Saturday, May 26, 2007

MAY 07 EXCERPT: Once Is Never Enough

Excerpt of Once Is Never Enough by Margie Gosa Shivers

Chapter One
Chicago, IL
December 18, 2000
Before the ink was even dry on the divorce papers, I’d begun the struggle to find balance in my life … to do the things I ought to do to make me feel good.
It was three weeks ago when I said goodbye to another unhappy marriage that had left me fatherless, still. Things that used to excite me no longer caused me to lift my eyebrows in wonderment, to form my mouth in a smile, or to tighten my stomach to laugh uncontrollably. It seemed as though everything and everybody around me moved at sixty miles per hour, like a cheetah, while I took the time to sit and think about what I was supposed to do that day. Perhaps I was medically or mentally ill and didn’t know it, I told myself. For sure, I was tired of chasing women.
Anyway, today, I stepped outside the main entrance to my high-rise condo building on South Shore Drive ready for another day of detective work. The air was cold enough to rapidly turn the bottle of water inside my gray wool coat into a “plastic stiff.”
My name is Lester Miller and I’m a homicide detective with the Chicago Police Department. Ordinarily I wouldn’t care if it was cloudy or snowing, unless it was a bright sunny day. Bare branches no longer displayed a rich green, but were now the color of fireplace ash, framing the rising sun as it tried to peek through a dark and foggy dawn. With any luck the temperature might hit 20°, more likely it would hit 20° below instead.
As I searched around inside my coat pockets for the second pair of gloves I’d bought in less than two weeks, I stepped on an icy spot and fell on my butt. “Damn!” I said, lifting my six-foot-tall body up from the pavement, not caring who saw me. I shook snow off of my coat and tilted my matching wool tam to the right side of my head, leaving my pride on the pavement.
My dark blue Aurora was in row one, stall three. I got in and cranked the engine. The matching gloves were on the seat. I put them on, pushed number 2 on the radio for 102.7 FM, and pulled out of the parking lot. A favorite Christmas tune, “Silent Night” by the Temptations, was playing on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show” mellowing my heart as I drove in traffic that crawled along on slippery streets. If it did anything for me it put me in the mood for the holidays, woman or no woman in my life.
Halfway to my precinct station, my cell phone rang. The caller ID registered the name of a police sergeant friend who lived three doors down from the house my ex-wife bought many months before the divorce. It had surprised the hell out of me to learn from my attorney that she had done that. But I tossed that shock over my shoulder like a grain of salt. I answered the phone.
“Hey buddy, what’s up?”
“Hey, I just got off the phone with my wife,” he said. “There’s been a drive-by shooting at Brenda’s house.” After I realized what he’d said I became worried.
“Is she alright?”
“I don’t know, man.”
“What time did it happen?”
“My wife said the gunshots woke her up at six o’clock this morning.”
I gazed at the car’s digital clock and saw that was well over an hour ago. Although I wasn’t on good terms with my ex and the incident had occurred outside my jurisdiction, I immediately rolled down the window to throw the beacon light on top of my car and put my pedal to the medal.
“Thanks, I’m headed over there now.” From my memory of the address, I could get there within 15 minutes, but slowing my rush to get to her neighborhood were unplowed snow-covered side streets.
When I arrived at Brenda’s house, two police cars were parked in front of the cute little brick bungalow with the brown roof and white window trim. By the absence of other emergency vehicles (like an ambulance or police van) I couldn’t be certain if she was alright. An officer standing on the sidewalk was questioning two women. Several onlookers were gathered in small groups.
I parked directly behind the second squad car. Glancing at the house, I could immediately tell that two of the three-panel windows were completely blown out. Whoever did it had to have used a serious weapon to do that much damage.
I got out and slowly walked on the icy asphalt entrance where I greeted a uniformed officer. Showing him my badge, I said, “Brenda is my ex-wife. Is she alright?”
“Yes and we’re about to wrap things up here,” he said.
“At this time of the morning, I don’t suppose there were witnesses?”
“Right, however a neighbor heard the gunshots and called 911,” he said, and gave me a brief update. He described shattered glass on the living room floor and how the police had collected several bullets that had lodged in the walls and sofa.
I thanked him, walked to the front door, and knocked. I heard Brenda’s voice on the other side.
“Come in,” she said.
Upon entering the foyer and closing the door behind me, I saw Brenda, in the living room near the windows. She wore a leather jacket on top of a pink bath robe, and was sweeping broken glass into a dustpan. Her hair was longer and her figure was definitely trimmer than the last time I saw her. That had been two weeks ago in divorce court. “Hello, Brenda. How are you?”
Holding the dustpan and wearing thick-soled house shoes, she stepped forward to greet me. “Lester! Oh, how did you find out?” She asked blinking her eyes, her mouth twisted in a half smile, probably shocked that I knew what had happened and couldn’t believe that I cared enough to check on her.
“I’m okay, just scared to death,” she said, taking a deep breath. She excused herself and disposed of the pan full of glass in the kitchen trashcan and then rejoined me a minute or so later. I reached out and held her hands. They felt cold and she was shivering.
“Sit and relax. I’ll get the rest of it.” I took the broom and swept up the remaining glass and found my way into her kitchen to dispose it. I returned and sat down beside her on the sofa. Air hissed from the cushion. She had always preferred leather to fabric on a sofa. Now that she was the boss of her abode, she had what she wanted.
“Are you alone?” I asked.
“You want some help with covering the windows?”
“I called someone before you came. Thanks.”
“Where were you in the house when this happened?”
“I was in the shower when the sound of the glass breaking and gunshots in the house scared me half of out of mind. It took some time to gather my nerves before coming out of the bathroom. Soon I heard police sirens and knocks at my door. That’s when I figured it was safe,” she explained.
“Thank God you were in there. It appears your house is the only one that got the bullets. Besides your family and friends, who else knows that you moved here?”
She merely shrugged.
“By the way, the house is nice.” It was hard not to notice the sand-colored varnished floors and the wide, open hallway. A six-foot Christmas tree amply decorated and with a few wrapped boxes underneath it, stood near a wooden staircase that soared all the way to the height of the house. There was African artwork on the walls, landscape scenes done in artificial oils, and the entire landing was given over to plate glass. As would be expected of Brenda, live plants were appropriately placed around the living room creating a neat little garden scene. However, two small green plants were turned over onto the floor and I could see a few bullet holes in the walls.
“I like it,” she said. Owning a house was something she had wanted more than anything, even more than she wanted me, I’d suspected. The subject had been a bone of contention between us during our marriage almost as much as my wanting a family.
“This is a good neighborhood,” she said. “You hear about drive-by shootings all the time. Never thought this could happen to me. Now, I regret moving here.”
“Someone might be trying to hurt you. Ever consider that?” I got up and walked to look out the damaged window. There was little activity on the streets. The onlookers had dwindled down to a few neighbors standing and talking among themselves. The police cars were gone, too.
She got up and stood beside me, breathing deeply. “As far as enemies are concerned, I’m not aware of any,” she said.
“I see. How’s that principal’s position coming along?” It had been her goal to become a high school principal. A woman educated in Chicago’s public school system and having earned college degrees from Chicago State University and the University of Illinois, respectively, Brenda dedicated herself to her profession and especially to educating children. She had a good shot at realizing her dream.
“I took the test again and I think I passed.”
“Good for you.”
Turning to face her again, I asked, “Sure you can’t think of who could’ve done this?”
“Don’t ask me for names because I can’t give you any. Besides, as I said, I’ve no enemies that I know of.”
“Apparently you have one now. Have you considered staying with your sister for a while until you feel safe?” Her older sister was a gynecologist who owned a loft in Chicago’s downtown area. They were close enough for Brenda to be welcomed there.
“I’ll be fine,” she said.
“I hope so. You own a gun?”
“No,” she exhaled deeply and looked away for a hot second. Then I caught her staring. Sounding upbeat, she asked, “How’ve you been doing lately?”
“That’s all you got to say?”
“Well, if you really want to know, I’m leaving Chicago. I’ll be working for the FBI in their professional support division.” To my dismay I had missed the age requirement by one year to qualify as a special agent. “I look forward to doing something other than chasing murderers and dealing with people who have little or no regard for the safety of women and children.”
“That’s for sure,” she said, coming closer with a friendlier smile on her face. “Although we didn’t make it as a couple, you truly care about the welfare of others. But why do you want to leave? What’re you running away from? It can’t be me.”
I had to work at holding in my smile. Somehow hearing her say the words and watching her reaction brought a certain satisfaction to my insides.
I met her gaze and didn’t blink. “I need air. I need to get out of Chicago so bad. It’ll be a fresh start for me.”
“Who’s the new woman in your life? You’re never without one,” she said, smiling.
Not that it’s any of her concern, I told myself. “Why do you want to know that?” I remained calm. No reason not to be. “You set me free, remember?”
“Don’t get me wrong, I was just wondering,” she said in a cool tone. Brenda’s words made me remember how she, a proud, strong woman, could still show her suspicious side and maintain her poise.
Suddenly, the slam of a car door made me turn and peek out one of the broken windows. A man hurried out of a black luxury car and headed toward the front door. As the doorbell rang, awkwardness set in and I stepped a few feet to Brenda’s right. It was her house so I let her be in charge.
I turned to look at Brenda who suddenly flushed guiltily as I caught her checking the time. Perhaps she was wishing that I hadn’t shown up.
She twisted her lips and rushed to the door. She could be in danger and I wanted to ask more questions. But I realized I had overstayed my brief welcome, at the same time remembering the old private Brenda wanted to know my business but not tell me hers.
“Stay away from the windows,” I said and started to put on my coat. But before I could exit her house, she opened the door to a tall man, an inch shorter than me, with a boyish handsome, copper-toned face. He walked inside rubbing his gloved hands together. I recognized him and that alone, alarmed me.
He reached up and tipped his brown leather-bibbed cap, allowing his gaze to soak in everything about me, every angle of my face. Surely he remembers seeing me a few weeks ago at Mario and Cara Fleming’s wedding reception. Did he deliberately choose my ex-wife to hang out with and if so, why?
“Come in, Duncan,” she said.
“Hi, I got here as fast as I could,” he said, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You okay?”
“Yes, thank goodness.” She glanced at me as if to check my reaction. I felt her embarrassment and headed to the door to leave, but Brenda raised an eyebrow and shook her head slightly, so I decided to hang around a little while longer.
“Lester, this is my friend, Duncan Tate. Duncan, this is my ex-husband, Lester. Lester heard what happened here and stopped by to check on me.”
“What’s up? I’ve seen you around but I don’t think we ever met,” he said, his voice chilly. “Good to meet you.” He shook my hand with a grip that was almost painfully firm.
I bowed my head slightly in greeting while my stomach churned, reminding me how the world had started to grow smaller by the day. Thankfully, he mumbled something in Brenda’s ear, moved swiftly past her and walked down the hallway and into one of the rooms, probably the bathroom. He slammed the door behind him.
I felt the need for an immediate dose of air, the kind that I knew was waiting outside, chilled. I again headed for the door. I found myself wondering how long it would take me to get used to seeing Brenda regard Duncan with the same open and friendly trusting look she’d once given me. Surely, this was only a fleeting thought given our marital history. She followed me through the front door, closing it after us.
“I appreciate your concern but it’s time to let go now,” she said, giving me her familiar “serious look”. “You don’t need to worry about me anymore. I’ll be alright,” she added glancing back at the door.
Ignoring what was on my mind to say, and finding her new attitude totally justified, I said, “Sure. I have no problems doing that. Just be careful around this guy.”
“I don’t understand,” she said drawing her lips into a thin line. “Do you know Duncan?”
“Somewhat. How long have you been seeing him?”
“Not long. A coworker invited us both to Thanksgiving dinner at her house. She has a knack for not wanting single people to be alone during the holidays. So, what’s wrong with me dating Duncan?” Her smile faded as she added, “Look, I’m not in any position right now to doubt you, Lester. C’mon and tell me.”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I did,” I said, recalling the adage about never telling someone everything you know. This especially applied to this situation. She seemed to be Duncan’s kind of a woman, but he was definitely not her kind of man.
“His wife committed suicide a few months ago,” I decided to say in a whisper. “Listen, I know you haven’t known him for long, but I can’t believe he hasn’t told you some important things about his life.”
“Really?” Brenda said, hotly. “Well, maybe Duncan’s got his reasons and he might be planning to tell me when the time is right. Anyway, how do you know that? And, what business is it of yours?” She demanded, hands clutching her hips, skin around her eyes crinkling.
“Obviously, you have the wrong impression about me, but that’s cool. I was not trying to interfere in your life,” I paused for a few moments and then added, “You know what Brenda? Have yourself a nice day. Sorry to have disturbed you.”
By now, my attitude rated as downright unfriendly.
A muscle in her jaw twitched as I started to walk away.
“Alright, Lester I’m sorry. Please don’t walk away.” Her voice softened. I turned to face her and let her continue. “Don’t think hard of me, but as free as I am and feel at this moment, I’m the one with bullet holes in my walls. Perhaps this wasn’t some random shooting. Somebody might be trying to kill me,” she paused before continuing. “So, I’ll ask you again, why shouldn’t I date Duncan?”
“Does he mean that much to you?” I asked and started to think. Whether it’s you or your ex who gets involved with someone else first, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you both recognize the reality: that there’s no going back, only moving forward to what will be. Plainly, it was over between us.
“Yes, but why do you care?” Brenda asked.
“Oh, what the hell,” I said, resisting the urge to tell her that Duncan sleeps with a politically corrupt guy named Cecil Hawkins. “Maybe I shouldn’t be the one to tell you this. But, if you’re having sex with him, just make sure he shows you his recent HIV test results and never let him stick it in you again unless he’s wearing at least five condoms.
She looked at me like I was crazy.
I just walked away and headed straight to my car vowing never to return.
As I drove away from Brenda’s house heading to work, something snapped inside my head. Nearly 38 years old, recently divorced, no children to claim as my own - my life is screwed and tattooed. I must be doing something wrong. Some soul-searching had made me accept that as far as falling in love was concerned, I’d missed the boat.
I’d lost Cara Fleming, the woman of my dreams less than a month ago. Suddenly without warning, she dumped me. I even went to their wedding ceremony. Much to my surprise, her father offered to let me walk her down the aisle in his place, in honor of being her friend and keeping her safe. There was nothing honorable about it, nothing heinous either.
I felt truly appreciated at least by someone. But I turned the offer down. A man has to draw the line somewhere.
Yet, I still hold Cara Fleming inside me. I can’t have her; but knowing that doesn’t stop me from loving, needing, and wanting her. I still seek meaning to the feelings and an explanation for the heartache. At the same time, though, like all the women over the years, she’s my past and that’s how I am sure she will remain.
I can’t help asking myself: Where is the woman I’m destined to be with for the rest of my life? I know there are plenty of good women out there just waiting to meet a man who will love, respect and support them. They can’t all be married. Where is the woman for me?
Even two damn divorces haven’t given me peace of mind. Both were career-minded schoolteachers. Neither of them wanted children. The first wife (Jessica), aborted our baby without telling me that she was pregnant. That marriage ended seven years ago.
Brenda, the second wife, divorced me earlier this month. When I saw her at the municipal court building that day, she still looked good enough to catch and keep any man’s attention on her at first glance. No one could tell me that we didn’t have the ideal marriage or that we wouldn’t someday celebrate our golden anniversary! A six-figure combined income gave us a modest life in our lakefront condo on South Shore Drive. We put away a few bucks every payday. There was extra money to spend on clothes, on entertainment, and on an active social life.
Sex between us was frequent and nothing less than hot and steamy. Believe me, I knew how to please her. I also believed we were going to have a good life together built on mutual affection and trust, and that we would have the house and children we both wanted. I lived up to my end of the bargain... partially, that is.
Before the four-year marriage ended, Brenda and I had a lot of fun trying to make a baby: sex before going to work and again every night.
But as much as I enjoyed making love to Brenda, I soon became tired of trying. She put the blame on my sperm. So we had fertility tests done that proved nothing was wrong with either of us.
Then one day, she was careless. I’d come home early to get some shut-eye after working a double. She had arrived home a few minutes before me and left the opened pill case on the bathroom vanity. I saw it and suddenly realized why pregnancy had eluded us for so long. Our conversation is still hard to forget:
“You don’t seem to be gaining any weight,” I had said, holding down my anger and hurt.
“What do you mean by that? I thought you wanted me to stay slim and look nice for you?”
“Yeah, I do, but that’s not what I’m getting at. We’ve been married two years now. Quite frankly, I’ve been waiting to hear you me tell that you’re pregnant,” I had said snatching up the pill case and thrusting it close to her face.
She looked momentarily shocked. “I’m sorry to tell you this now,” she said. “But the truth is I don’t want to bring a child into this world until I’m ready. Why can’t the two of us just be happy together?”
Well, time went on and so did living together under the same roof. But we were stuck on cruise control; no highs, no lows, no passion. Unable to lose the pain, I lost myself in work. Brenda was always mad at me for it.
I’ve never had any problems attracting women and I’m ashamed to say, there were just too many of them too good to pass up. What’s worst, I didn’t know how to pass them up and didn’t care to know.
Believe it or not, I’d always prided myself on being a good judge of character, but was sure I had misjudged Brenda. If the woman I had protected from gangs (male and female) in high school and who had been a good friend for ten years could betray my trust, what woman could I trust? From that point on I resolved that female companions would join me at their own risk. So I dated a few and went out of my way to avoid misleading them about my being married.
Actually, neither Brenda nor I were angels, so to speak. She started to have affairs. I didn’t force the issue with her. Maybe I was afraid she’d leave me.
It didn’t take long for us to not like each other. Things between us just got worse. I didn’t have any answers and, as usual, couldn’t deal with anything that caused me pain. It took me until now to realize that I didn’t know how.
Believing it was “cheaper to keep her,” I pretended that all was well. I knew that I wasn’t going to win the battle, but knowing that never seemed to matter to me because I was willing to hang in there anyway. She would go off into an emotional tirade, making it difficult for me to have the responsible conversation I wanted to have with her. Man, was that an eye-opener? If the exciting and loving woman of my dreams existed, it was unlikely that I was ever going to find her. However, if I wanted a wife and children of my own I would simply have to be more realistic about what I expected in a wife.
What I didn’t know was that we were like two fools riding on a ship, battling an imperfect storm, yet somehow still going in different directions. Staying the rugged course could only make for a rough, unpleasant, and possibly dangerous ride.
The ride was over when she came to me one night in late February 2000 after a quiet dinner at home and said, “Neither of us is happy. Why hold onto a dead marriage? The way we’re living our lives is not good for you or me.”
“I’m sorry that you feel this way. Are you sure this is what you really want?”
“It’s too late, Lester. The things that really matter to both of us aren’t the same. You want children and I’m not ready. Actually, I never told you this, but I’m afraid to go through all the physical pain of having a baby. And, don’t forget that we aren’t upholding our vows either. Why do you feel it should be any different now?” Then she added, “But, I’m not leaving empty handed.”
“Why should I have to pay to end this farce of a marriage?” I screamed. Well, I lost that battle, too. In the end she got what she wanted: money. I retained ownership of my condo, which had been mine before I married her. Painfully, I share the culpability ---- always part of the problem, never the solution.
I regret that my police work kept me from spending more time with Brenda. Sometimes I wish I could do it over again, to make better choices, arrange my priorities and spend more time lavishing the attention she craved, and waiting until she was ready to give me a child. Maybe that would’ve worked to my advantage.
Ha! Who am I kidding? I thought, pulling into the lot at the Area One police station. Knowing me, the same mistakes would’ve been repeated simply because the thought of a childless marriage would make me realize I could never be happy. I wanted a child with my blood in his or her veins. Believing that I’d be so lucky to have a good woman and a family to make my life complete was a no-brainer. I wanted a child so badly that I would’ve accepted adopting one. Was I wrong to want Brenda to take a career vacation and have at least one child? I think not. Especially since I was willing to put aside time in my hectic career to not only bring home the bacon, but to help raise the child, too!
Oh yeah, professionally speaking, I’m at the top of my game. My 14 years on the Chicago police force have been my escape, my joy, my nourishment, the reason that I get up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed five days a week for work.
Recently I took a look at life; the people and things around me. Everything had changed. As far as I know, this is the only life I will have. Of course, there’s always the possibility of reincarnation, but hey, the thought that I might come back as a giraffe, a skunk, or a clawing lion haunts me!
Sometimes I feel as though I’m paddling through raging, icy cold, swirling water, like being sucked down a toilet drain. “Using what I got” seemingly hasn’t been enough.
Although blessed naturally to be good in some things yet a piss-poor chump in others, I’m a man who can’t hold a marriage together. That’s me. Blessed to have tasted success here and there in some areas of life, yet, I sucked in others, particularly in my personal life.
I suppose that’s what makes me human and imperfect like everyone else.
As my late mama, Bernice, would occasionally say during my growing up years on Chicago’s West Side, “Lester, if you keep doing the same old things the same old way, you’re going to keep getting the same old results.”


Patricia W. said...

Interesting. Lots of stuff going on here, which should make for a good read.

Vanessa A. Johnson said...

Girl, that ending from Bernice is the same one my hubby says all the time. Interesting excerpt. Much success, Margie.

Love & Peace,

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