It’s been years since I’ve traveled down this old dirt road that winds and leads to my parents’ front porch.
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss the sounds of our farm animals, sunlight hitting my barely open eyes as the sun rose in the morning, and the scent of the fresh breakfast my mother cooked every morning.
I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t still a little bit of that extra country, Tennessee girl left in me.
I left years ago, chasing a second dream when the one I wanted most was taken away from me. Back then I was told that I was simply too young, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, a few years would pass and I would find better. I was told I’d have better.
Sad to say, my daddy lied when he told me that. Sure, I’m successful now. Rich, somewhat famous, with any and everybody you could imagine standing in my corner. But it’s not enough.
I honestly don’t know what coming back here will do for me. Not sure what would be the use of revisiting the past and picking at old wounds that I’d told myself are healed.
I don’t think they’ll ever be healed.
“Ms. Dawson, we’ve arrived. It’s not part of my job requirement, but would you like me to assist you with your bags?” I looked at the young man who’d driven me all the way from the airport to this middle of nowhere area my parents chose to live all of their lives. Told me that his name is Curtis and he works this job to help support his family. Very polite and respectful, and a real cutie too; he can’t be more than eighteen but he carries himself better than a lot of grown folks I know. The simple fact that he offered to help me is something I rarely see happen without the person complaining or stating that they’d do it for the right amount of money.
“No thank you Sweetie but I appreciate you so much for asking and for driving me here today.”
“It was my pleasure Ma’am.” I gave him what I owed plus a little extra, thanking him and getting out of the car before he could object to the amount I placed in his hands.
I looked around for half a second before my eyes stopped and focused on the old house. Now that I’m grown, it looks a hell of a lot smaller than it had when I was a little girl. Pulling out my phone to take a picture, I immediately noticed that my signal was weak, probably due to the fact that our family home is surrounded by nothing but trees. Trees and more trees.
Good old Ashland City, Tennessee.
Just as I snapped a picture and turned to grab my bags from the trunk, I saw the front door open and heard my mama’s soft voice. To the world I’m known as Malinda Dawson, plus-sized super model. But to my parents, I’m still just … “Marjorie Linette Dawson.”
I gritted my teeth and smiled. “Mama, you know I prefer to be called Malinda.”
“That’s not what I named you.”
“You should have.” I mumbled to myself as I grabbed my last back and closed the trunk of the car, thanking Curtis again before he waved and finally drove away.
“Is that my baby girl?”
I shrieked and ran into my daddy’s arms, actually happy to see him in spite of the last conversation he and I had. He grabbed my face gently before kissing my cheek and brushing my hair behind my ear. “I’ve missed you.”
Call me crazy, but there was something different about the way he spoke. My daddy has always had a deep voice but it’s gentler now. His beautiful brown eyes are softer and for the first time ever I can see emotion in them, something he’d always avoided showing. “I’ve missed you too Daddy.”
“Oh, my Marjorie is back.”
“Ma-Lin-Da. Please, can you both call me that?”
“Not while you’re home.” I shook my head before getting my bags, trying to convince Daddy that I could get them but he insisted on helping.
“I’ve got so much planned for us. I’m sure you noticed on your way up the road that a lot of things have changed since you were here last, so I can’t wait to show you the change we’ve made around here.”
“What’s changed Mama?”
I was almost in the house when I felt this strange feeling wash over me, almost as if I were being watched. Our house was the only one on the land now, so it wasn’t like there were any nosy neighbors… but it still felt as if there were eyes on me. Maybe I’m tripping.
Wanting to take a little time to relax and clear my mind before dealing with whatever my mama had in mind, I decided to take a nice long bath. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to completely clear my mind. I guess being back in my old room brought back a lot of old memories.
Instead of a pink room like most little girls had and wanted mine was blue with white accents here and there. Next to the window my huge bed with a large canopy, draped with white lace still sat, untouched. My soft sheets, clean and neat are still white and my duvet comforter is still that same pretty but dark shade of blue. My walls are still adorned in posters of all of my favorite artists. Michael Jackson, Prince, Keith Sweat, Guy, Kid & Play, and more. Old shoes lined the walls, my letterman jacket was still thrown across my rocking chair and in the corner, next to my closet sat a giant teddy bear I’d gotten at a state fair one year. It was tattered and worn, no doubt in my mind that my nieces have come across it a few hundred times by now. My night stand had been untouched and on it was my lamp with my New Edition buttons still hooked on to the shade, my high school year book, and a picture of me at prom.
That picture, that’s what’s stuck on my mind as I soak quietly in this tub. The radio was playing lowly, and since it’s a rare song, I was surprised to hear Just Wanna Hold You by Jasmine Guy come on. It, just like the picture made me think of him. Just like me, he loved old school music and that was one of our many songs.
“What if I hadn’t listened to my parents?” I dipped my head under the water and stayed for a few minutes before coming back up, taking one deep breath as I pushed old feelings and resentment aside.
I got out, dried myself off, and put on lotion before dressing in a t-shirt and a simple pair of jeans. Almost certain that we’ll be doing a lot of walking, I put on a pair of my Nikes and headed downstairs.
Pulling my hair into a ponytail, I smiled and said hello as I saw my grandma walking in. “Marjorie! My baby. Come give Nana a hug.” I already knew they weren’t going to call me Malinda so I didn’t bother correcting her.
“Hi Nana, how are you?”
“Doing just fine. Your mama told me you were here and I had to get myself over here quickly.”
“But Nana, you’re not supposed to be driving, how’d you get here?”
She looked back and forth between me and my parents before pulling me to the side. Being that I’m nearly six foot tall, and the tallest in my family, I had to bend down so that she could whisper in my ear. “An old friend of yours was kind enough to give me a ride over.”
“You couldn’t say that out loud?”
“Not with your mama and daddy standing there. You know how they’ve always felt about him.”
I looked at her, hoping she wasn’t talking about who I think she’s talking about. “Who brought you over here Nana?”
“Aaron.” I sighed and shook my head, praying that he was gone and off of this property. “You know his mama lives next door to me and he came back to help take care of her when she got sick.”
“Ms. Beth is sick?”
“Mmhm, cancer from what I heard but she won’t tell anyone what type or how bad it really is. Either way, that young man has been a blessing because the good Lord knows his sister wasn’t doing anything.” I bit the inside of my jaw as I stood there thinking. “He’s still out there and he knows you’re in town.”
“What? It casually slipped out in conversation.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Glad to see you Nana but please don’t try to set anything up. I don’t need any problems while I’m here.”
“Okay, okay. But you’ve gotta stand up for what you want for yourself at some point. They’re your parents but it’s your life, remember that.”
She kissed my cheek and walked back to the island where my parents were standing.
I didn’t walk outside, but I stood by the door, watching as Aaron messed around under the hood of his truck. The sight alone made me think about when we were in high school and he worked in his uncle’s garage during the summers. Every day he worked, I sat off to the side on the hood of another car, watching as he tinkered and fixed every car that came in. As if his personality wasn’t amazing, his body was like that of a Greek god, perfectly sculpted over time. He’d always been muscular, and over the years he added tattoos to certain parts of his body. I loved touching them, tracing along them with my fingertips as he ran his fingers through my hair and kissed along my neck.
I missed him dearly.
The sound of my daddy clearing his throat snapped me out of my thoughts and I turned around, giving a light smile as I sat down and thanked him for the food he’d put out.
“This looks great.”
“I figured you’d be starving after that long flight from New York.”
“Yeah, straight off the runway and back on the farm.”
He chuckled before rubbing my shoulder. “It’s not a farm anymore.” Lost in my own world, I actually hadn’t noticed that I didn’t hear the array of animals.
“Just figured it was time for a change. You know we barely got by when you were growing up. Sold everything, even most of the land and got regular jobs.”
“Wow. So different.”
“Well Marjorie, if you hadn’t stayed away for the last six years you’d know what was going on with your daddy and me.” There was that self-righteous tone I hated.
I took a sip of the water he’d set beside my plate and sighed. “Don’t you think I had a reason to stay gone Mama? We couldn’t get along, you didn’t respect my wishes and I didn’t want to disrespect either of you. It was just easier for me to leave after I graduated.”
“Hunny, we only wanted you to see that you could have done so much better than…”
“You don’t have to say his name.”
“Marjorie, your mama and I just didn’t want you to struggle the way that we did. Your happiness has always been important to us, we want you to be happy, but you know that you would have been miserable living off of nothing but ‘love’.”
“Maybe Daddy, but at least with him I would have had someone to cheer me on and give me that extra push when I felt like giving up. I had no one in New York.”
“You could have called your mama and me.”
I looked at my daddy as he stood there with a serious look on his face. I could tell he wanted this to be one of those old moments where I just agreed with whatever he says and we go on acting like we’re the perfect little family. “Called you two for what? Just for you to shoot my ideas and dreams down again. Every dream I had, according to you both I was simply too young, or too hopeful, or you felt that no one would accept me because I was too big.”
“That’s not true.”
“It is. I wanted to be just like you and Mama. Happy and content in a little home of my own, married with kids. I would have never considered modeling if I was able to do what I wanted in the first place. I wanted a simple life, but since you felt that wasn’t good enough, better yet, since you thought Aaron wasn’t good enough, I went ahead and put myself through the stresses of what you thought no one would accept me for. Struggling and heartbroken versus a simple and happy life, yeah I got the good end of that deal.”
All three of them looked at me. I think I surprised myself with the amount of anger in my voice. I thought I had my feelings in check but the more I thought about their reasons for why I couldn’t do what I wanted, the angrier I got.
It had nothing to do with them not wanting me to struggle and I know it.
Instead of finishing my food, I gave my grandma a hug and headed upstairs to search for the keys to my old car. No sense in sticking around when I know the tension will be thick for a while.
I made the forty minute drive to Memphis, trying to find something interesting to get into. Anyone would tell you that Tennessee is Country Music heaven but that hasn’t been my thing for a few years now and I’m not in any type of mood to sit in any of the Blues clubs. Back when I was in school you could always see someone you knew, but driving down Beale Street all I saw were people I assume are tourists.
I decided to stop at King’s Palace Café. Driving around the corner and parking in the lot of another building, I walked back over to the café and took a look around. It was a little bigger than it looked from the outside but I still wasn’t impressed.
After finding a seat and ordering I looked around, nodding my head to the Z.Z. Hill song they were playing. Although I hate it with a passion, anytime I hear Down Home Blues I have to listen to it and sing along.
“What can I get for you this afternoon Ma’am?” She looked at me for a few seconds and smiled. “I’m sorry, I might be wrong but are you Marjorie Dawson, from Sycamore High?”
“I go by Malinda now but yeah.”
“Sorry, you probably don’t remember me but we graduated together. I’m Susanne Jacobs.”
“I think I do remember you, your dad was the school security guard.”
“Yeah, great to see you. You look amazing.”
“Thank you, and you as well. I guess it’s kind of strange to see you without the glasses you used to wear.”
“After years of suffering with the coke bottles, at my parents’ insistence, I got myself some contacts and some much needed dental work.”
“Well there’s nothing wrong with that at all. You were a bigger bookworm than me though, I figured you’d be out of Tennessee by now, working as an engineer or something.”
“That was the plan but you know how things go when young girls get pregnant before they should. Graduate at fifteen, somebody’s mother at sixteen.”
“I love it though, love my little girl.”
“Aww, can I see a picture?”
“Sure.” It was interesting to actually see someone I grew up with. No, she and I hadn’t been close friends back then but I was never the type to ignore someone or treat them differently because of social or economic status. Just like me she grew up on a farm, helping out parents and going to school. The only difference was that her parents had nothing at all and worked tirelessly to make sure she had the basic things she needed.
I looked at the picture as she showed it to me, her pretty little girl was a strawberry blonde with the biggest smile a kid could have. She was most definitely Susanne’s twin, same green doe-like eyes, round face, with a tiny mole on her left cheek. “She’s gorgeous. I think I just got baby fever.”
Susanne chuckled before putting her picture away. “That’s my little Desiree. What have you been up to? Last any of us heard, you’d moved out of the country.”
“Ha, I wish. I’ve been in New York doing some modeling here and there.”
“That’s awesome. You’ve certainly changed.”
“Thankfully I grew into my figure, trust I wanted to be as thin as you and the cheerleaders.”
“Wow, and now all of us want bodies like yours. But let me get your order taken care of, don’t want my boss to think I’m slacking.”
“Let me guess, he’s one of those that shouts ‘time is money’ often.”
“Every three and half minutes. What can I get you?”
I quickly looked over the menu. Hearing a familiar voice, I looked towards the door. “Uh, sorry, I’ll just take a shrimp po’ boy and a sprite if you guys have it.”
“Alright, I’ll be right with that.”
She walked away and I watched from the corner of my eye as he walked around speaking to people. I began wondering if he’d followed me, but that was just my ego speaking. That was my heart hoping the he still might have some type of feelings for me.
I must have been staring a little too hard because Aaron smiled and began walking in my direction.
What do I do? What do I say?
Play it cool Malinda. Play it cool. It’s no big deal; he’s only someone you’ve loved your entire life.
And within minutes he stood in front of me, smiling wide as I stared into his gorgeous face.
Aaron Eckhart; a man with the most beautiful dark skin I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s what they call a ‘good old country boy’. Patient, kind, courteous, respectful, and doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty. And those hands, Lord, those magnificent hands. I’ll just say that they can do some magic and he uses them well. He still had that warm smile, except now he no longer wears braces. And just as I had years ago, I found myself mesmerized by his beautiful brown eyes. They were soft, bright, and they always held a glimmer of hope.
Even after six years of separation, I love this man. And here he stood, towering over me. 6’2, with his large but toned frame, and when he spoke my heart melted. “Hi.”
“I, uh, I’m not sure what to call you.”
I was a bit confused. “What do you mean?”
“I hadn’t heard from you in so long. Turned on the TV one day and saw you, but they said your name was Malinda, not Marjorie.”
“Oh, please call me Malinda. I’m getting it changed legally soon. Have a seat, Aaron. How have you been?”
“Missing you. I know you probably don’t even want to talk about it but why’d you leave? Why’d you go off without me, we could have gone somewhere together and been happy.”
My mind was telling me to move my hand away as he grabbed it but I couldn’t. I missed his touch, missed the sensation his touch gave. “I hope you don’t think I never thought about that. You had your mama and she supported everything that you wanted to do. I figured you were gonna get a scholarship for football and you’d make it big. I didn’t want to ruin that for you Aaron.”
“Shouldn’t I have had a say in it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think so. I thought about it a lot when I first got to New York and I just know that we would have struggled and resented one another after a while. I loved you too much to put our relationship through any type of strain.”
“Loved? So there’s nothing there anymore?”
I gave a small smile before nodding. “Yes, there is. I bet you’re happy now though. Married with a little family. I bet you’ve got the son you always wanted, a mini-you.”
“Nope; no wife, no kids. I haven’t really done anything major yet either.”
He smiled before interlocking our fingers. “I was waiting for you.” I could only stare at Aaron, shocked that he’d said that. But honestly, that’s what I was hoping for.