My best girlfriend Tia just got married. She married her longtime boyfriend Doo-witty. Tia’s mama didn’t want to let Tia get married because she was barely seventeen, like me. But when her mama found out that Doo-witty got an art scholarship to a school in New York, she knew that Tia’s heart would be completely broken if she couldn’t go with him. So Tia and Doo-witty got hitched. They had their ceremony down at the Tabernacle of the Blessed Redeemer, where Sister Ashada recently became the lead minister. Tia’s mother and Grandma Augustine did all of the decorations, including Tia’s beautiful white satin gown and lace veil. The pews of the church were decorated with homemade red velvet bows and fresh red roses from their garden. Me and Tia’s little sister, Shayla, were bridesmaids, and Shayla’s friend Kambia read an original prayer. Everybody in the neighborhood came. The sanctuary was so full that the ushers had to seat people in the balcony. The entire event was wonderful—the ceremony, and the reception with the four tier Italian Cream wedding cake. There was much love and happiness going around on that day. My friend Tia got treated like a queen, and ever since her wedding I’ve been thinking that I want to be treated like a queen too. All last night and this morning I psyched myself up for what I’m getting prepared to do today. As soon as I finish getting dressed and prettied up, I’m going to go and see my boyfriend, Brian. Then, before he even gets a chance to shower and shave, I’m going to ask him to be mine. I haven’t worked out all the details of the wedding and marriage, but I know it will be okay because he loves me as much as Doo-witty loves Tia. I believe when two people love all crazy like that, the only thing to do is take some vows and promise to spend the rest of your life together. After I spray on Brian’s favorite perfume, I’m going to put on his even more favorite purple halter dress, the one that I wore to the seventies soul dance, and then I’ll match the dress with my purple three-inch sling backs. The shoes will hopefully make me look taller and leaner, and the dress will show off my curvy waist and full bosom. I know I’ll look hot once I’m all fixed up, and Brian will think I’m hot too. He won’t be able to take his eyes off me when I tell him what I have planned for our future.
I slipped into my dress and curled my hair. I guess I was hot inside and out, because I was sweating, and by the time I got to Brian’s my curls were limp and damp. I didn’t look all that alluring anymore. I prayed that my appearance wouldn’t bother my future husband.
I took out the key that I use to water the plants when Brian and his dad go on business trips, and opened the door. I knew that Brian’s dad was away again, but I still tiptoed through the house. I went straight to Brian’s room and pounced on him. He slowly turned over and opened his eyes.
“Wake up, sleepy head. I want to talk to you about something,” I said.
“Maxine, what’s up? Give me some sugar?” he said and yawned.
I leaned over, and we shared a quick kiss.
“Is that all I get?” he asked.
“Until you brush your scuzzy teeth.”
“So it’s like that. All right,” he said, getting up. He threw his spread back and sat on the side of the bed in his black knit boxers and muscle shirt. He looked too hot like that. “Guess what? I got some good news about you and me.”
“Good news? What kind of good news? Baby, what are you talking about?” he asked and yawned again.
“I’m talking about you and me, being like Tia and Doo-witty. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’ve been thinking about how we can live by ourselves. You know, handle our business and do our own thing.”
“Do our own? What? Baby, what you talking about, getting married or something?” he said, wiping the sleep out of his eyes.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. What do you think?” I asked, excitedly.
He got a big grin on his face. “I don’t know. You and me married, huh? We be getting our wedding on, and everybody be showing up, giving us presents and stuff.”
“Yeah, it will be so cool,” I said, bouncing up and down on the bed.
He stroked his chin. “Yeah, it could be, I guess, if we can pull it off.”
“You know we can. I’m making money working at Bobby’s on the weekend, and your boss at the card shop is about to make you an assistant manager. That will mean a bunch more cash in your paycheck.”
“Not a bunch, but more, for sure. Still, I don’t know. Where we gonna live? My daddy might be okay with it, if he ain’t got no choice, but do you really want to be dealing with him all of the time? You know my mama ain’t going for it, and I’m guessing a big part of this is trying to get away from your own mother.”
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” I had to confess. Besides being a little jealous of my girlfriend and her new husband, I really wanted to get away from our families. Brian’s dad loves him, but he likes to have everything his way, and when someone disagrees with him there is usually hell to pay. As for my mother, she is the biggest reason why I want to get married and leave home. Her boyfriends have always come first. When there’s a new man in the house, Mama’s attention is completely focused on him, his wants, his needs. My great-aunt Freda says that Mama was like that from a teenager. “When she started dating that was the end of my spending any kind of time with your mama. She and I were real close, like me and you are now, but a new boyfriend always meant that I couldn’t get her to visit me for weeks or sometimes even months. It’s just the way it is with some women. They men mean everything to them. There ain’t no room for anybody else.”
It certainly is true with Mama. I can’t count on her for anything, if somebody with a beard or a mustache is around.
“I don’t know how we gonna do it, Brian. First, I just want you to say that you really want to see it done.”
He put his arms around my waist and pulled me to him. “I guess I hadn’t thought too much about it. Anyway, I love you. I want what ever you want. You are my girl. If you say you want to be married, I’m cool with that,” he said, and gave me a huge kiss. I returned it, even though he still needed to brush his teeth.
“Are you sure?” I asked, when we pulled away.
“You know it. It’s gonna be you and me girl. I’m gonna be standing up there in a tux, looking all GQ for my favorite girl.”
I hugged him tightly, thinking about how he really would look. Brian isn’t what you would call handsome. He has a nice body, but overall he is an average-looking African-American guy, and you wouldn’t pick him out in a crowd of young guys his age. What I love about him is the way he treats me like a queen. My girlfriends all get jealous when they see the things that he does for me. When I need something, he never lets me down, no matter what he has to go through to get it. Last year I was playing volleyball at school when some girl went to hit the ball and ran right into me. I fell and broke some teeth, and my mouth was a mess. When Mama took me to the dentist, he told her that it was going to cost a fortune to replace or fix the teeth. Mama asked the other girl’s mother to help out, but her family was even poorer than ours. As soon as Brian found out that the girl’s family wasn’t going to pay, he said he would help us with the bill. He took on extra hours at his job. He was exhausted most days when I saw him, but with all of us pulling together we were able to pay the entire bill off before the oral surgeon even started working on me. I felt blessed and loved to know that I had a boyfriend who would sacrifice so much to help me. That’s what I love about Brian, he has never left me hanging. I want to get married in a beautiful white wedding dress like Tia, but as far as I’m concerned he can show up to our wedding in jeans and a basketball shirt. I just want him there, saying his vows and sharing the moment with me.
“So we really gonna do this? You’re sure?” I asked.
“Yeah, we gonna do it, but you know your mama ain’t gonna like it. She freaks out when we alone in your room. She not gonna be happy with us wanting to be alone together forever.”
“Mama will be cool, baby. Don’t worry about it. It’s gonna work out. I just have to figure out a way to put it to her.”
“Well, you put it what ever way you need to. Do what ever it takes, and we can work the rest out later.” He yawned again. “Since you done woke me up, I might as well get dressed and get to work a little early,” he said, getting up.
“Okay,” I said. I leaned down and we shared another kiss. I didn’t wrinkle my nose at his breath. I figured I was going to have to get used to it, if I was going to wake up each morning beside him. Brian gathered some clothes and went off to the bathroom. When I heard the shower turn on, I sat down on the bed and took a deep breath. What was I going to do about Mama? All I could think is how my mama has photos of me in every room of the house. Some are those boring posed ones that you take at school and your local discount superstore, but most of them are snaps she’s taken of me on special or fun occasions. There are at least twenty photos of my birthday parties in various frames sitting in the living room and thirty-five Christmas photos in the hallway and her bedroom, but you won’t see Brian in any of the photos, even though he was present when most of them were taken. “Mama, why don’t you take some pictures with Brian in them?” I asked, each time she took a snapshot.
“Maxine, I ain’t wasting my film on that boy. You the only one who thinks he put all them stars up in the sky. You photograph him.”
“Mama, be nice.”
“Maxine, I am nice. I just don’t need no pictures of anybody but you. Can you understand that?”
Of course I could understand. Brian wasn’t her kid, she didn’t need a photo of him. Still, I knew her reasons for cutting him out of family memories was because she never really wanted me with him. Mama has always thought that Brian wasn’t the guy for me because of his family. She doesn’t really get along too well with his dad, and she hates his mother. It’s mostly because his parents both have money and professional jobs, but Brian’s mother also got into it with Mama once at one of my birthday parties. When she came to pick Brian up, they got into an argument about Mama’s boyfriend. He was more friendly to Brian’s mother than he should have been, and Brian’s mother didn’t like the attention. She told him off, and when Mama got involved Brian’s mother told Mama that she should go back to school and get some professional job training, so she wouldn’t need some player to pay the rent. Mama exploded all over the place that afternoon, and after that it was a long time before she let Brian come over. When he did come back, she started treating him like she really didn’t want him there. Things have gotten a little better lately—a little. I hope and pray it’s enough to let her say yes to my getting married.
Back at my house I busied myself with washing a load of clothes while Mama slept. I washed and hung out some sheets and watched them blowing softly in the breeze. Mama loves pastels, but the sheets are dirty dishwater gray because Andre likes them. I can’t stand the brother. He’s always worried about what Mama does with her money. If I ask her for some money, he always has to ask me what I’m going to do with it, and if he doesn’t like my answer he tells her not to give me the cash. Then there’s his babies’ mama, LaTrice. He got two little boys by her, and she’s always coming to our house acting a fool with him about child support. The last time she came I was the only one home. She started going on and on about how Mama and me was taking money that was supposed to be for her kids. I got into a bad argument with her, and I had to physically push her out of my front door because she started swinging. Later, when Andre asked her what happened, she lied and said I started the whole thing, so Andre punched me over it, and Mama didn’t stand up for me at all.
“How you gonna let him treat me like that?” I asked, crying.
“Maxine, he didn’t hit you that hard, plus you know Andre got a short temper. Next time his ex comes around don’t get all up in her face. Just be cool about it,” she said. I was pissed off for days. Then Mama got mad at me for being pissed off. She told me that Andre was the only dad I had and that I should be trying to get along with him. I’ve never really known my real dad, but he sure as heck isn’t Andre. My aunt Freda says that he was some nice guy that Mama was hooking up with, but all he did was work and didn’t like to go out to the clubs much, so Mama started going out with somebody else and dropped him. Aunt Freda says that Mama told her once that she’ll always regret breaking up with my dad. He would have been a good father and a good role model, if she had let him stay around. Now all she has to look forward to are poor substitutes.
I watched the sheets until I heard Mama get up and start her morning routine. When I went inside, she was sitting on the sofa with a half-eaten cereal bar and the latest issue of Jet magazine.
“Maxine, where you been?” she asked.
“Washing and hanging out clothes.”
“No, I mean before that, you know I sleep light. I heard you going out of the front door.”
“Oh, I went to see Brian.”
“What for? What were you doing over there so early?” she asked suspiciously.
“About what? Maxine, what you got to talk to Brian about this early?”
“Just stuff. What kind a stuff requires you slipping around to his house before the sun is barely up in the sky?”
“I don’t know. I only went to tell him that I love him.”
She rolled her eyes. “Is that all? Look, Maxine, every time I see you, you all over that boy. He knows how you feel. You ain’t got to go slipping out of this house to meet up with him.”
“I wasn’t slipping, Mama. I thought you were still asleep.”
“I’ll just bet you did,” she said, giving me a glare.
“Come on, Mama, don’t be all funky this morning. I got something to ask you.”
“What is it?” she asked, adjusting her bandanna over her pink foam rollers.”
“It’s about me and Brian.”
“What about ya’ll? What is it now? And just so you know, this is my day off. I ain’t got time for no foolishness.”
“Aw, Mama, I ain’t talking about no foolishness.”
“Well, what is it? Spit it out,” she said, screwing up her lovely brown face.
“Mama, come on.”
“Don’t ‘come on’ me. You got something to say, Maxine, say it.”
“It’s about me and Brian. We been thinking about it, and we want to be married.”
She dropped her magazine and looked like I had just driven a bus through the living room. “Maxine, have you lost your mind? You ain’t nowhere near ready to be nobody’s bride. Do you hear me?”
“I hear you, but why not? I’m not a kid anymore, Mama. Me and Brian been together for ages.”
“Been in school together for ages, been hanging around this house sucking face and being silly together, that’s what ya’ll been for ages. Ya’ll ain’t been doing nothing that makes me think you ready to be a wife. You may not be a kid no more, but you are far from being an adult.”
“Not that far, Mama. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been getting really grown up.”
Excerpted from Maxine Banks is Getting Married by Lori Aurelia Williams.
Copyright © 2010 by Lori Aurelia Williams.
Published in October 2010 by Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.