Thursday, December 26, 2013


            Memories Linger. I always liked hanging out will Willa Dean because Willa hardly ever thought about food. At first I didn’t realize that this was because she was too busy thinking about hard drugs.  I was happy to be around someone who never seemed to think or obsess on what she was going to eat next, like me.  I really had an appreciation for that because I was always worried about my weight being generally obsessive compulsive with a food addiction. Hanging with her was a device that helped me keep my addiction under control.

            At first I didn’t realize that the reason she was never hungry was because she preferred drugs. I would’ve never guessed that her drug of choice was cocaine either.  Hanging with Willa was great fun; she was dramatic, enthusiastic, had class and style plus was intelligent. It was a boon that in addition to having an engaging entertaining accomplice; being with her helped me keep my weight down. There was always an element of excitement that sometimes was flavored with fear and wrought with danger.  That can be fun until you see the alternate perils invited to consume you.

            I know Willa for almost twenty years. She owned the first health food store in our neighborhood.  One day in the store, she came over to my son and offered him a slice of dry pineapple she was busy packaging. That is the way to any mother’s heart. Just give something to their child and you’ve won them over. After that, I became a regular customer and we exchanged pleasantries on a regular basis both in the store and on the street. Later, after our initial greetings we’d discuss children or relationships and share our views.

            One day I ran into Willa on the street and we exchanged greetings.
She said, “You really are the most smilingist person I know beside me.” We both laughed because it was true, I always walk around smiling at everyone. “Are you busy right now?” 
I said, “No, why?” 
“Well, can you walk me to pick up my laundry? It’s right there,” and she pointed about to half way down the block.
 “Why not?” I replied and that’s how it began.  Afterwards we went to her house, where she kept rummaging around under her couch pillows, lifting them and digging with her hand.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
“I had a small amount of marijuana that I put here this morning. I think maybe my husband clandestinely figured out where it was and he took it for himself, or my girls found it and trashed it.”
Either way, we just had glasses of water and looked at each other
“Hold on, maybe I can find it here.” She led me to a small room off the kitchen and began searching in there. “This is my private room. When I want to be alone I come in here and my husband and daughters know to leave me alone. These apartment buildings are old and I think back in the day most people used this room for the maid but this is my room.” She searched under the pillow and blankets then pulled out drawers and looked underneath. This search failed too”

            She led me back to the living room. “Do you like football?” she asked muting the T.V
“No not particularly interested in any sport.”
“I got into it when my husband insisted on watching and can follow the game pretty much but mostly I watch to see their asses. I discovered it turned me on.”
“It’s ok with me you want to keep it on,” I said.
After several moments of silence, Willa began in her throaty whisper. To hear what she was saying, I had to lean closer to her.  That was part of her art of enchantment.  I felt like she was sharing her most intimate secrets.  And she did.  Once she got started, there was no stopping her.  She’d go on for a minimum of two hours, and later, when I got to know her better, three hours and more. She was never boring.

            Willa didn’t let me know about the hard drugs at first. I kept wondering over the ten years I intermittently hung out with Willa, how does Willa do this?  How does she blow all her household cash on nose candy and then impart the desire to get educated to her children. I definitely admired her skills. Willa was educated. Willa had her masters in English Lit from one of the biggest and most respected black universities in the states. She’d graduated from Spelman and her husband from Morehouse. Willa Dean was bright, engaging and entertaining. She was witty and made me laugh. Her husband Dwayne was the opposite, quiet and withdrawn. She was often annoyed with him. I guess that her dissatisfaction is what made her take a lover. I never personally experienced her anger but I once saw her yell at a long time friend who I had experienced as a hell of a pushy broad. 

          Once when we were hanging out at pushy broad's apartment, she said insisted I was tense and needed a massage. I had to yell to make her stop because she was actually hurting me. I probably was very tense. The gal was married to a famous jazz musician and we went to their house to bring them the drugs Willa had picked up for them. I didn’t understand why Willa never told her how annoying she was. Willa and I were straight out with each other. We talked freely and we always were respectful to each other. We also shared things like clothes and costume jewelry. When I started work, she gave me a few beautiful work skirts she claimed she had picked up in Macy's wholesale outlet in Atlanta. That helped me a lot. After I'd worked a while and bought some Betsey Johnson dresses at eighty percent off she begged me for one. I remember how hard that was to find the one that she liked best that I was willing to let go of. Up till now, I'd been so poor this was the first time I'd ever had money to buy anything except a pair of jeans or a sweater in the $10 Store.

I listened to her complain about her husband.  She’d get high and then she say “I’m gonna go home and get me some.” I never knew if she meant her husband or her lover, so I’d ask. It seemed at that time, it could go either way. Sometimes she seemed surprised that I didn’t know which one she meant.
            I got to see things I had never seen before with Willa. She showed me how she had a hole in the cartilage in her nose from snorting coke. I didn’t believe her when she first said it so she took a Qtip while I looked inside her nose and so the tip from the opposite side. I met the world famous jazz musician who lives not far from Columbia and watched him and his wife get high. Another time, she took me to the Ritz on 5th Avenue to work as a dresser for some high-class fashion shows. It was amazing. I dressed world famous models plus got paid a hundred fifty bucks plus got a designer belt and gloves too. You really couldn’t take more because they watched and counted everything afterwards on a big long list that they checked everything off of, which took another hour or so more after the show was over. I also got to see cocaine apartments in my neighborhood.  You walk into an apartment building and there’s a guy who escorts you up the stairs. Once you get inside the apartment, there’s no nothing there except another guy sitting on a chair, a table with a scale and the drugs. That’s it! I was shocked the first time I saw this.

In spite of her crazy behavior, Willa was very sweet and engaging.  Funny enough, Willa often had dinner together and prepared for her husband by the time he got home. She was master at throwing leftovers together and using up odds and ends to make an attractive dish. She’d speak in whispers describing her feelings, her lovers, her adventures, and her daughters. What amazed me the most was how Willa could actually separate out her strengths and capabilities from all her craziness and addiction. She accomplished her motherly chores astonishingly well. Both her daughters were well mannered and got good grades in high school. They were bright and both graduated college a year apart and afterwards got steady work. I was impressed. During this time her husband and she closed the health food store and Dwayne became a cab driver. Later, Willa had some jobs on and off doing retail in clothing stores. At this point I lost touch with Willa. I became busy with my full time job and helping my son. I ran into her bossy friend at a Board of Education annual meeting. Bossy told me she’d become a licensed teacher. I asked about Willa saying I’d lost contact. She told me that Willa’s two daughters had moved out the year before and got a place together in New Jersey and that after her daughters moved out, Willa moved out and left her husband and moved in with her lover. After Willa left Dwayne, he eventually lost the apartment and went back to Georgia to live with his family. I miss Willa Dean and wonder where she is. I hope she’s still alive.