I have noticed that life’s most extraordinary moments happen on the most ordinary days – one of life’s many ironies, I guess. On the Sunday of my first real traumatic experience, my family sat down to lunch as we did every Sunday, enjoying a meal that was high in calories and low in silence. There were always laughs and gossip and catching up on things that for some reason seemed better said on a Sunday afternoon than on a Thursday morning or a Saturday night. There had to be something very heavy going on in our family to change the tone of our Sunday meals. It always seemed that no matter how moody or upset we were, there was something about Macaroni Pie, Red bean Rice, Fried Dumplings, Potato Salad and slow baked Barbecued Chicken that just melted all that away. And it helped that my mom is an awesome cook. I’m not just saying that because she’s my mother, either. She could do some incredible things with the most mundane ingredients. Of course, by the time lunch was ready, we were already drunk and drooling from the aromas that had been filling the house since the seasoning of the chicken began on Saturday night. So when the plates actually appeared on the table, we were just too giddy to do anything but grin, eat and talk. I have a theory that she used to keep lunch longer than necessary based on the idea that the hungrier people are, the less likely they are to find faults with the meal. So far, it’s just a theory.
On this particular Sunday, there was even more to talk about, since Wayne surprised us just as we were finishing lunch. He explained that he was on his way to represent his dad at a conference, and left home earlier than he planned. So, he figured he’d stop in and surprise me. I couldn’t stop smiling. I could see he was making an effort, and I appreciated it. My mom got up immediately to get him a plate, with a good natured grunt that said she was too stuffed and in too much of a good mood to give him any of the usual attitude about not having seen him enough that week. You could say she took to him much better than she did my ex, Andy. And you’d be completely correct. He ate, talked cricket with my brother and my dad, teased my sister, and then we chatted for a while. He told some dumb jokes, and we were full enough to laugh. As I watched his nervous smile, I tried to remember exactly when he had begun joking again. It had been nearly seven months since he had been asked to leave the University. Time had done a lot for him, I remember thinking. The vibe was good, the food was great. I watched him stretch, and knew that it was time for him to leave. We walked out together from the living room onto the porch. I noticed that the late afternoon sunlight, feeding on the mood, was skipping off the leaves of our mango tree, dancing on the porch steps. It was an ordinary enough Sunday, but it was beautiful and life was good.
I guess Wayne felt it too. As he was about to leave for his conference, he held my face in his hands, told me he loved me and kissed me goodbye. I watched him drive off, my skin gently warming in the sun, feeling joyful and in love, like all the stars had aligned and we were in a good place for once.
As it often is before the storm, I was reveling in the calm, blissfully unaware of what was looming just ahead. Over the next few days, I often thought back to that moment and wondered whether I should have drunk it in more, willed myself to pull it back and make it stay. Because what happened when that moment had passed, changed everything.
No, he didn’t die. But life would never be the same.
An old college friend of mine happened to call me the Thursday after Wayne had lunch with us. She had migrated to the States at the end of her final year, and I hadn’t heard from her in months. She and I got to talking about our lives and parents as always. Her mom and mine could have been twins, if addiction to control was a trait that proved genetic links. Eventually, we started talking about relationships and how great hers was going, despite her mom’s best efforts. When she asked about Wayne, I cringed a little. Not just because my relationship clearly paled in comparison to her perfect one. No grudge – I mean that. She and Rasheed had been together since she began A Levels the year after we did, and when her family migrated to the United States, he decided to go to University there to be near her. In spite of their age, they knew what they wanted and were mature enough to do what it took to get it. It couldn’t be easy for Rasheed to live there in a strange country, his only connections being Nicole and her mom (the latter of whom hated his very guts). But he sucked it up, and did what it took. It’s true that Rasheed was pretty easy-going, but I’ve heard Mrs. Edwards in full swing, and I know he must have planned to murder her at least once a month that first semester. But I digress…
I cringed when Nicole asked about Wayne and me, mostly because I knew that she didn’t like him. She thought he was childish, and given the sacrifices her boyfriend had made and their commitment to being with each other, I could see why she wasn’t a fan. Well, even if I were NOT given those things, I could see why. But I also felt uncomfortable because I knew that there wasn’t a whole lot I could say in his defense. Things between us were just so…blicky – a word I had coined to describe how I felt about my relationship with Wayne these days. It was perhaps a juvenile combination of ‘blah’ and ‘icky’. But it served its purpose perfectly in describing how I felt.
And given that my relationship with my boyfriend clearly paled in comparison to her perfect one, I gave minimal information, using a lot of words and phrases that meant nothing, like “We’re alright” or “We’re taking it one day at a time” or “We’re getting there”. Very unconvincing. And quite ‘blah’.
Not surprisingly, she saw through that and – not for the first time – blatantly asked what I saw in him. And – not for the first time – I told her that I couldn’t explain it to her, because she couldn’t see what I saw; she didn’t know him as well as I did, and she’d be surprised how sweet and caring he could be. It made me gag to listen to myself, sounding like a battered wife. It makes me gag to read this as I write it, not only because I sounded like a Lifetime movie star, but also because I was lying through my teeth. Just ‘icky’.
Especially because there really was no reason to lie. Nicole knew us both, and she knew the truth. But, look, it’s hard enough to admit to anyone that your boyfriend is a pie-hole. To admit it to someone who’s been telling you frankly for years that he’s a pie-hole…well, that’s just asking too much. Just my two cents. Anyway, she called me out on the lie, and not wanting to give me a chance to lie anymore, she hurriedly went on to inform me that a friend of hers here at home told her that Wayne recently asked her “for sex”.
Only Wayne hadn’t used the word “sex”. He had allegedly used another word, which was probably the least dignified word for a woman’s sexual organ I could think of in that moment. For me, this was the greatest indicator that there was truth in this information – a dirty word like that would have been right at home in Wayne’s mouth. I was reeling. As blicky as things were with us, I sure didn’t wake up this morning expecting this.
Hardly taking a breath so I could catch mine, Nicole further informed me that he was careful to point out in his request that he wasn’t looking for a relationship because he had me right where he wanted me. I was “well-trained”.
Now, I am not one-hundred per cent certain, but I’m pretty sure I went white at that moment. Which isn’t easy for me, given my honey brown complexion, let me tell you. But I’m fairly sure I defied logic and did it anyway.
I honestly can’t remember how that conversation with Nicole ended, no matter how hard I try. And I kept a diary that year so it should be recorded, but I’ve read every line of that day’s entry several times. It just doesn’t mention how I got out of the conversation. It’s like I blanked out after her report. The diary’s record skips through the details of the information and then fast forwards to my calling Wayne and asking him to come over. And that was when it all started to unravel. Although he was caught off-guard by the accusation, he didn’t lie. Which was weird. And that caught me off-guard. He said that he made those “jokes” all the time, and that he didn’t see anything wrong with saying the things he said. (He could be a real prince.)
But then, he stopped looking me in the eye, and started mumbling something about how everything happens for a reason. So, I stopped huffing and ranting and looked at him, knowing that something else was going on, but I couldn’t foretell it. I just didn’t see it coming. In the months that followed, I went over those moments on my porch too many times to count, and I don’t know if it was the shock from what Nicole had just told me or the shock from him telling me the truth that prevented it, or what – but I just couldn’t tell what was coming. He asked me to go downstairs to the car with him because he had something to tell me. I followed him, both of us very quiet as we walked down the grey concrete driveway to his car. With each step, the air between us got heavier and, although I wanted to ask him what it was, I couldn’t talk. I could barely breathe. I couldn’t understand why I suddenly felt that way, or why I felt like I didn’t have the privilege of being upset about what Nicole told me; why I needed to reserve my energy. We reached the car and he held my hand, his eyes fixed at some point below my chin. He asked me to remember that he loved me, that he would never love anyone as much as he loved me, and that he was sorry. I looked at him, feeling confused and suddenly deprived of air, like something large had leaned on my chest; sensing that the atmosphere, as bad as it was, had already changed and was about to get a lot worse. Before I could understand these thoughts, he tried to hug me, and then started saying something about wanting to hold me for the last time.
That did it. It was just too much. That over-the-top drama, born of our relationship’s theme, did what the heavy atmosphere had so far prevented.
Immediately incensed and re-energized, I ripped my arm away from him. I felt furious and unsure and hated the combination; I hated this feeling of being in a play I hadn’t rehearsed for.
“Just stop it and tell me what you have to say,” I hissed. His eyes dropped lower and he mumbled the five words that changed the course of my life.
“I had sex with somebody,” he said. And then, he looked straight at me. That got me more than anything else. Like, I would think that he would have the decency to look away, to grovel, eat dirt, roll over, play dead. Something.
But it is what it is.
There are always more details, and most of them I remember in living colour: the surreal calm that came over me as I asked questions I didn’t want answered; the matter-of-fact way he shared the details of their encounter (including date and ball park time, if you please and thank you very much), the way his face stayed blank as he was breaking my heart, the loud roar of the engines of vehicles that passed up and down the hill at the end of my street, my instant, vicious resentment of those vehicles for contributing to the soundtrack of my heartbreak, the threats and uncharacteristic words I used to ask him to leave my yard, the porch steps blurring and rippling as I tried to climb them without stumbling, the thud of my slammed front door that was really the sound of finality, the amazement that I could produce so many tears.
But the details don’t change the outcome. I’ve learned that. No matter how you autopsy and pick at them, the details don’t change the outcome. He did what he did and when all the smoke cleared, I would find out that that’s all that mattered. Not the betrayal, not the lies, not the how or the when. Just what he did, and ultimately, what I was going to do about it…