Read Waiting to Exhale Online

Authors: Terry McMillan

Tags: #African American Studies, #Arizona, #Social Science, #Phoenix (Ariz.), #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #African American women, #Female friendship, #Ethnic Studies, #African American, #Fiction, #African American men, #Love Stories

Waiting to Exhale

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Waiting to Exhale (1992)<br/>

Waiting To Exhale

Terry Mcmillan

*

The Women:

Savannah Jackson

BERNADINE HARRIS

ROBIN STOKES

Waiting to Exhale (1992)<br/>

GLORIA MATTHEWS

*

CONTENTS:

1. Not Dick Clark

2. Suddenly Single

3. Forget What I Just Said

4. Unanswered Prayers

5. Fire

6. Fat

7. Interstate Lust

8. Discovery

9. Venus in Virgo

10. Happy Hour

11. Freedom of Expression

12. Steam

13. Control

14. It Ain't About Nothin'

Waiting to Exhale (1992)<br/>

15. BWOTM

16. Why Are You Here?

17. Rebounding

18. Killing Time

19. New Territory

20. Closer to the Bone

21. Drunk

22. Monsoon

23. To Heaven and Back

24. Still Waves in It

25. Unreasonable Requests

26. Friendship

Waiting to Exhale (1992)<br/>

27. The Weight of All Things

28. Back to Life

Chapter
1

Waiting to Exhale (1992)<br/>

NOT DICK CLARK

Right now I'm supposed to be all geeked up because I'm getting ready for a New Year's Eve party that some guy named Lionel invited me to. Sheila, my baby sister, insisted on giving me his phone number because he lives here in Denver and her simple-ass husband played basketball with him eleven years ago at the University of Washington, and since I'm still single (which is downright pitiful to her, considering I'm the oldest of four kids and the only one who has yet to say "I do"), she's worried about me. She and Mama both think I'm out here dying of loneliness, which is not true. I mean, I have my days and I have my nights, but I haven't gotten to the point where I'll take whatever I can get. There's a big difference between being thirsty and being dehydrated.

But Sheila and Mama have always thought that something was better than nothing, and look where it's gotten them. Mama, who thinks she's an expert on everything, hasn't had a whole man in her life for seventeen years, and if I knew where my daddy was, I'd probably kill him for making her such a bitter woman. He broke her heart, and she's never recovered. And Sheila? She files for divorce on an annual basis and calls me collect from some cheap motel where she and the kids are hiding out until she can serve the papers on Paul. I listen to her whine for hours about how sick she is of him and that there's nothing he can do or say that would make her go back this time. But then, like a fool, she turns right around and calls him up, repeats her long list of needs that aren't being met, and he promises to give her anything she wants. She refuses to believe him, so he begs on a daily basis for two weeks, and by then he's convinced her that he means it, so she gives in and goes on back home. I rarely hear from her while they're "honeymooning," except maybe a three- minute synopsis of how hunky-dory everything is now, and because he's given her permission to go ahead and rip out the old carpet or buy some new dining room furniture, she's watching her money, which is why she can't talk long. One of my brothers is in prison for doing some stupid shit, passing counterfeit money, but he's not a criminal; and the other one's a lifer in the Marine Corps. So as far as taking advice from any of them goes, I'm skeptical.

The deal is, the men are dead in Denver. Which is only one reason why I'm leaving. I'm tired of this altitude, all this damn snow, and this obsession with the Denver Broncos. For the last three years, my life has felt inconsequential, like nobody really gives a shit what I'm doing or how well I do it. From the outside, everything looks good: I've got a decent job, money in the bank, live in a nice condo, and drive a respectable car. I've got everything I need except a man. And I'm not one of these women who think that a man is the answer to everything, but I'm tired of being by myself. Being single isn't half as much fun as it used to be. Ever since I broke up with Kenneth, I haven't even come close to being in love, and that was almost four years ago, when I lived in Boston. I miss that feeling, and I want it back. But I'm also not the type to sit around and wait for too much of anything. If I want something to happen, I know I have to make it happen. And as hard as I've tried, nothing unforgettable has happened to me since I've been in Denver, which is why I'm getting the hell out of here.

My baby sister has also never appreciated or understood taking real risks, so she wasn't all that thrilled when I called her two weeks ago to tell her I was moving to Phoenix. "Why would anybody in their right mind want to live in Arizona?" she asked me. "Are there any black folks out there? And isn't that where that governor rescinded the King holiday after it had already been passed?" I had to remind her that my best friend, Bernadine-the girl who was my roommate in college, the girl whose wedding I drove sixty miles in a snowstorm to get to because I was her bridesmaid-lives in Scottsdale. She's been black all her life, and she seems to like it there. And as far as the King holiday goes, all I could say was that I'd be one of the first people at the polls when the time came.

Bernadine had talked me into coming out there to spend my birthday, which I had to remind Sheila was October 14 and not the twenty-second, which was the day I got her card. She damn near has a stroke if hers is late. Anyway, I couldn't believe how pretty and warm and cheap it was to live there. We went to this Urban League affair, and I got to talking to one of Bernadine's husband's friends, and he told me about this opening in the publicity department at one of the local TV stations, so I applied, and after flying back and forth for three different interviews, I had just found out that I got the job, and hell, it's a welcome change from the gas company, and plenty of opportunities to advance. What I didn't tell her was that I was taking a twelve-thousand-dollar-a-year pay cut, which probably would've sent her soaring through the roof, because I'm the one who's basically been supporting Mama for the past three years while everybody else just watched. Mama gets a whopping $407 a month from Social Security and $104 worth of food stamps, but who the hell can live off of that? She lives in a Section Eight apartment, I pay her portion of the rent and send her a few extra dollars a month so she can at least go to a movie, but all she does is spend it in thrift shops or pu t f urniture on layaway that'll take years to get out. If my condo doesn't sell, I'll be up shits creek. I'll be cutting it close as it is, but I'm hoping it won't take me that long to get into producing, which is what I really want to do.

Sheila's got three kids, doesn't work, and has never lived anywhere except Pittsburgh. "This'll make the fourth city you've lived in in fifteen years. I can't keep track, Savannah. When are you gonna be still long enough to settle down?" All I could say was, "When I find what I'm looking for." I didn't feel like telling her for the umpteenth time what it was, because she doesn't understand it: peace of mind; a place I can call home; feeling important to somebody; and just trying to live a meaningful, significant, and positive life. Of course she didn't bother asking this time. But Sheila did manage to remind me for the zillionth time that I'm running out of time, because here I am all of thirty-six years old without so much as a prospect in sight; and on top of that, she said that my swinging-singles life style doesn't amount to shit, that I run the gamut when it comes to stereotypes of buppiedom because I put too much energy into my career, that without a husband and children my life really has no meaning, that I'm traversing down that road less traveled, and that by now I should've been divorced at least once and be the mother of at least 2.5 children. Sheila said I'm too choosy, that my standards are too high, and because they seem to be non-negotiable, she swears up and down that if I don't loosen up, the only person who'll ever meet my qualifications is God. I love her to death, but I swear, she gets on my last nerve.

It was right after Thanksgiving when she called to tell me about this Lionel. I had just finished hanging a painting I'd bought by Charles Alston: a watercolor of a black man and woman jitterbugging in the 1940s. It took me six months to pay for it, and I was so excited to finally have it on my wall that I was standing there grinning at it when the phone rang. I sat down at the dining room table and looked out the window. It was snowing again, but it was beautiful. I swear, sometimes it feels like heaven up here. I live on the twenty-third floor and have a 180-degree view of the Rockies and downtown Denver, which is right downstairs. I lit a cigarette and rested my elbows on the glass tabletop. "So how old is he?" I asked.

"Forty-one," she said.

"Forty-one? That old?"

"Forty-one is not old, Savannah. You're almost forty, so be quiet."

"Look, Sheila. I've been out with enough of these over-forty- year-olds to last me awhile. Most of them come in five minutes, are out of shape, sound like they're your daddy, or so set in their ways they act like old ladies. And personally, I can't be bothered."

"You're starting to sound like your mama."

I resented that shit, but Sheila doesn't know what kind of men I've been dealing with since I left Boston, and I didn't feel like telling her. She's accused me of judging them too fast, but hell, I know what I like and don't like, and it doesn't take that long for me to tell if there's any chemistry at work or not. I've met a whole lot of educated, successful, handsome black men who don't turn me on. Riffraff comes in all kinds of packages. "So," I said, and took a long drag from my cigarette, "what's wrong with him?"

"Nothing is wrong with him."

"If he's forty-one years old and still single, something's gotta be wrong with him."

"He's divorced."

"How long?"

"Paul said four years. He's got his own business."

"And what exactly is his line of business?"

"He sells fire trucks."

"He sells what?"

"You heard me: fire trucks."

"Wow, how exciting."

"Don't be cynical, Savannah."

"I'm not being cynical."

- "Anyway, he owns his own home and even has some rental property."

"Did I ask you for his resume?"

"No. Which is why I'm giving it to you. You never seem to find out that a man doesn't have anything going for him except what's between his legs, but by then it's always too late."

I didn't even feel like responding to that because Sheila doesn't know what the hell she's talking about. I think she ran a TRW on Paul before she married him because as far as she's concerned, if a man doesn't have good credit and isn't making six figures, then he's not worth your time and energy. "And just what does this prize look like?" I asked.

"Would you stop being so sarcastic! According to this picture, he's handsome."

"How old is the picture, Sheila?"

"I don't know. Ten years, maybe."

"Ten years can destroy anything."

"Well, let me say this. Paul said he runs five miles a day, restores vintage cars, drives a jeep, has a college education, is six one, and that's all I know."

I had to admit that my curiosity was sparked a tad, but I knew enough not to get excited. I'm tired of getting pumped up for nothing. But I called him. And he wasn't home. So I left a message on his machine. He had a civilized voice and Grover Washington playing in the background. I like Grover Washington. We played machine tag for three weeks. As the media representative for the gas company, I travel off and on, and Lionel told my machine that he'd been traveling too, trying to secure more backing for some new business ventures he was trying to launch. Well, at least he's industrious, I thought. And then a few days after yet another solo and boring Christmas, I came in from work and there were two messages on the machine. One was from Mama, asking if I could please Federal Express her ninety-five dollars so she could take some crocheting class and pay her light bill, which was past due, and the other was from Lionel. He said that he and some of his racquetball buddies were throwing a New Year's Eve party at some spiffy hotel and that I should come.

So it wasn't like I had a date. But what I did have was something to do. It was better than sitting in this apartment with my cat on my lap, purring. I haven't purred since I met Fred, but that only lasted a week, because the wife he forgot he had came back from a business trip. But hell, that was three months ago. Wouldn't it be ironic if this Lionel Playworld turned out to be Mr. Right? Just because I'm moving. I just hope he's socialized, moderately charming, halfway articulate, and doesn't spend half the night trying to convince me how he got to be so goddamn wonderful.