Damn, she shouldn’t have worn a girdle. She had debated this morning: she wanted to look her best, but also worried that this would happen. There is no sexy way to take off a girdle, especially one that was as tight as hers. She tried to hold her breath, somehow thinking that would make her smaller. He finally got one snap undone. “Dear Lord, help me” she prayed; but immediately felt guilty. I guess I shouldn’t bring the Lord into this, she thought.
A few minutes later, at the point where she felt that she would die of suffocation, she whispered “excuse me”, without looking at him and rushed off to the bathroom. Immediately, Gloria freed herself from the girdle and just stood their looking at her naked, 71 year-old self. She knew looked good for a 71 year old. Good genes, an easy laugh, old scotch, Oil of O’Lay and Vaseline had been good to her; but when Greg died, she didn’t think her looks really mattered anymore. She certainly didn’t think that she would be here—naked in the white-tiled bathroom of the local Holiday Inn. It all started on an overcast Sunday in August.
First Baptist Church had rocked that Sunday: the spirit was flowing through Preacher Brown, and the choir and congregation responded with fiery devotion. Gloria was so moved by the sermon and Sister Patrice’s delivery of “Precious Lord” that her arthritic fingers felt no pain as they worked the old, donated organ’s keys.
She was tired though, so it felt good to take off her shoes and hat as soon as she walked into her house. She kept a shelf right by the door, had been there for 40 years, just so people could take off their hats and make themselves comfortable when they came to visit. Nothing much had really changed in that house in 40 years, except for the tenants. Once it was crammed with her mother, dear Greg, and their four kids, now it was just her. The kids and grandkids didn’t even visit much anymore. She figured a three bedroom house, without cable and any of those video game contraptions, in a two traffic light town didn’t offer much to her Chicago-and Washington, D.C. based Grandbabies.
She was alone quite a bit, but kept herself quite busy: church, bridge club, sewing club (which really should be called gossip club), her monthly Delta Sigma Theta meetings, her volunteer work at the library with the Douglas Elementary School kids kept her busy. Life wasn’t bad for a woman her age.
But, you know that feeling when you don’t think that you are hungry, until you walk into a restaurant, smell the food and suddenly realize that you are ravenous—that call, that day from that man awakened something in her that she had buried, even with all of her activities, very deeply: loneliness.
“Hi Gloria, he said. It’s Henry.” Although it had been 50 years since she heard his voice, immediately upon hearing it, she knew who it was; she felt who it was. She learned later that he had paid $12.95 to a service online to find her. As he explained on their second call, “Gloria, after my wife died, I felt completely lost. I needed to start new, but you know at my age, I still wanted something….. umm…familiar. At 72, this old dog didn’t feel like learning no new tricks, but wouldn’t mind getting his stomach rubbed now and then,” he chuckled.
Gloria sat down in her comfy, pine-green lazy boy chair, put her feet up and talked to Henry for 2 hours that night. And then every night for 6 months at 6:00, he would call. Oftentimes they would watch Wheel of Fortune together; he always solving the puzzle before her.
One night, after they had watched and laughed though an old episode of Sanford & Son, Henry in his same baritone voice, says slowly, “ Gloria, honey, you know I love you. Having my college sweetheart back in my life has been such a blessing. Will you be my Valentine, sweetheart?” Gloria, initially laughed at him and the ridiculousness of the question: Valentine’s Day was for young lovers. But then, she found herself laughing at the fact that she was blushing as she said “yes”, through at fit of giggles.
“Well, perfect,” he said, “cause I already bought my ticket.”
“Of course, Honey. I’m coming to Alabama to take my Valentine to dinner.
So, here she was, full from a steak, potato and creamed spinach dinner, naked in the bathroom at the Holiday Inn, 71 years old, with elephant butterflies tromping around in her stomach, completely terrified, and madly in love.
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more