When He Calls
by Sharel E. Gordon-Love
At first their voices sounded far away, but when my mother took my hand, I realized they were right there with me. Feeling the protection of my parents' presence, I opened my eyes and there was my mother looking down at me.
"Tonya, Baby, it's Mom. How do you feel?" she leaned closer to my face, taking my hand in hers.
I tried to answer, but I couldn't. All I could do was groan.
"I'm here, I'm right here," said Dad, hurrying to the other side of my bed, placing his hand gently on my shoulder. Looking into their faces, the pain they were feeling seemed to reflect mine, then I felt it over again as if it had not originally been. As usual they were trying to make it all better, only it was not better this time. It became very clear to me at this moment that their protection was only effective while they were with me, certainly not when I was alone. Realizing there was this lapse of protection sparked this anger in me, one I'd never felt with my parents before, almost to the point of me wishing them away. But as soon I saw my mother's tears and heard her soft sobs, my heart softened and I started crying too.
We cried together for a few minutes until the doctor knocked on the door and entered my room. He spoke with my parents in a hushed voice. Since I was not included in their conversation, I started looking around the room, noticing how small it was. I then had a sudden urge to get out of there. The monitor I was hooked to hummed and hissed, while the pressure cuff automatically took my blood pressure every 20 minutes. I'd almost convinced myself that I could tough out 24 hours until I heard the word surgery. The thought of surgery made me react violently. I tried to scream and attempted to get out of bed.
"It's all right, it's all right," Mom started saying, tears flowing non-stop as she held me in her arms to comfort me.
"Tonya, your jaw is broken. It...It's pretty bad. The doctor is going to try to reset it." Dad was trying to be strong for me, but I could tell he was fighting to keep the emotion out of his voice. I continued to protest, shaking my head 'no' and cried, my tears doing the pleading for my voice.
Even though I didn't want the surgery, it was set for the following morning at 6 a.m. Mom just held my hand and Dad continued to talk with the doctor, but this was not enough to console me at first. Easing onto the bed with me as close as she could get, my mother started talking softly in my ear, “Sweetie, you know your father and I love you very much…no matter what, we’re going to be right here with you until everything is all right.” She used to comfort me this way when I was around 5 or 6, whenever I thought there were monsters under my bed or in my closet. Mom would come and get in bed with me and tell me stories about David and Goliath, or a Bible story that sounded courageous and made me feel protected. Those stories and nothing my mother was saying could ease my current pain or erase a fear that I never knew could exist in the almost perfect life my parents created for me. When Dad joined us, sitting in the chair by my bed, the feeling of security I had when I was small flooded me. I remembered my bedtimes with my parents tucking me in as I eased into a peaceful sleep.
My parents have always been there for as long as I could remember. Kindergarten, runny noses and skinned knees; elementary school, bullies and school plays; junior high and my first cooking class; then high school, boys and dating. Ever since I could remember, everything in my life has been pretty much the same. I've lived in the same house all my life surrounded by the constant protection of my parents.
My father, Henry Henderson, Jr., is Chairman of the deacon board of our church and has been driving buses for the same company for fifteen years. My father, with his smooth dark skin, stands at six-one and weighs two-hundred fifty pounds, looking a little more threatening than he really is. Sometimes I think he should have been a preacher the way he can lay down the Bible to you. Almost make you feel like if you think wrong thoughts, you’re going to lift your eyes up in hell and burn right then.
My mother, Delores Smith-Henderson, is an evangelist missionary, a stay-at-home mom, does a lot of volunteer work helping out at the church each week, or anywhere else she sees a need. Standing at about five feet, a little chubby with pecan tan skin and shoulder length hair that looks like it belongs on a baby’s head. Her height could never begin to define the quiet strength she possesses. Her presence speaks volumes that even words couldn’t come close to. Oh, she knows the Bible too, but she has a way of presenting it that lets you know when it’s all said it done, you are the one to make the ultimate choice about your feelings concerning what she has shared. Mom is pretty in her own right. Her hazel eyes are something many a day I wished I’d inherited. I’ve often wondered how much competition my father had before they got married ‘cause I have caught many men checking her out whenever we’re out.
I can’t say I’ve ever witnessed anything more serious than an argument between my parents. They had plenty of time to get to know each other well before marriage, having grown up and attended the same church we attend now. They started dating seriously when my father was a senior in high school, and married after she graduated high school the following year. I came along right after that, cutting their newlywed bliss short. They were young parents, but they both made sure my needs and wants were met. I was always under their watchful eyes.
Family time is important in the Henderson household, sharing our evenings at the dinner table, planning our yearly vacations and spending time with each other. My special place for vacation was the Poconos! That is where I learned horseback riding, and went on hikes and nature walks. I loved to sit between my parents watching TV at night before going to bed, laying my head on my mother's lap and putting my feet on my father’s. There were times after I was tucked in bed unable to find sleep, I would sneak back down to see what grown ups did when little kids went to bed only to find my mother taking up my position in my father's lap, or catch them kissing. Tiptoeing quickly back up to my room, I would cover my head with my pillow so as not to laugh out loud after seeing that.
As much as family time is important to my parents, God and being in His service through the ministry of our church is just as important. My father oversees many projects in our church, particularly the finances coming in and going out, how and what it will be spent. My mother provided a supportive role to everyone, whether they belonged to our church or not, spending many hours down at the church giving out food and clothing, or lending a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on for a broken soul.
For the next four or five days after my release from the hospital, our phone rang constantly, mainly members from the church calling to express their concern. They sent more flowers and more cards, making me feel like I was attending a funeral instead of recuperating. My friends Lisa and Sasha had sent me a beautiful plant and a card, and Denise sent me a card as well. Lisa and Sasha were still in school out in California and couldn’t come to visit right away, but I couldn’t understand why Denise had not come by since she was right up the street. Still I made it clear to my parents that I didn't want any visitors. There was no use in seeing anyone since I couldn't talk and I looked nothing like myself.
My parents intercepted my phone calls while they drank cups of coffee and discussed ways to help me deal with my recovery. They were talking about how they would convince me to allow people to come and visit me when the phone rang again, as it had been doing since I got home. Usually when my mother answered the phone, I tuned her out after she would say “hello” but when she said “How are you doing, Lisa?” I waited to hear more of the conversation.
“Were you able to keep your grades up? That’s good!” my mother said, pausing and adding a few “uh huhs” and “that’s right” as she talked to my friend Lisa trying to tell her without telling her too much about my attack, reassuring her that I was fine. Before she ended her conversation with Lisa, I had gotten up from my makeshift bed in the den and stood beside my mother listening, wishing it could be like it used to be. I would have taken my call in my room and told Lisa how things had been with me at school and inquired about any new guys in her life.
Lisa James has been my best friend since I was about five years old. She was the sibling I never had. We were like sisters, even falling out with each other on occasion, but never for any length of time. Lisa's family moved directly across the street from mine when I was two years old, although I only remember from the time that we played together at the playground before we started kindergarten. My mother made it a point to go over and welcome their family to the neighborhood and take me to play with Lisa. We didn't realize what being a friend was all about until we entered kindergarten together. The same playground that is in our neighborhood now was just being built. It only had swings and a sandbox back then. Our mothers would take us there at least two or three days out of the week so that they could talk and we could play. My mother and Lisa's mother became friends as well, but they were never best friends.
Lisa's family did not attend church, except Christmas, Easter or Mother's Day, but my mother and father would always invite them to come to our regular services. Lisa would come as often as she could when she didn't have to watch her brothers and sister, but as we reached our teens, she stopped coming altogether.
By the time we were ten years old, I realized Lisa considered me to be a very close friend. There’d be days that Lisa’s family didn’t have a lot to eat, so Lisa would make sure she was here at dinnertime. She told me that she never really went to bed hungry just unsatisfied because there wasn’t always enough food at her house. Lisa started coming to dinner during the period that her father was laid off from work for several weeks. She asked me to make sure that this information remained family business. So I made sure I kept that information to myself, which resulted in gaining Lisa’s trust and a closer friendship.
By junior high, we had become more like sisters, sharing our thoughts about boys, when we both got our monthly, and what we thought kissing and what sex was about. If you see Lisa, you would see me and vice versa because we did almost everything together. But keeping up with Lisa as we were entering our teens was a little hard since I thought about boys in a giggly sort of way, while Lisa thought of them in a sexual way. One day after school while we were sitting in the den at my house watching TV and eating snacks, she asked me if I had kissed a boy yet.
"Are you crazy? There is no way I'm going to kiss a boy until I'm old enough to date one. Besides, we have plenty of time to do stuff like that."
"Yeah, but if you ever did it, you'll like it. I kissed Darren under the stairwell after eighth period yesterday, and he liked it as much as I did," Lisa said as if it was no big deal, but that was the first time she had ever kissed a boy.
"Ooooo, no you didn't! I can't believe you!" I said while trying to imagine what it must have felt like.
I didn’t understand why Lisa would even consider messing with boys like that when she had some serious things going on already. Her parents had given her the responsibility of taking care of her four brothers and sister while they were at work. She was the oldest, but she was only thirteen at the time! A few times, I suggested she should lock her brothers and sister all in their rooms and only let them out to eat. It sounded like a good idea to me, but Lisa would have gotten into big trouble with her parents because her brothers told every little thing.
Most days when we got out of school for the day, Lisa had to pick up her little sister from day care on the way home. Getting home would officially start her duties of making sure her brothers do their homework, heat up the dinner their mother had prepared before she left for work so they could all eat, and then make sure everyone had a bath and in bed by a certain hour. Her mother went to work from three in the afternoon to eleven at night. Her father didn't get home until around nine at night. I felt so sorry for Lisa, so I would ask my mother if I could go over and help out a few nights a week. Being there and seeing what Lisa had to deal with made me grateful that I was an only child because I couldn't imagine sharing my room or bed with anyone past a night or two. Baby-sitting with Lisa was always fun because we would play on the phone, making crank calls, or Lisa would call guys we knew in school and talk fresh to them while I listened and blushed.
The last week of eighth grade, my friendship with Lisa was put to the ultimate test. Lisa was fourteen and decided that kissing a boy under the stairwell was old junior high stuff, and she wanted to do some high school type stuff, like experience feeling a boy inside of her. The way Lisa put it was, "I'mma try this out to see what it's about, ok?" I would never tell her to her face, but I thought Lisa was stupid because she acted as if it was nothing to have sex with a boy. But with her mind made up, Lisa made plans to go away with her boyfriend for a whole weekend like they were grown or something. The guy was sixteen and in high school. Since Lisa’s parents did not know him and had no idea that she had a boyfriend, it wasn't hard for her to come up with a plan and use me as a cover.
All I had to do was play dumb and say I knew nothing about Lisa's plans, but our parents could not believe I didn’t know where she was. Lisa hadn’t called home and after twenty-four hours, her parents put out a missing person's report on her. Coming home after her two-day rendezvous, Lisa strolled into the house with the craziest lie she had thought of to date…she told her parents that she took the train to visit her grandmother in North Carolina. The reason she didn't call home was because she got lost and just decided to come back instead of trying to continue on the train down south.
I could hardly wait to meet up with Lisa. Since we only had one class together, I had to wait until we were walking home from school, to hear the details. My mother had already told me Lisa was on punishment, but I wanted to hear about what happened with Lisa’s boyfriend. Meeting by the front door like we did every day, I couldn’t wait for Lisa to tell her story. We walked a whole block before I dared ask Lisa anything about her weekend. She had already pulled a tissue out of the side of her backpack to remove the mocha colored lipstick she put on in school every morning. Then Lisa pulled the knot loose she had tied in the front of her blouse to show her belly and fixed it properly inside of her jeans. I was always amazed at the things Lisa would sneak to do and then go through so much to cover up before she got near our block. By the time we turned the corner onto the long street that led to our own block, I couldn’t stay silent any longer.
"I've been waiting all day to hear the details. From what your mother was telling my mother, you won't see outside until you’re twenty-one." I was excited yet trying not to laugh.
"Do you really think I care? Anyway, do you want to hear about my weekend or not?" Lisa asked, flipping her book bag over her shoulder.
"Yes, and don't leave nothing out."
"First of all, it hurts real bad! It felt like he was about to break me in two. I was screaming all loud in the hotel and he kept putting his hand over my mouth so people wouldn't think he was killing me. It sure felt like he was. On top of that, I thought I got my monthly right in the middle of it, but come to find out, this is what happens when you lose your virginity," Lisa explained as if this was something as simple as picking out a dress.
"Do you think you will do it again?" I wanted to know, although I couldn't imagine how I would have handled myself in the same situation. Just thinking about a guy touching me in places that was considered private made me shudder with embarrassment.
Lisa didn't answer right away, but when she did, she said, "Yeah…I would. You know how something can hurt real badly, but then when you have time to think about it, you wouldn't mind doing it again? That's how having sex is. It’s supposed to be easier the next time anyway, and it will feel good too, so yeah…I would do it again."
“Well did you at least…”
“Use a condom? Yep, I wasn’t going to let him give me something I can’t get rid of.”
First loves, first hurts, Lisa and I have shared a lot of firsts. But that was the first time I covered a serious thing with a major lie to my own parents and someone else's, all the time fighting the urge to change my mind and just tell the truth. Lisa's weekend with her boyfriend changed the way she viewed guys, sex and relationships. It also changed the way I saw my friend; she was becoming a woman now and I was still a little teenager. Even with my mixed emotions about the choices Lisa had made about her sexuality, I realized that our friendship had grown to yet another level of trust.