Nothing, that is . . . except ourselves.
People often ask me if any of the characters in my books are me. Truthfully, I put a little of myself in each female lead character I create, but they are actually a lot better than me. Of all the female characters I've written about, the one I put the most of myself into is Cisely in The Legacy. I can relate to her because I've been where she once was. I endured some of the same pains, suffered some of the same sorrows, and felt the same joy of breaking free and changing the course of my life.
And, like Cisely, I finally came to a point when I was able to look back on those refining experiences with gratitude for the lessons learned.
This is the legacy I want to leave in this life - to be tried, and tried again, then endure and conquer, not just for myself, but for my family and anyone I am blessed to come in contact with in this life. I'm far from being a saint and I know I will never reach perfection, but I love the person I am now and the life I've been given, and I know it is up to me to choose how I will live it out.
So, what kind of legacy will you leave?
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Here is an excerpt form The Legacy.
Having stuffed my last pair of jeans into a large suitcase, I zip it shut and hope the seams won’t burst. It was given to me by a friend because I've never had one of my own. I've never traveled anywhere before to need one, and until now, I hadn't ever thought I would. I fill the carry-on bag with the few cosmetics and toiletries I possess. Then I look at my reflection in the large mirror hanging above an old, cracked dresser that until today, held all of my clothes. I think it has to be the oldest piece of furniture in the apartment.
I study the light, cocoa-brown skinned woman looking back at me and smile, but my honey-colored eyes hold a sadness I have never been able to rid them of. I have always been told by friends that I have sad eyes. I know it is true, yet most people don’t know of the pain behind my eyes. I have never let anyone get close enough, and I don’t know if I ever will.
I run a brush through the dark auburn hair hanging down past my shoulders and push it back with a brown headband. I think about adding a few curls but decide against it. After straightening the collar of the yellow blouse I purchased for this trip, I apply some clear gloss to my full lips, a coat of mascara to my lashes, and a touch of blush to my sculpted cheeks. Then I study my reflection once more and decide this is as good as it's going to get.
I have always considered myself an average looking black woman, and I just don't see what others say they see when they looked at me. I have been told by the people around me that I am beautiful. They say my skin is satiny smooth, my voluptuous figure very trim, and my voice is like silk to the ears. Truthfully, I have never seen any of these things and I can't help but wonder how and why others see them. I ponder this a moment and deduct that my mind has somehow been trained to think there isn’t anything about me that is worth much, and no matter how hard I try to tell myself otherwise, all I ever see are flaws.
Sighing, I sit on the edge of the bed and look around the almost bare studio apartment I've lived in for the past year and a half. I become even sadder as I think about my life up to this point, and I am once again doubting my worth.
In my twenty-two years of life, I have seen and suffered things no one should have to. Having been raised by an alcoholic mother and an abusive father, childhood had been nothing but miserable for me. From the age of six to twelve years old, when other children were laughing and playing and sharing secrets with their friends, I was a woman-child, barely surviving and telling my secrets to no one. In the afternoons after school when I should have been busy at the business of being a child, I was subjected to the screams of my mother as my father beat her. And at night while other children were safely tucked in their beds and sleeping, I was forced to endure the sickening presence of my father in my room as he abused and defiled me.
One day my mother finally found the courage to leave her husband. She packed our things while he was at work and we moved from Charlotte back to her hometown of Asheville. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late, for my life had been permanently scarred. And it didn’t help that every man who came into our home and lived with my mother seemed to think I should be part of the deal.
Throughout my whole life I felt dirty and cheap, but more than anything, I felt alone. There was no one I could turn to and share my painful burdens. Later in life, that loneliness guided me to make decisions that only added to my misery and brought even more shame upon me.
A single tear slips down my cheek as I painfully remember the days and nights of endless partying, each one filled with drugs, alcohol, and sometimes immoral conduct. When I was younger, my father made it his solemn duty to tell me repeatedly that I was worthless and only good for one thing in life. It seemed his comments found a permanent place in both my mind and my heart. My father had foreseen my future and had helped as much as he could to make that future happen. But I know in the end, the choices had been my own, just as the choice to finally change my life had been.
I smile, melancholy coming over me as I remember the day I made the decision to abandon the self-destructive lifestyle. It was a little over a year ago. I had just gotten home from work. I was tired, my feet were sore after working all day waiting on table after table, and I was looking forward to a tall can of beer and some rest. I had just sat down when there was a knock at the door.
When I opened the door to the braid-wearing teenage girl donning heavy makeup, a dirty mini skirt, and scuffed up high heels–one of them broken, my first words were, “Sorry, no customers at this house.”
She gave me a teary smile and replied, “I'm not looking for a customer . . . I'm looking for a way out.”
Tears slip down my cheeks as I remember how my heart had instantly gone out to her. I knew the life she'd lived and what she'd suffered before reaching this point in her life. I didn't know her, had never seen her before, but I knew, because I had been there, myself. I invited her in and listened as she talked, my suspicions about her abusive childhood confirmed. I fed her and gave her some clothes to change into. Taking the tips I'd made that day from my purse, I called a cab, took her to the bus station, and put her on a bus to Raleigh to go and live with her aunt. Arriving back home, I sat on the sofa, closed my eyes and cried. Nothing I'd ever done in my life left me feeling as much peace as that one act had.
I immediately threw away every bit of alcohol in the apartment, vowing to never take another drink, pop another pill, or smoke another joint for the rest of my life. I stopped partying and made a commitment to change my life. I was determined to do this, despite family members and friends telling me I would never change. Sadly, I had no support from anyone except the counselor assigned to me when I enrolled in a free substance abuse program. No one in my family, nor the people I associated with, would let go of the past. So how was I supposed to? I couldn’t escape it because it surrounded me and was constantly being thrown back in my face.
Even now, I still struggle with doubts. I've listened to several motivational talks on learning to forgive oneself, letting go of past mistakes and moving on, but the messages never seem to stick, and in my heart I continue to feel unworthy, too unworthy to deserve more in life. We reap what we sow, as they say. I haven't sown enough good.
Bringing my thoughts back to the present, I open my purse and pull out a letter I received in the mail three weeks ago. It is from an older woman I met a couple of months ago when she was visiting from Salt Lake City.
I met Jessica Kelly at a women's motivational conference downtown. We sat next to each other and were instantly taken with one another. At the close of the conference, Jessica told me she wanted to get to know me better.
We had lunch together the next day. And throughout that week when I wasn’t working, I spent a great deal of time with her and we did many things together.
Jessica managed to get me to open up a little about my life, which was something I had never done before. I don't know how she managed it. Though I didn’t give many details, the little I shared with her brought the poor woman to tears. I hated making her cry, but I appreciated that she cared.
In that week I grew to care about Jessica a great deal, and I wished my own mother could be more like her. I thought it sad that in just one week I developed more of a relationship with the older woman than my own mother.
Jessica told me she had always been alone. She never married and it saddened her that she was never blessed with children of her own. And except for the times her nephew came to visit her from Australia, she wandered through her big home alone with no one to talk to.
Smiling, I read the letter again, still in awe of what is written there. Jessica has invited me to come and stay with her for a while in Salt Lake City. She even sent a plane ticket with the letter, making it harder for me to say no, just as she had known it would. She knows me well. I've never dreamed of going so far away, and to say I am nervous is an understatement. But the excitement of starting over somewhere where no one knows me or anything about my past overrides my nervousness. I again read the last part of the letter.
Now I know you don’t like to feel like you’re not pulling your own weight, so before you say no, I just want to tell you I own a women’s clothing boutique downtown. One of the girls working for me had to quit suddenly. The position is yours if you want it. It is only three days a week, so we would still have plenty of time to visit and sight see, and of course, shop. We’re going to have the time of our lives! It would mean so much to me to have you here, Cisely. More than you could ever know. Call me soon.
Hearing the taxi honking outside, I refold the letter and put it back in my purse. I touch up my makeup and place the key to the apartment on the counter for the landlord. Sadly, there are no more goodbyes to be said. My mother really doesn’t seem to care that I'm leaving. Neither does anyone else for that matter, but I have received various opinions on how they think my life will turn out. “You’ll be back,” I remember my so-called friends saying. “You’re going to be right back here partying with the rest of us. You can never escape where you’ve been or who you are.”
I squeeze my eyes shut and shake my head, doing my best to dislodge the negative thoughts. Looking around the half empty room one last time, I grab my bags and leave.