Bitch Please!

Twanna Permenter
October 19, 2016

The almighty creator saw fit to bless me with a sister-friend that can never be matched. Yelp, she was definitely one of a kind. We met in Washington, DC at the elevator one day in the apartment building we lived in, Lincoln Westmoreland. She said good morning and introduced herself, “My name is Beverly”. She had just moved into the apartment next to mine on the 5th floor. She politely started questioning me, “you married, don’t your mother live in here, you a student aren’t you,” etc., etc. It was obvious that she was the “Rona Barrett”, gossip columnist, of the building. I figured what the hay, let’s humor her and see where this goes. That broke the ice and the next time we met the conversation was more relaxed. By the time we started to go our separate ways she said, “You not the stuck up bitch people say you are” “What people? All I’m doing is minding my business.” I couldn’t help but laugh, and from that point on we became the best of friends.

The friendship expanded in layers, trust has to be earned and Beverly was from the best school there is, the school of hard knocks. She had been knocked down a time or two and she was no one’s fool. She was smart and learned very quickly. We started out on this new segment of life with much joy and optimism. I was in my senior year of college in 1978 and had only been in my apartment for less than a year. A few months later Bev, her daughter, and new found companion had gotten a place of their own right next door to mine. Beverly’s mother lived on the 7th floor and mine lived on the 3rd, they too became best friends. Life just couldn’t get any better.

We would get up in the morning and get our families off for the day, and if I didn’t have classes for that day we would get together to compare our daily agendas, while smoking a joint. At this time in my life I had lived a fairly cloistered lifestyle and getting high was new to me. I had graduated from an all-girls Catholic school, seventeen, and pregnant my first time out. I was determined not to become another teenage pregnancy stereotype; unemployed, unskilled, and on welfare. I had planned on going to college before getting pregnant and that plan didn’t change. From that point on it was me, my parents, and baby Nestlie. I was focused, driven, and full of confidence.

Beverly and I seemed to be extreme opposites at first and I didn’t really expect the friendship to be anything but superficial, you know, mostly hi and good-bye. It didn’t take long before we both began to discover we were very much alike. We were women, survivors who had some hard knocks in our childhood. We didn’t have much but what we did have was all that counted; family, the love of our lives, big dreams, and faith. We had learned much from our mistakes and now at a whopping 22 years of experience, we were armed with a little bit of wisdom and a whole lot of common sense. Yeah, Beverly would knock on my door around nine-thirty in the morning, just before the corner liquor store opened for her to get her bumper of Miller’s, and time enough for us to hit a joint. We would go our separate ways by noon so we could handle our chores and run some errands. I had to be at work by 4.

We would share tips with one another on balancing the household budget and both of us knew how to make a dollar holla. I was Miss. Analytical with a drugstore ledger book and could balance my check book to the penny. I knew exactly how much my household income would be every payday and would plan out my spending for the month. Beverly could keep all of her numbers in her head. She knew which grocery store had what on sale and when. She was the coupon queen and we both would get the Sunday Washington Post so we could clip our coupons before heading to the stores.

Yeah, we were smart, young, and full of determination, warrior sistahs. When the start of the school season was near, Beverly would be the first one at the lay-away window with an arm full of clothes for her daughter Chauntai, who was seven at the time. We had become quite the team. She taught me how to curse because I didn’t know how. She would laugh, and sometimes get angry at the way I sounded trying to be hip.

We would share housekeeping and cooking tips as well, although I was an amateur at being domestic. Keep in mind all I ever really did was go to school and cook a few stovetop meals. Once my boyfriend moved in, I had to start keeping house for real. It took me a few months before I decided that I just wasn’t the domestic type. Beverly on the other hand loved it. She would remind me of holidays so we could plan our menus. She loved the holidays. We definitely had different eating and cooking habits but there were a few things we could agree on; collard greens, cornbread, and great mac and cheese.

Armed with our mothers cooking advice, Bev and I would set out for the stores to get all of the ingredients at the best prices. Since I always had a car Bev and I would hit the stores just before Thanksgiving in search of the best looking greens at the lowest price. We would stand at the greens bin with the little old ladies stemming our greens and comparing notes on which stores we had been to and whether the greens were worth the trip. One of them would say, “C–h–i–l-d, I was at the Safeway the other day.” “Which one?” The one on Rhode Island Ave. Their greens were better than these.” “R-e- a- l- l-y?” Then someone else would chime in with their favorite finds and the conversation would go on from there. We would be up late into the night preparing food for the feast the next day, having a drink and listening to Quiet Storm on WHUR. I loved those times. Now we, are the little old ladies, standing at the greens bin.

As time marched on life did what life always do, change. I finished school, married my boyfriend (Yea I made him put a ring on it), and got a full time job and eventually, Beverly did too. She liked being the stay at home mom and going back to school just wasn’t her forte. If I mentioned school or a book to Beverly I would hear “Bitch please!” as she took a drag off her cigarette. But sometimes as Beverly would say “A woman got to do what a woman got to do to maintain.” and Bev was a survivor.

Now that we had fulltime incomes we could expand our horizons. We could get tickets to the Kennedy Center to take the kids to see The Wiz, buy cognac instead of cheap rum, and abandon the lay-away line. I stopped clipping all those dam coupons. It just didn’t seem worth the effort anymore. You would just buy more stuff just because it was on sell, not to mention all the driving around to the different stores to save fifty cents. Beverly even abandoned some of her insecurities and started dressing up and going out with the girls. At that time I worked the evening shift in a hospital lab, so I and a few co-workers found the late night joints to have a drink and dance to some disco. For us it was no big deal. But Beverly felt left out. She loved being the rebel so when I got off from work at midnight I would drive through the alley behind the apartment building, toot the horn and she would come down the stairwell and hop in the car. She liked keeping secrets so going to the after-hours clubs was her little secret. We found a place not far from where we lived where we could get a gin and tonic in a beer mug for $2.00. Life was good. We would creep back in around 2 a.m. and all was well with our soul. Years later she loved telling this story about how she would sneak out of the house after everyone was sleep and party.

Then life got complicated. I had my first son and grew to hate my profession. Beverly quit her job and went back to being a housewife and mom. I went through a couple of periods of unemployment, had another son, and didn’t get that house with the white picket fence right away. Beverly taught me how to buy the cheapest pancake mix that didn’t need milk or eggs, just water. Again, she was a survivor. She had her second child, Curvontai, nineteen years after her first at the age of 34. She didn’t see that coming. She spent many days in my apartment fussing about being an old pregnant bitch and her new
goal in life was to make everyone else as miserable as she was, dammit. I would feed her whatever I was cooking for the day and send her home stuffed. I had long since given up getting high and I also gave up on trying to get her to do the same.

Things calmed down for a while. We had our babies, our men, and a roof over our heads. We could put a pot of beans on the stove and fix a pan of cornbread. We would listen to the radio playing the top sounds of the time; Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Charka Khan, Tina Tuner, Prince. I personally was a jazz fan so when Bev knocked on my door she was most likely to hear; Miles Davis, Pat Metheny, George Benson, Donald Byrd, Grover Washington or Al Jarreau. Bev could roll with whatever I chose.

When life started to get difficult and dark for Beverly she would disappear. She and her family moved from Lincoln Westmoreland and we didn’t see each other as much. We would talk from time to time on the phone and then there would be long periods of silence. I got divorced and landed a dream job that had me traveling 100% of the time. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from my friend for as long as a year. She would call with a new phone number and often, a new address. We would catch up on family details and I would go to wherever she was so I could see that she was alright for myself. She always put on the mask of strength and well-being because that’s what she wanted the public to see. But when we would get together over a drink, just me and her, she would take the mask off and let me know what was really going on. We could be vulnerable with one another because we both knew there would be no judgement. I couldn’t fix her problems but I could be there for moral support. She always knew that I had her back, I was her friend, her ride-or-die friend. All she had to do was give the word. She never asked for help for anything. She made her choices and handled her problems in her own way without as much as a whimper and I had to respect that.

My friend didn’t mince words much. She would tell you in no uncertain terms what she thought and if necessary she would ask you out of her house. She was head bitch in her space and she let anyone who doubted it know it. Beverly came off with a lot of bravado but she was a softy at heart. She would always help a single mother out in some way. She was babysitting somebody’s children all the time. Whenever she would cook a big meal, she would send Curvontai with a plate of food to somebody’s apartment. She knew about every government program and could get all the info you needed. Yes, she definitely carved a place out in mine and many others hearts.

The decades kept marching on. We both had gained a little more wisdom. We both had lived through relationship issues and financial hurdles. We learned that our happiness is our individual responsibility and no one else’s. We finally accepted that life is about change, lessons, choices and consequences. For every action there is a reaction. We learned to relax, have some fun, and not take life so seriously. We learned to do the best we could do and give the rest to God. We learned that at the end of the day, it’s all good. And still we rise, for a new day.

When my friend’s health started to fail she seemed to be taking it in stride. She would leave the hospital looking forward to being with her family. She didn’t want to discuss what the doctors were saying. She just wanted to pick up her life where she had left off and that’s what she did. I stepped back and became the observer. I knew that this was a battle only she could fight and I had seen this dance before. I knew to prepare myself for the hit my heart was about to take. I had gotten very good at that. My friend and confidant fought the good fight. She lived life on her own terms and was very clear about who she was. You don’t meet too many people that you can take at face value. I have nothing but love and respect for her.

Ms. Beverly Garland Robey, Born September 22, 1955 died today, October 19, 2016 at 3:13 a.m.

And all is well. Rest in peace my friend.