Unabridged, 10 CDs, 13 hours
Read by TBA
An exuberant return to the four unforgettable heroines of Waiting to Exhale--the novel that changed African American fiction forever.
"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.
Terry McMillan is the critically acclaimed, award-winning author of five previous novels and recipient of the Essence Award for Excellence in Literature.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Deep End
"Are you sure you don't want to come to Vegas with me?" my husband asks for the second time this morning. I don't want to go, for two reasons. First of all, it's not like he's inviting me for a hot and heavy weekend where I'll get to wear something snazzy and we'll see a show and casino-hop and stay up late and make love and sleep in and order room service. Not even close. It's another exciting trade show. Isaac builds decks, fences, gazebos and pergolas, and as of a few months ago, playhouses. He's in love with wood. Can I help it if I don't get worked up hearing about galvanized nails or color-clad chain links and breakthroughs in screws and joists?
I don't bother answering him because he's known for weeks I'm under a deadline for a story I'm doing on the rise in teenage pregnancy in Arizona—Phoenix in particular—which is the other reason I can't go. I've been sitting in front of my laptop in my pajamas for the past forty minutes waiting for him to leave so I'll finally have three and a half days to myself to focus. But he is taking his sweet time.
"I didn't hear you." He's looking for something. I dare not ask what. "You'd have the room all to yourself for most of the day. You could still work."
"You know that's not true, Isaac." I take a sip of my lukewarm coffee. I've been to so many of these conventions, trying to be the supportive wife, but I always get stuck with the wives, most of whom just want to sit around the pool all day reading romance novels or People magazine while they sip on margaritas and eat nachos, or linger in the malls for hours with their husbands' credit cards, trying on resort wear for the cruise they're all going on in the near future. I'm not crazy about cruises. I went on one with Mama and my sister, Sheila, and those long narrow hallways gave me the creeps because I've seen too many horror movies where the killer jumps out of a doorway and pulls you inside. After two or three days of being out in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight until you wake up not knowing what country you might be in front of, by day four I was ready to jump off our balcony and backstroke home.
And then there are those obligatory convention dinners. I'd sit there in one of the hotel ballrooms at a table full of contractors and their now-gussied-up wives, trying to be sociable, but I was basically making small talk since they never discussed anything that might be going on in the world. Call me elitist, but this often made me feel like an alien who'd been dragged to another planet by my husband because he, as well as they, didn't seem to think producing television shows about cultural and social issues was as interesting as all the things they could build out of lumber.
It truly irks Isaac that people don't respect or appreciate the role wood plays in our lives. That we aren't aware of how much we take it for granted—as if it'll always be here—and how much we rely on it yet overlook its value to the point we ignore it and its beauty. It would be nice if he still saw me the same way. For about eight of the past ten years it felt like he did.
As Isaac passes behind me, he smells like green apples and fresh-squeezed lemons. For a split second it reminds me of when we used to linger in the bathtub surrounded by sage and lemongrass candles, my back snug against his chest, his arms wrapped around me and our toes making love. Those were the good old days.
I snap out of it.
Now he's pushing my favorite mustard-colored duffel across these terra-cotta tiles with those size-fourteen boots, leaving black scuff-marks behind him as he simultaneously pulls a white sweatshirt over a white undershirt. It's a V-neck and shows the top of a black forest on his chest. "If I could, you know I would," I say while checking my e-mail. Of course there are back-to-back messages from Robin: a joke I don't bother to read and an attachment about a new motionless exercise she told me and Gloria about last week that almost had us choking from laughter. She believes almost everything she sees on TV.
"You just don't want to go," he says, and starts looking through his pockets to make sure he has everything. He doesn't. I know just about all his patterns. "Why don't you just come out and say it?"
"Because it wouldn't be true." I rarely lie, although I'm not always a hundred percent honest. This is one of those times.
"Then I guess I'll see you on Tuesday. After rush hour." He walks over, presses his palms against my shoulder blades, gives them a little squeeze, bends over and gives me a peck on the cheek. I don't feel a thing except the scratchy new growth on his face.
"You have everything?" I ask.
"What if I don't? Would it matter to you?"
"Of course it would matter to me, Isaac."
Right before he gets to the door leading to the garage, he turns and looks at me as if he doesn't believe me. Isaac knows we're on shaky ground. "I'm seriously beginning to think you might be racist."
He's trying to find a button to push. I'm not falling for it. Part of our problem is he's forgotten how to talk to me. He's forgotten how to ask me a question that doesn't put me on the defensive. All those sessions with the marriage counselor—for some of which he played sick, or was too busy drilling or hammering—aren't saving us. I'm tired of this war, which is why I'm ready to hold up a white flag. "Aren't you supposed to be picking up somebody?"
"So now you're trying to get rid of me, is that it?"
"Yes. How's that for an honest answer?" I feel my body stiffen, using the truth to lie. "Have a good time, Isaac. Wait a second! Did you remember to make the loan payment?" I only ask because he seems to have had a little bout of amnesia off and on the past six or seven months. It's the cause of brand-new friction. I have no idea what he's been doing with his money. It's not gambling, that much I do know. He stays away from the Indian casinos and usually dreads these conventions when they're in Vegas. He thinks gambling is too much of a gamble because most people lose. That's not really it. Isaac is just too cheap.
"Yes, I made it. As a matter of fact, I paid two."
"Thank you. And have a good time," I say, without moving my fingers, which are frozen two or three inches above the keys. I cosigned for this loan to help him start his business. After it took off, he took over the payments. Unfortunately, I've discovered by default that Isaac isn't as proficient managing his finances as he is at building. To this day he refuses to hire a bookkeeper, which is one of the reasons his taxes are always late.
"Good luck on your research," he says, and heads for the garage. He is so disingenuous. He hardly ever watches my shows anymore. For years he pretended he was interested, but over time he couldn't fake it anymore. He thinks my stories show problems that can't be solved, so what's the point?
I finally hear the door shut. I turn around and stare at it. It's red. My bright idea. I'm hoping to hear the garage door go up. There it is. Then the engine roars in his truck. Instead of turning my attention back to the screen, I wait for the handle to turn. Sure enough, in he comes.
"I forgot my cell phone." He dashes down the hallway to our bedroom. To this day Isaac reminds me of a black Paul Bunyan, except he's finally getting a few strands of gray. His mustache and goatee look like they've been sprayed with silver dust. He's still sexy as hell, which is a shame, because it doesn't seem to be serving any purpose. I shouldn't dog him too much. Isaac is a good man. I just think marrying each other wasn't the best thing we could've done for each other.
He stops dead in his tracks, pivots, comes over and kisses me in the exact same spot. This time he lets his lips stay a millisecond longer. I appreciate the gesture. "I'll call when I get checked in."
I make myself some French toast, put a few strips of bacon in the microwave and sit back in front of my laptop. My mind isn't on teen pregnancy, so I bookmark the sites I may want to look at later. I'm thinking about the man who just left. The one I once loved harder than any of the others.
I was a forty-year-old love-starved black woman who'd never been married and didn't think it was still possible. I met Isaac in church. He was tall, dark and handsome. (Aren't they always?) I was sitting near the front and found myself going deaf as the minister delivered yet another guilt-laced sermon about the evils of temptation, because I was slowly being hypnotized by Isaac Hathaway's soft black eyes up there in the third row of the choir. This was a small church. It was as if he'd appeared out of nowhere. I certainly would've noticed him before. Not that I went to church every Sunday. And not that I didn't have faith in God. I did, and still do. I'd been on a whole lot of folks' prayer lists and God had known for years my address was still 111 Unlucky-in-Love Avenue. On this particular Sunday, this man followed me down those church steps to the parking lot and seduced me with my clothes on after he smiled at me, introduced himself and in a slow baritone said, "You are absolutely beautiful." I blushed brick red because he was lying through his teeth. I was not then, nor am I now, even remotely close to beautiful.
Now, I've been known to be attractive on special occasions, and I do my best to project as much beauty as I can muster from deep inside, though I often fail. On this particular day, I was wearing a boring brown dress I thought was perfect for church since it's not a venue for which I dress to draw attention to myself. Back then, I hadn't gotten into the habit of exercising on a regular basis, and my dress didn't conceal enough of my curves for my taste, so Isaac couldn't possibly have been moved by my breasts since they were and still are close to nonexistent. The pearls were noticeably fake, which should've given him a clue I wasn't loaded, although I made out okay. Besides, who under fifty wears real pearls to church?
I never did hear him sing solo. I would later think God had saved the best for last. Any woman in my position would've felt the same way and probably done the same thing: parachuted into his arms. Or was it his bed, first? Who can remember? Who cares? He was intoxicating, and any fool would've wanted more of him. All I know is he made me feel brand new. Lit a fire in me that burned bright orange. His smile reduced me to mashed potatoes. I loved that he held my hand wherever we went and stroked my palm with his thumb.
We prayed together. A few months later, he moved into my house. I knew I'd gotten lucky, because I'd found a man who wasn't afraid to admit his faith in God and also came with his own tool belt. Nothing stayed broken for long. Isaac had magical hands. He would shampoo and condition my hair, brush it at night and oil my scalp. He massaged my feet while I read and he watched television. He put lavender and ylang-ylang oil in my bathwater and let me lean way back. I could've lived forever in his arms. He made me feel safe, necessary, to the point I started believing I was beautiful. For years, he kissed me twice a day. Every single day. And not a peck, like that bullshit he gave me today, but a warm, slow, succulent kiss complete with arms I dreamed about when I was alone in a hotel bed on a business trip. Isaac is the best kisser in the world. And to date, the best lover I've ever had in my life. He was my Mr. Wonderful. I thought he was going to be my Mr. Once-and-for-All.
There was no escaping the hold he had on me or the spell he'd put on me. After a year of complete bliss, I surrendered and said of course I'll be your wife. When he lost his job putting up the fence along the Arizona-Mexico border because the company had gotten busted for hiring illegals, I wasn't worried. He was only twenty-six units shy of getting his degree in engineering.
Unfortunately, my world started shrinking not long after I married Mr. Wonderful. Since I didn't have kids, I was used to doing what I wanted and going where I wanted. I ate out at least two or three times a week. Enjoyed going to plays and live concerts and dance performances. Loved foreign films. Didn't mind the subtitles. In fact, I used to go to the movies at least once a week except in August, when the slashers came out. I loved reading in bed. Unfortunately, Isaac couldn't fall asleep without the television blaring. Turns out he wasn't keen on eating in restaurants except Denny's and The Olive Garden. I never saw him open a book but he couldn't get enough of Outdoor Projects or Dream Decks & Patios or Wood Magazine. He didn't like taking bona fide vacations because it was a waste of good money. He was also afraid of flying, which meant everywhere we went had to be by car. We rented movies, except during holidays. Isaac also liked fish, so once a month we went to the aquarium. Yahoo.
Last August, I flew to Chicago for the Democratic National Convention and was able to hear the young senator Barack Obama give a speech that sounded like it might go down in history. Flying wasn't the only reason Isaac didn't want to go. Right before the 2004 primaries, I inadvertently opened his absentee ballot. He had the nerve to be registered as a fucking Republican! I couldn't believe my eyes. I don't know any black Republicans. I was not only offended, but confused. I felt like I was married to a Nazi or something.
"Of course you have the right to align yourself with whatever party you so choose," I said when I confronted him. "But what on earth would possess you to support the Republican party, Isaac?"
This was Mr. Millionaire's answer: "Because they make sure we get the best tax break."
I left his ass standing in the bathroom dripping wet, since he was waiting for me to bring him a towel. So it was his dumbass vote that helped reelect that dumbass George Bush. Twice. I wondered who in the world I was really married to. It worried me.
I can't lie, I spent a lot of energy trying to give Isaac as much love as I possibly could as often as I could for as long as I could. Right after he lost his job, I tried to make him feel valued. I asked him to share his dreams with me. I listened. He changed his mind about getting his degree in engineering, opting instead for a construction management program. I paid his tuition. When he talked about all the things he wanted to build one day, I shared his enthusiasm. I also slowed down, said no to some travel. The Olympics in Australia was the biggest. I cooked almost every day. Washed and folded his work clothes. Took pills for car sickness. Everywhere we drove: "You see that sagging fence right there? That's a sign of a rookie." Watching the History Channel and This Old House was like foreplay. And wrestling: like witnessing phony cavemen perform acrobatics. I went to football games, which I didn't like because it was violent and took too long to make a fucking touchdown. I went camping and fishing but I didn't like getting dirty and putting stinky things on the end of a pole, and grabbing a wiggling fish that was headed for a hot skillet gave me the heebie-jeebies. Did I complain? No, I did not. I tried to do what made my husband happy.
Over the years, Isaac stopped showing interest in what I felt ...
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