Twenty years ago today, the amazing Tananarive said “I Due” to me in her parents’ home in Cutler Ridge section of Miami Florida. I couldn’t believe my luck then, and I don’t believe it now.
My first marriage was going belly-up due to mis-steps along the way. You can take such small actions, but over time, they magnify until you are lost, and Toni and I couldn’t find our way back to each other. I was pretty miserable, but even more, I felt spun, unable to catch my balance. Some time later I had a chance for a relationship with a fabulous lady who in many ways was an exemplar, the most attractive human female I think I’d ever seen. I blew it, partially because we were on different paths, and partially because I was too open and eager.
A period of adjustment followed, during which I realized that to attract women I needed to be both focused and casual. Otherwise I’d come across as either needy, or a predator.
Once I found that “relaxed focus” mode, things got scary easy. I mean SCARY. I’d never been that attractive before, and I realized I could be one of the great dogs of all time…and didn’t want it. Traveling to Clark Atlanta Universary for the “African American Fantastic Imagination” conference, I encountered several ladies who…let’s say the connection was instant and almost overwhelming. But…I was playing a game, and I didn’t want games. I wanted something real.
And that night, after arriving, I prayed. I just asked God for a soul mate. Someone I could really be myself with. No games. And I was willing to wait the rest of my life for her, if that was what was necessary.
And…the next morning, coming out of my room, a cute little girl named Tananarive Due came out of the room next to me (!), asked if I was THE Steven Barnes, and asked if I was going to breakfast.
Well, sure, I said, a little confused. We had breakfast, and she was charming, and full of enthusiasm. She had published one book, THE BETWEEN, with another close on the way, MY SOUL TO KEEP. I was polite, and just a little distant. But when I read a couple of pages of BETWEEN I realized that despite a fifteen-year head start, when it came to “memetic” or realistic fiction, depiction of the everyday world, that critical element that effective fantasy MUST possess…she was already better then me. I decided that I would adopt her as a little sister, would support her and give her whatever I could to protect and propell her toward what I knew would be a hell of a career.
But…I wasn’t “attracted” to her, not consciously. I knew she was cute and smart of course, but I wasn’t in touch with anything else inside me. We did some line dancing on the first night there, and I got to see how well she moved her body–a healthy, fit animal. Very nice. But STILL nothing else kicked in.
Then…on our last day at the conference, she gave a talk about how she got Stephen King to blurb her second novel, and it was a complex strategy using her position at the Miami Herald, her skills on the keyboard, and the nerve to ask if she could play in King’s band, the “Rock Bottom Remainders” when it appeared at the Miami Book Fair. She did, she made friends with him, and he agreed to look at her book…and the rest was history.
I sat in the front row watching her…and was thunderstruck. She wasn’t “smart”. She was SMART. And…damn, she was really really REALLY cute, too…
And at that moment, a chill ran up my spine. It was something I’d never felt before, like a door opening, revealing a path to my future. “Oh, Steve,” I said to myself. “You are in TROUBLE”.
She lived in Miami. I lived in Vancouver, Washington. Opposite corners of the country. We were leaving Atlanta the next day. I had to get her attention FAST.
In situations like that, fully engaged, the WHAT clear (connect with Tananarive Due. See if this feeling is real, and if she could share it), the WHY (this was a potential Soul Mate. Someone with whom I could create a life. Someone with similar values, energy, interests, skills. She spoke my language and lived my life intellectually, emotionally, physically. If I was right…this was the answer to my prayers)
All that remained was the “HOW.” Have I said before that if the WHAT and the WHY are clear enough, the HOW presents itself?
She came down off the stage and was immediately surrounded by autograph seekers. I looked around the room. How could I catch her attention..?
And there, in the front row a few seats down, was a woman with a baby on her lap. Inspiration struck. I went to her. “Excuse me, ma’am,” I asked. “May I borrow your baby..?”
She looked at me blankly, wondering what this was about. She knew WHO I was (which was more than I knew, at the moment!) and I told a tangentially relevant truth: I love kids, and love playing with kids, and miss babies. She said “o.k.” and handed me the child. I got down on the floor in front of Tananarive, and started playing with that adorable little baby.
Now…if I hadn’t been serious, hadn’t been dead bang 100% blown away by her, that would have been an amazingly nasty and manipulative thing to do. I KNEW that there was no way an unmarried heterosexual professional black woman in her early 30’s could see an available professional attractive black man who loved babies without her hind brain going DING DING DING!!! She would HAVE to investigate, find out if this was a possibility.
Was it foul play? Hell no. And I knew that if she was what I was looking for, she would understand even if I told her EXPLICITLY what I was doing. I was communicating directly from hind-brain to hind-brain: I desire you. I believe we are potential mates. And if you will give me a chance, and we both decide to go forward, I will love you all your life. Give you children. And die to protect them, if necessary. All I am is yours, if this connection is real.
She got it. I got my chance. We went dancing that night, and I kissed her good-night for the first time. And the next day, we were sitting in the Atlanta Hartsfield airport, our heads leaning against each other, holding hands and talking about how we could build an empire together. That was the beginning, and we’ve never looked back.
I remember that prayer: give me someone to love. Someone I could just be myself with. I was tired of wearing a mask, or being anyone other than who and what I am. If I could just find that person…I was prepared to strive every day to be the best man I can be, so that they never, EVER regretted the trust it would take to build a life together.
I’m not perfect. But God, I love her. From that first moment I saw her spirit and drive and creativity…let alone how well she danced and how good she looked doing it.
Sigh. That’s the story. I’m going to take her to breakfast now. But if you want to know why every day, EVERY DAY in my Morning M.A.G.I.C. program I give thanks for “my beautiful, brilliant wife”…this is why. The universe heard my prayer and answered. I take my gratitude for that, for her, and pour it into everything I do, every day, and it has indeed made me a better man.
Thank you, baby. For the best twenty years of an already wonderful life. The best is yet to come.