Life is far from typical for twenty-four-year-old college senior Anaya Goode. After the mysterious death of her brother, Andrew, Anaya makes the decision to live at home instead of on campus to lend support to her struggling family as they deal with grief in their different ways. To cope with her own grief, Anaya seeks guidance from her therapist, Dr. Judy, and lives vicariously through the chaotic lives of her two best friends, Sophie and Catie. As the consummate support system for her family and friends, Anaya doesn’t hesitate to step in when Sophie’s life begins to spiral out of control and Catie finds herself sinking into depression.
Although Anaya has put her own life on hold and hasn’t dated in years, she unexpectedly meets two men – handsome and mysterious Carl and successful and thoughtful Jeff. Now Anaya must search her conscience for the real meaning of love and trust as she discovers that she is not immune from making poor decisions regarding matters of the heart. When Anaya’s mother, Anita becomes ill life once again takes a dramatic turn for Anaya and her family. Anaya prepares for her life to move in a new direction, but this time will it be with a man by her side that she can count on?
The sound of my parents talking woke me out of my sleep. I sat up and looked around my bedroom. It looked like the room of a twenty-four-year-old college senior, but lately, it didn’t feel like I was in college. I often had to remind myself of why I made the decision to live at home instead of on campus. Granted, at the time that I made the decision, it had seemed like a good idea. My first semester of college started a couple of weeks after my only brother, Andrew, died. I thought that my parents and my sister needed me to be home with them. But they didn’t really need me at all; as it turned out, I needed them.
Andrew died a little over a year ago. He and I were as close as any two people could ever be and when he died, part of me died too. He and I had gone to a house party one night and we separated at some point—me hanging out with some friends and Drew going outside for some air. I was still talking with a friend when I noticed everyone headed outside. I followed the crowd and gasped, only to discover my beloved brother lying on the ground, bleeding. It was frustrating because no one stepped up to say they knew anything. It was a mystery then and, over a year later, it remains a mystery. There were different rumors going around. One was that some guys were walking by and got into a verbal altercation with Drew and shot him, but none of the stories were ever corroborated. It was hard for my family to deal with the loss and even more so because of the lack of clarity surrounding his death. We all grieved, but we grieved differently. My mom ate, my sister Ava fasted, my dad drank, and I sank into depression. As time moved on, however, so did my family. I, on the other hand, still struggled with losing Drew and my mom “gently insisted” that I see a therapist. Some woman named Dr. Judy. I was resentful at first, but I eventually learned to appreciate having Dr. Judy sit for an hour and listen to me gripe and pontificate. Mom paid for it and, depending on my mood, sometimes she got her money’s worth and other times she didn’t.
Some days, I enjoyed the comforts that home had to offer. Other days, however, I would have shaved off my eyebrows to have my own place. Between my overbearing mom, and the issues of my extended family and friends, there were days I struggled just to hear my own thoughts.
I showered and dressed before heading downstairs. On the way down, I peeked into my sister’s room. Ava was buried under her comforter, with one foot hanging off the side of her bed. I shook my head at the chaos. Given that my mom and dad were the tidiest people I knew, Ava’s sloth often caused me to question her paternity.
I walked into the kitchen, where my dad, Roscoe, was fussing at my mother. He was bent over, looking in the cupboard. I sat down at the table quietly.
“When did you start buying Diet Dr. Pepper?” he complained.
“And, Anita, where are the cinnamon rolls?”
“The cinnamon rolls are at the store, where they belong,” Mom replied, not bothering to turn away from the cantaloupe that she was cutting.
“Wrong answer,” he told her. “Where they belong is right here in this kitchen, so I can pack them in my lunch.”
Mom turned and rolled her eyes at him. She had battled the bulge for as long as I’d been on the Earth, probably even before that. This means I grew up on every diet known to humanity. When she dieted, we all dieted with her—whether we wanted to or not.
“Come on, Roscoe, you know I don’t have that kind of willpower,” Mom explained. “You don’t need those cinnamon rolls. Take some of this cantaloupe to work. I’m taking some with me. You’ll like it. It’s sweet.”
“I don’t want cantaloupe, Anita. I want a cinnamon roll.” Roscoe kissed Mom on the cheek, picked up his lunch off the counter, and kissed me on the forehead before walking out of the kitchen. She called out to him, “The banquet is in a month, and I need to fit into my dress. I can’t fit into my dress with cinnamon rolls lurking around the kitchen, taunting me.”
She looked over at me. I was still sitting quietly. I looked over at the small television on the counter. I wanted to avoid a conversation about food and eating habits. There were many things that Mom and I didn’t agree on, and weight management was at the top of the list. I’m size two, but I’m healthy. It seemed that my mom had developed a rare form of amnesia and forgot the countless diets she raised me and my siblings on. Now she thought I didn’t eat enough.
“Where are you headed?” she asked me. “I have an appointment with Judy,” I responded.
“Okay,” she said, still cutting the cantaloupe. “Are you going to complain about the cinnamon rolls, too?”
“Nope,” I said, heading to the cabinet for oatmeal. “That figures,” she said. “You don’t eat enough anyway.” Here we go.
“I eat, Mom. Just in moderation. Healthy weight management, remember?” I said.
“More like weight obsessed,” she said, pouring a cup of coffee.
“I’m not weight obsessed, I’m healthy,” I said, instantly regretting the comment. I should have just kept my mouth closed. “Bulimia isn’t healthy, honey,” she said.
“You’re right, Mom. Bulimia isn’t healthy. It’s an illness—an illness I don’t have.”
She glared at me over the top of her glasses. “You need to eat more,” she said, putting the cantaloupe in the refrigerator. “You’re as thin as a rail.”
I wanted to tell her that she needed to eat less, but I didn’t. I wanted to live to see the end of the day.
Roscoe walked back into the kitchen before I could defend myself. He was wearing his work uniform and still had his lunch in his hand.
“Remember, I have my meeting tonight after work,” Roscoe has worked for the electric company for at least twenty years. He loves his job and has often said that he has no plans to retire. He said working kept him out of trouble. Although that could be true at times, there were plenty of other times when he almost lost his job because of his drinking. That’s why he frequented a sober support group. As hard as he tried to stay on the wagon, there were times when he slipped up. Too many slip ups, in my humble opinion.
“Okay,” Mom said. “See you later.”
Mom sat down and started watching a news report about a black business executive who had been indicted for fraud. “Surely they know he wasn’t behind it. There’s more to it,” Mom said.
“Yeah,” I said sarcastically. “Greed.”
“No. He was under somebody’s direction,” Mom said.
“So that makes it okay?” I asked. “He did it because he wanted to, because of greed.”
“He did it because he wanted to keep his job,” she said. “He did it because he was greedy,” I repeated.
Mom glared at me. “Anaya Goode, how in the world do you go to college smart and come out stupid?”
“Mom,” I said, “you think everything is a conspiracy, but this is not someone else’s fault. The man is guilty, plain and simple. They have e-mails of him admitting his wrongdoing.”
“So I’m a conspiracy theorist?” she asked.
“I didn’t say that,” I argued. “It’s just that sometimes you sound a little . . . paranoid.”
“Don’t start that,” she exclaimed. “Don’t you call me paranoid until you’ve lived a day in my shoes. You couldn’t have survived one day in the life I had when I was your age.”
Not this morning, Mom; not the story about the twelve-mile walk!
“Do you realize that my sisters and I had to walk twelve miles to and from school in the heat of summer and in the dead of winter, and after school to help my mama clean houses? You need to respect the struggle.”
“Mom, I do respect the struggle. I’m just saying, everything that happens to Black people is not a conspiracy. People make choices, knowing there is a consequence, and it’s no one’s fault but their own.”
She looked at me as if I had grown a third eye.
“People do what they have to do to survive. And there are always two sides to a story.”
“I get that, Mom. But at some point, we have to be accountable for who we are and what we want to be. We have the same opportunities for education, the same opportunities for prosperity, and the same opportunities to raise our families. But what is happening?” I gestured at the television as if to prove my point.
“We have more black men in prison than in college. So who’s teaching young boys how to be men? Who’s showing girls what kind of man to look for? We need to wise up and get educated. We need to move forward. Heck, it would be nice if we started voting.”
Mom stared at me a long time before she finally stood up and spoke.
“There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus and a blind man,” she began. “The blind man comes to Jesus and asks to be healed. Jesus spits on some dirt, mixes it up, and puts it on the man’s eyes. Then he tells the man to go to the water, rinse his eyes out, and come back. When the man returns, Jesus asks him what he sees. The man says he sees men as trees. Jesus spits on the dirt again, rubs it on the blind man’s eyes, and tells him to go and rinse his eyes a second time. When the man comes back, Jesus asks him what he sees now, and the man says he sees men as they are. You, Anaya, see men as trees, and I see them as they are.”
“I don’t know anything about men looking like trees,” I said, “but I do know that we live in a society where we can do anything we want. This is not the old days, Mom. We can move forward. We do not have to hold on to the past, singing old Negro spirituals all the time.”
She stood up, and I ducked.
“Old Negro spirituals? Where’s the child I birthed into this world? Girl, you don’t have a clue. You millennials are privileged and ignorant. You think this family is struggling because we have only one premium cable TV package instead of two. Your two best friends drive cars that are worth more than most people will earn in a lifetime. You aren’t doing so badly, either. Get a clue. One day you will see for yourself.”
She walked out of the kitchen. I followed behind her, but not too closely.
“See you later,” I called out.
I was five minutes late for my appointment with Judy. I’d been seeing her since Andrew died, and she never gave me grief about being late. I sat down in the obnoxiously massive leather chair in her office. She sat across from me, looking like The Joker; she had small red lips, over-arched eyebrows, pasty skin, and heavy black eyeliner.
“So what’s going on?” she asked me. “Have you made the decision to move out of your parents’ house?”
“No,” I said.
“Why not?” she probed.
“I keep thinking that my family needs me there,” I said, surprised to have said it so bluntly.
“For what purpose would they need you there?” Judy asked, writing on her little yellow pad.
“I don’t know.”
“Have you talked with your parents about moving out?”
“I don’t know. My mom still hasn’t cleaned out my brother’s room. I think she needs closure.”
“What do you think that has to do with your gaining independence?”
“Have you spoken with her about cleaning out your brother’s room?”
“No. I don’t think she’s ready.”
“Has your mom said that to you?”
“She doesn’t have to. I know her.”
“Say more,” Judy encouraged.
“It just doesn’t feel like the best time. Things feel strange in my house. Mom is not herself, my sister spends all of her time in church, and my dad seems oblivious. Things just don’t seem right.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“Sad. Insecure. Lonely.”
“What can you do about that?”
“What else?” She asked, ignoring my sarcasm.
“Alone?” Judy asked.
“I thought about moving in with one of my friends, but she’s going through something. I know she’s using drugs, and I don’t know what to do.” I let out a heavy sigh before I continued. “Life is turning upside down right in front of my face, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
“You feel like life is hard for you right now?”
“Yes. Home is in turmoil since Andrew died. My extended family is overwhelming me with their issues, and even my friends seem to be leaning on me pretty hard right now. Lately, I don’t even recognize my life, and it doesn’t feel good. I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do after college. I had my entire life planned out.
Now I have no idea what I want to do.” I started to cry.
The session drained me. But when I left, I suddenly realized that somehow, in the rich chaos of my family and friends, I needed to find my own voice. The question was—who was I, apart from them? What did I want to do with my life?