Dream Girl Awakened
 Owed to Myself
May 21, 2008
Aruba propped up the girls in a Miracle C-cup, checked the smooth, waxed bikini line in her thong, and released her shoulder-length hair from a barrette, proud she’d made an appointment at Aveda Fredericks to iron out her leonine mane of curls earlier in the day. Just as she slipped on her dress, Jeremiah called from the door, “Mommy, you smell good.”
As she turned, she stopped mid-smile at the sight of Jeremiah perched atop James’s shoulders.
“Yeah, Mah-mee, I haven’t seen you this beautiful since—well, you’re always beautiful. Are you trying to make me jealous?” asked James, hoping to elicit a smile. “Where you going looking so good?” James was careful not to offend her. He needed to get back in her corner, back into her accommodating thighs.
“Just a company function. Won’t be out too late. One of us has to work in the morning. May I have five more minutes to get dressed? Please.”
James walked out the door with Jeremiah blowing kisses at Aruba. She balled her fists at James’s back. Ten years and this is the best I can do. Ten years of hanging my hopes on this man’s dreams. Ten years of supporting him and he won’t even keep a decent job. Was I that dumb in 1998 thinking James was the best I could do? It all ends tonight.
Definitely! I have one year to accomplish my goal, to make things better for myself and my son. Mind-blowing sex can’t make up for all I’ve endured with this man.
She shook her head in disgust as her mind drifted back two weeks. That Wednesday, James ambled into the great room, parked himself on the sectional, and sprinted into his usual discourse on the job market, the Edomites—his term for the oppressors—and how he never got a chance to shine. He grabbed a 40-ounce from the fridge and proclaimed, “Edomites always tryna keep a brotha down!”
She glared at him as he jumped up, then paced back and forth in the living room, his steel-toed boots leaving small tracks in the carpet.
“I’m glad I walked off that fucking site. Ain’t no way in hell I’ma settle for fifteen dollars an hour under those conditions.”
“You did what?” she shouted. She counted the cost of his latest job loss, then grew angrier. She knew she’d have some explaining to do since her Uncle Walstine had put in a good word for James at Hinton and Conyers Construction.
“You know how those Edomites do. Segregating us to the high, roofing positions while they let the young bloods, the young white bloods do the painting and drywalling.”
She counted to ten, then remembered Jeremiah was still at Angels in Halos, near Indianapolis. “Maybe I’ll discuss this when I get our child from day care!”
“Aruba, baby, I forgot about Jerry. Lemme go—”
“Forget it, James! I’ll deal with you when I get back.”
Aruba grabbed her keys, stormed out the house, and rushed to the center. As she weaved in and out of traffic on I-465, she tallied the twenty-five-dollar-per-minute late fee steadily accruing. Just as she approached the Allisonville Road exit, Mrs. Timmons, the day care director, rang her cell.
“Is everything okay, Aruba? Big meeting today?”
“Yes,” she lied, hoping to stay in Mrs. Timmons’s good graces. “I’ve been traveling my region, training for State Farm nonstop. Things have been hectic at the office.”
“Not to worry, Aruba. I’m here with Jeremiah and he’s playing with Lyric Austin. They’re having a blast.”
Aruba sighed, unsure of how she’d atone for yet another lie told to cover for James. Before she could exhale with relief, Uncle Walstine’s name and number flashed on her caller ID. “Mrs. Timmons, I’m around the corner. See you soon.” Better get this over now. She swapped from Mrs. Timmons to her uncle.
“Unk, how’s it going?”
“You know damn well how it’s going! Works-when-he-feels-like-it James just ruined my good name at Hinton and Conyers. I had two more good prospects lined up and he goes in there ranting and raving about the Edomites—and Hinton and Conyers are black folks!”
“Unk, I had no idea—”
“Save it. We told you that boy was no good when you brought him around. ’Bout the best thing you got outta that union was Jeremiah!”
“That’s not fair, Uncle Walstine. I’ve been try—”
“Trying. Working like a dog to take care of that . . .” Walstine paused. “I’m just saying, baby girl, I’m tired of seeing you work so hard. You need to be in a relationship where you complement, not supplement.”
“Thank you. I understand how you feel and I’m so sorry about what happened. I’ll talk to James about it. I promise.”
With that, they said good-byes. Aruba retrieved Jeremiah, went home, and chose to say only hello and good-bye to James for the next two weeks. His romantic overtures; yellow, long-stemmed
roses; and candlelight, homemade dinners were met with no enthusiasm. The more she looked at James, the more she thought of Winston. She knew she couldn’t give James the silent treatment tonight. She had to weave her web, lay a foundation for the new life she and Jeremiah would soon come to know.
Aruba decided tonight was perfect to take what she deserved—her friend Victoria’s husband. After all, Victoria whined about Winston morning, noon, and night. Aruba mimicked Victoria’s complaints as she applied makeup to her soft cheeks, compliments of an organic honey-almond facial.
“Aruba, Winston’s never home.”
“We’ve moved three times in four years with his practice and I’m tired.”
“He only gives me a three-thousand-dollar allowance each month.”
“You wouldn’t understand unless you’ve walked a mile in my Manolos, Rube.”
Aruba grunted at that statement and double-checked the night’s game plan sprawled across the bed: MapQuest directions to the conference center where Winston would conduct a presentation on cardiovascular breakthroughs; Winston’s favorite CDs—Glenn Jones’s Forever: Timeless R&B Classics, Boney James’s Shine, and Charles Hilton Brown’s Owed To Myself—she had heard wafting from his home office; the last pay stub from James’s fifth job in seven months; Winston’s favorite perfume, Flowerbomb; photos of her son, Jeremiah, and Winston’s daughter, Nicolette, at a Mocha Moms outing. Tonight she had bigger salmon to marinate and pan sear. In one swoop she tossed the plan in her oversized bag and threw on a trench coat. She exhaled deeply when James and Jeremiah reentered the room.
“I wanna come, Mommy,” said Jeremiah. Aruba marveled at her three-year-old’s obsession with following her.
“Mommy and Daddy will take you to Great Times this weekend. Okay?”
Jeremiah wiggled from James’s shoulders as he reached for Aruba’s arms. “Mommy and Daddy gonna talk this weekend?”
Embarrassed that her child had noticed the distance between them, Aruba hugged him, and said, “Yes, we’re gonna have lots of fun. Pinkie promise.”
Jeremiah wrapped his left pinkie finger with Aruba’s, and said, “I’m happy. Daddy said you were in an itchy mood.” Jeremiah’s tendency to drop beginning letters saved yet another fight brewing between his parents.
James, sheepish and remorseful, chimed in, “You know how I get when I’m mad. I’m sorry.”
Aruba waved him off without acknowledgment and headed to the garage. James and Jeremiah followed her, giggling and singing “Sesame Street.”
Aruba faced James before she entered her SUV. “How ’bout this tune, James. Happy Birthday to me. Happy Birthday to me,” Aruba sang and poked her chest.
James thwacked his forehead, embarrassed he’d forgotten her birthday.
“I was gonna get you a gift, but you know I’m a little light right now. I’ll get you something soon. I promise.”
James tried to lighten the mood as she started her vehicle. “Baby, I’m gonna get another job. I promise,” he said, his eyes pleading, sincere.
She backed out of the garage into the driveway, waving to them both. She blew Jeremiah a quick kiss. Yeah, you’ll need a job when I’m done with you. I owe this to myself.