Is that selfish?
Perhaps from the outside looking in, but until anyone else can write my story verbatim it’s not up to anyone else to answer—but me.
… My eyes are a gift, windows to my soul…
Looks closely and they will tell you a story.
One filled of pain, anger disappointment, and despair…
Misunderstood, used, and abused.
My spirit has been tarnished and sometimes badly bruised…
I was a Daddy’s girl. Mi padre, Pablo, was a beautiful man. I was convinced that he was without fault. My mother, Christina, and I were related by blood—that’s it. I mean, I loved her and she loved me, but she was just an ornament in mi padre’s awesome world.
I was into everything mi padre was into. He was a photographer and I was his self-proclaimed apprentice. To this day, as a 29-year old, I am severely critical of amateurish photography. I refuse to be photographed by a novice. You’ve heard of military brats, well, I’m a photographer’s brat.
My padre owned deejay equipment too. In his spare time he would teach me how to use a mixer and switch records on his turntables. At some point in my life I intend to own my own state-of-the-art deejay equipment.
He was a handyman and I was his little handygirl. If he was hammering I was waiting to hand him the next nail. People are surprised to see a petite woman like me talking about building a shelf.
I was a tomboy for most of my teenage years. I loved sports. I hung out with guys. Subconsciously, I loved and adored mi padre so much so that I wish I was his Pablo Jr. Every little girl needs that type of relationship with her father.
Perfect until he left. I was eleven years old and I had never seen my parents argue. At eleven you assume that your parents are going to be together forever. This wasn’t Beverly Hill 90210 where separation and divorce are as common as black men in jail—this was Brooklyn 11225.
Their first argument in my presence occurred about a month before he left. Within that month my whole world imploded. My father left us for a woman in the Bronx. Just like that my everything disappeared. Who was going to spin records with me? Who was going to take my pictures? Who was going to validate me? Was it my fault? Did he leave because I was bad girl? Did I disappoint him?
My madre was devastated because she depended on him for everything. Now mi madre had to struggle to support a household. She had to learn how to survive independent of a man.
The adjustment wasn’t easy for us. We always had enough to eat, but just enough. I recall us eating the same beans and rice every night.
This may not sound like it was as bad as it could be, but consider how dramatically our lives changed so quickly. Our lives had revolved around mi padre father. We depended on him for everything: for money, advice, discipline, protection, for everything. In one day I was expected to change the role of daughter to my mother’s friend. In one day my mother had to become madre and padre. We had to adapt without preparation or guidance.
We had to act like nothing changed because we were ashamed. I kept my father’s unexpected departure a secret for nearly ten years. Mi madre decided that this was our problem, not anyone’s business. We survived on our own, so we didn’t need anyone being nosy about how we survived.
The divine image of mi padre was forever blurred. I was scarred—for life. Daddy’s little girl was wanted by her Daddy. This man, my father, no longer valued our relationship as I did. This man taught me to never trust a man without saying so. Mi padre became simply “my father”. I promised myself to never trust another man; they were all the same.
Why should I?
Around the same time that my father went AWOL, the trust that I had in another family member was also lost. My cousin, four years my senior, molested me. It continued for months. Initially, I didn’t understand what he was doing. I didn’t even know what to do about it. The memories of this period are scant; however, I did eventually tell mi madre.
She confronted her nephew and his parents in private about it. Mi madre always tried to keep things in private. This was our problem and we would get through it on our own.
I don’t know what was said, but he never came near me again. He was always excluded from family functions—he became an afterthought.
Thoughts of guilt, disappointment, and anger resonated.
… My spirit has been tarnished and sometimes badly bruised…
A little girl needs to be revered. She needs constant validation. Red carpet should be placed beneath her shoes before every step she takes. She needs to be coddled and cuddled. She needs to be loved.
I was tossed about like a sheep without a shepherd—left defenseless to be preyed upon.
I wanted so badly to be loved. To love.
I was 16 and he was 18. I was a tomboyish girl becoming a young woman. He was a basketball jock. We loved sports. He wasn’t the easiest on the eyes, and I wasn’t superficial.
He treated me good and I allowed myself to like him. I broke my own promise and trusted him. I had had other boyfriends before him, but he was special. Jamaal was a B.W.P.—a Brother With Potential. He was different from the other disappoint men in my life.
We both attended Long Island University in Brooklyn. He was on the basketball team and was a good student. I was a bookworm that partied little and studied a lot.
You see, I had to meet my goals. I wanted my degree; a career, and a family before my thirties. I was not going to rely on a man like mi madre did. When my father left us, mi madre was left distraught because she put all her livelihood into a man. When my father left mi madre had to learn how to fend for herself, and for me. I was not going to allow myself to depend on a man like mi madre.
I was an independent woman.
I earned my degree and had a stable and well paying job by the age of 21. With that goal of a career almost accomplished I was ready to move on to the family thing.
Five years into my relationship with Jamaal I knew I liked him, and I knew he liked me. But I didn’t think that we loved each other. We went on vacations and the sex was great. Mi madre loved him to. She thought he was the perfect match for me. So much so that she convinced me that I was also in love with him. He was the most consistent man in my life since my father left. Our history would sustain our future. I wanted marriage.
He dragged his feet when it came to the marriage commitment. There was one excuse after the other and I wasn’t a toy to be played with. Either you wanted me or you didn’t . There were no gray areas when it came to commitment and I made that perfectly clear to him.
Voila! We were married in the spring of 2001—the season of new beginnings. We had an elaborate wedding. It was what every girl dreamed of; however, I wasn’t sure that this was the marriage I wanted. The person I wanted.
He didn’t arouse me sexually like he used to. Our sex life had developed a bland routine to it like your average nightly t.v. dinner. Our mental and emotional connection was waning, but in my mind I assumed that we were just going through the ups and downs that all couples went through. Our history would sustain our future.
Plus, we had a baby on the way. The experts aid that a new baby can rejuvenate a dull marriage. A baby was exactly what we needed to bring the spark back to our marriage. A baby girl would do the trick. My little girl would have her father in her life, like I wish I could have had for my entire childhood. My little girl would have what I didn’t have. I was going to stop at nothing to keep her father in her life and our marriage in tact.
Even if he cheated on me, which I was having suspicions of after my beautiful baby girl Anika was born in the Fall of 2001. Nonetheless, I was his wife for better or worse.
Sex with him became increasingly difficult. I thought I had a sexual disorder. I couldn’t get aroused with him, so I began hunting stores for lubrication. I even attempted to get female Viagra. If he was stepping out on me it was my fault because I couldn’t please him, and I would have to fix that. I was the reason my father left, but I wouldn’t be the reason why my husband would leave me. Ironically, I would find comfort in myself, completely.
I wasn’t pleasing my husband. That was my fault, right? I was finding women’s phone numbers in his clothing. That was my fault, right? All men cheated, right? When my father left we found out that he had another family with children in Queens. All men cheated—my male friends did too. Cheating was a given, right? Something women didn’t have to like, but should accept as a way of life, right?
I was going to be his faithful wife through thick and thin. Anika must grow up in a household with both parents. I would ensure that despite my mental and emotional abuse.
“You’re too fat, hit the gym,” Jamaal would chastise. I was 125 lbs at 5’7’’, how could I be fat?
He criticized everything I did, everything I wore. If I was wearing pink he wanted blue. Nothing I did pleased him. But eventually those downs we were having would turn into ups—right? Our history would sustain our future—as long as he didn’t abuse me physically, right?
He only put his hands on me once. Men lose their tempers, they’re human. Once in seven or eight years isn’t anything to make a big deal about, right?
Jamaal’s blatant infidelity was getting to me. I had to say something. He had a habit of leaving in the evening and not returning until mid-morning. He was creeping, but I wished he would at least hide it from me.
One particular evening I got fed up. He was getting ready to go out on one of his late night prowls and I wasn’t having it this night. I barricaded myself in between him and the front door.
This man, my husband, Anika’s father, our protector grabbed a handful of my hair and dragged me across the floor like a heavy suitcase. My God, I still have a scar on my arms from that incident.
This was an aberration. Couples went through things like this all the time. I wasn’t about to give up my marriage and Anika’s father because of one accident. I shouldn’t have gotten in his way anyway.
I can’t believe he did it again!
… Misunderstood, used, and abused…
Months after the hair dragging accident Jamaal struck again. I only asked him to pull the car around to the front of the apartment so that Anika and I could go to the doctor. We were running a high fever (yes, both of us). I wasn’t expecting him to drive us to the doctor—even though he should have volunteered. Our personal doctor was all the way in Manhattan; it was late in the night and it was winter. I was irate and I let him know with my mouth.
He let me know that he wasn’t having any lip from me either. Right in front of Anika he slammed me into a closet door. I had a fever and he’s pushing me into a door.
That was it. I called the police and filed a complaint.
Through all of this I was telling mi madre everything. She was my rock.
To appease my public image (I was a teacher now) Anika, and mi madre and I still wanted to work things out.
But he, unfortunately, wasn’t as committed to our marriage vows.
One morning before dawn he woke me up and said to me, “I can’t do this marriage thing anymore,” and left the apartment.
Déjà vu! My father left suddenly and now my husband wsa doing the same. Unlike mi madre when it happened to her, I took Anika to the baby-sitter and went to work as if nothing happened.
… Look closely into my eyes and they will tell you a story.
One filled of pain, anger, and despair…
Once again a man I trusted disregarded my feelings. This was it. Love. Men. They were all overrated. After several half-ass suicide attempts; a lot of pounds lost; and a lot of crying I promised to never trust another man again. Anika was all I needed. She is the greatest thing that happened to me despite her coming from the worst person I knew.
… Another of happiness, ecstasy, and sheer pleasure…
Deborah Cox’s song, “Nobody’s Supposed to be Here” comes to mind.
At a time least expected our paths crossed. Me, a teacher dedicated to helping the behavioral development of my students. He, a man in prison for his indecisions as a teenager, but with a very unique story to tell.
Prior to his imprisonment I was acquainted with Derrick through a close friend—his nephew Joseph. Coincidentally, Derrick also had a brief fling with my friend Erica. Derrick and I never spoke much; we barely saw one another. Acquaintances was the best way to describe our relationship prior to his incarceration.
In the winter of 2003, eight years into his absence, I inquired into his situation. I knew about his case and that his conviction was the antithesis to his character. I saw him in some of my students. I wanted him to tell them his story because I felt that he would be able to reach them in ways that I couldn’t.
He obliged and his eventual effect on my students was phenomenal. I remember feeling a rush through my body when I would read his letter to my class. My students fell in love with him. Little did I know that I was also.
That one letter to my class evolved into an ongoing correspondence with my students and me.
Three months of letters between me and him and several phone calls later, I found myself reciting poetry to him over the phone.
… Whenever I hear your voice my face has a smile.
Our conversations endless,
When we haven’t talked for awhile.
You listen so attentively,
And always have questions to ask.
It’s amazing that you and I never had this connection in the past…
He was an answer to my prayers. Derrick was spiritual. He loved children, he was funny and mature. He was sensitive, sensual, and brave enough to be vulnerable. I was feeling things for him that I never felt for any man before—and I hadn’t seen him since he was home eight years ago.
When we finally met face to face it felt electric. It was in a prison visiting room, a place I had never known. Nevertheless, it felt right.
I shivered in his arms the moment he hugged me. I felt like mi padre was holding me when I was a child.
As we were about to depart from the visiting room he placed an ever so gentle kiss on my forehead. I was in love for the first time in my tumultuous life. I was breaking my promise of trusting a man and I knew it, but it felt right this time.
… I’m able to live and love you so easily.
I’m able to smile and laugh uncontrollably.
Free to be me…
I wanted his children. I wanted to propose to him. I wanted his last name and I was anxious to give Anika his last name as well. I tattooed his signature on my skin. I was sprung.
He loved me too. He was head over heels in love with me. We were fools in love. He proposed to me over the phone. His love inspired me to chorus. To sing love songs and to daydream. We were destined for each together. Life together forever was inevitable…
… Except for one overlooked problem. He was in prison with six years to go. The one man I knew was incapable of hurting me, of deserting me, is out of my reach. Derrick is the most beautiful man I’ve known and he resided in the worst place I’ve ever known.
Every noteworthy relationship I’ve had with men had required so much energy. Would I have the emotional stamina to sustain this relationship? This unique relationship?
… A river overflows from the dams of my eyelids…