Here are a few snippets from my newly released book Dory Dorinda & Other Stories:
I’m excited to see my mom. As I mentioned, it’s been a year. Previously, my plan was to take a trip to the West Coast and spend a week with her. To my surprise (and hurt), Mom discouraged my visit because she had some business to take care of. I learned that she’d just started a new relationship and wanted to go on a cruise with the guy. As a grown woman I cried in secret, feeling rejected. I shouldn’t need her or care so much about what she’s doing. After all, I cannot change her…but she’s still my mother. She tossed me aside for some dude she hardly knew, assuming I could come to Los Angeles anytime.
“I don’t know why you’re so mad at me over this. What’s the big deal?” That’s what Mom asked me.
Angrily I snapped: “It’s a big deal because I scheduled time from work to come and see you, only to be kicked to the curb!” I’d never spoken to her this way, so my mother’s eyes stretched largely. She understood what she had done to me. Instead of apologizing, Mom kept her distance. Weeks passed, then a phone call here and there. Then months slipped by, a few emails here and there…before I knew it, a year had passed without me seeing her face. So now I suppose Mom has missed me enough to come home.
“Pick me up from the airport.” She didn’t feel like doing one of her solo road trips this time, so I said “Okay.” My friend Miriam rides with me to the airport.
As I pull up, she spots my car and runs over to hug us both. “Y’all look so good! Miriam,
how’s your mama doing?”
“Fine Miss Valencia, she’s doing fine…you look great.”
We go for pancakes, engage in small talk which should be more serious since we haven’t seen each other in a year. Mom makes it a point to talk about us and not herself.
“So why on earth are two pretty girls like you still single? I mean, really?”
Miriam announces her engagement and wedding scheduled for May. Mom offers to fly
back then and do the entire wedding party’s hair. She focuses on me, and I laugh harder than I should have:
“Oh, I’m not even close to a wedding Mom. Not even close.”
With a serious face she inquires: “Are you?”
“Am I what?” I’m tossing a piece of bacon into my mouth.
“You know…like that.”
“Mom, I’m not a lesbian just because I haven’t found a husband yet. Besides, you’re
forty-six and still…single.” I can’t take it back. Miriam looks away as I slurp tea to ease myself through the awkwardness.
Mom nods, “You’re right.”
“It’s okay…I never was the marrying type, never loved anybody enough for that.”
“What about my dad?”
“We were eighteen-year-old kids, Misha. As soon as I told your daddy that I was
pregnant he was ready to bounce. He loves you, no doubt, but I know it scared him. No eighteen-year-old boy is ready for a family.”
“Maybe you weren’t either.”
“What does that mean? Aren’t you sitting here?”
“I’m just saying that you’ve always seemed discontent, as if something was missing from your life.”
“Thank you, Doctor Misha.”
I’ve already said enough to start another war between us, so I keep quiet. The last thing I want is for Mom to hop on a plane and go back to Los Angeles. Miriam taps my foot under the table and gives me that ‘shut up’ look.
The drive to Grandma’s house is near silent until I turn on the radio. As we enter the house, they embrace but don’t hold on for long. Their relationship is just as complex as the one Mom and I share. All the things we didn’t speak of has put a wedge between us. On the other hand, the stuff I have the boldness to say either hurts or irritates my mother. She shuts down almost instantly. For an entire week we are on a rollercoaster ride of
emotions, laughing together, fussing and all the in-between. However, I truly want us to just love each other wholly, completely. I want us to feel what Miriam and her mother experience whenever they smile at each other. I want to know what it feels like to have Mom hold me in her arms and tell me that everything will be okay…but she just isn’t that kind of mother for me.
What if your aunt granted you $1 million dollars according to her will...but there was a condition for you receiving the money? Here's a snippet of Aunt Penny's Money:
Three days after Aunt Penny’s funeral, her lawyer scheduled a meeting for our family members to visit him and discuss her estate. Once Mom and Aunt Penny’s cousins (on both Grandpa and Grandma’s sides of the family) departed, Mr. Jackson asked Mom, my sisters and me to stay behind.
“There is a video Miss Wilson instructed me to show you.”
Aunt Penny left most of her estate to Mom, the house and two cars, along with 30% of profits from her hat collection, which sold online. The other portion remained with Aunt Penny’s business partner Joann. I saw the expression on Mom’s face, how she’d rather have one last day with her sister than being granted all these things. The reality had sunk in that Aunt Penny was gone for good, and Mom couldn’t change it.
As the video concluded, Aunt Penny addressed us, her nieces:
"My beloved nieces Pamela, Shaina and Rosetta, I grant you $1 million dollars each to do as you please; however, there is a condition for you obtaining the money. Throughout your entire lives, I’ve showered you with tons of affection, enough love and care for ten daughters…because I could not have my own. You filled a void in my life, which caused me to be quite eager in fulfilling your every need or whim. Perhaps that was a mistake. I will never know whether you loved me because of who I was, or because of what I was able to do for you. This pains my heart deeply…the weeks before I grew ill, remember, the day we had lunch together? I observed your behavior throughout the day, and I was disappointed with some of the things I witnessed. For instance, Rosetta, you let your temper get the best of you, snapping at the waitress and advising me not to leave her a tip. Of course, I would never treat a person with such contempt. As you took up the $20 I’d left the waitress and place it in your purse when you thought I wasn’t looking, I went back after telling you I needed to use the ladies’ room and replaced the money with another $20. I was ashamed of what you did, even though I loved you. Shaina and Pamela, you didn’t commit the most horrible deed of the afternoon, but I remember one of you ignoring a homeless man’s plea for a dollar. You were under no obligation to grant it, although your refusal got me to thinking…perhaps being given so much had desensitized you young ladies. You may have forgotten how that homeless person was still a human being…so, this leads me back to the condition of your inheritance. I’ve instructed my lawyer to only grant you the $1 million dollars AFTER you’ve committed a good deed towards someone else. I don’t mean visiting a homeless shelter and handing out socks or serving food in a soup kitchen for a couple of hours. What I want you to do is invest in another person, put your heart into someone you don’t know and make a difference in his or her life. That is your assignment from Aunt Penny. Please understand that I truly love you, but there is a life lesson I feel you need to be taught. I spent most of my young adult life trying to win over my family and keep them from resenting me. I paid for their attention, their love and approval. I hated this! It caused me great sadness at times. My last act of love for you will be this assignment in hopes that you learn something new about yourself while doing for another person. It’s twofold girls…love, Aunt Penny.”
We were all stunned, completely frozen at that moment. The video had been turned off, as Mr. Jackson stood in front of the screen, watching our shock. “Should I replay the video?” He assumed we had not processed Aunt Penny’s request.
Rosetta angrily shouted, “For what?!”
Mr. Jackson’s eyes grew large, alarmed by my sister’s outburst. “Well, I assumed your Aunt’s request may have caused some confusion, perhaps you needed clarification.”
Mom chuckled, “Nope, I think they got it sir.” She could no longer contain her laughter, going into a frenzy. Her stomach jiggled with every laugh. Pamela was bewildered, lowering her head. Rosetta’s face hardened as if she could put a good beating on Aunt Penny.
“Please tell me she was joking!”
“I’m afraid not, Rosetta. Your aunt was of sound mind when the video was produced. She was completely aware of the request she’d made for you and your sisters.”
“She hated us!” Rosetta cried.
Mom stopped giggling, turned quickly to face Rosetta: “Stop it! Just stop it!”
Rosetta stormed out of Mr. Jackson’s office as Pamela chased after her. I sat next to my mother, still a bit jarred by Aunt Penny’s assessment of us as her nieces. I wasn’t sure what to feel. Was this so-called life lesson based on love? Or was it a form of manipulation from a woman whose days had been numbered? I wasn’t sure what to think. The four of us rode along in silence, not a single word of conversation. As Mom drove, she hummed one of her favorite songs…but she didn’t speak to us.
Three foster children (Xavier, Cynthia and Malcolm) are placed with Miss Landry in a foster home. She is a no-nonsense, rigid woman who gives the children tough love. Events unfold, which force the children back into their old group home. How will they cope? Here's a snippet of Miss Landry's House:
As Miss Dutton drives along, I take one last look at the tri-level house on Bergen Road. Some of the three years I’d spent there contained good times, such as when Miss Landry bought Malcolm and me black patent-leather dress shoes. I knew she’d paid good money for them and presented the shoes with both pride and warning: “Don’t scuff these shoes, you hear me?” Before leaving the room, she smiled, “You’re good boys.” Neither Malcolm nor I expected to hear this, as Miss Landry had always served us ‘tough love.’ Now that she’s gone, I’ll cherish these few moments when she truly did let her guard down and show affection. Cynthia breaks my trance by complaining: “I don’t want to go back there.”
Miss Dutton glances over while driving and asks, “Where else do you think you’d go, Cynthia? You’ll be fine at the group home until I can place you with another family. Stop worrying…we’re doing the best we can.” I sense weariness in Miss Dutton’s voice, slight irritation as an exhausted social worker who witnesses the most troubling circumstances day in and day out. I don’t know if she’s driven by love or commitment for the children in her caseload, or if it’s a feeling of not wanting to leave because of guilt. She has been at the group home longer than any other case manager or social worker I’ve known. I like Miss Dutton, but I know my limits with her. It’s as though I can read her well, understanding what to say and not say. We settle back into the group home, and some of the kids who knew us before we’d left either welcome or mock us. Tyrell Jennings is still the same jokester, tucking a used piece of soap into my undershorts as I sleep. The laughter of the other kids, including Malcolm, awakens me. As I quickly sit erect, I see the knot in my pajamas. “Stop it Tyrell! Just leave me alone!” Tyrell had never been placed in a foster home for long, returned after weeks or months due to outrageous behavior. No one wanted to put up with a disturbed fourteen-year-old boy. The rejection had deeply hardened his personality. I wish Tyrell would get his act together so that a family would feel inclined to give him a chance. He is his own worst enemy.
With every promise of being placed in a new home comes a swift year, then another year of nothing…same old thing each day, each week. Cynthia turns seventeen and graduates high school with honors, a real accomplishment given our circumstances. She’d had no one to truly motivate her, except for the times when Miss Landry gave her $10 for good report cards. Cynthia practically ages out of the system, reaching her eighteenth birthday, and leaving the group home for good. I ask, “Where are you going? What will you do?” She hunches her shoulders, “I don’t know, something…Miss Dutton is going to help me get a job at Wendy’s…but other than that, I don’t know yet. Maybe I’ll try to find my mama.”
“She’ll be glad to know you’re doing well.”
“Xavier, do you ever think about your mama and where she is?”
“Sometimes…but I try not to dwell on it. She knows I’m here.”
“Well, pretty soon you’ll be out of here, graduating next school term and doing something with your life. We should keep in touch.”
“Yeah, we should.” Cynthia hugs me and says goodbye. I have a feeling that I won’t see her again for a long, long time. When I am released from the group home, she is not living in the area anymore. Malcolm has unraveled significantly over the last couple of years, to the point where I barely know him anymore. He hangs out with other boys who are just as unruly as he is, just as disturbed. Malcolm even taunts me sometimes just to fit in, only to come later in private and say, “Sorry man, you know how it is.” The day of my departure, he yells for me to wait up. We fist pump, then do a bro hug. Malcolm loves me, I know this…but part of him envies me for being able to manage better in life. He told me a few times that I’d make it on the outside, sounding like we were prisoners having a conversation in the yard.
“Take care Malcolm.”
“Hey, look me up in a few years, alright?” We promise each other this, but it doesn’t happen as planned.