Read an Excerpt from Glori
Pictures and Reflections
The world is unmerciful. I used to think it would catch us if we fell. It wouldn’t let us slip through its cracks. Instead it would have watched us starve and left us homeless like countless others. It was cold. I watched its rhythm – the rush hour traffic, the lunchtime buzz in restaurants, the weekly grocery shopping with carts packed to the brim. RaKeim and I lived on the fringes.
For the past year, I’d been sleeping on couches and floors, staring at other people’s walls wishing the reality of my situation away. I hated the looks on their faces, which were either sympathetic or annoyed, when we asked them for a place to stay. I could see it in their eyes – I felt worthless.
What held RaKeim and I back for so long was our age and the fact that neither of us had a legitimate job. We often had the money for an apartment, but not the credentials. It would have been easy to feel the same way RaKeim did – that the world was just against us – but I had to believe we were going through this for a reason. I never wanted for anything when I was growing up. My parents provided for me in a way that sheltered me from real suffering. Now I knew it firsthand. Maybe God wanted me to know what this was like so I’d appreciate a home, a hot meal and a warm bed that much more.
In March 1999, my prayers were finally answered. We moved into our own apartment on 31st Street in downtown Newport News a few weeks before RaKeim was scheduled to start working at the shipyard. It was a tiny, one-bedroom unit in St. James Terrace, a complex built during the 1930’s. To the right of our brick building, huge naval ships were docked along the water – the ships RaKeim would be building. I could see them from the living room window, large and ominous. The smell of the salt water was overwhelming while I dragged loads of laundry to the complex’s laundry room. Sailors coming on and off the ships would whistle and wave.
There was nothing luxurious about the apartment. The rent was $350 per month. The living room had dark, wood paneling and the small galley kitchen was just big enough for me to move around in with my swollen stomach. We bought most of our furniture from a thrift store in Norfolk, including the baby’s crib and a small TV with an antenna. Even though it wasn’t much, I was so proud. Some afternoons I would stand in the middle of the living room and just laugh.
“Is this our home, baby?” RaKeim asked the first night in the new place.
We were lying in bed enjoying the quiet. He was on his side resting his hand on my stomach, his eyes watching my silhouette stare up at the ceiling. The room was a night blue, the kind of evening light that makes two people feel like they’re the only ones in the world.
“This is a nice place,” he said when I didn’t answer him.
“And it’s safe. You ain’t got to worry about nothing cause there’s always a guard across the street watching them ships.”
“Why, you plan on leaving me a lot?”
I looked down at my stomach which was so round it now prevented me from seeing my feet. Nerissa was growing. Sometimes, her tiny foot stuck out like a bump on the smooth surface, and I’d tickle it back into position. More and more she’d wiggle herself under my right rib, which sent a throbbing pain through my back that RaKeim or Jen or Acacia would have to rub out.
“Nah, I’m just sayin.”
“It’s not good for me to be here alone, you know. I’m eight months now. Anything could happen. I could go into labor or something could go wrong.”
Being in a new apartment in a new city with no one around made me nervous. I knew RaKeim would be out selling, and the thought of staying there by myself, pregnant, scared me.
“I’m gonna try to get back earlier. I’m not gonna be leaving you here all night like I used to.”
“Why can’t you just stop? Why do you have to keep doing it? You’ve got this job, and you’re gonna be playing football. We don’t need it.” A tear formed at the corner of my eye and slid down my temple into my hair. Whenever I wasn’t talking about it to him or my friends, I was thinking about it. It ate me up inside.
“We need money, boo. When our daughter gets here, she’s gonna need more than $12 an hour. That ain’t nothin.”
“You keep saying that, but you selling has nothing to do with our daughter,” I pushed myself up and sat looking down at him. “All you want is more money for the sake of more money. You want to fix up your Lincoln and have nice clothes and all that. I know you don’t want to buy me anything. As soon as I get something for myself you say I’m trying to find a new man.”
“You don’t know how to work for things, RaKeim. Nobody’s banging down our door to hand you everything you need! You could work at the shipyard for a few years and soon you’ll be making $15 an hour and then $21. You just have to work at it.”
“Forget that. I’m not trying to wait that long.” Frustrated, he got up from the bed and leaned against the window.
“I don’t want our daughter eating off drug money! I don’t want to eat off of drug money.”
“You been doing it!”
He opened the blinds and strained as he pulled up the old, stubborn window. Then he took a box of Newports out of his back pocket and lit a cigarette blowing the smoke out through the screen.
“You’re not supposed to smoke around me.” I wiped my eyes and stared at his back.
He ignored me.
I wanted to pounce on him. “I hate you sometimes. I really do.”
“I hate you too.”