E. Lynn Harris says, “A TASTE OF REALITY is a powerful and deeply satisfying read. It’s Kimberla Lawson Roby at her best.” Mosaic Literary Magazine, in their review of Roby’s #1 Blackboard bestseller CASTING THE FIRST STONE, hailed her “rich and emotional style” and said, “Roby tells another life-affirming tale of the black family.” Eric Jerome Dickey, after reading HERE AND NOW, pronounced Roby “a true writer, a storyteller at the top of her game.” Roby brings that same “rich” style of storytelling talent to A TASTE OF REALITY. On the surface, Anise seems to have it all: a successful career, a solid marriage, and good friends. But when she applies for a promotion at work, she loses out to a white colleague who isn’t nearly as qualified for the job. However, the problem at work is only the beginning of Anise’s troubles. After being married for four seemingly blissful years, she discovers that her husband is having an affair. And to make matters worse, one of her best friends at work is keeping dangerous secrets.
But Anise is no quitter. As brave as she is determined, she reaches deep inside her soul to find the strength and courage to overcome heartbreak and stay her course. Ultimately, she will discover that what is worth having is worth fighting for—in her career, and most importantly, in her heart.
I drove my pearl-white, Lexus SUV into the subdivision and sighed with much confusion. I sighed because even though I was living “the good life,” I wasn’t all that happy. My marriage was more than shaky, my career was heading nowhere, and I spent most of my time wondering how everything went wrong. I even wondered why this solid-brick, three-level, dream house was no longer important to me and why now, it was merely a place to lay my head.
After pulling around the circle drive, just past the front door, I eased the gear in park and turned off the ignition. Then I stepped out onto the concrete, grabbed my handbag and briefcase and pushed the door shut. It really was a gorgeous day, and now I wished I could spend the rest of the evening relaxing on the deck. But if I wanted to finish updating the new-hire handbook by next month, I knew I had to keep working on it at home for a couple of hours each night until then. But I didn’t mind, because in human resources, overtime was very necessary.
I unlocked the front door and walked inside. I went through the two-story foyer, passed the sunken great room and headed into the kitchen, where I set my belongings down on the double island and picked up today’s mail. The central air was kicking with full force, and that of course meant that David had finally arrived home from one of his many week-long business trips—one that included this past weekend. He was a successful vice president at a Chicago pharmaceutical sales company, but somehow it was hard for me to believe that spending so much time away from home was truly necessary.
I dropped the stack of bills, magazines and clothing catalogs I’ve never ordered from back onto the island, went down the hallway and into our master bedroom suite. David was sitting in bed, leaning his back against two king-sized pillows, watching something on television. But he looked at me almost immediately.
“Hey,” I said as a peace offering, because we really hadn’t spoken since arguing two nights ago.
“Hey, how’s it going?”
“I’m okay,” I said, but couldn’t help remembering how things used to be when he arrived home from his business trips. He’d call me twice each of the days he was gone, send me flowers without warning and would call me at work, letting me know that he was back at home waiting for me. But things always seem to have a way of changing. So have we as man and wife.
“So, how was work today?” he asked glancing at the television and then back at me waiting for a response.
“Same ole, same ole. ” I kicked my pumps off and shed the jacket to my periwinkle linen pantsuit. “Although, they did re-post the same HR manager’s position I applied for six months ago. I heard this afternoon, that the guy they gave it to is moving to Arizona.”
“You thinking about going for it again?”
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s worth the hassle.”
“Meaning what?” he asked. “A hassle in terms of all the responsibilities that come with a managerial position or the hassle of having to apply for it again?”
“I mean the hassle of having to prove myself all over again to a group of men who totally ignored the fact that I was qualified the first time.”
“Well, for one thing, I don’t think that sort of attitude is going to help you one way or the other,” he said and then looked away, because he knew we’d argued about this very thing not so long ago, and that I resented his position regarding it.
“I don’t want to be pessimistic about this, but based on what happened last time around, I just don’t know if Jim and Lyle believe I can do the job. I was clearly the most qualified, yet they still gave it to a white guy who only had an associate degree and had never worked in human resources. Even though I had an MBA and over three years of HR experience.” I removed my pantyhose and wondered why he never tried to sympathize with how I felt about anything.
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t be upset about what happened before. But what I am saying is that maybe this time will be different if you go into the situation with a little more confidence in your superiors and with more of an open mind. I know you think they treated you unfairly, but maybe you just need to give them a chance.”
“You know what, David?” I said out of mere frustration. “Just because you have the job of your dreams and have never had to experience job discrimination doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.”
My feelings were so hurt. I couldn’t believe my own husband, the man I loved, was trying to defend the same people who passed me over for a promotion without any justifiable explanation.
“In all honesty, I can’t confirm whether discrimination really exists or not, but since I’ve been pretty successful with climbing my own career ladder as a black man, it’s hard for me to see what so many woman and minorities keep complaining about. Maybe it did go on back in the sixties, but things are different now. They’re much different,” he said matter-of-factly.
If I hadn’t heard him with my own ears, I never would have believed that any black person could say such a thing. I was trying not to argue with him, but he was making it more difficult by the minute.
“You’ve been successful, because you’ve always kissed up to the right people,” I said before I knew it. “David, you’ve been a yes-boy for as long as you’ve been in pharmaceutical sales, and sometimes even I can’t tell if you’re black or white. Pretty much, it depends on what day of the week it is, where you are and who you’re talking to.”
“So, what are you saying?” He sat all the way up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Which meant I’d struck a serious nerve with him. But I didn’t care, because he knew I was telling the truth about him. “Let’s just leave this alone,” I said and pulled open the dresser drawer. “Because I really do
n’t want to fight with you about this.”
“No, I want you to tell me what you mean, since you know me so damn well.”
He was steaming, and I could tell from his tone that this argument was only going to escalate. What I was planning to say next, wasn’t going to make things any better.
“Tell you what? That you didn’t start out this way, but now you’ve completely lost your identity? That you’ve forgotten where you came from? That somehow along the way you’ve become so blinded that you think every black man and woman in America is experiencing the same success as you? That some of your white colleagues make derogatory jokes about black people on a frequent basis and you actually laugh louder than they do? I mean, what else do I have to point out for you to understand what I’m saying?”
“A joke is a joke, and just because you don’t have a decent sense of humor, that’s not my problem.”
I laughed and sighed at the same time, because I couldn’t believe he didn’t get what I was trying to tell him.
“David, some of your friends even use the word nigger to your face and then pretend like it’s okay, because they’re only joking around. And I can’t tell you how sick I get every time I hear the president of your company insist that you just aren’t like most black people. I mean, what exactly does that mean? What are most black people like anyway?”
“You’re impossible,” he said picking up the channel selector. “And as far as I’m concerned this goddamn conversation is over. Shit, now I hate I even bothered asking you how your freakin’ day went.”
“I hate that you asked me, too, David, because it’s not like you care about how I feel, anyway.”
“I do care. But I don’t understand why you can’t quit and stay at home like a real wife should. Especially, since I gave up all the luxuries I was used to when I moved all the way out to this backwoods city where you grew up. But the whole time we’ve been married, you’ve never gone out of your way to do anything except what’s convenient for you. And hell, if you want to know the truth, I’m embarrassed to tell people that you work. So, I don’t know why you can’t just join some organizations or sit on a few boards, like every other executive’s wife.” “So, that’s what this is all about? Me giving up all my dreams, so I can sit at home and do nothing? Because you knew when you met me that I wanted a career, and that the money you made wasn’t going to change that. My mother raised me to be self-reliant, and that’s why I didn’t rush to get married before I was thirty. I was always up front with you about that. And I can’t help it if now, you don’t like my independence.”
“The bottom line is that you’re not available when I need you to be for corporate dinners or even sex for that matter. All you do is work ridiculous hours, trying unsuccessfully to prove how good you are, and then you scream how tired you are when you get home. So, I’m telling you now, things can’t continue going the way they are, and I think it’s time for you to decide what your priorities are.”
“ My priorities are the same as they were when you first asked me to marry you. And what about your own work schedule? You’re hardly ever here and when you are, you’re always planning the next business trip.”
“Well in case you hadn’t noticed, Anise, I’m a very well-paid executive. And that means I don’t have the luxury of blowing off my responsibilities the way some people do. My job requires much more than just sitting behind some desk, making a few phone calls.”
“So, exactly what are you trying to say?” I asked.
“That given the menial jobs you’ve always had, I don’t expect you to understand what it takes to walk in my shoes.”
“I don’t believe you, David. I can’t believe you’ve become so vain that you don’t even care what you say to your own wife.”
I gazed at him for a split second and then turned away because the last thing I wanted was for him to see my eyes watering. I couldn’t fathom why he was diminishing me the way he was. I knew things weren’t that great between us, but this cruel, insensitive criticism he was dishing was totally uncalled for.
“Oh, so now you don’t have anything to say?” he asked.”
“No, I don’t. And as a matter of fact, I’m finished with this conversation altogether.”
“Well, I’m not finished. And if you don’t do something about rearranging
your priorities real soon, we’re both going to be sorry.”
“Is that some kind of a threat?” I asked.
“No, because I don’t make threats. At forty years old, I don’t have to. But more importantly, at thirty-six, you need to think about having a baby before you’re too old.”
What he didn’t know was that I wasn’t planning on having any children at all. I’d thought about it when we were first married and was actually looking forward to it, but the one thing I’d learned over the years was that was illogical to bring a baby into an unstable situation. We weren’t even getting along with each other, so how on earth were we going to be good parents to an innocent newborn baby?
“If you think I’m going to give up my career and do nothing except have a house full of babies, I don’t know what to tell you.”
“Oh, so it’s like that?”
“Unfortunately, it is,” I said standing my ground.
“Then you won’t ever hear me bring it up again.”
David walked out of the bedroom, and while I felt like I’d won this latest quarrel of ours by unanimous decision, I didn’t feel much like a heavyweight champion. He was too calm, and I could tell that I’d lost just a little more of him and part of the love he once had for me. Which hurt terribly, because there was a time when we both loved each other hard—when we both thought that life wasn’t quite worth living if we couldn’t be together. That feeling lasted five long years, but these last twelve months had played another tune, one that we were no longer able to create beautiful lyrics to. We both kept trying, but the rhythm just wasn’t the same as it once was.
Maybe we were never meant to be together from the beginning. But I didn’t want to believe that theory, because I did know how love felt. I could still remember the first day we met. We were at a pool party that was being given by some mutual friends of ours, Sam and Theresa, over in Olympia Fields, a pre-dominantly black, upper-echelon south suburb of Chicago. I’d met Theresa at a four-day human resources convention in Oak Brook, and we’d continued to stay in touch ever since. David knew Sam because Sam had been one of his pharmaceutical clients when David was a sales manager. Theresa had always tried to play matchmaker for me since the time we met and couldn’t wait to introduce David as soon as he’d arrived at the party. I knew then, that I was strongly attracted to him, and it was pretty obvious that he felt the same way about me. It wasn’t love at first sight, but we clicked from the very first moment we laid eyes on each other. We spent most of the evening together and exchanged phone numbers before leaving. He called me daily, and I was always smiling from ear to ear whenever I heard his voice. His work schedule and the fact that he lived almost ninety minutes away kept us from seeing each other during the week, but it didn’t take long for his visits on Saturdays and Sundays to evolve into extended overnight stays. He began arriving on Friday evenings and never left my condo before daylight on Monday mornings.
We dated all of six months before he surprised me with a two-carat, diamond solitaire, engagement ring, I immediately told him yes, that I would marry him, and we took life-long vows the very next year. He’d really wanted to keep his residence in the Chicago area though, not just because he worked there, but because he loved the suburb that he lived in. I would have liked being closer to Chicago as well, but I just couldn’t bring myself to leave my mother or most of my relatives who lived in Mitchell, a city with barely 150,000 residents. We’d always been such a close family, and the thought of living in a different city from the rest of them made me uncomfortable. Had I made the move, I knew I would have been extremely unhappy, so David, against very strong wishes, agreed on moving here with me and had been commuting ever since. He loved me that much, and I had the utmost respect for his giving up the lifestyle he was so accustomed to living. Mitchell was a wonderful place to reside and a great place to raise children, but it wasn’t Chicago. There was no Magnificent Mile, no large production plays, no concerts with A-list entertainers, and no exquisite art galleries. But again, it was a wholesome, quiet, place to live, and I was happy to be here. David on the other hand wasn’t, and now, I was pretty sure that this was part of the reason he was so distant and almost preferred going on business trips as opposed to being at home with me. Our lifestyle was, well, boring by his definition, but I on the other hand, perceived it as comfortable living. However, I was born and raised here, and I learned a long time ago that we all get used to what we get used to.
Sometimes love just isn’t enough. Sometimes so much more is needed, and I couldn’t help wondering how long it was going to be before David flashed a news broadcast my heart wouldn’t be able to handle. I guess I did still love him, but there were so many days when I honestly didn’t like him at all. Not to mention that he obviously felt the same way about me.
I honestly didn’t know what it was we needed to do to make things right again. But if it had anything to do with me swallowing my pride and forgetting about work altogether, that wasn’t an option.
I just couldn’t see myself doing that.
Not for him.
Not for any one person I could think of.
2. Do you feel that the racial discrimination Anise experienced is realistic in today’s society?
3. Have you ever experienced racial discrimination in the workplace? What about gender discrimination?
4. Do you know someone like the character, Jim?
5. Do you know someone like the character, David?
6. After being criticized so harshly by David, should Anise have taken him for everything he had?
7. What are your feelings toward interracial relationships?
8. How did you feel about Frank?
9. Did you feel sorry for Lorna in terms of her situation with Jim?
10. Do you feel that Anise should have stood up for all women and minorities at Reed Meyers and taken the chance of being black-balled on a local level or was it better for her to handle things the way she did?
11. Have you ever experienced sexual harassment? If so, did you report it, and what was the outcome?
12. Do you believe that, as a society, we are making progress in terms of racial discrimination and gender discrimination in the workplace?
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