Black mental health matters

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. I am just someone who has taken some classes and is very passionate about this subject.

In the wake of two horrific events that have taken place over the past few weeks, I am compelled to make this post and address a huge issue in the African-American community: mental health.

To be honest, I have not researched these two events enough to be considered an expert. I’m actually taking a social media hiatus because these tragedies are too much for me emotionally (I have traits of being an empath which means I tend to carry other people’s emotions). First, in San Bernardino, California, Karen Smith and one of her students were killed in her classroom by her estranged husband. He then turned the gun on himself. This past Sunday, Robert Godwin, Sr.’s death was broadcast over Facebook live when his killer picked him randomly to die because of issues in his relationship. I refuse to speak the names of the shooters.

I am assuming mental health was at the crux of these killings but as I read accounts, I am convinced mental health had its role in these senseless killings.

black mental health

Source: Google photo

A few months ago, I posted about my struggles with depression and how I made the decision to seek professional help after praying and ignoring it stopped working for me. I am not “cured” as I don’t believe some mental health diagnosis can be cured. Instead, I have some more productive and healthy coping mechanisms.

By and large, the African American community ignores mental health. We don’t acknowledging our anger or sadness. We don’t believe in therapy. We don’t believe in medication. We don’t want to be labeled as crazy. Instead, we believe in prayer, ignoring it and dismissing it as “that’s just the way he/she is”.

According to Mental Health America,  in 2014, 13.2 people in the United States identified themselves as being black or African American. Of this number, over 16% were diagnosed with a mental illness in the past year; that is 6.8 million people. I truly believe that number is higher due to the number of people who have not been diagnosed.

I read the follow statistics and even though I shouldn’t be, I was very surprised by what has been reported.

According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health:

  • Adult Black/African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.
  • Adult Black/African Americans living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty.
  • Adult Black/African Americans are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites.
  • And while Black/African Americans are less likely than white people to die from suicide as teenagers, Black/African Americans teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than are white teenagers (8.3 percent v. 6.2 percent).

Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Black/African Americans are also twice as likely as non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with schizophrenia (Mental Health America, 2017).

What has to happen for Black people to take their mental health serious? There are three reasons I think we are stuck in this mental health stigma:

  1. There are not enough African American therapists and counselors

Mental Health America states one reason black people do not go to therapy is because less than 2% of the members of the American Psychological Association are African Americans. We fear that someone who is not like us will not understand our struggles. And to me, this is such a valid reason we do not seek out therapy.

When looking for a therapist, regardless of ethnicity, it is important to find someone you are comfortable with because this person is going to be dealing with intimate parts of your life. Trusting someone of another ethnicity to be privy to your secrets can be a huge hindrance to our recovery. I am in grad school now earning my master’s in human services because I want to be a trusted face in the world of mental health for African Americans.

  1. We believe in God, not in therapy

Most black people are religious and therefore, we notoriously try to pray mental health away. For me, it didn’t work but God may be the comfort someone needs to be free from mental health issues. I believe in the power of prayer but I also believe in self-determination. Sometimes we can’t pray and forget it. We have to put in some effort, too. What’s that part about faith without works?

Side note: Even though some clergy are not licensed mental health professionals, they are often great sources of comfort and assistance to people suffering from mental health. Sometimes the simple gesture of listening can make the world of difference.

  1. We don’t understand mental health

There is such a negative stigma associated with mental health and it stops us from addressing our problems because we do not want these labels. By the same turn, we brag about being crazy, having anger issues or being bi-polar to justify our behavior. Oftentimes, people really do have anger issues or characteristics of bi-polar but we will not seek help to address it. Now, I will agree that mental health diagnosis are often abused (i.e. every black child does not have ADHD) but there are some times when the diagnosis is real. Research your symptoms and speak with a professional. Understanding what you are facing can be the first line of defense in treatment.

We have to get to a point where our mental health becomes serious for us. We have to start talking about it. We cannot continue to let it run rampant in our communities. Here are a few of my suggestions:

  • If your employer offers health insurance, they often offer an employee assistance program with 3-5 free sessions of therapy. Check with your employer to see if this is available to you
  • Some communities may also offer free anger management or other coping mechanism classes/sessions
  • Some therapists offer a sliding fee scale for payment. Weekly therapy or medication may not be necessary but in the very least, seek help
  • Check on your friends often. Don’t be so quick to write your friends off as crazy or accept violent behavior as a personality trait. Talk to your friend that is abusive or blows up at work and encourage them to seek help. Watch their behavior because what they do says a lot more than the words they speak. You cannot make your friend seek help but being there and being supportive can make a difference in their lives
  • Parents check on your kids and listen when they talk. Our kids are faced with so much more pressure and stress than I ever remember enduring at my kid’s age. Social media has a big part in that so make sure you are checking their pages for any signs your child might be struggling. Have conversations with your kids about everything and be involved in their lives

So what else can we do to remedy our mental health crisis in the African American community? We have to get the conversation going around mental health. I certainly don’t have all the answers but I know we have to stop ignoring it.

Reference:

Mental Health America (2017). Black and African American communities and mental health. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/african-american-mental-health#Source 3

 

 

Is love enough (Full Story)

Tags

, , , , , ,

I sat outside the club contemplating if I was going in or not. It was only 15 minutes ago when my friend Tianna texted a picture of my boyfriend hugged up with some other girl. While I was sitting at home, laying in our bed alone, my man Damion was out disrespecting me. I was tired after a long day as a nurse but I was tired of him doing this to me. Why won’t he just do right?

 I finally got out of the car, heading to the door of the club. I paid the entrance fee; $10 was a small price to pay to catch him in the act. I scanned the club and saw Tianna first.

“Savannah, girl,” Tianna started. “I can’t believe this dude! Still out here entertaining these hoes after everything you’ve done for him! And he knows I’m here. Hell, he even spoke to me!”

I heard Tianna but I continued to scan the club looking for him. I finally spotted him sitting near the dance floor with some skank with long weave sitting on his lap. I maneuvered my way through the crowd until I was standing right in front of them. At first he didn’t see me because he was rubbing all over her thighs and whispering in her ear. When he finally saw me, he stood up abruptly, almost knocking Pocahontas on the ground.

“Savannah, baby. Don’t come in here showing out,” Damion warned me.

“I can’t show out but you can be all in public with your little hoes? Shut up!” I felt my tears building but I promised myself I wouldn’t cry.

Damion grabbed my hand and lead me through the crowd. I heard Pocahontas and her friends laughing at me, which only added fuel to my fire.

Once we got outside, Damion tried to speak but I slapped him as hard as I could. He chuckled a little bit as he rubbed his face. “Yo Vannah. Chill out with that.”

“DAMION, I HATE YOU!! WHY DO YOU DO THIS TO ME? WHY DO YOU TREAT ME LIKE THIS?” I yelled, tears falling. So much for not crying.

“Look. Just go home. I’ll be right behind you. We’ll talk at home,” he promised quietly. He grabbed me and hugged me while I cried.

He was trying to calm me down and right now, it was working. “Damion, I just don’t understand. Why do you do this to me? What about Dallas? Are you even thinking about what you’re doing to our son? ”

“Ssshhh, baby. It’s alright. Just go home. I’ll be there in a minute.”

He walked me to my car and kissed me so gently, I started to cry harder. He broke the kiss so I could get in the car. “I’ll be there in a few minutes, baby. We’ll talk at home.”

And with that, I drove home confident that Damion could explain what I saw. I knew he didn’t want to hurt me but…maybe I made him cheat. My grandma always told me that a man doesn’t want a nagging woman. Maybe I nag him too much. But I just want him to be great. I push him to do more with the kids, at work, and maybe even going to school to get a degree. He’s told me he doesn’t want to work at the plant forever; I’m just trying to encourage him. But maybe he sees it as nagging.

I make it home and sit on the sofa waiting for Damion. A few minutes pass and my phone chirps with a text message notification. It’s from Tianna.

My heart drops when I open the picture message: It was a picture of Pocahontas grinding on my man on the dance floor. Tears flood my eyes and I drop my head, cursing my stupidity.  I don’t even call Damion. I just curl up in a ball and cry myself to sleep.

I don’t know what time it was when Damion finally came home but when he did make it here, he made love to me with more passion than I ever felt before. He told me he was sorry and I could tell that he meant it this time.

******

A few days later, I am pleasantly surprised with roses from Damion at work. After the incident at the club, he’s been nothing but apologetic and sweet to me. He’s even being doing more with our 5-year-old son, Dallas. I know he’s not perfect but show me a man that is. I have to admit that Damion has his fair share of flaws and I know people wondered how someone like me ended up with someone like Damion. Just because he doesn’t have degrees doesn’t mean he doesn’t deserve to be happy. We don’t have to make the same amount of money for us to be compatible. He doesn’t make a lot of money at his job plus he pays child support for his other two kids so he can’t contribute to our household financially. But he takes care of home in other ways: he makes sure my car is washed, my grass is cut, he takes Dallas to the barbershop and sometimes he even cooks for me. Love is all about balance, right?

When Damion and I started dating six years ago, he was everything that I ever wanted in a man.  He was so different than my ex-boyfriend; it was so refreshing to be with a real man. He was sweet, caring, funny and he did all the little things that I never knew I needed. He was a different kind of man and I fell in love with him quickly. After a long day, he was there to rub my feet. He made posts about me on social media. Sent me to get pedicures. He was a father to our son. When my daddy died, he was right there with me, helping me cope. The longer we were together, the little things were few and far between. But I could tell he was trying to make it right again.

He really didn’t have good role models growing up and being in a committed relationship wasn’t something he saw with his mama. Damion was taught by his uncles and cousins that men cannot be with one woman. I’ve been showing him for years that I’m the only woman he needs; I think he finally understands those other women are just flings and I’m the one that loves him. Even if he doesn’t always know how to show it, I know Damion loves me.

“Someone must be trying to get out of the dog house?”

I looked up from the nurse’s station to see Aaron, an X-ray technician, staring at me. Aaron flirted with me and every other woman in the hospital.

I laughed at his lame attempt to flirt. “Nope. My man just sent them just because.” I was beaming that Damion was being thoughtful.

“Well isn’t that nice. Guess that’s why you never called me,” Aaron joked.

“You know I have a man, Aaron!”

“Yeah but he ain’t me! Have a good day, Savannah,” he teased with a wink.

I laughed at Aaron’s gesture but with the way Damion has been treating me lately, not even Idris Elba could get me away from him.

I make it through my shift and can’t wait to get home to my guys. I clocked out, grabbed my flowers and headed to my car. I smiled the entire time I drove home. When I pulled into my driveway, I saw my mama’s car and my son Dallas outside playing with my nephew. What’s she doing here?

“Hey mama,” I said while getting out of the car. “What are you doing here?”

My mama gave me an ugly look. “Dropping off my grandson since his daddy is MIA.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. Dallas and my nephew Amari ran over to hug me before running back to play their game.

“The center called me because he didn’t pick him up today. Now he’s not answering.”

It was then I noticed his car wasn’t in the driveway. My mind went into overdrive as to why Damion didn’t pick up his son from his after school program. He was off today.

Sighing deeply, I wondered where my boyfriend could be. I opened my front door to let my mama in and placed my roses on my kitchen counter. I called Damion but he didn’t answer for me either. I shot him a text but after a few minutes, he hadn’t returned my text. My mama gave me a knowing look.  She didn’t care for Damion at all and she let it be known every chance she got.

“Savannah,” my mama started.

“Mama, I know what you’re going to say. So don’t. I know you don’t like him, but I love him and I need you to respect that.” I wasn’t in the mood for her lecture.

“I don’t care what you want to hear,” she announced while grabbing her purse. “But any man that doesn’t consider his kids ain’t fit to lay his head in YOUR house. I’ll be glad when you wise up and leave his ass. He only does all this stuff cause you let him.”

“Ok mama. I’ll take Amari home since he’s still playing with Dallas.” I knew she would enjoy a break from my nephew until my sister got off.

“I’m just saying, Savannah. This man isn’t doing a damn thing for you and you’re holding on for love. But whatever, you’re grown. Do what you want.”

After my mama left, Damion still hadn’t text me back or called. I had no idea where he was.  I took Dallas and Amari to McDonald’s for dinner because sitting at home was going to drive me crazy. I was looking at my son and nephew but I was completely zoned out. Once again, I was questioning what I was doing wrong for Damion to him to treat me like this.

I dropped my nephew off at my sister’s house and headed back home. Dallas was knocked out and even though it was past his bed time, I rode around town trying to look for Damion’s car. I checked some of the clubs and bars he frequented but he wasn’t there. I also went to some apartment complexes I’ve caught him at before but I had no such luck. An hour later, I still hadn’t heard from Damion and I called him at least 50 times. Defeated, I headed home. My mama’s words were playing in my head over and over. Why wouldn’t he just do right?

As Dallas and I were getting out of the car, Damion pulled up. He didn’t even speak to me, just came over to the car and got Dallas out of his booster seat. I was fuming mad but I was trying not to fuss, even though he deserved it. Damion put Dallas to bed and then plopped down on the sofa with a beer. I tried to let it go, but I couldn’t.

“Where have you been?” I watched my tone and masked my frustration with him.

“Yo, Savannah. I’ve had a long day. I’m not in the mood for your nagging today!”

I lost it. “You didn’t even work today!” I yelled. “How the hell did you have a long day? Where have you been? Why didn’t you pick up Dallas from his after-school program? Where the hell have you been?” I fired off so many question Damion didn’t have time to answer a single one.

“You know what?” He jumped up and put on his shoes. “This is why I stay gone all the time. When I’m home you don’t do anything but complain and fuss. And I guess those flowers I sent today didn’t mean anything. You are a real piece of work, Savannah.”

“Are you seriously trying to turn this around on me? You’ve been gone all day long and now you’re mad at me for calling you out on your bull?”

“Whatever. I’m gone. Let me know when you’re done being childish.”

Damion walked out the door but not before pushing my vase of roses on the ground, causing the glass to shatter everywhere. With tears stinging my eyes, I cleaned up the mess, throwing my flowers away. I sat down in the same spot he was just sitting in, my head bowed in disbelief. I was so tired of him treating me this way. I took care of him and our family. I stayed though the mess, lies and cheating. I stayed when he had a baby two years ago. I stayed when he had baby mama drama. I stayed when he got locked up for drunk driving. I helped him get his license back. I helped take care of his older son. I have shown him that I am loyal and that I loved him but he still treated me like I was nothing. It was almost like he didn’t believe I loved him.

I grabbed my phone to call Tianna. As I told her what happened, I tried not to cry again.

“Vannah, you know how men are. They don’t love us the same way we love them. I’m sure he loves you. Men just don’t know how to show it.”

“If he loved me, would he really take me through all of this mess?”

Tianna sighed heavily into the phone as if I was out of the loop on the mind of men. “Men are gonna be men. This is what they do. But men want somewhere to call home and that’s what he has with you and Dallas. He always comes back home, right?”

I thought for a second at her logic and it made sense but sounded stupid at the same time. Damion told me he stayed away from home so much because I fussed too much. But just as Tianna said, he always came back home. Maybe he really did want to be a family with Dallas and I but emotionally, I couldn’t keep going through this.

“While he’s out, this is the perfect time for you to be talking to someone else. What better way to deal with him cheating than to have a little fun of your own?”

“Girl please. I can’t cheat on him! I’m not that type of girl!” I was appalled that she even suggested that.

“Ok then. Just know that while he’s out doing his thing, you’re the one sitting home crying.”

I hung up with Tianna and sat in silence for a few minutes. Tianna’s stupid logic started to make sense. There’s nothing wrong with having a conversation, right? I picked up my phone again and found Aaron’s phone number. Instead of calling, I decided to text.

Savannah: What’s up Aaron? This is Savannah from work

                                                Aaron: Wow! To what do I owe the pleasure?

Savannah: Nothing much. Just sitting at home and decided to call you. Since you said I never have

Aaron: Well…Technically, you didn’t call

Savannah: LOL

                Instead of responding, Aaron called me. He told me texting was so impersonal and he preferred to call.  We spent the next 2 hours talking and laughing, something I haven’t done in a really long time. I felt good to laugh instead of argue, to talk instead of cry. When my phone beeped that I was on 15%, I told Aaron I had to go. Even though I was off tomorrow, I had to get Dallas up and ready for school.

“Do you work tomorrow?” he asked trying to extend the conversation.

“No, I’m off.”

“Would you like to go to lunch?”

“Ummm…”

He laughed at my hesitation. “Just think about it. Let me know in the morning. Good night, beautiful.”

“Ok, I will. Good night.”

I went to my bedroom thinking about the conversation I just had with Aaron. We talked about everything under the sun and it was so refreshing. Damion and I have never had a conversation like that. Before I fell asleep, I already made up my mind I was going to lunch with Aaron.

******

                For the past two months, I have been struggling to maintain a relationship with both Damion and Aaron. Even though I hated to admit it, Tianna’s advice was right; while Damion was out doing his own thing, I had time to play as well. It was getting harder though because I was catching feelings for Aaron.

He kept me laughing. He spent time with me. I was guaranteed to have a good time when I was with him. He listened to me. He was everything I needed Damion to be. And it wasn’t all about the sex. Even though sex with Aaron was great, I loved spending time with him.

It was Friday night and as usual, Damion was out. Since I had Aaron to talk to, I didn’t trip as much as I used to. I don’t think he even noticed. I didn’t have a sitter so Aaron and I talked on the phone.  He wanted to come over but since I didn’t know where Damion was going, I didn’t know when he would be back. Aaron didn’t mind, we just talked on the phone until I fell asleep.

I woke up to Damion yelling, at who, I don’t know. I sat up in the bed completely disoriented. I was horrified to see Damion on my phone, yelling at Aaron.

“I don’t care about all that. Don’t call my girl no more!” Damion threw my phone on the bed, his eyes cutting daggers at me.

“Who the hell is Aaron?”

I stared at him in silence. I don’t know if I was shocked that I was pretty much caught or that Damion had the audacity to question me.

“You have been God knows where doing God knows what with God knows who and you have the nerve to ask me who he is?” I couldn’t believe my ears.

“We aren’t talking about me. TELL ME WHO HE IS!”

Damion was pissed off and deep down inside, I was happy he felt this way. Maybe now he would see how it felt to be on this side of hurt.

“Don’t worry about who he is. If you were home like you should have been, you wouldn’t have to worry about this!”

“Whatever. You want that dude? Go be with him then. I’m out.”

I was still sitting on the bed in complete shock. Was he really pissed at me? After all the crap I dealt with? All the women? All the lies? A whole baby?

                I called Tianna to let her know what happened and she assured me that Damion would be back. Even though she was probably right, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted him to come back. Now that Aaron was in my life, I didn’t have to deal with Damion and his disrespect. I hung up with Tianna and called Aaron back. He didn’t answer, probably assuming it was Damion calling. I left a voicemail and he called right back.

I let him know what happened and let him know I wasn’t expecting him to come back, ever.

“I’m sure he will. Things like this aren’t usually over that easy.”

“But I’m not sure I want him to come back,” I admitted.

“Why not? He’s your son’s father. Why wouldn’t you want to work things out with him?”

Now I was confused. Aaron knew about the hell I’d gone through with my boyfriend. He was the one that told me that I was too smart and beautiful to accept his bull shit in the name of love. Now he was asking why don’t I want to work it out?

“Maybe this is what I needed to finally get away from him. I can move on with my life and be with someone that respects me, someone that thinks I’m beautiful.” I was trying to be subtle but I hoped he understood what I was suggesting.

Aaron was quiet on the phone. Maybe he was just a little nervous about starting a relationship so soon after I broke up with Damion. I didn’t mind to wait for him to see things between Damion and I were really over.

“Savannah, I’m gonna be honest with you,” Aaron began. “I thought we were just having fun. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. Don’t get me wrong, you’re cool as hell but I didn’t think this was anything serious.”

I was floored, stunned into silence. As his words registered with me, the tears began to fall from my eyes. He sent good morning texts. He bought my lunch at work. He inadvertently met Dallas when I saw him at the store one day and he asked about him when we talked. How was this not serious to him?

“What do you mean you thought we were just having fun? You took me out. We talked all the time. We laughed. We had sex. All that was just fun for you?”

“Yes…I mean…no. I don’t know. I just thought you needed a distraction from your man.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I wasn’t anything to him?

“So when you made love to me, that meant what? When you called me beautiful, that meant what? When I caught feelings for you, what did that mean, Aaron?” I was livid.

“Listen. I didn’t mean to mislead you. I thought we were on the same page. You had a man so I knew what you needed me for. I didn’t know you had feelings.” Aaron sounded remorseful.

“You know what?” I prepared to go off again but decided it against it. After Damion’s temper tantrum and Aaron admitting he used me, I was drained. “Just go to hell Aaron. And leave me alone!”

I ended the call and went to the bathroom to take a shower. Surely a hot shower would clear my mind. After my shower, I got in the bed and tried to sort out my thoughts. Well what am I going to do now?

Part II

It took me years to figure out what love was and because of Damion, I could honestly say I truly knew love. People have a laundry list of things they need to be happy but all I really needed from Damion was love.

The day he walked out of our house, my heart broke into a million pieces and I never knew I could hurt so bad. Him leaving took a piece of my soul and I could not function. Fortunately, I was off the next three days so I didn’t have to struggle to pretend I was ok. But at home? Dallas called my sister to come pick him up because I could not get out of bed and he was tired of eating cereal.

“Are you really going to lay in bed all day?” my sister Mariah asked me. “If you want him back, go get him. You know how men are….they can’t take it but they can dish it out. Believe me, now that he knows you will cheat, he will do right. They can’t stand to see their women out doing what they do.”

My sister’s dysfunctional advice made sense in my depression. Most of my life, I saw my mama fight for love and my grandma before her.  I’d been taught that men are men and cheating was just a part of relationships. As Tianna told me, if he comes back home, why am I stressing it? I’m the main chick, his number one, the one he loves. What were these other women getting from him? A 4 for $4 from Wendy’s? 30 minutes of borrowed time? What was that worth? I was the one that fed every part of him, mind, body and soul. What he had with them wasn’t anything to worry about; Damion loved ME.

Aaron was a huge mistake and I wanted nothing more to do with him. Well I decided this after I’d tried to call and inbox him a few times but didn’t get a reply from him.  It was for the best though; I was meant to be with Damion and our son. We were a family.

After listening to my sister, my energy was renewed. I was going to get my man back, no matter what. I picked up my phone and texted him that Dallas didn’t feel well and he was whining to see his dad. I didn’t feel bad for lying so I added that I would probably have to take him to the ER if he didn’t feel any better. I took a gamble using my son like this but I knew Damion wouldn’t come just for me. I was surprised he texted me back and told me he would be here in 30 minutes. I tried not to get too excited but I knew he only agreed because being at his mama’s house wasn’t where he wanted to be. Eight people in a three-bedroom apartment wasn’t ideal for anyone. But it didn’t matter to me. Whatever got him over here.

I hopped in the shower to shave, scrub and lather my skin. Damion wasn’t going to know what hit him. After my shower, I lotioned my skin with my favorite bath and body works lotion and put on a matching black and red bra and panty set. I slipped on my 6 inch black heels and waited for him to arrive. This was one of his favorite things to see me in and I was going to show him everything he needed was right here.

As promised, Damion was opening the door just as I was finishing my subtle makeup. I let him walk to Dallas’ room and seeing he wasn’t there, Damion came to our bedroom where he saw me standing in the mirror applying lip gloss to my full lips.

“Expecting company? Where is Dallas?” he asked perturbed.

“I’m expecting you. He’s with my sister,” I answered speaking low.

Not giving him a chance to speak, I walked over to him and started to caress his manhood through his jogging pants. I could feel that he was turned on by the nothing I was wearing.

“Aye, Savannah. What are you doing?” he moaned quietly.

“Showing you I’m sorry,” I replied while kissing his neck.

I dropped to my knees and when I heard him curse quietly under his breath, I knew he had forgiven me.

******

                A few days later, Damion officially moved back home.  After I seduced him into forgiving me, I apologized profusely and begged for his forgiveness. The way he made love to me proved that this was real love. I felt so connected to Damion that I cried. I told him that I know I messed up but if he took me back, he would never have to worry about that again.  What surprised me the most was Damion apologized for hurting me, too. I just knew we were on our way to having the type of relationship I’d always dreamed about. I hoped that in the next year, I would become Mrs. Damion King.

Damion really turned things around and I was happier than I’d ever been. Even though I didn’t need him to, he started giving me money to pay the light bill. He was also at home more often and spent more time with Dallas and his other kids. I even relented and let his youngest child come over to play with his brother. Damion was doing everything I needed him to do and then some.  I guess my sister was right; my little affair made Damion realize what he was doing wrong. Whatever the reason, I didn’t care. I was just happy that my man was back home.

Damion and I were laying in the bed on Tuesday night when I had the bright idea to go out of town for the weekend.  Even though things were going great between us, I really wanted to spend some alone time with him.  He agreed and we sat in bed looking for hotels in Jacksonville on my tablet. As we were narrowing down our options, I got a messenger notification from Aaron. My heart dropped into my stomach as I tried to exit out before he saw it. I had no such luck.

Damion grabbed the tablet and went to Facebook to my messages. I tried to snatch the tablet from his hands but Damion was too quick for me.

“Hey…sorry, just now seeing your messages. I don’t get on here often. Are you ok? I’m sorry again,” he read out loud. I was thankful that he didn’t say anything more and I am glad I erased my previous messages to him.

“So you’re still talking to this nigga?” Damion was fuming.

“No, baby. I inboxed him to let him know I wanted to work things out with you and that we didn’t need to have any communication outside of work.”

“YOU WORK WITH THIS DUDE?” he yelled at me. I forgot I never told him Aaron and I were co-workers. I sat silently, trying to figure out what I needed to say.

“I can’t believe you Savannah. Someone from work? Someone that you have to see on the regular? And you’re still talking to him?”

“Damion, no. I don’t have to see him. He’s an X-Ray technician. I only see him occasionally. But he’s been avoiding me so we don’t talk. I let him know that it was over and he accepted that.”

“How am I supposed to trust you when you didn’t tell me it was someone you worked with?”

I only thought for a split second before I answered. “The same way I have forgiven you for every hoe you’ve ever slept with.”

“That’s different. And don’t bring me up. We’re talking about you.”

My face scrunched up in confusion trying to understand how his millions of affairs were different from my one. “How is it different?”

“Cause. I just have sex with them. You don’t know how to do that. You probably had feeling for this dude.”

Hearing him admit he slept with other women made me cringe but I’d never admit he hit the nail on the head with Aaron. “Are you serious? You can’t be. You know what,” I began but decided against an argument. “Let’s just find our hotel for the weekend. I don’t want to argue. I thought we were past all this.”

Damion was now looking for his shoes and I freaked out. I jumped up and tried to stop him from putting them on. He pushed me on the bed and when I saw his clenched fists, I knew better than to stop him.

“I thought we were past it, too. But your little boyfriend is still trying to get with you.” Damion put on his shoes and a shirt and walked out of our bedroom. “Don’t wait up. I’m sure you’ll find someone, I mean something to occupy your time.”

I was too upset to cry but I was so damn mad. At Damion. At Aaron. At myself. Everyone. I hadn’t talked to Tianna in a second but I needed to vent. She answered on the second ring. I let her know the situation and as expected, she responded in true Tianna fashion.

“Did you really think he would forgive you after you cheated on him?” she asked incredulously.

“Tianna. He’s cheated on me more times than I can count. How is my one time worse than his hundreds?”

“Doesn’t matter. Men can’t handle it,” she reasoned, leaving me completely unsatisfied with her logic. “I gotta go. I’m having company later.”

She abruptly hung up, leaving me to try to sort out what the hell happened between Damion and I. My mind was in overload and I was too tired to keep trying to understand the logic of men. I was just drifting off to sleep when my phone chimed with a picture message from Tianna.

Fast asleep in her bed was Damion.

For the second time tonight, my heart fell into my stomach. Her face only fairly visible but I could tell she was smirking. Her caption sent me over the edge: Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun. I told you men can’t handle it. She had the audacity to add a smiley face to the end, like she just didn’t confess that she is sleeping with my man.

All logic ceased to exist. I hopped up, threw on some jeans and tennis shoes and headed out to my car. I forgot all about Dallas and went back in the house to get him. I placed him in the back seat and drove like a bat out of hell to Tianna’s house. The drive should have taken me about fifteen minutes; I think I got there in five.

In a flash, I was banging on her front door, yelling Damion’s name.

“I KNOW YOU’RE IN THE THERE DAMION!! BRING YOUR ASS OUT HERE! NOW!!”

Some of Tianna’s neighbors came out the door to watch the show but I was beyond the point of caring. I continued to beat on the door and yell but Tianna wouldn’t come to the door. “TIANNA OPEN THIS DAMN DOOR! YOU WERE SO BIG AND BAD SENDING ME THIS PICTURE!! OPEN THE GOT DAMN DOOR!!”

The door opened with a flourish and I started swinging. I don’t even know who I was hitting but I felt myself flying backwards, hitting the door jamb hard. Instead of Tianna, I had been hitting Damion.

“Savanna, what the hell are you doing here?” he asked while wiping blood from his mouth. I popped him good in the face at least once.

“WHAT AM I DOING HERE?! ME? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE?”

“Man chill out with that mess man! She called me to come fix her dryer! And you’re over here acting a damn fool!”

“Fixing a dryer my ass! She sent me the picture of you sleeping in her bed!” I was up on him again, hitting him as I yelled. Damion was trying his best to avoid my blows but he couldn’t really defend himself. Just then Tianna came out of her bedroom and tried to push me out her house. Equally mad at her, I stopped fighting Damion and tried to beat the hell out of her.

I wasn’t a fighter but right now, my rage was taking control and I knew I was hitting some part of her body but I had no idea what. Suddenly, I was pulled off her and pulled outside by two police officers. I didn’t even hear them come up. Tianna tried to run up on me outside, but Damion held her back. I could see that her nose was bloody and one of her eyes was swollen shut.

“I WANT THAT BITCH ARRESSTED!” she yelled at the officers. “She came to my house and attacked me.”

I was trying to run back to where she was but the officers grabbed me again. “SHUT THE HELL UP! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY FRIEND BUT YOU’RE SLEEPING WITH MY MAN! I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU BOTH!!”

I broke down on the ground crying. Tianna was trying to come at me but Damion kept her away from me. “Ma’am do you want me to arrest you, too?” the officer yelled with authority.

“You better not arrest me when she’s the one that came over here to attack me!”

“If you come out your door, I will handcuff you, do you understand?” the officer bellowed. That was enough to keep her a safe distance away from me.

One of the officers picked me up and put me in the back of the police car. It was then I remembered Dallas in my car. “My son…my baby!” I cried.

“Your baby? Where is your baby?”

“He’s in the car!” I sobbed. I pointed to my car, which was still running and was relieved to see that Dallas was still fast asleep. It was time for Damion to cut the fool.

“You came over here to start some bullshit with my son in the car? God Savannah you’re so damn stupid!”

In a flash, I was out of the back seat and almost at Damion but the officer grabbed me by my waist and pulled me back. I tried to break free but the officer was too strong. I was pretty much hysterical by now and there was nothing they could do to calm me down. Next thing I know, I’m in the back seat again and the door is closed. I see one of the officers handing Dallas off to Damion while I’m balling in the back seat. I couldn’t believe I was about to go to jail!

The officers drive off with me sobbing in the back seat. They had absolutely no sympathy for how hard I was crying. I imagined they saw things like this on the regular.

At the police station, I was booked, finger printed, and officially charged with two counts of battery. All I could think about was what why Damion did me like this. Of all the women in the world, he went and slept with my friend. Tianna wasn’t any better. She was feeding me all that mess trying to get my man and I played right into it. After the cell doors closed, I thought about Dallas. Then it dawned on me that I could potentially lose my nursing license. Thinking about how bad I messed up my life, I cried harder. I was finally given my one phone call and I called my sister to let her know what happened.

“I don’t have no damn bail money!” she exclaimed making my blood boil.

“I don’t need your money! Hell, you owe me money now! I have the money. I just need you to come get me.”

“What time tomorrow?”

My sister was really making my head hurt. “Tomorrow? No, now!”

I could hear Mariah laughing at me. “Girl, you won’t be getting out tonight. I’ll find out what time you’ll see the judge tomorrow. Damn Savannah, I had plans tomorrow!”

As the realization that I had to spend a night in jail hit me, my tears started again. I cried so much tonight, my head was hurting. My sister tried to comfort me but there was nothing she could say. I knew I messed up bad.

As I lay on the smelly, thin mattress in the holding cell, I evaluated how I got here.  I loved Damion more than anything in the world and I couldn’t understand why he treated me like this. I literally took care of him. I paid all our bills. I cooked. I kept our house clean. I took care of our son. I accepted his other child. I dealt with his bullshit. Why doesn’t he want me? What’s wrong with me?

                It wasn’t just Damion though. Every man I ever dated treated me like crap. No matter what I did. No matter how much money I spent on them. No matter what I overlooked. No matter what I accepted. No matter what I put up with. Sexually, I gave into whatever they wanted, even if I wasn’t comfortable doing it. I did everything I could to make them happy, yet and still, I ended up alone.

I hated being single. I hated being alone. I hated seeing other people happy while my love life fell apart time after time. I was smart, educated, dependable, loyal, sexy and submissive. I was the perfect woman. They just didn’t want me and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what I was going to do but I knew Damion and I were over. There was nothing he could do to make me take him back.

It was so unfair that I was the one that loved him but I was the only one in jail. Damion and Tianna were probably having the time of their lives now that I was locked up and couldn’t stop them. What did Tianna have that I didn’t? What did Damion see in her? Did she come on to him or did he try to get at her? And poor Dallas. He was going to wake up in the morning with so many questions. My mind continued to wander in self-pity until I was mentally exhausted. I was tired but too tired to go to sleep. I just wanted all of this to be over.

******

                A month later, I felt like my life was finally getting back on track. After I got out of jail, I was placed on probation, which was basically paying money. I was able to keep my job by paying off my probation early. I really hated to part with that much money over some mess. Mess that I shouldn’t have had to deal with in the first place. Now, I was a single mother with a criminal record while my baby daddy laid up with my ex-friend. My life was like some ratchet reality TV show.

Tianna began posting pictures of her and Damion on social media to pick at me but I deleted my accounts. I couldn’t deal with it. Even though I wasn’t anywhere near 100%, I wasn’t as depressed as I was when I got out of jail. I had to take a week-long vacation to try to cope with the shit storm that my life became. Dallas had to stay with my mama; I could hardly take care of myself, much less my son.

“I told you he wasn’t fit to lay his head in your house. Guess you had to learn the hard way,” my mama told me. My mama was never one to hold her tongue. She was also not the empathetic kind of mama either. I’d seen my mama change men like she changed her underwear; when one did her wrong, she had another one lined up.

I hadn’t talked to Damion, not even for Dallas’ sake. I had my locks changed. He called and I ignored his calls every time. He texted me and I deleted the texts as soon as they came in. I blocked his number and every number he contacted me from. I really didn’t want to be that kind of baby mama but I was becoming that kind of baby mama. I hated him and I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. Not even when it came to his son.

On Friday afternoon, I was hiding out in the lounge avoiding having to do any work. I was tired because I hadn’t slept well since I got out of jail. I was thinking about taking melatonin because I needed to sleep more than 2-3 hours a night. I was playing a game on my phone when a phone call interrupted my momentary reprieve from life. I didn’t recognize the number and I almost didn’t answer it, fearing it was Damion. I think he finally got the hint that I wasn’t going to talk to him.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Good afternoon. I’m trying to reach Savannah Evans.”

She sounded like a bill collector but with a local number, I had no idea who she was.

“Speaking.”

“Ms. Evans. My name is Tiffany and I’m calling from the health department. Do you have a minute?”

Health Department?  “Ummmm…yes,” I replied uneasily.

“Ok good. As soon as you can, I need you to come to the health department to be tested. I received your name from someone that listed you as a sexual partner.”

I hung up the phone and walked out of work. I didn’t even tell anyone where I was going. In a fog, I drove across town to the health department, mind racing with the possible diseases I could have. I couldn’t believe that on top of everything else, I had to deal with something that could potentially kill me. When I made it to the health department, I asked for Tiffany and almost immediately I was taken to the back.

“Thank you for coming so soon, Ms. Evans. We need to-“

“Who listed me as a sexual partner?” I interrupted her.

“Unfortunately, Ms. Evans I cannot disclose that information. The person who listed you tested positive for Syphilis but we’re going to test you for all STDs just to be on the safe side.”

Tiffany continued talking, telling me the procedure for testing me and the wait time for the results. I heard nothing else she said because the only thing I could think about was how I could kill Damion without going back to jail.

Part III

                Waiting for the results of my STD test was the most nerve racking thing I ever experienced. I planned my funeral in my head so many times, I was on the verge of writing it all down so my mama didn’t have to worry about the details. Thinking about my son growing up without me scared me to death. I don’t know how I made it through my days waiting for Tiffany from the health department to call me. I kept my phone on me at all times because I was too afraid to miss her call.

I didn’t tell anyone I was possibly infected because…well, I am embarrassed. I loved Damion to death and everyone knew it. Everyone except him. I gave him everything he could ever need and yet he still needed to be with other women. I felt stupid because I knew he cheated and we still didn’t use condoms. I assumed he used condoms when he cheated, especially after he had another son two years ago. But here I am, waiting for my phone to ring to know my fate.

On Friday, I took Dallas to school and since I was off, I treated myself to breakfast at IHOP. If I went back home, I would just lie in bed and try to will my phone to ring. It felt good to do something so simple for myself. I was so busy trying to be Damion’s everything that I neglected myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I read a book for pleasure or got a pedicure. My every waking moment was dedicated to Damion. Making sure he was satisfied, trying to make sure he didn’t cheat. A lot of good that did. I also realized that in my quest to love Damion as much as I could, I wasn’t the best mother to my son. I allowed him to see me being disrespected by his punk ass daddy. Luckily, he was young and he probably didn’t realize what was going on but still, I had to do better.

I was lost in my thoughts when my phone rang. I jumped when I saw it was Tiffany calling me. I answered immediately, preparing myself for the worst news.

“Hey Savannah, this is Tiffany from the Health Department. How are you this morning?” she sang into the phone as if she wasn’t holding my life in her hands.

“I’m fine,” I answered shortly. Since I was in public, I couldn’t just blurt out so do I have syphilis or not? Instead, I had to be patient as she tried to make small talk with me.

“Great! We got your results back and you tested negative for everything, including HIV. I would just recommend getting tested with your annual pap smear or more often if you experience any symptoms. Also, using condoms greatly diminishes the opportunity to contract STDs but they are not guaranteed to prevent the spread of any diseases.”

Hearing that I was negative, made me cry, right in the middle of the IHOP. I heard her speech and even though she spoke very professionally, I felt embarrassed because of course, I already knew this.

“Savannah, are you ok?” Tiffany asked when she heard me sniffling in the phone.

“Yes,” I answered mid-sob. “I’m just so relieved.”

“I understand. Take care of yourself!”

We ended the call and with that huge weight lifted off me, I felt brand new. I wiped my eyes and finished my breakfast, feeling more alive than I ever have. Since I was off this weekend, I was going on a Savannah-cation. I settled on Atlanta because even though it wasn’t that far away, I would have plenty to do. I called my sister to see if she would keep Dallas for me this weekend and she only agreed when I told her I would pay her. I had no intention of paying her because she still owed me money. She would find that out when I got back Sunday.

At home I packed an overnight bag for Dallas and I. I found a hotel I liked in downtown Atlanta and made my reservation. I dropped Dallas’ bag off at my mama’s house. I told her I was going to Atlanta for the weekend and as usual, she complained about what I was doing.  She didn’t believe I was going alone.

“You done found a new man already, huh?” she asked with a smirk. I told her again there was no new man and I was treating myself. She rolled her eyes at me as if it was unheard of for a woman to spend a weekend alone. I let her think what she wanted and left to fill up my car before heading out.

The drive up was uneventful until I got just outside the city and traffic picked up. I didn’t understand how people dealt with this day in and day out but for the weekend, I was going to be all up in it. I made it to my hotel at check in time because of the traffic. I thought people would have still been at work, but since it was the weekend, people were out and about. I planned to be one of them as soon as I got checked in. As I got settled in my room, I reveled in the fact that I had a whole weekend to do whatever I wanted.

I remembered seeing a post a few weeks ago that a woman that cut her hair was determined to change her life. Quickly, I made up my mind that I was going to cut my hair. Under my weave, my hair was natural but I found out I wasn’t about that natural life. Having to go to work so early and get my son ready for school didn’t leave me much time to tackle this mess. I found a natural hair salon with great reviews. One stylist, Cree, was highly recommended. I found her social media page and liked her work. She made a post earlier today about having openings this afternoon so I called the salon to book her. She told me she had a client to cancel so she was available now. Without giving myself time to change my mind, I headed out the door. My GPS estimated I had about a 30-minute drive, traffic included. I had no idea what I was going to get done to my hair but I knew I needed something different.

When I arrived at the salon, I was taken to Cree immediately. I told her I needed something easy because I was a nurse and a single mother. She told me she had the perfect style for me. She showed me pictures of some tapered cuts and I fell in love. I’d seen women rock their hair like this but never felt brave enough to do it. She went to work and we chit chatted about life. As my hair fell to the ground, I felt free. When she spun my chair around, I was so surprised at what I saw in the mirror. I had the perfect hair texture for this cut; my sides were cut low but the length on the top was super curly. Not only was my hair fierce, but I didn’t look like Damion’s girl or Dallas’ mama; I looked like a new woman. Cree showed me the products she used and gave me some tips on caring for my hair. She convinced me to get my eyebrows threaded to compliment my new look. She took a couple of photos before I left for her social media pages. I was now ready to enjoy my weekend. I planned to sleep, eat and shop. I planned to celebrate my life, my singleness and my freedom. After all, loving Damion almost killed me.

******

                Monday morning I went back to work feeling like a million bucks. It was amazing what alone time and a new hair cut could do. My co-workers complimented me and for the first time in my adult life, I was happy. It was not lost on me that I was extremely happy without a man. For most of my life, I thought I had to be in a relationship to be happy but now I saw that being alone was a thousand times better than dealing with the bullshit I went through with Damion. I hate that it took me so long to get to this point, but better late than never, right?

Aaron: Damn, Savannah! You look amazing! You’re doing great I see.

I figured Aaron was at work, but I hadn’t seen him so I don’t know when he saw me. But obviously my new look made an impression on him.

Me: Lol thanks. I feel amazing

                Aaron: Let’s go to lunch. My treat

                I thought for a split second and even though I was as single as a dollar bill, I wasn’t going to deal with anyone if I didn’t have to. Besides, he told me he wasn’t looking for anything serious; I wasn’t about to get involved in a situationship.

Me: No thank you. You made it perfectly clear what your intentions were with me. I’m good!

                Aaron: It wasn’t like that. I just know how relationships can be. We start kicking it and next thing I know, you’re back with your man. Come on, it’s just lunch, nothing more.

                Me: No, I’m good. Thanks though.

                Aaron: So there’s no changing your mind?

                Me: I’ve learned that when people show you who they are, you should believe them

                Aaron: Ok Savannah. I get your point. I apologize again. You look good. Good to see you happy.

                Me: Thanks

                I appreciated Aaron’s attention and a few months ago, I would have jumped at the chance to spend time with him so that I didn’t have to be alone but now, I was in a good place and I didn’t need anything or anyone disrupting my peace.

After work, I finally saw Aaron. The way he looked at me reminded me of all the nights he made love to me. I hadn’t even thought about sex since going to jail and thinking I contracted an STD. Seeing Aaron weakened me. But just for a second. I pulled myself together and headed to pick up my son.

At my mama’s house, I cringed when I saw Damion’s car parked in her drive way. He usually came to see Dallas at my mama’s house because I wouldn’t let him come to mine. Instead of getting out of the car, I texted my mama to send Dallas out. I didn’t want to see Damion. I still loved him but at the same time, I hated his guts. If he disappeared today, I wouldn’t care. Instead of Dallas coming out alone, Damion walked him to the car. He did a double take when he saw my hair.

“Damn, baby. I love that hair cut on you!” he exclaimed. I couldn’t remember the last time he complimented me like that.

“Thanks,” I replied dryly. I avoided eye contact as Dallas got in the car and gave me kiss. “Hey baby boy. How was school today?”

“It was good mama! I gotta show you my pictures I drew for you!”

“Alright, son. Be good. I’ll see you later.” He buckled Dallas in and turned his attention to me. “You’re looking good, baby!”

“I’m not your baby,” I replied coldly and rolled my eyes. He reluctantly closed the door and I drove off, leaving him standing there staring. Dallas told me all about his school day on our way home. I was half listening because seeing Damion made my blood boil. How dare he speak to me like he didn’t almost give me a disease!  I never knew I could hate someone so much. I knew it wasn’t fair to Dallas but I really didn’t want him anywhere near my son or me. It wasn’t realistic but anger very rarely relies on logic.

At home, I went over Dallas’ home work and played with him in his room. I knew I needed to be more intentional about the time I spent with him now that Damion wasn’t here anymore. Dallas loved the extra attention and I felt bad that I neglected him because I was too busy running after his daddy. Just as I was putting him to bed, my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize so I knew it was Damion. I ignored the call. He called me two more times and I continued to hit ignore. I didn’t have anything good to say to him.

The next couple of days, Damion continued to call me from unknown numbers and started leaving voicemails when I didn’t answer. His messages started out calm but he escalated to yelling that I need to call him back. I stopped listening to the messages and just started deleting. I noticed that Damion was calling in the middle of the day when he should have been at work. I wondered if he still had a job. It wasn’t my concern anymore so I didn’t waste too much of my time worrying about him.

When I was leaving work Tuesday, Damion was waiting for me by my car.

“I know damn well you saw me calling you!” he yelled as soon as I got close.

“Damion, we have nothing to talk about. Why are you bothering me?” I snapped.

“Oh so it’s like that? What happened to ‘I’ll always love you, Damion’?”

“Are you serious right now? Please tell me you’re joking!” I groaned, as an instant headache hit me. “I gave you years of my life. I did everything I could for you. I took care of you our entire relationship and what did I get in return? Lies, bullshit and you almost compromised my health with a damn STD!”

In a flash, Damion’s hands were around my neck. I tried to fight him off but his grip was too strong. I struggled with him for a minute before kneeing him in the groin. He dropped to the ground and I ran to my car. I started it up and backed out of the parking space with Damion still groaning on the ground. I drove to my mama’s house in shock that Damion just attacked me like that. What’s wrong with him? He’s a lot of things but violent isn’t one of them.

I got to my mama’s house and ran in to get Dallas. I didn’t even turn my car off. All I wanted to do was get my baby and go home. I didn’t tell my mama what happened because she wouldn’t care either way. Dallas talked to me all the way home and while he was a good distraction, I was still a little on edge from Damion choking me.

At home, Dallas and I were lying in my bed watching TV. I was so glad I started spending more quality time with him because it seemed like every day he was getting bigger. Soon he wouldn’t be my baby boy any more. Dallas fell asleep and I carried him to his bed. I was just turning off the hall light when I heard a knock on my door. I knew it had to be Damion. I looked out the window and sure enough, his car was in the drive way. He continued to bang on the door but I refused to go to the door. This man is out of his mind!

                The banging stopped and I was relieved that Damion realized I wasn’t coming to the door. Suddenly, I heard a loud crash that made me scream. I heard glass shattering and then Damion’s voice. “Savannah! Where the hell are you?”

I tried to run to Dallas’ room but Damion caught me before I got there. He grabbed me and threw me against the wall. He had a crazed look in his eyes and he smelled like he had drunk a whole bottle of vodka.

“Listen, bitch,” he slurred. “This is my house. You are my woman.”

“Damion, let me go!”

Damion lifted his shirt and pulled out a gun. I started crying, but I was too afraid to scream. “I’m not letting you go Savannah. So stop ignoring me. You love me and you have my son so I’m coming back home.”

I was too afraid to respond. I wanted to just agree with him to calm him down but I couldn’t. I’d watched a million and one Lifetime movies and I always said what I wouldn’t do. Now that I was in a real life and death situation, my logic wasn’t intact.

From outside, I heard what sounded like the police. Who called them? Oh my alarm system! Thank God I upgraded my system!

Damion looked at me with contempt before hitting me in the face with the butt of the gun. He took off running as I fell down in pain. My right eye was throbbing and it was already beginning to swell shut. I knew Damion was going out of the back door so I stumbled to front door to let the police in.

They searched for him but he was nowhere to be found. His car was still in my driveway so I had no idea how he got away. The officers took my statement and suggested that I take out a restraining order on him. They asked if I needed to go to the hospital. I looked at my face in the mirror and I declined because the skin wasn’t broken so I didn’t need stitches. However, I knew I wasn’t going to stay here tonight. I grabbed some toiletries and clothes for Dallas and I. I got him out of bed and I was thankful he was a heavy sleeper because I didn’t want him to see my eye tonight. The officers helped get him in the car. I backed out of my driveway and stopped. Where was I going? Damion could easily come to my mama’s or my sister’s. Shit!

I decided to just go to a hotel tonight but suddenly, Aaron popped in my mind. I was too afraid to be alone right now so I didn’t even try to talk myself out of it. I drove across town to his apartment complex, got Dallas out the car and grabbed our bag.

I knocked on his door a few times, when it occurred to me that he might not be alone in there; I didn’t even think about that. I turned to go back to my car to go to a hotel when Aaron came to the door rubbing his eyes; obviously I’d woken him up.

“Savannah, what are you doing here? Oh shit, what happened to you?” he asked after seeing my eye.

I started crying. “Damion broke into my house and attacked me. I didn’t know where else to go. I’m scared to be alone. I’m sorry.”

“Come in. Here, give me Dallas.”

He took my son from my arms and carried him to his other bedroom. I plopped down on his sofa totally deflated. Aaron went to his kitchen and got a bag of frozen peas for my eye.

“So what happened?” he asked with genuine concern.

I told him everything that happened today. I kept checking my phone hoping the police called to tell me they caught Damion. Hearing myself tell this story seemed surreal. How did I get in this situation?

“Wow. I’m sorry you’re going through this. You can crash here, I don’t mind.”

“Thank you, Aaron. I really appreciate it.”

“No problem. Even though you chumped me off the other day. It’s ok,” he joked.

I laughed and I was glad for the temporary separation from my situation. “I did not chump you off. I was just letting you know.”

“I understand why you turned me down though. So I’m not tripping,” he said turning serious. “Are you ok?”

I gave him a confused look. “What do you mean?”

Aaron looked uncomfortable, almost like he wished he hadn’t brought it up. “No judgment from me. Life happens and unfortunately things like this happen when you deal with someone like your baby daddy.”

“Aaron, what are you talking about?” I was perplexed with this conversation.

He looked at me for a second before blurting out “Tianna is my cousin.”

I gave him a blank stare as I was trying to comprehend what he was insinuating.

He sighed heavily before continuing. “My mama and her mama are sisters. My mama called me a few weeks ago and told me Tianna finally caught something because she was taking a lot of medicine. My mama assumed she had HIV. Sad thing is, I wasn’t really surprised because Tianna has always been wild. I really don’t talk to her too much because he was always trying to get me to hook her up with my friends. Anyway, our grandma had a birthday dinner and one of our cousins said something about not wanting to sit by her because she has HIV. She blew up, correcting them that she didn’t have no damn HIV but she had syphilis. In the middle of my grandma’s dinner. It was so embarrassing.

“A few days later, my mama told me she was in jail for fighting her boyfriend. My mama sent me a picture of the dude to see if I knew him and the picture she sent was of Damion and Dallas. When I realized who it was, I figured the reason you turned me down was because you were dealing with that.”

I was blown away by his story. Tianna and I had been friends for a few years and I never met any of her family. I guess I see why now. I told Aaron that Damion and I broke up because his hoe ass cousin was sleeping with my man. And then it hit me: Aaron thought I had syphilis.

“Wait, do you think I have syphilis?” I asked incredulously. To be honest, it was a legitimate question, but the realization caught me off guard.

“I mean…Tianna has it. She slept with your boyfriend…”

“Well I don’t,” I replied matter of factly. “I was tested and everything was negative.”

“I’m sorry. I just assumed…”

“I know. I’m kind of tired,” I told him avoiding eye contact. I imagined more people would assume I had an STD when they found out about Tianna and Damion. I just had to be prepared for this. I would probably have to go get a copy of my results to carry around with me.

Aaron hung his head defeated and offered me his bed while he took the couch. When I stood up, he stood with me. He looked at me for a split second before leaning in to kiss me. Instantly, my mind took me back to the nights Aaron sent my body into orgasmic bliss. Then I remembered the way he shut me out. I pulled away from him breathing heavy.

“Savannah, I know what you’re thinking. I know I messed up but I need you to understand my point of view. What would have happened if we started something and you would have gotten back with your dude? I know I didn’t handle it right, but that’s what I was thinking about.”

“It doesn’t really matter,” I started, still a little breathless from his kiss. “I’ve had a lot of time to think and I know that I really just need to heal from Damion. He’s not even really gone. I just need to concentrate on me.”

“I can’t argue with that. I really want us to be friends though. Whatever, you’re comfortable with.”

I was a little thrown off with his admission but I had to stand strong. If I wanted something different, I had to do something different. Even though I was in desperate need of the pleasure he was so skilled at providing. “We can be friends. I don’t know what that’s going to look like right now. I just need to get today off my mind.”

“Of course. Do you need anything?”

“No. I’m good. Just need to sleep.”

“Good night, Savannah.”

“Good night.”

******

                A few weeks passed and even though I was at peace, I couldn’t really rest easy because Damion still hasn’t been located. He hasn’t tried to contact me and he hasn’t shown up at my house or my job. I did take out a restraining order. Maybe that opened his eyes and he realized he didn’t need to do anything stupid and end up in jail.

Aaron was a really great guy and we were really getting to know each other. We slept together twice but I told him we didn’t need to confuse our friendship by adding sex. I know it was hard for him because it was hard for me, too. But I was still trying to untangle my heart from Damion.

I had moments when I was happy, usually when I was with Aaron, but when I thought about the years I played his fool, I got upset at him but I was more so mad at myself. Spending time with Aaron showed me that not every guy has the same mentality as Damion or any of my other exes. It was refreshing to feel appreciated and not used. I had to rethink my definition of what love was. I spent so many years relying on love when love itself is not enough to make a relationship.

I was just getting off work on Thursday when Aaron called to ask if I wanted to go to dinner. I smiled hard because I wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. We agreed to meet at the Waffle House because that was one of our favorite spots. I called mama to let her know I would be a little late getting Dallas.

We had a great time, talking and laughing about work gossip. One thing that I loved about Aaron was how we were friends. I can’t say that I ever had this with anyone. Wait…did I say love? I can’t be in love. Not already. I don’t know if I could call it love but, I definitely felt something.

After we ate, we walked outside to our cars. He walked me to mine and before I got in, he kissed me so passionately. Kissing Aaron was great but it was getting to the point that kissing wasn’t enough.

“Want to come over?” I asked, hoping he understood what my eyes implied.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Please?”

Aaron bent down to kiss me again. He stepped back and looked at me carefully as if he was looking for any sign that I might change my mind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone walking towards us. By the time I realized it was Damion, it was too late.

“I thought I told you this wasn’t over!” Damion spoke so calmly it sent chills down my spine.

Aaron turned and Damion pulled out a gun. As three shots rang out, I felt a shooting pain in my shoulder. I fell to the ground and Aaron went down as well. I screamed for help and as Damion came closer to me, I felt another stinging pain in my stomach and then, everything went black.

Part IV

There were so many people moving around me. It looked like I was in a bland white room. Around me people talking in garbled voices, like they were in a bottle. I kept telling them I couldn’t understand them, but it seemed like they couldn’t hear me. It was the strangest dream I’d ever had. I felt like I was having an out of body experience but I couldn’t make myself wake up. Maybe I just need to close my eyes and rest. I’m very tired, for some reason.

                What seemed like hours later, I finally felt like I was in my own body. But…I hurt. Everywhere. As my eyes began to focus, I realized I was in a hospital bed. What is going on? Why am I in the hospital?

Slowly, my memory started coming back. I remembered standing with Aaron, no…we were kissing and then Damion came up out of the blue. I remember shots, pain in my shoulder and stomach. Wait…did Damion shoot me? And Aaron? Oh God, where is Aaron?

“Aaron…Aaron…” I whispered to no one.

“Savannah, Thank God you’re ok! I was so worried!” my mama exclaimed. I didn’t even see her in the room but I heard the concern in her voice.

“Where is Aaron?” I asked, even though I was surprised my mama was there.

“Who is Aaron?”

“My…my friend. He was with me when…mama, where is Damion?”

For the first time in my life, I saw my mama differently. She actually looked like she cared about me.  When I was 14, she almost put me out when I told her the man she was dating was making nasty comments to me. She accused me of trying to take her man and our relationship was never the same after that. My mama chose her man over me and that’s why I was so desperate for love. My mama had no idea who my daddy was and she never gave me the love I craved. I looked for men to give me what my parents should have. Now I was laying in the hospital because I loved the wrong man.

“Don’t worry about him right now, baby. Just rest.” She grabbed my hand and I knew it wasn’t good news.

“Mama, where is he?” I asked panicked. Because if he was still out there, he could find me again.

“Savannah, he’s gone. After he shot you and that other guy, he ran. The police found him and he shot at them. He didn’t make it.”

I was in shock. Damion was dead? I know I said I wouldn’t care if anything happened to him but now that he was really gone, I wasn’t sure how to feel. On one hand, I hated him. He took me through hell, he almost gave me an STD and he shot me. But for years, I was in love with him. I think I still did. We had a child together but with all that he took me through, I didn’t believe I considered this love.

My thoughts were interrupted by a doctor entering my room. “Ms. Evans, glad to see you awake! My name is Dr. Ross and you gave your mama quite the scare. The bullet in your shoulder was through and through but the one in your stomach was much trickier. We were able to get you stabilized but unfortunately, the trauma caused you to lose the baby.”

“Baby?” I repeated in disbelief. “What baby?”

“I’m assuming you didn’t know. You were pregnant, only a couple of weeks.”

Pregnant. I was pregnant. Aaron and I were going to have a baby and Damion took that from us. I started to hate him again. The tears that fell from my eyes weren’t just from my baby but for the pain I felt for loving Damion. He ruined my life.

“Dr. Ross, can you tell me how Aaron Benson is doing?”

“Mr. Benson was the gentleman that was found with you? I didn’t operate on him so I am not entirely sure of his condition but I believe he was pretty touch and go for a little while. I can check and let you know.”

I couldn’t help but to cry harder. Not only did my connection to Damion land me in the hospital but now its left my son and his siblings without a father and an innocent man was fighting for his life. What have I done?

                My mama came by my side to hug me. It felt so strange for her to show me affection. I think the last time she hugged me was when I was a little girl.

“I’m sorry Savannah. So sorry,” my mama cried. “I know I haven’t been there for you and I’m sorry. I’ve been worried sick about you and I know that we can’t keep going like this. I need you to forgive me for the way I’ve treated you. Oh God, I almost lost my baby!”

My mama was now crying harder than me. I believe that everything happens for a reason and maybe it took a tragedy for her to realize how much I needed her. My mama held me and we cried until I fell asleep.

******

                I was released from the hospital a few days later and ordered to bed rest. My mama offered to stay with me to help me around the house. I loved that she was going to be here; it would give us time to talk even though the pain meds had me out of it most of the day. I didn’t have a lot of friends so I wasn’t bombarded with visitors and calls but my co-workers checked on me. I called the hospital constantly to check on Aaron but every time, he was still unconscious. He was shot twice in the chest, one of the bullets just missing his heart. As a nurse, I knew his chances were 50-50, depending on the location. But from my understanding, EMS got to us pretty quickly so I’m sure they were able to stabilize him. Still…I worried about him. One of his nurses was someone I worked with before; she promised to call me if he woke up.

Dallas had so many questions about why I had to stay in bed and why I couldn’t take him to school. I told him about his father and I felt his poor little heart break. He cried for about twenty minutes when he realized he wouldn’t see his daddy again. My mama took him out to get ice cream while my sister sat with me. I didn’t know how to help Dallas cope with his daddy’s death when I hated him right now.

My ringing phone jarred me from my thoughts. Diamond, Damion’s sister name flashed across my phone and I closed my eyes in preparation of this conversation.

“Hello?” I answered gingerly and placed her on speaker phone. I couldn’t even imagine what they were going through.

“YOU STUPID ASS BITCH!!” Diamond yelled at me. “You got my brother killed!”

“Wait…what? Diamond your brother shot at me and my boyfriend. I have no idea what happened after that.” Mariah came over to my bed almost like she was going to fight Diamond through the phone.

“If it wasn’t for you and your cheating ass, he wouldn’t be dead!”

“Me? We weren’t even together anymore! He was with Tianna. You know, the girl that gave him syphilis!” I was beyond mad. I was dealing with too much to entertain her foolishness. She may have been grieving but I wasn’t going to blamed for his stupid decisions.

“Whatever. He was only with her because you put him out. You did this to him and you’re going to regret this.”

I hung up on her and threw my phone down. Mariah grabbed my phone and put it on mute. “You don’t need to worry about that mess right now. We know Damion wasn’t shit.”

Did his family really blame me? They really thought he was blameless in this? He’s the victim? Damion’s family was one big unstable mess so honestly, I shouldn’t be surprised. They were the type of people to hop on social media saying “Free my cousin Pookie” after Pookie has killed 10 people and a dog.  Damion’s family celebrated their criminal kinfolk like they were famous. Every time someone got out of jail, they threw a cookout. Even his mama spent time in jail but I refused to go last time she got out of jail; a grown woman with a rap sheet miles long didn’t deserve celebration. They should have been giving her tips on how to stay out of jail instead of celebrating doing time.

I tried to show Damion a different life, something with stability. But Damion loved that lifestyle. Well…I am not sure if he loved it or if he was just used to it. I expected Damion to provide me with love he wasn’t capable of giving. Because of love, I expected too much of him. I thought loving him would fix him. I thought love was enough to change him.

I rolled over in a huff and pain shot through me. The pain in my shoulder and stomach was a reminder of what “I thought” cost me. Except for my son, there was no love worth losing my life. I asked Mariah for my pain meds even though I wasn’t in that much pain, I wanted to be sleep to escape my thoughts.

When I woke up again, I felt so much more refreshed. My mama and Dallas were both in the bed with me and I loved this little moment of peace. I searched for my phone because I needed to check on Aaron. I had 5 missed calls from Diamond. I went through my settings and blocked her number. I wasn’t about to deal with her. I had a voicemail from Aaron’s nurse informing me that he was stable and was awake earlier. I got excited as I called his room number but I almost hung up when a woman answered.

“Ummmm…may I speak with Aaron?” I asked with a slight attitude. I know he doesn’t have another woman in his room.

“He’s sleeping right now; may I ask who’s calling?”

“This is Savannah.”

“Oh Savannah! I’ve heard so much about you! How are you feeling?” the woman asked. “I’m Ellen, Aaron’s mother.”

I was relieved it was his mama but I didn’t want to meet her like this. “I’m fine, thank you. How’s Aaron?”

“He’s doing much better. He woke up today and breathing fine on his own. The doctors expect for him to make a full recovery, hallelujah!”

I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. I needed this good news today. “Thank God! I want to come see him. Will that be ok?”

“Of course, honey! But maybe tomorrow. He’s been in and out today, I don’t think he’ll be much good right now.”

“I will come in the morning after my doctor’s appointment. I’m so glad he’s ok!”

“He’ll be glad to see you. He’s done nothing but talk about you since the day he met you.”

I was blushing; I had no idea Aaron talked about me to his mama. That was enough to give me a restful night’s sleep, something my body was desperately in need of.

The next morning, my mama dropped Dallas off at school, then came back to take me to the hospital. She didn’t wake me up earlier because she said I needed my rest. I walked gingerly to Aaron’s room and knocked quietly.

“Come in!” I heard Ms. Ellen call.

I walked into the room and smiled when I saw Aaron awake. He was connected to so many machines but he still managed to smile when he saw me. His mama got up from her chair to hug me.

“Nice to finally meet you, Savannah! I thought my son was going to talk my ear off about you!”

“Mama!” Aaron laughed softly.

“What? It’s true!” Ms. Ellen retorted giving Aaron a serious look. I liked her already.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Ms. Ellen,” I said trying to save Aaron from embarrassment.  “Hey, Aaron. How are you feeling?”

“Tired and ready to get out of here.”

“I know the feeling,” I replied. We were like two school kids trying to flirt in front of our parents.

“Well, I’m gonna let you two talk. I’m going to run home to shower and check my mail. Aaron, I’ll be back later.” She walked over to her son and kissed him on his forehead. The simple gesture made me smile but made me jealous at the same time. Aaron told me he had a great relationship with his mother, especially when his father died 10 years ago. Even though my mama was doing better now, most of my life she didn’t seem to care about me at all. Maybe one day we would have that type of relationship. I was going to do everything I could to make sure Dallas and I were like that.

When Ms. Ellen left, I sat down in the chair and looked at Aaron intently. I knew I needed to tell him about the baby but I wasn’t sure how.

“How are you feeling?” he asked as if he wasn’t the one still in the hospital.

“I’m ok. Still sore and in shock, but ok.”

“Yeah, my mama told me he was killed by the police. How’s Dallas taking it?

“He’s ok. He’s sad, understandably. But Damion’s sister called me and blamed me for him dying.”

“What the hell? How? Why?”

“I don’t know but I’m not surprised.”

“My auntie, Tianna’s mama, said they broke up when he found out he had syphilis. They got into a fight over it. I think that was his wake-up call; sleeping around has consequences. My auntie said he was kind of out of it after that.”

I sat in silence that it took him contracting a disease for him to realize cheating on me was wrong. I felt sorry for him, in a way. I wanted him to do right but I wish it never ended like this.

Aaron and I continued to chat and nurses came in and out to check on his vitals. If he continued to progress, he would be released soon. Even though he was surviving gunshot wounds, he was still in good spirits. He laughed and joked with the nurses and I and despite the situation, I was happy to have Aaron in my life. I wondered if he would still feel the same after he found out I lost our baby.

“Aaron, I have to tell you something,” I started uneasily. I wasn’t sure how he was going to take it and I was trying to tread lightly.

“What’s up, baby?”

“I need to apologize for putting you here,” I started avoiding eye contact.

“What do you mean?”

“If it wasn’t for me and my drama, you wouldn’t be here. I got you involved in something that almost cost you your life. And I know words won’t change it, but I’m sorry.”

“Savannah, do you love me?”

His question threw me off and I gave him a perplexed look. I was afraid to answer because I even though I did, I avoided saying it. I know when I’m with him, I felt something. Something different than anything I’ve ever felt with anyone I’ve ever dated. In the short amount of time I’d know Aaron, he’d given me the love I begged to get from Damion for years. “Yes, Aaron, I do.”

“You better. I almost died because I love you,” he exclaimed making me laugh. “But for real, you can’t help what he did. I don’t blame you at all so don’t think that. He tried to take us away from each other but that didn’t work. You’re stuck with me for the long haul; I have the scars to prove it.”

“But he did take something from us. I was pregnant, Aaron. I lost the baby.” I avoided eye contact because I didn’t want to see the hurt on his face.

“Damn,” he sighed heavily. “Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”

“I didn’t know until they told me I lost it.”

“Wow. I don’t know what to say. I know he’s your son’s father but I hope that nigga better be glad he’s dead.”

I never heard Aaron talk like that and I knew he had to be hurt. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it. “I’m sorry baby. I wish things could have been different. I was shot in the stomach, not my uterus so my doctor doesn’t think there will be any issues with me getting pregnant again.”

In true Aaron fashion, he replied “As soon as I’m released, we’ll get right to work on that.”

I laughed and kissed him, finally grateful to feel the love I’ve needed all my life. Aaron and I continued to laugh and talk until my cell phone rung. I assumed it was my mama, checking to see if I was ready to go. Instead, it was Dallas’ school.

“Hello?” I answered uneasily.

“Ms. Evans? This is Janice Dansen, Dallas’ principal. We had a situation at the school today. EMTs are transporting Dallas to the hospital. Can you meet them there?”

“Oh my God! My baby! What happened?” I placed my phone on speaker so Aaron could hear the conversation.

“He was waiting for the van to take him to the center for his after-school program. He was hit by a car. His teacher, Ms. Cole is in the ambulance with him. I’m not entirely sure what happened but I am about to look at the video tape and-”

I hung up and went outside as fast as I could. I heard Aaron talking but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I needed to be there when the ambulance pulled up. I tried to call my mama and sister but my hands were shaking. I finally got to my mama’s number. I barely got out what I was trying to say when the ambulance arrived. I just told my mama to come to the ER. Ms. Cole hopped out and then I saw my baby. He was bloody and bruised and I fought to hold back my tears.

“Oh my God! Savannah! I don’t know what happened! It seems like he just went flying in front of the car…they tried to stop but couldn’t!” Ms. Cole was crying as she told me about my son.

“Dallas! Dallas, baby! Mama’s here. I’m here baby,” I told him. I was struggling to keep up with the paramedics rolling him into the ER.

“Ma’am,” one of the paramedics began. “You son is unconscious and we need to get him to the doctor.” They rolled my baby to the back and left me standing on the outside wondering how much more I could take.

My mama arrived at the ER and somehow Aaron convinced one of the nurses to wheel him down.

“A car hit him. I don’t understand. He was waiting to get on the van and Ms. Cole said he went flying into the street. I don’t get it.” I said staring blankly at the ER doors, waiting for a doctor to come out and get me. Two police officers entered the ER and asked for me.

“Are you Ms. Evans?”

“Yes, I am.” I asked, my voice trembling.

“We just left the school and watched the security tape. It appears a woman pushed him into the road.”

I stared at the officers in disbelief. Who would do something like that to my baby? Then it dawned on me. Diamond. “Oh my God it was Diamond!”

“Why do you think that?”

“She called me yesterday. Blamed me for her brother dying. Told me I would regret it,” I cried. I anticipated she would come after me but I never thought she would come after my son. He was he nephew for God’s sake!

“We’ve caught the woman that pushed him but her name wasn’t Diamond,” the officer informed me.

“Wait…what? Are you saying some stranger intentionally pushed my son into traffic?” I was about to lose my mind. “Why would some random woman do that?”

“Do you know someone named Tianna Myers?”

If it wasn’t for my mama, I would have hit the ground. Crying uncontrollably, the officers told us that Tianna blended in with other parents and when car was coming, she pushed Dallas. She walked away but the whole thing was caught on camera. Because Tianna has been arrested before, she was easily identified from the tape.

When she was questioned, she didn’t even try to deny it. She said she did it because she needed me to suffer. She felt it was my fault Damion left her and him trying to kill me showed that he still loved me. She thought I “won”. Never in my life had I known people to be so crazy. I wish she would have come after me and not my baby. He was innocent in all of this.

I thought I would never stop crying. My mama and the officers helped me sit down and they assured me Tianna would do real time behind this. I was in shock that she would do something to hurt my son, especially when she’s the one that took Damion from me.

I was trying to get myself together when an ER doctor emerged from the double doors. “I’m looking for Ms. Evans?”

“Is my baby ok? Please tell me he is ok!” I wailed. I already lost one baby, I couldn’t lose another one.

“Yes, Ms. Evans, your son will be ok. He had a broken leg, a broken rib and a concussion but he will be fine. Give us a few minutes and I’ll take you back to see him.”

All I could do was cry. I felt like all I’ve done the past couple of days was cry and I was tired of crying. I decided that once my son was released from the hospital, I was getting out of this town. Too much happened here and I didn’t think I could ever be happy here again.

When I went back to see my baby, I was crushed. I did this to him. I put him here. I loved the wrong man and befriended the wrong person. I allowed detrimental people into his life and he suffered greatly because of it. Never again would anyone come before his safety or his happiness. I loved Aaron but the moment he showed me that Dallas wasn’t a priority in his life, I was gone.

“I’m sorry, baby,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry. I promise I’ll never put you in a position to be hurt again. I love you, Dallas.” I meant that with everything in me. Dallas was my number one priority, nothing and no one else mattered.

               Epilogue

                Almost a year later, my life was a new kind of wonderful. The last couple of months had been pure hell. From Damion shooting Aaron and I, and Tianna trying to kill my baby. All this because I was in love with someone who didn’t deserve me.

Even though I never did anything as outlandish as Tianna, I realized just how stupid I was over a man that never loved me the way I loved him. He didn’t do anything to warrant my love. He didn’t do anything to deserve me. But I gave him everything he could ever want. Unfortunately, he couldn’t give me what he didn’t possess. Damion was a little boy masquerading as a man. He had so many unresolved issues, as did I. We were two imperfect people forcing something that didn’t fit. And in the wake of us trying to force a love that wasn’t meant to be, Damion lost his life, mine hung in the balance and countless people were hurt. It really wasn’t worth it.

At least I had Aaron. Without him, I would have gone crazy. Aaron stepped up and pushed me to get help. I’d dealt with a lot and he told me I didn’t need to handle this alone. I found a therapist for Dallas and I to attend. My mama came to a few sessions so that we could continue to build our relationship. I should have done this years ago and then I wouldn’t have gone through half this mess.

A few months ago, Aaron and I decided to move. This town had too many painful memories and even though we had family here, we needed a fresh start. As we settled into our new home in Warner Robins, the peace I felt lying in my bed in my new home with my son and my man was unexplainable.

Aaron showed me relationships took more than love. We trusted each other. We compromised. We respected each other. And we were like best friends. There was no one else I wanted to share life with besides Aaron and Dallas. Oh and the baby I was carrying.

Today, we were going home for our gender reveal party. Aaron knew the sex but I didn’t want to know until this party. I was almost five months and I was already over being pregnant. I had morning sickness and I was tired all the time. I was sure it was a girl because I didn’t have this sickness when I was pregnant with Dallas.

At my mama’s house, our friends and family were gathered in the yard waiting for us. It was decorated in blue and pink balloons and streamers. Since I already had a boy, everyone wanted me to have a girl. Aaron said he didn’t care about the sex but I knew deep down, he wanted a boy.

“Alright, come on Savannah! Wobble your ass over here so we can find out what you’re having!” my mama said impatiently.

“Goodness mama, can I get out the car good? I’m not gonna eat first? Just open the box?”

“Exactly,” Ms. Ellen said. This would be her first grandchild. Being able to spend time with Dallas made her realize she wanted a grandchild of her own. “Now hurry up!”

I made my way over to the black box that was filled with balloons. Aaron stood on the other side of me, smiling extra hard now that everyone would know what he did. I acted like I couldn’t open the box and my mama got irritated and yanked it open. Out flew black balloons.

“What the hell?” I exclaimed.

Through the barrage of black balloons, I couldn’t see Aaron anymore. Somehow, he was behind me.

“Ahem,” he said loudly clearing his throat.

I spun around to find Aaron down on one knee holding a ring box. My hand flew to my mouth.

“We’ve been through a lot and through it all, there is no one else I’d rather spend the rest of my life with. You’ve already given me life with Dallas and our son…will you do me the honor of being my wife?”

“Of course, Aaron! Yes, I’ll marry you!”

Everyone around me screamed and clapped as Aaron placed the ring on my finger and hugged me tight. I’d cried so many tears out of pain that these tears of joy were refreshing. After all the drama I’d been through, I could finally say I knew real love.

Relationship goals: A short story

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

 

Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction. Any names or characters, businesses or places, events or incidents, are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. 

I stepped out of my black 2017 Mercedes Benz G550 truck and adjusted my red and black Givenchy dress. I made my way into the studio, heading to my daughter’s dance recital.  My red Christian Louboutin’s clicked on the floors as my 7A grade Brazilian straight virgin swung with each step. Men fawned at my confident stride while women calculated how much I was wearing. From head to toe, I was wearing more money than some people earned-at my husband’s insistence. I was used to the stares; I know they were secretly jealous of my life. The money my husband made, the cars we owned, our house, the name brand clothes I dressed my daughter in…I was the envied because I am married to Byron Myers.

Byron is a successful lawyer here in Atlanta but it hasn’t always been like this. We met in undergrad at Georgia State and Byron charmed me into believing in his dream of being a lawyer. I was so in love with him that if he would have told me the sky was green I would have believed him. After graduating, I worked two and three jobs to help get him through law school. Money was so tight, we ate hot pockets and ramen noodles a few times a week. Even after the first few years of him practicing law, we were still struggling to make ends meet.  When Byron, won his first big case, word traveled fast around town. The next thing I knew, Byron was representing big names in Atlanta and became the go-to entertainment lawyer in the city. After that, money wasn’t an issue for us.

Since I supported Byron for years, he “rewarded me” with a fairy tale, larger than life wedding. We spent close to $350,000 on our day; my dress alone was cost more than some people pay for their entire wedding, reception and all. Because Byron represented some of the biggest names in entertainment, our wedding was a star-studded event and we had to make sure everything was top of the line. It was then that I recognize the change in Byron. Maybe he’d always been like this but I didn’t see it. Instead of the wedding being about how much we loved each other, it became a show. It’s been five years and people still talk about the glitz and glam of our wedding day. Any man that would drop that kind of dough to make his bride happy had to be in love, they reasoned.

Five minutes into the show, Byron finally arrived to his daughter’s recital. Without a doubt, he would tell me he was working late, which I learned not to complain about. I didn’t want to sit through another “my money funds your lifestyle” lecture. He leaned over to kiss my cheek. “Hey beautiful, sorry I’m late,” he announced. I wondered why this Byron couldn’t stick around for more than a few minutes.

I smiled at Byron before returning my attention to our daughter, Brynn, perform with her dance troupe. She looked so adorable in her little pink and purple dance uniform.  I was so into the performance of seven and eight year olds and I was so proud of the solo she had. Although brief, Brynn did wonderful on her part. I glanced at Byron to see his reaction to her solo but instead of watching his daughter, he was on his phone. He didn’t even see it.

After the show, he donned his father of the year routine and presented Brynn with roses. Of course, she was excited with all the attention but I wish she knew that her father was late and didn’t even pay attention. I also knew better than to say anything like that out loud. Byron asked me to take a picture of them with his phone and I knew some lame post was coming.

Just as I expected, Byron posted the photo and tagged me in it. The caption made me want to gag.

Supporting Daddy’s baby on her big night! My princess performed like an angel and I couldn’t be more proud! If no one else supports her, she will know her Daddy is her number one fan!

Byron’s “followers” ate those posts up. In 15 minutes, he had 4,000 likes and 120 comments. I scrolled through a few of the comments and rolled my eyes at some of them.

We need more black fathers like you #Salute

This is definitely #Goals for when I have a daughter

Autumn Myers is so blessed to have a husband that loves her and her daughter. I can’t  wait to find a love like this! #RelationshipGoals

I turned off the notifications in disgust because people didn’t really know Byron; they only knew what he posted.

At home, I got Brynn ready for bed and her father went to his man cave to watch Sports Center. I went to our room to take a shower and get ready for bed. I didn’t want to be awake if he wanted to argue tonight but I had no such luck. Byron stormed in our room and snatched the covers off me. I knew this act all too well: when he was in a good mood earlier in the day but wanted to get out of the house at night, he accused me of cheating to start an argument.

“Whose number is 555-125-6985?” he asked.

“I don’t know, honey. Why do you ask?” I said as calmly as I could while reaching for the covers.

“Don’t play dumb with me. You called this number three times today. Who is he, Autumn?” he raised his voice and my heart thumped in my chest.

I tried to remember who I talked to today but that number wasn’t registering. “I think it may be Brynn’s dance teacher. Let me check my phone so I can see.” My voice was shaky and I couldn’t hide the fear in my eyes. I grabbed my phone off the night stand and scrolled through my call log. “Yeah, that was Brynn’s dance teacher.”

I showed Byron my phone and knew that was big mistake. He knocked my phone out of my hand and was inches from my face. “WHY THE HELL ARE YOU LYING? WHO THE HELL IS HE AUTUMN?”

By now I was shaking and crying. “Who is he? I told you it was Brynn’s dance teacher!”

Byron grabbed my arm and pulled me to my feet and without warning, he slapped me. As Byron’s palm connected with my face, I fell to the ground. Immediately he was on me, kicking and punching me. I balled up trying to defend myself against his blows. I learned years ago not to scream too loud because I didn’t want my daughter to see this. After a minute, he got tired and sat on the bed, breathing hard, unbothered by my moans and crying.

“I don’t know why you lie to me. I don’t know why you make me do this. But let me find out you’ve been cheating on me.”

And with that, Byron left the house, leaving me sore and bloody.

Most of the time when Bryon hit me, it was over something stupid, something that he convinced himself to be true. If I told anyone about the way Byron beat me, they’d never believe me. They would swear I was making it up. Byron was a family man. Byron was a loving husband. Byron and I were relationship goals.

People saw our house, the cars, the clothes I wore, his posts about how much he loved his family and wished they could be me. They saw the roses he sent me but didn’t know it was because he kicked my ass the day before.  They saw the new truck he bought me but didn’t know it was because I found out about his affair. They saw my new iPhone 7 but didn’t know it was because he threw my old phone out the window. They saw our annual family pictures but didn’t know we had to postpone them by a week because he gave me a black eye the day before our session. They saw me post and tag him in statuses because if I didn’t, people would assume we weren’t happy. And above all, Byron was concerned with appearances more than truth.

Two months later, I ended up in the hospital with a broken arm and two broken ribs. He’d never hurt me like that before. I was tired of being his punching bag and tried to fight back. He didn’t take too kindly to me hitting him. No one believed Byron did this without being provoked. According to social media, I was labeled as unstable. I was surprised at the number of women that defended him, even though I was the one in the hospital. All because Byron said I attacked him. Since it was on the internet, it had to be true.

Lying in the hospital, I realized I couldn’t keep living like this. My daughter didn’t need to see me like this, abused by her father. When I was released, I took my daughter and ran with nothing but the clothes on my back. I moved to Augusta with my sister and tried to piece my life together. Being in an abusive marriage for years had taken its toll on me and I needed peace. I deleted all of my social media because I couldn’t keep reading about how I was a disgrace to black women; instead of supporting my man, I was bringing him down. I was criticized for not letting Byron see his daughter. I was crucified online by complete strangers. People that didn’t know me, people that saw a picture and read a post were now experts of my life.

Six months after I left him, my sister showed me Byron’s post about his new woman. I recognized her as someone that would always comment and like anything he posted. Looking at her standing next to my husband, I recognized the emptiness in her eyes. I recognized the fake smile. And Byron’s smug face told me he hadn’t changed at all. I wondered how long it took her to realize the grass is always greener on social media. Always.

Greener

Facebook photo

Addiction: A poem

Tags

, , , , , ,

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar-Thich Nhat Hanh

I am grateful to be free from my suffering. I thought it was love…

 

I let you in

Your poison

Seeps into my skin

My heart carries

Your lies

My body

Accepts your deceit

Hurt controls me

Loving you

Scars me but

It feels necessary

My mind is gone

In my dependence

I am owned

But I am convinced

Without you

Nothing else can exist

Even if there is a cure

A way to cut the ties

Break the chains

And live free

Who will I be

If you don’t love me?

I’d rather suffer through

The deceit, the hurt

Than to build me up

And discover my worth

It is easier

To live in submission

Than to admit

My addiction

The necessity of the struggle

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Hey Sis,

You’ve faced yet another setback, another loss. Another moment where you feel like it’s easier to give up than to keep going. You have things you want to do in life but it seems like you are taking one step forward and ten steps back. I know the feeling, sis.

You know, life will deal you your fair share of challenges. Life can overwhelm you and disappoint you until you don’t have the energy to try again. You can become so frustrated that you ask yourself “what’s the point?” It’s when you start to feel overwhelmed in the struggle that you need to press on. Understand there can be so much value in the struggle. When you are down, this moment is what will create the five year from now you. When you flirted with the idea of giving up, that passion that won’t let you quit is finding its voice; not a quiet whisper, but a loud and confident roar. The struggle is developing a fighter, a survivor, a winner in you.

You know those goals you have? You remember those dreams? They are not IMPOSSIBLE! A delay is not a denial. You just have to find another way. When the road is blocked, create a new path. Don’t let them tell you who you are or what you can accomplish. Don’t let them dictate what goals you can reach. Don’t let them sell you watered down versions of your dreams.

That book? That degree? That business? That hair salon? That non-profit? That grant proposal? That promotion? That dissertation? That research? That church ministry? That mentoring project? That blog? That restaurant? That art studio? That mortgage approval? That approved financing?  Sis, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done.  But are you willing to work for it? Are you willing to get back up when they said no? Are you going to find another way or sit idle while life moves on? Are you willing to fight for what you want? Are you willing to sacrifice to achieve you goals? Are you willing to endure the struggle to reap the reward?

No one will believe in the power and passion you possess if you are not confident in you. Take the time to build you up, sis.  Surround yourself with people that want to see you win. Create a circle of supporters.  Develop connections and friendships with people you admire. Research what it takes to get there and then…make the plan to get there.

It won’t be easy. It may be the most difficult thing you could ever do. But in the end, when that goal is reached and that dream is realized, you will truly understand the necessity of the struggle.

Love,

A recovering quitter

Eviction notice

Tags

, , , , ,

Dear Fear:

Like so many other people, I view the new year as a time to begin anew. There is nothing like a new year to start fresh and set goals. I am not considering this to be a New Year’s resolution though; this is more of a life change.

So, 17 days into 2017, I am serving you, fear, an eviction notice.

Most my life I have been hindered by you. I have allowed you to hold me back, create doubt and handicap my dreams. I allowed you to convince me that I wasn’t good enough to do what I was passionate about. So, for years I sat dormant, too afraid to try because I had grown accustomed to living with you.

When I thought I was being humble, I was really being controlled by you. Fear of rejection made me hide my writing. It made me ashamed to share my thoughts. It made me downplay my ability to write. Despite having published one book of poems, I was still not prepared to accept that I was more than capable of writing-and I should take it serious.

In sharing my writing, I discovered I have so much in common with other people. We share hurt, we share love, we share accomplishments. A defining moment in my writing came from a friend telling me I write for those who don’t have a voice. It put a lot of responsibility on me but honestly, I know I can handle it because I’m not going to stop writing. What’s in my heart speaks a language a lot of people understand. And I refuse to allow you to stand in my way.

This is your official notice that you are no longer welcome in my thoughts. You cannot reside here. You cannot keep me stagnant. I reject the status quo you tried to move in with you. You cannot keep my passion stifled anymore. I have work to do and you cannot keep taking up space in my mind. I am replacing you with optimism and dedication. I am inviting perseverance and commitment. Patience and passion are moving in.

My immediate writing goal is that I will no longer be referring to myself as an aspiring author because with you out of the picture, I am an author. I am breaking free from the complacency that had me bound and pushing myself forward. Because even if I fail, the greatest reward is that I am no longer afraid to try.

Dear Ex: Lessons in Love

Tags

, , , , , ,

Dear Ex,

Today, I had an epiphany.

Today, I realized that I am not as over you as I thought. Today, I felt that twang of hate when I saw you and despite how you hurt me, I would never wish any bad on you. Well, nothing major. A broke toe, spending hours at the ER and not being able to walk without some major discomfort would make me happy. But I digress…

After all this time, I blamed you for hurting me. I blamed you for every time I cried. I blamed you for the time I wasted. I blamed you for the nights I couldn’t sleep wondering why I wasn’t good enough for you. But today I realized I couldn’t blame you for everything; I had to admit my fault in this as well.

Please don’t misunderstand; you have a great deal of responsibility in my hurt but truth be told, I have the greater responsibility because it was what I allowed. This isn’t something I didn’t know but it was so much easier to blame you than to admit I was foolish enough to allow it to happen. Today, I put on my big girl panties and owned my part in my hurt.

You didn’t love me and I should have walked away. You didn’t need me and I should have walked away. You showed me over and over that you were not capable of providing me with the love, comfort, security and consistency that I required yet and still, I didn’t walk away. And that is where my accountability faltered. It’s true what they say: what is allowed is what will continue. Disrespect was allowed so I shouldn’t be surprised that it continued. Today, I realized I didn’t value myself enough to demand more and believe me you that hurt a hell of a lot more than anything you ever did to me.

Today, I recognized that underneath all that anger, hurt and pain, you gave me some much needed lessons in love. Because of you I learned that everyone doesn’t deserve me. I learned that while perfection is an illusion, I cannot settle for less than what I desire. I learned that begging someone to love me is a sign of weakness. I learned to define love and what kind of love I would allow myself to receive. I learned that while you may not be a horrible person, you would never appreciate me or my passion. I learned I am worth so much more than I settled for. I learned that my time and my heart are too valuable to waste.

I often wished I never met you. I imagined how much more emotionally content I would have been if I didn’t give up so much of my peace waiting for you. I thought my heart would have had one less crack in it if you were never a part of my life. But…today I am so much better for having went through that hurt. I put a value on my love and I set the bar for my time. Without you, I wouldn’t be the better, wiser, improved, stronger, ready for love me. So thank you…for once, I can say you did something worthwhile for me.

Signed,

A healing and evolving Queen

Transparency: My struggle with depression

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Against my better judgment, I am writing this post. Sigh.

jennifer

Hi. My name is Jennifer and this is what my depression looks like. It’s not always sadness and looking unkempt. Often times it’s this…smiling to hide the reality. Smiling to avoid explaining the sadness. Smiling because I don’t fully understand what I’m sad about. Smiling so people won’t tell me all I need to do is pray. Smiling so they won’t tell me someone else has it worse than me. Smiling because tears lead to questions. Smiling because they would never understand the war I endure everyday.  Smiling because it’s expected. Smiling to hide the hurt. Smiling because sometimes it’s easier.

But the reality is, pretending to be ok is not easy. It only adds to the struggle.  I have to wonder how well I am hiding it. I have to try to be “on” all the time. I have to look a certain way, act a certain way, do certain things so everyone will think I’m fine. And that can be so draining.

By now I’m sure your questions are forming…why are you depressed? What happened to you? You have so much to be thankful for…why are you focusing on the sadness? We all have problems, what makes yours so different? Have you prayed about it?

If you are looking for answers to those questions, I don’t have any. I can’t tell you why I feel the way I feel. Sometimes my sadness is self-inflicted. Even though I may have put myself in a situation, being in that situation feeds into my self-doubt and negative image of myself.  I also carry other people’s problems with me and that adds to my stress as well. But most of the time, I can’t really describe what it is. It’s just…sadness and frustration. Sure I could say it’s money problems or failed relationships or taking forever to finish college. Those situations can be the starting off point but it can become so much deeper than that.  Failing creates doubt. Doubt leads to anxiety. Anxiety can become insecurity. Insecurity can manifest to negativity of the I’m-not-good-enough-so-why-even-try variety.

Now this isn’t an everyday feeling. I have very good days. I have days when I am happy with myself and I am confident. But there are days when all I want to do is be alone. And being alone with my thoughts is a breeding ground for self-doubt.

I am sharing this today because maybe there are people out there like me. While it might not fit the bill for clinical depression, this sadness is real. Maybe it’s too hard for you to admit it. Maybe you never knew what you were feeling. Maybe you think you deserve this hurt. Maybe you don’t know where to turn. For years I have coped with this the best way I know how which is writing and just letting it pass on its own. That’s not really working for me anymore and I have decided to go see a counselor. If you have ever felt anything close to what I have described, I urge you to put your fear of judgment aside and talk to someone.

Maybe later on down the road I will be able to share how I overcame. But right now, this is just my transparent moment, sharing a piece of me hoping that it can help me and someone else in the process.

SN: If your only comment to this post is “just pray about it”, please don’t say anything at all. Prayer alone is not enough. If it were, this post wouldn’t be necessary.

Queens don’t compete with Queens

Tags

, , , , ,

By nature I am not a very competitive person.  I don’t want to be better than anyone. I don’t want to beat you in a race. I don’t want to sell more donuts than you. Competition isn’t something that motivates me.

Not all competition is bad though.  Competition can make you better. If you see another woman is working out more than you, you might want to step your game up. If you see she is putting in major time studying, you might want to match or beat her efforts. If competition is going to make you work harder to make you better, I would consider that a benefit.

However, if competition makes you bitter, frustrated or makes you down or criticize the next woman, then you have walked into the realm of being a hater.  Hater is one of my least favorite words because I feel it’s overused. But when you have to point out the negatives of another woman in an effort to boost yourself up, that’s exactly what you are. And it’s beyond pointless.

flower

There are entirely too many people in the world for you to get upset if someone does the same thing as you. It’s absolutely insane to think no one else will have your same talents, passion and gifts.  I’m not the only writer in the world. Anthony Hamilton isn’t the only singer (he’s the only one that matters to me though; I love that man!). Kerry Washington isn’t the only actress. Scott Conant isn’t the only chef. Sometimes we create competition where there really isn’t any. People have preferences and what I like may not float your boat. And that’s perfectly ok. Don’t be naïve enough to believe people can only like one singer, artist, chef or writer at a time.

One of the reasons I had a hard time sharing my writings was because I spent too much time comparing myself to Maya Angelou, Jill Scott and Nikki Giovanni. I surmised that my writing was not to their caliber so why should I even try? But when I did share began my work I was caught off guard by the positive feedback I received.  I was floored by the people that could say “I loved that poem” or “I needed to hear that”.

I don’t compare to Jill Scott…she is absolutely amazing in her gift. But the position of being Jill Scott is already filled; what better person is there to be than me? I have a unique gift and in the words of my sister “you have something to say that someone needs to hear.” The more I compared myself to other women, the less effort I was putting into being that voice for someone.

I’m not in competition with any other woman. Another woman can write all the poems, novels and short stories she wants and I will not think of her as my competition. We share the same gift and that connection makes me want to support her, not criticize her. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting an author. She allowed me to pick her brain and get some insight into the world of publishing and writing in general.  Instead of  brushing me off as her competition, she took the time to share her experiences and to give me suggestions. This simple act has made me a fan and I’m going to go buy all her books. I’ll support her ventures and I’ll recommend her books to other people. Because she saw me as a Queen and not as competition.

Queens: imagine how much more powerful we can be if we support each other instead of bashing each other. Imagine how much more connected we could be if we could pool our thoughts, ideas, and resources together. Imagine the people we could reach if we walked in our own path while showing our sisters they can walk their paths, too. Imagine how strong we can be if we show our sisters love and support in their ventures.

We can create a movement, a force to be reckoned with. We can create a network of women who can reach women who can reach women who can reach women. We can empower Queens to leap into their dreams.

And all we have to do is what we love to do while pushing the next sister to chase her goals, too. Who are you supporting? What blogs do you follow? What life coaches do you subscribe too? What artists do you like? Who’s book are you reading? Name drop those Queens that you are supporting!