She starts, “I have known love.” Looking her sister in her eye, she extends kindness, “I have known the love of a man, what it feels like to be wrapped in an embrace that takes your breath away while simultaneously allowing you to exhale. I know what its like to be somebody else’s everything. To have someone jump bridges and leap continents just for the opportunity to share a meal with me.” Reaching for her sister’s hand, she finishes,”I have known love so I can tell you what you are talking about…what’s happening with you right now…that’ s not love.”
Mariah pulls her hand away. Folding her arms, she is indignant. “You can say what you want to now but the love you had it didn’t last. He left didn’t he?”
Nodding, Devon responds,”He did.”
“So if he left it probably was never love to start with,” Feeling she has finally won an argument with her big sister, Mariah goes in for the kill,”If he left it wasn’t for forever. Love is suppose to last forever.”
Devon gets up to freshen her coffee pot. She mulls over her thoughts while pouring in extra cream. “My ex-husband was not the first man to ever love me.” Devon takes a sip of her coffee and gazes out her kitchen window. The landscape of her yard is jagged and unkempt. She struggled against it in the beginning trying to give order to the rose bushes and would regularly trim back the moss and ivy the woman before her had planted to cover the ground. On a whim two years ago she purchased a wild flower seed array and allowed her daughters to toss them onto the ground just to see what would happen. The wild flowers now covered more than half her yard. And she could not tame them. Much to her neighbors chagrin, she clearly didn’t want to.
Mariah calls out to her sister,”What do you mean? You told me Walter was your first.”
“Mariah, wake up. You are a grown woman now.” Devon turns to her little sister, noting the fine gray strand dangling beside her right ear. At 28 she still has the face of a 15 year old only the premature graying tells another story. Devon more than a decade her sister’s senior no longer feels the need to spare her the gory truths of womanhood. “I was 27 years old when I married Walter. Do you really believe I was a virgin?”
Devon sits across from her sister again. She regrets telling Mariah this truth the moment its uttered unable to untell it, Devon continues,”There were other men before Walter. Beautiful men. One wanted to marry me. Another I thought I would never be able to live without. But I can honestly say I believe they loved me. Each in his unique way. But each as profoundly as the one before.”
Mariah stars at her sister. Her eyes search her sister’s face wondering what else she might have missed. What else lies beneath this woman sitting across from her who only moments before she knew better than anyone. “What men? How many men? You sound like some kind of harlot.”
Devon laughs at the sound of it. “Harlot,” she repeats. “That would make it seem like there was some kind of design to my love life. As though I had planned it all out.” Laughing quietly to herself Devon wonders, “I don’t know…I just had big boobs. Men like boobs. And I like to smile. So I think that in the great scheme of things they believed me to be some kind of big boobed dingy. They were all surprised that I actually had a brain.”
Mariah considers the image of her sister as some kind of sex symbol. The Devon she knew always dressed so modestly. A nerd really always in jeans, a t-shirt and a cardigan with the same black and white sneakers, she would never describe her sister as anybody’s version of sexy. She always seemed so sexless in those baggy sweaters.
“How could they even tell you had boobs? I mean you dress like some kind of mormon.”
Devon rolls her eyes at Mariah and huffs,”If you think a man can’t spot a pair of 38DDD’s in a baggy sweater you are either blind or purposefully dumb.”
Mariah jaw drops. She wore a 40EE and started to rethink many conversations she’d had with men, wondering now if they were in fact staring at her breasts.
“Mariah! You cannot be this innocent?” Devon saw shock register on her sister’s face. She wanted to protect her but at the same time she really wanted to shake her awake. “I mean you’ve had sex with Michael?”
“So why do you look like I just told you there was no Santa?”
“I just prefer to think that men talk to me because they want to hear what I have to say.” Mariah whined.
“Very well.” Devon took a sip of her coffee resigned to let Mariah believe whatever she wanted. “There were six. Although I would not consider them all men. Two I knew in high school. Three I dated in college. The last I dated after I became a working woman with my own place. And then there was Walter.”
“Seven. You have slept with 7 men?”
“Yes.” Devon shrugged. “But what’s more important to know is that I have been loved by 7 men. Sex was just an aside. The most important point is that they all loved me and I knew it.”
“How did you know? I mean other then them telling you how could you know for sure that somebody loves.”
“How do you know I love you?” Devon asks her sister.
“You’re my sister. You’re suppose to love me.”
“That’s a child’s answer,” Devon regards her sister. “How do you know?”
“You answer when I call.” Mariah considers the fact that it is 6:45 am and her sister who is not a morning person answered the door to let her in to talk. She knew it was her sister’s one morning with the kids at their father’s house and first day off in the last three weeks but she couldn’t go home without telling her her news and getting her advice.
“How else do you know?”
“You don’t laugh at me when I say what’s on my mind. Other people tend to laugh at me but you don’t. You always take me serious.” Mariah nods remembering the number of times her sister came to her rescue after finding her crying from their brother’s teasing. It may have been the age difference, it took Mariah a long time to realize Devon was her sister and not her aunt after all, but Devon was always more godlike to Mariah than human.
“Love touches you in all the places where you need it most.” Devon waves her hand in the air, “I could tell you that they showered me with diamonds and took me to eat in the finest of restaurants. I could talk about the vacations and couple’s massage packages. Or the chocolate covered strawberries and champagne surprises lavished upon me at candle light.” Devon’s eyes light up, “Because those things happened and they were fun. The big secret is those were all things I could have and still do for myself. Things aren’t love.”
Mariah looks down at her own hands and begins to rub her ring finger.
“Walter did leave me but that does not mean he didn’t love me. Hell, it doesn’t even mean that the love won’t last forever. It just means he left.” Devon shrugs. “I have felt love the love of a man from across oceans in heartfelt letters and whispered kisses hushed across phone lines. I know what its like to place a call in one city and have someone show up on your doorstep hours later, just because you needed a hug. That’s love. That you can’t buy.”
“What about now? Aren’t you lonely now?” Mariah worries about her sister. She worries that living alone doing this single mother thing will make her sister bitter and lonely. She worries that if her sister doesn’t figure out how to be happier no one will ever want her again. 38DDD’s or not. Mariah does not want her sister to be lonely. She believes that would be like a death sentence.
“I’m a woman. So I have longing…but no I am not lonely.” Devon thinks carefully about her next words, “My kids, Sarah, David and Juliet are…magnificent to me. Watching them takes my breath away. Even when I am frustrated or overwhelmed by everything that I have to do and how little time or money there is to do it all, I am still in awe of who they are and who they will become. Walking into a room where they are and watching them in the moment before they realize I’ve come into the room…it’s like seeing the sunrise over a mountain ridge for me. I’m not lonely because love is still a tremendous part of my life. And I receive it.”
“But your kids can’t replace a man-“
“Oh no. No. No. No.” Devon is afraid. Not wanting to be misinterpreted, she speaks plainly, “I will not invite anyone unworthy of me or my children into my bed or between my legs. Period. I will not chase a man. I will not prowl for a man. I will not dress to impress a man. I will not change any element of the woman I have fought for 4 decades to become in order to become something else for someone else. I have decided to love myself…more.” Devon sits back in her chair, “I welcome love in my life. I welcome it. Were a man to enter my life I would welcome him also.”
“But you aren’t looking?”
Mariah considers Devon. “I think Michael loves me.” She toys with the 3 carat diamond Michael gave her only hours before.
Devon steadies Mariah’s hand, “He buys you pretty things.”
“To him that’s love.” Mariah defends.
“Ahhh…but for you is that enough?” Devon stares into her sister’s eyes. She is amazed at how much of her innocence is still in tact. How much she still hopes and longs for the fairy tale.
Mariah is puzzled and struggles with Devon’s question. She came to her sister for answers, not questions. She just wants Devon to tell her it’s okay to accept Michael’s proposal. She just wants her sister to tell her to marry Michael and live happily ever after. She just wants Devon to tell her that for her everything will work out even if it didn’t for their parents, even if it didn’t for Devon.
“I don’t know.” Mariah whispers.
“When you call…he doesn’t answer,” Devon starts.
“Not all the time,” Mariah defends.
“He laughs at you,” Devon continues.
“Not all the time,” Mariah defends.
“He laughs at you in public,” Devon reminds her, clinching her teeth at memory of having to defend her little sister after her then boyfriend berated her in front of his friends.
“That was just-“
“If you have to defend it, it happened too many times.”
“I think I love him,” Mariah tells her.
“I could marry him,” Mariah says. “I could be happy with him. I wouldn’t have to worry about money anyway.” Unconsciously, her eyes sweep Devon’s small kitchen taking in the decade old appliances and rocky kitchen table.
“He says he doesn’t mind that I have a career. He expects me to continue working in fact.” Mariah thinks back on her conversation with Michael. He had told her she should continue to pursue her career in Marketing. He had also told her that if her career got in the way of her ability to be there for him, she would have to make a choice.
“What about Sheila?”
Mariah’s blood runs cold. “Sheila is not an issue.”
Devon gets up to add more coffee to her cup. “Why is Sheila not an issue, Mariah?”
“Because she’s not.”
“That’s a child’s answer.” Devon pours her coffee and turns to face her sister.
“I can’t be with Sheila, Devon.” Mariah speaks slowly. She doesn’t want to start stuttering. “I won’t be with Sheila. I’m with Michael. Michael loves me. Michael asked me to marry him.”
“Sheila asked you to marry her. Sheila loves you. Sheila wants to be with you.” Devon continues to stand and stare at her sister. She knows that this is a painful topic for Mariah. She knows that Mariah struggles with being open about her feelings and prefers to hide behind fairy tales. Devon no longer thinks Mariah can afford the cost of her dreams.
Mariah begins to shake. Devon grabs paper towel from the rack next to the sink and hands it to her just before the sobs begin. Mariah hiccups, “I (hiccup) Can’t (hiccup) Marry (hiccup) Sheila!”
Mariah blows her nose. Devon doesn’t speak to allow her sister some time.
Just above a whisper, Mariah begins to speak, “I wasn’t suppose to love Sheila. It was an accident. She was my friend. We were just friends. I didn’t even know she was gay.”
Devon has heard the story before. She knows where Mariah is going with it. How the story will end with Mariah justifying her breakup because she couldn’t explain to herself how she could fall in love with another woman. Mariah couldn’t make loving Sheila make sense in her mind so she just cut Sheila out of her life. Taking up with Michael was suppose to be her way of moving on. Michael was her rebound and now she’s talking about marrying him and maybe being happy. Devon had had enough.
“You were beautiful together.” Devon tells her. “She made you laugh and you just glowed every time you were together. I loved seeing you so happy.”
Teary eyed, Mariah looks at her sister,”I don’t glow with Michael.”
Reaching across the table to stroke her sister’s arm, “No, baby. You don’t.”
Mariah drops her head onto the table and sobs.
“I don’t care if you choose Sheila or Michael. All I want is for you to be absolutely without a shadow of a doubt glowing in love and to know that you know that you know that you are loved back.” Devon leans over and kisses her sister head.
Slowly Mariah pulls the 3 carats off her finger and places it beside her sister’s coffee cup. “That’s what I want too.”