Read an excerpt from the New York Times best-selling book "A Day Late and a Dollar Short" by Terry McMillan.
The Way I See It Can’t nobody tell me nothing I don’t already know. At least not when it comes to my kids. They all grown, but in a whole lotta ways they still act like children. I know I get on their nerves—but they get on mine, too—and they always accusing me of meddling in their business, but, hell, I’m their mother. It’s my job to meddle. What I really do is worry. About all four of ’em. Out loud. If I didn’t love ’em, I wouldn’t care two cents about what they did or be the least bit concerned about what happens to ’em. But I do. Most of the time they can’t see what they doing, so I just tell ’em what I see. They don’t listen to me half the time no way, but as their mother, I’ve always felt that if I don’t point out the things they doing that seem to be causing ’em problems and pain, who will?
Which is exactly how I ended up in this damn hospital: worrying about kids. I don’t even want to think about Cecil right now, because it might just bring on another attack. He’s a bad habit I’ve had for thirty-eight years, which would make him my husband. Between him and these kids, I’m worn out. It’s a miracle I can breathe at all.
I had ’em so fast they felt more like a litter, except each one turned out to be a different animal. Paris is a female lion who don’t roar loud enough. Lewis is a horse who don’t pull his own weight. Charlotte is definitely a bull, and Janelle would have to be a sheep—a lamb is closer to it—’cause she always being led out to some pasture and don’t know how she got there. As a mother, you have high hopes for your kids. Big dreams. You want the best for them.Want ’em to get the rewards from life that you didn’t get for one reason or another. You want them to be smarter than you. Make better choices. Wiser moves. You don’t want them to be foolish or act like fools.
Which is why I could strangle Lewis my damnself. He is one big ball of confusion. Always has had an excuse for everything, and in thirty-six years, he ain’t changed a lick. In 1974, he did not steal them air conditioners from the Lucky Lady Motel that the police just happened to find stacked up in the back seat of our LeSabre way out there in East L.A. Lewis said his buddy told him they belonged to his uncle. And why shouldn’t he believe him? All of a sudden he got allergies.Was always sneezing and sniffling. He said it was the smog. But I wasn’t born yesterday. He just kept at it. Said he couldn’t help it if folks was always giving him stuff to fix or things he didn’t even ask for. Like that stereo that didn’t work. Or them old tools that turned out to be from Miss Beulah’s garage. Was I accusing him of stealing from Miss Beulah? Yes I was. Lewis was always at the wrong place at the wrong time, like in 1978 while he waited for Dukey and Lucky to come out of a dry cleaner’s with no dry cleaning and they asked him to “Floor it!” and like a fool he did and the police chased their black asses all the way to the county jail.
For the next three years, Lewis made quite a few trips back and forth to that same gray building, and then spent eighteen months in a much bigger place. But he wasn’t a good criminal, because, number one, he always got caught; and, number two, he only stole shit nobody needed: rusty lawnmowers, shovels and rakes, dead batteries, bald tires, saddles, and so on and so forth. Every time he got caught, all I did was try to figure out how could somebody with an IQ of 146 be so stupid? His teachers said he was a genius. Especially when it came to math. His brain was like a calculator. But what good did it do? I’m still waiting for the day to come when all them numbers add up to something.
Something musta happened to him behind them bars, ’cause ever since then—and we talking twelve, thirteen years ago—Lewis ain’t been right. In the head. He can’t finish nothing he start. Sometime he don’t even start. Fortunately, he ain’t been back to jail except for a couple of DUIs, and he did have sense enough to stop fooling around with that dope after so many of his friends OD’d. Now all he do is smoke reefa, sit in that dreary one-bedroom apartment drinking a million ounces of Old English, and play chess with the Mexicans. When ain’t nobody there but him (which ain’t often ’cause he can’t stand being by hisself more than a few hours), he do crossword puzzles. Hard ones. And he good at it. These he do finish. And from what I gather, he done let hundreds of women walk through his revolving door for a day or two but then all he do is complain about Donnetta, his ex-wife, who he ain’t been married to now going on six years, so most of ’em don’t come back.
And don’t let him get a buzz going. Every other word outta his mouth is Donnetta. He talk about her like they just got divorced yesterday. “She wanted a perfect man,” he claimed, or, “I almost killed myself trying to please that woman.” But even though Donnetta was a little slow, she was nice, decent. After I’d left Cecil for the third time, I stayed with ’em for close to a month. By the second week, I was almost ready for the loony bin. First off, Donnetta couldn’t cook nothing worth eating; she wasn’t exactly Oprah when it came to having a two-way conversation; cleaning house was at the bottom of her things-to-do list; and that boy needed his ass beat at least twice a day but she only believed in that white folks’ “time-out” mess. She didn’t have as much sense as a Christmas turkey, and how you supposed to lead a child down a path when you lost your damnself? I understood completely when that chile turned to God, got saved, and finally stopped giving Lewis dessert at night. A few months ago she sent me a pink postcard from some motel in San Diego saying she got married, is seven months pregnant and they already know it’s a girl, and her new husband’s name is Todd and he wants to adopt Jamil, and what do I think about all this? And then: P.S. Not that it should matter, but Todd is white. First of all, who she marry is her business, even though Lewis’ll probably have a stroke when he find out. But one thing I do know: kids love whoever take care of ’em.
Except provided by Viking/Penguin Random House