3 – Love Don’t Live Here (Zyara)

I can’t do this anymore. I’m just existing with no purpose in this relationship and it’s really a waste of time. The lovemaking feels like a slow death. Each thrust is an attack to my core. I am convinced that I am truly paying for something I did wrong in my past life. I just pray for him to hurry up and get off of me. I know there are other women and I am tired of the disrespect. I am tired of arguing with him. He knows I know too but he won’t admit it. I feel defeated and I can’t function. I’m like a zombie at work and I can barely retain anything in class.

The reality cinder block hit me when I came home early from work to find a woman in my apartment. In my bedroom. In my bed. Our bed. The bed that we slept in. Mark was in the shower so he hadn’t heard me come in. I knew something was up when Shawn had a surprised look on his face when I came through the door. At eight years old, my son was extremely perceptive. He knew something was about to go down.

Shawn was in the living room alone watching cartoons. I’m assuming Mark had a fuck session while watching his son and decided to take a shower, leaving his whore lying in my bed. Chyna. She was slightly older than I was and she lived in Virginia. It appeared that she was in town and Mark had her over because no one would expect me to be home so early. She sat up in the bed when she saw me and was speechless. She clutched the sheets over her breasts as if she were caught off guard. Not sure how off guard she could’ve been knowing that she was sleeping in another woman’s bed. Chyna appeared to be a few years older than me. It seemed Mark had a thing for older women. Chyna had professed her love for Mark in letters I’d found in our closet some months back so I knew she wasn’t just a whore he was fucking. Funny enough, it felt good to finally put a face to the name. Something about when a man is cheating, the girlfriend always wants to know what the other woman looks like. As if her looking better or looking worse has some sort of bearing on how angry she’ll be.

I’m not a fighter. I didn’t fight. No vibes no scene. I just left. I didn’t even take Shawn with me. I remember asking him “You want anything from the store?” He asked to go with me. He got up and started to put on his little sneakers. My poor son knew I was hurt and he wanted to be Mommy’s partner in this. I told Shawn not to worry. “I’ll be back, I promise.” I backed out of the apartment and walked into the hallway, down the stairs and to the train station. I was hurt, yes. But it was that hurt that puts you beyond tears. That place where you’re just numb. You know the part of the movie when everything’s happening all at once and the protagonist is just standing there in silence? Yeah, that was me. In spite of knowing what it was, seeing it in my face was something I wasn’t prepared for. Now what was I supposed to do?

I called Ayanna because she knew the story. She’d been telling me to leave Mark for years. In fact, Ayanna had been on a date one night some years back with one of her random dudes and saw Mark at the movie theater with a woman. She called me immediately and told me. Like the thug that she is, she asked me “Do you want me to say something to his ass?! You know I will.” I knew she would but I told her not to. It wasn’t worth it. I was torn inside but it was just the beginning of what would be a series of difficult situations I’d have to navigate through.

I was trying to stick it out for the family. I had a connection to this man and it wasn’t as simple as just packing and leaving. I mean, where would I go? It was just too much to think about right now. I never thought I’d be here. At 26, I always envisioned myself in a different place. I should’ve been married and finished with school by now. At least that was the plan. I got pregnant straight out of high school and the rest just happened from there. I don’t regret my little man, not in the least. But if I had to do it all over again, I think I might have waited.

I had to work before thinking about going to school. So I did what I needed to. Fast food, office work, airport security, whatever I needed to do to make ends meet. I just thought life would be easier with a partner. Having a partner I learned made it worst. I dreaded coming home because love wasn’t there anymore. I longed for that feeling of anxiety when he’d walk through the door and instead of greeting him with an attitude, I’d embrace him, tell him how much I’d missed him, and how much I wanted to show him after he showered and climbed in the bed with me. Those days were long gone however, and I was over the idea of sharing those moments with Mark.

Mark knew I’d come by the apartment . I could tell from the missed phone calls that started to invade my phone. Fuck him. I never answered. I just sat in the coffee shop on Fulton and stared out the glass window at the traffic and the people moving hastily on with their lives. I was sad but not angry. Sad because I knew I had to make a move but my poor baby would suffer. My brain was tired. It was a Wednesday and I needed just enough strength to make it to Friday.

While I sat in the coffee shop, Djembe called me. We’d been texting each other periodically but nothing too serious. Mostly “hey, how are you” or “hope all is well”, playing it safe. It was probably too soon to lay all of this drama on him but when he called and asked if I was free, I gave him my location so he could meet me.

Djembe arrived at the coffee shop in a little under 20 minutes. He was dressed in dark fitted blue jeans, a black defining button up shirt, suede sneakers and a plaid blazer. He had a fresh haircut and smelled of everything heavenly. He was tall and took great care of his body, especially his shoulders. Djembe was about 10 years older than me and had this sensuous appeal to him. It wasn’t the way he talked or they way he’d gently touch my shoulder. It was his gaze. He could’ve been talking about candy corn, but his eyes were piercingly sincere and he looked right through me. For the duration of our sitting, I found it difficult to make eye contact. I was in such a weird place, I didn’t know what to disclose or what to suppress.

He had been in the military and was well traveled by 37. He’d been all over and shared his fascination with the many cultures he’d come across during his travels. I’m not sure what it was about him coming to me at that moment, but I knew something was happening. I was connecting to this man but not sure why or what this would become. I was vulnerable but I played it cool. We caught up on classes we were taking, work and life in general. He was taking the second part to the Chemistry course and some other courses. I was still completing some prerequisites and trying to figure out if I would still stay in the Medical Assistant program.

My phone continued to ring so I just turned off the phone. Djembe suggested we take walk, if I had the time. Shit, I had all the time in the world, right now. We left the coffe shop and headed to his vehicle. Djembe opened the passenger door for me and closed it once I was sitting comfortably.  We headed to Tillary Street and parked alongside the park where some guys were playing a serious game of basketball. We headed over to The Brooklyn Bridge. As we approached the opening of the bridge, Djembe took my hand in his. I was shy and nervous but I reciprocated and held his too.

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen when I got back home. I just knew I was with this man right now. I didn’t think about tomorrow or yesterday. I was just in that moment. Enjoying his attention, his soothing voice, his aroma. He was everything I was missing and I didn’t know what to do. He was a gentleman and he seemed to worry if I were comfortable with him. He was calming and I needed him, right now. It was as if what happened earlier hadn’t even happened. I was in a safe place and wanted to stay there. But I knew I had to go home and prepare for the next day.

Djembe was pleasant and gentlemanly and appealed to my senses. I knew, if the opportunity presented itself, I would take advantage of it.


2 – Hindsight is Always 20/20 (Ayanna)

Once I fall in love with a guy, I’m all in. Well, at least now I am. I’ve had a few good men in my life but I wasn’t mature enough, at the time, to appreciate what they were offering me. Now, for some reason, the Gods believe that I should suffer for the mistakes I’ve made in the past. Well, maybe suffer is too strong of a word, but I am learning what it’s like in the deeper end of the pool.

You always hear people talk about the one that got away. Caleb was mine. He was simply a good man to me. When I look back on it now, I really screwed that up. I shudder at the memories of what took place and how I managed to royally ruin the relationship.

I met the love of my life at a male revue in The Bronx. It was the dead of winter. Zyara wasn’t really into those types of events so I was surprised when she agreed to come along. Zyara thought it would be fun to take her friend Elizabeth, a tall beauty from St. Lucia, along with us. The joke was Elizabeth had never experienced anything like a male revue before so this was going to be a night full of laughs.

We rode the 4 train to 167th St. The New Savoy Nightclub wouldn’t be a long walk from the station so we all agreed to make the trek. We arrived at the venue, presented our tickets and were ushered inside. After securing our coats at the coat check, we made our way to the main room for the event. It was the typical nightclub scene except the majority of the men were naked and the women were in rare form. These women were wilding out! The music was blaring and you could see all the women crowding around the male dancers as they gyrated and humped their asses for dollar bills. It had to be the funniest thing to see. The big girls are usually always up front and center so of course the dancers would perform the standard dry hump sex routine on the largest woman they could find in the audience. This routine always included a towel and whipped cream.

Once the main strippers performed, the after party began. The after party was a more relaxed setting where the strippers would walk around and dance with the women or “dick whip” you for a few dollars. I’m cheap. I already knew I wasn’t spending more than twenty dollars on a stripper so that dude would really have to show me what’s good. The after party also allowed regular men to enter the club.

Zyara and I made our way to the bar to get drinks, leaving Elizabeth behind to hold our spot in the corner. On our way to the bar, I noticed Caleb. He was medium height, about 5’10’ – 5’11’ and all dark brown and handsome. He had a fresh baldie and a gap in his teeth. He was dressed in classic hood wear – fresh construction Timbs, dark blue jeans, and a black Polo sweater. Once I saw him, I knew I had to have him. We returned to our corner with the drinks and I told Zyara that I needed to know who that guy was. Zyara told me to simply walk over to him and ask him what’s up. Really? Who does that? Once she saw that I wouldn’t stop talking about him, Zyara hastily walked over to him on some high school bullshit and told him I wanted to talk to him. I was annoyed that she did that but I wasn’t mad. Caleb and I talked and danced the whole night. All I remember thinking was, I can be with this man forever.

Since the girls and I agreed that we came together and were leaving together, I couldn’t go home with Caleb. We exchanged phone numbers and agreed to meet up the following day, which we did. We had sex on the second night and ended up in a relationship that lasted five years. During that five years, Caleb, my daughter and I lived together in his Harlem apartment. Caleb loved my daughter Gabrielle as if she were his own. The problem was I was 22 and wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I mean, there were times when I was in relationship mode. And when the relationship got boring, I did my own thing.

There was one New Year’s Eve when Caleb and I got into it really bad. Over what, I can’t remember. When he left for work New Year’s Eve morning, I packed an overnight bag for Gabrielle and I, and stayed over my friend Derren’s house in New Jersey. Derren was a guy I met online but we hit it off so well that he became one of my best friends. I brought in the New Year with Derren and his friends. I came back home to find Caleb outside waiting for me.

He didn’t hit me but I knew he would get me back. Don’t ask me what the hell I was thinking then. I was just stupid. Caleb wanted to have a family and get married. That was all he wanted. I was worried about being locked down with marriage. I was too stubborn to see what he was trying to do. He wanted to show me he wasn’t like the other guys out there. He wanted more from life and wanted me to be a part of it. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until about five years after we broke up.

After we broke up, we remained as friends. I’ve tried to reach out to him but he won’t bite. He confessed once that he was vulnerable when we were together and he learned an important lesson. Never again would he let another woman get him in that way. I want Caleb to understand and believe that I have matured. I’ve grown up. I’ve made some mistakes in the past but I know what I did wrong. The key is to learn from your mistakes and use that experience to make better decisions in the future right? If that is the case, why do I keep meeting losers? I haven’t had a real relationship since Caleb and I know that if the guy of my dreams gives me the chance, I can prove that I am matured. I am capable of making someone happy. All I need is that one real chance.

1 – Must Be Chemistry (Zyara)

When you live, you learn. This allows for you to be able to provide an accurate account of what went down. It also makes room for you to review what you did right, cringe at the things you did wrong, and find peace in doing things differently when you move forward. I can tell you that dating has its ups and downs. However, dating a married man has proven to be straight downhill. Most people will pass judgement on my situation before even knowing the details. Yes, dating a married man is morally wrong and unethical for obvious reasons, I suppose. So is fornicating and having a baby out of wedlock. The truth is these “situations” are hardly ever planned. Who really wakes up with the goal of seeking out a man who is legally committed to another woman? Certainly not me. But this happened to me and I wasn’t prepared. I experienced feelings of intense love to utter betrayal, yet I’m the one that’s wrong. Consider this – What if you feel like as a single woman, it isn’t your responsibility to care about his wife? And his family? What if he was yours first? Each story has three sides. Well this is my side of it.

Djembe was my friend long before anything happened. He admitted he was attracted to me from the first day of meeting in college, but I was clueless. I was so caught up in my failing relationship with Mark that I was unable to receive, much less interpret the non-verbal messages Djembe was sending my way. I worked diligently at maintaining my focus on my family and my goals to complete my degree.

He was studying to become a pharmacist. I studied for entry into the medical assistant program. Our professor Dr. Cohn was a comedian who’d missed his calling. Settling as chair of the Biological Sciences department at Long Island University, he performed academic stand-up routines in place of Chemistry lectures. I had a seemingly good rapport with Dr. Cohn and often visited his office to discuss my future career goals. He’d advised me that medicine was a great field to get into however, a vigorous one for a young, full-time employed mother. I had much to consider and although I had a passion for medicine, there wouldn’t be enough room for the medical assistant program, the full-time job and the family. I had to make some major decisions and soon.

Djembe came from a similar background as mine. We were both children of Caribbean parents and had multiple siblings. That was only the beginning of what we would share. We were also passionate about being in love. How we met? We met in Chemistry class. I know, ironic right? Nearing the close of the Fall semester, a fellow classmate, Tessa, approached me. She pulled me aside and told me that Djembe was interested and wanted to make contact. I thought she was joking but she was serious. She went further to inform me that he is a great man and that I needed to pay attention. I wasn’t sure why Tessa was so adamant about hooking me up with him but I just responded with “ok.”

After my encounter with Tessa, I became more conscious of the stares and the burning eyes on my neck from the rear of the classroom. On the last day of class, Djembe came over to me and offered to give me a ride home. Home was the apartment I shared with Shawn’s father. It was cold and although I probably shouldn’t have accepted the ride, I knew I didn’t want to ride the train and then take that long walk from the station. With that in mind, I kindly accepted.

I told him the area I lived and he assured me he knew exactly where to go. I’d find out later he meant that in more ways than one. We walked to his car and talked about how we think we did on the final. I already knew there was a slight chance that I’d failed and somehow, I wasn’t worried about it. He insisted he did just alright and probably should’ve done better.

On the drive, he stopped at a bodega. He returned with an endearing cup of peppermint tea. I was smitten. Djembe paid attention to detail. He noticed that I arrived to class late, always with a cup of peppermint tea in hand. His notice of that made me smile.

I had Djembe drop me a block from my building. I didn’t want anyone to see me exiting his vehicle. Mark would not understand that it was just a ride and nothing else. Djembe offered his number and email and urged that we keep in touch. He seemed sincere and I was already drawn in. I accepted his information and gave him mine. Nothing happened that night but I had a feeling that something might if we saw each other again especially outside of the classroom.