Nichole Perkins – Hindsight

Four-time Tenx9 storyteller Nichole Perkins shares a lovely 5-minute story on missing opportunities for international travel.

Someday. Now.

During Freshman Week, my first week of college, I fell in love at first sight. He was tall, with hair like Sideshow Bob, and stood behind the DJ table, controlling the room with music. After we became a couple, we’d argue over what he was wearing that day. I’d say it was a hockey jersey with his astrological sign on it. (It was the mid-90s. Fashion was… interesting). I don’t remember what he thought he was wearing. His memory isn’t important because I know I was right.

Our relationship lasted my entire 4 years of college. I’d walk by posters proclaiming opportunities to travel abroad, but I was too afraid to sign up. I’d think “what if he misses me? What if he doesn’t miss me? What if…” When he had the chance to travel to Aruba for something similar to Semester at Sea, well… He sent me a postcard. His mom called him then she called me, and he and I talked over three-way, trying to send PG-rated, coded messages so his mom wouldn’t know how much we missed each other.

And he did miss me. And when our 4 years ended, he had stamps on his passport, pictures of his bronzed skin, and I had “someday.”

Graduation. A new job, but international travel is so expensive. Plus I don’t want to go alone. I could go with my best friend, but aren’t you supposed to share beaches and red wine and decadent foods with someone you trade nightly snuggles with?

So… someday.

And now a new boyfriend. He doesn’t like labels, even though he has his own toothbrush next to mine and a special section of my refrigerator for his food. Maybe he’d like to take a trip with me to a place where the language sounds like “omigod keep talking.” But no. That seems like too much of a commitment, and then he was gone, too, but there was “someday,” still sitting on my shelf.

I moved across country but still here. Still America. Then a new boyfriend who barely wanted to do more than dinner and a movie on Friday night. Best friends suggested trips but I wanted romance, not girl time. I couldn’t see that friendship remained while romance faded.

Another new job. Passports are how much? It’ll take how long to get it back? Well… someday, yes?

Depression. Go back home. Wouldn’t it be great to get away? Everyone’s married now. Everyone’s a mom now. Everyone travels only where their jobs send them now. Still… someday…

And here I am. All those old loves I was afraid to leave—only a Facebook click away! All the money I was afraid to spend—stuck on my hips. All the friendships I was afraid to prioritize—still here. Still here.

Where would I be without fear? Would I be in the south of France, baguette crumbs accessorizing my smile? In Morocco, colors of every jewel populating my everyday? Would I still be stateside, but free of regret?

Who’s to say? I’ve looked back so much, you can pinch my cheek to season your fries.

I’m here now, a stamp-free passport in my purse.

Step one: Complete
Step two: in progress…

Someday is happening now.

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Nichole Perkins – Once

Here’s Nichole Perkins’ story about her grandmother from our June theme “Once.” Enjoy. 

 

Muh’Deah With Her Hair Down

Muh’Deah, my great-grandmother, ate onions and tomatoes like apples.  She pressed money, wrapped in aluminum foil or Kleenex, into your hand as you were leaving her home. She kept candy in the trunk of her car, and if you were good in church, she’d walk you to that treasure chest and let you pick a few pieces. Muh’Deah would comb my hair, using a pink Goody brush with white bristles. She had old people’s strength, the kind that came from years of raising six children plus farm work then domestic work. She’d pull my hair into a ponytail so tight, I’d have a look of constant surprise for at least a day.

Muh’Deah’s favorite color was red, and it became mine, too. We’d sit in front of her large floor model tv—the kind with the knobs that thunked thunked when you turned them—and she’d brush my hair into that death mask ponytail while reruns of Gunsmoke or Bonanza, Big Valley or The RifleMan ran in the background. I had a book of fill-it-in word puzzles. She’d give me a red-ink pen, slim and striped like a piece of peppermint candy, and keep half an eye on me as I connected words together. I’d show her my completed puzzles and she’d say, “That’s good, baby,” before she touched my shoulder to signify she was done with my hair. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned Muh’Deah couldn’t read. I like to imagine that seeing me work those puzzles made her proud.

My memories of what Muh’Deah looked like are cloudy. My mother says that by the time I was born, Muh’Deah wore her hair short, just under her ears, but I remember something different. Once I saw Muh’Deah with long hair- a braid that rested curled on her chest.

Muh’Deah lived in one of those senior citizen complexes that looked like a tropical vacation resort. It was late evening, and I was in the living room, fresh from a bath, smelling like Camay. Or maybe Irish Spring. I can’t remember that exactly but I know I smelled good and had a belly full of biscuit and jelly. I was waiting on Muh’Deah to finish getting ready so I could use the mini-steps that led to her four-poster bed, so thick and fluffy. Even though Muh’Deah would warm the bed with her onion-and-tomato fueled gas, floating on the cloud-like mattress made it worth it. So there I was, fidgeting, trying not to ask if she was ready yet when someone knocked on the door. I froze in place. I knew I couldn’t answer the door. It was night time and no one visited Muh’Deah except family.

She came from the back of her apartment, wearing a long, white cotton gown. She didn’t have her glasses on. And her hair… an unfinished braid lay against her right shoulder. If my eyes hadn’t fallen out of my sockets from a too-tight ponytail, surely they would fall out now. I think I even stopped fidgeting, and I know I stared in that open-mouthed, uncaring child’s way.

Muh’Deah answered the door, and it was one of her neighbors. A man. His glasses were so thick, I couldn’t really see his eyes clearly, but they were watery and shiny. He smelled like mouthwash but… more. Muh’Deah’s mouth pulled into a tight line that I would see on my own mother in later years. She invited the man in and let him sit on the couch, closest to the lamp with the bright, bright bulb. She sat in a chair and would occasionally give me The Look that meant I better behave, but she didn’t send me to her room, out of the way, which is what usually happened when grown folks talked. When I look back, I think I must’ve been insurance that Mr. Neighbor Man didn’t try to get fresh.

I have no sense for how long they talked. Muh’Deah touched her braid and finished it. I watched, fascinated. Then I noticed that Mr. Neighbor Man was also staring. Muh’Deah’s lean fingers, taut with age and strength, moved quickly, working her hair into a simple braid, while she tried to remain polite. Suddenly she dropped the completed work and made moves to stand. Mr. Neighbor Man struggled to be gentlemanly, despite his arrival without notice, despite his more-than-mouthwash smell, and helped her. Again, I can’t remember what Muh’Deah said but she ushered him out and made sure to put the locks on the door.

After wiping my face free of any more biscuit and jelly crumbs, Muh’Deah pushed me down the hallway to her bedroom, hand on my shoulder. She made me say my prayers then held on to my arm as I climbed into her bed. It was a child’s heaven—all white sheets, a thick cushy mattress, with equally fluffy pillows and comforter, and love. The kind of love that leaves you with your eyes wide, that shares colors with you, encourages you to be more than she could, and the kind of love that lets you protect her as she protects you.

Nichole Perkins – Love Stories

Enjoy reading this story from Nichole Perkin’s at February’s Tenx9 Nashville, a story of falling in love with romance novels. 

 

MuhDeah, my great-grandmother, was a domestic worker, and as such, her employers would often give her things they no longer wanted but thought she’d be grateful to have. They’d once given her a breakfront filled with books. MuhDeah couldn’t read but I guess she kept the books as is for company’s sake. She passed away when I was around 8 or 9, and my mother inherited the china cabinet.

We tucked it into our hallway, and I was fascinated by it and its contents. Behind the glass was a picture of my mother from her high school graduation—not quite black and white, not quite sepia. My mother used to be young! I stared at her face several times a day, searching for pieces of myself. I looked like my father and had reached a point where I was tired of people telling me that, but that’s a story for another time.

By the time I was 8 or 9, staring at the picture and the books in the breakfront, I was already a voracious reader. The cabinet held hardback books from Reader’s Digest. Their multicolored spines with gold writing were hard to resist, but I only remember two books with any specificity. The Black Poets, edited by Dudley Randall, sparked my interest in poetry and taught me parts of my heritage I’d never get from school. And the second book was The Flame and the Flower, a historical romance novel by Kathleen Woodiwiss that launched a lifetime obsession with love stories.

Let me give you a summary. Heather Simmons is an English country beauty who’s being raised by a greedy aunt and henpecked uncle. The aunt’s brother takes her into the city to give her a job at his dress-design shop, but on the first night in town, he tries to force himself on her. Heather stabs him, and, thinking he’s dead, runs away and gets lost near the docks. A sailor mistakes her for a prostitute, as you do, and takes her to his captain, the strapping American Brandon Birmingham. Heather thinks Brandon is a magistrate who will punish her for her crimes. Always respectful of authority figures, Heather submits to Brandon’s close inspection until he moves her to his bunk. Heather begins to fight, but it’s useless. He has his way with her, all the while thinking she’s a lady of the night. After Brandon falls into a sated sleep, Heather escapes and returns home.

Fast forward about 6-8 weeks. Heather’s aunt notices some unmistakable changes in Heather’s body and demands to know who’s responsible. Somehow she tracks down Brandon and forces them to marry. The two set sail for Brandon’s home in Charleston, South Carolina, where Brandon is a business tycoon with a plantation full of slaves who love him for his caring and generous treatment. You see- Brandon may have raped Heather but he’s handsome, smart, resourceful, and kind. Brandon thinks she’s a gold-digging wench, working in cahoots with her manipulative aunt to catch a rich man, but she’s so delicate, so feminine, so beautiful. Maybe the two of them will be able to find love in each other after all.

This book, The Flame and the Flower, was published in 1972 and is considered groundbreaking for its explicit sex scenes, including rape. And please don’t think I’m making light of such a heinous act. For a long time, the only way women were able to enjoy sexual situations in literature, without guilt, was to portray the heroine as a victim first then have her grow to adore the man who victimized her. This particular book is also seen as the godmother of contemporary romance novels, and there I was, 9 years old, reading it with wide eyes. As a child, I didn’t fully understand how awful the start of this love story was. It fell in line with the soap operas of the time, from Young and the Restless to Dynasty, which showed men and women slapping each other before falling to the floor in a fit of passion, but I’d never come across anything like it in print. I even went so far as to do a book report on it, and when my teacher pulled me aside and told me to stick with subject matter more suited to children, I was even more hooked. I’ve been reading romance novels ever since, and for a long time, I was ashamed. I used to keep all of my Serious Literature showcased on my living room bookshelves but keep the romances tucked away in a closet or on shelves in my bedroom.

I’m a feminist. I want equal rights for all people in all things, but reading about men who risk their lives to save the women they love just fills me up. And I felt so girly, so foolish, but as I grew older, I discovered more and more women with secret addictions to romances. I felt safe to be more vocal about my own love for them. My tastes in romances have changed over the years. I tend to avoid historical romances that feature women of unparalleled, feminine beauty or men who force women.  Now I read thrillers and paranormal romances that showcase women who kick ass, who often have to save their men, and men who… well, the men have pretty much stayed the same- catlike reflexes, strong, broody, possessive, and magnetic.

So what happens in a romance? Well, the two main characters meet and are instantly attracted to each other but don’t want to be. Maybe it’s because they already have a past where one left the other or maybe someone has a smart mouth and is a jerk. Regardless, somehow they’re forced to work together, either to solve a series of crimes or because they’re trapped in a snowstorm with no cell service. Something happens to bring them in close, personal contact. His eyes… her eyes… They’re interrupted before things get too serious but now the air is charged between them. Soon there’s another layer of danger. The criminal they’re hunting gets too close. Someone from the past shows up. Someone gets hurt. Someone gets jealous. As the other person tends to the wounds,- of the flesh or of the pride- they both decide to give in. Then there’s the hot sex. The man always goes down on the woman first and it’s amazing. She’s never experienced anything like this before. She doesn’t even have to reciprocate before he’s putting on a condom he just happened to have even in dire circumstances and giving her yet another series of earth-shattering orgasms that unlock her heart. And he realizes he’s in serious trouble because loving her only puts them both in danger. He has to protect her. He can’t be distracted by love. They catch the bad guy or escape the snow cabin from hell and now what? Was this all the result of adrenaline and danger? Of course not. Their love is real. The book ends with a kiss or a smile.

So that’s it. The meet-not-so-cute, the adventure, the sex, the resolution, the declaration, the happily-ever-after. Why am I a sucker for this formula? I have no idea. I know I don’t really want most of this to happen to me in real life. I mean- I’ll take the great orgasms, sure, but I get stuck in some kind of demon attack in order to find the great love of my life. Love is risk enough as is. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading romance novels, and I’ll no longer hide them. Just like me, werewolves and FBI agents need love, too.