“Love yourself and you heal the world. Love the world and you heal yourself”
A story about a man’s (semi-autobiographical) journey for the search for true love.
After indulging in several “significant and unusual” relationships, and being left at the alter, the true love found was the love of self.
Read an exclusive excerpt: “Waiting“It would go down in history as my favorite episode of Scooby-Doo. Runner-ups would include Sonny & Cher and Scooby, Jackson 5 and Scooby, but my all time favorite was Scooby-Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters. It was comforting to watch the Globetrotters come into a familiar environment. Always putting on a good show, the Globetrotters were consistently dependable. To me they were like having your own personal variety pack of fun fathers. Papa Curly, Papa Meadowlark…There was a knock at the door, but nothing was going to rip me away from my Saturday morning father-filled fantasy. I stayed glued to the set.“Shawn, your daddy is here,” my mother claimed from the front door. Since my ears were not accustomed to the words “daddy” and “here” in the same sentence, I must not have heard her.“Globetrotters…I’m a fan myself,” said a smooth voice standing over me.I looked up and there was my Pops. I was so excited. There he stood like the benched team member called in and ready to play. Animation to reality, my biological Globetrotter. Only his outfit was a caramel-colored leather blazer, tan slacks and a white shirt, and shoes. I jumped up, hugged and inhaled my father. His scent was security. “Ma, why didn’t you tell me daddy was coming?” “I didn’t want you to get disappointed if he didn’t show,” she said calmly, looking directly into my father’s eyes.“Come on, Champ. The whole day. Just you and me.” I was bursting with joy. Our house was right next to the school I attended, J. J. Hill Elementary. We walked along the bordering fence past the school’s playground to the end of the block. “Pops, where we going?” “Anywhere you want. I live just a couple of blocks away.” “Oooh. I want to go to your pad.” Spitting out lingo I picked up from my older brother. “My ‘pad’ huh?” Pops said with an amused smile. “Yeah, your pad.” We chuckled at this cool bonding moment and headed right past the convenient store, Tom Thumb, to my father’s apartment. As we entered the cream-colored building, I felt like I was going to finally meet this ominous creature that kept my father captive. This void that was bigger than I. His apartment felt like the set of the ‘70s sitcom Love, American Style. Clean, well appointed, upbeat, and room for love. Not in space but in heart. It felt lonely, like most of the characters from the show seeking love. I noticed two identical couches in his living room. I asked, “Pops, why do you have two of the same couches?” With the flair of a magician he stated, “These are not just any two couches, but upon closer observation they are indeed…” He pushed the two together and flipped a nearby blanket over them. “Voilà! A bed!” I can see why I picked him as my father. A Globetrotter in his own right. Magical. When he brought me a glass of orange juice mid checker game, I saw emptiness on his face. His sunken-in cheeks and chiseled jaw added to his good looks, but my father had a longing in his eyes. Perhaps this is what made him so charismatic. There was an honest vulnerability that embodied him. My dad was the epitome of the likeable every-man, doing his best to deal with his fatal flaw. Endearing. As we continued hanging out, I saw a light begin to shine in my father. He truly was enjoying himself. He liked me. It was the perfect date. When it came time for him to walk me home I asked if I could visit every Saturday. He said to me, “Shawn, you and I are like these couches, separate but one. From now on, every Saturday, me and you, Champ—that I promise.” The warmth and sincerity of those words confirmed this was the best day of my life. Beaming all week, I excelled. A weight was lifted. School was better. Somehow I even seemed smarter. My neighbor Howard, from across the street, was also excited for me. He just wanted to get a glimpse of my father. I told him that I was walking to my “dad’s pad” Saturday, but next time he was coming to my house I’d introduce him. He too was without a dad. In fact most of my neighbors, friends, and cousins didn’t have dads, and if they did, it was usually a destructive relationship. My mother was happy for me but she reserved her enthusiasm. Every night she was up late sewing for personal clients. Surrounded by cirrus clouds of smoke just above my head I’d see her there, sewing away. This was her routine. Seamstress work downtown, always there when I got home, cook and connect with me, then sew way into the night. Some of our best conversations happened while Ma sewed. Seldom inhaling, Ma’s cigarette would dangle off her bottom lip with the confidence of a trapeze artist. Ashes would often grow an inch or so before falling. In between the buzz of the sewing machine, I’d ask questions. Vvvvvvrrrrrrtttt. “Ma, what was your dad like?” Vvvvvvrrrrrrtttt. “Tom Massey? Oh, he was a mean man, said to have sold his soul to the devil. He had the power to heal or kill. That’s how he made his money. Healing people far and wide. He buried his money on his forty acres by his tent. He wrestled with the devil three days before he died.” Silence. I was paralyzed, too scared to asked about my grandmother. Vvvvvvvvvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt. With her back to me, she kept her eye on the stitching. Vvvvvvvvvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrt. “Ma, do you still love Pops?” Vrr— “Ehheeehghhh!” Ma snorted in pain. Her fingers again. I knew the routine. I jumped up to loosen the wheel on the side of the sewing machine. The first time this happened, she called me in from the other room. One hand was covering the other that was attached to the needle on the machine. She instructed me to turn the wheel on the side. I tried, but it wouldn’t move much. “Really turn it, Shawn.” She gritted, hiding her pain. I caught a glimpse of her left index finger with the sewing machine needle through it. This panicked me into whipping that wheel around almost back down for a second stitching. “Good! Good! Baby!” she proclaimed, pulling her threaded finger away from the culprit. This time it was her thumb. She was on her feet for this one. A thin stream of blood arched from the platform of her nail. She went and got pink Charmin bathroom tissue and wrapped her thumb. I went around to the other side of the sewing machine, facing my mother as she continued to sew. My question was only answered by the blood seeping through the pink makeshift dressing covering her thumb. Vvvvvvvvvrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Saturday morning. It may as well have been Christmas. Scooby-Doo’s melodious moans were on in the background and Ma cooked me cheese eggs and toast. Usually I fixed myself Lucky Charms on Saturday, but today I needed no luck. I was going to spend a day hangin’ with my Pops. In the doorway before leaving, Ma held my face in her hands and looked me directly in the eyes. “Shawn, don’t feel bad if things don’t turn out.” Her Band-Aid thumb rubbed under my right eye. The edge of the facsimile of skin cut a bit. Ma had that longing look in her eye just like my father. My desire for her to be mistaken created a survival button smile that surfaced upon my face. I kissed her on the cheek and busted out the front door. Like clockwork, Howard was waving from across the street. “Papa’s Pad!” he yelled, grinning from ear to ear, cracking up. “Tell our dad I said ‘Hi.’” I liked Howard. He reminded me of a little government official. He was so diplomatic. When someone from school told him his mother was a prostitute, he politely declined the suggestion and told the other kid to consider his mother one instead. One day Howard came over with panic in his eyes. He wanted me to look at something. My younger cousin Donald was with me, so he tagged along. Howard took us upstairs to his mother’s bedroom and showed us her circular bed. No big deal, other than it being unmade in the middle of the day. Then Howard pulled back the sheets. Massive amounts of blood soaked the center of the mattress. Donald was so frightened he ran home, bouncing off a wall before aligning with the doorway. I marveled at the density of the blood. I noticed the stains down side of the bed and spots on the hardwood floors, like wet blood crumbs down the hall. “Do you think my mom is a prostitute?” Howard asked. Staring at the blood I said, “Your mom is pretty and all, but I don’t—” “Little Shawn, Howard, what cha’ll boys doin’ in my room?” We turned and Howard’s mom stood over us like the blaxploitation character Cleopatra Jones, fresh out the shower. Dripping wet in her robe, she really was beautiful. “Mother, I was concerned for you so I wanted to get a second opinion, and I value Shawn’s opinion since he had a job at the Food Coop.” Definitely a politician. “Howard, nuts and grains have nothing to do with your mama’s menstrual flow.” On that note I wanted to vanish. “Uh, misses Howard mom, um ma’am, ma-ma, may I be excused?” Blundering words, I realized I didn’t even know Howard’s last name. Howard’s cackle carried down the block. I passed Tom Thumb but Marion Dixon had no power over me. No longer did I feel insignificant like the cheap Twinkies she tried to give me as an apology for sleeping with my father. I was healthy and organic like the products at the Food Coop. I walked down the hill towards the apartment building. A conquering smile came over me. I headed down the steps to apartment 3b. What will we do today, I thought. I reached up to push in the square plastic black button surrounded by a gold tin box representing a doorbell. Ka-Chink. The ring fell flat. Any moment my biological Globetrotter would appear. In the silence I listened for his footsteps and thought of what my opening line would be. Son number two arrive, said in an Asian accent, stealing a line from the Charlie Chan TV series. Naw. How about, What do you call small change? Son of Bill. Is that funny, I thought? A while passed and I pushed in the black square again. Ka-Chi-. Worse than the first time. Maybe he’s asleep or in the shower. I listened for any movement, flush of the toilet, phone conversation, anything. Nope. Then I started thinking, I wouldn’t rush to answer a door with someone who had jokes like that. Ka-Chink. Nothing. Why wouldn’t the doorbell ring right? Ka-Chink. Ka-Chink. Ka-Chink. I pressed my right ear and face against the door. Is that Pops’ TV or the neighbor’s? I went over to the other door to listen. I think it’s theirs. Back to Pops’ door, then the other door. This time the neighbor opened their door and I almost fell forward. “Sorry,” I said, backing out of the apartment. “Can I help you, boy?” said the slightly irritated lady exiting with a grocery tote. “No, I’m just waiting on my dad.” “Oh, you that boy that swat flies at the Co-op. I haven’t seen you over there in a while.” The lady looked at my father’s door. No words. “Well I hope to see you over there soon. It’s good to see a young man trying to make something of himself.” She headed up the steps and continued on with her day. When she left, so did the sound of the TV. I sat against the wall between the two doors for a long time. I got on the floor to peek under the door. Nothing, just carpet and the lower half of the two couches. I sat there going over it in my mind, maybe he meant every other Saturday or one Saturday a month. Then I thought maybe he really didn’t like me, he was just being nice until our day was up. Maybe he moved. Maybe he forgot. Maybe he was working. Maybe he was with Marion Dixon. My heart began to pound. Forget the full ring of the doorbell. I began to knock. Nothing. I couldn’t go home. Ma would be so disappointed. I decided to stay. Eventually he will show up. It’s his house, right? Hours later the neighbor returned with groceries in tow. It didn’t take a genius to compute the situation. “You want to come in, get something to drink?” she asked sympathetically. “No ma’am, I was just leaving.” Waving at my dad’s door, I tried to play it off like we just spent a fun filled day. Outside the apartment, I didn’t know what to do. I definitely didn’t want to pass Tom Thumb or see Howard. What was I going to say to Ma? I started walking in the opposite direction of home. I didn’t know if I was angry, hurt, or mistaken. When I got home, Ma had food ready. I had to buck up. The problem is, I’m a horrible liar. I could never tell a lie, especially to Ma. She could sniff out a lie before it was even thought. At dinner she asked how my day was with Pops. I said, “Umm huh.” Nodding my head. “We’re gonna do it again next Saturday.” Ma studied me, looking for any signs of pain. I sat up straight and put on that patented button smile. In school Howard hunted me down, eyes beaming with excitement. “Shawn, how was Saturday?” “Man, you wouldn’t believe it. I’ll have to tell you after school,” I said, giving a brush. “Ah man. Keepin’ family secrets. I’ll see you after school,” he said, skipping away. Howard will be just as hurt as I was when I break the news to him. On the walk home we were being followed by the upperclassman that was hassling Howard about his mom being a prostitute. I guess he couldn’t let go of Howard’s last quip. He kept kicking Howard’s back foot as he walked. Finally, Howard turned and demanded the bully to stop. “What chu gonna do about it, punk?” Shoving my politician friend. Before I knew it, I flipped the villain to the ground and plunged on top, grabbed his head and hit it on the ground twice yelling, “Leave him alone. Leave him alone!” The bully got so scared that he bolted up and ran off. I had never done anything like that before. “Gahh lee, Shawn. You just flipped Frankenstein. Did your dad teach you that?” I had no words for Howard. Pumped with adrenaline and disbelief, I backed away and crossed the street home. Saturday. I was back to Lucky Charms. Scooby wasn’t doing it for me. Ma noticed the TV was off. I knew this would garner a question from her so I jumped in before she could ask, “I’ll see you when I’m back from Pops’.” And out the backdoor I fled, also avoiding the possibility of Howard, but not Tom Thumb. A few steps and I was directly in front of Marion’s store. I muscled past on the hopes that this Saturday will be different than the last. Ka-Chinkinnngchong. The black square was in a good mood today. Maybe it was my Lucky Charms. A smile of relief came over my face when I heard footsteps heading toward the door. Every other week, I smiled. A door opened but it was the neighbor’s. Apparently this was her ritual as well. “G’mornin’ child,” she addressed, looking at the patrolling door between my father and me. “Another day with your father?” I nodded yes. She pasted on my patented smile and left. Wait a minute, that smile is mine. Ka-Chink. Knock, knock, knock. Nothing. Please answer the door, I’ll do anything. You promised. Thoughts like this ran through my mind for hours while I waited. I had to get out of there before the neighbor returned. I took the scenic route home. I saw her about a block away. I turned. Can’t go by Tom Thumb. Howard will be waiting. Ma will want to know what we did. I found myself being pushed further and further from my house. After that incident with the bully, Howard didn’t question me so much about my father. He did catch me a few times on Saturdays leaving. We’d wave. Ma didn’t question me so much either, and since my dad didn’t have a phone, I’m sure she assumed I was doing something with him. I continued going to my father’s apartment for several months with the same results. One Saturday during month four, I was waiting on the indoor steps to father’s apartment. The neighbor lady came in from outside. “I have something for you.” She invited me into her apartment, made me a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and gave me a book of hidden word puzzle games. “Something to help you pass time. You find the hidden words amongst the others.” She worked a full puzzle with me and before I knew it, it was time to return home. I continued my vacant father visits, every Saturday now being filled by Jackie the neighbor, my new friend. I completed one full book of hidden puzzle games with Jackie. Sometimes she gave me advice on the step or invited me into her apartment. Once in a while we’d just watch television, maybe Soul Train. The blows to my father never answering the door were softened hanging out with Jackie. I think I started to like her but would never expect her to do what Rosie did. The thought did cross my mind several times, though. That was until she got a boyfriend. Then she became more and more consumed by her new lover. Not making much time for me. I couldn’t say I was jealous because I didn’t care. I just didn’t have much to say to them as they headed out. Right around the ninth month I decided to talk with the caretaker to see if my father even lived there anymore. He said “yes”; in fact he just dropped off his rent yesterday. There was a moment of hope. I sprinted down to his apartment and stared at the black button on the doorbell. Then I heard noise that definitely was coming from his apartment. Ahhh, what a relief. He was there. As I prepped to knock I heard a woman’s voice. Some giggling, soft music, followed by a deeper, semi-slurring voice giving playful instruction. My dad was drunk and with a woman. My heart sank to the floor. The bond that we had entitled me to visit anytime. I guess I made that up in my mind and it backfired. I stood there, frozen, listening to their malformed fun. Alcohol and women have separated me from my father. I burst into tears, standing there unable to move. I needed someone. Anyone, for I felt I was coming apart. I shuffled a few feet to Jackie’s apartment and knocked on her door. It opened slightly. I peeked in, calling her name. The flood of tears made it hard to see in front of me. Then I thought, what if I’m walking in on another unsolicited moment, and I stopped, wiped my eyes, and stood, noticing something very unexpected. I was standing in a completely empty apartment. Jackie had moved. Gone. My emotions threw me onto the street. The pre-winter wind blew its warning across my face. It burned under my right eye where my mother scratched me with her Band-Aid. I thought of my Grandfather Tom selling his soul to the devil. I felt my father had sold his soul. Then I thought about my mother’s damaged thumb. I stood in the parking lot of Marion Dixon’s store, staring at the big red sign: Tom Thumb. My Grandfather Tom, my mother’s thumb, and all of the pain.