“Quite honestly, Ms. Banks, if you’re not able to bring all your course grades up to a B average by the end of the semester, I’m afraid you’re going to have to withdraw from the Master’s program.”
Keeva Banks stared at her counselor, watching her cheap, red lipstick bleed into the little wrinkles around her lips. It was almost as if she was mesmerized by the words coming out of her mouth.
She knew this was coming. It was just a matter of when. Even still, hearing it out loud…
Keeva grabbed a lock of hair and twisted it around her finger.
Ms. Parker pulled a green file folder from her desk with Keeva’s name printed on the corner and began flipping through the papers in it. “I’ve received progress reports from each of your professors and I have to tell you, things don’t look good.” Ms. Parker’s voice faded into a droning tone like the adult characters on a Charlie Brown cartoon. “Waa wa wa wa…”
Keeva fastened her eyes on Ms. Parker’s clothes. She had to focus on something – anything – other than her impending doom to make it through this meeting without falling apart.
Her blouse was made of some cheapy, chintzy fabric with wide, horizontal brown and beige stripes. How could she have thought it matched the completely different shade of brown of her shapeless skirt? And didn’t she know someone with her figure, or lack thereof, should never wear horizontal stripes? Not to mention that her skin was too sallow to wear brown anyway.
Keeva looked at her own tailored Donna Karan pantsuit. The rich, burgundy color accented her cocoa brown skin perfectly. She had dressed carefully that morning, knowing she’d need to look good in light of the news she was about to receive.
She made her eyes go back to Ms. Parker’s face, not wanting to appear rude.
“From what I understand, so far this semester you’ve made, at best, C’s on your exams and you still haven’t completed the project for your Research Methods class.”
Ms. Parker paused as if waiting for Keeva to speak.
No way she could answer without her voice shaking. Or worse still, her bursting into tears. She nodded slowly, hoping that would be a sufficient response.
Ms. Parker’s closet of an office seemed to be shrinking. And did they have the heat turned up in this part of the building? Keeva pressed her hand down on her knee to stop her leg from bouncing. She rubbed her sweaty palms on her pantsuit.
“I have to ask, Ms. Banks, do you really want this degree?”
Keeva almost laughed. What difference did it make what she wanted?
She sat up straight and pasted on a camera-pleasing smile. “Of course I want this degree. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.” She hoped she sounded more convincing than she felt.
For the first time, and only for a minute, she thought about it. Did she want a master’s in Professional Counseling?
How could she help anyone when she didn’t have the answers? Keeva imagined herself counseling people, passing them tissue when they cried, patting their arms and giving them understanding looks in that annoying, empathetic way; bandaging them up to send them back into life to be bruised all over again. What was the point?
Would she ever really change anyone’s life?
Ms. Parker stood, came around to the front of her desk and leaned against it.
Keeva watched her hips spread out wide across the wooden edge. She sat back a little. Oh dear. Here comes the heart to heart.
“Ms. Banks, is there something going on that you need to talk about? A problem affecting your academic performance?”
Keeva mustered her last bit of emotional stability to paste on another smile. “No, Ms. Parker. There’s nothing going on. Thank you for your concern, though.”
And that was the worst part about it. There was nothing she could blame this on. She was healthy, all her needs were met; she had supportive parents, plenty of friends and a wonderful boyfriend.
Her life was…perfect.
All she had to do was get this stupid degree, start her career, get married, have 2.5 children, buy a Volvo and a home in an exclusive neighborhood and live out the rest of her years in Utopian suburbia.
What more could she ask?
She reached down to pick up her Coach briefcase and stood. She had to get out of the office before she erupted. “I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.”
That much was true. The last graduate program she flunked out of just sent a “warning” letter in the mail. It pretty much said get it together or else. Else had landed her here at Georgia State University.
Keeva flipped her hair over her shoulder and smoothed out her suit. “I assure you I’ll do everything I can to pull it together. Things will be better by the end of the semester.”
At least I hope.
Midtown Atlanta was a blur as Keeva drove to her apartment building. She couldn’t wait to get upstairs to the haven she had created for herself. She loved her one-bedroom loft. The airy openness of it gave her room to breathe. The large floor-to-ceiling windows let in abundant sunlight that kept her numerous plants flourishing. The designer yellow paint gave the room a happy feeling and was further brightened by the red, leather couch. Her place had an interior design magazine, art-deco feel to it.
Keeva winced as she imagined losing her apartment. She’d been there since her senior year at Spelman College. She and her boyfriend, Mark, then a senior at Morehouse, had picked it out together for her. If she flunked out again, her parents would withdraw their financial support and her penthouse loft, luxury car, and generous allowance would all be gone. There was no way her dad would call in another favor to get her into another graduate program.
Keeva dropped her briefcase off at the dining room table, ignoring the books there, begging to be read. She had to study, but needed to get rid of the heaviness that had been riding her since she stepped into Ms. Parker’s office.
Keeva went straight to her bedroom and peeled off her pantsuit. She put on some comfortable leggings and a T-shirt, and walked barefoot into the living room. She pushed the furniture towards the kitchen, careful not to scratch her hardwood floors. They had been a must when she was looking for an apartment. Even though she had given up hope of a professional dancing career, she still loved to dance.
She flicked on the stereo and pushed the “skip disc” button until she got to her African drumming CD. The pulsing tribal rhythms connected with something deep within her and began to restore the energy the day had drained.
Keeva inhaled slowly, breathing the music into her body. She began to sway back and forth until the music got into her feet, her body, and her soul. She moved around the room, slowly at first. Her movements grew bigger and stronger as she allowed herself to become enraptured in the music. As she leaped and twirled and kicked, the tension streamed out of every pore of her body. She danced herself into a frenzy until she reached a climatic point of release, and then lay in the middle of the floor.
She missed dancing.
Her mother enrolled her in her first dance class at the age of six so she could develop grace and good posture. Her father took her to see the Alvin Ailey dance troupe when she was ten. After that, all she dreamed of was being a professional dancer. She planned to audition for the troupe when she was seventeen, but her mother refused. Neither of her parents thought a dance career was appropriate for Keeva. They thought she needed a professional career to support herself, and that she could dance in her spare time, as a hobby. After they canceled her audition, dancing became bittersweet for Keeva and she quit taking classes.
Keeva jumped when the phone rang. She stretched back out and stared at the ceiling. The hardwood floor felt cold against her hot, sweaty skin.
The answering machine beeped. “Keeva, this is Shara Anderson from your Foundations class. I know you’re probably bogged down with studying for your other classes, but we need to get this project started soon. Please give me a call when you get a chance so we can set up a time to meet.”
Keeva rolled her eyes. In the midst of her midterm exams, her stupid professor assigned a research project. He randomly grouped the class into teams of two and she ended up with Shara.
Why was she calling her now? The project wasn’t due until the end of the semester.
Keeva didn’t know Shara too well. The most notable thing about her was how plain Jane she was. Her hair was always pulled back in a ponytail and she wore no earrings, no makeup, no nothing. She had a pretty face and would probably be nice looking if she fixed herself up a little. If she didn’t wear jeans everyday, Keeva would think she was one of those fanatical religious people who thought it was a sin to wear pants or look good. Like God would send someone to hell over a tube of lipstick and a pair of earrings. Shara definitely wasn’t the kind of person Keeva associated with and she wasn’t looking forward to the project.
She looked over at the clock. Mark would be dropping by in less than an hour to check on her. Keeva pulled the furniture back into place, then grabbed a quick shower. As she put on her make-up, she had to laugh at her new hair color. By some strange reasoning, probably a television commercial she had seen, she thought all she needed to fix her life was to spice up her hair color. She pulled her thick, brown hair, now with auburn highlights, up on top of her head and fastened it with a tortoise-shell clip. Mark liked her hair up.
As she poured a generous glass of wine, the buzzer rang, indicating that Mark was downstairs. A few minutes later, she heard him fumbling with his keys and went to open the door.
He pulled her into his arms. “Hey, how’s my Princess?”
Somehow Mark had adopted her father’s nickname for her. It was really a private joke between she and her dad. When she was growing up, he always thought Keeva’s mother was too hard on her and wanted her to be perfect, like a little princess. He thought she should get to enjoy herself more and not worry about what fork to use or how to enunciate perfect English.
Keeva inhaled the strong, masculine scent of Mark’s cologne and snuggled into his chest. “Fine, now. Do you want to come in or are we going to stand in the doorway all night?”
He kissed her on the nose. “You look beautiful as always. I love your hair like that.”
She beamed at his compliment.
Mark took her glass so she could twist the lock on the door he could never seem to work. He took a sip and frowned. “Wine? I thought you were studying.”
“I’m through for the evening. I was relaxing until you got here.”
“You know I don’t like it when you drink wine. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Keeva clenched her teeth and turned to walk toward the couch.
He followed her. “All you had to do was wait until I got here. I know how to relax you.”
She rolled her eyes. Oh, no – not tonight. She searched her mind for excuses but couldn’t think of anything. She took a deep breath and turned towards him, making herself smile. Demurely, she asked, “Really? How?”
“Come here, I’ll show you.”
Mark kissed her for what seemed like an hour. She knew him well enough to know what was next and wished she hadn’t said she was finished studying. She slowly pulled herself away. She dodged his searching lips every time he tried to reengage her in another kiss until he finally gave a frustrated groan and said, “What?”
She lowered her eyes. She couldn’t look in his face and lie. “I’m sorry, baby. It’s that time of the month.”
“Again? Wasn’t that two weeks ago?” He was paying more attention to when her cycles were, probably because she was using that excuse more and more.
Truth was, she’d barely had a period since she started getting Depo-Provera shots over a year ago. “You know that Depo has my cycles all crazy.” She turned her back to him.
He rubbed her shoulders. “You know I hate that stuff. It’s unnatural – all those extra hormones in your body. That’s probably the reason for the extra pounds you’ve gained and your constant moodiness.”
She whipped around. “What?”
“Don’t get upset. I’ve noticed you’ve picked up a few pounds. And you’re always in a bad mood. I know school is difficult, baby, but you can’t just let yourself go.”
Keeva took a deep breath and pulled a strand of hair. “Mark, I’m really tired and I need to get some rest. I have to get up and study early in the morning. Thanks for coming by, but –”
He tried to smooth things over with a kiss. She stood there limp.
“Mark, I have a study group in the morning. I need to go to sleep.” It wasn’t exactly a lie. She did eventually have to set up a study date with Shara.
“You don’t have to be so sensitive. I wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings. I’m sorry, Princess.” He slunk to the door like a sad puppy with his tail between his legs.
She walked over to kiss him. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired from all the studying. I’ll feel better after a good night’s rest. I’ll call you in the morning, okay? I promise we’ll spend some quality time together after midterms are over.”
Mark accepted her apology with a kiss on the forehead. “All right, we’ll make it a date.”
Keeva closed the door behind him. She went to her dining table and flipped open a textbook. She had to make herself read at least two chapters before she went to bed. For the past few weeks, whenever she tried to study, she somehow ended up on the couch watching television. Lifetime always had a good movie on, one after another.
Later, as she undressed to get into bed, she stood in her full-length mirror and turned from side to side, trying to find the extra pounds Mark mentioned. She studied her twenty-five year old body, but didn’t see any difference.
She pulled her favorite pair of jeans out of the closet. They were a size four and usually fit her perfectly. She pulled up the zipper. They fit the same way they always did. Mark probably noticed something she didn’t. Gotta start going to the gym.
Keeva sat on the edge of the bed and opened her nightstand drawer to pull out a bottle of Ambien tablets. She didn’t like having to depend on pills, but she had to get a good night’s sleep. If she did her usual tossing and turning for hours, she’d never be able to study tomorrow.
She slipped between her crème-colored, satin sheets and started her deep breathing and relaxation techniques, hoping for sleep to come. The pill would soon chase away images of her flunking out of school and losing everything she held dear.