A Short Story About Something I Know Nothing About
This is old, very old. So old that I'm not sure if I like it anymore, so here.
I must have come on a super busy day. The struggles-of-a-baby-mama and I-hate-my-job chatter around me and the static-ridden television set showing an old episode of All My Children were hard to drown out. The smell of acrylic was making my head hurt and the short Asian man scrubbing the bottom of my feet tickled like all hell. My phone had been buzzing for damn near ten minutes and I couldn’t dig into my pocket to answer it for fear of ruining my French mani.
None of that could keep my mind from retreating to one thought and stirring up a week’s worth of worry. The only thing on my mind was how, ultimately, one word had turned into a life sentence. How could I have let that happen?
I scooped up my purse, tucked it under my arm and blew at my fingernails while being led to the nail drying station. “Careful! No touch!” my manicurist snapped at me. “Sorry, sorry,” I said, clearly distracted. Couldn’t knock him for making sure his work didn’t smudge. He pulled the chair out for me to sit down and placed my purse in my lap. That was grounds for a tip. But his efforts didn’t impress me for too much longer before I tumbled back into my conflicted thoughts.
“T! You ready?” My thoughts were yet again cut off. A man with a 6’2” frame, freshly re-twisted shoulder length locs, tamed facial scruff, deep Hershey Symphony bar skin, bright eyes and a line of pearly whites affixed into a beaming smile walked into Hui Ja Nails’ lobby. Every woman under the nail dryers (no matter how old) snapped their heads in his direction and tried to stifle the vocal demands of their hormones. “Oh, God…” I heard someone whisper.
“Give me like ten minutes under the dryer,” I answered him.
“Okay, hun.” He took a seat by the door and pulled out a rolled up copy of GQ from his inside jacket pocket, as if he expected me to not be ready. I laughed to myself at the thought. He knew me all too well.
I never thought in a million years that tomorrow, I’d be marrying Ray.
2002 was one hell of a year. It was my freshman year at Hillman University and I remember almost everything that happened as if it happened two days ago, unless of course the memory was wiped out by a hangover. I especially recall one day about three weeks before spring break. My dorm hall was running rampant with foolishness as usual. The heat in the hall was on high, and my some of my floormates were clad in cheek clenching shorts, crop tops and high heels, partaking in sporadic “fashion shows” and twerking contests. City locals with back home boyfriends checked in their men and brought them to their rooms until visitation ended at midnight. My roommate Desiree and I were idly sitting on the floor in the center of our room, making a list of places we’d visit during spring break if we actually had the money. In reality, I’d be bussing it back to my New Jersey home and she’d be visiting her cousins in Virginia.
“Venice! Or maybe London,” I’d suggested.
“You’re aiming too high, Tamera. That’s a senior year trip,” Des countered. “Maybe Cancun?”
“That sounds nice,” I said. “But what about the Bahamas? Girl, I’m trying to see Atlantis.”
“Or Vegas!” interrupted one of my floormates who poked her head into our room while shaking her behind to “Drop and Give Me 50.” We left the door open because the hallway commotion never failed to entertain. She hadn’t broken her body’s cadence since she spoke. “You know, what happens in Vegas… stays in Vegas!”
Des and I held our stomachs in laughter at the talk we were engaging in. All of a sudden, Soulja Boy’s “Donk” resonated throughout the hallway. Someone had some mean speakers. Nonetheless, this was the freshman girl’s party anthem. There was no way Des and I could sit this one out.
The beat pulsed and made the walls quake. We joined in on the signature bouncing dance that usually accompanied this song until I heard an unfamiliar voice in my room.
“Um, I’m sorry, but is this Liz’s room?” it boomed.
I froze mid-twerk. I turned around to see a fairly attractive young guy with neatly braided dreads, nicely fitted jeans, a plain white tee and sneakers, holding a denim jacket in his hands. His face was familiar. I’d seen him sitting with the football players in the cafeteria from time to time. Charm aside, I was pretty annoyed to be walked in on like that. “No,” I said flatly. I saw him look up at our room number above the doorway. He looked genuinely confused and visibly uncomfortable after my reaction. Des, who hadn’t stopped dancing, continued with the conversation. “Naw hun, two doors down!” He thanked her and said sorry to me again. I flashed a fake smile at his apology before turning my back to him. He hesitated one more time before walking down the hall.
Des lightly punched my shoulder. “Aw lighten up, T,” she said. “Don’t front like he wasn’t fine.” I laughed but didn’t answer her. She was right, though.
After that day, I started seeing him at random school events. At each one, we never caught eyes, and I didn’t try to make that happen. We just kept passing each other by, although I always felt like he noticed me every time. One warm day while I was sitting outside of the student center doodling in my notebook to kill time, someone blocked my sun. I looked up. It was my room intruder.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” I returned.
“Can I sit here?”
I moved my things over to make room.
“I just wanted to say sorry for walking into your room that time. I know it happened mad long ago but I just wanted to say sorry again.”
I laughed. “It’s cool. No biggie.”
He smiled, relieved. “Ok, phew. We never really met or anything like that. I’m Ray,” he said, sticking his hand out.
I shook it. “Tamera Wayne.”
Time would later reveal to me that he was Raymond Blaine, a New Yorker whose family relocated to North Carolina when he was 12. He was a junior studying marketing and on academic scholarship as a wide receiver on the football team. He shared a lot of my interests, such as recreational sketching, being a music aficionado and a devout comedy stan. He liked going to church when he wasn’t too tired, was very social, got solid A’s and B’s, and loved to eat but loved to cook even more.
He was an interesting dude. As the months progressed, he ended up becoming a good friend. Our social circles were often at the same functions, so we got to hang together often enough. And when we weren’t together, we’d be texting and talking about whatever nonsense we’d encountered that day. Ray reminded me a lot of my best friend back at home, Tisha. I forced him to talk to her on the phone one day, just because. They ended up talking for half an hour. Later, all Tisha kept saying was how alike they were. “Is that ya boo?” she asked. “Naw girl, Ray’s the homie!” I insisted. I could feel the ‘mhmm’ face she was giving me through the phone.
Life kept running its course with us. When he graduated, he was still somewhat accessible to me. He went to Georgetown University for his MBA. In between tests and studying, we’d catch up whenever we had a bit of free time. I didn’t realize how much I liked him until we were grabbing some Pinkberry and I'd laughed too hard at one of his jokes. Somehow, a dab of frozen yogurt wound up on the tip of my nose. Before I could even think about it, he used a napkin to gently wipe it away. I found myself looking him in the eyes for a long time and smiling bashfully, feeling like a 12-year-old girl. He’d smiled and looked away. I assumed he felt the same way, too.
During homecoming my senior year, he confirmed my assumption. He’d asked me to go to the R&B show with him. He’d already bought the two tickets. Musiq Soulchild was the headliner, so I was more than excited to go. When we were looking for our seats in the darkness of the auditorium, one of his old teammates spotted us and came over to say catch up.
“Yo, Ray! I haven’t seen you in a minute!” The two men dapped each other up. “Hey, Tamera!” He gave me a warm hug.
He turned to Ray and pointed his thumb at me and asked him, “This ya girl?”
This could have quite possibly been the most awkward moment of my homecoming experience. Could have been. Instead, after a few seconds of hesitation, Ray looked at me and I looked back up at him, and we smiled at each other; quite stupidly, might I add. Then put his hand gently on the small of my back. I felt a shiver of approval shoot up my spine, which processed itself into a light nod. “Yep,” Ray told him finally.
His friend smiled and winked him the okay. “Good catch,” he said. And from then on, I was his girl.
Fast forward five years. Past the day he met my parents at my graduation. They loved him. Past the time I met his during his house warming party in Brooklyn, NY shortly after he received his degree. They adored me. Past the summer block party he planned last year that led to his proposal at the end of his ‘Cheers to the Future’ end-of-summer speech, in which I walked away with runny mascara and a 1.5 carat engagement ring.
My wedding day was tomorrow, and I felt like I had made a mistake by saying yes so soon.
For some odd reason, I felt like I had violated the young, wild and free manifesto that was floating around in the omniposephere somewhere. I was throwing my freedom away when I still had so many years to live life sans apprehension. The only person I had to answer to besides God was my damn self. What if being tied down would drain me of it all? Everything I did from this point onward would have to be executed in the name of “we.” I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with that.
Maybe the immeasurable joy I constantly peeped while watching my namesake on Tia & Tamera would come. But what if it doesn’t? What if he turns on me?
I had to look at it through an actuarial lens. Was eight years long enough to know the man who’d eventually father my kids? Well, I’d only officially been with him for five. As the saying goes, "Til' death do us part." Death. Will Ray actually satisfy me until I die? I don’t see the numbers working out.
What was the problem with him? Better yet, what was my problem with being essentially given to him for… forever? And where was all this timidity in me coming from? There was no one in my family to inherit that from; both of my parents and both sets of grandparents were extremely headstrong and confident in all that they did.
What was the real issue here?
Well, unrequited love wasn’t the issue. He let me know everyday that he not only loved, but was in love with me. When we play fought and I was getting my ass whooped, he’d kind of fall back and let me win. Then he’d tell me, “You just got lucky punk,” and kiss me on my forehead. (I had only told my best friend that forehead kisses were my weak spot. He just stumbled upon it one day and I swooned every time thereafter.) It wasn’t the family. I never felt like a stranger in his parents’ household. On some days, it feels like Mr. and Mrs. Blaine love me more than they love him. His older sister is my bridesmaid, that’s how close we’d become. And it sure as hell wasn’t his physical. It was part of my daily routine to feel looks laced with death threats when Ray was on my arm. I’d become immune. Not to mention that if I were trapped in a burning building, he could scoop me up to safety and still have enough strength to grab some luggage just in case. It wasn’t any of that.
So, then what the hell was it? All this doubt had to come from somewhere. I’d run this question through my mind every day for a week and couldn’t find an answer. It was the night before the wedding at my bachelorette sleepover party with all my girls, and I still couldn’t answer it for myself. I hadn’t let anyone know how I felt, because I didn’t understand how I felt.
“Oh gosh, stop thinking about him!” Tisha joked. She laughed at my visible blushing. “You’re in love like shit,” she continued. Tish always went beyond the call of her best friend duties. She would always be the one to spot when I was having a weak moment and talk sense into me. Now, her maid-of-honor duties were kicking in and her words couldn’t have come in at a more perfect time. “I’m so happy for you guys. One day, I hope to find what you have.”
Right then and there, I let out the heartiest laugh I could muster up in weeks. I laughed at myself for letting the mindset of old friends still dwelling in the land of the single psych me out of accepting the promise of forever with the one who loved me more than I loved myself. I couldn’t believe I’d spent time considering doubts and finding reasons against tomorrow. The fuck? I let out a sigh of relief.
My nerves lifted. I was exactly where I belonged. It was time to really celebrate. “I’m getting married, hoes!” I screamed excitedly. My bedroom erupted in cheers, girlish laughter, hugs and the clinks of way too full Moscato-filled champagne glasses. I was glad to be in the company of the women closest to me, who had pledged to have my back and always keep my best interest in heart. I was even more blessed to have them at my wedding tomorrow. Nothing could make my night better.
My phone buzzed on the ottoman beside me. In between sips of bubbly, I unlocked my phone. 3-9-0-2, the day Ray and I met. I checked my unread text message.
“<-- Currently the happiest man alive. C u tomoro.”
I couldn’t fight the tears welling in the corner of my eyes from Ray’s text. I looked to God and let a “Thank you” slip out. I wiped at my eyes and took another swig.
Yes. He was, in fact, the one.