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How Stella Got Her Groove Back

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How Stella Got Her Groove Back is full of Terry McMillan's signature humor, heart, and insight. More than a love story, it is ultimately a novel about how a woman saves her own life—and what she must risk to do it.

Stella Payne is forty-two, divorced, a high-powered investment analyst, mother of eleven-year-old Quincy- and she does it all. In fact, if she doesn't do it, it doesn't get done, from Little League carpool duty to analyzing portfolios to folding the laundry and bringing home the bacon. She does it all well, too, if her chic house, personal trainer, BMW, and her loving son are any indication. So what if there's been no one to share her bed with lately, let alone rock her world? Stella doesn't mind it too much; she probably wouldn't have the energy for love—and all of love's nasty fallout—anyway.

But when Stella takes a spur-of-the-moment vacation to Jamaica, her world gets rocked to the core—not just by the relaxing effects of the sun and sea and an island full of attractive men, but by one man in particular. He's tall, lean, soft-spoken, Jamaican, smells of citrus and the ocean—and is half her age. The tropics have cast their spell and Stella soon realizes she has come to a cataclysmic juncture: not only must she confront her hopes and fears about love, she must question all of her expectations, passions, and ideas about life and the way she has lived it.

ISBN-13: 9780451209146

Media Type: Paperback(Reissue)

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group

Publication Date: 01-06-2004

Pages: 416

Product Dimensions: 5.23(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.89(d)

Age Range: 18 Years

Terry McMillan is the award-winning, critically acclaimed #1 New York Times bestselling author of Waiting to Exhale, Getting to Happy, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, A Day Late and a Dollar Short, The Interruption of Everything, Who Asked You?, Mama, Disappearing Acts, I Almost Forgot About You, It’s Not All Downhill From Here, and the editor of Breaking Ice: An Anthology of Contemporary African-American Fiction. She lives in California.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I hadn't planned on going anywhere. All I knew was that as much as I loved my son, I was glad to see him disappear after those doors to Gate 3 closed this morning. Quincy's on his way to Colorado Springs to visit his daddy and now I have the house all to myself. Finally, some peace and quiet. And three whole weeks of it. Of course there are a million things I want to do and now I can do them without being distracted. Without hearing "Mom, can I ... ?!" every fifteen seconds.

Thank God it's Saturday. And thank God it's summertime. School's out. No more three-day-a-week Little League practice (rain or shine) or those long-ass games. No week-on/week-off revolving carpooling and forgetting it's my week and being afraid to call the parents of the abandoned children who are all standing in the rain for an hour after I forgot them because they are all--including my own son--too dumb to call somebody else. And thank the Lord there's nowhere I have to be: no can't-wait portfolios to review and I don't have to pay attention to any of the four computers in my office, I mean I can actually be off-line for a change and I have no meetings no planes to catch, nada.

I've got about a hundred books I've been meaning to read since last year and I figure now I can probably read them all. I've got a house full of trees and straggly vines that need to be transplanted which is what I'm planning to do today but of course when I go out to the garage I have no big pots and just a drop of potting soil and not a single pair of those gloves with the little rubber dots on the fingertips, all of which means I have to go to Home Depot. I hate going to Home Depot because I always end up going down the plant rug toilet or sink aisles when I have enough plants rugs toilets and sinks already. But by the time I get to the checkout I usually have to exchange my cart for one of those flatbed numbers and then I realize I didn't drive the truck so I have to have them put my stuff to the side until I come back and as I'm driving home it occurs to me that they're probably going to switch some of my merchandise and not think I'll notice but by the time I pull the truck up to their automatic doors I'm usually totally pissed at myself for buying all this shit I don't need because despite the fact that I am not a landscaper handywoman or carpenter I have all these useful new tools with which to express my fantasies of do-it-yourselfness and what is really bothering me is that I have most likely spent somewhere in the neighborhood of a thousand bucks which seems to be my going rate here and at Costco and which is also why I am right this minute changing my mind about going today. I'll go tomorrow. With a list and the promise to buy only what's on it.

I look around the house and realize that the housekeeper does a pretty good job--for a sixty-one-year-old Peruvian man--of keeping it clean. He fixes everything that breaks around here, and since he is ultrareligious and I think maybe even a participating Buddhist, out of respect I sort of watch my mouth in my own home. He cleans under and behind everything which is the main reason I have no Saturday morning cleaning to do. I believe from the bottom of my heart that dusting polishing and vacuuming are entirely too tedious never-ending and boring tasks and there are so many other things I would rather be doing which is why I hired Paco in the first place. He is worth the money.

I open all the blinds and notice that the windows are pretty grungy-looking from all the rain we've had here this past spring. Flooding and mud slides wiped out hundreds of homes all over northern California and I felt lucky to be way out here in this boring little valley. I don't do windows which is why I make a mental note to call Of Course We Do Windows first thing on Monday. Paco tried doing them once but he couldn't get up high outside and if he fell and hurt himself I would feel terrible.

I go into the kitchen and make myself a latte and as I stare out into the backyard the first thing I see is Phoenix, our free-from-the-pound chocolate Lab, swimming in our black-bottom pool as if it's his. Then I look over at what is now a storage shed that I was told was once a guesthouse and then I turned it into a studio but of course that was when I used to be this creative person and I had energy and a thriving spirit and I would design and conceive and sometimes actually manufacture what I used to call functional sculpture aka handcrafted furniture that people in fact solicited and paid me real money to make for them out of everything from aluminum copper steel wood whatever, but then it became so hard to like pay the rent and then this husband I ended up saying yes to when I should've just said no convinced me that I could use that MBA I got and like combine it with that MFA I also had which of course all by itself was worthless and who could afford this eccentric one-of-a-kind so-called furniture when a normal person could like just go to Thomasville or Levitz or Ikea and of course I didn't know how to mix commerce with art and so I failed at working with my hands. I went with the brain and forged figures inside my economic head and did the total business beat. I have been doing this now for like hell I don't even know how many years but it is another reason why right this minute, looking out at the dog at that clear black water at the little salmon-colored bungalow where I used to pray and dream and invent, I am getting a sudden overwhelming urge to run the vacuum through my mental house and chill out, sit down long enough to smell the cosmos the zinnias the coral bells hell the fucking coffee (which I actually can smell right now), so when Quincy comes home I'll be more poised balanced composed than I've been in years. The generic term for it is relaxed. Maybe I can even acquire some of that stuff commonly known as patience that I haven't had in a long time. I'd like to be able to sit down next to my son and watch one of those moronic TV shows that he's always begging me to watch but after a few minutes I always find myself jumping up to do something during the commercials and I repeat this up-and-down business at least five times during a mere half-hour show which means I'm not exactly setting a good example for someone who's always telling her child how he needs to learn to sit still long enough to give something his undivided attention. All I do when I get up is move things. Dishes go in the dishwasher. Or they come out. Never-read magazines newspapers and last week's mail are tossed into the compactor for crushing. Clothes pulled out of the washer get pushed into the dryer. Now let's fold. Make stacks. Everything has to be in its place. Because if I don't do it, it won't get done.

But I'm tired of jumping up. Tired of running. I would like to be able to just sit there with my son without moving without wishing I were somewhere else doing something else without thinking about something else and I'd like to just hold his hand or put my arm around his narrow shoulders because I know in a few more years he won't want me to sit on the couch with him and watch anything and he probably won't want me to touch him.

I walk from the kitchen into the family room and sit on the red leather love seat and I look around and see all this color all these different textures--those golden maple floors those celery concrete floors these purple plastered walls that teal suede sofa that black oak pool table that eggplant leather floor in my office and this silver slate under my feet--and I am proud that over the years I have made my funky little California castle suitable to my needs my tastes and I have rigged equipped and outfitted it in such an unorthodox way that it might actually be impossible to sell even though I am not even thinking of moving anywhere but for some reason today like right this minute I am feeling imposed upon by all of it as if I went too far and now all this color all these juxtaposing textures are backfiring instead of soothing as they always have even until just yesterday but not today and as I sit here and watch Phoenix shaking himself dry, I decide that today maybe I should shake myself up a little too.

But how? And where do you start? I look down at the coffee table and notice Quincy forgot the stationery I bought him so he could write to me and his homies while he's away. Maybe I should write a few long-overdue letters or something to some folks. That's it! Yeah, I'll write to a few long-lost relatives and to some folks I haven't seen or talked to in ages. Just little notes. Some maybe-you-think- I've-forgotten-you-but-here's-a-gesture-to-let-you-know-I-haven't notes. Hell, I remember when I used to write tons of letters. Now who has time to even call anymore? A lot of times when I do call I'm secretly hoping the person won't be home and that I'll get the answering machine because I know there's something else I could or should be doing that's a helluva lot more productive like washing clothes or doing something in the kitchen but the portable phone is too staticky in the laundry room and kitchen which means I have to stand in one place and talk which is why it's so much easier to leave a two-minute message (if they've got a decent machine) than it is to talk for a half hour or longer, depending on where they fall in your chart of closeness, trying to cover what has happened to you both over the last week month year or two.

I know I'm not alone because I'm forever getting messages from estranged friends and relatives who are pissed because I haven't returned their phone calls from whenever and they say things like, "Girl, I could be dead and you wouldn't know it what kind of fucking friend are you Stella we used to be close did I do something that I don't know about" and I shake my head no or they say we just had a baby or I finally got my divorce and I just wanted you to know that I don't live in Atlanta or Memphis or Los Angeles anymore, and oh by the way, I've got a brand-new grandbaby and did you get the pictures if you did you didn't say nothing about how cute he is and hell, he's got three teeth now or he's walking or in kindergarten and this is the MCI operator with a collect call from BENNIE please press one if you accept and two if you decline and sir the party's not at home and he says okay but can I leave a message anyway and then there is a click and he is just one of my many relatives who call from the penitentiary but then there's hey yeah Stella this is your cousin Rafiki As-Salaam-Alaikum my sister peace be unto you all praises are due to Allah and hey I know you surprised I ain't calling collect but my lady let me use her calling card for a month and you still ain't sent me no pictures of you and I'm still working on my own defense and I was wondering if you could send me fity dollars for some toiletries and such cause my mama ain't been up to see me in over six months she mad at me and my lady ain't got no mo transpo to get way out here and I been in the hole for the past month for something I ain't even did but it's all good and anyway let me know if you can do that and baby, this is your aunt Junie calling and I don't know if you know it or not but Miss Willamae's in the hospital and I know you remember her cause she used to baby-sit you when you was a baby and you know she got cataracts and she had to have that operation finally that she been putting off because of her having all them insurance problems and everythang but you remember her she's Miss Bessie's cousin's sister from her first marriage to Silbert what used to live on the corner of Moak and Fortieth Street, right down the street from Ms. Lucy when she was living and anyway you went to school with her granddaughter but I can't remember her name right now but pray for her even though she's doing much better now and I just wanted to touch base don't get to talk to you much no more and how is Quincy these days? I bet he's tall as you and how old is he now (there is a long pause because she's waiting for an answer) and like a fool I say, "He's eleven and a half, Aunt Junie," but even though you don't stay in touch I want you to know that you both are in my prayers and the Lord is watching over you and I'm gon' call your sisters as soon as I hang up since the rates is low. Love you, baby. I wonder if her machine is gon' get all this and Stella? Did you get this whole message, sugar?

I also don't get very many letters either--maybe five or six a year and that's counting the preaddressed prestamped envelopes I give Quincy when he's away at camp--and shoot, I know at least a thousand people and at least five hundred of them live more than five hundred miles away. Far enough away to write.

It just feels like nothing is the way it used to be anymore and it's not that I'm on some nostalgic trip or anything but I just wonder if I'm feeling like this because I can't believe I'm really forty-fucking-two years old because people tell me all the time I don't look forty-two and to be honest I don't have any immediate plans of really acquiring the look if there is a way to look when you're forty-two and I certainly don't feel forty-two even though I don't know how I'm supposed to feel being forty-two and what I do know is that I'm not angry about being forty-two but it feels like I'm slowly but surely catching up to my mama because she was only forty-two when she died and I'm thinking how is this possible that I could ever be the same age as mama? I wonder if I could secretly be having a midlife crisis?

Ever since Walter and I split up I guess I have been a little numb. I don't dislike him or hate him for being who he is but I certainly stopped loving him because of it. He bored me to death. Living with him was like living in a museum. It was drafty, full of vast open spaces and slippery floors. He wasn't a bad person, but I just didn't care for his attitudes and later on his principles turned out to be on the opposite end of the spectrum from mine. He wanted me to be just like him. I wanted him to respect our differences. I ended up telling him that he should've married himself, and later that he should try fucking himself. And this is what we basically argued about. Who we were. We never seemed to come to any neutral turf where both of our feelings and positions were acceptable or at least tolerable. We sort of kept this demerit scoreboard for the last eight years, until we ran out of space. He and I both knew that our time was up, so we didn't make a big tadoo about it, we just agreed to stop this before we ended up hating each other.

We were both running on high octane and barely had time for sex anymore and when we did we were both so exhausted the thought of actually being tender and sensuous and playful was not something that even crossed our minds. Or hearts. We just did it to get off, to relieve some of the tension. Some of the stresses and strains of the day that we brought home with us. At times I felt like his prostitute and I'm sure on occasion he probably felt that way too. It got old. And after a few years of this, I started wondering if I'd ever feel any excitement or passion toward him or any man again, and now that it's been a few years since our divorce, I'm pretty much feeling the same way.

Nobody has rocked my world, as the saying goes. Nobody has made my heart flutter like it did when I first met Walter, or even when I fell in love with Chad, and I don't dare go all the way back to high school or college when the world stopped spinning when Nathaniel kissed me. All Dennis did was smile at me and I was like Elvis: all shook up. I didn't know the power of love was so powerful. But I liked it. Liked feeling like I was full of clouds. Like I could probably run a marathon without ever training for it. Like I was "on" something that was causing me to have a continuous flow of energy, making me feel excited about and see beauty in just about everything. I could walk down the street and feel myself grinning and people would look at me and simply grin too. This is when I thought I understood what God intended for us to feel.

But then the bullshit always had to enter the picture and contaminate everything that had been so beautiful. Like where were you and why do you have to do that all the time and how come and when are you and I don't really give a flying fuck if you do but because I felt like it and if you can't handle it tough shit but as much as I wish I could I can't even begin to imagine but just the thought of you don't no not anymore but we could if you weren't so damn stubborn because hell I can't help it if I was and yes you are trying to change me into something that I'm not and want to see how long I can resist this shit want to watch me repel and don't remind me how much we used to have that's the past and it's gone baby live in the here and now and check it out this is getting too thick for me and I'm like sinking somewhere low and my heart weighs a ton here lately and as a matter of fact the mere sight of you being in your presence for any length of time depresses the hell out of me and I don't need this shit who needs this shit so I'm like out of here.

All I know is that I was sort of already using my reserve tank when he left and afterwards being alone took some getting used to. A person can get on your last nerve, drive you to drink, but you still kind of miss their sorry ass after they're gone is what I found out. That empty space he left sort of turned into an ache for a minute, or I should say a few months, maybe even a year. It was like this secret longing I felt to replace the void he left with something or someone else. Only I didn't have the energy. Quincy took up a different kind of space, required a different kind of love. It wasn't until a year and a half ago that I realized I had not felt the warmth of a man's body next to mine, that my lips hadn't trembled, that my breasts hadn't throbbed or between my legs hadn't been wet from anybody's hands except my own, and it made me sad, but I didn't know what to do about it. I was waiting for him to knock on the front door, I guess, and just say, Here I am. Your worries are over, baby. I'm here. But there has been no knock. I haven't even bumped into him. Haven't seen him. Haven't walked past him in an airport and felt any current radiate from his body to mine. Not at all. Not anything close.

But it's okay. Because all I know is that marriage wears you out and I'm not sure if I have the energy left for it. All my married friends are mostly miserable. They're just in it because. They started it. Those kids. The money would be all fucked up. Lifestyles would change. Alimony. Child support. And that fucking mortgage and all those cars and visitation and fuck it, let's just stick it out. Some of them don't even sleep together. Some of the men--a lot of the men--are into serious affairs but unfortunately the chicks on the side don't have a clue that most of them have no intention of leaving. The men just need a reprieve. Want to break up the monotony. Smell somebody new. In some cases it's the only way their dicks can get hard and blast off anymore and hell to them it's worth it.

Which is why I have pretty much come to the conclusion that marriage itself is a dead-end institution. I'm not doing it again. All I want is a little companionship. No ring. No "I do till death do us part," because I said that once and we're both still very much alive. Folks expect too much from one another and when you don't won't or can't deliver you fall short and eventually begin to piss the other person off and years go by and the two of you simply tolerate each other. I wasn't born to live like this, and especially with a man. I know God didn't have some master plan where we were supposed to fall in love and then work our asses off to make it work and then it doesn't and then we end up feeling worse longer than we felt good. There's something inherently wrong with this whole notion. It seems like everybody is striving for perfection. The perfect fucking spouse who will make you feel perfect. But I know for a fact that no such person exists. I know for a fact that I am far from perfect, but there have been many instances where I didn't believe that. I fought hard for the right to be right. All I was doing was trying to preserve my right to my own self-image, but I'm here to be whoever I am and if I happen to be a little fucked up then accept me fucked up as I am or leave me the fuck alone. Because if there's ever going to be a change in my behavior or my personality I will do it myself and I don't need you nagging me telling me how fucked up I am because you know what? you're pretty fucked up too.

I don't know how long it's going to take for me not only to fill back up again but to get my engine started. I've been divorced now for almost three years and haven't been on a legitimate date in almost a year even though I have a number to call when I just have to have some even though it's not passionate but purely maintenance-oriented sex and I thank God he's married because I wouldn't want him any other way and these last few months have been tough because he's turned into such a lazy fuck and he's pissed at me for not returning his calls and hiding from him really but I'm tired of having sex with him for the sake of getting off because I have to work too hard and he's started banging me the way he probably bangs his wife, like he's a slug, and I don't like kissing him one bit and I'm at the point now where I just can't do it anymore. Sex should not be cumbersome. And I don't like the idea of searching for love or trying to conjure up passion. Which is probably one reason why it feels like I've lost a lot over these last few years. I know things can never be the way they were (and I wouldn't dare want it back) but there are a few relatively simple things I've stopped doing that I want to put back in my life.

I wish I could call Delilah. But I can't. She'd only been my best friend since college and we only talked on the phone every other day and she was the most brilliant person I ever met and we could talk about anything and she lived all the way in Philly and then last year she decides to surprise me and die suddenly from some stupid liver cancer that she didn't even tell me she had until she was in the fucking hospital and then she was gone the next week and there was a lot of shit we still needed to talk about. A whole lot of stuff. Years and years' worth of stuff. She knew I was going to miss her ass and I do miss her black ass and the only way I can make the hurt go away is to do one of two things: pretend that she's still alive and that we're just not on speaking terms, which we went through from time to time, or pretend that she never existed. Trying to do both has required a great deal of effort and imagination and whenever I'm not looking my heart plummets down real low and I can hardly tolerate the longing.

So over these next two weeks I want to try to do some make-Stella-feel-good stuff. Which is why I'm planning to do some things I've been meaning to do but haven't for one reason or another. Mostly because I'm always too busy. Always doing something. Work alone has been kicking my ass. It's been said before, but I'm here to give new meaning to the phrase "I hate my job."

I might actually call up a few old friends and sit in a chair and not roam around the house while I talk but give them my undivided attention, listen to what they have to say, what they've been going through, how they've been feeling. These are people I do care about but now they're just on the B list. My life has gotten too busy. And it's time for me to slow it down.

I will also cook. I used to cook all kinds of interesting and exotic meals, but after Walter left, if Quincy couldn't identify it he didn't even want to try it. A double Big Mac and supersize fries and a nine-piece Chicken McNugget with a medium Sprite and apple pie is his meal of choice. I miss cooking. I miss smelling new smells and stirring new sauces and being surprised by the taste of something different. I will cook. I will make it a habit. I will even make some of those low-fat meals from a few of the fifty or sixty cookbooks I've purchased over the years and have yet to ever open.

For the last two or three years I've been meaning to make a computerized printout of all my relatives' and friends' birthdays and even their kids' and have it printed on a specially made calendar so that each day when I walk into my office all I have to do is look up and see whose birthday is coming up, and their card and maybe even a gift depending on their age and who they were would be a surprise and on time.

I'll also plant some flowers in the front and back yards since I've been reading about the Zen of gardening and how gratifying it can be, and since it's been a while since I've had sex I'll take whatever form pleasure comes in. At any rate, I've heard that this gardening stuff can relax you and even give you some of those endorphins like people get when they exercise.

This too is something I'd like to improve upon while my son is off to the Rockies with his how-did-I-ever-love-his-lifeless daddy. As it stands now, I am almost ashamed to tell people that I hired a personal trainer who comes to my house three days a week to make me pump and grind and sweat because the bottom line is that I'm lazy and have no willpower and have woken up too many mornings from dreams in which I worked out so strenuously and was truly too beautiful for a woman who'd just turned forty and I put stars like Cher and Tina Turner and Diana Ross to shame but it wasn't until a year later after having a series of such dreams that I realized I had never broken a sweat let alone panted. It has taken me another year to get into the rhythm of working out and there are many mornings when I'd just as soon call in sick, but as a result of my desire to improve my health with the real motive being pure vanity I now am almost in shape although I still have my unfair share of cellulite, but it's not as much as I used to have thank the Lord and I actually do have a number of muscles and my butt is higher and firmer than I ever recall it being but since I'd been paying the health club $105 a month for two years and had actually only been inside to give tours to visiting friends and relatives and inform them that whenever I had the time this is where I usually worked out though the truth was I'd only gone in there to sit in the steam room but since I now have two steam rooms--here and in my cabin at Lake Tahoe--there was really no need to waste my gas driving there so why bother, so last year I admitted to myself that I was bullshitting myself and since I have had a difficult time visualizing myself fat and slovenly and just plain old I decided--like they do in any twelve-step program--to turn myself over to a higher power. Her name is Krystal and she makes Cindy Crawford look like a zero and she only charges fifty dollars an hour. I used to use drugs that cost me more per minute. Which is one reason I could never run for public office. If anyone ever did a background check on me they'd be in for a big shock. But then again, they are always shocked at everybody else's background when they're running for public office, aren't they? No one who has really lived should have a sterling background, in my opinion. My sister Angela is the only baby boomer I know who's never tried any drugs at all. She's missed out on a lot of good shit if you ask me.

But those were the good old days. Times have changed. Twenty years have passed. I am a grown-up. In every sense of the word. I have responsibilities. I am responsible. I am a good mother. I am raising a black male child by myself and trying to be a mother and father and do my very best so that he'll grow up to be a strong proud and confident black man who knows his own worth and value and is not afraid to love and show his feelings and yet he'll be strong as steel on the outside and as soft and sensuous as a cashmere sweater inside. I spend a lot of time being a mother.

I am also a fancy-smancy analyst for one of the world's largest investment banking institutions and I make a shitload of money and my family is proud of me because I'm the only one who has actually made it to the top but all I know is that it is lonely as hell up here and I don't particularly like it. At this point in my life, I'd settle for being in the middle. My job is dull and boring. I just always assumed that a person could have more than one talent, more than one skill, and you could display as many of them as you had available, but I've learned that this is not necessarily true. It is difficult to be taken seriously if you are an artist, but playing with numbers gets quite a bit of attention. I've also come to realize that the price I'm paying to get paid a lot is a little on the high side. It