Book III 1995-1998
The year after high school had gone by so quickly. Many of Eunice’s friends had gone their separate ways looking for jobs, so the group dynamic was gone. Eunice was working at Vespa’s Diner downtown on Madison.
Civil unrest in one neighborhood or another was pretty normal in Montgomery but overall the city wasn’t as dangerous as Talladega or Atmore, with racial violence and crime. She imagined Angela’s famous interview voice in her head, “…ever since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”
After the drama of rescuing Juliet from the Vineyard crack house a year before, her posse girls had laid low. She’d only kept up with Gabrielle. Besides, it wasn’t like she needed anyone.
Eunice had been occupied with domesticity since she and Sam had shacked up together against her parents’ wishes. They moved into the RV trailer out behind the Hood house. Sam’s father had modified it into a winterized guest house.
It was her idea to postpone marriage, “We’re eighteen Sam. Let’s try this first and get married when it feels right,” she said, leery of committing.
“Alrightee then,” he sounded disappointed. “We can set a plan for next year. We are lucky to have found each other. What more could I ask for,” he said, giving her a hug.
“Look on the bright side, we can actually save up for a real wedding and maybe go on a proper honeymoon to New York or someplace,” she was interested in walking her parents footsteps in their early days. “I don’t want to work in that god-awful diner forever! I’d rather focus on getting a better job,” Eunice said.
“Sure thing,” he said, looking bored.
The months following the Vineyard had gotten her depressed, perhaps it was a letdown after such high octane drama. She compared it to how a hangover made you pay the price for drunken fun the night before.
Maybe Eunice hadn’t played out the living together story to the end. If she were honest she could admit she shacked up with him for the wrong reasons. She brushed the thought away. All she knew now was Sam had his snout into every move she made.
Before moving in together, things had been stressful at home with her parents. Not only had Martha isolated from the world in a private shell, when she did come out of it she was bitter and cynical toward Curtis. It made for a strained household so Eunice jumped at the opportunity to leave them in their own misery.
She had kept her promise to go over every day and make sure they were eating properly. Martha was endearing in her simplicity satisfied with soup and crackers; and Daddy was even easier, having whatever Eunice brought.
Sam had been a reliable rock but lately he seemed testy, protesting the things that interested her. What do you want to get involved in activism for Eunice?
She couldn’t figure out if he was jealous of her ambition or over protective. It never crossed her mind he might have the foresight into danger that she lacked. He had always been a little clingy about her comings and goings, paranoid she’d be maimed or killed whenever she stayed out past 9:00 p.m.
She couldn’t imagine how Sam got through a day with all his watching and worrying. Life didn’t need to be so dramatic and all he did was stress out. She was overwhelmed by his demands and admittedly more comfortable being with her friends.
It wasn’t as if she wanted Terrence for life but they were friends and he was a good laugh. Being with him allowed her to let her hair down, so what was the big deal? It didn’t hurt he had a motorcycle and was slyly captivating but Sam never wanted to hear that. She’d need to get Sam a copy of Don’t sweat the small stuff!
His overbearing grated on her nerves. She guessed it was payback for moving in to escape her parents!
On a beautiful afternoon, Eunice languished in front of The Real World: New Orleans on pirated cable when she realized she had turned into an ambitionless loser. Holy fuck!
She needed to make a change instead of eating junk food in bed, watching Shorty and Mercy. It was time to get out and reconnect instead of thinking of herself a prisoner.
The thought of her being poor white trash made her laugh hysterically, relieved as if she’d just won the state lottery, even though Alabama didn’t have one. Admitting to becoming lazy was oddly exhilarating, “Eunice fucking Johnston lives in a trailer [some call it a shack]. All she was missing was a bun in the oven!” She looked in the mirror and slapped her own face, “now snap out of it!”
She had seen an MTV show about Marrying up and out, which gave her another reason to be apprehensive about marrying Sam. Wouldn’t it be wise to hook up with a lighter man? She was light enough to pass for white or at least be accepted in white society.
She fanaticized of moving away, marrying white and having a white child so all the race stuff would simply go away. If genetics favored her mother’s pallor, it was plausible she’d have a fair-skinned child. Having a son with Mike Watts for example, would be a gift to her unborn son. Perhaps being born mixed meant she was supposed to choose who she wanted to be.
Eunice had been living with Sam for just over a year by the time she decided to reconnect with her girls, Terrence and others. She felt some of that spitfire motivation coming back.
She rarely revealed private thoughts but may have come across as cynical in her relationship with Sam and the girls didn’t hold back letting her know staying with him was a serious mistake. You can have any man, what are you doing with Sam?
Reconnecting with friends wasn’t without a few awkward moments with Patty and Lil Red wondering why she’d dropped off the map. They wanted to know she was serious about renewed friendships. Eunice was committed, she wanted to recreate the magic and good intentions they had started around the time of the Vineyard.
“Listen, I’m sorry guys. Maybe it was the shock of Juliet or my mental health. I don’t know. It was wise to take care of myself and rest but I let it go on too long,” Eunice said.
Eunice could tell Patty had no use for Sam and often made sly comments about him. He was wise to her though. At home he liked to guess what bad things she had said about him, “I bet dear old Patty had me on the very top of her hate list. Such lovely companions you keep!” he said, sarcastic making snide remarks about Patty and Terrence. She guessed he was jealous she was getting motivated again.
He didn’t like Lil Red either. “I don’t see the magic in that girl. Is she actually a rapper on the side? I thought her name was Vanessa,” Sam said, the first time he met her.
“Maybe she’s shy about being gay or something. I don’t know. Wouldn’t that make you prejudiced!” Eunice said.
“For a brother he’s a bit of a dud don’t you think? He’s definitely rhythmless nation. Have you seen him dance?” Terrence said. He still seemed to wait for Eunice’s reaction to his flirtation. It made Eunice feel special.
“Come on guys, Sam ain’t the wildest guy but we love and respect Eunice all the same,” Gabrielle said, giving her a pass with the backhanded compliment.
“Well if he was a snake he’d a bitten you by now, so he must be alright Eunice!” Patty said.
“Eunice how are you coping with ‘married’ life?” Arisbel asked. She was the only naturally kind one in the bunch.
“Alright I guess,” Eunice said, but offered no more.
“This will cheer you up. The place I’m tutoring at is so wacked, they had us doing a musical variety show singing show tunes! I’m on a mixed team, the other team is all black. For rehearsals my team went first but as soon as the other team sang Hello Dolly for the white teachers, we all burst out laughing, teachers included. It looked like we were putting on a minstrel show. All that was missing was the white face makeup. Isn’t that hilarious? The beauty was everybody noticed the gaff,” Arisbel said.
Eunice laughed but was barely listening, too distracted by the argument she had with Sam last night.
“Please don’t tell me what I did wrong. You telling me what I should have done upsets me. I’m just being honest Sam,” she had said. It was nearly impossible for her to listen to him without judgment anymore.
“Eunice it’s like you can’t listen to my ideas without making them your ideas,” Sam said.
“No, I was just giving you my perspective. My mind plays out the scenario so my unwillingness is because I’ve already played out the possibilities in my head and formulated my opinion. Don’t you trust me?” she said, feeling guilty her intelligence was getting in the way of their closeness.
“Fair enough but when you’re two steps ahead of me and cut my ideas down I feel like a dope. It’s like you have a sensor predicting what I’m going to say next and a rebuttal waiting on why I suck. Have you ever thought you could be wrong?” he asked.
She looked at him skeptically. No not really Sam!
“Okay. I hear you. Maybe we’re in a rut. Don’t hold things I tell you against me later. Like how I might treat my folks or my independent nature,” she said, thinking she’d made an indisputable point.
“I think I’m being misunderstood here. I’m not trying to diminish you Eunice. I’m just trying to be heard,” he said.
“Well it feels like you’re analyzing me. It’s one thing to discuss disagreements but quite another to throw subtle insults my way,” she said, bored with the same old argument.
“Yes but wait a minute…” Sam said.
“I want someone who tells me I’ve crossed the line without being aggressive. Anger is okay but rage isn’t,” she said, biting her lip.
She was well aware of her natural evasiveness with close encounters of the emotional kind. She couldn’t help herself from shifting the blame to him. What pissed her off was she had broken a personal promise by opening up to him in the first place and now regret it. She needed to get this puppy off her scent. Maybe she’d be able to open up to him one day but she needed more time.
Relationship friction paralyzed her where words didn’t come so she kept conversations simple, “What did you have for lunch Sam?” she would change the subject.
“What a weird question. What did you have for lunch with Terrence? Was it his birthday? I saw it on your calendar. Where did you go?” he asked.
She was afraid he would flip out at any second. She had enough smarts to know he liked reassurances but her minds search for empathy always came up empty. Instead she said, “Terrence and I tried a new Chinese place at the strip mall. You know, where Denny’s used to be,” she said, calmly as if it weren’t out of the ordinary.
“Any good?” he asked, surprisingly civil.
“Yeah, we were saying how surprising the selection was,” she was trapped.
“What else did you do?” he asked.
“Oh uh, we went to a movie!” she said. Best to keep talking Eunice, “I checked in on mumzy too. She was in a helleva mood,” she said. She could see the detective’s wheels turning in his eyes.
“Oh good. How’s she doing? The last time I was over she looked a little weak,” he was sincere. He was fond of her parents.
“Well I worry about her of course. I need to spend more time with her. I don’t know if she’ll ever get her spark back. Maybe I’ll take her to the Y. I read swimming was the best exercise because you don’t know you’re sweating in the water. Come to think of it, that’s really gross! I hope chlorine sterilizes the pool. Imagine all those old people sweating in a big pot of soup!” her voice was high pitched, with anticipation of moving past feelings talk.
“Yuck! Your basically in someone else’s bath,” he said, then was quiet. He probably was thinking negative thoughts about her and Terrence but the worst was over.
“Come now Sam, let’s watch a movie. Didn’t you want to see the Foxy Cleopatra Tarentino one?” she tried her best to appease him.
“Okay that sounds good. Are you hungry? I’ll make us nachos later. Max adds blobs of cream cheese, says it gives your mouth a surprise,” Sam said.
“Ha ha! Max, Todd’s partner right. He sounds funny. I’d love it if you cooked. If you call nachos cooking!” she joked. Phew! Completely out of the woods. Maybe she’d even put out for him. He never wanted to discuss deep stuff after sex.
Sam pulled her close wrapping his arms around her waist. He was buff now, probably in the best condition ever. She’d known him ever since he was a green Gumby.
“You know what Babycakes. I can handle Terrence, I just want to know you still dig me. Our sexy time helps me feel closer to you. I love you, you know,” he said.
“Okay, come on kiss me. Just don’t be mad at me. I’m a delicate flower,” she stared into his eyes like she’d rehearsed in the mirror.
“I like you frisky like this!” he said, “Eunice you know I’ll never intentionally hurt you. I might make dumb comments but when I cross the line I need you to help me understand,” he said.
“As long as I’m your princess and feel protected. I had an uncle with anger issues who used to yell at me, then shower me with affection. He was unpredictable and it kept me off balance. Whenever he came to the house I would hide in my room but he would always find me,” she said.
“I wish I’d been there to protect you from him but I don’t think anyone sees you as delicate,” he said.
She believed him.
“I need someone I can trust, have fun with and is easy to be around,” she said.
“I can be that. I’ll try harder. Things will come up that create tension between us but nothing should ever be long lasting. We need to be more open. Please understand I can’t always read what’s going on in there,” Sam said, tapping her temple softly.
“I want someone who loves me for my positives despite my flaws,” she hugged him.
“I hear you. Seriously I am listening,” he said.
She pulled him closer so he would stop talking so much. She noticed he and Terrence were starting to make the same comments about her. They each saw something familiar. It frightened her to think they could see the motor under her hood.
“Eunice!…Minstrels. Isn’t that crazy?” Arisbel said. “Maybe we should bring white face back and own it. You know like taking back a curse word.”
“So true,” Eunice said, back from deep thought. She refocused herself, “Guys, my buddy Mike Watts has a cabin we can borrow. He’s got some ideas to run by us,” Eunice said.
“Isn’t he like 40?” Gabrielle jeered.
“Who cares how old he is and I’d say he’s 30 max!” Eunice had grown up with adults confiding in her, which probably made her wise beyond her years. She gravitated to adult wisdom and life experience so was surprised by Gabrielle’s immaturity.
She hadn’t shared her activist planning with Sam so felt a twinge of guilt for starting arguments just so she could sneak out. Either he wouldn’t understand or he’d be overly worried and try to stop her.
So what if she was addicted to the dangers of stirring the pot! If they pulled it off they’d have WSFA-12 News on scene in no time. She would be credited with getting much needed attention on the school’s drug problem. Sam would understand it was all for the greater good.