If this world were mine, p.1

If This World Were Mine, page 1


If This World Were Mine

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If This World Were Mine

  Also by E. Lynn Harris








  Copyright © 1997 by E. Lynn Harris

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.

  Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., in 1997.

  ANCHOR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

  This novel is a work of fiction. Any reference to real people, events, establishments, organizations, or locales are intended only to give the fiction a sense of reality and authenticity. Other names, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, as are those fictionalized events and incidents that involve real persons.

  The poem “The Summer Scorches” from Metamorphosis—A Life Journey,

  written by Pat J. Schulz (Enheart Publishing). Used by permission.

  The poems “Blue” and “Fall Rhapsody” © Sonya Jackson.

  Used by permission.

  The Library of Congress has cataloged the hardcover edition of this book as follows:

  Harris, E. Lynn.

  If this world were mine : a novel / by E. Lynn Harris. — 1st ed.

  p. cm.

  I. Title.

  PS3558.A64438I38 1997

  813′.54—dc21 97-18795

  eISBN: 978-0-307-83175-0



  For Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore (Hampton Institute, 1977) for the honor … the pleasure … and the joy of friendship for over two decades. And Everick for giving me the love I prayed for … a friendship I treasure … and making me feel like I’m dreaming even when I’m awake.



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page



  The Author Thanks …


  Before Now

  July 1991

  The Life of … Riley

  Mad As I Wanna Be


  Doctor, Doctor

  This Is Now

  Player Hater

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  And Then …

  About the Author

  The Author Thanks …

  I am thankful for living each day protected by God’s amazing grace. I know it’s a blessing and privilege to be able to write the stories that dance inside my head and have people read them. I realize the stories are gifts, and not a tool to alter lives, but hopefully change hearts.

  There is much and many to whom I must give thanks. I am thankful for my family, all of them, but most especially my mother, Etta Harris, and my aunt, Jessie Phillips, for being constant with their unconditional love and support.

  I am thankful for my friends, most whom I’ve named in previous novels. I’m happy I can say ditto on all my friends previously mentioned. I’ve made some new friends—remarkable people who began as supporters and became cherished friends: Debra Martin Chase, Yolanda Starks, Tavis Smiley, Sybil Wilkes, Gordon Chambers, Derrick Thompson, and Linda Villarosa. I also want to thank a couple of friends, Dyanna Williams and Chester Jones, for their valuable information regarding some of my characters, and Sonya Jackson and Pat Schulz for the wonderful poetry used in the novel. Riley should only wish to write as well.

  I am thankful for my Doubleday family, most especially Martha Levin for her publishing brilliance and friendship. My publicists Sherri Steinfeld and Patricia Blythe for taking great care of me when I’m on the road. And Mario Pulice for great covers and a smile I know I can always depend on.

  There are several people whose support I couldn’t live without and who deserve mention in everything I publish. Regina Brown Daniels, Lencola Sullivan, Tim Douglas, and Carlton Brown. My agent and friend, John Hawkins, for guiding my career from beauty shops to the bestseller list. I extend my gratitude to Moses Cardona for his support and for selling my novels abroad, and my film agent, Irv Schwartz, for his belief in my work. My deep appreciation to Laura Gilmore, whose attention and care of my personal and business life allow me to write without worry. Special shout-outs and kudos to the men who help with Basil, who asked to remain nameless, and a big shout and high-five to the students at Hampton University, University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, Tennessee State University, and Florida A. & M. University. Thanks for showing me so much love. Special thanks to Austin Foxxe for his editing contributions.

  I would like to thank all the booksellers, escorts, writers, and radio personnel who have supported me throughout my career. You know who you are.

  I could not close without special mention of two people who make my life and writing a joy. Blanche Richardson and Charles Flowers are both brilliant editors and two of the finest people I know. I’m proud to call them friends.

  I close this chapter in my writing career by thanking all the marvelous people who buy my books and support me so warmly during my tours. I thank you for the prayers, letters, and gifts of love. They mean the world to me. That’s it for now. Raymond, Nicole, Jared, Delaney, Trent, and Peaches are waiting. I promise.

  Being a friend means mastering the art of timing. There is a time for silence. A time to let go and allow people to hurl themselves into their own history. And a time to pick up the pieces when it’s all over.

  —Gloria Naylor, The Women of Brewster Place

  July 1991

  Dear Friend of Hampton University:

  It was so great seeing you at the recent reunion. I’m so happy you’re considering joining the journal-writing group. As I mentioned at the brunch, all you need to do for membership is write a small journal entry for the first meeting.

  Please share with us your dreams, your goal in five years, and your favorite season and why. Also any other information you want to share about your life since we left Hampton Institute, now Hampton University. It seems like those of us who married aren’t the only ones whose name has changed (smile). Please keep it to five hundred words or less. I look forward to seeing you at the first meeting. Now get to writing!

  Blue and White Kisses,

  Riley Denise Woodson

  The Life of … Riley

  Sometimes I come up with the most brilliant ideas! I think this journal-writing group is going to be a big hit. The people I’ve invited to join are absolutely wonderful. First, there is Leland, whom I met in the Hampton Marching Pirate band; he was the drum major, I was a majo
rette. Yolanda and I met at a Delta Sigma Theta rush session, when we were numbers 78 and 80. I don’t remember who was number 79, because she didn’t make line. Finally, my VC (Virginia Cleveland) Hall suitemates, Kelli and Dana. And Dwight and Selwyn because he married Kelli and Selwyn married me.

  My life has become everything I dreamed it would be after I met Selwyn Curtis Woodson in front of The Grill on my first day at Hampton. I was having a hard time reading the schedule of classes, and he guided me through registration. It was love at first kiss. Even my mother, Clarice, a diva before her time, has fallen in love with Selwyn. So what if it took fifteen years, three promotions, and a six-figure salary to melt her opposition. She only demands, I mean wants, the best for her children.

  I remember when I first told her about Selwyn and she asked me who was his family. When I said he’s from a foster family, Clarice asked, “The Fosters from Richmond?” Mother was shocked when I explained that Selwyn, a self-described Grady baby (born in Atlanta’s Grady Hospital), was raised in several foster homes and didn’t know who his parents were. The way Selwyn overcame adversity is one of the things I love about him. My mother’s trauma at Selwyn’s roots, or lack of, was nothing compared to the lashing I got when I announced during my junior year that I was pregnant with twins. Of course, she fell in love with my little boy (Reginald) and girl (Ryan) hours after they were born. So much that she felt the need to raise them for the first eight years of their life. My children are adorable, but Mother didn’t give a hoot about adorable, she was trying to make sure I had a B.S. to go with my M.R.S.

  So that’s enough about my family and me. My desire is for life to stay as wonderful as it is now. A loving husband, two perfect preteens, and a life my mother dreamed for herself.

  My personal dreams? First I want to quit my job as vice president of marketing, at Wanda Mae Cosmetics simply because I’ve out-grown peddling blushes and lip gloss to welfare mothers. In five years I want to be a singer and poet who will make even Gwendolyn Brooks and Whitney Houston green with envy. I want my children at Hampton, studying something impressive and challenging. And I want my husband to be even more in love with me than he is today. If that’s possible. I hope by then my mother and father have given up their post as members of Black Chicago society and moved to Florida or somewhere.

  My favorite season? Fall. It’s when I met Selwyn, when my children were born. I love the way leaves change colors. Change is good. I want to say more about my wonderful life, but I think I’m over my limit.


  Mad As I Wanna Be

  I love my wife. I think I love my wife. I want to love my wife. I can’t say that we’re in love anymore, but that’s why we’re joining this group. Kelli thinks I’m angry at the world, and she just may be right. The problem is that she thinks my anger is spilling over into our marriage. So, instead of paying somebody to listen to our problems, I’ve agreed to join this journal-writing group with her.

  I met Kelli Chambers Long during our freshman year at Hampton. We were at a Sigma-Zeta mixer. Kelli pledged Zeta Phi Beta and wanted me to pledge Phi Beta Sigma. But I decided to remain independent. I’m Black, not Greek. The only colors I wanted to wear were the red, black, and green colors of liberation. The only thing I’ve ever joined was church, and that was when I was ten years old. I quit that when the minister tried to hit on my mother. Sunday dinner, my foot! He was already married. But Kelli loves being part of a group. She’s in everything from the Links to the Doubleday Book Club.

  It’s not that I’m angry per se. There’s just a lot of shit I don’t care for. I don’t like white folks and I don’t like Black folks who try and be like white folks. I don’t know which I dislike the most. I’m sick and tired of the subtle racism inflicted by whites and I’m real sick of Uncle Tom Blacks who accept it without protest. I never dreamed when I was at Hampton that I would run into so many people who were ashamed of being working-class Black folks. They actually believe everything they see about themselves on television or in the white press, where Black folks are “murdered” or “killed” and white folks are “slain.” Black folks are crackheads, white folks have drug problems. The only paper I read is the Chicago Defender. Same goes for movies. I won’t go to any movies unless they’ve hired at least one Black actor or actress in a meaningful role. This really pisses Kelli off, because she loves that Meryl Streep chick.

  I have to work around a lot of white men on my job, but the only men I address as “sir” are Black men. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the only ones who deserve my respect.

  My dreams? I don’t dream. That’s all I need to say about that. I have nightmares occasionally—usually about incidents in my childhood, but I don’t want to go there. Ever.

  My favorite season is summer. It’s the one time of the year that I know I will feel warm in an otherwise cold and lonely world.

  My goal in five years is to not have to deal with white folks on any level. I want either to have my own business or work for a Black-owned company. I also want to make the brothers who ain’t here—including my own brother—proud. I want them to look down and see that all Black men aren’t in prison, on drugs, part-time heterosexuals, or in the ground over some silly shit. On a material tip, I’d like to buy my mother a house so she can move out of the two-bedroom apartment she’s been living in for the last twenty-two years.

  And maybe by the time five years rolls around, me and Kelli will be like that old LTD song, “Back in Love Again.”



  I guess you could call me a springtime kind of girl. Spring is such a lush season, when the sky, beautiful in colors of pink, blue, and gray, seems endless in every direction. Spring isn’t harsh like winter, or suffocating like summer. Spring is hopeful. And right now I’m feeling hopeful. I finally feel I’m ready to make some progress toward my dream life. The last time I was this optimistic was the spring I graduated from Hampton Institute. When I was at Hampton, life was deliciously uncomplicated, like my childhood. Then, my yesterdays and tomorrows always had a great deal in common. Full of promise. I felt I could do anything and I’m feeling that way again.

  I just completed my business plan for my banker to secure an SBA loan to start my own company, and she tells me things look good. I’m so confident, I’ve already put down a deposit on a downtown office location. I’ve ordered my business cards and can envision the day when I’ll need a larger work space. My professional goals are in place, and soon I can turn my attention toward having a special someone in my life.

  Over the years, I have established a formula for men and love. I like to call it Yolanda’s Plan for a Man. First, I let men know they’re not the be-all and end-all. Then I tell them how much I love men and how that love is shown when I’m treated the way I treat them. Plain and simple. Don’t start no s-h, it won’t be no i-t! I tell them, treat me the way you want to be treated. When men don’t return my calls, I don’t return calls. When men can’t give me honesty, can’t find the truth, I book. I can’t deal with liars.

  In my twenties I stayed in a relationship six years before I realized he wasn’t the one. In my thirties a man gets six months to show his stuff or it’s “see ya.” If I’m still looking in my forties, I’ll give a man six weeks before I say “next.” I won’t have time for love games. I’ll be too old, and I’ll have a business empire to run.

  So while I’m building my queendom and waiting on Mr. Right, I think this group will be fine. I’m looking forward to renewing old friendships and getting to know you guys even better. To see how much we’ve changed. Besides, my daddy told me when I started dating that “only fools and the very brave dare love with all their hearts.” And Daddy didn’t raise no fools. Though secretly in my heart of hearts I think we all want someone that makes our skin dance.

  Friendship is the one thing that’s always been constant in my life. When I was growing up, my best friend was my sister, Sybil. She still is, but Sybil has found her perfect mate and sh
e lives in another city. She didn’t mind when I went to Hampton and she stayed home for college. I used to tell her about all the wonderful people I met at Hampton, and I know she’ll be happy we’re all hooking up again.

  Okay, I’ve told you my favorite season, my goals and dreams, and a little about the woman I am. Now, Miss Riley, I hope this is the last time we have to do this, because I like to show what kind of friend I can be rather than tell.


  Doctor, Doctor

  I had a dream once. His name was Donald. I don’t know what you dream about when your dreams are gone. Do you start new ones? I think that’s tough when everything you’ve ever dreamed of comes true and then suddenly disappears like a thin cloud after the sun shows up.

  I had to think hard about joining this group. Not because I don’t think it’s a good idea, but because things are different now. Two years later the dream of Donald has faded, and I’m different. I’m no longer the man who was consumed by dreams, music, and his plans to be a doctor. I was a man who once envied most of your lives. I watched you join fraternities and sororities, dance and flirt with one another and then fall in love, while I immersed myself in music and my studies. I can’t tell you how many nights I went back to James Hall alone, and wished I were you. I don’t anymore.

  After leaving Hampton Institute, I went to medical school at Howard. I had planned to be a family practitioner in a community clinic, but while I was at Howard, a little boy entered my life. I don’t know his name, but I will never forget his face. He was nine years old and he had a venereal disease, but he couldn’t tell us how he got it, because his mother’s boyfriend was looking at him with an evil eye. I remember those sad eyes that wouldn’t meet mine, but every now and then would move toward the man who had brought him in to the clinic. I thought, this young man is going to have a difficult life if he survives this. Who will he talk to? This little boy convinced me I could be an asset to my community if I went into psychiatry. I wanted to be the someone that little boy could talk to about what was burning inside. So my goal is to have a practice that will help those little boys and girls who cannot speak when the unspeakable greets them. I know I sound like Miss America, but I want to help people deal with life. To make up for the little boy I didn’t know how to help.

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