Stage Three Amendment Two: When everything is stated and it’s honest and sincere, there is a feeling that comes over you that makes you shiver. It isn’t a small thing. It’s very noticeable and you remember it. It is the moment you realize that maybe you’ve found the right person.
I had to place in maybe because we have not, I repeat have not, made it to Stage Four. After that Saturday night at Flip’s house Janice and I went to our own homes. I didn’t push anything. I wanted to let everything settle down for a while before I tried to make love, or have sex, or relations, whatever you wanna call it. I wanted to give her time to reconsider and make sure she made the right decision. I also waited, for the same reason. When we left Flip’s place we all felt relieved, I think. Maybe the feeling wasn’t relief, it may have been something closer to true happiness. I hugged Janice and walked her to her car which was parked further down the street.
“So, girlfriend, ladyfriend, my lady, my woman, what should I call you now?”
“You want me to call you by your whole name?”
“I just want you to realize that I’m still the same person. I want you to know that this change is for both of us to work on. So if you want to call me anything it better come from the heart, until then just call me by my name.”
“Well Ms. Lovell, you drive home safe.”
“Same to you Mr. Terrence Matthews, I’ll be thinking about you tonight,” she said holding her hand out.
“Is that all I get, a handshake?” I asked.
“That’s what formalities get you.”
“Oh formalities, I thought you wanted me to call you by your name?”
“Call me by my name if, ‘baby and you’re my lady,’ aren’t coming from the heart.”
“I think whatever I tell you is from the heart. I’m glad I asked you to be my lady.”
“You never really asked.”
I held her hands and looked her in the eyes. I kissed her softly on the lips.
“Janice Lovell will you be my Valentine?”
“No. I want you to ask me?”
“I actually practiced a few things to say, but I didn’t want to sound phony.”
“Let me hear one of them. If it sounds good then I’ll accept,” she said laughing.
“Janice, I’ve thought everything over and I want you to accept me, as I am. My flaws, my attributes, I want to be your man. That is, if you’ll have me?”
“I would love to be your lady, I would love that.” We kissed and held each other in the middle of the sidewalk. Flip and Tina were standing out on the porch. They began clapping. I thought, “Man these White folks are gonna,” then I stopped. I looked at Janice and remembered what she said. The hell with what anybody thought. We were celebrating.
It took a lot for us not to go home together that night. We stood out on that sidewalk for about twenty minutes talking about absolutely nothing. You know the kind of meaningless talk you have before you decide what house you’re going to sleep at? I finally kissed her one more time before asking her to join me at church in the morning.
When she accepted she asked me to see if Flip and Tina would go also. I watched her pull off down the street. I felt like I was in one of those corny love movies. But then I guess love is corny anyway. The closer and closer Janice and I got, the cornier I became. I’ll explain that later.
I walked back up and relayed the info to Flip. He agreed to meet us at church in the morning.
I don’t know about you, but in my life going to church is something that is more habit than a necessity. I didn’t absolutely agree with everything about church, but I was raised going so I feel obligated. I would much rather stay at home and watch basketball. But I always feel like I’m cheating God. I guess church was one of the only moral obligations I maintained throughout Stage One and Two. How effective it was at giving me any redemption won’t be clear until I, well you get the picture.
I went to a church that my mom informed me of. Why is it that church going people in the South know a church to attend in every state? I took her advice. The church had a short name. I thought since the name was simple that it would be okay and it was. I enjoyed going because of the music and the people. But I like it mainly for the preacher, The Reverend Willis Arnold. Yep, Willis Arnold.
He threw me off the first time I attended. The church itself was an average sized building. It had several offices and Sunday school classrooms, but other than that it was mostly church, brick with white wood around the windows. The Stain glass windows were on the inside and outside. The inside was filled with new pews made of long white planks of painted oak. The cushions were a dark red and the rug on the floor was blue. The church was lit with lights that looked like candles placed on the walls. There was a big chandelier in the middle of the room that looked like a remodeled strobe light. It was round with the center cut out. A tri colored spot light hung from the inside.
It was often used when there was a concert of some kind.
The congregation was a trip. Of course there were the sisters who sat in the front and agreed with everything that the preacher was saying.
“Yesss Lawd. Amen. Sho your right Rev. Sin, that’s right,” and other confirmations of the word.
There was the one brother who led the hymns, “Ahhhh know the Lawd he heard my cryyy.”
And there was the group of women in the middle of the church that dressed up as much as they could to impress the preacher. They made comments like, “That was a fantastic sermon Reverend. I made some corn bread for the dinner afterwards, just like you like it. Sho did.” Those sisters always found a way to shake the pastor’s hand first, after the sermon.
Now where I fit into this picture I don’t know, but it was all good as far as I was concerned. I usually sat in the back to avoid being called on for something, or rather to avoid having a sermon directed at me. Which always seemed to happen to some poor brother sitting in the front, “These here boys ain’t got no sense of family. They don’t believe in the Bible, in the Commandments.” The Rev. would say pointing right at the lonely brother who was sitting close enough to the front for the Rev. to see over his gold framed glasses.
The first time I saw Rev. Arnold I damn near fell outta my seat. The church had been called to order by the head deacon. At this time everybody would stand until the preacher made his way to the pulpit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be blasphemous, but some things have to be said. So, there I was sitting in this church that my mom told me to attend. Feeling extremely nervous, and to make things worse I wasn’t familiar with their routines, so I was standing up and sitting down a second after everyone else was, just lost.
The deacon was singing and everyone was attempting to repeat what he’s saying. I’m just looking and humming along. From behind me, almost like he was on a conveyor belt this tall dark brother glides out from behind this closed office door with a long, heavy, white cape on. His, hair in a small, shiny afro, failing to reach his forehead. His moustache was thick in the middle and thinned out at the tips. He walked down the aisle and shook hands with a select few of his members, holding their hands with the tips of his fingers. A ring on each of his baby fingers, both with fat diamonds in them. He just floated down the aisle. I didn’t notice much else about him until he began to preach. He had one gold tooth. What in the hell did a preacher need a gold front for? That bothered me for a minute, but I was able to be blown away further by the gold chain he had on with the cross dangling on it. I would’ve bet money that it was the same one I saw on some rapper. His suit was all white and he had on white patent leather shoes. I was close to shouting myself when I saw the entire outfit come from underneath the cloak. He preached though, I mean heavy breathing and all. Reverend Arnold Willis really put on a show. By the time he finished I put my ten percent in and gave him a damn love offering. Then I thought about the offering after the service was over, “What the hell is a Love Offering?”
It felt good though, it felt like my church and I attended regularly unless I was drop dead tired, which may have happened more times than I’ll tell.
I got up at about nine-thirty to get ready for eleven o’clock service. I went to pick up Janice and she looked radiant. She wore a blue suit, with a matching hat. The same kinda hat my mom would’ve worn.
“You look stunning,” I said.
“Stunning? That’s a word I haven’t heard from a brother.”
“I’m not your typical brother,” I smirked and closed the door for her. I had asked Janice if Tina would be comfortable about going to a Baptist church. Janice seemed to think it would be cool. They had gone together a number of times. I didn’t know what Tina would think about the service. From what I’d gathered she was Catholic, but she didn’t practice. We made it to the church at about a quarter til and waited outside for Flip. They pulled up and my man had a tough gray suit, with a matching rose colored tie and suspender set. Tina had on a red suit that closely matched the tie that Flip was wearing. I didn’t even wear a suit coat. I guess I just felt comfortable. I began to laugh when I looked at Tina and Janice standing beside each other in their red and blue. For some reason I was thinking, “Damn they match the church.” When we walked inside I felt the laugh come up on me again so I coughed to cover it. We sat closer to the middle of the church than I usually sat.
The service had started in the normal fashion with a rousing rendition of “Well Done,” sung by the choir director. He had the whole congregation captivated. Then came the moment of truth. Flip and I had come to the church a number of times together and we would always laugh at the way the pastor entered. Today would be different though. Usually we held it in and just talked about it afterwards, but it wasn’t just us this time it was everybody. As usual the deacon stood to lead in calling the church to order. He did the same thing today, but I guess he hadn’t seen the Rev. yet.
Reverend Arnold Willis slid out with his cape on with a bright yellow suit on with his customary white shoes and white tie. Except, today his head was bald. He had shaved off the afro and was clean shaven. Now this wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t done a sermon on Samson. We could overhear the women talking about his head, “Funny looking little ol thang ain’t it?” one sister said. One of the other ladies, a heavyset sister with a small hat sitting on top of hair said, “Look like that Michael Jordan to me.” Flip looked at me and I was dying. I was holding my laugh in so much I started crying. The lady sitting on the right side of me said, “That’s alright baby.”
I know you’re wondering what the relevance of this story is, I’m getting to it.
The pastor continued to speak, taking deep breaths in between sentences and dabbing his forehead with a napkin every other, “Yes Lawd.”
“You see Samson had lost his strength. I said Samsaaaaan, had lost his strength. You don’t hear me. Yes Lawd,” he dabbed his head. “But you see he knew although he had given up the one thing the Lord gave him, yes Lawd, the fight was not over. He still had his faith. Like a lamb in the wilderness he remained faithful. He knew that God hadn’t left him, Yes Lawd. See, although he was different, physically, you don’t hear me.”
“Yes we do Reverend, preach preacher,” shouted the women in the front.
“Although he changed physically, his spirit remained the same. Yes Lawd. I’m asking yaw’ll today to change your spirit, do what you feel in your heart is right, what the Laaaawd wants you to do. Let us raise our offering.”
Now here I am knowing where this was going, but it didn’t matter. I had heard and understood what he was saying. On the outside I had been all show, strength and smooth, but inside was ugly. I did need to change my spirit. Once again I gave my tithes and I gave a Love Offering. Until this day I still don’t know what the hell the Love Offering is, but I guess that doesn’t matter. I felt as if the words were directed at me that day and this time I heeded the word.
We had all enjoyed the service. We decided to go to Sherman’s Cajun Buffet afterwards and have Sunday dinner. When we got there and got seated, I knew it was only a matter of time before we got on the Rev’s head. I tried to steer Flip away from talking about the head, but Flip was determined to get his laugh on.
“You can’t tell me you didn’t get weak?” he asked.
“I laughed a little but I was listening to the words.”
“Come on Tee, I saw the lady beside you patting you on the back, don’t front.”
The girls sat and looked at us like we were crazy. Janice took a drink of her lemonade.
“Yaw’ll both need help, sitting in church laughing like little boys.”
“Girl, I had to pinch Flip twice,” Tina said hitting Flip on the shoulder. She then kissed him. They disappeared into their own little world for a minute.
“Uh, you two must be ready to go home or something,” I said. Flip looked at me and smiled. Tina looked at Janice and smiled. I felt a kick on the leg. Something had happened between those two. We all knew it, but Janice instantly asked Tina to go to the ladies room with her. They walked off towards the door and Flip moved around to my side of the table.
“I appreciated the church thing today man. I think it helped us all,” Flip said.
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll talk to you later about it. I think going to church after last night made Tina and I feel closer. She told me she loved waking up in my arms and not feeling afraid. She told me, on the ride from the church, that her spirit had changed.”
“She was listening too then. You’re right we should talk about it later,” I said as he moved back to his side and dumped half a bottle of hot sauce on his catfish. I had started digging into the peach cobbler, which wasn’t that great, but it filled my stomach. The girls came back out still talking. They continued when they got to the table.
“You guys ready to go?” Tina asked. She did seem more talkative and confident.
“Whenever Flip gets through douching that catfish we can roll,” I said. Janice sat back and unbuttoned her suit coat.
“That’s a first, the woman at the dinner table unbuttoning something,” Flip said.
“I was being longeyed. I ate way more than I should’ve,” Janice said. “I’m not gonna have space for popcorn.”
“Popcorn?” I asked.
“Yeah we’ve decided to treat our men to the movies,” Tina said.
“I was just thinking that,” said Flip.
We left and went to our houses and got changed.
Janice came over to my house and brought a small gym bag and a garment bag with her. She sat it down beside the door when she came in.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she said sitting on the couch. I sat next to her. She rested her head on my chest as she leaned towards me.
“Mind what,” I said looking at the bag.
“I may not feel like going home after the movie.” She rolled over with her head now sitting in my lap.
I didn’t know how to respond. I guess this was how it worked in Stage Three. The woman actually takes charge, in some cases, and decides what’s going to happen. She had basically made up her mind and I damn sure wasn’t gonna say no.
“If you want to stay here, I wouldn’t mind at all. Besides that’s what couples do, right?”
“That’s exactly what couples do.” She moved her lips without speaking and mouthed the words, “Come here.” She kissed me when I got my head close enough to her mouth to hear. I blushed like a punk and thought, ‘Can brothers blush?’
We kissed a little more before we left for Flip’s place. As I rode shotgun in her car I looked at her legs. She had put on some short-overalls with a t-shirt. Her long brown legs looked like shapely sugar daddy suckers. I wanted to lick the hell out of them. She caught me looking.
“What you looking at?”
“Nothing. I’m just chillin.”
“You need to take a cold shower. You got a dirty little mind.”
I laughed and played it off. “I can handle myself without having to take a shower.”
“How long have you been?”
“Handling yourself?” She asked.
“Probably as long as you’ve been getting handled.”
“Oooh low, that’s low. That wasn’t nice and I was thinking of doing something special today.”
“And I was thinking of eating something special.”
“Didn’t we just come from church today? I think you need to calm down.”
“I’m just being stupid don’t pay me any mind.”
I changed up on her because I felt like I was having the same kind of conversations I used to have in my earlier Stages.
“You know Janice, you make me feel like I did when I first started dating.”
“How is that?”
“Like true love is really possible.”
“I know, I feel the same. If you don’t mind me asking, When did it change for you?”
“Somewhere between my first time and now.”
“I’m as serious as cancer.” I didn’t know when I had changed. All I knew was at some point it became cool to say fuck it and do what I liked.
“You mean there wasn’t an instant that you decided that it just wasn’t worth it?” she asked.
I thought about it for a minute before responding.
“I guess after my first girlfriend discovered that an older guy could do more for her.”
“What happened baby?”
“I was finishing up junior college getting my Associates of Engineering. I didn’t have much of anything, but what I had, I gave to her. No questions asked. To make a long story short she didn’t care to much for roses, when I could afford them. She could ride in a nice car and eat at nice places whenever he wanted to have her.”
“That would have changed anybody, Tee. You’re not a bad person. Circumstances baby.”
“Yeah circumstances.” Bringing up those memories had made me feel less happy. I really didn’t like thinking about how I couldn’t keep my high school sweetheart, because I didn’t rate to a college senior with an internship. I didn’t like who I was then.
Stage One additional info: What drives a man towards Stage One in many cases is a direct response to what happens to him as a young man. My first girlfriend left me for a man who seemingly had everything and could give her the world. All I had to offer her was an ear when she was sad, walks in the park and dreams for the future. How could I compare? Sometimes a man doesn’t remember what makes him go to this stage. But somewhere buried, I’ll guarantee, his ego was damaged by a similar incident.
Janice could see that I was bothered.
“Baby the man you are now was created by every experience you’ve had, good and bad. I like the man you are now. I hope that one day soon I’ll love the man you are.”
“Thank you baby, I needed that.”
I felt better as we pulled into Flip’s driveway and parked. We walked up and rang the doorbell. It took a few minutes before either of them came to answer. When the door opened Tina was standing with her hair flat on one side.
“Come on in guys we’re almost finished getting ready.”
Janice turned her head towards me. I humped my shoulders and held the door for her. We sat down in the music room. There was a nice groove floating from the speakers. I tried to figure out who it was. The voice had me stumped.
“Isn’t that the old Chante’ Moore?” Janice said.
“That’s who it is, that’s right. I was trying to figure out who it was.”
“I loved that song. Who was the guy in the song?”
“Washington, I can’t remember his first name but I bet you do. Every woman I know was crazy about him back in the day.”
“Keith Washington. Yeah he was the bomb.” She kept trying to sing.
“Where is he now? Like Rollo on Sanford and Son, Keith is missing in action.”
“You still jealous of him I see.”
“No, I ain’t jealous. I can sing like that. Wait til you hear me in the shower.”
“How do you know I’ll hear you in the shower?” she asked.
“I was teasing you baby,” she said crawling over and blowing in my ear.
“You better stop before they come out and catch me humping on your leg or something.”
We sat and talked until Flip and Tina finally got ready. We decided to take Flip’s SC, it had more leg room in the back for Janice and myself. The rest of the night was great. We all hung out like high school kids until it was time to go home.
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