You don’t need anybody else to validate your choices. The answer is always inside you; it’s called conscience.
~ K E Garland
Mom was my lighthouse. She chose my boyfriend, Reggie, for me. He was a Denny’s server. His gentle demeanor shone through as he scribbled our order.
When he walked to the kitchen, I leaned over and whispered, “Mom. He’s fine.”
She asked for his number before the food arrived. And just like that, we began dating. When he didn’t seem interested, she changed my image. She spent hours straightening my Jheri curl. Because he liked feet, Mom paid for me to get a pedicure and she traded my tight jeans for an African-print dress with a big bow on the side. He loved it.
Mom knew best. She understood I wasn’t ready for the partial scholarship the University of Georgia offered. She commanded me to stay home and attend Savannah Tech until I was set to move away. She was right. I don’t know how she predicted it, but I didn’t finish those classes, so I definitely wasn’t prepared for a big university, hours away from home.
One thing Mom pushed was staying with Reggie. “You should marry that boy,” she advised.
After six years, I did. I moved from Mom’s house to Reggie’s apartment. We had a son, Jovani and five years later a baby girl followed.
Several years into our marriage, we moved to Atlanta for Reggie’s job. It was the first time Mom didn’t have her thumb on my whereabouts. Two hundred and fifty miles was too far for her to direct our lives. Initially, freedom tasted like ripe watermelon slices on a summer’s day. But it didn’t last long. Mom fell ill and the miles between us became a barrier. A lung cancer diagnosis, coupled with chemo and radiation ruined her mobility. Lying in bed all day bred a staph infection. I second-guessed our decision. We should’ve stayed in Savannah. The day my sister called to tell me Mom died, I spiraled into an abyss of despair, devoid of light. Who would show me how to live? Who would clear a path and lead me towards my destiny?
That’s when I met Kurt, Jovani’s Pop Warner coach. When he first introduced himself, it seemed as if he undressed me with his eyes, but I charged it to my imagination. He couldn’t possibly be looking at me. Most days I left the house because I had to, not 'cause I wanted to. Reggie and I shared a ’99 Ford Explorer with broken air conditioning. That meant I arrived everywhere with windblown hair, two large sweat stains under my arms and a shade of wetness right in between my thighs. On top of that, most of my jogging pants were snug because I never shed the baby weight from having my daughter five years prior.
Every time I walked Jovani in, Kurt lightly tapped my shoulder, signaling we should have a private conversation in the office. Jovani’s potential and challenges as a football player were always the topic of our talks. His deep, raspy voice, the opposite of Reggie’s, mesmerized me. Sometimes he reminisced about when he quarterbacked for UGA. I smiled and what-ifs flooded my brain.
What if I attended UGA? Would we have met there? Most days I snapped out of it. But one afternoon, it was difficult. I imagined us dating through undergrad, marrying and living happily ever after.
Six words shifted our innocent encounters, “I’ll email you the fall schedule.”
Kurt sent the itinerary, in addition to his inner feelings. He admired my beauty and strength. He said my smile and personality showed my true self. He wondered about my life. Where was my husband? How come he didn’t bring Jovani to practice, like all the other dads? What type of husband would send their wife to be around a bunch of men? What would Mom do? I searched for guidance, but none came.
Kurt listened as I confided in him. We were living on one income: Reggie’s. He had lost his former job the previous year, and consequently, we lost our home. With his new position, Reggie barely made thirty thousand dollars. We lived in a three-bedroom apartment. The short, connected buildings reminded me of the projects where my sisters and I grew up. Where I prayed my entire life never to return. But there I sat, in the hood, surrounded by broken screen porch doors and loud, drunken neighbors. How did I get here? Reggie had a Bachelor’s, an MBA and a Masters in Business Pharmacy. But none of his degrees could afford us a better life. None of his degrees could even afford us a new compressor for the Explorer.
The following practice, Kurt handed me money for a hair appointment. The next week, he sent me for a mani-pedi.
“How’d you pay for that?” Reggie asked.
“Oh, my sister sent me a little change. You know girls have to feel pretty every now and then.”
Kurt invited me to his house.
“I’ll visit, but we’re not having sex.”
“That’s okay. I just want you to feel like the queen that you are,” he replied. He slipped a hundred dollar bill in my palm. “Get your nails done before you come.”
That day, I dropped the kids off at school and took Reggie to work. I counted four hours before I had to be in the parent pickup line. My heart beat faster as I approached his house. He opened the door, wearing nothing but a pair of red basketball shorts. His chiseled chest looked exactly like the imprint that peered through his T-shirts. He grabbed my hand and pulled me inside, while admiring my periwinkle fingernails and matching toes.
His lips grazed my hand. “I know you’re nervous. Don’t be. We won’t do anything you don’t want to. Like I said, I just want you to feel good. You deserve to.”
I removed my flip-flops and placed them at the door, beside his line of neatly arranged sneakers. His twenty-one hundred square-foot home seemed like a lot of space for a bachelor. Bananas hung from a metal stand on the marble countertop. I followed him to his bedroom where Ronny Jordan streamed through Pandora. A black and silver comforter framed his king sized bed. Above the leather headboard was an atlas, outlined in black. Underneath was a St. Augustine quote, painted in black script: The world is a book and if you do not travel you read only one page.
I stood still. The shaggy rug’s softness kissed my toes. Every so often, the black coconut candle filled the space with sweetness.
I smiled. “Perfect. I haven’t felt this special, ever.”
“Good. I’ve been waiting for this since I first saw you.” He removed each piece of my clothing, until I stood bare before him. I shifted in my uncomfortableness. He stared. Then, wrapped me in his arms and held me tight. He laid me down. His tongue intertwined with mine, and eventually my flesh.
We never had intercourse. But I was satisfied in ways I never knew existed. Each caress liberated my insecurities.
I rested in his arms, tracing his biceps with my fingers. “So what does that quote up there mean?”
“You know? You have to go places. See what’s out there. There’s more to life than just the ATL.”
“Have you been a lot of places?
“Me? Yeah. All over.”
The only cities I’d been were between I16 and I75. But not Kurt. His wanderlust began during his college football years. Away games took the team to other states, like Kentucky, Missouri and North Carolina.
“I wish I could go to places like that,” I dreamed out loud.
“You can, Bae. You can do whatever you want.”
Kurt described a time when he visited one of his boys from Detroit. They drove over some bridge and were in Canada. He told me about renting mopeds in Cozumel and riding over the wobbly cobble streets through barrios and street markets. It all sounded fantastical. Some of it I couldn’t imagine, like a church in Barcelona that took close to two hundred years to build. He went there with a teacher friend who did study abroad. My mind opened to possibilities different than my current reality.
For six months, he met my emotional and physical needs. I joined a gym and started the workout plan that he suggested, a combination of cardio and small weights. I started wearing lip gloss and cute shorts when I took Jovani to practice. Life was good. Our cell phone bill sat on top of the month’s priorities. Normally, I just grumbled about the payment, but something told me to examine the pages.
One number stood out. Reggie had texted it 900 times. I used the house phone to dial it.
“Hello,” a woman’s voice answered.
I hung up. That night, Reggie and I sat on the couch and watched Law and Order.
“Bae, let me hold your phone so I can Google something right quick.”
He handed it to me. I entered the number in his contacts. A name popped up: Tyeesha Williams.
The next morning, I scrolled through Reggie’s Facebook friends. There she was. Tyeesha Williams. Her reddish-brown skin glowed through her profile picture. Her bright eyes and white smile revealed the single, carefree life she probably lived.
After I kissed the kids goodnight, I confronted him. “So. Who’s Tyeesha Williams?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Tyeesha Williams, Reggie. You know the little red girl you been texting 900 times? The girl you're Facebook friends with and work with?”
“Ohhhh. Tyeesha. She’s just a friend.”
“What kind of friend you talk to 900 times?”
He exhaled and looked directly at me. “Bae. Things just haven’t been the same between you and me. When you started working out and eating right, you changed. You always either on the phone texting your sister, or going outside to talk to your friends. Sometimes I talk to Ty cause I can’t talk to you. We just talk. That’s all.”
“Have you f*cked Tyeesha Williams?”
“No. Have you f*cked Kurt?”
My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach and I tried to control the sweat that formed at my hairline. “Why would you ask that?”
“Come on Pam. I’ve seen how he looks at you at Jovani’s games. If you haven’t yet, then he wants to.”
“No. We just talk, like you and Tyeesha Williams.”
The rest of the evening we discussed our wants and needs as a couple. We agreed that Kurt and Tyeesha needed to leave our marriage. We didn’t want to be the type of husband and wife where we both had outside relationships to satisfy our needs. That’s not why we got married.
But I’m glad Kurt and I crossed paths. He introduced me to someone I’d never met before. Myself. Because of him, I learned to live a healthier lifestyle so I could be the best version of me. Because of him, I learned to take responsibility for the direction of my life. I enrolled in school to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Because of him, I learned how to follow my intuition and make conscious choices that I can live with, instead of looking for someone else to lead me. Now, living entails more than simply being someone’s wife and mother. Because of him, I plan to travel the United States, and even the world.
And for that I’m grateful.
"Pamela" in The Unhappy Wife. ©2016 K E Garland. All Rights Reserved.
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