Authors: Zuri Day
“Humph. I don’t care how long it’s been, she’s still a bitch.”
D’Andra’s mouth fell open. Even at nine, D’Andra knew that
was not a term of endearment. She ran to her room and hid in the closet crying.
That’s where her mother found her hours later, asleep. “D’Andra! D’Andra, wake up! What in the hell are you doing sleeping in the closet?”
For a moment, D’Andra forgot what had brought her to her favorite hiding place. “I-I-I don’t know.” She chewed nervously on her lower lip.
“And stop gnawing on your lip. You look like your crazy ass da—just don’t do that.”
Her comment brought the memories back; her father, how her mother felt about him in contrast with Cassandra’s father, and in turn her, the reason she’d hid in the closet. Had she thought to ask, she would have learned that the
Mary referred to was her true love’s wife.
As soon as her mother left the room, D’Andra raced and grabbed the picture on the nightstand. It was one of a handful she had of her father and her. In this one he was holding her; she was about two years old. She looked to find the part of her that looked like him, the part her mother didn’t like. Aside from them both being big, she didn’t see much. Her mother was big too, so was that even a trait that Orlando Dobbs had passed on to her? D’Andra didn’t know, and even now, all these years later, she still wanted to find out.
By the time D’Andra cooked dinner, cleaned the kitchen and put her nieces and nephew to bed she was exhausted. She pulled out the sofa bed, her new sleeping quarters since Cassandra and family moved in and, at her mother’s suggestion, claimed D’Andra’s bedroom for their temporary stay. The thought of taking in a movie or shopping at the mall had long been forgotten, and even an apartment search on the Internet was too much additional work for the night. The special way Night had made her feel and the satisfaction that had come from working out was a distant memory as well. And though her mother knew she’d joined a gym and scheduled her first workout today, not one question had been asked concerning it. Without Elaine’s encouragement or Night’s support, D’Andra had lost the battle to resist her own good cooking, and before she knew it had finished off two large pork chops, a mound of potatoes and two helpings of greens. At least she’d passed on the gravy and hoped that counted for something.
I’ll just go to the gym an extra day
, she thought as she tried to find a comfortable position on the lumpy, pullout mattress. She was trying not to beat herself up as the book Elaine had given her on relationships encouraged.
“You’ve got to love yourself before you can love anybody else, or before anybody can really love you. Remember that,” Elaine had reminded D’Andra just last week.
D’Andra was willing to make what would undoubtedly be a long journey to self-love. She knew it wasn’t a trip that one made overnight, and that sometimes it was an entire life’s journey with forks in the road, or as this evening had so aptly illustrated, a fork in hand…one full of greens and potatoes and good old-fashioned southern fried pork chops.
D’Andra planned to do a bunch of nothing when she woke up the next morning. Sometime during the night she’d changed her mind about working out and decided Tuesday would be soon enough for her next exercise adventure.
Her family’s plans quickly changed her own. It started with her nieces and nephew bouncing on her sofa bed and asking for breakfast before nine A.M. She’d just shooed them away with promises of afternoon tacos and turned over for more sleep when the loud sounds of soul brother number one, James Brown, seeped from under her mother’s bedroom door.
I feel good…
“Yeah,” D’Andra mumbled as she rolled over and out of her bed. “You’re the only one.”
Shortly after learning that Cassandra’s boyfriend was coming over for a game of Bid Whist, along with Mary’s casino buddy Boss (who D’Andra suspected was also her mother’s lover) and their cousin Jackie and her kids, she decided that there was no time like the present to work the pork chops off her thighs.
“We thought you could make a big pot of spaghetti,” her mother offered as D’Andra placed workout clothes in a gym bag.
“You’ll have to pull cooking duty today, Mama,” she answered. “I’ve got work to do.”
An hour later D’Andra was making it work, walking slowly yet continuously to the sounds of Jill Scott playing on her iPod. She checked her watch for a second time, watched the second hand to make sure it was working. Had it really only been five minutes? Then why was she so tired? Determined to focus on the finish line instead of the race, she removed her watch and placed it in the cup holder, then turned up the volume and started pumping her arms in time to the beat. Her rhythm was interrupted by a tap on the arm. She turned to see “walking goodness” standing beside her and removed her earplugs. She forgot he was supposed to be “walking dirt.”
“It’s contagious isn’t it?”
D’Andra nodded. She didn’t feel a need to disclose her pork chop motivation.
Night stepped up on the treadmill next to her, set a pace close to but faster than D’Andra’s, and joined her in the workout.
“You give any thought to the project I told you about, being my spokesperson?”
“Poster girl was pressure enough but now you say spokesperson? Nothing like pressure to scare me away from the possibility.”
“Pressure is what turns a rock into a diamond,” Night countered easily. “And something tells me you’re up to the challenge.”
“So is this like, a job or something?”
“Of sorts. The first part is simply being a walking testimony as to the success of my special workout plan. I work with you for free, you get fit, and I have living, breathing proof of what happens with
. I’m thinking of that for the name of my gym,” he added.
“Hum.” D’Andra was as attracted to his bulging thighs as the words he spoke. But what he was saying was important so she focused on listening.
“If things work out between us,” he continued, “there could be the possibility for additional work later on. Like I told you before, mine will be a full-service establishment and part of that service includes health screenings and free classes for members about everything from nutrition to emotional well-being as important components of overall good health.”
Had someone read Night the script for her dream job? What he described as part of his full-service goals was exactly the type of position she wanted. But would she be able to ignore her desire for him to put her in other, more intimate positions?
He may be fine, but D’Andra was determined to keep her focus. Making the major life changes she had in mind would take all her energy. She wouldn’t have any left for empty imaginings.
“So what would I need to do?”
“It’s simple really. I’d have a photographer come over and shoot you the way you look now, and in six months or so we’ll shoot the new you. The posters will be used in marketing—”
“I don’t know,” D’Andra interrupted. She hadn’t liked being photographed ever since she’d worn the navy blue sailor dress. “I’m not too good with photo shoots.”
Night stopped his treadmill and signaled her to come down. She looked at the clock and was surprised to see that ten minutes had gone by. She’d walked for almost fifteen minutes! Still, she didn’t let her excitement overrule her common sense.
“I’ll help you with your program,” she continued. “And I have a friend, Elaine, who’d be perfect as your spokesperson. She’s had two kids and is losing weight…”
Night placed a gentle hand on her skin and the heat traveled up her arm, down her chest and settled in a slow burn just below her navel. She forced herself not to squirm under his intense gaze.
“I’ve found the perfect person,” he declared softly. “From what I’ve seen so far you’re a beautiful woman inside and out. That’s important for anyone representing my establishment.”
“I’ll think about it,” she said.
“Why don’t you think about it while we ride bikes?”
She fudged on the pedaling a little bit and even stopped for a minute or so but when all was said and done she completed almost ten minutes of cycling and another ten lifting free weights. In between instructions on lifting techniques and which muscles were being benefited by which weight machine, Night regaled her with his grandiose plans about his gym, including plans to have it operate almost twenty-four hours a day, with a special, party-like atmosphere happening during the late night hours. She was impressed with how much attention he paid to details and in spite of her resolve to be cautious, found herself getting caught up in his excitement.
“I’ve developed your program and can email it to you today. That way you can get the green light from the doc and we can get started. Any questions, just give me a call. You do still have my card, right?”
“Yes,” D’Andra said, glad she hadn’t followed her impulse to throw it away.
“So, I’ll see you on Tuesday?” he asked as she headed for the women’s locker room.
The only thing D’Andra didn’t like about his plans was using her for the photo shoot. She thought it would be easier to pedal one of those stationary bikes uphill. But he stood there looking so hopeful, so joyous at his plans coming together. How could she tell him no?
“I’ll think about it,” was as close as she could come to an answer before she ran for the showers.
D’Andra stepped from the confines of the gym into a picture-perfect day. The air held the slightest hint of a chill off the Pacific Ocean, tempered by a bright mid-January sun beaming directly overhead. For just a moment she missed Charles. On a day like today, when times were good between them, they would have gone for a walk on the beach or to see a movie. But that was before she’d seen his ass bouncing between a pair of legs that weren’t hers.
She shook her head, hoping to rid it of these painful memories. Knowing that nothing could help her feel better than a trip to the mall, she went shopping. After a pantsuit, three tops, a new pair of tennis shoes, and a chef salad, she felt better and decided to keep the mood going by swinging through Wal-Mart, her favorite one-stop shop.
D’Andra stood in the middle of the aisle in this massive superstore, looking at a dozen different bathroom scales. She knew she wanted a digital one, the most accurate she was told, but had no idea that outside of that there was a plethora of other choices: lithium or no, body fat analyzer, body fat and body water tracking scale, weight tracker, scale with memory, daily calorie counter and more. She finally settled on a heavy duty, lithium scale with none of the extras. The mirror could track her weight just fine and if she wasn’t counting calories she didn’t need a machine to do it. She added the scale to a basket filled with a case of Slimfast, a case of water, low-cal popcorn, toiletries, and a varied assortment of Just My Size workout clothes. At the last minute, she veered to the toy aisle and picked up Hannah Montana gear: a guitar for Kayla, a doll for Tonia, and a Transformer set for Antoine. She thought about buying an outfit for each of them, then decided to wait until they were with her. Instead she chose a couple kid-friendly DVDs. Just as she was about to turn into the center aisle, she heard a familiar voice.
“…you should have tried to make the show. Tevin Campbell, Al B. Sure and Keith Sweat brought it back for real, but Bobby Brown was a hot mess. He was up there spilling his business, putting Whitney on blast. He needs to forget about her and concentrate on getting his own act together.”
“But did he sing my jam, ‘My Prerogative’?”
Chanelle. Even with the painful events that caused their separation, D’Andra smiled at the memories hearing her former best friend’s voice evoked. Bobby Brown and “My Prerogative” is how they became best friends at Marcus Garvey Elementary School when they were both ten years old. The school held a talent contest and what would later be dubbed the Fabulous Four—D’Andra, Chanelle, Connie and Dominque—created a fancy and fiery dance routine to their then-favorite R&B hit and favorite singer. Chanelle—who was nicknamed Nelly—especially had been in love with Bobby Brown. He’d even inspired her first romantic encounter with Phillip Jackson, if two ten-year-olds pressing closed lips together at the downtown skating rink can be called romantic. The only reason the kid got play at all is because he had his hair cut in a fade just like Bobby Brown.
“Ooh, I saw you kissing Phillip. You like him.”
“So you like him, that’s so.”
Chanelle had giggled childishly. “You think he’s cute?”
D’Andra had nodded. Of course he was cute. His hair was cut like their idol. He even looked a little like him: tall, skinny, his skin a Bobby-colored brown. But D’Andra would have found little wrong with what Chanelle did or who she liked. She’d been the first person who made D’Andra feel pretty, in spite of her weight. This had also happened during the making of what would become the first place dance routine, when they tried to learn the Running Man.
D’Andra had fallen on Chanelle’s bed, dejected.
“I can’t do that stupid move.”
“Yes you can.”
“Why you think you can’t do it D’Andra?”
“Cause I’m too big, that’s why.”
“Girl, you ain’t big,” Chanelle said with a serious face, even as her eyes bore into D’Andra’s jelly belly stomach. “My mother is twice as big as you. She can’t even cross her legs, they so big. Can you cross your legs?”
D’Andra sat up, pushed herself to the edge of the bed and promptly crossed her legs.
“See? If you can cross your legs, you ain’t too fat, you just got cushion for the pushin’.”
Neither girl knew exactly what that meant but Chanelle had heard her mother refer to herself that way. “Plus you’ve got pretty eyes. I wish my eyes were that color.”
“Really?” It was the first compliment D’Andra received from a peer and it moved Chanelle to the front of her friend line. Especially since everyone thought Chanelle was one of the cutest girls in their class, with her mocha brown skin, wavy hair and lean limbs.
“Uh-huh. Now come on, let’s watch the video again so we can do that part just like Bobby does.”
Filled with newfound confidence, D’Andra had danced as if her life depended on it. They’d rocked the Running Man, the Alf, the Smurf and a floor maneuver that involved a roll and a twist that D’Andra had at first felt impossible for her to achieve. D’Andra really gained points when it turned out she was the only one who could Moonwalk. The rest of the girls’ movements were jerky, they more or less walked backward. But D’Andra fairly glided across the floor. When they won, the other girls were convinced it was because of D’Andra’s Moonwalk. She’d been a mini-celebrity at Marcus Garvey for the rest of the week.
Chanelle was also the first among her peers to recognize she was smart. Whenever there were instructions or directions or anything lengthy in word count, Chanelle would summon D’Andra over with a “Hey girl, what’s all these words?” Aside from her teachers, and an every-now-and-then compliment from her mother, it was her only early, grade-school praise.
D’Andra’s smile faded as she turned her cart and headed in the opposite direction from the voices. Those happy moments were a long time ago, happier times separated by more recent, less happier ones. Months had passed, but D’Andra was in no hurry to encounter her former best friend who’d been willing to throw almost twenty years of friendship away over some walking dirt.
When D’Andra returned home, all was quiet, a rarity since Cassandra had moved back in. She wondered for just a moment where everyone had gone, then chose to make the best of her time alone. She decided to eat a quick bite and then get on the computer.
Moments later she sat with the best semblance of a healthy meal she could make from what was available in the kitchen: a small amount of the spaghetti sauce her mother had fixed, spread over a piece of baked fish instead of pasta. She’d grated a small amount of Parmesan cheese, a commodity that used to cover everything on her plate if Italian was the food choice. She’d opted for wheat crackers instead of butter-soaked French bread and sparkling water replaced the soda she loved. Still reveling in a quiet house, not to mention being able to control the remote, impossible when Mary Smalls was home, she munched on a cracker and flipped on the TV. She was just about to decide that there was nothing on when she landed on a channel in time to see a big woman’s naked backside as she proudly stood on a balcony with her hands in the air.
“What in the world?”
D’Andra clicked on to the cable guide and saw that the show she was watching was called
Monique’s Fat Chance P.A.R.I.S
and the woman on the balcony was naked because as part of a beauty contest, she would be photographed in the nude. D’Andra sat transfixed as she watched five women struggle with whether they could go through with the photo shoot. All five of them and also the host, Monique, voiced the same concerns and attitudes she had about her own body. One contestant, a virgin, said no one else had seen her adult body. Another hesitated for religious reasons, afraid of how appearing nude might affect her children. A third, speaking with new confidence, said she’d worked for every roll on her body and she was going to own them. The woman she’d seen on the balcony, who she later found was named Marcia, didn’t want to pose nude because she’d always been known as the “clumsy queen,” with a very negative view of her body image.