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“One True Thing”

If you had to choose one true thing about yourself, what would it be? Jocelyn prepares for a first date while juggling mothering from afar. All the while debating her inner critic.

9 min read

Jocelyn found it hard to focus on the date, although it had been the only thing occupying her mind until she got the text from her daughter. And just like that, she was split in half. Part of her brain trying to decide which dress could accommodate her extra pounds and the other part worrying about how she should respond about the rally. Knowing that whatever she said wouldn’t change anything but could make things worse. This was the part of parenting that felt harder than any other stage. In the ambiguous swampland of motherhood, the wrong comment, question, or non-committal grunt, could put you in the muck and leave you struggling to find firm footing for days, if not weeks. It was the stuff that kept therapists in business.

Technically, her daughter was an adult in the eyes of the law, but in her heart, and Jocelyn sighed at this thought, Tamara would always be her baby. She glanced at her phone.

She had an hour before she needed to leave to meet Porter. Porter. What kind of name was that? He was about her age, cresting 50, the generation when kids were named Tyrone and Anthony, Jimmy, and Harold. Not those made for Instafame names like Porter. She wondered if it was real or if he was catfishing her. When she brought it up to Tamara, she told Jocelyn she couldn’t be catfished if they met in person. They had binged on five seasons of Catfish together, so she kind of knew that but still wondered if he was being honest.

Jocelyn had dabbled in online dating in her 20s and 30s. Back then, she couldn’t go anywhere without meeting new people because she was always out somewhere doing something. Now, her world seemed much smaller, and she felt out of touch as she wondered, how do you meet people in a city of 11 million? As big as LA was, meeting men her age seemed next to impossible. Well, eligible men… with no small kids or ex-wife drama, who did not have roommates, but had a stable work history (day trader or influencer did not count) with decent credit, it narrowed the field considerably. It made an eligible man her age seem like a purple unicorn.

She chose a black dress. The jersey material was kinder to her rolls and lumps that accompanied middle age. Middle age for those who spent zero hours at the gym and still ate like they had the metabolism of a teenager. She felt immense guilt over the two cupcakes she had inhaled for dinner the previous night.

Her mind flashed back to the text. A right-wing speaker was giving a talk on campus, and Tamara was going to take part in the demonstrations. The speaker was anti-immigration, anti-everything, and some students were protesting her appearance – the seeming endorsement of anti-ness by the university. Tamara had been up in arms, using ALL CAPS, when she told Jocelyn about the upcoming program. A million different scenarios ran through her mind. The police. Pepper spray. Crowds. Guns. She wanted Tamara to stay in her dorm. Pop in her AirPods and listen to the Apple Music subscription Jocelyn was paying for monthly. But she hadn’t asked her permission. On campus, on the other side of the country, she didn’t need it.

If this were a movie, Jocelyn would have her girls come over to help her get ready, and a wine-drinking montage would ensue. But this was real life, and she had no girls, no crew, no squad, and her date was no Morris Chestnut. The friends she’d made when her daughter was younger had drifted away as the kids got older and managed their social calendars.

She peered at her herself in the mirror, cataloguing every defect, real and imagined. The woman that stared back was not the vivacious chick living in her head. In her mind, she was still in her late 20s. A sigh escaped from her. She seemed to do that a lot lately. Not sure if she even wanted to go out and meet Porter for drinks at that bar that supposedly had a huge Instagram following, according to him. She didn’t pay attention to those types of things since Tamara was no longer around to tell her about it. Staring at her face, she knew no amount of makeup could hide the fact that one eye was significantly larger than the other. Dr. Google said it was ptosis, a drooping eyelid.

When she was younger, she staunchly, and arrogantly she now realized in retrospect, said she would never, ever have plastic surgery. Now, if she had the money, she would get a face and neck lift, tummy tuck, boob job, lipo, heck, if they offered to remove her brain and just drop it in a younger body, she would do it, no questions asked. Her younger self was full of herself. Father Time had a way of making one humble.

She didn’t have the patience to sit through online makeup tutorials, so she didn’t know how to use bronzer to highlight her cheeks. She dabbed on blush, just like they taught her at John Robert Powers back in her teen days when she wanted to be a model. Although she was only 5’3”, brown, of average weight and not tree tall, alabaster white or heroin chic, they still took her parent’s money and indulged her dreams of a shot on the catwalk. She added a touch of bright red lipstick to her lips and tried taking one of those pouty selfies but felt ridiculous.

She wanted to call Tamara to see how the rally was going. Never having been to a protest or rally, she imagined that one would be unable to use the phone while protesting. Sure, you could use the phone to record a video, but to talk? Not so much. There were no protests in the 80s. Shoulder pads and MTV were flash points of that decade. And even though AIDS was taking out a large swath of the population, she didn’t remember anyone taking to the streets. Or maybe they did, and without the internet, she didn’t know. This would be her daughter’s second rally. The first was a nationwide gun violence rally in high school. Tamara was passionate, and if she had been born in a different time, Jocelyn was almost sure she would have been part of the Black Power Movement. Fear kept nudging her thoughts, and she chewed on it like a piece of seasoned fat and hoped, prayed, if a cop saw Tamara in a crowd of protesters, he wouldn’t treat her as an other but like the unarmed child that she was. Her child.

When Jocelyn was 18, she lived for the weekend, busy trying to get into the Tunnel and MARS, NYC hotspots, hoping to catch LL Cool J and Heavy D on the mic. Kids these days were on group chats so that if someone saw a POC being questioned by the police on or near campus, they would all rush to the scene to ensure that person’s safety by recording the exchange. They were calling out their classmates online for using the n-word and letting them know it was not ok. Saying, “Be careful,” was often met with eye rolls and a long sigh of “Mom,” that stretched into eighteen syllables.

Jocelyn looked at the phone; maybe she should text Porter and tell him not tonight. He had been fun to text with; he’d messaged her on Bumble two weeks before. She had tried Tinder, Hinge, Match, and Plenty of Fish, but Porter was the only one who contacted her that didn’t seem like he would immediately chop her up in pieces and store her remains in a Hefty bag in the back of a Prius. She wondered if she should have run a background check on him. He was divorced for many years, had a son and a daughter, one in college, and one who graduated from college two years ago. He worked at a sports marketing firm. His photos were a mix of outdoorsy, Hey look at me, I’m in shape, to a few group shots out and about, the I’m totally not anti-social, I have friends who can vouch for me collage. Their correspondence was fairly benign. They were meeting for drinks with the unsaid understanding that it could either turn into dinner or ghosting.

 

She wiped off a thin layer of dust that had accumulated on her black pumps. Should she check to see if Tamara posted an Instagram story about the rally? Even though Jocelyn wasn’t on Instagram, she was on Instagram just to check Tamara’s page.

Tamara hadn’t updated her story since the day before when she posted a picture with a group of friends whose names she didn’t know and some gruel like concoction from the cafeteria. Jocelyn hashtagged the name of the university and searched. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw stills and videos of hundreds and hundreds of students blocking the entrance to a building. An ominous row of riot gear clad police stood at the ready. She couldn’t make out anyone’s face. Tamara could have been any of those students.

Her phone vibrated as a text banner notification flashed across her screen.

Running 15 minutes late. 

She glanced at her watch. She needed to leave now if she was going to get there on time. GPS and WAZE couldn’t always predict the unpredictability of LA freeways. Heading into downtown, at least she would be going against traffic. She slipped on the pumps and grimace-walked to the mirror. Why did they feel so small?

“I guess this is as good as it gets,” she said as she gave herself the final once over, another sigh escaping.

She hadn’t been on a first date in…she couldn’t remember. She’d had the excuse of being a single mom to fall back on for her lack of social life. Now that she was nursing an empty nest, it was either admit to being a hermit or go out on a date or two. Tamara was worried about her becoming a shut-in. Sometimes Jocelyn worried too. She felt it deep in her bones when Drake rapped to Jhene Aiko on “From Time,” My mother is 66 and her favorite line to hit me with is /Who the fuck wants to be 70 and alone?

She checked Instagram once more and watched snippets of contained chaos unfold in shaky videos. Students shouting, police watching, attendees being diverted. She closed the app and with shaky fingers texted Tamara an emoji blowing kisses. It was shorthand for be safe, don’t stay out too late, eat more vegetables, if you go to a frat party don’t drink anything, button up your coat before you catch pneumonia, and call me.

A message flashed from Porter. Can’t wait to see you too!

She scrolled and saw she sent him the emoji by mistake.

On my way, she replied.

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Sibylla Nash

Sibylla Nash is an LA-based writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of outlets including Essence magazine, Vibe, Lit Hub, and many others. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Otis College of Art & Design.
http://www.sibyllanash.com Twitter & Instagram: @my_bookish_ways