If You Don't Know Me By Now
by Jhori Barksdale
Tangela stood red faced as she looked in the bathroom mirror recanting the one sided argument she’d just had. Not being quite clear on what her plans were or even what she was thinking at that very moment, she did know that she didn’t want to let eight years walk out the same door that Jeff had walked out of almost two hours ago. Yeah, she was afraid that he was messing around….the thought had crossed her mind more than once over the last couple of weeks. Yet she knew that the love she had for him was worth fighting for. She was not about to let him get off easy---she’d make him squirm, but she also knew that she loved far too much to allow this to tear them apart.
Tangi and Jeff. Jeff and Tangi. Everyone linked those two names together like Tom and Jerry. Sylvester and Tweety. Bert and Ernie. Hell, even Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. They’d been together for eight years, which is a long time according to today’s standards.
Tangela Owens met Jeffrey Slaton on July 1, 1992, at her Sweet Sixteen birthday party. Jeff was friends with her older cousin Demetrius and they’d stopped by before going to the Braves and Mets game. The first time she laid eyes on Jeff, he gave her one of those feelings that you get when you’re on the crest of a big hill and go flying down it at break neck speed and hit that little dip at the bottom. The moment he walked into the room, her eyes captured a picture that she would often bring to the forefront of her memory when ever she thought about him.
Standing well over six feet tall and the color of dark molasses, her Jeff could never go without being noticed. People use to say that he looked like that guy named Hawk from the TV show because of his bald head and tendency to always look you dead in the eyes while talking. However, once he parted those sexy lips of his and broke into one of those big beautiful smiles, you soon realized that this hulk of a man was just a teddy bear in disguise. Jeff never raised his voice and rarely lost his temper. In all of their years together, she could only remember them having one other argument outside of today’s. About three years ago, Tangi had taken the spare out of the trunk of her antique 66 Mustang convertible during the Christmas holiday season so as to make room for all the shopping that her and her bestfriend Angelee would be doing. As luck would have it, they ended up with a flat during one of their late night shopping sprees along with a dead cellular and no car adapter. After waiting for 30 minutes on 285-N with their flashers on, a semi finally stopped to offer help. Once he realized the error of her ways, he gave them a ride to the next exit to call someone.
When Jeff arrived 20 minutes later, he wouldn’t even look at her. Moreover, once they got back to her car and he saw all the packages in the trunk, he quickly changed the tire and left. After she dropped Angelee off and got home, she found him sitting on the den’s sofa with a drink in one hand and a blunt in the other. That’s when she realized just how pissed off he was. Rarely did Jeff drink and she couldn’t even imagine where he got the marijuana. Before she could open her mouth he lit into her like she’d never expected. He ranted and raved for 30 minutes without allowing her to say one single word. Once he had calmed down, he simply walked to the door and told her that she was his life and glory, and if anything had happened to her, he probably would have had to be committed for the rest of his life.
Angelee never once doubted the strength of their relationship until now. While a lot of women would cling tight and extend claws when it came to other women being around their man, Tangela always took pride in having Jeff by her side. It never bothered her when women would openly come on to him and practically throw themselves at him in her presence. She’d usually just laugh at their antics and allow her chest to swell just a little bit more than their regular size of 36-C. He brought that fine ass body and sweet sexy lovin home to her every night and that’s all that mattered----that is until now.
For the past three months things had not been the same between the two of them. She couldn’t quite put her finger on exactly when things had begun to change but she did know that it was around the same time that he’d won that new contract for his company. As expected, working late night hours and on the weekends had become common placed. Sometimes it would be over into the morning when he crawled into bed and a few hours later she would be getting up to go to work herself. She couldn’t remember the last time that they had went out to a nice romantic dinner and making love was almost none existent with the exception of a quickie here and there…. and the majority of the time it was due to her initiating it and not him.
The final straw came tonight. He had promised to be home by 8 and she’d gone all out to plan this elaborate romantic evening. Though it was early October and still hitting the upper 70’s during the day, she had turned the A/C on full blast and lit the fireplace.
In anticipation of finally being able to spend some quality time with her man, she had taken the time to cook all of his favorite foods; fried pork chops, turnip greens, rice, corn on the cob, homemade cornbread and of course his weakness; rich chocolate chewy brownies. On the table sat two scented red candles and a chilled bottle of Ballatore along with their best Mikasa china that his grandmother had given them on last Christmas. They’d laugh together when they read the note attached which said it was an early wedding present. Grandma was very outspoken about the fact that she already had her dress waiting and wanted to see her favorite grandson get married before she went to heaven.
Before coming home to set everything up she first stopped by Victoria’s Secret and purchased a short red $200 see through get up, complete with thigh hi stockings, garter and those fuzzy red high heel shoes. Then she had gone on to a store called Inserections, and purchased some Kamasutra oil, chocolate flavored and glow in the dark body paint and shamefully, handcuffs and some other toys that the person working there had suggested. She had even whipped out her Amex card and purchased a pair of red satin sheets for them to slip and slide around on.
When 8 o’clock came and went and no Jeff, she just assumed that he was running a little late and would be coming through the door any minute. Grabbing a book, she curled up in the overstuffed chair in the living room so that she could see the lights of his Explorer when he pulled up into the driveway.
As the clock over the mantle approached nine and he still hadn’t arrived, she began to get antsy and called the office. After his voicemail picked up on the first ring she’d hung up and immediately called the cell but the voice mail picked up there too, which meant that he didn’t have it turned on. Really starting to worry by then, she began to blow up his pager. Twenty minutes later and no return call, she decided to call the police. Just as the operator said “911”, she saw the lights of his truck shine through the living room curtains. Telling the operator that it was Ok and then slamming down the phone, she’d raced to the front door and very unlike herself, had swung it open and begun cursing and beating on him as soon as his foot touched the top step. He gently swooped her 5’3, 120 lb. body up in his arms and carried her in the house without saying a word or trying to defend himself.
Once inside she lets all the pent up frustrations from the past three months come tumbling out, spewing the air with words that would make a sailor proud. The man she always referred to as Baby became a man that has sex with mothers, sons of female dogs and God only knows what else. The whole time he just sat on the sofa and let her vent. Looking at her. Loving her. Wondering how she could ever believe that he would do all the things that she was accusing him of. Eight years. Eight beautiful years. Briefly in his mind he could hear Patti LaBelle singing, “If you don’t know me by now.”
“All I want to know Jeff, is do you love her?”
The question catches him off guard and for a second he frowns from wondering if he really heard what he thinks he just heard. “Answer me Jeff.” She looks down at him with mascara rimming her eyes like a raccoon. “Is she worth throwing away 8 years?” At first, good reasoning tells him not to even acknowledge the question. Looking her up and down standing there in his fraternity color with those big thick legs, lavish round behind and tiny waist, all he wants to do pick her up and take go upstairs to their king size bed. But Patti pops back in his head and starts singing that song again:
After all these things---that we’ve been through—you should understand me-----like I understand you. Now I know the difference---between right and wrong…..I ain’t gonna do nothing---to upset our happy home---aahhhh---don’t get so excited—if I come home a little late at night---cause we only act like children…… “Answer me Jeff.” She says again making the song fade. “You know what Tangi.” He starts in a low even tone but finds his voice rising an octave with each word. “I never thought I’d see the day that you would ask me some stupid shit like that. These last months have been stressful as hell for me.”
He can tell that she’s about to cut him off so he holds up his hand. “And believe me baby, I know that it’s been hard on you too. But I’ve never in my life given you a reason to not trust me-----and I’m going to tell you right now that for the first time since I first laid eyes on you years ago…..I don’t like what I see. Whether you realize it or not, everything that I do is for you and the benefit of us. I love you more than life itself. For you to stand there and accuse me of what you are accusing me of….well, I think it would be for the best that I leave.” Rising from the sofa, he crosses the room and walks back out the door he just came in with Tangela yelling behind him to go back to his skank bitch.
Running up the stairs and into the bedroom, she throws herself across the bed and cries until there is nothing left and the weight of what she has possibly done begins to fall down upon her shoulders. Eventually getting up and going into the bathroom, she starts to think about the past couple of months and how every time Jeff stayed late he would call her often to say how much he loved and missed her. Then she thought about how on the weekends when he went into the office, he would ask her to get a book and come along to sit with him while he worked but she always refused.
“In such a short amount of time, where did all my common sense go?”
Turning on the water she reaches for the soap and begins to wash her face. After scrubbing the dried black rings from around her eyes, she dries her face and goes back into the bedroom to lay down. All she can do is try and sleep and hope that when she wakes up it will all have been a dream.
THE NEXT MORNING
Sun gradually begins to creep across the room and warm Tangi’s face encouraging her hopes of last night being only a nightmare. Slowly she opens her eyes to find the pillow next to her void of Jeff but with a small box sitting on top of a handwritten note. “Yes.” She smiles to herself. “It really was a bad dream.” Sitting upright, she crosses her legs Indian style and first decides to read the note before opening the box.
I went to pick this up last night after I got off work. I’d picked it out the week I told you that I’d signed a new contract. There really wasn’t a new contract. I was doing a little extra consulting work on the side to buy you this symbol of my commitment to you for the rest of our lives. Since you always speak of having a big wedding, I thought that it would be best that I have your ring paid off so there would be one less charge on our credit cards.
These last three months have been spent doing extra work in order for me to give you what I thought was the best. I’m sorry that I was late last night. Funny. I had a flat tire and forgot that I’d loaned the spare to Dennis two weeks ago. And guess what else? My cell-phone was dead and I left the adapter in the nightstand beside the bed. The whole time I was walking to the next exit to call Dennis, I was smiling to myself about how we were going to have a big laugh over this. In all of my excitement I completely forgot to call. I just wanted to get home to you. Baby, during that mile long walk I also thought about how much I love you and should have done what I was going to do long before then. I could still vision your face when I first walked into that party and saw you standing there in your tight Guess outfit and K-Swiss, smiling at me with a mouth full of metal braces. You were beautiful back then and are even more beautiful now.
I can’t say that I am not hurt right now….because I truly am. How could you ever believe that I would even think of jeopardizing something as precious as what we have? For eight years I have sat you in the middle and built my whole world around you. Each morning when I open my eyes and look over at the pillow next to me, I say a little thank you prayer to God for sending something so precious my way. What we have is a once and a lifetime. Nothing or no one could tempt me. Only you tempt me.
Now do this one thing for me. Reach over and pick up the remote and press the CD play button.
I love you.
Reaching over, Tangi picks up the remote and presses play. After the music begins to flow from the speakers in the bedroom walls, she puts the remote down and then picks up the red velvet box from Jeff’s pillow and slowly opens it. Tears first brim her eyes and then spills over the edges and down the sides of her face as she looks in total awe at the ring sitting in the folds of the red cushion inside. Then something in the back of the box catches her eye.
Stuck inside is a small piece of paper. Removing the paper she sits the box back down and opens it up. While Patti begins to sing she reads what the paper says.
“YOU ARE MY ONCE IN A LIFETIME-THE OTHER HALF OF MY SOUL. I LOVE YOU WITH NOTHING LESS THAN I AM. WILL YOU MARRY ME?”
She looks up to find him standing in the door. Only five words can be said at that moment. She jumps up from the bed and runs over to the man that she knows she’ll love for the rest of her life.
“You damn skippy I will.” Throwing her arms around him and then grabbing his face, she pulls his mouth down to hers and gives him the sweetest kiss either has ever known.