“Nobody around here takes the time to get to know me better. I'm always in a good mood, especially when the school year is over.”
“Your job must be stressful as hell.”
“You don't even want to know.” Mrs. Kelly paused for a second. “Look at you trying to change the subject. Stop acting so silly and shy. I'm serious about you meeting my niece. I'll pick you up and carry you if I have to.”
“I know you will, but that won't be necessary. I promise I'll walk the rest of the way.”
Mrs. Kelly exhaled loudly and said, “Thank God. Look at me. You've got me all out of breath and about to have a heart attack.”
Joel straightened out his clothes and said, “I'm sorry. I really wanna meet your niece now.”
“Well, what was the problem at first?”
“Immaturity on my part. Plus, I wasn't really trying to meet anybody new. I was thinking about contacting a couple of my old girlfriends to see what they've been doing and see if they were interested in hooking up again.”
Mrs. Kelly frowned and threw her hand. “Ugh! That's not the way to go at all. Been there, done that.”
Joel smiled and said, “I've been there, but I didn't do all of them.”
Mrs. Kelly thought she had missed something. “What?”
“Put it like this, too much information and not enough time to explain.”
The sound of somebody approaching stole their attention for the moment. They listened closely as a pair of high-heeled shoes tapped to a certain kind of sophisticated cadence on the school's industrial tile flooring. That was a sound Joel loved to hear.
Mrs. Kelly took a quick peek around the corner and said, “Oh look, here comes my niece, Asia, right now. When you meet her you'll forget all about your old girlfriend.”
When he made eye contact with Mrs. Kelly's niece, she reminded Joel of Renee. Her intricate hairweave of long blond spiral curls, big expensive Coach handbag, stilettos, manicured fingernails and toenails, and the annoying way she popped her gum all sent up a huge yellow caution flag. She seemed too artificial. After a quick introduction to Asia, Joel automatically shut down because he knew that he wasn't interested in her. No chemistry whatsoever. Then he thought,
Whoa, hold on a minute. She's got a cute face, nice ass and some big tittiesâgood. But she doesn't smile enough and I don't like this strong hoochie vibe she's got going on. All I'd do is end up using her for sex. Hmm, that might be nice. But I'd hate to dog this girl and then have to deal with her and Mrs. Kelly.
Asia didn't initiate much of a conversation and didn't strike Joel as being too intelligent. Her physical appearance was fine, but she didn't stimulate his mind at all. He was looking for a total package. In reality, Asia was okay, but was forced to pay the price for looking too much like Joel's ex. He wanted the real thing or nothing at all. Thinking about Renee and looking at Asia was like comparing McDonald's to Burger King, Coke to Pepsi and BeyoncÃ© to Ciara.
Asia only made matters worse by trying to act more glamorous than she really was. She began to come off as goofy. Every move she made ended with an awkward pose. It was obvious that she had been watching too many reruns of
America's Next Top Model
and was emulating what she saw. Joel laughed to himself because the only thing sophisticated about Asia was the way her heels had sounded when she first walked around the corner. Joel could tell that they had very little in common and the last thing he needed or wanted was a carbon copy of Renee. Too much work.
Meeting Asia left Joel feeling severely discouraged and disappointed. He wasted thirty minutes of his life trying his best to humor Mrs. Kelly and her ghetto-fabulous niece.
Asia said, “It was nice meeting you, Joel. Here's my number.” She handed him a colorful business card with her full name,
Asia KellyâModel & Fashion Designer
. It had a notation above her number,
Available for fashion shows, photo and video shoots
. She said, “Check out my page on
whenever you get a chance. Just type in my screen name,
Holla at this model chick
and you can find me.”
It took everything inside of Joel not to burst out laughing. “Aight, Asia. It was nice meeting you too.”
“Don't forget to
holla at this model chick
when you get home.”
Joel felt that strong urge to laugh again because Asia sounded so silly. His eyes got big and he said, “Wow, I don't even know what to say.”
Mrs. Kelly sensed that Joel wasn't interested in Asia, but she was determined to make something happen. She said, “Joel, you forgot to say that you were gonna call Asia and you forgot to give her your home and cell numbers.”
He pressed his lips together really tight, scratched the side of his face and fidgeted with his ear. “I ... I don't really use my home number anymore. The best way to get me is on my cell.”
As soon as Joel handed Asia his cell number Mrs. Kelly snatched it from her hand and whipped out her cell phone. She dialed the number and within seconds Joel's cell phone rang.
Joel and Asia stood there with puzzled looks on their faces.
Mrs. Kelly acted like one of her students and said, “Oh, all right. I thought you were trying to play my girl.”
Joel just shook his head and walked away laughing. He went back to his classroom to pick up his belongings. He loaded the last few boxes of paperwork and supplies in the back of his Jeep Cherokee and headed to the beltway to claim a spot on what looked like the world's largest parking lot. It was a hot muggy day and traffic was bumper-to-bumper. In front of him was a giant display of assorted bright red brake lights as far as the eye could see. Joel intentionally turned off his cell phone and thought about how tough it was going to be to find an intelligent, attractive woman with goals and interests similar to his. He knew that finding someone compatible meant more than just finding a woman with a heartbeat, a warm body and good sex.
n the way home Joel listened to a local talk radio show. The call-in topic was about ways to heal after bad relationships. The heat, the traffic congestion, the fact that nothing seemed to be going his way, and some of the call-in guests heightened Joel's frustration. One guy called in and talked about how his previous relationship made him lose track of who he really was and how he had lost sight of the world around him. His ex was just that consuming. He described himself as a decent hardworking black man trying his best to find love and the secret to making a relationship work. The caller said that just before his relationship ended, he resembled a clown walking a tightrope without a safety net, doing backward flips and jumping through narrow rings of fire, while wearing gasoline drawers. After all that, his ex still wasn't impressed and wanted him to do more. This particular call really hit home. Joel knew exactly what this guy was going to say before he even finished his sentences. He was basically telling Joel's story.
During the rest of the ride home Joel thought about how his story went back a lot further than Renee Monique Rhodes. He was born in Baltimore, in a working class African-American community. He grew up on a quiet street lined with old row homes and huge shady trees. Kids played ghetto games on the sidewalks and in the street.
As a child, Joel promised to never break his parents' hearts. They always showed him and his older brother Shawn unconditional love. Joel's father, Theodore Davis, was without a doubt one of the most abrasive, easily agitated and hotheaded individuals anyone had ever met. When he got mad he appeared to be larger than life and scared his kids half to death. He worked two full-time security jobs to keep the lights on and food on the table. Joel's father rarely had a traditional day off from work. His off days usually meant he only had to report to one job. A regular eight-hour shift was an easy day to him. Joel and Shawn didn't have real father-son relationships with their dad. The little time they did have with him consisted of a lot of lecturing, complaining, yelling and outrageous demands. Soon after all that came the beatings. Joel could never forget the beatings. One thing Joel could say about his dad was that he made time to attend church with his family. He always seemed to be a God-fearing man, a quality Joel undoubtedly inherited from him.
Joel came from a strict Christian family. His mother, Mary, was a homemaker and a dedicated Sunday school teacher. She was old-fashioned in every sense. Everybody knew that Mrs. Mary Davis wouldn't be caught dead or alive wearing pants or makeup. She mostly wore her hair in a bun. Skirts, dresses and her natural effortless beauty were the norm for his mother. She recognized and respected her husband as head of their household. It was hard to find anyone as easygoing or as proud as Mrs. Davis. Most of her time was spent cooking, cleaning and making sure that Joel and Shawn stayed on the right path. Mrs. Davis taught her boys to have the utmost respect for women. She even found time to teach her boys about the birds and the bees, constantly reminding them that premarital sex was a sin. She was the only person Joel knew who could recite the Ten Commandments word for word and in order.
Although Joel had both parents at home, he gave his mother most of the credit for molding him. She tried her best to raise Joel and Shawn to be well-mannered and respectable men. Their father taught them right from wrong at an early age. Once he laid down the law that was it. If they did wrong their mother would instantly report it to their dad. When their father got home from work he'd wake them up in the middle of the night if he chose to, and would whip them from head to toe with a beltâand sometimes the buckle, depending on what they had done.
No matter how hard parents try to guide their kids and keep them on the right path, they should never forget that their kids have minds of their own. Shawn knew the consequences for disobeying his parents, but he did what he wanted to do anyway. He started hanging out with the wrong crowd during his senior year of high school. Within the first few weeks of school he was doing stuff like smoking and selling marijuana. Peer pressure can be vicious. At the time, Joel was a junior at the same high school and was too involved in wrestling and playing on the varsity basketball team to consider doing anything related to drugs. Joel was strong, quick, agile, and had plenty of stamina. A local trainer noticed how athletic he was and introduced him to boxing.
While Joel was busy with sports, Shawn was busy getting into drugs. He actually brought weed into their house. Shawn was living fast and going out of his mind trying to impress people, mostly girls, by being a fake thug. Joel and Shawn lived in the hood and all, but the only thing they knew about the streets was what they heard from classmates or saw on television. Eventually Shawn learned the streets for real.
On the other hand, Joel wanted to be different. He knew that every poor young black man from the ghetto didn't have to be a thug or drug dealer. There were a few straight-up good kids in the hood and Joel was one of them. Nobody bothered him. Guys approached him occasionally, trying to recruit him to sell drugs. No words from Joel were ever necessary. He would give them a certain look, and then shake his head. The fearlessness, or a degree of hardness in his stare, made them leave him alone. From that point on everybody knew that Joel was focused on making something positive out of himself. He carried himself with respect and received plenty of it in return.
One afternoon, Joel was in his parents' basement working out when he smelled something strange. He followed the scent and found Shawn sitting near their washer and dryer blowing smoke out of a tiny vent.
Joel said, “Yo, what you doing? Why you bringing that stuff in here? You better do something with that before Momma gets back from the supermarket.”
Shawn was so high that all he could think to say was, “Boy, if I ever see you smoking this shit I'm gonna kick your little ass.”
Joel thought that was Shawn's way of telling him not to smoke weed, but in reality that was his way of telling Joel to stay the hell away from his stash.
Joel never told his parents that he caught his brother smoking weed in their house because they would have killed Shawn. Months later, Mrs. Davis found a big shoe box full of cigar tobacco and empty Phillies Blunt boxes under Shawn's bed. He was emptying the tobacco from the cigars and filling them with weed to make marijuana blunts. By the time she figured out what was going on, Shawn was already snorting cocaine. Joel felt that if he had told on Shawn right away, then maybe things wouldn't have progressed like they did. Their mother punished Shawn and their father beat him, to no avail. The boy was so messed up and strung out on drugs that he didn't hear half of the things they said. He was absolutely immune to any form of parental disciplinary actions. Joel's parents were forced to seek professional help for Shawn.
While most of Shawn's classmates were graduating from high school he was sitting in central booking. He was charged with possession of a deadly weapon and possession of a controlled substance. Joel's big brother broke their parents' hearts and shattered their dreams when he was sentenced to five years in the Baltimore city jail.
Joel and his parents were at all of Shawn's court dates. Mr. and Mrs. Davis spoke up for Shawn. Everybody in the courtroom eventually got tired of hearing his parents say things like, “Shawn could've ... Shawn should've ... Shawn would've.” His mother cried, “He's my baby and I love him! God knows he's a good boy!”
It was sad that Shawn had to learn life's lessons the hard way. Things were completely different for Joel. By learning from Shawn's mistakes, he avoided making certain fatal mistakes of his own.
By the time Joel's senior year rolled around his parents were harder on him than ever. They were in his corner, by his side and had his back at all times. They flat out refused to allow Joel to become a negative statistic. Having a strong, hardworking father around definitely made Joel's life easier. Mr. Davis eventually recognized some of his wrongs when it came to how he raised his boys and made subtle changes.
No matter what Joel and Shawn did, their parents were always supportive.
Joel ended up breaking his parents' hearts a different way. All of his mother's lectures about avoiding premarital sex fell upon deaf ears when he started getting attention from countless girls in his neighborhood. With his Christian beliefs firmly planted in his mind, Joel fought sexual temptation on a daily basis. He got involved with a few girls, but out of all of the girls who sought Joel's attention only one was truly able to tempt him sexually and stole his heart.
There aren't any words in the English language to describe how special true love really feels. Love is meant to be mentally and physically uplifting, spiritually soothing and comforting beyond anything imaginable. Joel found true love at the age of eighteen when he hooked up with Nia Thomas, the pastor's daughter. The most beautiful, intense, and exciting feeling Joel had ever known happened the day he lost his virginity to Nia.
People suspected that Joel and Nia were dating, but no one suspected that these two squeaky clean, God-fearing kids were actually having sex. Joel was just about to start his freshman year at Morgan State University when Nia told him that she was pregnant. Nia only told one other person, her best friend Tonya, and that's when Joel and Nia's world began to fall apart.
When word got out that Nia was pregnant with Joel's baby, it caused a major uproar and embarrassment for both of their families. Joel's parents were stunned and heartbroken. Now they had two sons who had disappointed them. They feared that Joel was headed down the wrong path. His parents feared that he wouldn't be able to attend college and instead would be forced to work in order to support his girlfriend and baby.
Nia's parents were more concerned about their reputation in the community. They were so outraged and disgraced that they acted impulsively and forced Nia to get an abortion. They quietly moved her down South to attend college under the watchful eye of her relatives. Joel never even got the chance to say goodbye. Both families failed to take into consideration the emptiness, hurt and deep sadness that Joel and Nia dealt with. Although Joel and Nia were heartbroken, their lives were redirected and they were able to focus more on pursuing their educations. They stayed in contact for a few years, but eventually pursued other interests and other people.
Certain things that Joel experienced as a teenager made him a better person. Other experiences affected his outlook on love and relationships for years to come.