Here we go again. I let out a heavy sigh.
An invitation to be the keynote speaker at some frumpy women’s luncheon. You know, the kind where they’ll probably all be wearing “church hats” and glitzy suits. I guess you could call it a “high tea.” Eh, I’m not excited. Yet another “thing” added to my calendar. There’s just too much to do. There’s always something to do.
I never dreamed I’d be in this place. When I 17, I received a full scholarship to a small Christian college on the west coast. I wish I could be cliché and tell you I was the first in my family to go to college, but that’s not true. Both of my parents graduated from Southern University (that’s where they met). My sister, Michelle, who’s five years my senior, went to Stillman College for a semester, but she dropped out. Said she couldn’t handle the pressure.
I still remember the looks on my parents’ faces when she told them she wasn’t going back. Talk about pissed! She’d told me her escape plan two weeks prior, and as mad as we both knew they would be, I knew she’d go through with it anyway. She was 16 when she up and decided that none of her clothes needed to match anymore. How dreadful. She pulled if off effortlessly, of course. Michelle’s that kind of person though–courageous and unafraid. I have always admired that about her, but I’ve never told her.
The day my family drove off from my dorm, leaving me alone in a new city, I vowed to finish what Michelle started. Somebody had to fulfill the dream–why not me? My book smarts paired with my level head made me a prototype for the Perfect Student.For the next 10 years, my tunnel vision was matchless. My degree in clinical counseling took four years to complete; I finished in 3.5. Mama and Daddy met in college: I found my beau there, too. Graduate school was supposed to take roughly two years; I took summer courses and worked full-time to finish in a year and a half.
I got a job immediately after graduation and became engaged. It’s hard to believe that Jordan and I had been together almost six years. I almost killed myself (and my bridesmaids) in the process, but I had the fairytale wedding I’d always dreamed of. When mama and all four of my aunts started asking, “When ya’ll gon’ start working on them babies?” the need to please kicked in again. I was pregnant in an instant, and mommyhood began. What a glorious time!
I was so busy being Mommy Dearest to Lei’ann, I totally forgot about Jordan, and what he needed from me as a wife and companion.
“Do you know what my favorite color is?” he asked while I was folding clothes one evening.
I threw his basketball shorts in a pile and did a double-take. “Huh? Your favorite color?”
“Yeah. As in the color I like the most–that I wear the most.” He was clearly annoyed.
I tried to imagine the inside of his closet. “It’s purple, isn’t it?”
“Uh uh.” His voice was flat. His eyes were dead. He walked out of the room.
Damn. I didn’t even know my own husband’s favorite color. How terrible is that? Maybe I never knew him that well at all. I remember studying and attending club meetings in college more than I remember us just spending time with us. Seven years later, we were strangers. People change, and I’d been so busy, I didn’t have time to notice.
Meanwhile, my career in counseling was taking off. In addition to being a head counselor at the hospital, I was being invited to speak to women across the city, my duty being to encourage them and put them on a plan of action to make better lives for themselves. Nevermind their past dealings in drug addictions, abandonment and sexual abuse. With my help, they got through their ordeals. I’ve always been good at helping people.
So now, I am here. In this place of accomplishment. Living what seems to be picture perfect life with my husband and my baby girl. I am miserable. My family is the world to me, but with every engagement I commit to, every award I receive, every I realize that’s all my life has been. Committment. Structure. Little to no fun. Did you know I always wanted to ride a huge rollercoaster? Go sky-diving? Put on a show during karaoke (think: Cameron Diaz in My Best Friend’s Wedding)? Have a drunken one-night stand, even? Yep, but none of that has ever happened. My reputation won’t allow it. I won’t allow it.
For Mother’s Day, Michelle, who still doesn’t have children or a steady boyfriend, for that matter, gave me a card. Inside was a slip of paper with the following quote written on it:
“First I was dying to finish high school & start college. And then I was dying to finish college & start working. And then I was dying to marry & have children. And then I was dying for my children to grow old enough so I could get back my career. And then I was dying to retire. And now I am dying & suddenly I realize …that I forgot to live.”
– Author unknown
She didn’t wait for my response to the note. She just smiled with her eyes and kissed me on the cheek. Was that what she thought of me? Well, she hit the nail on the head. I wasn’t offended; I was empowered. It seems like just yesterday I was trying so hard to be the polar opposite of her: straight-laced and conformed. Now I want to take a walk in her shoes. See what’s like to be without restriction imposed by others and even myself.
I took that quote and posted it to the bulletin board in my home office. I read it aloud everyday after my morning prayer. It’s time to live. Really live.
But back to this “high tea” deal. I called the women’s auxiliary and graciously declined the invitation. I picked up the phone and dialed Jordan.
“Hey. The fair is in town, right?”
“Yeah, it is. Why?” he asked. I could hear his eyebrows raise in inquisitiveness.
“Let’s go tonight.”
Yes, really! Are you surprised?
“Honestly, yes, but that’s cool, ” he said. “I’ll call Mom and ask her to babysit.”
“No, Lei’ann’s coming with us. It’ll be a family Fun Night.”
I could tell he didn’t know what to think. “A-ight. But you’ve never cared for going to fairs and theme parks. Remember when I tried to take you in ’01? What’s this all about?”
I leaned back in my leather chair, swung around with my feet lifted off the carpeted floor. I could feel Michelle in veins. “Tonight I’m riding the biggest rollercoaster out there.”
The moment I ended the call, I started living life.