What A Character, Part III

Here's the third and final installment of the guest blogs from If These Walls Could Talk. Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday, all! It looks like we might miss having turkey with extended family because of some snow and rain expected to come this way. But there's sure to be leftovers, right? And don't they say that everything tastes better the next day?

Character: Veronica Lee from New York, New York
Novel: If These Walls Could Talk, in stores now
Setting: Washington Heights, October 2001

I find myself moving slowly as I push the shopping cart along Amsterdam Avenue. I have it upright because I’m also balancing a plastic basket full of clean clothes on top of the heavy black plastic bag full of clothes that’s inside it already. Fortunately, my shopping cart has two small wheels on each side in the front, so it will roll without me having to tilt it on back wheels only.

I’m Veronica Lee, and I’m tired. Walking a block-and-a-half with laundry for a family of four is no picnic. I do it every single weekend. My husband, Norman, helps me get the clothes from home to the Laundromat. It’s a real pain in the ass getting all that down the stairs from our third-floor walk-up. It's become a weekly ritual for us. He walks me to the Laundromat and then runs back home, where our two girls, Lorinda and Simone, are just waking up. Sometimes when I’m finished I’ll call him, and he and the girls will come and walk me home. But today it’s raining, and Norman was coughing this morning. I told him to go home and get back in bed. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get somebody in the building to help me carry the clothes upstairs. If not, I’ll just do it myself and make two trips, as women in these walk-up apartments have been doing for the last hundred years.

As I continue my slow walk, keeping my umbrella poised over my basket rather than myself, I can’t help thinking about those houses Norman and I looked at last year up in Northern Westchester County, in a Hudson River town called Peekskill. We saw one in particular that was really nice, with good-sized bedrooms and a great yard for the girls, and even for Norman and I to hold barbecues in. The price wasn’t bad, either. We made an offer for less, hoping the seller would come down a little bit. The moment our offer was in I started having second thoughts. What would we do all the way up in Peekskill? We didn’t know a soul who lived there. All our families and friends live here, in the city.

I kept my fears to myself, not saying anything to Norman until the sellers rejected our offer in favor of one that was higher. Norman was disappointed when we didn’t get the house. He said he definitely wants us to get out of the city. He’s been real gung-ho about it ever since last year, when he was mugged at gunpoint right here on Amsterdam Avenue, in broad daylight. I could have become a widow that day, and my daughters fatherless. Yeah, I’d like to get out of here myself.

I know no place on earth is completely safe, but New York has become a lot less so since September 11th. Norman and I both work as nurses up at the Presbyterian Medical Center here in Washington Heights, well away from the Towers, but that lockdown they put on the city’s bridges and tunnels after the attacks caused a whole lot of grief. You have to remember, Manhattan is an island. There’s no way to get off it without taking a bridge or a tunnel. A whole bunch of folks couldn’t get home ... or get to work.

Sure, I’d love to live in the suburbs someplace, where it’s all green and leafy, and where kids can ride bicycles on the sidewalks. Here I can’t even send Lorinda and Simone outside to play because there is no place to play. No wonder so many kids are getting fat, just sitting at home with TVs and computers. In the city it’ll soon be an epidemic.

One more thing about having a house. We'd be able to buy a washing machine and a dryer, and I wouldn't have to schlep in the rain, the snow, and the humidity to wash our family's clothes and linens. That's a beautiful thought, but Norman and I have a better chance of winning the big Lotto jackpot than we do of being able to buy a house in the general vicinity. New York may be the world’s most exciting city, but damned if it ain’t one of the most expensive. Everyplace that’s not too far, like Jersey or Southern Westchester or Long Island, is priced way beyond our means. I mean, four hundred thousand dollars for a house older than we are, and with one lousy bathroom. And the neighborhoods aren’t all that fabulous, either. The one in Peekskill sure wasn't. Of course, we're probably priced out of even there by now.

But on TV or in the movies, I'm always seeing black people living in neighborhoods that look like they’re no more than three years old, with two cars in every driveway, sometimes three, if they have kids old enough to drive. Whenever we see that, somebody always says with a loud suck of their teeth, “Black people don’t live like that.” From what I’ve seen in those black lifestyle magazines that I read at the bookstore, I don’t think that’s true. I’ve seen everyday people, not movie stars or people like that, featured living in gorgeous houses. Sometimes they’re even single women with homes of their own. But none of them live in New York. When I see that it makes me think if leaving New York really is the answer. Because my kids deserve better than what they’ve got.

And, I think as I park my shopping cart in a corner of the vestibule and begin the long trek upstairs with the basket, so do Norman and I.

I hope you enjoyed that peek at the three main characters of If These Walls Could Talk. I'll be back sometime over the weekend, wherever I am.


Chelle Sandell said...

I love the conflict because I can relate. Sounds really good! Hope you have a great holiday!

bettye griffin said...

Glad you liked it, Chelle!

PatriciaW said...

Having been a New Yorker, although not in the city, I can relate to all of your characters in some way. That's it! I'm reading this one over the weekend (if I get some writing done first).

bettye griffin said...

Now, that's the type of reaction I hoped to elicit, Patricia!