Demetria L. Lucas, award-winning blogger and editor for Essence magazine, shares some personal anecdotes in "A Belle in Brooklyn" on how women can enjoy single life while getting the most from their relationships. In Carrie Bradshaw-style she addresses issues of independence, dating and the search for Mr. Right. Here's an excerpt.
You Can’t Start the Play in the Second Act
I went to Dream every Friday night to free my mind and hope the rest would follow. It was 2002, and the posh four-story super club in Washington, D.C., was newly opened. Dream was the only place to be after-hours in the city if you were young and/or fabulous or aspiring to be such. I was not fabulous. I was miserable, twenty-three, a recent graduate and stuck in Maryland when I desperately wanted to be back in New York. Calling my situation a quarter-life crisis would be an understatement.
I would show up to the club with Aliya, my best friend since junior high, around seven. We usually two-stepped until midnight and were safely and soberly, or relatively such, tucked in our beds before one a.m. One of those nights, I met a boy. He was . . . beautiful. No, scratch that. He was of such beauty that he appeared to be handcrafted by God herself. That’s much more accurate.
I spotted him in the crowd on the venue’s third floor, the one with the open-air deck. He was walking in my direction but not headed toward me. I smiled. He smiled back. I bit my bottom lip and looked away, pretending to be coy. But then I realized he could pass me by and I might never see him again. Something feisty in me kicked in.
I made eye contact again, pointed to him, crooked my finger, and yelled “You! Come here!” loud enough for him to hear me over the bass line of the legendary Baltimore club track “How U Wanna Carry It?”
It worked. He happily and promptly obliged. I introduced myself cheerfully, told him he was the cutest thing ever. I even stood on my tiptoes to ruffle his Maxwell-esque hair (the early years) with my fingers. As we chatted, I beamed. So did he.
We saw each other at the club every Friday for the rest of the summer. He would see me, give me a hug, buy me a drink. His boys would spot Aliya and me, and they would come up to tell me what floor Dude was on to make sure we could find each other in the massive club. Or they’d bring Dude over to me, and we’d just sort of stare at each other, smiling like dolts going, “Hey.” Pause. “Hey.” Blush. “Hey.” Giggle. “Hey.” I was smitten, but I didn’t even remember Dude’s name, much less know his number.
Three months of these Friday interludes went by. (I’d figured out how to meet men, not how to get them to ask me out.) In passing conversation, I’d pieced together that he was a senior at a local university and was a year younger than me and that our parents worked in the same industry. I’m sure more details were exchanged, but I usually couldn’t hear him over the music. I knew the facts that mastered, though: he was cool and he had great energy.
One Thursday afternoon, I got a call offering me a position in NYC. I’d spent three hours a day for seven months scouring the Internet for job listings and applying for anything that sounded remotely interesting. This one was far from my dream job, but it was in New York, where I desperately wanted to be. Of course, I took it. I had to move and start working in two weeks, and for part of those weeks I had arranged to take an overseas vacation with my dad.
My summer of Friday-night partying came to an abrupt halt, as the next evening would be my last at Dream the foreseeable future. In honor of my departure, Aliya and I decided to arrive at the club when the doors opened, dance to R&B, hip-hop, reggae, and house until we sweated through our dresses. We would not leave till the lights came on, at which point we would switch into flip-flops and walk to the parking lot arm-in-arm. After, we’d head to Adams Morgan for “big pizza”—a slice that’s the equivalent of one-fourth of a pie. It was the only proper way to say good-bye to the city.
That night, Dude finally asked for my number, told me he’d like to call me sometime. But summer was almost over, and so was my stay in D.C. What’s the use? To be friends? I already knew I didn’t want to be “just” Dude’s friend. With a deep sigh, I asked him, “Dude, why’d you wait so long? I’m moving.”
“Moving?” He looked stunned. “What do you mean, moving?”
“I’m leaving. I’m going to NY,” I said. “I’m out.”
He asked for my number again anyway.
I asked him back, “What’s the point?”
We hugged with no malice or love lost, but he didn’t let me go from the embrace right away. I wondered if he was thinking about the could-have-been possibilities, too, like that old Pepsi commercial when the couple gets on the elevator and on the ride to the lobby their whole possible life together flashes before their eyes. I sighed. He said good-bye, and we went our separate ways.
Monday morning, I crossed the Atlantic, landing in Paris. I was in an ill hotel, much different from my last visit when I was still an undergrad and stayed at a hostel. After I settled in, I bought crêpes that tasted like gourmet delicacies from street carts. I took a photo in front of the Arc de Triomphe, then strolled through the surrounding streets once walked by James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, and Richard Wright. Dude crossed my mind more than once. I didn’t know him, still didn’t even know his name, but I knew enough about him to know I could dig him. I started to wish that I had more time in D.C., but I stopped myself.
I’d prayed every day to get back to New York. It was all I wanted in life. Just a job, any job, a chance to compete with the best of the best. And I had the opportunity I’d been begging for, literally, on bended knee. A great guy (or two) would be a small sacrifice to live a big dream. Me and Dude? I wished it could have been explored. If it was meant to be, then it would have been, right? You win some, you lose some. Maybe next lifetime? I told myself every clichéd platitude I could think of to keep from letting my mind wander to the what-ifs and possibilities. Then I got to my favorite: If not this time, then the next time. And maybe that time will be the right time. I’d watched Love Jones way too many times.
My second day in Paris, I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre (much smaller than you would imagine and barely visible behind all the bullet-proof glass), sat in a café on the Champs-Élysée and sipped espresso (which I don’t even like, but it seemed like the Parisian thing to do), and people-watched for hours. I took the subway and reveled in the ability to take public transportation in a foreign land in a foreign language and not get lost.
That night, I took the elevator in the Eiffel Tower to the highest level possible (not the actual top) and looked out at the city. I was humbled by all the beauty stretched before me. The City of Love, or Light, depending on which travel guide you read, is a great something to behold.
When I got back on solid ground, I walked underneath the structure with my head bent back, admiring its intricate construction as if I were seeing it for the first time. When I’d taken my fill, I walked across the street and peered at the Seine River to admire the gold-tipped statues adorning the archways that cross it.
I could have gazed for another hour, if not for the rumble in my stomach. I headed to a nearby street stall to get yet another crepe, and I saw . . .
He looked up, paused mid-chew on the first bite of his crepe and his mouth spread in a huge grin. He had Nutella on his teeth.
I flashed all thirty-two, too. We were both smiling like idiots.
Just like old times.
Dude and I talk for hours as we walk along the edge of the Seine. It’s seventy degrees or thereabout—all of the signs are in Celsius, and I can’t do the conversion to Fahrenheit in my head. It’s breezy, and the sky is lit with a half-moon. Turns out our parents are both in Paris for an international conference, and God bless them, they both brought their kids along for the European getaway. It’s his first time in France, and he doesn’t speak French, either. His hotel is near mine. Today is his first day in the city.
Is this fate? Divine intervention? Luck? Destiny? Cosmos? I don’t usually believe in such things, but running into Dude makes me wonder if I should.
I try not to keep looking at him as he talks, but I can’t help myself. Until now, I’ve only seen him in collared shirts, tailored slacks, and hard-bottom shoes. A decent outfit can make any man look half-official. Tonight Dude has on a backpack, camo shorts, and a crisp white tee. Oh, and flip-flops. Dressed down, he is still certified.
Every time I look over at him, I catch him smiling at me. I bite my lip and stare all the way up at him.
“What?” he asks, grinning.
I shrug. “Nothin.”
We’re both stuck on stupid.
By the time one of us thinks to check a watch, we’ve wandered to the middle of God knows where and have no idea how to get to the nearest subway station. Not that it would make a difference, since the English-speaking couple we finally encounter tells us the subway closed an hour ago. I guess we could take a cab, but instead, we walk back to the Eiffel Tower, pull out a subway map, and figure the way to the hotel based on trains named after nearby landmarks. This should not work, but somehow it does. We both have an internal GPS apparently.
By the time we get back to my hotel, it’s past three a.m. That’s four hours after we bumped into each other. I feel as if I know Dude’s whole life story—fears, regrets, ambitions, goals, passions, and shortcomings. I shouldn’t be nervous to ask if I’m going to see him again, but I am.
“Well, this is me,” I say. I wait for him to say he’d like to see me tomorrow. I do not want to seem too eager for his attention. One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three Mississippi, I count in my head. “So I guess this is good night,” I hint.
He smiles at me again. It’s like the only expression either one of us can make right now.
“I wanna see you tomorrow,” he says.
I exhale like I’m in a Terry McMillan novel. Thank you, God!
“Meet you at noon?” he suggests.
“Yeah.” Pause. Smile. Blush. Giggle. “Right here,” he adds. “We’ll get lunch.”
I nod. Giggle. Bite my lip. “’Kay.”
Mutual staring commences.
Finally, he pulls me into a big hug and kisses me on my cheek. He hesitates a moment longer than normal, then lets go. We’re just looking at each other again.
“I can’t believe you’re here,” we blurt almost at the same time, then laugh. We’re like awkward adolescents with our first crush.
“Get some sleep,” he says, ruffling my hair, the same way I did him when we first met. I have a big, curly-fluffy ’fro just like his. Smile. Giggle. “It’s late.”
Giggle. Again. Bite lip. Again. “It is.”
He waits for me to walk through the doors of my five-star hotel.
I look back and see that he’s gone. I feel like doing cartwheels across the marble floors on my way to the elevator. When the doors close to take me to my floor, I scream into my hands and do the Happy Dance, similar to, but actually much different from, the Pee Pee Dance. Belatedly, I hope there are no cameras in here.
Dude and I spend nearly every waking moment of the next three days together exploring and enjoying Paris. We walk through the Place de la Concorde one night, and he chases me around the Luxor obelisk the way Larenz Tate does Nia Long at Chicago’s Buckingham Fountain. He has me close my eyes and point to a random destination on the subway map, and we take the train there, get off in Château Rouge, where we find Black people and African food. We fill our memory sticks taking flicks together while we hold our own cameras. (I have red eye in every pic.) He buys an English-to-French translation guide and teaches me how to say “Où est la salle de bains?” (Where is the bathroom?) and “Comment puis-je me rendre à . . .” (How do I get to . . . ? ) in a terrible French accent. Later, we take the midnight Bateaux Parisiens cruise on the Seine to learn the history of the city and get a different view of its architecture. We go back to the Eiffel Tower together, and he kisses me for the first time.
Near dusk on day five in the City of Love (or Light), we are sitting in the travel guide aisle of a small, English-only bookstore, flipping through Paris guides. He is trying to find something exciting to do that we haven’t already done.
“What are we doing tomorrow?” I ask him. I pretty much couldn’t care less what it is as long as I am doing it with him.
“I dunno. I feel like we’ve seen everything. Twice.” He sounds frustrated. “What do you want to do? Like, is there anything else you want to see?”
“In Paris?” I attempt to raise one brow, but I’m sure I raise both. I’ve never been able to do that properly.
He shrugs. “In Paris . . . or anywhere.”
I look at the bookshelf and scan the spines of the books: Amsterdam. Barcelona. Japan. London. Madrid. Paris. Rome.
The theme song to Mahogany pops into my head: “Do you know where you’re going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you?” I’ve wanted to go to Rome ever since I saw Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers. I fell in love with the scene where she’s in the cab, staring at the city with a look of awe and anticipation as she passes by the ancient monuments.
We find an Internet café and book round-trip tickets on his card. We locate a relatively cheap boutique hotel near the Colosseum and put it on mine. This is totally not in my budget, but my grad-school professor once told me that if I was going to spend frivolously, I should do so on experiences, not things.
We are scheduled to leave the next morning at seven and stay overnight, coming back to Paris the morning after that to make our evening flights back to the States.
The boutique hotel isn’t so close to the Colosseum after all. It is miles away, but after we check into our room, which is standard European size (i.e., the equivalent square footage of a large walk-in closet), we decide to hike to it, wherever it is.
On the way, we find a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the most delicious aromas emitting from its kitchen. I eat the chef ’s special, a meatless pasta with cheese and tricolor tortellini. Neither before nor since will I taste anything as good. Dude eats all of his food, then scrapes my plate, before finally ordering an appetizer-size portion of what I had.
When we’re back en route to the Colosseum, we pass a gelateria and stop in even though we’re stuffed. Caramel latte (dulce de leche) for him, stracciatella (chocolate chip) for me.
We are walking along some winding ancient street, eating off each other’s spoons, when he stops and says, “Oh, shit.” I look up at him, then look in the direction he’s looking. It’s the Colosseum. It’s one thing to see it in pictures or the CGI re‑creation in Gladiator. It’s another to see it in person. It’s no surprise why some consider it one of the seven wonders of the world.
We take a tour of the structure, then wander to the Spanish Steps and take a seat to watch the street entertainers. Dude tells me his what-I-want-to-do-when-I-grow-up-slash-graduate-from-college story while we drink espresso so we can stay up through the night and enjoy every minute of our twenty-four-hour trek through the city. I tell him about my fear of moving to New York permanently. I wonder out loud about my ultimate goal, to write cover stories for magazines and land a job on a masthead.
“What if I’m not as good a writer as I think I am?” I ask. “What if I’m good in D.C. but not good enough for New York? What do I do if I don’t make it?”
“You’ll make it,” he tells me as if it’s a fact.
“You don’t know that. You’ve never even read my work.”
He pulls my head to his shoulder, smoothing back my hair to keep it out of his face. “You will.”
Dude’s image of me is what I hope someday to be. I kiss him to thank him for believing in me.
We find the Trevi Fountain (under construction) and the Pantheon. We make a quick stop in Vatican City to see the Sistine Chapel. He holds my hand as we gaze at the intricate paintings on the ceiling. We spend the next hour fruitlessly trying to find the run-down restaurant with the great food, and we get lost. Over a late dinner, we split a bottle of red wine. Somewhere around glass two, I realize this is our last night together. I get a little sad. Again, I wish I could put the move to New York off for a little while, take some time in D.C. to explore what direction life could take with Dude a part of it.
I shake off the thought as quickly as it comes. What kind of life would Tracy Chambers have had if she’d never left Chicago? And yes, I know she decided in the end that success meant nothing without someone to share it with and went home, but couldn’t she have found someone to share success with in the city where she professionally flourished?
Life will take me to New York, and if that path leads back to Dude, then it will. And if it doesn’t? Well, then, it just does not.
I tell as much to my mother when I call back to the States to assure her that I’m fine in Rome and haven’t lost my mind by running off to a foreign country with a boy I barely know. I’m in the bathroom at the hotel with the water running in the sink. It’s the only way Dude won’t hear me in the bedroom/living room.
“Eh . . .” she says when I tell her I wondered What if? “Timing is everything. If you’re a halfway decent woman, he’ll be back. They all come back. Some sooner than others.”
After I shower, I collapse onto the bed in my towel while Dude goes into the bathroom to get clean, too. Somewhere around the time he pushed the “Buy” button for our plane tickets and booked a hotel room with a queen-size bed instead of a double, I wondered if we should have sex in Rome. I usually take my time—months, plural—getting to know a man before I’ll even consider it. I don’t even know if I’ll see Dude again, but I don’t think I can pass this up.
To arrive at a final answer, I ask myself, Self, when you are seventy-two and retired to the South of France, and you sit and reflect on your heyday while staring at the Mediterranean Sea from your penthouse, will you regret enveloping him, or will you wish you did?
Dude comes out of the bathroom with his towel around his waist. It’s the first time I’ve seen him shirtless. He is . . . chiseled perfection.
“Hey,” I say, looking up at Dude. No giggles. No smiles. No blushing. This is serious business.
He responds with a kiss and discards his towel. He unwraps me and kisses every inch he can get access to, then flips me over. He starts on my neck, running his tongue across my tattoo, a profile of a black butterfly with her wings poised, ready to fly. He travels down my overly sensitive back until I get goose bumps and spontaneous shivers.
“You got a condom?” I finally ask between convulsions, my nudge that it is time to get things popping safely.
He leans back, and soon I hear the wrapper rip. I move to turn over, to to welcome him to me, but he places a hand on my lower back, keeping me on my stomach.
I try to roll over again.
“D, stay still,” he says, moving to cover me.
I freeze for a moment, thinking about the romantic week in Paris, the excursion to Rome, all the Fridays for the whole summer where I have lusted after this man, then finally had a chance to know him and found him to be deeper, doper than I imagined. I’ve spent the last week on vacation with Dude, roaming foreign countries with him, and I dig him. I try to comply. Just be easy, D, I tell myself. Go with the flow. Live in the moment.
But I can’t.
There are rules to the dating game. And although I admit I have broken a lot of them and need to let go of some of them, I’m not letting up on this one. You do not start the play in the second act.
The first time you have sex with a new person whom you halfway respect and are not paying for their services, entry has to be face-to-face. Missionary, woman on top, woman on bottom with her legs spread in the air or tied to the headboard or placed on the man’s shoulders or wrapped or cuffed around his neck, waist, whatever, are all fair game.
More in books
First-time etiquette doesn’t dictate that the sex be in a bedroom or even in a private setting. Do it in the car, the movie theater, the restaurant bathroom. Do it in the park. After dark. At Rock Creek Park. Wear a bunny suit, role-play as a soldier coming home from the war, or be an ex-con coming home to one of his baby mamas.
Use food. Use toys. Pee on folks (but not me) if that’s what gets you going. Get choked if that does it for you (don’t knock it till you try it). Do anything consenting adults find freaky and pleasurable, anything at all—as long as you are face-to-face for the first few pumps. Anything else is just uncivilized.
“Uh, Dude?” I roll over, ignoring his stilling hand, and back myself up into a sitting position. The more I think about it, the more offended I am. “It’s not gonna happen.”
“It’s just . . .” Deep breath. Do you know how hard it is to be confrontational naked? “Uh-uh.” I shake my head. “It’s just crass. It’s uncouth. It’s just . . . no.” Another firm shake for emphasis.
“What’s wrong?” he pleads. “Did I do something wrong?”
He looks genuinely concerned. I can’t find a way to clean my thoughts up and make them sound ladylike, so I sigh heavily and blurt it out. “You can’t go around trying to fuck from the back the very first time.”
He looks at me blankly and walks into the bathroom. He shuts the door. I hear the lock click.
He’s in there forever. I can likely imagine what he’s doing. I put on a tee and shorts and slip under the covers. By the time he comes out, I’ve somehow fallen asleep.
I wake up the next morning to find Dude dressed and packed, ready to go to the airport. He informs me that he’ll be waiting in the lobby. I look over at “his” side of the bed. It’s untouched. I guess he slept on the floor?
He doesn’t speak to me beyond necessities on the ride to the airport, the wait in the terminal, the ride on the plane where we sit right next to each other, or the shared cab we take back to our respective hotels in Paris. I don’t say anything, either. What is there to say? He was out of line. I called him out and spoke my piece. I don’t have any beef.
I offer him a handful of euros when I get out of the cab in front of my hotel.
“So, um, ’bye,” I say.
He won’t even look at me.
“I don’t know what else to say,” I prompt, wanting him to say anything.
“You ain’t have to play me like that, you know?” he finally says.
“Play you? Are you kidding me?”
We go back and forth, and nothing is resolved. The meter is still running on the cab, and eventually, he just says, “Whatever. Take your money back!” I slam the door on him without accepting it.
I return to D.C. the following morning and move to New York less than a week later. I love my apartment. I hate my new boss. I’m lonely. Most of the friends I made in grad school have moved on in my seven-month absence. Greg, my “gentleman friend,” is all tied up with work this week and can’t see me until the weekend. It’s like starting over. I don’t know if I made the right decision coming back. I know an opportunity to succeed was what I wished for. But maybe I should have been more careful.
My cell phone rings late one night. I assume it’s Aliya or Tariq, a guy I dated for two weeks in college who has since become my best male friend, calling to check on me. They are the only people who call regularly, and they know I’m bordering on depressed.
“Hello?” I answer.
I recognize his voice immediately, though I’ve never spoken to him on the phone.
“Dude?” I ask, just to make sure. I thought I would never hear from him again.
He tracked down my number through mutual friends. Not hard, since there are no more than two degrees of separation between all Black people who attended (or attend) a four-year college.
“So, what’s up?” I ask once the pleasantries are out the way.
Pause. Pause. Pause.
“Hello?” I ask.
“Yeah. D, I just . . . wanted to apologize for what happened.” Pause. “In Rome. ’Cause I got back . . . and I talked to my boys about it . . . and, uh, You’re cool, and I hope we can still be friends. So . . . I’m sorry. Okay?”
I don’t think he meant to be disrespectful. I think he made an honest mistake. And maybe I overreacted. I appreciate the apology.
“Yeah,” I say. “Okay.”
From the Book "A Belle in Brooklyn" by Demetria L. Lucas. Copyright © 2011 by Demetria L. Lucas. Reprinted by arrangement with Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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