It’s Not Always Forever — Excerpt
RIA MALVEAUX BERTRAND
Hayes! Hayes! Where is this boy now? I know the nutty professor is up to some wild experiment again. As Ria walks around her large antebellum home searching for Hayes, she remembers all too well how different her life was when studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. Long before meeting Hayes’ biological father; long before Hayes even existed; a time when she was determined to be a great literary writer who would be published before she was twenty-three and would go down in history as one of the greatest Black (after years of being known as colored, negro, and nigger) female writers of all time.
Instead of basking in the glory of her literary brilliance, she was pregnant at eighteen, a mother by nineteen and made an offer by his French aristocratic father she had to refuse. Ria couldn’t believe how far she had fallen for love. She was an unwed mother whose son was the illegitimate heir to one of the vast fortunes of European aristocracy, but would never know it because he was the wrong color. She couldn’t continue with her studies, so off she went back to Louisiana at twenty with her tail tucked between her legs and a scarlet letter seared in her chest. Later, like all knights in shining armor do, her high school boyfriend Jarrod (bless him), whom she loved, but wasn’t in love with, rode in on his white steed to save her reputation and give her son a name he was denied by his biological father. The same Jarrod she left at seventeen to find adventure and fame in Paris. Now she has a rambunctious four year old son, a ten month old son and working as a registered nurse at the local hospital. Not exactly the way Ria envisioned her life, though not a bad life, she’s just needlessly indulging in “what ifs” for no reason other than her masochistic tendencies.
As Ria continued to look for Hayes, she happens upon her photo album and every fiber in her being tells her not to pick it up, but much to her dismay, she does. Why keep rewinding this dichotomy of happiness and sorrow, she thinks to herself. As she thumbs through the pages, her mind goes back to her time in Paris. A carefree young girl with all the hopes and dreams of youth; a vibrant life well-lived in France, but saddened with the stark reality of dreams unfulfilled in the States. Further understanding just how lucky she was to be given this opportunity by her parents and she was going to savor every inch of it! As her mind continues to reminisce, she suddenly finds herself back on that cobblestone street one beautiful afternoon in the city of lights and love.
PARIS, FRANCE 1959
Ri!, petite amie, Ri! As I looked around there was my friend Sandrine calling me from across the street, in the thickest, unabashedly French accent I’d ever heard. What a stark difference from our Creole language in Louisiana. I love to hear French spoken as it should be, instead of that broken Geechie some of my family speaks back home. But it could be worse; at least my parents are educated as compared to some other Negroes in different parts of the South. As my mind snapped back to the present, Sandrine as usual, had been shopping because French women must stay fashionable. It’s the law. Sandrine was your typical French girl; pale skin, a long lithe body, superbly coiffed hair and dressed to within an inch of her life in head to toe Chanel. Though I liked Chanel, I preferred Balenciaga and Givenchy. Isn’t it funny, a Creole girl from Louisiana being able to afford Haute Couture. Who would have thought?
Ria, chérie, nous avons une partie à assister à, vous devez être à votre meilleur.
Oui il le faut. Où allons-nous? I see your French is improving, soon I won’t be able
to, how do they say…stump you! Non, vous ne sera pas, mais je suis sûr que vous allez
continuer à essaye.
As we laughed walking down the Rue Saint Michele, I turned to Sandrine and
asked again where were we going? Sandrine you do realize that if I need to
dress to the nines, I must know the occasion. Sandrine is puzzled once again by Ria’s
American dialect. Nines, what is this nines? Ri, you really must rid yourself of this
peculiar American way of talking. Honey, you can take the girl out of America, but you
can’t take the American out of the girl. Comprenons-nous les uns les autres de mon ami?
Yes Ria, I understand. You are so complicated cherie. But I’ve got a solution
for that. Let’s go back to my apartment and I’ll show you my delicious new dresses and
we’ll discuss the party. I have a wonderful surprise waiting for you there, maybe then
you’ll be out of this mood. As I thought to myself, dear LORD, what does she have up
her sleeve now? As a rule with Sandrine, she’ll love it and I’ll hate it. But her hair-
brained ideas can be a lot of fun. Oh God help us! Ria turns to Sandrine…come on Coco,
let’s get this show on the road.
Walking back to Sandrine’s apartment, a strange chill suddenly overtakes Ria and she can’t help thinking that her life is about to dramatically change. How, she had no idea. But as Ria’s mother always said; life never asks you what you want, it simply gives you what you’re going to get.