Monday, December 26, 2016

Fiction: "Twelve"

I keep looking back-and-forth at the coffee shop’s entrance to see if he’s arrived, but all I see are unfamiliar figures puffing tiny clouds before scurrying through the revolving door, trying to escape the frigid air. Part of me hopes he doesn’t show. Just continue the cycle he started many years ago, one of avoidance and ultimate disappearance. But I don’t think we could actually handle that.

Not now.

My hands break out into a slight tremble, so I wrap them around my steaming mug of hot chocolate. The cubes of marshmallows bob up and down like buoys during a slow, low tide. That motion doesn’t help because it triggers a simultaneous flutter in the depth of my stomach, warms my core, then settles. I ask myself whether my hands shake from the actual cold or my nerves; nevertheless, I grip the cup tighter, realizing its temperature has to be one degree shy of a serious burn.

I finally admit to myself it’s he who’s making me this anxious.

It’s the “he” from my sophomore to senior years of undergrad. The “he” who camped out in the McGrew Towers lobby pretending to need my macroeconomics help. The “he” who winked and spit subtle rhymes at me while he chilled with his frat brothers inside the student union. The “he” who made me a homemade strawberry cake complete with buttercream icing and real berries for my birthday. The same “he” who flew me to Birmingham during our spring break so he could introduce me to his parents during junior year, only to abandon me right before graduation with no conversation to gain understanding. The “he” who coincidentally appears at my job miles and cities away in Chicago, of all places, 12 years later. The “he” who ignores me in the community room and passes me in the hallway with nary a glance.

Until yesterday when I looked at him through that glass wall.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Table for One preview: "Swept up in El Nino," a memoir

Below is an excerpt from the inaugural issue of our new magazine series titled Table for One, launching June 1, 2017. For more information about Table for One and future Pencil and Chalk publications, click here.

...By then he’d purchased a BMW, a vehicle less practical than my Honda Civic – which he dubbed a piece of shit – because it came with a higher gas and maintenance price. Since he often overspent on drinks and dinner on the weekends, he had difficulty filling his tank at the beginning of the following week. I told him it was a good thing he worked at that Italian restaurant directly across the street from the apartment.

So it was this restaurant’s paycheck stub that I picked up while he was out. I unfolded it and looked first at his net pay and second at his per period gross earnings. Both resembled that of a part-time job, not a chef’s income or one that could afford a luxury apartment on his own. Plus my discerning accountant’s eye saw a gap that couldn’t have been attributed to just taxes. I looked closer at the deductions and found it: garnishment. Child support.

That bubbly little girl grinning from the dashboard of the SUV that he used to drive wasn’t his niece; it was his daughter.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The third house on the right

We watch the baby’s chubby thighs kick and wiggle from the metal bucket on the kitchen counter next to the sink. Although we can’t see the baby’s face, we can hear the infant giggle and coo from inside the pail.

I glace over at K and T, who stand less than 10 feet behind me by the open side door, mute, probably eager to make a hasty exit.

I look back at the baby. His feet continue to dance against the air as I grasp him by his ankles. I think I carry him upside down as I walk over to K and T, but I can’t quite recall.

“See, I told you something is wrong with this house,” I say to them.

Like something isn’t also wrong with the baby. It wasn’t always human. It was a mere doll before it was placed in the bucket. Not a Baby Alive, which mimics a real-life newborn, but a plain old, motionless, plastic toy. Yet somehow it sprung to life, begging to be comforted and cuddled.

Sometimes I wish...

…I could utter an emphatic “NO;”

…my mind didn’t constantly run a marathon but rather walked an easy beach stroll;

…I’d followed my intuition;

…I didn’t give second, third, fourth, and fifth chances;

…I chucked the old notion that I’m no better than anyone else because, after all, I don’t strive to be average;

Friday, March 18, 2016

[xoNecole] Go get him! Study shows women who make the first move have better dating success

I’m sitting at the bar enjoying sushi and my second $9 cocktail when one of my friends taps the shoulder of the guy sitting next to me.

“Hi!” she says to him. “What’s your name?”

He tells her.

“Have you met my friend, Tee?” she replies, as she turns her back to us to continue conversing with the group behind us, as if she has just accomplished a major task.

It’s an awkward introduction. He’s confused and annoyed – mainly, I presume, because dude is already engrossed in a conversation with a young woman on the other side of him. So I’m initially horrified because all my friend has done is inadvertently let him know that I’m possibly 1) a relationship reject; 2) incapable of meeting men on my own; or 3) a homewrecker. Then I grow angry because I’m none of the above, and she’s placed me in a humiliating position all because I’m not flirting and mingling to her satisfaction. I’m left seething in my seat, mumbling under my breath that if I wanted to meet dude, I would’ve introduced mydamnself.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

[xoNecole] How I learned the importance of saying 'No' after being diagnosed with Bell's Palsy

Since I was a teenager, I’ve been conditioned to be independent and ambitious. Against some family members and friends’ advice, I applied to a more selective university and was accepted. Upon graduation, I relocated to urban Northern Virginia instead of returning to rural hometown Virginia. And when it came to building a finance career, I was focused on promotions and paychecks. But being a go-getter came with a whole other set of responsibilities that I had to fulfill that weren’t even my own.

In a scene from Tuesday’s “Purging and Cleansing” episode of Being Mary Jane, Kara pretty much tells MJ that she can’t be the head of everyone’s household. MJ not only takes care of her own home, but she also maintains order in her parents’ home, including supplementing her family’s financial downfalls and acting as the family spokesperson to deliver the news everyone else needs to say but no one wants to deliver.

Monday, December 7, 2015

"Being Mary Jane" in real life is destructive and emotionally exhausting

As I watch the dinner scene on Tuesday night’s Being Mary Jane unfold – the one where MJ educates her family on money management – I smirk. Here’s the family, finally happy together in one room (with the exception of PJ, who’s back in LA price-rigging on his new job), and MJ feels it’s the best time to tell her folks how to spend and save their dollars courtesy of Suze Orman.

MJ has no chill, I initially say to myself.

But I can’t get annoyed with her – this time – even when she tells her dad that he isn’t buying Niecy or anybody else a car, because something about the whole situation suddenly seems so familiar.

At 15, my mother succumbed to metastasized breast cancer and instead of me continuing to be a teenager, I immediately assumed responsibility for my family’s business affairs. I was the one to interpret the fine print on documents, balance accounts, and dispute and negotiate bill errors.

I vividly remember calling Verizon several times on my grandmother’s behalf over some Miss Cleo-typed calls a relative had placed on my grandmother’s phone. For at least three months, these charges appeared on her bill.

“But she didn’t make them, and we called about them last month, too,” I’d cry to the customer service rep. Finally someone initiated a block and authorized a credit, but it didn’t cover what I had combed through the multi-paged bills and calculated as the “fraudulent” charges, maybe because of taxes and all those additional fees.

“There’s still $27!” I say, exasperated, to the rep.