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Authors: J. California Cooper

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The Future Has a Past

BOOK: The Future Has a Past
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Dedicated with love to

Joseph C. and Maxine Rosemary Cooper, my parents
Paris A. Williams, my chile
Kiska Ivora Gross, my niece

Other Special People

Ted Lange, Gebby Lange, Juanita Wilson, Hubert Glasgow, William Kunstler, Ron Kuby, Claude O. Allen, attorneys

Irashel Fitzgerald, Bertice Berry, Terri McFaddin, Joyce Carol Thomas, authors

Sharon Elise, poet

Robert Kelly of Los Angeles (& Herman)

Beaver Scott, musician, Oakland

Mary Monroe, author, Oakland

Elizabeth Coleman, author

Other V.T.P. s

All the teachers of the world who love their jobs and children and adults whose minds they are helping to mold. I admire and congratulate and appreciate you so much for what you do with Love. I don’t know all your names, but . . . Septima Clark, Barbara Christian, Erin Gruwell, essayist and poet June Jordan and Louis Braille all extraordinaire. You all deserve more. And more money too!

Acclaim for

J. California Cooper

“Her style is deceptively simple and direct and the vale of tears in which her characters reside is never so deep that a rich chuckle at a foolish person’s foolishness cannot be heard.” —Alice Walker

“Cooper writes about small-town life with a verve that nearly bursts off the page.” —
Ms.

“Gutsy and familiar. . . . [Cooper’s] powers come from sticking to her instinct, which is to tell a story, plain and simple.” —
The Washington Post

“[Cooper] knows how to ‘talk’ her stories to us, as though each of them is told by a kindly and concerned friend. . . . The sound of them is lovely, memorable, haunting.” —
San Francisco Chronicle

“Her stories, parables, and monologues take flight with truths about being alive, rhythm of folks at ease by the creek and the pool table, songs of love and remorse, syncopated, galloping, and beguilingly genuine.” —Ntozake Shange

“Ms. Cooper is as down-home as Zora Neale Hurston.” —Essence

Acknowledgments

I wish to express my deepest gratitude for the assistance in writing this book of the swift intelligence, generosity and patience of Janet Hill and Roberta Spivak, her assistant. I was blessed with their encouragement, knowledge and understanding. I am proud that Janet Hill IS my editor.

I will be forever grateful and beholden to Doubleday– Random House and the people who extend themselves there, always to ensure that good things prevail. Steve Rubin, Gerry Howard, Shioban Adcock and many others. Of those no longer there, Sally Leventhal, Peternelle van Ardsdale and Martha Levin stand large in my heart.

I wish to thank Belinda J. Hughes of Tampa, Florida, for her kindnesses that went far beyond friendship.

I would say a special word to Anita Williams of Washington, D.C., for always being there to rescue me when I needed it and always managing to do it in such a delightful way.

A special thanks to Evelyn Coleman who was so magnanimous and kind when I sought her help. I will not forget.

To my agent, Anna Ghosh, a Scovil Chichak Galen in New York. You have no idea how I appreciate you. Stay.

Last, but not least, I am grateful to the readers of my books. Without Alice Walker and you, there is no me between the covers of books. I do not get the opportunity to see all of you, but I think of you and in my prayers I thank God for you. Just imagine: YOU like something that comes out of my mind. Wow!

Author’s Note

I have, I think, written about paths and roads that lead to a future. About the light, quick footsteps on that road—and the heavy, burdened footsteps imprinted there also.

Choices. Decisions . . . Oh, how they form your life. They, finally, make you walk the walk you walk; Run, when you will, and Rest, when you can. I have tried, in a small way, in this book, to remind you . . . Today is Tomorrow taken from Yesterday. Or today is some of yesterday and a bit of tomorrow, too. All are pieces of you. Your life.

If you are old enough . . . you can look back and see your footsteps through the years on the roads you have chosen. If you are young enough you can look ahead, prepare, to avoid or take the roads in your future. As you press forward against the winds of time . . . or are pushed against your will by the winds of consequence. (Which you have possibly set in motion.)

Let us think of the future as a house we are building. A brick or plank a day. Some days we may not have any material, a rainy day even, but we do not disregard the future house. Years pass, and finally, the time is right and the future is built. Our futures we will have to live in during the end of our lives. Will it have bricks or planks missing? Be drafty and cold? Will the foundation be warped and hard to maintain a balance on and will we be able to see the dirt ground beneath us? Will we have windows to see the outside? What will we be seeing; the beauty of the earth or the decaying wall of someone else’s future house? Will we be alone? Is there peace in your future? Are there good memories of a good life? Or will we have to take, if possible, a room anywhere we can find it and depend on the kindness of strangers?

As you journey on your chosen roads, think of GOD
1
and pay attention to the movements of GOD’S garments in the changing winds.

As you move toward your future, look back and
2
you will see your future has a past . . . because THE FUTURE HAS A PAST.

J. California Cooper

A Shooting Star

Now, you don’t know me. And, I know that
you
know that nobody knows everything. But a person does have to go by whatever they do know and every new thing they can learn, to make any good sense out of life. They say love makes the world go round, and I believe that. But, it seems to me, and I already told you I don’t know everything, that nowadays sex is making the world go round.

There’s another sayin, “What goes round, comes round.” Well, I know that sometime what went around comes back around a whole lot different and bigger and worser than what you sent round in the first place.

You got to watch life, cause it’s moving all the time, every minute! You have to look all around yourself and see what’s happening to you and everybody else. Try to get some understanding of it. But, I notice, some people look at things in their life and never do understand.

I grew up in a fair-size town that had a little of everything in it, I guess. In small communities you just know everybody cause you go to school with em and you usually know their parents cause you know their kids.

You know how growin children talk by the time they get to junior high school; half of the day is spent on gossip, some innocent and some not so innocent. That’s when I started payin attention to Lorene. She was one of our classmates and a main subject to talk about.

Lorene’s full name was Heleva Lorene Shaky. Her father named her “Heleva” (I don’t know how he came up with that name) and her mother put in “Lorene” and that’s what everyone called her, til they were mad at her or something; then they would say “Heleva!” like that, for awhile.

Lorene’s mother is a real nice, smiling lady from this town and her father was from somewhere in Washington, D.C. Somehow they met somewhere and he traveled back and forth til they finally got married.

Lorene grew up in a nice house and they seemed to be a regular happy family like most other people round here, but what do I know? Her father, Mr. Shaky, was often gone, on business, back to Washington D.C., and her mother was alone a lot so she attended them teas and church socials and some women’s clubs. Nice people.

I came to know them pretty well cause my family was kinda poor and sometimes when I didn’t have lunch or lunch money Lorene would take me home with her and her mother would have a nice sandwich and a glass of milk for us. Mrs. Shaky, her mother, always was able to put love in everything she did for Lorene and, in her sandwiches and cookies, included me.

Lorene was a very kind and generous person. I mean, even kind to strangers and anybody. She would make friends with a person in a minute. Her mother was always telling her bout things like that; taking up with strangers, I mean. But Lorene would just smile that friendly smile of hers and keep on being herself.

Lorene wasn’t a beautiful girl, but that smile of hers just made her so beautiful like. Just lighted up everything around her and she always seemed to be happy. She knew, at a early age, just how to fool with her hair and make up new styles for herself. Her mother didn’t let her wear make-up or nothing, but Lorene didn’t mind that either; she could just put that smile on her face and that was enough. She always dressed nice. Clean, too. She made good grades and didn’t even have to study hard to do it.

I wasn’t always real close to her as a friend because she had so many friends, but they was mostly boys. I always liked her though, but as you grow up you can grow away from some people and still like em.

Now, I don’t want to say this, but I have to say it so you will understand Lorene. She was the kind of a girl who was so glad to have a vagina she didn’t know what to do. She wanted them boys either to smell it, touch it, look at it, feel it, just anything as long as you did something to it. The boys said she would just be smiling, happy all the time. So . . . she was sorta the object of the gossip of us girls and the object of attention of the boys, a lot.

I can see her now; standing in the schoolyard in her white and brown saddle oxford shoes, a plaid pleated skirt and a white blouse. Smiling. With boys always somewhere near. She was wearing perfume round that time and puttin on a little light lipstick, too.

Well, I still liked her and sometimes I needed that sandwich at lunch cause my family was still doing poorly, but I couldn’t stay close, close friends anymore because she was so . . . conspicuous. Anyway, my mama had heard of some of Lorene’s doings and told me to just separate myself from her. My mama may have been poor, but she was very strict. And tired too. She and my daddy worked hard; I had four brothers and sisters. Their jobs didn’t pay much.

Now, that made me kind of mad at the girls who were always dogging her and even telling their mamas about Lorene. (That’s how my mama found out about Lorene and what she was doing with the boys.) Then I had to miss out on a good friend and a good meal when I was hungry . . . because of them! And who knew what these gossiping girls were doing behind trees and walls?

Lorene found another girlfriend though, Carla, who wasn’t just like Lorene in her ways, but did let a boy or two go all the way. But not everybody! When we graduated junior high school Carla was at home having a baby. She came back to high school and left the baby at home with her mother or somebody. Anyway, Lorene and Carla had started having sex with boys when they were about twelve or thirteen, so I heard the boys told, cause the boys always tell.

By the time we were in high school Lorene had gone through all the boys in our junior class and some others that were seniors. High school gave her a whole new load of fresh boys. No boys ever ganged up on her or nothing like that. They knew everybody was gonna have their own chance and so no rush, I guess. I think they told a lie on my friend though, when they said two boys had gone over to her house late one night and Mrs. Shaky was gone to a club meeting. They said they both had her vagina; one from the front and one from the back, with Lorene laughing between her small screams.

I gasped when I heard that, I didn’t believe it! But some girls did believe them boys, so Lorene really did become more of a outsider to us. What I wondered was why they paid so much attention to Lorene and hardly noticed Carla and her baby. Carla was a nice-looking girl, but didn’t dress so nice nor look so nice as Lorene. And two or three boys liked Carla, but ALL the boys liked Lorene. I know some of those gossiping girls’ own friend-boys went over to see Lorene.

I asked Lorene, one day, because I was her friend, not because I was looking for information to pass around, “Why do you let all those boys do sex to you? Why?”

Lorene just threw her head back and laughed, saying, “Cause they love me! They all love me! I can get any boy or man I want! Cause they love me!”

She was my friend so I felt close enough to be honest with her. I said, “But they don’t keep you, Lorene. If they loved you they, at least one of em, would love you enough to stay with you or marry you even.”

She hit me lightly on my shoulder, “Well, I’m having a good time. They come to me when I snap my fingers, girl! They love my nice titties. Always reachin for em. They love me!”

I knew the answer to that, my mama had done told me, so I said, “If you put a bucket of food in front of pigs they will all run to it, but that don’t mean they love the person who puts it there. Everybody wants something free! And you don’t have to be pretty either, you can be ugly and still get that kinda sex.” She just laughed again, but not so joyfully this time. We were at school by then and she ran off pretty quick; getting away from me, I guess, and my mouth.

I still stopped by to see Mrs. Shaky every now and then when I was over near their house. She always had some homemade cookies or a slice of cake. That’s not the only reason I went either, I really liked her. Mrs. Shaky thought it was nice that Lorene was so popular. She often served the boys cookies and cake, too. She was just a nice woman, a nice mother.

Most everyone had at least one real boyfriend by the time we were in the eleventh grade. I had mine, Neil. Oh, Neil was handsome! and tall! and was a track star! I had all kind of medals which he had won. I wore them all proudly. Everyone knew he was my beau.

When graduation time finally came, many of my girlfriends were engaged and getting married and settling in for life or going off to college. On our prom night, the finest main fellows didn’t take Lorene to the graduation prom. In fact, they didn’t dance with her much either. They would just stop by for a minute or so to say something to the unpopular fellow who did bring her, Milton.

Milton wasn’t in sports or anything, but he was nice; the quiet studious type. But Lorene smiled brilliantly and waved to all the fellows who didn’t stop by. Neil and I went over to talk to them because I still felt she was my friend, I don’t care how outside she was. Lorene danced most dances with her date and they sat out the others. I heard a couple of fellows asked her to go outside and dance where it was cool, but she just laughed and waved them away. Good!

After graduation, Lorene wasn’t engaged and she didn’t want to go to college. Her mother told my mother because she was so disappointed. So Lorene got a job as a clerk in a small department store and for her social life she made it on down to the nightclubs and social dances.

That went on for about two years. Lorene went through most of the new men she met and back and forth with a few of the old ones from school. The old ones were now grown and working. But not the married ones. Lorene didn’t like married men. “Take yourself on home to the woman you married,” is what Neil told me some of the men told him.

I was married to my Neil. My family didn’t have the money to send me to college, but Neil was going at night. I was going to go to college when he was finished. Neil had been my first and only man in my life. I had liked a few other heartthrobs, but I always seemed to like and love Neil more. We had a nice, small wedding. I was dressed in white, you know, satin and lace, and I wore a veil, but Neil and I had already made love. I didn’t let him wear it out though. Didn’t let him get “enough.” My mama had done told me about them blues in the night.

My mama said, “Right now, clean and good, you are worth rubies and pearls. But you let someone take that precious pearl and you gonna be the one have to pay the rubies for that pearl, not him. Then, you won’t have neither one of them rubies and pearls. Don’t care what nobody say, write or telegraph you, the right man wants his woman to be HIS woman. And, most men, may marry you without that pearl, but he gonna throw it up into your face, for sure, all through your marriage. Believe me when I tell you! Course, I don’t think you should want no man who been under too many dresses either, cause that’s something of a sign of things to come!”

She hadn’t ever lied to anybody, as I knew of, so I believed her. I loved Neil anyway. I knew we were going to get married and that’s why I let him. And I was even more than a little curious myself. But, I still never let him get enough. Besides, after I found out what it was, I found out I could wait better. And I’ll tell you another thing I found out my mama was right about because our wedding night was exciting cause Neil could finally get to the lovin and the lovin was good, and special, cause we had waited for what was ours only!

After marriage, too soon, I had a baby and was taking care of my first child, working part-time. I worked part-time to help Neil stay in school. I wanted him to finish so I could get started. I was so proud, and Neil was so proud of us, too.

My mama helped me by baby-sitting because the one thing she wanted for me was a degree in SOMETHING instead of a house full of hungry children I couldn’t feed lunch to. That way I could take two nights a week at junior college to find out what I really wanted to do. Honey, sometimes I was so tired I was sure I didn’t want to do nothing but stay home and care for my child, but I had already lived that life with my mama and daddy so I went for the education. Besides, at junior college, I was learning how many different kinds of worlds there are to live in and I wanted a better one than any I knew. Having and making choices! I could do it!

Well, you know, I told you about the social clubs in our town that gave dances. Sometimes they had a good big band come down from New York, Chicago, California or somewhere fancy. Every once in a while, we would get a baby-sitter and Neil would take me out to dance.

It was always crowded, crowded because this would be a really hip band. I would see a lot of old friends and some of my main buddy-friends. Once I saw Carla when she came in with her boyfriend. She was happy to be out because she had two babies now and hadn’t married yet. But she was holding on with both arms to her man. “Maybe he will be ‘the one’ for her,” I thought.

I saw Lorene come in. She was alone. But she was smiling and looking good! All dressed to the T’s. She still had her nice shape with those beautiful legs, and of course she was still young and very nice looking. When I waved to her and started over to speak with her, she waved back and pulled a fellow toward the bandstand. Lorene loved to dance and could do it good, too!

But in that short bit of time I noticed just a little sad droop to her eyes as she looked to see who I was with. Her eyes flicked on Neil, who was talking to somebody else at the moment, then her eyes flicked away. Quickly she was smiling and waving to other people as she moved her hips to the good music and her body toward the band.

I wanted to get a chance to talk to her, tell her what I was doing and see what her plans were. I remembered her really good grades at school and I wanted to tell her how college could be exciting. And there were many men in college, too! More mature. But, somehow, we never connected at the dance.

Anyway, we all had a good time and I was sorry to see it end, but there was plenty work waiting for me when we got home. Early morning homework.

The band had been so good they were held over to play a few more places before they left town. Before the band left, Lorene had gone through half of them. When they did leave town, Lorene quit her job, packed and left with one of the fellows in the band. Smiling and happy.

BOOK: The Future Has a Past
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