Stages: A Handbook on Men and Relationships – Chapter 16

Chapter 16
A reflection can be found anywhere, or it can come at anytime. Two of the most important reflections I’ve had in my adulthood happened because of a conversation with a brother three years younger than myself. Flip, like he said about Tina, was brought into my life for a reason. People coming into your life can happen guy to guy, just as it does with men and women. I knew it and I thanked God for bringing me a brother.
What I didn’t appreciate was his Stage Three whining. I just wasn’t in the mood for it. But he was my boy so I had to listen. Do you recall when I said that this book wasn’t going to change me, and that it was just a handbook? I guess by now you realize it’s more than that. It’s therapy. I’ve been listening to myself and actually paying attention to everything that’s going on around me. And for once, I’m willing to say that I would like to find a little peace.
It would be nice to wake up next to someone, without saying, “Damn, Damn, Damn,” like Florida Evans. It would be nice to know who’s calling when the phone rings and it would be nice to have consecutive birthday’s with the same woman. But there is always some unfinished business to take care of, so until I finish I won’t make that move. I’ll continue with what I’m doing.

After Flip and I spoke about Tina, he had the bright idea to take another risk. He was about to move down to Kensington into that four bedroom house we went to look at.
“Tee have you lived with a woman?”
“No and neither should you until you both decide on getting engaged. That’s it. I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m telling you as a friend, sorry, asking you, not to do it. Don’t do it, don’t do it. That’s it, I’m through, next question.” I nipped that shit in the bud real quick. I didn’t want to discuss it with him at all. Everytime I had a discussion with Flip it always ended with him formulating his own fantastic reasons to do the opposite of what I said. That’s not funny either. I’m right sometimes.
Like I was saying earlier, before I started running my mouth, Janice had invited me to her place for Sunday afternoon brunch. Once I got there she decided that she wanted to take another ride. We took off in my car this time and I asked where she wanted to go.
“So where we headed?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to get out of the house.”
“You don’t know? I don’t wanna just drive around aimlessly.”
“We had a good time before didn’t we?”
“Yeah we did.” I felt compelled to ask her what was on her mind, but I didn’t for fear that it might lead to something I didn’t want to hear.
“Just drive and talk. I want to hear about you. Who you really are. Not the music, not the job or about Flip, I want to hear from you what you want.”
“That’s a heavy question and it’s hard to answer. Could you be more specific?”
“I know where I want to go. Sunset Cliffs.”
“I don’t know where that is.”
“It’s at the end of the continent.”
“It’s where the continent becomes the ocean. I know that sounds weird, but if you haven’t noticed the last place we went to was a cliff overlooking the ocean. There’s something glorious about that.”
“I guess you’re right.”
“Maybe you should start looking more closely at the places you go instead of worrying about things you can’t control.”
“Like what?”
“Racism. You always have something awkward to say. I haven’t told you this because I’m bothered by the way you respond to White people.”
“What haven’t you told me?” I asked.
Oh damn, she had tricked me into heavy conversation and it was smooth. From the cliffs, to the seashore to ‘There’s something I haven’t told you.’ I fell right into that one, then again maybe I didn’t fall into anything. I listened.
“My mother is White.” I looked at her instantly and thought, “Not as Black as you are.”
“My stepmother you idiot,” she said noticing the puzzled look on my face. “What do you think about that? Does that bother you?”
“No it doesn’t bother me at all. I never said I disliked White folks.”
“You didn’t say it, but your words. You have to watch what you say.”
“No I don’t. I only say what I’m thinking.”
“You don’t do that all the time.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you wanted to tell me the other night to come upstairs, but you didn’t cause you thought it might make you look good. You would be a brother that was respectful. It was a calculating move.”
“Come on now what kind of talk is that?”
“You know I’m right. Instead of making you look good, it made me become wary of you. See men play the same games that women play.”
“Do they?”
“They do. I used to play them until something happened to a friend of mine that made me reconsider.”
I knew where she was going and I didn’t want to follow, but I had to.
She continued, “Things can go wrong when you mess with people’s heads. They can even go wrong when you don’t,” she said looking out the window.
I followed the signs that directed me to the cliffs as we drove down the street. I could feel the tension build. She hadn’t mentioned Tina’s name, but it was implied. She just didn’t know I knew what she was saying. As we rounded the curve over looking the cliffs I rolled down the windows and turned the music off. I could hear the waves crashing against the rocks. I pulled into a parking space and grabbed a blanket from the back of the trunk. The air, as usual at the beach, brought a chill to both of us. I held my hand out for her to take a hold of. She seemed to take my hand cautiously, as if taking my hand was accepting my soul. I tucked the blanket under my arm and walked to a clear space on a grassy part of the cliffs. We walked over a few rocks to reach a spot. I placed the blanket on the ground and sat down. She stood for a moment, looking out over the ocean.
“Look at that ship floating into the clouds.”
It did look as if the ship was being swallowed by a huge cloud. The waves turned over creating a white foam at the top of each roll of the water. It was like a painting. Janice finally sat down beside me.
“Tee, what do you want?”
“I don’t know.”
“Me either and I’m afraid now,” she said. “I’ve been afraid for a while, but sometimes you have to be strong for your friends and you never get a chance to sit and cry for yourself.”
The wind picked up over the cliffs. I wrapped the blanket over both of us and we sat beside each other. The blanket was split in the middle and the wind cut right through it. She moved forward a bit and I slid behind her. She sat between my legs and I pulled the blanket over us. The wind bumped the outside of the blanket. The chill eventually took its defeat and moved on. I held her as she sat in front of me. She tilted her head back to look into my eyes. I was speechless. Her eyes lay the whole story out there without her lips parting to say one word.
“I want to be happy,” she said. “I want to be happy.”
“I know.”
She lay on me a little longer before she spoke. I wanted to kiss her and declare that I was a changed man. I wanted to tell her about everything I’d done. I needed to be honest with her, but I couldn’t.
“Terrence, I’m not being dramatic to trap you or confuse you. I just wanted to talk and although you seem as if you’re going through some things, I thought you would listen. I don’t want anything from you. I’ll wait for you to make up your mind.”
“What do you mean?”
“You aren’t ready for anything right now. There is a confusion to you, an indecisiveness, that speaks louder than you know. Some things you can’t hide, they just come out.”
“I know some things you can’t hide, but I’m not hiding anything. I don’t have anything to hide.”
She turned to look at me. The blanket fell off of her shoulder. I felt the wind coming on again. The sky had a twilight look to it, the moment where it’s not quite dark but it definitely isn’t light out. My mom use to call it the hiding time. The time when people who lied told the perfect lie.
“If I tell you this, don’t take it the wrong way,” she said.
“I won’t.”
“That night at the club when you came to the table. I told Tina something. Flip hasn’t told you anything has he?”
“No, about what?”
“I told Tina that… you seemed like a man that I could fall in love with.”
“I don’t …know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything Terrence. I’m not looking for a reply of any kind. I just wanted you to know that. I felt like I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I knew saying this would make you think you had me and that you could get away with anything on me, but sometimes you have to put it out there and have faith.”
“I’m not gonna play you. I won’t do that Janice. I honestly don’t know how to respond to you although I want to-”
“But you don’t want to open up, right? I figured that. Let’s go.” She stood up and walked to the car. I opened the door for her and threw the blanket in the trunk. I stood and looked at the cliffs and the water for a moment before I climbed in the car.
I knew there was something that I was feeling. I knew what I wanted to say. But I chose to remain on the same level. I kept quiet. In the car I turned the radio on. She looked out the window without saying anything to me. There wasn’t anyway that I could run anything down on her. I had to move on, I kept thinking to myself as I drove. She turned the radio down for a second and then she turned it back up, without speaking.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I don’t want you to call me anymore. When you drop me off that’s it, lose my number.”
“Terrence, I know your type. Serious relationship, time to tuck the tail and leave. You always want the easy way out, but this time you won’t get what you want and get out easy. You’ll remember what I’ve said today and I pray to God that you change, or something will happen to you.”
“Are you wishing bad shit on me? If so, that’s fucked up. I haven’t said a word, I’ve just been quiet. I wasn’t the one who said all that stuff back there.” I figured if I wasn’t going to be able to get anything I might as well save face. How ignorant is that? She didn’t respond. She didn’t say a word. I turned the radio off.
“So what do you have to say?” I asked.
“I feel sorry for you, that’s all I have to say.”
“Sorry for me? I’m straight, you don’t need to feel sorry for me,” I said. She didn’t say anything at all. I was hot. I wanted to kick her out of the car at that point, when it all hit me.
God does give you moments to make a decision. Usually they come at a time where you are so preoccupied with you, you fail to see that moment occurring. I didn’t see it until after she said she was sorry. I knew at that moment I had to make a decision.
“Janice, I know you’re not going to respond to anything I’m saying right now, but-” I paused for a second to park the car. She opened the door and got out. I called her and she stopped in front of her door.
“Can we please talk about this now? If we both leave and have this out in the air, then we’ll think too much and everything will be fucked up.” She agreed and we began walking.
“I was talking to Flip the other day and he told me something about myself. He didn’t even intend to do it, it just came out.” She still didn’t say anything. “I want to try and do this thing.”
“What thing? You can’t even say it. You don’t need to do anything except grow up.”
“Can I talk without being scolded, please?”
What happens most of the time when a man is about to come clean to a woman, is the woman will say something that messes with the man’s concentration. It will distract him just enough to make him punk out. He’ll change his mind and just say, “Fuck it.” Remember that if a guy is trying to get serious, even when you’re arguing, let him. If you don’t he will freeze up and he’ll never tell you what’s on his mind.
She quieted down and let me continue.
“This is not some kind of game I’m trying to run on you. I felt something between us that night also. I just thought that you had,” I changed my words. “I thought I had to be who I was for a while longer. I didn’t want to try a relationship.”
“What was Laney to you then?”
I hadn’t thought about that coming up. Oh well.
“I liked Laney, but I never had any intentions on really being with her.”
“So you were playing the role when you met me?”
“Yeah I was, but-”
“You were going to do the same thing to me?”
“Yeah I was, but-”
She raised her hand up as if she was about to hit me. Then she put her hands up to her eyes and covered them. She turned around and began walking back towards her apartment. I ran after her and grabbed her on her shoulder.
“Janice, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what you want to hear. I’m trying to be honest with you. If all you’re going to do-”
She pulled her shoulder away from me and kept walking. I shouted.
“If all you’re going to do is walk away when I finally tell the truth then what’s the point in me being honest?”
She stopped and turned towards me. I ran to her and held my hands out to plea.
“I’m not sure of what to say, I just don’t know these words. You understand?” I asked her. I held her hands and rubbed them gently. “I want you to give me time to learn. I want you to teach me.”
“I can’t teach you anything Tee. I don’t know the way. I just know how I felt about you.”
“How you felt?”
“You scare me. You are so unsure of yourself that it just plain scares me. What do you expect?”
“I expected you to say that you would be the person that I can count on.”
“Count on for what? Talk to me Tee I need to hear it as much as you do.”
“Flip said something to me,” I said letting her hands go to walk beside her. We had been walking down the street holding hands in an awkward walking dance. “He told me that he was tired of waking up in the morning and questioning what he had done the night before. I don’t want to question anymore.”
“But are you doing this for you or because you think we can make this work?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then I can’t be the one Tee. I can’t.”
She walked up the stairs and into her apartment. I climbed into the car and drove home.
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