“Happy birthday to ya . . . Happy birthday to ya . . . Happy birthday!” sang and clapped my three closest girlfriends at a small table inside a quaint restaurant in downtown Detroit. Too bad it wasn’t karaoke night; that was Thursday. But I was still too excited that my birthday fell on a Saturday in September this year. That made up for the fact that it’s my thirty-fifth and here I am celebrating it with a bunch of females.
I love my girls and all, but sometimes a sister just wants the presence of a man. Here I am all decked out in my one-armed purple blouse, short gray skirt, silver stilettos, and matching Gucci bag—yet with no man to compliment me on how good I look. I had just gotten my hair cut and colored, with a light brown mohawk on top that faded to black in the back, and my makeup was flawless. I even wore hazel contacts, which I was hesitant to buy at first because of my brown complexion—but they actually looked kinda cute on me.
I was feeling this “new look” and new me, yet there was no man seated next to me to whisper in my ear how I was the finest thing in the room. Nope, at thirty-five, here I am with not a prospect in sight. No man, no boyfriend, not even a “special friend.”
Lord knows I just knew I would have been married with at least two kids by now.
I’ve been believing God for a husband for ten years now.
I keep my list of ten things I’m believing God for in a mate tucked away in the zipper part of my Bible cover and have done so for years. I guess I never really attached a timetable to my requests—maybe I should have said something to the tune of Before my eggs dry up and I have to believe God like Sarah and Abraham, Lord. Maybe then my prayer may have been granted a little earlier. At the rate I’m going, I’m going to have to take in vitro and believe God for twins. Thank God for technology.
“Haaaa-peeee-birthday . . . Happy birthday . . . Happy birthday . . .”
I could tell the waiters and waitresses, all of diverse hues, were getting a kick out of my friends’ rendition of the Stevie Wonder classic as they grinned from ear to ear, nodding their heads. I wondered if they had ever heard it before.
Or maybe they were laughing at my girl Danielle, also known as Dani, who swayed wildly with her Android taking pics in one hand and waving her glass of Sprite on the rocks in the other. If you didn’t know Danielle was saved you would think she was drunk, and at just two years shy of forty, one would never know by the way she carried herself. Always ready for a good time, Danielle took pics of herself showing off her fresh makeover, which brought out the peach undertones in her tan complexion, and her new black-and-gold minidress, which flattered her tall, curvy frame; and she also took pics of me and the rest of the crew and uploaded them to Facebook simultaneously, half of which I hadn’t even seen yet to approve. Lord, I hope she doesn’t tag me in any pics where I’m looking crazy. Candid shots get on my nerves.
“Make a wish, girl!” Danielle yelled while snapping her head and swerving her long, black layered weave to the other side, almost hitting Jackie in the face.
Jackie just looked at her and rolled her eyes as she proceeded to stir her black coffee. She wiped the cheek where Danielle’s hair almost smacked her, probably hoping it didn’t turn her fair skin pink, as Jackie bruises easily. She had stopped singing the song a while ago and looked ready to go home. At thirty-six, Jackie appeared as if she had had enough of all the many years of singing birthday songs and probably wanted to catch a rerun of her favorite show, Law & Order, again. With her being a prominent, well-respected attorney in the city, she was greatly intrigued by that show. I wouldn’t be surprised if my birthday festivities weren’t ruining all her normal Saturday-night fun. Jackie ran her fingers through her short curly red hair, then rested her hand on her forehead.
“Yeah, Shenita,” sprang Pippa while scooting her chair in closer to the table and positioning her round frame just right as she pointed her light brown manicured finger toward me, matter-of-fact. “The Word says in 3 John 1:2, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth, so it’s okay to make a wish and blow out the candles.”
At thirty-two and the youngest of the crew, I wondered if Pippa really thought I needed her approval based on The Word on whether or not I should make a wish? I guess she didn’t know me as well as I thought she did, otherwise she would know I’ve been making wishes and blowing out candles ever since I got saved fifteen years ago. I wasn’t convicted about it then and I sholl ain’t convicted about it now.
Man, that birthday cake had so many candles on it that it looked like if I didn’t blow them out fast someone would have to call a fire truck.
Thirty-five candles—one for each year of my long, unfruitful life.
I take that back. As a public relations specialist for the Detroit chapter of a national nonprofit, One Love Initiative, from the outside looking in, I had all the makings of a success. I literally have had many approach me in tears and say how the nonprofit I work for, which provides housing options for single parents and low-income families, changed their lives. I love what I do, and thank God for the job that definitely keeps a sister’s condo association fees paid and Benz car payment up to date, but even still, I feel my life is lacking in one area. Love.
So, with a big inhale and then a huge blow over the strawberry shortcake with my favorite cream cheese icing, I silently made the same wish I’ve been making since I was twenty-five: “I wish to find true love and happiness.” Except this time I did something I had never done before with my wish. I added these four words, “This year, Lord . . . please.”
• • •
“So, girl, what you wanna do now that we’re done with dinner?” Danielle asked with a forkful of her second piece of cake, as we four ladies sat with full bellies and I with a nice stack of gifts and greeting cards by my side.
I really hadn’t made any plans for after dinner . . . what else was there to do? I didn’t feel like going to a movie; too boring. And with no guys with us it wouldn’t be that much fun. No one to play practical jokes on. I guess this is supposed to be ladies’ night out. Whoever invented that concept anyway? With all girls, who’s going to open the door for us when we leave? The waiter, I guess.
“What about heading over to my place to play Parcheesi, eat snickerdoodles, and have girl talk all night!” chimed Pippa.
Jackie, Danielle, and I looked at one another, then at Pippa, and said in unison, “Um, no.”
“How about we check out that new jazz joint on First Street?” Danielle suggested.
“Hmm,” I said. “Not a bad idea.”
Then again, I thought about the last jazz place I visited—nothing but old, bald-head, no-teeth-having sugar daddies over sixty-five wanting to “holla at ya girl” while showing me their Viagra pills. The thought of reliving that experience all over again frightened me.
“Nah,” I said.
“Well, we can always go to Club Xtasy,” suggested Danielle, while licking the icing off her fork.
I couldn’t believe she was making reference to the very spot where she used to pole-dance before she got saved three years ago. Since then she gets her dance on for the Lord and is the first to tell me about the next Christian white party, but sometimes I still wonder about that girl.
“I’m just playing y’all, dang,” she said, taking a sip of water.
“Mmm-hmmm,” Jackie said.
“I know we not going there,” Danielle assured us. “Ain’t nothing there but a bunch of married men trying to get they sneak peek and freak on anyway.”
“Nah, we can’t be going there,” Jackie said abruptly. The three of us looked at Jackie as if to say, “How do you know what’s in there?”
“What?” Jackie said in defense. “I just said we can’t go. We saved women of Gahd—for real, remember?”
We all broke out laughing.
I know I’m saved.
Sholl ’nuff saved.
I’m so saved that I hadn’t been to an actual club in over six years.
I had gotten so involved in church life that my appetite for the club scene eventually wore off, but a girl still wants to get her dance on from time to time.
I’ve never been totally drunk, and the last time I had sex was at age twenty-five with my first. After that horrific experience of his breaking up with me only two days later, I said I would remain abstinent till marriage. Beside, if it makes God happy, I’m happy. Period.
But then again, my thirty-fifth birthday has made me realize that I spent the last decade of my life pleasing someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Lord with all my heart, but somewhere along the way I believe I’ve lost myself.
I have fun with my girls and we go out, and we even invite fellas from the church sometimes, but for some reason I feel like I still haven’t really lived.
I love to dance, but part of me gets scared every time I start dancing somewhere for fear of who’s watching me. Like Scripture says, I don’t want to give the appearance of evil. It’s almost like for every secret desire there is a counter-conscious that says, No, don’t do it.
Part of me is tired of not doing it. Tired of being the “good girl” and so-called really saved one in the family. Part of me just wants to explore. I should be able to go dancing somewhere and not lose my religion in the process, right?
“What about Boogie Nights?” I suggested, as if a lightbulb came on above my head.
“Boogie Nights?” Jackie asked with disgust.
“Yeah, Boogie Nights, just outside the city. Now that I think about it, it’s Old School Saturday. We can get our cabbage patch on,” I said with a cabbage patch shake of the shoulders. “C’mon, y’all—live a little—it should be fun,” I pleaded.
“Girl, I haven’t been to Boogie Nights in a minute. Count me in, I’m game,” Danielle replied as she finished off her last piece of cake.
“They don’t serve alcohol there, do they?” Pippa inquired.
“Yes, they serve alcohol,” I said. “But only to the patrons who are over eighteen.”
“Oh, okay,” Pippa said hesitantly.
“Plus, you don’t have to drink. You can just drink pop or water, Pippa Wippa,” I assured her with a smile.
“Okay, count me in, then,” she said with a returned grin and a toast of her glass of water with mine.
The group fell silent for a moment as all eyes rested on Jackie, who had her chin in her hand.
“You hanging with us tonight, Jackie?” Danielle asked, partly already knowing what her response would be.
“Naw, you ladies go on and have a good time. I’m going to go home and chill.”
I guess she wanted to catch the latest episode of Law & Order after all.
“Aw, Jackie, come go with us. You can always just go home—come hang out,” Pippa insisted. “You need to get out the house more. It should be fun.”
“Well, if my memory serves me correctly I’m presently out of the house now, here at this restaurant,” Jackie said. She noticed my disappointed expression and added, “Don’t look so down, Shenita. It’s your birthday. Look, I’ll cover everyone’s meal tonight. Don’t worry about it, it’s all on me. I’ll just have to take a rain check on the afterglow. Y’all ladies be careful out there, okay?” she said, sounding more like our mother than our close girlfriend, and arose. Little did Miss Jackie realize that her paying for my meal does not make up for the fact that she didn’t want to hang with me on my thirty-fifth for the rest of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll accept the gesture, it just doesn’t make up for how I feel about her not being with us.
“Well alrighty then,” I said as Jackie made her exit. “Looks like I’ll be gettin’ my Holy Ghost boogie on with you two, oh faithful ones,” I added with a Bankhead Bounce toward Pippa and Danielle.
“I don’t know about your Holy Ghost boogie on,” Danielle said with a laugh. “There may be some ghosts there, all right . . . some demons dressed in pinstriped suits and brim hats or button-down silk shirts showing taco meat.”
All three of us cracked up before we each took our cars and followed one another to the spot.
While driving my silver Benz SLK, I thought, Heck, I deserve to let my hair down and have a good time. I’m thirty-five tonight, dang-it—good and grown. I’ve been doing things the so-called “right way” and holy way for fifteen years now. It’s time to whip my hair back and forth and have some fun.
• • •
The line outside Boogie Nights was pretty long—longer than usual, actually. It may have been because though it was mid-September the weather was unusually warm, almost springlike—then again that’s nothing compared to Michigan weather, which could change at any given moment. Tonight it may be 75 degrees, tomorrow it may drop down to 20.
“Excuse me!” Danielle said while waving her hand to get the attention of the huge dark-skinned bouncer wearing a black cap and shades. “I’m here with Shenita Love, PR specialist for One Love Initiative here in the D. It’s her birthday today, and we’re trying to get in to help her celebrate.”
The hard-core-looking bouncer suddenly flashed a charming smile and motioned for Danielle’s party to come right in.
Danielle always gets her way.
I don’t think the word no is even in her vocabulary.
“Thanks, hon,” Danielle said, thanking the bouncer with a kiss on his cheek. He motioned for her not to leave his side, as Pippa and I went in and grabbed a booth near the door so she could see us.
“That Danielle is always pulling game,” I said, shaking my head and spying on the two of them. She appeared delighted as he slid her something that looked like a business card. It was probably his phone number.
“What’s she doing? She’s not coming to sit with us?” Pippa asked, scanning the menu as if we hadn’t just eaten less than an hour ago.
I knew Dani’s game.
“She’s coming,” I said, still keeping my eye on her. Now she had one of her hands on his broad shoulder. “Just give her some time.”
“Oh, okay. I wonder what the specials are,” Pippa said.
“Didn’t you just eat?” I asked.
“I did. I might just want some curly fries or something, or another dessert. I don’t know.” Pippa shrugged her shoulders.
“Hey, y’all,” Danielle said, finally joining us.
“Hey, Miss Dani. So what was that all about? You pull them digits?” I asked.
“Girl, you crazy. You know how it is. A brother wanted to holla. Only thing is I can’t see a bouncer being able to afford the mortgage on my future mansion, so I had to pass.”
“Girl, you know you ain’t right,” I said.
“What? I ain’t sayin’ I’m a gold-digger . . .”
Danielle and I cracked up.
“So what were you guys talking about all that time?” Pippa asked, keeping her eyes glued to the menu in front of her.
“Nothing much. He talking about how he also teaches CCW classes downtown and asked if I’d be interested.”
“I’m sure that’s not all he’s interested in,” I said under my breath.
“Girl, stop. He got us all in, didn’t he?”
“Yes, he did. Hey, weren’t we supposed to pay somewhere? I thought I saw a sign say twenty dollars at the door or something,” Pippa said, while looking around for the sign again.
“Girl, don’t worry about it,” Danielle said. “I said he got us in, didn’t I? So when I say he got us in, he got us in.”
“Oh, I see now,” Pippa said, enlightened. “We got in for free!”
“Girl, don’t be so loud about it!” I shot at her abruptly. “Can’t let everybody know.”
I tell you, that Pippa. Sometimes I wonder what planet she came from and how we ended up being even remotely close friends.
“Wow, well amen, glad I saved my l’il twenty dollars, then. Thank God for favor.”
“Amen to that,” Danielle said with a high five to Pippa. “Thank God for favor with God and a man,” Danielle said, giving her bouncer friend another wink.
“Y’all are so wrong,” I said, looking around the dimly lit club. “Not a bad crowd tonight,” I commented.
Pippa looked up from the menu. “No, it’s not bad, except the women all look like hoochie mamas who need Jesus. Most of them all weaved up from their scalp to their behinds, and they think it’s cute. No one believes in natural beauty anymore, I guess,” Pippa said, then looked over at Danielle and patted her shoulder. “Oops, don’t take it personal, Danielle.”
Danielle snickered. “Girl, none taken. I’m happy with my weave. My weave takes me places,” she said, combing through her long, layered black weave with her fingers. “Don’t you know God invented weaves?” she asked Pippa, and added, “Thank God for witty inventions.”
We all cracked up as Danielle and I high-fived each other. Though I was au naturel tonight with my new do, Lord knows by next week I may be weaved up again. Thank God for variety.
Just then one of my old-school jams came on: “Now That We Found Love,” by Heavy D & The Boyz. The three of us jumped up out of excitement for the treasured former hit and made our way to the dance floor, which was filled with folks of different races and backgrounds, all dancing their own special way to the feel-good song. The strobe lights and fake smoke made for a festive atmosphere, and as I swayed from side to side with the music, I felt like I was on top of the world.
We three ladies danced with one another, since we didn’t know any guys there, yet we still didn’t seem out of place because a lot of women there either danced by themselves or with one another as well.
In between our own dance moves we cracked up at some of the neighboring dancers, who couldn’t hear the beat, made up their own moves, or danced like they had two left feet.
It didn’t matter, though, because we all had one thing in common: we were all dancing and having a great time—even if there were some drunk ones on the dance floor with us, they somehow managed to keep their distance, thank the Lord.
While I was dancing, feeling the beat, and getting my groove on, I suddenly noticed a tall, slender, light-skinned gentleman with a smooth shave and a goatee standing directly behind me, barely dancing at all. It was as if he was just staring at me with a sneaky smirk, his hand cupped underneath his chin.
I kept dancing and laughing with my girls, then somehow gathered up enough nerve to turn around and start dancing with the guy, even though he just stood there like his feet were frozen to the ground.
I didn’t care.
I just kept dancing.
Shoot—he was cute and I was celebrating my birthday. I drowned everyone else out and danced my little heart out.
It had been so long since I danced or went to a club that I was almost afraid I didn’t know how to dance anymore.
Back in the day, or shall I say BC days, Before Christ, my former bestie and I were known to hit up a club on any given weekend and be the life of the party. With her on one side, me on the other, and a guy in between us, it used to be common practice for us to coordinate our dance steps, while commanding all the attention on the dance floor.
I miss those days sometimes.
She’s six years married now, with two kids, and I haven’t heard from her at all in three years. Times change, I guess.
I continued to dance with the cutie, and I could tell he was enjoying my dance moves as I continued to gyrate right in front of him until the song finally ended and another one came on.
This time it was an old-school hip-hop love song, LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.”
I leaped with excitement, hoping my dance partner wouldn’t go away. He didn’t but instead grabbed me as we slow-danced to the old jam. He looked like he was in his thirties as well, so I’m sure he could appreciate the hip-hop ballad that made then-burgeoning rap music even more popular and multidimensional.
I was in a trance as we swayed from side to side.
I closed my eyes and imagined this complete stranger was my man—my knight in shining armor and everything I could ever need and secretly desired—as I held him close. He squeezed me tighter as well, and he comfortably rested his hands just above my behind. Though I didn’t even know this man’s first name, I felt like I knew him nonetheless. I wanted to ask him, “Where have you been all my life?”
When the song ended, my mystery man kissed my hand and then disappeared into the crowd, leaving me sad, confused, and lonely once again.
I retreated back to our booth and my two friends screeched with delight. “Hey, girl, I saw you getting yo’ groove on out there on the dance floor!” Danielle chimed. “Or shall I say groove back—shall I call you Stel-la?” Danielle and Pippa laughed.
“Yeah, girl, he was cute,” Pippa said, munching on curly fries.
“That he was,” I said with a grim look on my face.
“What’s wrong with you? What happened? Did you get his phone number?” Danielle asked.
“What church does he go to?” Pippa inquired.
“No, and I don’t know.”
Dani and Pippa looked at each other, confused.
“What do you mean?” Danielle asked. “You know the main rule is to not leave an interaction like that without the number. What happened?”
“I don’t know what happened,” I said, frustrated. “All I know is dancing with him felt like heaven. The feel of his touch. The smell of his cologne. How he held me so close in his arms like he couldn’t let go.”
“Ahhh,” Pippa responded, starry-eyed.
“But then he just disappeared into thin air like it wasn’t nothing. I didn’t even get his name!”
“Dang,” Pippa said.
“That’s messed up. That means you can’t even google a brother, or even look up his Facebook page,” Danielle reminded her.
“I know, right? Why does stuff like this keep happening to me lately? It’s like I meet these guys and I think they’re all interested and it just ends up being nothing.”
“I don’t know, girl. But that’s okay,” Pippa reassured me. “Keep ya head up, pretty lady. Your Boaz is out there somewhere.”
“Yeah. All of ours,” I agreed. “We just gotta hold on so we won’t get too old to enjoy ’em.”
“Right, I don’t want to be all saggin’ when Mr. Right finds me,” Danielle said with a hearty laugh.
“I know,” Pippa added. “And I don’t want my teeth to fall out before he finds me. I’ll be like, ‘Hold on, baby, I wanna kiss you real good, but let me get my teeth first.’” We all cracked up at Pippa’s poor imitation of an old woman with no teeth.
Though the man of my dreams may have slipped from my arms on my birthday, my friends always know how to make light of it all and keep me smiling. I couldn’t help but laugh right along with them.
She That Findeth
On her thirty-fifth birthday, Shenita’s fear of never starting a family has reached a fever pitch. Her trusty “rule book”—filled with guidelines for dating—simply isn’t cutting it. Soon Shenita is signing up for online dating sites, hitting on men at sporting events, and putting herself out there in ways she never imagined.
When Shenita stops playing by the book and takes matters into her own hands, she finds anything can happen.
Meanwhile, her closest friends are struggling with their own issues of sexuality, acceptance, divorce, insecurity, and financial strain. Always the faithful shoulder to lean on, Shenita wants to be there for them, but her desire to find a man leads her to an unforeseeable circumstance. A place where she must examine her relationship with God and reconsider her priorities.