The Men I Thought I Loved - "Sula"
I read my first Toni Morrison book when I was in high school. It was The Bluest Eye, and I am ashamed I don't remember much. But things were much different for me at 14 than they are now. I made it a point to read another Ms. Morrison again this year. I decided to go with Sula.
From The New York Times Book Review in 1973:
The heroine, Sula, grows up in a household pulsing with larger-than-life people and activity, presided over by her powerful and probably sorcerous grandmother. Her gentle mother is devoted almost wholly to the practice and pleasures of sensuality. But her cherished friend Nel, the local goody-goody, plays perfect counterpoint to Sula's intense, life-grabbing insistence that eventually gets read as recklessness, and Sula becomes a threat as her life unfolds against the rest of the black community's daily life of hardship, humiliation and scrabbling for survival.
The first thing that struck me was the way she set the scene in a town aptly called the Bottom. Morrison's descriptions were too familiar.
A steel ball will knock into dust Irenes Palace of Cosmetology, where women used to lean their heads back on sink trays and and doze where Irene lathered Nu Nile into their hair.
I could instantly picture being in he beauty salon. It was a place I occupied since the age of three. Leaning back in the slant of a cold, plastic sink was something I hated, but once the warm watered spattered from the spout with a fizz, everything was alright in my world.
The way Morrison made me sigh and fidget about Eva's yearning for BoyBoy, her estranged husband. Ugh, I really hated that part because I've been a woman who wanted someone so badly to men who rarely made themselves available to me.
The first time I thought I fell in love I was around 22. Late bloomer, but I knew I wasn't in love with other boyfriends before. I don't know what it was that drew me to him... Wait, I know. It was the fact that his body was carved perfectly out of flesh and bone. To run my hands down his abs was electric each and every time. Every time I did, the feeling between us drew stronger. I liked that he took care of himself, was responsible, and he never cared about other people's opinions. Doing his thing was the only option. And I admired that until I realized after two years that I would never fit into an option, no matter how badly I wanted to.
The next time I thought I was in love I was 26. We met at a party and he sat next to me. Sitting down but grounded firmly in my heels, he asked me if I wanted any food from upstairs. It was a loft party, and I didn't want to walk up the winding staircase or lose my seat, I declined. He called me out on not wanting to "walk up all those stairs." It made me laugh and laugh. Not many people can make me laugh when I first meet them. We dated for year and a half. Laughed a lot, hurt a lot, but still an amazing time that I wouldn't trade for anything.
And here I sit typing still thinking of what ifs and could have beens...
I connected with Sula, Eva's daughter, in so many ways. A woman who left the Bottom in search of something more. Someone who aimed for the better life and hit it on the target, even if it was just for a moment. She went through life having the type of relationships she wanted; relationships that made her more of a woman, more like the woman she dared not to be like (her mother and grandmother).
The fact that Sula moved the way she wanted to bothered everyone. Confident and unashamed, she moved within herself and within the town. She could have any man she wanted, because she was different from the other women in town and everyone knew it. Men and children were warned to stay away from her assumed wicked and evil ways. Everyone hated her and they hated themselves because they wouldn't change. Sula was an easy target.
I haven't talked about Nel, Sula's childhood best friend, because I don't like her. She was a know it all, and she reminded me of that friend who portrays themselves to be so good but won't admit when they're wrong. I hate to admit when I'm wrong, but shit. I still have to summon the bigger person that's tucked somewhere inside and do it. Let's not get things twisted, if you read Sula you'll find that she betrayed Nel. HOW-EV-ER, Nel was still very cunty in her entitled ways.
Sula is worth it to check out for Morrison's impeccable imagery and word play. It's really mesmerizing how she captures the human essence. Author Marlon James spoke about the passage from Sula that literaturally changed his life, and it encapsulates what makes Morrison the great writer that she is.
As with The Andy Warhol Diaries, there is a reading playlist to accompany your reading, below. I didn't know much music from the 1920s-40s period, but upon researching, I found some fascinating info on blues singer Ethel Waters I knew knew. She was a woman of many firsts, and most definitely worth checking out here.
Have you read Sula? If so, what resonated with you? Comment below! 💋