BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! She allowed the alarm to continue to badger her: BEEP, BEEP BEEP! She had been up for hours. She never slept past 6:00 a.m., but when Frank was alive, he had set the alarm to wake him up every morning at 7:00. She hadn’t changed it even though Frank had been dead for almost two years.
She sighed, rolled over, hit the off button, and lay back down. Every movement was difficult since Frank had died. She had aged too. Her Black had finally cracked, particularly around the eyes and mouth; and no amount of color could cover up the stubborn grays around her temples. Those damn gray hairs acted like they were politicians campaigning for office: ensuring that everybody saw them.
Every time she walked into church or her sorority meetings, she could see the looks of pity in the eyes of her fellow ushers and Sorors. One or two of them would come up to her with a concerned look in their eyes, put an arm around her and inquire, “how are you, honey.” She’d look right back at them and deliver the same canned answer, “Blessed and better each day.”
Each exchange made her feel worse — made her feel like a liar. Her friends were comforting her because they thought she was mourning Frank’s death. She was actually mourning the life she had with him; the she life wasted.
She met Frank in high school. He was in her senior science class — always half asleep, but yet always ready with the right answer when called upon. He was bow-legged, chocolate, tall, with black wavy hair. He reminded her of her favorite singer, Nat King Cole. He let Diane know pretty quickly that he wanted her by the way he looked at her, but he didn’t make his move until one night at McDonald’s after he had played in a winning football game.
“So, do I get a prize for winning that game?”, Frank came from behind and leaned in Diane’s ear as she sat in one of the yellow, plastic booths with her girlfriends.
Diane giggled, “You didn’t win the game. I think the team did.”
“Baby, I am the team,” he retorted. He then looked at Shenequa, Diane’s best friend, who was sitting next to her, pulled $5.00 out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Why don’t you go buy yourself something to eat and move, so I can sit next to my girl?”
Shenequa looked at Frank like she wanted to tell him off, but snatched the $5.00 out of his hand, rolled her eyes and walked off. Frank slipped into the booth next to Diane, put his arm around her, and staked his claim on her. Only death, 44 years later forced him to release his claim.
That night, at McDonald’s, Diane’s 17 year old mind was so drawn to the way Frank owned and controlled the situation. He decided that she was his girlfriend, without even asking. His confidence, when other 17 and 18 year old boys were scared to even ask her to dance was alluring. The way he sent away Shenequa, who was in no way a weak person, was masterful. It didn’t occur to her that that evening was a preface to every chapter of their relationship: he would control her life, make all of the decisions in their relationship, and push away all the important people in her life.
No one would ever call Frank mean. Actually, he was quite charming, which helped him to manipulate people. Only Diane and the couple of people who knew him well understood that he was an egomaniac, who thought that the world revolved around him and his needs and if it didn’t he found a way to make it so. Their relationship worked because Diane was easy going. Most things weren’t a big deal to her, so if he wanted to go to see one movie instead of the one she wanted to see, no big deal; live in a different neighborhood, no big deal; attend a different church no big deal. Also, Diane thought that she was being a good wife by supporting her husband. It really wasn’t until Frank died that she realized that all of those “no big deals” really were a big deal and that she really hadn’t made any decisions in her life for a long time.
And she was angry — not at Frank — but at herself. She was 64 years old and didn’t have a life of her own — a life that she could say that she built. She couldn’t even say that she had a real friend. Every time that she met someone to whom she felt a connection, Frank made it impossible for her to form a true relationship. 85% of the time that she made plans outside of him, he found a way to force her to cancel them. “Remember that I wanted you to look at those new tiles for the kitchen, honey?” “Baby, you know the Knicks are playing. It’s bad luck if I don’t have some of your fried chicken to eat while the boys and I are watching it.”
“How do you forgive yourself for sacrificing a life, especially when it’s yours?”, Diane thought, staring at the ceiling. Tears streamed down her face, landing on the mint green sheets that matched the walls in the room. She always thought the color was ugly — too much like you would see in a hospital.
She rolled over on her side, propped her head up on with her left hand and grabbed the phone from the nightstand to call Jackie, a woman whom she really liked from church but hadn’t gotten a chance to really know. She took a deep breath, feeling more nervous than she had in years about anything.
“Hello, Jackie? Hi It’s Diane—from First Baptist. How are you? I wanted to see if you wanted to get together for lunch this week?”
“I’d love that. Does Thursday work?” said Jackie.
“Thursday is perfect. Let’s go to this little Thai place that I’ve wanted to try for years.
“Royal Thai? I love that place. Yes, let’s go there. The Basil Chicken is off the chain–as my grandson likes to say. Afterwards, we should go to this cute hat shop across the street. They have some sharp church hats.”
“I need a new hat or two. Let’s make an afternoon of it,” answered Diane.
“Sounds good to me. I’m always happy to shop and eat,” Jackie started cracking up at her own joke. That’s one of the reasons Diane liked her. She had an easy laugh. Jackie stopped laughing long enough to say, “I’ll meet you at the restaurant at noon.”
“Jackie”, Diane stammered, “while I have you on the phone, do you happen to know of a reputable painter. I need to get my bedroom repainted….”