Friday, October 27, 2006
OCT O6 EXCERPT: Daylight Coming
By Sheila Peele-Miller
By Sheila Peele-Miller
Engaging to the bitter end, ‘Daylight Coming’ is a real-to-life story for any woman who knows what it means to crave her mother’s love. And for any woman who is trapped in a personal struggle of choosing between hating and forgiving. And trying to find something about herself to love.
At least once a week Alex and I had lunch at Ming’s, a tiny Chinese restaurant, we just happened to stumble upon, not far from his job. I couldn’t get enough of their shrimp with lobster sauce, and he always had their General Tso’s chicken with vegetable fried rice. We always ate in the same corner, farthest from the door, smiling at each other and sampling from each other’s plates. The mother of Jeff’s firstborn son walked in with four other women while he was paying our check and helping himself to the complimentary chocolate mints on the counter.
She rushed over to him. “Alex Knight? Is that you? I ain’t seen you in years. Where in the world have you been?”
Stunned that he was recognized, he held a brief conversation with her while I slipped out the door. I had already been dreading what would happen once Jeff found out who I was seeing, but not as much as Mother’s birthday celebration, which ─ as some would say ― was just around the corner.
Mother was already laying into me as hard and as often as she could and I had been avoiding her as much as possible. If her party hadn’t been planned six months in advance, with me responsible for all of the cooking, I wouldn’t have gone. Not one to often break my promises, I had to make myself get up on her special day since I never wanted to leave Alex. And he always made sure I had a reason to come back.
He rolled out of bed behind me and followed me into the shower. Streams of water ran down his back, flowed over his abs, biceps, and triceps, forcing me into pulling him into my arms and kissing him as if it would be our last. Aching for me just as bad as I was dying to have him, he picked me up. And I wrapped my legs around his waist. With my back against the shower wall, he left me barely able to catch my breath after our love came down. I pushed him out of the bathroom, knowing if I was one second later than Mother thought I was supposed to be, I would be accused of ruining her birthday.
I threw on the black A-line skirt and leotard and a white crochet-knit sweater he had picked out for me. Then I ran to the Factory Card Outlet and purchased everything in gold: the balloons, cups, napkins, plates and banner, she told me I needed to bring and drove to Evanston. Jeff was already there, but in a mood so lively, it was shocking. Still, I watched him with a suspicious eye as I placed everything for the cornbread stuffing I was going to make on the kitchen table. I was close to having all of the onions, bell peppers, and celery diced and sliced when the doorbell rang. Mother went to answer it with him directly behind her.
She said, “Thank you,” to whomever had come in a cheerful voice. I kept chopping away, hoping we could get through the day without somebody jumping on my case and me having to snap. I was already somewhat pissed that RudyAnn was once again nowhere to be seen when work needed to be done. And Mother was acting as if I had as many hands and feet as an octopus. She and Jeff charged back into the kitchen. Her complexion was bright red and he was huffing and puffing like he was going to blow the house down.
“How dare you!” she snapped, slamming a vase full of red roses on the table. “If I haven’t taught you anything, I have taught you to respect yourself, your marriage, and your family. And I don’t appreciate whoever he is sendin’ these things ─ ” she slapped across the top of the flowers ─ “to my house.” Four petals flew off and fell on the table.
“What are you talkin’ about?”
She threw the gift card at me. I picked it out of the bowl. I knew Jeff was the sender before I even read, “Happy Birthday, from your future son-in-law, Alex” scribbled on it.
Jeff fell in the chair closest to him. “Oh why, Nicole, why-y-y? “ He dropped his head on his arm. “How could you do me like this?”
Mother stood over him. She patted his back while he howled. “Now what do you have to say for yourself?”
Jeff looked up at her. “Mother Borge, he used to wash our cars.” He dabbed his crocodile tears with a paper towel she handed him. “He spent nights in our house. You remember him, don’t you? That skinny little kid with the big Afro. He used to be with Nicole all the time. I pray to God…” He wailed. “That she wasn’t sleepin’ with him way back then.”
Mother’s mouth dropped into a perfect “O” and her eyes got extremely big. I grabbed my purse and ran out the door, desperate to be anywhere other than near Jeff because I almost went Freddie Krueger on his ass!
By me having a full-blown affair, I refused to step a foot inside Holy Hill. I had seen too many hypocrites to set myself out like them. Alex had taken an interest in Islam just before moving back to Evanston, so we studied and meditated together. My motto was regardless of how bleak your life may seem, there is still something to thank God for. Mother didn’t want me to even have that satisfaction. She was constantly calling me, threatening me with the fires of hell, as if she would be the first one to enter The Pearly Gates, the way she judged and belittled people.
After having labeled me a Jezebel and an adulteress, she left a message stating, “It’s very important, Nicole.” Unaccustomed to anything distressing coming from her, I anxiously dialed her office number. “This is Nicole. What’s wrong?”
“How you doin’?”
“O-o-kay. I guess. What’s the matter?”
“What are your plans for lunch today?”
“Do you have any plans for lunch?”
“Not at the moment. Why?”
“I wanna go to Dixie Kitchen.”
“I want you to join me?”
“What’s goin’ on, Mother?”
“I just wanna talk to you.”
“Why? You ain’t damned my soul enough?”
“No, I just wanna talk.”
Over jerk chicken, hot cakes, red beans and rice, we discussed the weather, and her up-and-coming retirement. She made most of the conversation, because I was waiting for her to slap me upside my head with an insult. Anything. She just chitchatted about nothing until she found a way to orchestrate what she really wanted into our conversation. By the time our plates were collected and she had a final cup of black coffee and paid the check, I had promised I would chair, Dreams and Wishes, an annual Christmas charity event I had founded and coordinated for Holy Hill for the past ten years.
We always had three nights of families signing up for toys, food baskets, and whatever else our many supporters donated. Jeff, knowing most of my days were being spent at the church, would stop by, trying to talk to me. I was standing in the recreation room showing several volunteers how I wanted gloves and the matching skull caps sorted. He approached me with the same ole, “Nicole, when are you gonna stop all this foolishness and come home?”
Mother was passing by. She stuck her head in the door. “Jeff, come here.” A smile slithered across his face. He hurried over to her.
“I’m sure things are gonna get better for you two, but right now let Nicole do what she has to do. I’m sure all of the work she’s been doin’ in the name of the Lord is makin’ her tired enough. ”
Shocked and embarrassed, he sat a few chairs away from me, helping the volunteers while gawking at me. I rolled my eyes and left the room. He followed me out the door to Pastor Dorthea’s office.
“Nicole, the lease is gonna be up soon over on Benson. What am I supposed to do about relocatin’, since you controllin’ all the money?
Knowing his landlord would probably try to commit us to another year, I mailed him a notarized and certified letter the same day he dropped the keys off. It stated any lease signed by Jeffrey Kingston for NCS Management Company, would be Jeff’s sole responsibility and that I refused to be held financially or any way responsible for any deals made without my knowledge or consent.
Mother said, coming from who knows where, “Jeff, can’t you see Nicole is handlin’ church business and don’t have time to discuss where you’re gonna move your office? I asked you to let her be.”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, but sat in the parking lot waiting for me to leave. Alex had warned me many times, “Nikki, you need to stay away from him, because you don’t know what this dude might try to do to you. I wish you would quit bein’ so stubborn and let me take you wherever you need to go because you never know when this dude may snap. At least if I’m with you, I can defend you. But half the time, I don’t know where you at.”
“Alex, the last thing on my mind is what Jeff is gonna do.”
I pulled onto the street from the church parking lot. He zoomed behind me, flashing his lights from low to high beam, then sped up next to me, shouting, “YOU BRINGIN’ YO ASS HOME TONIGHT!”
I gave him the finger and hit the gas. He rode my bumper until I threw on brakes. He swerved around me and almost collided with another car. I took advantage of his near miss and made a quick right up a one-way street. He managed to catch up with me. He honked his horn and shook his fist at me. I drove to our house on Sheridan Road.
He pulled in behind me and barreled out of his car. “I’M TIRED OF YOU…” I gave him the finger again, made a U-turn across the lawn, and sped away.
Since things seemed to be working out just fine between Mother and me, I contemplated asking her to speak to him about his steady streams of telephone calls and always trying to follow me. But I figured, why ruin what was turning out to be a very pleasant experience?
Two days before Christmas, the families on our wish list came to pick up their gifts and food baskets. We also put together toy bags for the children who had missed our deadline, using what we had left over. By Christmas Eve, all we had to do was pass out the turkeys and hams and keep smiling for the many reporters who dropped by to interview and get pictures of the two hundred families. I always laid low and let Mother and Pastor Dorthea have their minutes of fame.
By eight forty-four in the evening, except for the garbage that had to be taken out, the gym was clean. We passed out every donation, down to the last package of dinner rolls. A homeless man, who volunteered to help with cleaning up, asked if he could have it.
I said, “Sure,” giving him thirty dollars and wishing him, “Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.”
“Thank you kindly sister, but can I bother you for a ride to Chicago?”
“You surely can. Where you goin’?” I had seen him around the neighborhood so I knew he was harmless.
“Over on Paulina and Howard by the El station.”
“Let me get my coat.”
Mother said, “Let Jeff do it.”
The _expression on his face clearly showed he was against it, but he said, “Okay,” just to appease her. I was anxious to be spending my first Christmas with Alex, although he didn’t celebrate it, because of his Muslim beliefs. I was glad she made the suggestion, until she said, “Nicole, I need to see you before you leave.”
“I’m tryin’ to get home, Mother. I’m tired.”
“I know. But this’ll only take a minute.”
I walked slowly behind Mother to Pastor Dorthea’s office. The moment she opened the door, my heart sank because I knew she had played me. Still I silently prayed, God, bless me not to say or do anything I may regret. Please, Lord. Hold my tongue and protect my heart. Please, God!
Pastor walked over to me. She wrapped her arm around mine, pulling me to the center of the room. I tried to resist her, but she wouldn’t let me go.
She said, trying to force me to sit down, “You know, Nicole, you’re such a beautiful woman and God has blessed you with so many talents. Not too many people can coordinate such an awesome event for the needy. You have truly been a blessin’ to this church.
“Not just tonight, though. Because your help with the Teen Ministry and the Youth Choir has been tremendous as well. And God is lookin’ down on you. He’s got so many plans for you. And I hate to bring this up, but you can’t keep livin’ like you livin’ and expect Him not to bring damnation upon you and that boy you layin’ up with.”
I turned to the picture of The Baptism, painted by some unknown artist that hung on the wall to the right of her desk.
“Now don’t get upset with me because I know the devil comes to us in all kinds of ways, disguisin’ himself in the form of a man you may think you love. But if a man truly loves you, he ain’t gonna make you leave your home, honey. Or steal from your husband.”
My blood pressure shot up a couple of notches, but I kept my eyes on the young girl being emerged in the blue waters even after Mother hummed, “A-a-men.”
Pastor continued, still holding on to my arm, although I was trying to ease away from her as gently as possible. “Nicole, I know you and Jeff have had your share of ups and downs and a lot of them weren’t your fault. But you know as well as I do that he’s overall a good man and a great provider.”
Mother added, “Jeff has taken excellent care of you over the years. You’ve got a beautiful house with beautiful things. And look how he helped me get my car last year.” It was my first time hearing it. “But that boy, who you think you’re in love with, is he worth you walkin’ out on a man of God? Will he ever be worth your salvation and your soul? Because look at where he came from. Look at his mother and her brothers. They’re disgustin’! All they’ve ever been are alcoholics, drug addicts, and trouble and that’s exactly what that boy is. Trouble. He’s no good and just after whatever change you got.”
“How is Alex trouble, Mother? And what makes him no good? Because you say so?” I stared at her, waiting for her to answer. She just kept her nose in the air.
“You know, Mother, you and Pastor…” I snatched my arm away from her. She jumped back like I had pulled a gun on her. “Stand here praisin’ Jeff like he’s God. Well, what about all of those children he has? All born while we were married. Ain’t that adultery, too? Or are y’all readin’ from a different Bible than me? And you’re talkin’ about me stealin’ from him. I don’t have to steal from Jeff or anybody else.
“Because I. Yes, I, Mother, own…” I didn’t want to go into details for fear of her repeating every word I said to him. “A buildin’ or two. He doesn’t have a job, so what money does he have to steal? He’s got you all fooled, but you know what, that’s your problem. Because I don’t have to explain myself or the decisions I make to you or anybody else. I’ve been out of your house for twenty years so I think you tellin’ me what to do is long over.”
Pastor shook her head. “Leola, you just can’t talk to them when they’re like this. They start lustin’ after these young devils and lose their minds.”
“You don’t know what a devil is until you’ve lived with a man like Jeff. You know as well as I do that he’s slept with just about every woman in this church. But I’m wrong to have left him. I can’t say movin’ in with another man was the right choice, but my life with Jeff was hell! And Mother, you’ve seen me beat up too many times to even pretend he’s the kind of husband God wants him to be.”
“I also see that you’re a slut!”
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