“Why is the phone still ringing while I’m saying hello?” Saying it aloud must have startled me awake. Only then did I realize I had been answering the phone in my dream.
“Hello?” I groggily answered.
“Sissy, is that you?” There was only one person who still consistently called me Sissy as an adult, but this did not sound at all like my oldest sister.
“Renee, what is wrong with you? And why are you calling me at two-thirty in the morning? You know I get up to go running at four-thirty.” I held the clock radio in my left hand and the phone in my right.
It never dawned on me that Renee would not call me in the middle of the night unless something was wrong, terribly wrong.
“Are you alone, Sissy?”
“Yeah, Anthony is on his two-week reserve assignment. What’s wrong, Renee?” I bolted awake and pulled myself up in bed. Renee had never cared if I was alone before.
Her voice cracked as she spoke. “Oh Sissy!” Renee was crying.
“You are scaring me, Renee. What the hell is going on? Is there something wrong with Derrick or one of the kids?”
“Sissy, it’s Daddy! Sissy, Daddy is dead!” she screamed into the phone.
The room started spinning as I laid my head back on the solid oak headboard. She hadn’t said my daddy was dead. She was screaming, so I knew I’d misunderstood. “What did you say, Renee?”
“Daddy is dead! We’re at University Hospital Emergency Room. You gotta come home, Sissy. You gotta get on a plane now!” She was no longer screaming, but sobbing so hard it was still very difficult to understand exactly what she was saying.
“Give me the phone, Renee!” I heard Collette snap at her. “Why you just gonna blurt some shit like that out at her in the middle of the night. I told you to let me call, but nooooooo!”
“Hey, Sis, you okay? Did you understand what Renee was saying?” Collette’s demeanor had drastically changed as she took the phone.
“Collette, it sounded like she said that Daddy is dead!” He can’t be dead. I talked to him last night.
“It’s true, Sis.” Now Collette’s voice was cracking.
“What are you saying, Collette?” This time I was screaming. There was no way my daddy was dead. I’d spoken to him just before he went to bed. He’d told me he loved me and how proud he was of me for passing the bar! My daddy was not dead.
“Where’s Anthony? You need to calm down!” Collette immediately regretted the statement.
“Calm down, you calm down. He ain’t here. What happened to my daddy?” As usual, Collette was trying my patience.
“He was my daddy, too!”
“What do you mean was?”
“Daddy is gone, Sissy!” Collette, using my pet name, started sobbing into the phone.
“What happened, Lette? Please tell me what happened to my daddy!”
“He called Dawn to tell her he loved her and while he was on the phone he stopped talking. She was screaming for him, but he wouldn’t answer. She hung up and called 911 and then went over there. She called us from her car, and Renee and I met her there. When we arrived, Dawn was waiting on the porch to tell us he was dead when the paramedics arrived. But they were trying to bring him back. They tried everything, Sissy. They did, they really did.” Her voice trailed off.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! Not my daddy. Not my daddy!” I screamed to the universe, not to my second youngest sister.
“Glynda, you need to call somebody!” This time it was Dawn on the phone. “We have each other, but you’re out there all alone. Can Anthony come home? Can you get in touch with him?”
“Dawn, tell me my daddy is not dead! Tell me it’s not true!”
“Sissy, it is true. He called all of us last night to tell us he loved us. I guess somehow he knew it was his time. He looks so peaceful. He’s with Mama now.” Dawn’s many years as a pediatric nurse had imparted such a soothing way of talking. She dealt with the worst kind of death of all every day—the death of children.
“Dawn . . .” I had wanted to tell her I didn’t want him to be with Mama. I wanted him here with me. I wanted to scream, in thirty years Mama could have him for all eternity, I needed him now! The words held up in my chest. My mouth moved, but no words formed. My daddy was dead.
“Glynda, you there? You okay?” Dawn was barely audible.
“I’m here, but I’m far from okay! How can I be, Dawn?”
“I know, Sissy. It was a stupid question. Can you call someone? You don’t need to be alone.”
“I’ll call Rico. She’s on call tonight. Dawn?”
“He called us all to say good-bye?”
“Yes, Sissy, he did.”
“Hello.” I knew it was Rico, but I didn’t want to just blurt out the horrible news.
“Hey gurlfriend! What’re you doing up in the middle of the night. I thought this privilege was reserved for us medical professionals. You lawyers got those banker’s hours.” Rico sounded more like it was three in the afternoon than three in the morning.
Rico Martin had been my friend since the day we met at the library more than seventeen years ago. Rico was in her senior year at the University of Southern California, and I, a junior at California State University at Dominguez Hills. We were both trying to escape the madness at our respective apartments. USC had won a spot in the coveted Rose Bowl, and the parties abounded. My roommate was in college to get her swerve on with whoever was willing to swerve at the moment. I just wasn’t in the mood to listen to her proclaim love for a stranger, again.
Rico and I had so many books spread out across the massive table that no one dared to try to join us. We worked in silence for two hours before we engaged in conversation.
“Hey, want a cup of coffee? My treat,” Rico said as if we had been friends for years.
“I’d love some, but I’ll buy my own,” I said, digging for change in my jacket pocket.
“You can buy the next round.” Rico winked at me.
“Sounds like you’re in for the long haul, too.”
“Yeah, I’m pre-med, and tests don’t stop because we got into the Rose Bowl. I’m Arico Perez. But my friends call me Rico.” She extended her hand.
“Hi, Rico. My name is Glynda Naylor. My friends call me Glynda.” We both laughed.
“Nice to meet you, Glynda. What’s your major?” Rico’s deep Hershey’s bittersweet-chocolate complexion, with the distinctive features of a true African descendant, accented by hazel eyes and unruly curly jet black hair made me think her last name was Johnson or Williams, not Perez.
“Double major, English literature and business. The English is for me; the business is for my daddy. He said I have to be sensible, unless I want to teach for the rest of my life.” I immediately felt comfortable with Rico.
“Ahhhh, I understand about family pressures. I’m the first in my family to go to college, and everyone wants the golden child to be a doctor. I really want it, too. But sometimes I feel like I have no choice in the matter.” Rico was putting on her jacket.
“Well, my sisters and I had no choice on the college thing, but I was the only one brave enough to go away to school. All the others are in school back in Maryland.”
“How many others?” Rico stared at me curiously.
“And you’re all in college at the same time?”
“Actually, the baby is still in high school. My oldest sister got married at nineteen and then went to college two years ago. Daddy doesn’t have to help her, but he says if she’s trying to make a better life, he’s going to help her any way he can. But that’s just how Daddy is.”
“He sounds like a wonderful man. What about your mother?”
“Mama died ten years ago in a car accident—drunk driver. He’s been raising us on his own ever since.”
“Wow, I’m sorry to hear about your mother. My mother raised three of us by herself, because my daddy, whoever the hell he is, had other plans.” Rico had a distant look in her eyes as she spoke.
“Sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“What do you want in your coffee?” Rico smoothly changed the subject.
“I like it the way I like my man—black with just enough sugar and cream to take the bite out of it.”
“I heard that!” We slapped five.
A month after that cold rainy night we spent in the library, Rico and I became roommates. We had moved up from one apartment to a better one then another, until we bought a house in the prestigious View Park neighborhood for African-American professionals who had arrived. We’d shared the house until Rico married Jonathan Martin two years before.
Everyone, except me, had been amazed when the renowned pediatric trauma surgeon married the UPS man. Jonathan made Rico’s heart, not to mention other vital parts of her anatomy, sing!
. . .
“That’s what you think!” My poor attempt at humor didn’t fool my best friend for a minute. “Thank you for returning my page so quickly, Rico,” I said, trying to keep the tone in my voice even.
“What’s wrong, Glynda? You and Anthony have another fight?”
“No, Rico. It’s Daddy. He . . .”
“What, Glynda? What’s wrong with Papa Eddie?” Rico had adopted my daddy as her own on our first visit to Baltimore together.
“Rico, Daddy died tonight.” I spoke just above a whisper.
“What? CVA, MI, what?” Rico had slipped into her medical jargon without thinking I’d have no clue what she meant.
“We don’t know yet, but we think it was a massive heart attack.”
“Oh my God, Glynda! Let me get someone to cover for me. I’ll be there within the hour. Have you called Anthony?”
“No, he’s in the desert on reserve duty. Besides, I called you first. I’ll call his company and leave a message. Rico, please hurry.”
I never seemed to need anyone for anything. Rico had always been the one who was so dependent in our relationship. When she heard the desperation in my voice, she knew tonight I needed her, and I knew she would move heaven and earth to get to me.
Excerpted from Sittin' in the Front Pew by Parry "EbonySatin" Brown. Copyright © 2002 by Parry. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.