I slipped the straps of my evening gown off my shoulders as my feet sunk into the fluffy cream carpet. The floor was decorated with worn dress socks. There was a black swivel chair covered with wrinkled shirts and suit jackets in the corner against the wall to wall window. His room was a reflection of his week. The oxblood comforter was pulled back and once I stepped out of my dress, I sat at the edge listening to the cracking sounds of my neck while rolling my head in a slow circle. To steady myself, my hands were were loosely resting beside me on top of a thin piece of clothing. I squinted my eyes in the dark to focus. It was a pair of leggings. The recessed lights eased on.
"Babe, you ok?"
I swallowed the frog in my throat and before the tears could burn holeS in my cheeks, a voice I didn't recognize spoke for me.
"I'm going to sleep on the couch."
I don't know why I didn't leave. His lies fell onto my curved spine as I walked past him into the living room. I was too tired. Not from the day I had, but from the life I was pretending I wasn't living. I was sharing him with God knows who for reasons I couldn't even make sense of. I had silenced my intuition so much that she wouldn't even speak to me anymore. Instead, I found tangible things and women that I could hold in my hand as proof and still acted like I couldn't see.
"I'm going to feel like shit if you sleep on the couch."
"I'm going to feel like shit if I don't," I retorted back.
The morning sun washed over my shoulder blades, down my arms and glazed over my legs. He was sitting across from me waiting for me to open my eyes.
"Can we talk?"
"I can listen while I brush my teeth."
"I'll just wait till you come out."
I didn't look in the mirror the entire time. I couldn't face myself yet. When I emerged out of the bathroom with a clean mouth, it dawned on me that I didn't want to use it to have this conversation.
"As a matter of fact, the last thing I want to do is hear you speak. Take off your clothes and sit on the couch."
He looked dumbfounded but he obliged slowly. I straddled him tracing his collarbone with my french manicure. Our cheeks touched and my breasts pressed against his chest. His hands tugged at the waist of my panties while his penis began to throb against me. He slid the lace material over and eased himself into my wetness. I let his couch swallow me whole; my knees sinking into the cushions and my nails digging into the upholstery as I descended upon him.
I should have been walking out the door or cursing him out. I should have called Elle to carry my bruised ego home but I didn't. I stayed. Because the night before while we danced at his company's gala, I wasn't prepared for that to be our last night. And even when I woke up that morning, I wasn't ready to say goodbye.
I didn't know how.
As soon as I convinced myself that Liam was a chapter I would never read again, we bumped into each other in Beijing for an association conference. One day, I will tell you about Beijing but not today. Anyway, I considered the foreign tryst a fling and tried to block it out of my mind once I stepped foot on U.S. soil. But we kept in touch. Early morning phone conversations, jokes from our old days and every once in a while, we met up for a $200 bottle of wine. When sex became a regular thing between us, I still kept my distance emotionally. I didn’t ask certain questions, I hardly ever called him first. I was living on the outskirts of his life, careful not to disturb the commitments I was sure he made in the time I’d been gone. Liam had to have at least five or six women in rotation with a main one he kept under wraps. When men live foul, they love a woman in the dark and long gone were the days of me being his woman in the dark. I knew exactly who Liam was. I knew I was dating someone who was never dating me. But he was familiar and I’m recklessly consistent.
Liam was full of shit and while I cared, I didn't care enough. I didn't know if it was my lack of self-esteem, a fear of failure or my overarching hope that my familiar would turn into my forever. But he didn't want to keep me and it was my fault because he never had to earn me. I put on my clothes quietly and tiptoed out of the doorway. The warm air hit my face as the door eased closed behind me. I exhaled quietly and made my way to the car. Eighteen minutes passed before I could move. Salty tears streamed down my cheeks falling into my lap. A cloud of uncertainty hovered above me. It was impossible to stand my ground when I was always on my back. We spoke a language of only moans and tears. There were no words for truth, commitment or any of the things that actually mattered. We spoke a language of everything but love and I was fluent in failure.
My phone startled me. Without even opening my eyes, I knew who was calling.
Exhales. Yes my dear.
Where'd you go? I got out the shower and you were just gone.
I went for a walk.
With all your stuff?
Yeah. Just decided to load the car up since I'm already out here. Wasn't much.
And that was the problem. There was nothing of me ever left in his space. I was practically invisible and our relationship was more phantom than facts. He might have belonged to me in the moment but I was never his because he wasn't willing to have me. Maybe that's what hurt the most; that he chose me when it was convenient; that he loved me in pieces; that I was reliable and present and he was just coasting through my life. If I ever needed him, I'd be lucky not to get the voicemail. And maybe it was my vivid imagination that made me see things that weren't there. Maybe I was hallucinating. Maybe he was a drug and my addiction was killing me slowly. Or maybe I loved someone who just didn't make the time to love me back. And while I felt lovable, I never felt worthy.
Are you walking back?
Yeah. See you in a bit.
And that walk felt like Jesus' walk to Calvary. I was headed to my own crucifixion except without a noble cause.
You ready to talk?
Yeah, can I start? My voice was barely above a whisper.
The problem is you haven't been an honest man a day in your life. But you want a loyal woman, you want a loving woman, you want a woman who bends but doesn't break under the pressure of not being loved enough to be told the truth. And what you got? Those other girls that are ok with this, that turn a blind eye to you fucking us all, that ain't that kind of woman. That's a woman looking for a payout. That's a woman looking for time served. A woman who ain't hurt by being a number on your roster, by being a fucking appointment in your outlook calendar - that ain't a woman. That's a fucking leech. And you so damn dumb and easy to please that you don't understand love could never be that shallow. How you gonna marry one of them and you ain't never been through a hardship with her ass? And you will marry one of them. Because that's what men like you do. You marry the easy and the convenient. You don't marry human women. You marry bodies. And I give it to her, right? Cuz her patience is out of this fucking world. But mine is running out. I love you in all of your ugly. I love you in all of your madness, your selfishness, you're not being there to hold my hand through an abortion because you were too busy - I've loved you through your unlovable. And I can't even leave a toothbrush here. I wanna say fuck you but I did that. I want to say go to hell but I don't want your company there cuz I'm in it all the time, burning in the flames of my own decisions. I love someone who doesn't even know what love is. And God won't even look at me because I keep choosing one apple instead of the whole fucking tree. You're familiar but you ain't forever and you're only fucking me for trying.
But I didn't say any of that. Those words were just too true and too hard to say. And I hated to admit it but I was just like him. Living a lie like I loved him enough to tell him the truth. He was a coward and I considered his death a thousand times because it was easier to mourn a dead man than to know he was alive and capable of living without me.
I met Grayson when Liam and I were on a break that felt like the end. I had no idea Liam and I would ever speak again much less, end up back in bed together so when Grayson asked me on a date, I said yes. I wouldn’t say I was optimistic but I was willing and I hadn’t been willing to emotionally connect with anyone in nearly five years. Grayson was a beautiful accident. He could make a walk in the park feel like a walk to the altar. Time spent with him was the best story I’d never told. He was challenging and comforting, firm and still gentle, present and not overbearing. We were friends.
I had never handled someone as gently as I did Grayson. Still, I was broken glass in his hands. While I appreciated his brave attempt in handling me, I could not stand the sight of blood, even if it was drawn for the sake of my own rescue.
I reminisced how his face was braille, with my hands hovering over it slowly, reading his mind. The beads of sweat left the ends of my hair moist and my moans sank into his ear. Our mouths were wet with seduction and curiosity. He licked his fingers and pressed them into my noni. Grayson, we should stop babe. He muffled my uncertainty with his mouth.
Dylan.The bass in my colleague's voice startled me out of my memory.
You were zoned out there, huh?
Um yeah, a lot on my mind with this training. What's up?
Not much, just wanted to know if 10 o'clock was a good time to go over your slides? He looked down at the spreadsheets covering my desk.
Yeah, that's perfect. Thanks and uh, sorry about that.
No worries. It's still early.
My watch read 7:23am. He was right. It was way too early to still be thinking about last night. Grayson dug deep into me. I couldn't get him off my mind unless I was with Liam and when I was with Liam, I was completely out of my mind. Grayson was the 'miscellaneous' in my life. I had no goals for him and there was no trajectory for what we were doing. He was just there and it created an internal conflict. Everything and everyone had a purpose and when I would bring that up to him, he would always say in his raspy voice, "You ever think that the purpose is to just make you happy?"
Of course, when someone says that, you feel like a moron because who doesn't want happiness? I desperately wanted to say, plans make me happy, boundaries make me happy, me knowing I don't have to share you with every brown skinned woman in a 100 mile radius - that's what makes me happy. But I couldn't say that because commitment was now a foreign language to me. Liam and I ruined the whole beauty of it by using it in the wrong context. Liam and I were committed to coming back to each other, not staying. Subsequently, my warped sense of relationships was not going to fare well with Grayson and it was more appealing to have fewer memories with him than bad ones.
Nonetheless, between my thighs was now wet and my mind was running a mile a minute at this brown oak desk, hidden by presentation materials in front of me. I remembered his scent, his taste, the way his fingers felt against the discs in my spine. I remembered the pressure of his body on top of mine. And I still felt guilty, like I belonged to someone else. And whenever Grayson borrowed me, I enjoyed it. I craved it. Whenever he licked from the top off my clit to the inside of my noni, the guilt was well worth it. Even though, our physical chemistry is easier (and more fun) to discuss, it's our emotional connection that threw me for a loop. When I got promoted, he was the first person I called. Shit, he helped me get it, often brainstorming with and saying yay or nay to my project concepts. When I wanted to cry, I'd text him and my day would instantly get better. Or how about he was friggin voice of reason, talking me off the ledge when I laid my stress in front of him. He never flinched at my 'difficult.' He'd coax me through it. Sometimes he put me back together so well that I forgot I was ever broken.
I pinched the bridge of my nose between my fingers. Was Grayson a placeholder, another chapter or an entirely different book? Was I just playing with Grayson while Liam was on pause? And was Liam even on pause or was it really over?
I searched for my cell phone under the piles of paper.
Hi? What's up?
Hey beautiful. I sighed. Could he be any nicer? This is why it's complicated Grayson, this is why.
I let out a nervous laughter. I'm average. Please don't gas me.
You know, thank you works right?
Hmm. A silent exhale slipped through my lips. Sorry, thank you.
You're welcome. Um, tonight, I have to be ready by 7 right?
No, 6 Grayson. Opening remarks are at 7 and then the award ceremony happens right after, which is great because no one wants to spend the entire night anxious. So we can't be late.
Did you write your speech yet?
We don't know if I'm going to win.
That didn't answer my question.
I closed my eyes, licked my lips. And leaned my head as far to the right as I could for a good stretch. He was trying to help but my nerves were scrambled.
Um, I started but I don't want to jinx it so...
Yo. Finish your speech, see you at 6.
I slid in my chair to the other side of my office facing the wall to floor window looking directly into the sun. I pulled the drawer open and underneath the desk organizer, there it was; my cursive on plain copy paper.
In the business of 'saving the world,' philanthropists are tasked with a host of responsibilities. When people used to get anxious at my old job, I'd tell them, 'relax, it's not like we're saving lives here.' But I can't say that anymore. The truth is you, the person next to you and every person in this room is here because they save lives. It's a daunting task to quote unquote save the world. It's also exhausting. There are days when we want to quit, or weeks where you're under a mountain of the red tape paperwork and you're stuck trying to figure how you're going to make the impossible happen. You are the saviors of this world and I would be remiss if I didn't tell the next generation of philanthropists in this room how to do the work that gets you awards like this. I urge you to find your own savior, find the person that pieces you back together. The person who rubs your shoulders while you're staring like a zombie into your computer. Find the person who brings you dinner because they know you haven't eaten all day. You have to find the person who reminds you how much good is in the world after you've exposed yourself to so much of the bad. It is important that you find your own savior, the light in your life, the person who repurposes your good acts into good will - the will that keeps you going. Find the person who will go with you to your dinner parties for work and orders the salmon even though they want the chicken because you want to try both. Find the person who loves you while your job relies on you loving everybody else. Find the person who saves you when you get stuck in the burning building of your work. I charge you with finding them and holding onto them because in order to complete this work, this draining, exhausting, pull out your hair kind of work - you have to realize that you will go to bed sad but you must, you absolutely MUST wake up to your peace. Grayson, you are my peace. Everyone, find your Grayson.
A single tear rolled down my face as I scanned what I had prepared for the evening. Taking Grayson was already a big deal. This speech, on arguably the biggest night of my career would mean that I noticed he was a huge part of my world and since noticing, I would be responsible for acting accordingly. My office door swung open. Babe. I looked up and into Liam's face. What...what are you doing here?
Is that how you say good morning?
My apologies, good morning. To what do I owe the pleasure of your presence?
Well, I have a meeting in the next building over so I figured, I’d come over and kill some time.
This was typical of him; always squeezing me into the gaps of his life. He hadn’t been intentional with me since we first started dating years ago. I mattered mostly because I was convenient and I didn’t matter when I was difficult.
Oh, that worked out well. Have you had breakfast?
Great, wanna stay here or go out? It’s a little chilly so I’d rather stay but…My voice trailed off as I heard how subservient I was. Why didn’t I just say, let's stay in?
Yeah, we can order something.
The scent of hash browns, scrambled eggs and bacon soon filled my office. I didn't touch the bacon though. As many times as I had cooked it for him, setting off fire alarms, I never grew a taste for it. I could have burned the house down trying to please him. Watching him jump out the bed to fan the smoke always turned me on though. It was silly of me to enjoy the rescue without acknowledging the danger. In many ways, this theory described our relationship. Where there was smoke, there was fire. ButI was so stubborn, I needed to see the flames for myself. Such a naive mindset because it's not the fire that kills you. It's usually the smoke. And for as long as I'd known him, Liam had been a swirling stream of smoke.
He looked so good though. There were eight years of my life in his suit, tailored to flatter his broad shoulders and long legs. He was all business. I could only imagine how much of a shark he was in the boardroom. In our arguments, he was quick, witty and spat emotional ether at me that used to knock the wind out of me. It was easy to hate him but you had to respect him. He was a dream chaser who worked hard. While I usually took his curt responses as him not caring enough, I'd learned over the years, he simply didn't make the time for anything or anyone in which he couldn't quantify the outcome. Love was intangible and therefore unreal to him. What goal could it reach? How did you know if you were successful at it? Feelings didn't pay the bills and for that, he had no interest in them. And though I was the complete opposite, my envy for his firm grasp on life drew me closer to his icy demeanor. I wanted to be as tough as him, as feared as he was. But I was a woman in a passion driven industry. People didn't fear me, they wanted to talk to me; some wanted to be me. Despite all the quantitative success of my organization, philanthropy was built on the intangible successes. Knowing a little girl lived for four more months because we raised the money to cover treatment - that's what brought us back to work in the morning. But it didn't bring us the largest paychecks and in a world run by money - your salary determined how much you mattered. I mattered solely in my industry. He mattered in the world.
The knock at the door interrupted our conversation about the latest mass shooting on a university campus.
Sorry to interrupt Dylan, your dress arrived. Where do you want me to put it?
Oh, thanks! Um. My storage closet is fine. It should be open, but if not, here's the key. Thanks so much.
Liam shot me a playfully inquisitive look. Hot date?
I almost choked on my lemon ginger tea. He wasn't asking because he cared. He was asking to see if I would lie. I couldn't see him being worried about any date of mine. He probably thought he was making more money than my phantom date and more handsome. And having fucked his way into my adulthood, he was comfortable knowing that no one's sex was better than his, at least not to me.
More like awards night.
Yeah, every year, a few big healthcare organizations get together and host the gala to highlight major players in the philanthropy world and promote upcoming initiatives. It's like the kick off to fundraising season.
So, are you a major player?
They seem to think so. I'm up for the Director of Most Creative Concepts award.
Congratulations. Why am I not surprised? He said behind a smirk. I'm pretty sure, you're the reason they came up with the word extraordinary. Normal has never been enough for you.
He sounded a little impressed while I had to fight that self deprecating feeling, that "lil old me?" syndrome. I was shy when it came to talking about my hard work. The humility embedded in women was disgusting and we gulped it down our throats like it was the medicine to cure self confidence. Backwards as fuck. And I couldn't tell if he was taking a subliminal shot at me. When our relationship first started many years ago, normal wasn't enough. I wanted to see the world and meet everyone in it. I wanted to accomplish great things and I had no idea what that would even entail or what it looked like. I quickly talked myself out of being offended. Make no assumptions was on of the Four Agreements, the one that was kicking my ass. I was training myself to no longer react to what I thought someone was saying, only to what they were actually saying.
Yeah. My laugh sounded more like a hum as I became more self aware. I mean, this year, I definitely went out the box, took a few risks. I was fed up with the monotony of service, you know? We all do the same things. Show up on MLK day, do the Breast Cancer walk and write up some crafty Christmas cards. But I wanted people to get active. I wanted them to feel the blood rush through their veins. I wanted them to remember how well their legs worked or how fast they could run and to truly appreciate their bodies so they could really feel sympathy for those who can't. My face was hot and my voice got louder with every sentence. My hands were moving and I was looking directly at him. Yes, this was my passion, it was my calling. It was the only place I felt comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. I was an expert at healing others, only because I had been through so much pain.
You're absolutely right, but you know people go for what's easy. So, how do you get them to do the hard stuff? What about Dylan says, "Come train for 5 months for this football tournament AND raise money? How do you get people to dedicate that kind of time to causes they never heard about before talking to you?
If I told you my secret, you'd put me out of business. We both laughed at the far fetched idea. He was much happier in corporate America. He left the mushy stuff to me. But to answer your question, with every event, I make note of what worked and recreate the circumstances moving forward. No secret formula.
Got it. Well, that makes sense. Most people think success is complicated and shy away from it. And it's much simpler than most people imagine. It's more about being repetitive and doing the hard work over and over. Good girl, woman. Good woman.
Oh! What a compliment. Be careful, you might spoil me.
I'd like to.
No, hear me out. There's nothing I want more than to be able to spoil my wife and children. I don't want them to want for anything.
And what does that have to do with me?
Could have everything to do with you or nothing. I'm not a fortune teller. I can just tell you what I'd like to happen.
He left me with a kiss on my hand and a hole in my heart.
We entered the dining hall and mingled with hundreds of health leaders in the country; some old friends, some I idolized from a distance yet all equally intriguing.You can't always be the smartest person in the room or the richest or the most beautiful, but you can be the most interesting. This was true for most rooms but not this one. Everybody had deeply personal stories and were changing the world because of them. They were mostly kind and though you ran into a jaded spirit every once in a while, I had to remind myself that the work can do that to you. Grayson worked the room with me, leaving a great impression behind. His charm fit right into the fundraising world. After all, people give when they like you and they like you when you're genuine.
My satin gown slid over my petite curves and hung right to the edge of my feet, whispering to the ground beneath me. The sweetheart neckline was demure enough to allow the plunging V in the back stopping just above my waistline. Grayson's hands trailed down my exposed spine throughout the night, comforting me with his presence. Slipping my hand in his, while he conversed with folks, got me close enough to smell the wood chipped fragrance of his cologne. When the dinner portion was over, anxiety began to wash over me. Maybe I shouldn't have written a speech. Was that arrogant or assumptive? But I hated being ill-prepared. I didn't get here being that way. As I fought with myself silently over what humility really was, my clutch was burning a hole in my lap. I've never known a man who apologized for his hard work or for his success; Liam being the prime example. If you tell Liam he's great, he'll ask you why you took so long to notice. He was unapologetic about his excellence. I walked to the podium pretending to be Liam, borrowing his fearlessness and lack of humility. Everything in my stride said I deserved to be the 2015 Recipient for the Director of Most Creative Concepts award. I clutched my speech tightly in my hand and exhaled as I unfolded it in front of me.
Looking out into the crowd of well dressed professionals and their glasses of champagne sparkling like mini chandeliers at each table, I realized how unfair it was to dim my light for anyone, especially when this is what they came for. I looked down at the paper, then I raised my head high examining the entire room. Grayson was at the center table, my best friend in the work, Sylvia DeMarco sat on the far right and the crowd was sprinkled with volunteers I mentored throughout the years. Just as my mouth opened to speak, I saw him. The tuxedo fit him perfectly and his cuff links sparkled. When our eyes locked, he smirked. The tears started to form in my eyes and I knew in that second that there was no way I could say what was on that paper; not with Liam standing in that room, unbeknownst to Grayson or anybody else, and even me up until 30 seconds ago.
"If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." First Corinthians Chapter 13, Verse 2. I have learned many things in this industry. How to look death in the eye and find purpose, how to cry rivers in under a minute hiding in a bathroom, how to believe that there is a cure even when it eludes us. The other day, I read this story in the news. A Philadelphia Fire Chief pulled a man out of burning car with his bare hands. He didn't hesitate or flinch. He didn't have an ounce of fear on his face. I must have watched the video ten times, watching the oath he'd taken many years ago in action. Action, action, action. I'll say again, "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing." Love is action. I must confess, years ago, I've been pulled out of a burning car myself, by someone unafraid of the flames that surrounded me. The thing about being surrounded by flames is that you give up. Everything gets really quiet and you convince yourself that if you just close your eyes, the pain will all go away. Because we can all attest to this, pain is suffocating and it seems easier to die than to fight for clean air. When, let's call him Liam for the sake of this story...(This was a lie. I didn't call this man Liam for the sake of the story. Liam was the story and as soon as he heard his name, that smirk grew into a full blown smile. We both knew where this story was going.) pulled me out of the flames, I was angry. I had already given up and here he came rescuing me, giving me the responsibility of living the life that he saved for me. In such a short time, I had gotten accustomed to the flames and came to terms with dying in them. When things began to get dark and quiet, his arms reached for me, not an ounce of fear on his face. He did not hesitate and he did not flinch. He took action. This award, (I struggled to pick it up, it was much heavier than it looked) is the physical embodiment of when we use the gift of prophecy, the mysteries, the knowledge and act accordingly from a place of love. Had I not been loved in that way by Liam, I would not be here. I would not know how to love and base my behavior on that love. Every last one of you is a Liam. You have pulled people out of burning cars. You live your oaths every day and like true heroes, you do not hesitate or flinch. You act out of love and love makes you fearless. So, while this award has an individual recipient annually, it is a global recognition for all the Liams in the world. We are acting with the knowledge we have, fearlessly and relentlessly; adapting to the endless nuances of the environment. Whether it's flames or waves or depression or cancer, we are pulling people out. And I'm sure that Liam has his own scars from saving me but he would do it again in a heartbeat. Because love is action and that's what heroes do. With this award, I accept the responsibilities that come with being a hero and I charge you all to continue the heroic work you do. Together, the flames are bearable. Thank you so much.
The crowd erupted in applause. My eyes were cloudy with tears as I descended the stage. Making my way back to my seat, I avoided eye contact with Liam.
Grayson congratulated me Great speech babe.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Glad you finished it in time.
Eh. Something like that.
What do you mean?
Nothing really, I just can't believe I won.
Well believe it.
I was able to greet Liam in the latter part of the evening, while most attendees were dancing the night away.
To what do we owe the pleasure of your presence sir?
He laughs. We're having a reception in another room and I saw the sign for this. It seemed like too much of a coincidence so I had to come see for myself and sure 'nuff, there you were taking the stage. You look nice and congratulations.
Thank you. Twice in one day? I actually can't believe it.
And your speech?
My speech...(I bow my head sheepishly)
Sheesh, I didn't even say thank you yet!
You did on that podium.
Ok. Fair enough.
Well, let me get going. I know my entire table is ready to go home. Thank you for coming, thank you for everything. I really appreciate it.
No problem. Get home safe.
Grayson, my colleagues and I exited the venue in laughter. It was a fulfilling night. Internally, I was a little torn but there was nothing to do about it tonight. The confusion would still be there in the morning.
Liam! Good to see you man. Someone called out from behind us. Grayson turned around and saw the two men embrace each other. I watched the blood drain from his face as he made the connection between my speech and who was standing feet away from him. Grayson was frozen but his mouth managed to utter five words quietly. It was a rhetorical question. He already knew the answer. He was simply asking me to let me know that he knew.
Dylan, is that your Liam?
If I learned anything from Liam, it was to tell the truth, even if your voice shakes. I didn't want to lie to anybody anymore. Knowing that someone might possibly stick around because of a lie would create paranoia in me and I spent far too many years waiting for the truth to blow up everything I had built. So before the fear of telling the truth paralyzed me, I blurted it out.
Yes, that's my Liam. Grayson's eyes looked glazed over the moment I completed my sentence. We had vowed never to lie to each other because we considered that to be the greatest poison. But feeling my heels sink into the paisley carpet beneath me, I learned that truth was the strongest venom on Earth. Time froze for us all.
What was the price of omission? Was Liam capable of causing irreparable damage just by being in the room? I knew the answer was yes but watching blood drain from Grayson's face burned me from the inside out. I wanted to be his hero tonight and return the favor to him but in this version of the story, I was the bad guy, because deep down, Liam being in the room was never the problem. The real problem, was that I brought him there - with my words, and my body language and my nauseating appreciation for his existence that would only diminish his humility, if he indeed had any left. My speech was the problem because as I stood at that podium,I was making a choice. By ignoring the words I had prepared on the eve of Grayson and I making love, I chose Liam instead. I chose to reflect on the past instead of living in the moment. While everything I said was true abut Liam, Grayson was a more timely truth. Yes, Liam had rescued me from my own flames once before but he had also broken me. Liam was the tide that smashed into my coastline forcing me to recede into submission. But Grayson was the moon, strong enough to tame the tide that would inevitably sweep me away. Liam was something like my virginity, nostalgic and unforgettable, but Grayson was the kind of lovemaking that didn't take anything away from me. With Grayson, I didn't lose pieces of myself, I created new ones. And even with Liam's reappearance in my life, he was still an earthquake; one of Mother Nature's wonders but Earth shattering nonetheless.
The ride home was a quiet one. The New York skyline seemed to float outside of the tinted windows. We did not touch each other all. His hand did not graze against mine accidentally. He didn't put his hand in the small of my back to guide me to the car. I did not nuzzle my face into his neck to get cozy. We were miles apart mentally with a wall of tension so thick between us, we wouldn't be able to hear anything through it.
When we pulled up to my apartment, he got out to open my door. I searched his eyes for some sense of what he could be thinking but they were just blank. There was no warmth in them. They didn't glisten under the street lights. They did not welcome me.
Have a good night.
You're not coming upstairs?
Dylan. Our house is burning down and I just realized that you don't expect me to pull you out. I'm not your hero, I'm your distraction. You're waiting for Liam. He continued on with a monotonous tone and ended our conversation with a quote from my acceptance speech. 'Had I not been loved in that way by Liam, I would not be here.' Wow. Had you been loved by Liam at all, you wouldn't be here. Think about that. Good night.
This chapter will be written in THIRD person because there's just certain things a person won't say about themselves.
The pregnancy test glared up at her from the trash can. She hadn't spoken to Grayson in two months. He wasn't answering her calls and only responded to texts with "I'm alive, just not ready to talk." This surprise conception was most certainly not the conversation to break the ice. There were playing a violent game of egos and indecision. She had to tell him, even if it meant showing up to his house and forcing the conversation. All she needed was 30 seconds of insane courage.
Dylan's leg shook under her kitchen table, her head buried in her palms. Her eyes burned a hole through the list of pros and cons on the legal pad in front of her. It would have been easier to choose this baby's life if it wasn't inextricably connected to her own. There wasn't enough time to grasp the damage this blessing could do. She couldn't blame this one, irresponsible night. There were a series of days and nights which she continually made the wrong decision. She had spread herself too thin trying to please everyone with her body for bait. This period of slight cramping, afternoon nausea and restless nights was a result of Dylan never saying "no."
I just wanted to be someone; someone he could love without reprimand or out of some looming responsibility - like a child. I wanted to feel him look at me, or look through me, in a way that makes me feel like I'm floating. Sometimes lovemaking is an apology, a simple admission of wrongdoing, a physical interpretation of repentance. And that's what it felt like. It wasn't just flesh and bones or sweat and sex. It was an apology; a show of good faith that we were headed in the right direction. There's no way to know if you're going to reach your destination together or alive even, but we were headed there on a full tank of gas, with a scenery so beautiful that I could have stayed on that road forever if he asked me to, like we'd never run out of gas. He kissed ever scar and massaged every knot in my body, knots that were left from the threads of men who never knew how to love me anyway. He gazed at my stretch marks like they were streams of light during a beautiful sunset. This was the price I paid to feel beautiful, to feel whole again.
The can of ginger ale popped when she snapped the metal clasp. She drew the carbonation into her mouth through a straw, hoping that it would quell the queasiness in her stomach. Nothing was working. There was no blocking this out of her mind until there was a better time. She had to deal with it right now and get ready to prepare him for the news.
Nobody gets an abortion at this age. I make decent money. I have a home. Why wouldn't I have a baby? Oh yeah, my relationships are more soap opera than love story. I can have the baby and hide from him. No, I can't do that. That's just ridiculous. I can make an appointment and act like this never happened. But whyyyyyy? And what if this is my only chance to have a child? What if this is it? But if I have his baby, I could never be with someone else because I'd always be around him. I would always give in. And what if he doesn't even want this baby? What if he wanted to get married first and if he hasn't married me, it's because he doesn't want to. Because men know. They always know. That's their superpower. They can look at a woman and know they want to spend the rest of their lives with her early on and our superpower is blind resiliency, staying with him, even when that woman isn't us. And what if he thinks I trap him? This is a surefire way to keep him around, he's no deadbeat. He will stay but when he does, will he look at me with disgust in his eyes? Will he resent me? Would he rather be anywhere in the world than in the delivery room with me? Shit. I have to deliver this thing. Oh my fucking God.
Her cries turned into full on sobbing. This was not how she envisioned her happy ending. This was not her idea of rekindling and yet there she was, sick with indecision. It never occurs to you to be careful where you lay; even caskets are comfortable. You lay down, sometimes anywhere, because you're tired. You want to feel another beating heart next to yours or wake up to another set of eyes besides your own. And you lay, into arms that can't carry you any further than that bed, into arms that can only put you in positions your mama wouldn't exactly be proud of. You lay in spaces that weren't made for you, that don't accommodate you but you're so thankful for the rest that you close your eyes and convince yourself that you're safe there. You lay there long enough until spiritual atrophy takes over and you can no longer move...on.
You have to tell him.
I know that Isabella.
So, why are you hesitating? You know you're going to have it so tell him so y'all can keep it moving. I gotta get ready to plan this baby shower and I can't do that if we're still talking about this.
Easier said than done. First, I would have to tell both of them. One, that he is the father, and the other that he isn't the father which is equally hard because either way a relationship is severed, irreparable damage has been done. The kind of damage that makes you cross the street when you see the other person coming type of damage. And the other relationship will be anybody's guess.
Dylan, you're driving yourself crazy. Even if a relationship ends for good and on these crazy terms, you are going to be so consumed with your new baby, you'll forget all about it. Trust me, there's nothing like a newborn to remind you that nothing else matters. Secondly, our new dad here, loves you. He may not be ready but there is love there. Besides, find me a person on this planet who was ever ready. No one. So, pull the band-aid off, be a big girl and let's start to get excited about what really matters instead of being afraid of what won't in a few months.
He loves who? Please. And what is he not ready for? We've done everything. This is the last thing on the list so how could he not be ready for the competition when we've been practicing all this time? God, I'm the cow who gave away my milk for free. He doesn't love me, I'm just familiar. You? You just see the good in people and you're my friend so of course you're going to tell me he loves me. You won't ever tell me, pregnant me at that, that he doesn't love me.
The issue is not that I think he loves you. The issue is that you got yourself pregnant with someone you think doesn't.
The pity party was over. Her only guest had declined the invitation and now, Dylan had to face it. Loving someone doesn't make them love you and it sure as hell doesn't save you. The only time we are truly fearless is when we are loved unconditionally and she was left to wonder why she was so ok with not being loved at all.
What is the thing you haven’t said?
What is the truth you haven’t told yet?
I played those questions over and over again in my head from earlier Iyanla Vanzant interviews. What was I not saying? What secret was I keeping?
And it was this.
I was carrying a baby I was too scared to get rid of because my body could not handle another trauma.
I still remembered my miscarriage vividly. It was nearly a decade ago. The whirring of the sonogram, the dead air. The heartbeat that wasn’t there. I carried a dead baby inside of me. The carcass of a love gone wrong. The corpse of an immature relationship. Ever since my legs were shaking in those stirrups, I walked out a shell instead of the mother I could have been.
I told myself I wasn’t ready anyway. I was starving for a career that could feed my ambition. I hadn’t even considered being a mother by then. But I deserved to have a say in the matter. I deserved to hear the heartbeat and decide how I felt about it. I deserved the opportunity to love that child so much that it might have changed my mind. I deserved a heartbeat and one of those black and white pictures of something that looked like a lima bean to carry home with me; to deliberate over. I wanted to have a choice and live with whatever my consequences would be but instead I walked out with the weight of being a walking casket. No one teaches you how to attend a funeral in your own belly.
You might not want kids but if someone says you can’t even have them, it takes something away from you that you can’t get back. You lose trust in your body. You learn that womanhood is not invincible. It’s not some magic power. It’s fragile and even fleeting at times. It’s not just your anatomy or your cycle. It’s a feeling, a tender, sacred feeling, that when wounded, can make living unbearable.
I promised myself I would never tell him. I would never tell anyone. Because how do you explain tears over a dead child you never wanted?
Some wounds don't heal well. The scar doesn't lay flat on the skin but rises up like a roaring wave; a reminder that you were wounded here, that someone cut you up here; and that someone didn't call for help. When he walked through the oak door, all I could think about was how much I loved him. His skin, the shape of his ears, the curve of his back, his very breath ignited a fire in me that the water from my dripping mouth could not put out. He was the rise of my chest and the spring in my step. The growl in my voice when the morning light broke through my windows. He was my favorite ice cream on a warm day. He was my mother's mac and cheese. And these complicated things, this interwoven threads of history too vivid to forget and too heavy to bear, these things were the most complicated to confess. I was pouring myself into a tunnel with no clue of who I'd be once I got to the end of it.
And I did it anyway, because faith over fear, depth over distance. Liam was my one. The one who was going to break me and put me back together. My puppeteer and my audience. My strong heartbeat and my thready pulse. He would demolish me. He would empower me. I could have moved mountains if he told told me and I would have stopped a boulder if he needed me too. He was my strength and my weakness, my heaven on earth that gave the heaven I learned about as a child some competition. He was my Bible and even when I didn't understand everything, I could hold him and know his reverence.
This relationship, this journey we were on held onto every broken commandment and sought forgiveness anyway. We were stubborn in our salvation and in our suffering and because of that, I came to know that torture is sometimes sweet.
When Liam put his lips on mine, I melted. There was nothing left to do but surrender to the moment. The weight of his body was crushing. I could not breathe. I could not think. I had to get up.
I want to get on top.
Once there, I descended onto him like the sun sits on the horizon - unbothered. Making love had become literal and deliberate action. I was bearing the fruit but God bless him for planting it.
I came and whispered, Liam I'm pregnant.