Dear 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 Woodson
The 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.
Mad 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 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.
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
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.