July 1991Dear Friend of Hampton University:
It was so great seeing you at the recent reunion. I'm so happy you're considering joining the journal-writing group. As I mentioned at the brunch, all you need to do for membership is write a small journal entry for the first meeting.
Please share with us your dreams, your goal in five years, and your favorite season and why. Also any other information you want to share about your life since we left Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. It seems like those of us who married aren't the only ones whose name has changed (smile). Please keep it to five hundred words or less. I look forward to seeing you at the first meeting. Now get to writing!
Blue and White Kisses,
Riley Denise WoodsonThe Life of . . . Riley
Sometimes I come up with the most brilliant ideas! I think this journal- writing group is going to be a big hit. The people I've invited to join are absolutely wonderful. First, there is Leland, whom I met in the Hampton Marching Pirate band; he was the drum major, I was a majorette. Yolanda and I met at a Delta Sigma Theta rush session, when we were numbers 78 and 80. I don't remember who was number 79, because she didn't make line. Finally, my VC (Virginia Cleveland) Hall suitemates, Kelli and Dana. And Dwight and Selwyn because he married Kelli and Selwyn married me.
My life has become everything I dreamed it would be after I met Selwyn Curtis Woodson in front of The Grill on my first day at Hampton. I was having a hard time reading the schedule of classes, and he guided me through registration. It was love at first kiss. Even my mother, Clarice, a diva hefore her time,
has fallen in love with Selwyn. So what if it took fifteen years, three promotions, and a six figure salary to melt her opposition. She only demands, I mean wants, the best for her children.
I remember when I first told her about Selwyn and she asked me who was his family. When I said he's from a foster family, Clarice asked, "The Fosters from Richmond?" Mother was shocked when I explained that Selwyn, a self-described Grady baby
(born in Atlanta's Grady Hospital), was raised in several foster homes and didn't know who his parents were. The way Selwyn overcame adversity is one of the things I love about him. My mother's trauma at Selwyn's roots, or lack of, was nothing compared to the lashing I got when I announced during my junior year that I was pregnant with twins. Of course, she fell in love with my little boy (Reginald) and girl (Ryan) hours after they were born. So much that she felt the need to raise them for the first eight years of their life. My children are adorable, but Mother didn't give a hoot about adorable, she was trying to make sure I had a B.S. to go with my M.R.S.
So that's enough about my family and me. My desire is for life to stay as wonderful as it is now. A loving husband, two perfect preteens, and a life my mother dreamed for herselú
My personal dreams? First I want to quit my job as vice president of marketing, at Wanda Mae Cosmetics simply because I've outgrown peddling blushes and lip gloss to welfare mothers. In five years I want to be a singer and poet who will make even Gwendolyn Brooks and Whitney Houston green with envy. I want my children at Hampton, studying something impressive and challenging. And I want my husband to be even more in love with me than he is today. If that's possible. I hope by then my mother and father have given up their post as members of Black Chicago society and moved to Florida or somewhere.
My favorite season? Fall. It's when I met Selwyn, when my children were born. I love the way leaves change colors. Change is good. I want to say more about my wonderful life, but I think I'm over my limit.
RileyMad As I Wanna Be
I love my wife. I think I love my wife. I want to love my wife. I can't say that we're in love anymore, but that's why we're joining this group. Kelli thinks I'm angry at the world, and she just may be right. The problem is that she thinks my anger is spilling over into our marriage. So, instead of paying somebody to listen to our problems, I've agreed to join this journal-writing group with her.
I met Kelli Chambers Long during our freshman year at Hampton. We were at a Sigma-Zeta mixer. Kelli pledged Zeta Phi Beta and wanted me to pledge Phi Beta Sigma. But I decided to remain independent. I'm Black, not Greek. The only colors I wanted to wear were the red, black, and green colors of liberation. The only thing I've ever joined was church, and that was when I was ten years old. I quit that when the minister tried to hit on my mother. Sunday dinner, my foot! He was already married. But Kelli loves being part of a group. She's in everything from the Links to the Doubleday Book Club.
It's not that I'm angry per se. There's just a lot of shit I don't care for. I don't like white folks and I don't like Black folks who try and be like white folks. I don't know which I dislike the most. I'm sick and tired of the subtle racism inflicted by whites and I'm real sick of Uncle Tom Blacks who accept it without protest. I never dreamed when I was at Hampton that I would run into so many people who were ashamed of being working-class Black folks. They actually believe everything they see about themselves on television or in the white press, where Black folks are "murdered" or "killed" and white folks are "slain." Black folks are crackheads, white folks have drug problems. The only paper I read is the Chicago Defender.
Same goes for movies. I won't go to any movies unless they've hired at least one Black actor or actress in a meaningful role. This really pisses Kelli off, because she loves that Meryl Streep chick.
I have to work around a lot of white men on my job, but the only men I address as "sir" are Black men. As far as I'm concerned, they're the only ones who deserve my respect.
My dreams? I don't dream. That's all I need to say about that. I have nightmares occasionally--usually about incidents in my childhood, but I don't want to go there. Ever.
My favorite season is summer. It's the one time of the year that I know I will feel warm in an otherwise cold and lonely world.
My goal in five years is to not have to deal with white folks on any level. I want either to have my own business or work for a Black-owned company. I also want to make the brothers who ain't here-- including my own brother--proud. I want them to look down and see that all Black men aren't in prison, on drugs, part-time heterosexuals, or in the ground over some silly shit. On a material tip, I'd like to buy my mother a house so she can move out of the two-bedroom apartment she's been living in for the last twenty-two years.
And maybe by the time five years rolls around, me and Kelli will be like that old LTD song, "Back in Love Again."
I guess you could call me a springtime kind of girl. Spring is such a lush season, when the sky, beautiful in colors of pink, blue, and gray, seems endless in every direction. Spring isn't harsh like winter, or suffocating like summer. Spring is hopeful. And right now I'm feeling hopeful. I finally feel I'm ready to make some progress toward my dream life. The last time I was this optimistic was the spring I graduated from Hampton Institute. When I was at Hampton, life was deliciously uncomplicated, like my childhood. Then, my yesterdays and tomorrows always had a great deal in common. Full of promise. I felt I could do anything and I'm feeling that way again.
I just completed my business plan for my banker to secure an SBA loan to start my own company, and she tells me things look good. I'm so confident, I've already put down a deposit on a downtown office location. I've ordered my business cards and can envision the day when I'll need a larger work space. My professional goals are in place, and soon I can turn my attention toward having a special someone in my life.
Over the years, I have established a formula for men and love. I like to call it Yolanda's Plan for a Man.
First, I let men know they're not the be-all and end-all. Then I tell them how much I love men and how that love is shown when I'm treated the way I treat them. Plain and simple. Don't start no s-h,
it won't be no i-t!
I tell them, treat me the way you want to be treated. When men don't return my calls, I don't return calls. When men can't give me honesty, can't find the truth, I book. I can't deal with liars.
In my twenties I stayed in a relationship six years before I realized he wasn't the one. In my thirties a man gets six months to show his stuff or it's "see ya." If I'm still looking in my forties, I'll give a man six weeks before I say "next." I won't have time for love games. I'll be too old, and I'll have a business empire to run.
So while I'm building my queendom and waiting on Mr. Right, I think this group will be fine. I'm looking forward to renewing old friendships and getting to know you guys even better. To see how much we've changed. Besides, my daddy told me when I started dating that "only fools and the very brave dare love with all their hearts." And Daddy didn't raise no fools. Though secretly in my heart of hearts I think we all want someone that makes our skin dance.
Friendship is the one thing that's always been constant in my life. When I was growing up, my best friend was my sister, Sybil. She still is, but Sybil has found her perfect mate and she lives in another city. She didn't mind when I went to Hampton and she stayed home for college. I used to tell her about all the wonderful people I met at Hampton, and I know she'll be happy we're all hooking up again.
Okay, I've told you my favorite season, my goals and dreams, and a little about the woman I am. Now, Miss Riley, I hope this is the last time we have to do this, because I like to show what kind of friend I can be rather than tell.
I had a dream once. His name was Donald. I don't know what you dream about when your dreams are gone. Do you start new ones? I think that's tough when everything you've ever dreamed of comes true and then suddenly disappears like a thin cloud after the sun shows up.
I had to think hard about joining this group. Not because I don't think it's a good idea, but because things are different now. Two years later the dream of Donald has faded, and I'm different. I'm no longer the man who was consumed by dreams, music, and his plans to be a doctor. I was a man who once envied most of your lives. I watched you join fraternities and sororities, dance and flirt with one another and then fall in love, while I immersed myself in music and my studies. I can't tell you how many nights I went back to James Hall alone, and wished I were you. I don't anymore.
After leaving Hampton Institute, I went to medical school at Howard. I had planned to be a family practitioner in a community clinic, but while I was at Howard, a little boy entered my life. I don't know his name, but I will never forget his face. He was nine years old and he had a venereal disease, but he couldn't tell us how he got it, because his mother's boyfriend was looking at him with an evil eye. I remember those sad eyes that wouldn't meet mine, but every now and then would move toward the man who had brought him in to the clinic. I thought, this young man is going to have a difficult life if he survives this.
Who will he talk to? This little boy convinced me I could be an asset to my community if I went into psychiatry. I wanted to be the someone that little boy could talk to about what was burning inside. So my goal is to have a practice that will help those little boys and girls who cannot speak when the unspeakable greets them. I know I sound like Miss America, but I want to help people deal with life. To make up for the little boy I didn't know how to help.
After Howard, I did my residence at Columbia University and Harlem Hospital. It was in New York where I met my dream. There were so many times with Donald when I felt he was some type of angel whose responsibility was to make my dreams come true.
One winter night, after a movie and dinner, we sat in Donald's apartment, listening to the music of the seventies. You know, the Isley Brothers, the O'Jays, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. A tear rolled from my eye as ribbons of a winter moonlight moved into the darkened room. Without knowing where my tear came from or why, Donald looked at me and said, "Dance with me." So on the terrace of a Harlem brownstone we slow- danced to the music of all the songs I loved in my teens, like "If This World Were Mine," "Stairway to Heaven," "Giving Him Something He Can Feel," and "Hello, It's Me." I had never slow-danced with anyone, but with Donald I was suddenly a Black Fred Astaire. Snow was falling, and it landed on our bodies like tiny sparks. It felt magical. I learned to appreciate the beauty and power of snow. Honest. Silent. Pure.
My favorite season is winter. And so I keep that winter night, dancing with Donald, deep inside me and look forward to the day when I can once again enjoy its splendor.
Something's not right. I'm moving mirrors again.
I'm feeling mellow, a moody sadness like being in a dimly lit room listening to some Miles Davis. Last time I felt this down, I removed all the mirrors except the one attached to the wall in the bathroom. Removing the mirrors was a better option than putting out my own eyes. Made me feel a little crazy, like I just couldn't stand the sight of myselú My own reflection in other people's eyes was better than how I felt about myself then. In their eyes I look good,
I look strong. They can't see what I see, or what I've seen.
I was happy once. When? I don't exactly remember. But what does "happy" mean anyway? Does it mean that you're always grinning at everybody like a fool? That your body feels like it's dancing even when it's not? I think the last time I was happy was in my senior year at college. Me and my football team, the Miami Hurricanes, were the national champs, and I was one of the star players. Made all-American that year. I was engaged to a beautiful woman, Chase Lewis, a dead ringer for Halle Berry. I was in love for the first time and it was like the sun had dropped down from the sky and kissed me.
I just don't feel right. It's not like I-wanna-kill-myself sad. I wouldn't punk out like that. Maybe it's just that my life is getting ready to change. Big-time.
I have lived the life many men dream about. Picked in the first round in the NFL draft. Setting receiving records nobody has come close to touching. I was making big bank, had a shoe contract, made a few commercials, and was on everybody's wish list when it came to making an appearance at an opening or party.
I figured I had at least two more good years to play, but my football career has ended prematurely because of an ACL injury to my right knee. I'm okay though. You know I still got my walk. A player gotta have his walk. But the team doctor and my own personal physician have warned me that if I sustain another injury to my knee, I mi
Excerpted from If This World Were Mine by E. Lynn Harris. Copyright © 1998 by E. Lynn Harris. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, 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.