It was pretty elementary—the way he told me—I couldn’t quite pin-point the day. But I more than knew all of his outfits and mannerisms. I’m sure I could recreate the moment in my brain a thousand times over.
I’d claim a warm Sunday in March when we’d be walking out of church. He’d grab my waist and pull me in on his left with his chevy keys in his right. We’d crawl in the car—me wearing my sheer, flowery maxi-dress, which revealed my consistent effort to maintain a modest image at our predominantly Black church where his parents often attended. I’ll never forget how equally distributed their critical looks were upon me. He’s not his parents, I’d tell myself.
A soft, plaid button-down would scroll down his shoulders and stretch across his chest just before relaxing at the meeting of each worn button. We’d be on our way to a chicken-and-waffles brunch at Tenn16 when he’d lean over, subtly reach for my knee, and whisper “I love you” with a gentle kiss to my cheek.
Or maybe it’d be on a lazy but suddenly romantic day where we’d both skip class to spend the morning, then afternoon to evening, lightly tangled and sheltered by cotton sheets and the quiet company of Breaking Bad, Scandal, or any of the other ten shows we must have gone through in those days where we’d prioritize Netflix, sleep, and each other over any other important aspect of our day. I’d fall asleep by his side only to awaken to him tickling my shoulder with the tips of his fingers and telling my neck of his love.
We had to have told each other a hundred times—the desire to say it, an effort to seamlessly define the feeling we felt. We lived in our own world—a world where all that mattered was the defining of ourselves, the sheltering of our bodies, and the fantasy of a romantic emotional rollercoaster. We constructed our concept of love through days brimming with affection—hands held, gowned-down, and draped in passionate gestures—and nights flooded with curse words, tears chasing down my face, and the knuckles of his fist hitting the frame of my 2-door jeep wrangler. Every piece of my personality was at the mercy of his criticism, and whatever might be leftover was the responsibility of my own sanity to recover.
We blazed a year and a half of my four best years away, fooling around and calling each other names. So much time was consumed with him in my head, in my car, and in the folds of my Target brand sheets. Frustration encompassed my fists as I punched the concrete walls of the garage after I’d leave him alone in that worn-down jeep with his thoughts, anger, and unclear intent in tearing me down. The illusion of appreciation and respect clouded my understanding of who I was, what I was worth. Even now, I don’t have to see him with my faded blue eyes to feel like he’s present. His words—they haunt me.
He broke me—took everything I ever believed in and stole it from the palms of my hands as I knelt on the floor of that church. He ripped my identity from me—exercised his control over who I could be and where my potential lies. The slightest opinionated expression on his baby-face shattered my confidence, and despite the fear and anxiety his anger left in the pit of my stomach, I held on to the chicken-and-waffles after church, lazy days, and “I love you’s”.
There’s this song I listen to sometimes. The lyrics read, “Sometimes my hands—they don’t feel like my own. I need someone to love. I need someone to hold.” And that’s the place I live now.