning sun. Everything became a feeling instead. A wave of emotions came to my surface. This time, I allowed them to be. I sat Indian style on my living room floor and wept. I was finally able to say goodbye to the painful memory that I had tucked away in the basement of my mind to fester. I cried because Damon did not even say goodbye. I cried because the people in my hometown pitied me. Lord, that poor girl of Jody Ann. She ain’t been the same since her daddy died. And now she standing up in this here church ‘bout to make a fool of herself over this boy. A pity and a damn shame.

I remember that moment in the church vividly. It was happening again for me. The lump in my throat and my sweaty hands as my knees buckled when I stood up for what I deemed as Love. But Love led me out of that church. Love led me here—to the space where I could combat the painful memories. Love wants me to be free.

I wish you well, Damon. Congratulations. Goodbye.

I got up from the space and went back into the bedroom—removing the makeshift prop and placing Tate’s arm over my now settled stomach. I smiled as I nestled up under his muscular medium frame.

He stirred and kissed my forehead.

“Are you okay, Nena?”

“Yes,” I said, my voice laced with newfound confidence and power as I looked into his eyes.

Tate grinned and pulled me in tighter. He knew.

“I want to go visit my family next weekend. I’m ready to go home, Tate. It’s time now.”

“I’m proud of you, Nena Sims. Congratulations, baby.”

I exhaled—my soul lifted.

It felt damn good to experience freedom after the silent revolution of the soul.

Love. Congratulations.

Jasmyne K. Rogers is a native of Wilcox County, Alabama and graduate of Georgia State University. She thoroughly enjoys writing soul stories that reflect our history, culture, and progression. Her work has been featured on For Harriet, Blavity, Ayiba Mag, NU Tribe Mag, and Centum Press. Her collection of short stories and poetry entitled Soul Stories will be published by Bahati Books in early November. Her soul story, "Peace After Revolution," will be featured in Brown Girls Books' latest anthology, Single Mama Dating Drama, on October 18th. Connect with her on Twitter: @poetic_jaszy.

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