Searching for Tina Turner


By Jacqueline E. Luckett

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 27, 2010. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Drawing strength from Tina Turner's life story, Searching for Tina Turner is Lena's struggle to find herself after 25 years of being a wife and mother.

On the surface, Lena Spencer appears to have it all. She and her wealthy husband Randall have two wonderful children, and they live a life of luxury. In reality, however, Lena finds that happiness is elusive. Randall is emotionally distant, her son has developed a drug habit, and her daughter is disgusted by her mother's "overbearing behavior." When Randall decides that he's had enough of marriage counseling, he offers his wife an ultimatum: "Be grateful for all I've done for you or leave." Lena, realizing that money can't solve her problems and that her husband is no longer the man she married, decides to choose the latter.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents

A Preview of Passing Love

Reading Group Guide

Copyright Page

Chapter 1

On their first date more than thirty years ago, Randall took Lena to an Ike and Tina Turner concert. From the minute they sat down in the fifth row from the stage, she knew he wanted to impress her even though he hadn't needed to. She would have sat with him in the park, gone to the drive-in, eaten Wheaties in the narrow half-kitchen of his studio apartment, done whatever he wanted; she'd been that eager to be with him.

The Ikettes crowded onto the narrow stage while Ike's deep bass warmed up the audience; like a chant his words tumbled soft and low. A hush fell over the auditorium as the guitar riff brought down the house lights. Blamp. The trumpets spit. Up, down, left, right. Blamp blamp. Suddenly, Tina pranced across the stage swinging her store-bought hair, the mic, the fringe on her sequined dress. Her taut legs pumped like a runner about to hit the finish line, her short dress coming close to revealing all that was underneath. The music increased to a faster, throbbing tempo. Girls cried. Men beckoned to Tina. The Ikettes moved with Tina, step for step, pounding the stage in three-inch heels.

Lena inched toward the crowded center aisle along with everyone else to get up on the stage and dance with Tina. Randall caught her by the waist, leaned down, and pressed his lips against her ear. "You're as cool as Tina Turner," he whispered, he as cool in a hip, sixties way as he meant she was. Trembling from the heat of his body, the ripple of his chest, the fuzz of his mustache, Lena kissed him. The clamorous crowd and loud music disappeared into the distance, and for years she remembered thinking that, as corny as it seemed, they were the only two people in the auditorium.

Now, those memories rush back as she watches a wrinkled TV personality melt in Tina Turner's smile. Lena lifts her glass; it would be nice to ooze such charm and self-assurance in a way so subtle and subdued that it ought to be bottled. Randall believes that good liquor deserves a toast. So here's to Tina. And Randall.

Tina looks directly into the camera, poised and straightforward; her eyes twinkle with humor and self-confidence. She is a perfect combination of wild and sexy. Of secure and comfortable freedom. The reporter sees it, remarks on it, and asks if it comes from celebrity or the people around her, and Tina lets him know that it comes from within. He goes over her history: regaining her place at the top of the pop charts, her refusal to focus on color or race, a misunderstanding with Elton John. Tina smiles again and changes the subject.

She talks of life, faith, and love for her man. Her brownish blond hair softens her ageless face, accentuates her full lips. The camera captures the warm beige and gold of her skin in a tight close-up and pans her hilltop home and the royal blue Mediterranean beyond. A happy blue, Lena thinks—the opposite of the blue she feels right now.

Without a thought of the fifteen-hour time difference between Oakland and Hong Kong, Lena dials Randall. The international connection to his cell phone click-click-clicks her to the Far East.

"Who the hell is this?" Randall's voice is slurred with sleep.

"Rollin', rollin', rollin' on the river." Lena mimics Tina, believing her husband knows good and well who it is. Because, unless his ears have suddenly lost their perfect hearing, their home number has a special ring tone on his phone.

"Remember that Tina Turner concert we went to?" She reaches for the Drambuie and dribbles more into her glass. "Tina's arms spinning, her energy… she's so beautiful."

"Is everything all right? Are the kids okay?" The metallic echo of fumbling comes through loud and clear. Lena closes her eyes and imagines Randall in a fancy king-sized bed, his suite big enough to house a family: left arm stretches out under the covers, right arm adjusts the pillow to fit in the crook of his neck, his thick eyebrows push toward the permanent wrinkle in the middle of his forehead. She can almost smell his nighttime musky scent in the whoosh the pillow emits when he finally settles into it.

"Kendrick is fine. Camille is fine. I know you said we'd talk again in a couple of days, but I got excited when I saw Tina Turner."

"What does Tina Turner have to do with me at four in the morning?" Randall clears his throat, and Lena visualizes his neck lengthening, his Adam's apple sliding up, then down and up again, his arm bending to show the luminous dial of his watch. She had not thought of that concert in years or the feeling she'd had of being complete and whole. Stretching her own arm again to the glass beside her, she glares at the TV and the dip Randall's body has worn into his side of the mattress.

"She's on TV. Right now. I wish you could see her. She made me think of our first date. That was the first time we made love, remember?"

"Of course, I remember, Lena, I was there, too. Are you drinking?"

"It calms my nerves."

"Maybe you can frivol away the day—and that, coincidentally, is compliments of this trip and all that work you've been complaining about—but I have to get up in two hours."

For the first time in twenty-seven days, Lena wonders if this abruptness is because she has disturbed more than his sleep; if some woman has gone to where Lena should have. No invitation had been extended to join him, like other business trips to New York, Rome, Berlin, and more, savoring free moments between conference calls and meetings. No matter what he has told her, his work—the complexity of TIDA's pending acquisition—allowed Randall to escape. He needed to be upbeat, he told her, to be ready to think clearly, to strategize, to make decisions—or change them on a dime—and he did not have time, or the desire, to deal with the irritability that seemed to plague her.

Sharon? Not four months ago, at a TIDA dinner, Randall's colleague insisted he taste her béarnaise-smothered steak. Lena watched the very sexy Sharon risk a death knell for her career, and maybe her boss's, by leaning into Randall and offering her fork to his willing and open lips. Randall is friendly, she thinks, but that gesture went way past friendly.

"Are you alone?" Her lips tighten, shoulders hunch; Lena presses the phone hard against her ear, as disarmed by the question as she hopes Randall is. Tossing back her drink in one, swift motion, she slams the glass on the nightstand. The table creaks with her protest, her alarm.

"No, my mistress is here; right beside me: the TIDA contract. Hundreds of pages all over me, all over the bed, all over the floor. I'm doing her every place I can. Sorry she can't talk now, but if you want, I can fax her to you."

"That's not funny."

"And neither is your question."

"I'm going to call your secretary and make our next appointment with the therapist."

"Fuck no. If that leaked to the board… they'd assume I'm incompetent. That's all the ammunition they need to keep from appointing me CEO. Just figure out what's going on with you."

Before Randall left, Lena suggested a marriage counselor to help get to the root of the heightening tension between them. She described to him what he called her indifference and watched his eyebrows knit together in what she assumed was his indifference. Both let go of their unspoken routine. Never going to bed angry. Apologetic embraces that turned to lusty sex. Revering the gem they called love, considering each other's opposing points of view until they reached truce or, even better, agreement.

"Therapy," he said, "is what white people do." Lena reminded him that he had quickly agreed to therapy for their son, and that, the last time Lena looked, Kendrick wasn't white. Randall agreed to a session before he left and one more when he returned.

After introductions, Dr. Brustere opened his hands like a priest ready to bestow the sign of peace, to balance the power in the room, and asked about their marriage. Randall eyed the therapist as if determining a battle-ready opponent. Good brotha, bad brotha. Dr. Brustere pressed his expensive pen into the dimple in his chin—his signal to Randall that he was expected to talk.

Randall told the therapist that most people who knew him would be shocked to know that he considered himself a simple man, given the thick gold bracelet on his right wrist and the Rolex on his left (his only jewelry), his designer suits, and luxury four-door sedan. He believed goals were essential to success—personal or business—that only through hard work and consistency could a man, or woman, meet those goals. He valued loyalty as the most important quality in human nature (his father taught him that, if nothing else) and jazz as an imperative for sanity in an unstable world.

At the age of eight, he had decided he would never be like his father, an unreasonable man who got religion and a sure sense of self-righteousness about two years after he left Randall and his mother; though he did return to take care of his son after Randall's mother died. Randall had basic needs: kids who believed he could do no wrong, the love of his wife, a little attention, a lot of sex.

He pointed his finger at his wife and, for all his smarts and degrees, the wrinkle in his brow proved that he did not understand what had caused the change. "Lena is the one with the problem. She has everything she could want."

"I love my husband. I love my kids, my home. I do not love that they have come to define me or that what I have has become more important than who I am." She twisted her wedding ring as if the large replacement suddenly itched the finger that she had worn a ring on for twenty-three years. "My spirit, what makes me me, is dying."

Randall leaned back deep in the wingback chair. Before that one gesture, before the lips pursed, the brow wrinkled, she thought she saw a glimmer of understanding, of empathy. He made a loose one-handed fist beneath his chin and moved his head up and down as though they had all day, not fifty-five minutes. Lena knew that move and all his moves; she could write the dictionary on Randall's unspoken commentary. That one meant checkmate. Lena wanted to point out that his reaction was typical of what was wrong with their marriage lately: the more important Randall became at TIDA, the more he disregarded explanations based in emotion.

"I love you. I love our family. But, I've given myself away, slowly, freely, and now… I want myself back." Lena dug her fingernails into the sides of her chair, and somewhere in the back of her mind it became clear to her why they were so frayed. "Otherwise, I'm going to lose my mind."

"This is the same conversation we had last week, the same conversation we keep having. It's circular. It hasn't gotten us anywhere and, quite frankly, if I have to hear it again…" Randall made finger quotes in the air. "I'm going to lose my mind."

On TV speeding police cars in the midst of a freeway pursuit replace Tina's interview. Their shrill sirens mask the space the phone static fills. Lena switches the phone to her right ear and measures two fingers of Drambuie into her empty glass with her left hand.

By the end of that session Randall offered Lena an ultimatum, and now she shudders under the pressure, the urgency to make a decision. She opens her planner and darkens another dated square of the calendar. That square, and twenty-six others recklessly colored in with black ink, creates a stark disparity between what was, what is, and the five white squares left in this month. Five days left to get her act together. Five days to decide if she even wants to get her act together.

"I wish…," Lena says, wanting Randall to understand her change of direction, her altered focus. Not away from him, just closer to herself. "I love you. You know that, don't you?"

"I know there are plenty of women who would be very happy given the same set of circumstances." Randall huffs, and Lena imagines his body twitching like it does when he gets mad. Legs first, then arms, then left eyebrow. "I did what you asked. I sat in front of that wimpy-assed therapist while you complained about how unhappy you are, how I won't let you play with your photography. I told you. If you're so unhappy, take the time that I'm gone to figure out what you want."

"I want us, and I want me."

"It's almost dawn. I'll talk to you later. And don't forget Kendrick's prescription."

In the second it takes to realize the phone call is over, Lena's armpits dampen with icy sweat as a quarter-sized spider skitters across the pillow where Randall's head should be. She worries where this damn thing has come from and questions if this is a sign her husband will never nestle his head in that spongy spot again. The spider's blackness, its scampering pace, forces a frantic search for newspaper, tissue, or shoe. She snatches the daily planner beside her, holds it so the contents won't spill, and whacks the spider again and again; lets the up and down motion, the dull slap of leather against pillow, do what her husband would if he were there.

Her parents poked fun at her when she was young. Said their California-born girl was city-spoiled. Sky-splitting lightning, the Great Dane around the corner, the creak in the closet at night—those fears they understood, but not of pests so small that, even as children, her parents smashed without thinking. Back in Mississippi, they told Lena, black folks thought spiders in the house were omens of wealth and good luck.

Omen, confirmation, or sickening fluke, Lena collects the squished black dot with tissues. Holding the wad at arm's length, she shoves Randall's pillow to the floor and stumbles into the bathroom, where she pitches the tissue into the toilet and slams the lever. At the sink, she scowls in the medicine cabinet mirror, not caring for what she sees: one of Randall's undershirts hangs loosely from her round shoulders, puffy eyelids, lopsided bed hair, flaky patches on her nose. If Randall could see her, he would not be pleased. She sticks out her tongue at her reflection, reaches for a can of window cleaner underneath the sink, and sprays a thick coat of foam on the mirror's surface. "You can't run, but you can hide."

Two shakes of the bedcovers and tissues, magazines, bras, and panties flip in all directions. Lena grabs Randall's pillow, wraps her arms around it like she would his body if he were there, and tries to understand when her ability to be on her own diminished, and how she slipped from self-sufficiency to comfortable reliance. With one turn to the left, her body readjusts to the groove she's worn into her side of the mattress. The headboard rattles as she falls back against the smooth upholstery and ponders this loss of self that can't be brushed aside by Randall like a toe stubbed in the dark.

The squat bottle of Drambuie on the nightstand has replaced the alabaster pot full of bottle caps that a then three-year-old Camille gave to Lena. Lena assumes that gifts of words or anything else must not be hip for teenagers anymore. These days, if her daughter—or son, for that matter—were to bestow such kindness, Lena would be grateful. She reaches for the bottle and splashes the liquid into her glass. She swirls the sweet, golden Drambuie liqueur around in her mouth and holds it, not quite accustomed to the burn at the back of her tongue, and lets it slide from throat to stomach.

It's not just her; Randall needs to get his act together, too. Lena punches the phone pad with the international code plus 8 and 6 and his phone number again to tell him she will schedule a second appointment with Dr. Brustere. Randall's phone rings and rings, and when his recorded voice, his proper English, instructs callers to leave a message, she pitches the phone and watches it skid across the hardwood floor.

Drambuie or reality, the pages of her red leather planner seem to gawk at Lena and demand action. She owes a call to the woman she tutors, an apology for missed sessions so her student will understand that neglect is not her intention. Save for the blackened squares, April is empty. Manicures, meetings, the hairdresser, luncheons, and volunteer work have disappeared. In all of the twenty-seven days since Randall has been away—the longest time they have ever been apart—she has ignored invitations, requests for donations, and callers who say in singsong voices, "Just checking in."

Assorted pictures are jammed between the planner's thin pages: Kendrick, at two, beaming in a Halloween costume; Camille, all of five, posed in a novice arabesque; a Jamaican vacation five years ago—she and Randall hand-in-hand in the midst of a dive off the cliff at Rick's Negril Café. He'd held her hand all the way down and into the turquoise water. Her hand tingles now with the memory of the security, the assurance of Randall's solid grip. There is also a withdrawal slip from their joint checking account, confirmation of enrollment for a Tuesday evening photography course that starts tomorrow night, and Kendrick's most recent prescription.

Outside the windows beyond her bed floodlights cast shadows on the house and the undersides of the trees and their leaves. Lena walks to the window and looks down on the magnolia tree spiking in anticipation of a mid-spring bloom. The tree sold Lena on the house when they first saw it from the real estate agent's car nineteen years ago. It reminded her of Lulu's recollections of stately southern homes that black folks could only walk by, not live in: huge white flowers that attracted more beetles than bees, the earthiness of the double-colored leaves, scent like strong citrus perfume.

Her dreams blossom in this home framed with purple hydrangeas, leggy oleander and this magnolia tree. The memories flash in her mind: her children, now grown past the days of tumbling across the sprawling lawn, fearless and eager to show off; brilliant Fourth of July fireworks beyond the silhouette of downtown Oakland and San Francisco's foggy skyline; the smell of cut grass on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

She does not want to think about the orchids in her sunroom wilting from lack of water. Nor the jars of homemade apple chutney, bottles of olive oil, and tins of spices in the pantry that await her creative hand. Nor does she want to focus on the jade lion that guards the front door, the photography books stacked on the coffee table—Parks, Arbus, DeCarava, Weems—or the gold-flecked Venetian glass ball that all sit covered with the fine dust of disuse.

Presence was the word the Italian-accented agent used when they first drove up the winding driveway. "This house fits you and Mr. Spencer well. You both have presence, too."

Randall may still have presence after all of these years, but what Lena feels right now is the complete opposite. Her ability to create the future diminishes each day: yesterday she could not raise her arms to shower or comb her hair, this morning she could not keep food in her stomach, minutes ago she could not explain to her husband what is in her heart without sounding whiny or spoiled, and now she can barely stand.

In the scheme of things, twenty-seven days is not a long time. A flower can bud, bloom, and die in twenty-seven days. At this very minute, Lena is overwhelmed by indecisiveness, incapable of moving her fifty-four-year-old body. The odds of her leaving or staying are as unpredictable as that skittering spider's path. Call it unhappiness, menopause, midlife crisis, lack of respect, fear of losing who she is, fear that she no longer fits in this dream. Whatever.

Pick one.

Chapter 2

Lenaaaaaa Spencer!"

Lena cringes at the scratchy, off-key intonation of the familiar voice and tiptoes around the lofty shelves toward the hand-painted FICTION/TRAVEL/PHOTOGRAPHY sign at the back of the store. Ducking in front of the K through P shelf, she closes her eyes and breathes in the dust and must of The Big Black Dog bookstore, her special place to spend time on an overcast day like this one. Candace asks questions—so many and so fast—that, in the past, it has been easy for Lena to be lulled by the woman's insatiable thirst for scandal in the guise of concern. And she'll be damned, Lena thinks, if she'll let Candace spoil her afternoon.

Lena scans the shelves. These days she feels like one of these used books: in good shape, full of excitement, yet no longer appreciated. Instead of a worn spine, the cover of a misplaced paperback, I, Tina, catches Lena's eye. Tina Turner crouches, fish-netted legs tucked beneath her, hair as wild as it was in that Mad Max movie. Her smile implies a question: Where is your joy? Something audible clicks inside Lena's chest like the tumblers of an opening lock.

The kids' first nanny asked the same question nearly every day that Lena drove from the bus stop and up the steep, winding hill that Letty was too overweight to walk. "Where's your joy today, Miz Spencer? Mine is right here." Letty held her Bible upright in her lap and let it fall open with the car's swerving motion. Then she would drop her forefinger onto a random passage and softly thank Jesus for his inspiration.

Lena lets the paperback fall open and points to a paragraph. "People look at me now," Tina writes, "and think what a hot life I must've lived—ha!" Right on.

"There you are!" The voice breaks the bookstore's silence once more at the same time that a heavily jeweled hand grabs Lena's shoulder. "What in hell are you doing on the floor? Didn't you hear me calling you?" Candace's gold bangles jingle when she leans toward Lena. "I haven't seen you since that handsome husband of yours went out of town. When is that luscious man coming home anyway, and why haven't I seen you at any Circle Club meetings?" Her clothes are coordinated: slim, tight pants under a yellow, belted slicker, ankle-high rain boots match the slicker's herringbone lining intentionally exposed on turned-back cuffs. "And since when do you wear Kendrick's clothes?" She pinches Lena's sweatshirt between two fingers as if she is touching something nasty or unclean.

Lena scolds herself for defying the rules: her mother's "Pay attention to what you wear when you leave the house; you never know who you'll run into." Even Randall's: "Put gas in the car when it registers low so you won't get stuck in the middle of nowhere on an empty tank." Sometimes things just happen: the car runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere, or somebody like Candace shows up.

Lena stands and speaks her lie without hesitation. "I'm in the middle of a project." For the last month she has left her trademark starched white shirts, skinny-legged jeans, and high heels in her closet and exchanged them for clothes she should have taken to the homeless shelter. She brushes lint from her pants, circles behind Candace, promises to call soon. Blah blah blah.

"A project in a bookstore?" Candace grasps Lena's arm, looks from Lena to the books and back to Lena. "Give me a break." The petite woman follows her down the aisle to the old-fashioned cash register.

Sam Black and his big black dog sit side by side behind a massive antique English wooden table. The skinny owner and muscular dog wear the same woolly look on their faces. Each time Lena visits the store she asks Sam who is in charge—owner or pet. Today he responds with the same answer, "Depends on the day," while he labors with a calligraphy quill over a receipt for Lena's seventy-five-cent book.

"Girl, get the DVD," Candace says, thumping the paperback. She squeaks an off-key line from "What's Love Got to Do with It" and snaps her fingers. "I'll tell you what: love doesn't have a damn thing to do with anything. Have you heard about poor Dana?" Candace pauses in anticipation of Lena's reaction.

Sam raises his head. His brows protrude above his wire-rim glasses. Candace's leer warns him to mind his own business. Lena tosses a dollar bill on Sam's desk and stuffs the receipt into her purse.

"Dana and Carl are getting divorced." Candace scrunches her cheeks and eyes with the expression of someone who is about to speak of doom. Lena shakes her head no, and Candace does the same for a long minute, reminding Lena of how her grandmother shook her head and grumbled "unh, unh, unh" at sad news. "They say she's had too much of her husband—he's such a tease. There was no way you could tell anything was wrong. I mean, a few months ago, they were flirting and smooching like lovers. Such a pity."

Lena remembers that extravagant holiday party: the dolefulness in Randall's eyes that the loud celebration had precluded them from pursuing, that left as swiftly as it had come. "Here's hoping for a better year," he had said, holding her as they glided across the dance floor, and Lena, knowing even then her downward tilt, had hoped for the same.

"Nothing is predictable anymore." Lena lowers her eyes; afraid to let on that this sad reflection is as well suited to herself as it is to Dana.


On Sale
Jan 27, 2010
Page Count
320 pages

Jacqueline E. Luckett

About the Author

Jacqueline E. Luckett is the author of Searching for Tina Turner.A San Francisco Bay Area native, she lives in Oakland, California. For more information, and to read her blog, you can visit

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