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The Path: Updates, Journey & History

The Writer's Corner - The Breach, Chapters 1 - 12

Image: Patrick Fore

(Note: You can skip to the Book Content & Chapter Links if you've read the post).

The Writer's Corner is an exciting new writing space I created to share chapters of my books in progress. I decided to post these on my website because of my need to continue my journey with these projects and edit, work, and re-work them for publication.

Including them in my scheduled work reality assures that they will start getting the much-needed attention they deserve and will satisfy my need to move forward with them.

So, why post them here if the reason and goal are personal?

Well, the thing about my writing and what I choose to write about is that it will always be about Love––which is the purpose of my work and how I connect with the world. I write to learn, first and foremost, and to teach. In doing so, I uncover more profound discoveries into what I know to upgrade my growth. Also, I want to explore and share the new things that only come to light once I write about them.

For example, in the book I'm starting with, entitled 'The Breach,' I write about my need to take a close look at––in an attempt to understand––the history of my romantic and love relationships. My experience of that aspect of my life has always been tumultuous, confusing, and deeply unsatisfying. I could barely grasp the meaning or purpose intimate relationships should play in my life.

Yes, I know what they appeared to be and do for other people, but that outcome never happened to me. Nothing sustainable, nothing lasting, just a series of dramatic occurrences that left my heart bruised, battered, and confused. And trust me, in all cases, I gave as little (or bad) as I got.

This book is not me looking at myself through the powerless lens of victimhood; on the contrary, my sole intention for undertaking this walk down the memory lane of my love life is to search and take responsibility for how I showed up and what I did in reaction to my injury to steer, even guide, the relationship to its inevitable demise.

On The Path, in recent months, we have done extensive and intensive work on the relationship reality and how to grow new roots and build healthy, balanced relationships in Love. This written clean-up expedition ensured that I cleared away all the leftover and hidden debris from my past to free myself from anything that would hold me back or keep me tethered to my old relationship injury.

Needless to say, as it is with any creative endeavor that requires self-exploration, I learned a great deal more than I knew about myself, my partners, and the nature of the internal wiring and familial and generational injury that guaranteed and delivered my failure to succeed in my relationships, as if on cue. It was a battle I would never win and a war waged by circumstances over which I had little to no control.

I hope that sharing my experience will lighten up some of the dark corners of your own. I find it always helpful when we can see that we are not alone. There is always someone who can commiserate with empathetic assurance, "Damn, I've been there.I know what you mean!"

What you'll be reading is my first edit of the book. However, I am the only one who has to work here; nothing is expected of you except to read, reflect, and comment if you choose.

Thank you for inspiring me to dive in and get on with my book-writing journey!

With Love,

Melana ~


Book Content & Chapter Links

The Breach

When Love, Relationship & Childhood Sexual Abuse Collide

Melana Plains

© 2023 Melana Plains 

All Rights Reserved


Part One

First: Know Thyself

      “What The Hell Happened To Me?”



'There's something wrong with her.”

I overheard my Boyfriend’s attempt to whisper to his Brother.

Grant it, my Boyfriend, had just received the news that I had slept with said Brother a few nights before. The day after that happened, my Boyfriend surprisingly declared his love for me (of course, without knowing about his Brother and me). His love was all I had hoped for. He even asked if I would marry him––he would do anything I wanted if I promised to let him come back. He had broken up with me recently and was now pleading to return to my heart and my life.

You must understand. I was head over heels in love with this man. He was my prince. When he said we should see other people, I was heartbroken. I would have done anything to hear him say, "I love you!" Now, when he finally said it, I had already slept with his Brother.

Though shocked to have overheard his thoughts about me, I could not argue with his assessment of my behavior.

I mean, I loved this man––but I slept with his Brother!

Who does that?



Who Are You? Do You Know?

For me, that is not a trick question––but a real one.

I know that it's real because it's one that I've asked myself and grappled with repeatedly in my life. First, in my early years of confusion about my place in my family and, thus, the world, I was too young to understand that's what I needed to know. Then, later, when I attempted to be the acceptable and normal me in the world, I kept tripping over that unanswered question as I grew into adulthood.

It was when I got older that I realized that although I knew I was a human being, I knew little else about who I was as a person. Before I could even find the most basic and foundational answer to that question, another more pressing, distressful, and urgent matter drove the narrative of my life:

How did I get like this?

What made me into who I am? Why am I not okay? It was then that I realized that deep down inside, I knew something wasn't quite right with me. Something felt broken inside. I didn't know what that meant or anything about it; I only knew I could feel it.

On a functional level, I was okay; nothing much out of the ordinary. Making my way in life as best I could, out of high school into jobs and attending college part-time. You see, my real story––who I was and what happened to me––had nothing to do with what I was doing. It was about who I was, the person who showed up in all the moments of my life.

If I had known how to stop and take the time to assess my inner situation––because that's where this dark disturbance I felt lived and grew––I may have discovered why I was so wrong inside. A darkness that raged with flames of hurt and pain no one else could feel or see. I smiled a lot in those days. Warm, courteous, and caring of others, how could anyone even have suspected that beneath all the coping charm I exuded, inside, I was screaming, burning up to death, and slowly dying?

Here's the thing. My life continued like that throughout my twenties and into my thirties without relief, cessation, or solutions. It still confounds me how I could live and carry on a life in that state. We human beings are amazing creatures. Even with our insides torn up, our wiring all mismatched, and our hearts consumed by unbearable pain and grief from the loss of a self we never got to know, we still carry on.

Even though I didn't know myself, I still didn't like who I was. But I wanted to; I just didn't know how or why I didn't. I was a good girl, I was. What had I done so wrongly to justify my inability to forgive myself? What was there to forgive? I knew I had done something wrong but didn't know what. It was an untenable and impossible situation to navigate. Inevitably, one day, I decided to stop trying and put an end to the madness and my life.

Many years later, I am still alive and strong, so obviously––and gratefully, things didn't end there. I could say that with age came wisdom, but that's not necessarily true. The truth is that were I built differently, less sensitive, and, thus, less aware or concerned with what was happening in my inner world, I may have remained unaware of what was brewing inside.

We don't automatically know more about everything because we spend more years on this journey. Whether driven almost to madness by the need for answers or blithely living with a benign unawareness of unanswered questions, we all need to know who we are inside. Who is in the driver's seat of our life, and why are we even here? Why do we behave the way we do, and what impact do we have on ourselves, our lives, and other human beings? Are we friendly navigators in this life, staying in our lane and driving safely? What did I discover about myself that kept me from dying and made me want to live?

Well, first, I found out that I wasn't alone and the only one who felt that way that I did. In fact, on one level or another, we all experience things in the early years of our lives that we don't understand and cannot account for. Things happen when we are young that we cannot control, but they can significantly impact us. Because we are so malleable and formative at that time, these events, situations, or encounters blend in with all the other elements of our upbringing and shape our personalities, behaviors, and sense of who we are.

If these things are positive and life-affirming, they will positively influence our perception of ourselves and life. However, if they are harmful and destructive, they will steer us into a darker experience of ourselves and our lives. No one ever gets just one or the other. We will all encounter both, no matter how much dark or light dominates our experiences. There is light and dark in every moment. The balance of the two makes it possible to survive and thrive as a human being.

Physical and emotional abuse dominated the reality of my childhood. There were certain behaviors and responses to my life issues that I could track back to what I endured at the hands of my father when I was growing up. Those encounters with his bullied whippings and emotional lashings always left me feeling unnerved, rattled, and ashamed.

I didn't blame myself for his anger and rage, but I suffered because of it. Without knowing or understanding––as I did in later years––why he behaved that way, I decided he was a mean and miserable person. I never understood then why my mom would always take him back after their numerous separations. He never changed, not even a little bit.

He was a big problem for me growing up, and our relationship misshaped and distorted my future interactions with the boys and men in my life. Though my father's violent abuse contributed to the broken damage festering inside of me, it was only part of the reason why I was so desperately uncomfortable in my skin.

Dealing with these issues in my healing process still didn't erase the icky-sticky feeling of disease and unwellness that stuck inside of me like glue. It was that lingering malaise that would constantly upend all my attempts at finding a solid place within myself to be okay with me.

Years and years of spiritual work could not erase or heal what I later termed 'The Breach' that existed in my being. It felt like something foreign had wormed inside me, but I didn't know how it got there or what it was. That is, until, one day, I remembered.

Oddly enough, I had known all along what happened to me. I didn't think that it was the devastating, deep-rooted cause of all my misery and despair. What I remembered is that I never knew that childhood sexual abuse had almost destroyed both me and my life.

The impact of sexual abuse and sexualization on a child can––if left to its long-term effects––be irreparable and life-destroying when that child becomes an adult. This uninvited invasion of a child's trust and innocence becomes the silent annihilator that destroys the spirit, dismantles the power, and obliterates the sense of self-value and worth of this precious human being. Some families openly acknowledge it as a terrible act and seek legal remedies to punish the offender. That was the response in my situation.

My step-grandfather was removed from his home and sent to prison for a time. And no adult in my immediate or extended family said or did anything more about it. For them, the incident was over. For us children who endured my step-grandfather's egregious acts, our nightmare was only beginning.

Perhaps because no one ever asked me how I felt in its aftermath, I innocently and readily assumed that there weren't any feelings to explore. At the age of 4 years, what else could you think when you were too young even to register what had occurred? When I was a little older, although I had tell-tale signs of something being amiss, my parents never made the connection that the current behavior was a result of the sexual abuse.

Instead of asking me how I felt (which would never happen), my father launched an over-zealous campaign of sexual gatekeeping and hyper-vigilant watchfulness over every aspect of my life. Somehow, in his mind, I was no longer the victim but had now become the perpetrator of engaging in future sexual misdeeds. Now, in his eyes, every boy or man became my step-grandfather, and instead of being the prey, I was now a co-conspirator.

From the age of 5 years until my 18th birthday, my father never took his eyes off of me. For me, it was like being reminded every day of my life of my abuse. My father raged at me for it happening, at every boy who came anywhere near me, and at himself for failing to protect me.

But, because neither he nor my mother could anticipate or foresee the future impact all of this would have on me, I, along with them, ignored then buried any inkling or understanding of what was in store for me and my sexuality. And, if I knew, what was I supposed to do with it after that?



So, Who Would Sleep With Their Boyfriend's Brother?

Well, only someone like me, broken and wrong inside, and with no sense of, or power to uphold, appropriate sexual boundaries to prevent such a thoughtless and hurtful act from happening. Someone like me who never wanted sex alone but wanted to be loved and believed that sex was the ultimate doorway to love.

I believed that if compatible and passionate sex was the pursued outcome of a man that I had spent long hours pining over, it was a clear and specific indication that we were (or at least I was) in love. Love (or the promise of it) and sex were a package deal for me; I could not, in heart or mind, separate the two.

In my Boyfriend's case, mutually smitten would describe the first time we looked at each other. Him, sexually, and me in a heart-spinning swoon. The very sight of him took my breath away. I was invited to a party at his house by my friend, the wife of Brother 2 (a different one from the brother I slept with, Brother 1). Real talk: he had a handful of brothers.

Now, let me set the scene for you.

We arrived at the party early, and my Boyfriend and I were immediately introduced. We spent the next few hours in a flirtatious whirlwind, dancing with and around each other in a blissful trance––until the doorbell rang. He waltzed over to answer it and moments later returned with another woman on his arm. It was his girlfriend. His girlfriend?!? What?!? That moment of panic when you feel your throat drop into your stomach and all your organs are on the move, forgetting their proper places in your anatomy, was happening inside when he calmly introduced her to me, my friend, and Brother 2.

My Boyfriend handily switched gears without a blink, and now he was hers, and we were, basically––not. Imagine thinking for a few miraculous hours that you had finally met 'the one.' Tall (my father was tall, so I didn't do tall men, but he was the exception), handsome, with a full-lipped mouth and a generous smile featuring a slight gap in his two front teeth. A European air and a low-hip swagger made watching him walk across the room in a pair of jeans such a mood. Watching him walk away from me, his arm tucked around her waist was also a mood––a sad and shocked one. Shortly after the girlfriend experience, my friend, Brother 2, and I left the party.

With the help of a glass of wine or two prior, I sobbed uncontrollably the whole way home. I honestly didn't understand the depth of what I was feeling. Mainly because, although I could fall pretty hard for men in the romantic phase of an encounter, somewhere deep inside me, there was an 'off' switch I could use when I was ready for the madness to stop.

No, not in the beginning. In those early throes of love, I was all-in and as neurotic and turned around as the next person on the ride. And, although I couldn't feel it at the time, there were memory cells that I held that knew I would ride the ride, but I would never take that flying leap of faith that most lasting relationships require.

Thanks to my father and step-grandfather, though I needed a man (I believed at that time) for love, they were not my friends––and they could never trust me to be theirs. It wasn't as cold and calculated as it sounds now. When all of it was beginning, I truly believed I was all in. I was unaware (until many years later) of the machinery churning away within that would implement the 'off' switch at just the right time. That time was when I subconsciously suspected I was about to get what I desired.

When I slept with Brother 1, though I was consciously unaware of it, that time for my Boyfriend and me was near at hand; like a drowning man, he was in a fight for his singular, uncommitted life. He would not go quietly, obedient, and well-behaved into a life with me––indeed, not without a fight.

After all, he was a White boy from Minnesota with White boy dreams. Believe me when I say those did not include falling in love with a Black woman. Yes, I was his passion, but not his dream. We were living in Berkeley, California, then, and anything seemed possible. Many who were drawn there came to experience an alternative, more open life reality––him included. And Brother 2's wife, my friend, was a Black Native American woman, so crossing that line was already in the family.

After the girlfriend had unexpectedly gone home early, prompted by my Boyfriend being distracted by the earlier events of the evening, and once the party had ended, I returned to his house. That happened because I got his number from Brother 2 on the way home. He would have done anything to stop my endless flow of tears and to make up for what he considered his brother's insensitive behavior.

When they dropped me off, I ran into my house, woke up my roommate and best friend, and poured out all the sorry (but somehow tingling and delightful, too) details of the evening. I could not sleep; I could barely breathe. I hadn't felt such do-or-die angst since I was a teenager; I was out of my mind with grief and desire.

So, I called him up. I needed to know if I had misread the room and if none of what I thought was happening between us had happened. I could not sleep without pleading my case, and if letting go had to happen, I wanted to rip the band-aid off that night. I could not fathom sleeping and waking up in this plummeting state of despair with no idea of where I was going to land.

Gratefully, he invited me over to talk about it. Unsurprisingly, given the intensity of our attraction, I spent the night with him. We succumbed to the passions that sealed our fate and set us on the uncharted course of a new relationship. I was stone-cold in love with him. No doubt. He had betrayed his girlfriend and knew this was the beginning of the end of their bond. My Boyfriend genuinely liked her; she was more his ideal and aesthetic. And he was sad to let her go. But, he also knew that he was as obsessed as I was with us, and it was pointless to try and deny it––although he kept trying.

We wooed each other in the coming months, me writing poetry highlighting my 'witchy woman ways' and how they would trump all of his efforts to deny his love for me. He would invite me to Japanese brunch and attempt to intimidate and unnerve me with his worldly charm, knowledge, and presence. He was truly arrogant but with good reason. He could sell it, and I didn't hate him for it. It was primarily why I found him so enchanting. Trust me, it wasn't a healthy response.

And, here we go again: my father was tall, charming, and arrogant. In hindsight, seeing how all the red flags kept adding up is such a revelation. At the time when it would have served me well to be aware of what I was doing, I couldn't see any of it.



The Bed You Lie In Is The Bed You Make––Or Is It?

My nightmare relationship with my abusive father and the sexual abuse at the hands of my step-grandfather had become an integral part of not only the man I chose but the dream relationship package that I so readily embraced as my own. My father fought my mother for his freedom. When she sent him away, he always came back. In the same way, my Boyfriend fought me for his freedom, and when I acquiesced and let him go, he returned (not changed) but declared himself more in love than before. And so, the die was cast. Even as he ran from me, he was becoming mine.

Oddly enough, I did not know this at the time. I took my Boyfriend at his word that we were over. After he had announced to his close inner circle that we were on permanent pause, my friend and Brother 2 invited me to another outing. This one was to dinner at Brother 1's house (the one I slept with––this was before I slept with him). They thought it best that I accept the end of my relationship with my Boyfriend, who everyone (including his brothers) thought was being a jerk.

They all concluded I was a find and deserved someone to love me. And, if my Boyfriend couldn't see or do it, I should just let him go. But, I was in love and genuinely bereft of my loss of him. I never once stopped thinking I could watch him walk across a room, low-hip in jeans, for the rest of my life. I could not imagine losing him, and yet, it seemed as if it was so. Reluctantly, I accepted their invitation to dinner at Brother 1's house.

He was a Virgo, just like my Boyfriend. I wished I had known the 'thing' I had for Virgos. With my moon and north node firmly placed in this sign, I was a Virgo magnet. So, right off the bat, he and I were drawn to each other in a low-key, magical way. He was the epitome of low-key. Quiet, unassuming, but with a wise and discerning presence. Broad shoulders, handsome, with eyes that twinkled when he smiled, he brought peace to my troubled heart, and his easy laughter and warmth made me feel safe.

We sat next to each other at dinner at a picnic table with benches. Brother 1's nearness held me in an unspoken embrace, and I felt myself inwardly leaning on him for comfort and support. He was amiable and easygoing, which was such a change and relief from the constant tug-of-war I had been having with my Boyfriend over the state and status of our relationship.

With the help of yet another glass of wine (I was late in learning that wine was not my friend in certain situations), I allowed my Boyfriend's Brother to kiss me in a moment of uninhibited laughter and a sharing of ideas. Wait!?! What was happening!?! The next moment after he did it, I excused myself and hurried to the bathroom to hide and freak out. My friend, who witnessed the event, followed behind me. There I was, crying again (gosh, I cried a lot in those days!).

"He kissed me! I let him kiss me!" I blurted this out in shock and dismay. "Why did I do that?" That's my Boyfriend's Brother, for Christ's sake!"

My friend did not seem bothered at all by what had happened. She thought it was a good thing. In her assessment, Brother 1 was much nicer than my Boyfriend, and we seemed good together. She and her husband (Brother 2) had invited me to dinner, hoping we would like each other. And, although Brother 1 knew something of my involvement with his Brother, my Boyfriend, he wasn't prepared to let it stop him from pursuing me.

Later, when things got heated between them over me, I discovered the competitive, on-edge, sometimes angry nature of the two brothers' relationship. Brother 1 didn't hesitate to take my Boyfriend's word that it was over between us and behaved accordingly.

Out of all the informed parties of my situation with my Boyfriend, I was the most knowledgeable and, therefore, the most irresponsible present. My Boyfriend always carried himself with an air of distant, inaccessible intelligence that always seemed to hover above the heads of those he knew and hung out with. It was tolerated by some and envied by others because he was also self-possessed and sharp-witted. It was, again, a good fit for him, and he wore it well.

He also generally approached the women he encountered in that same distant way. However, if he was interested in you, he made sure you knew it––but not necessarily everyone else. He was a cool player and did not wear his heart on his sleeve. He kept his internal matters to himself, leaving everyone (and sometimes, you) guessing how he felt. So, despite those close in assuring me that my interest in Brother 1 was acceptable and above board, my heart was screaming at me that it wasn't so––not in the least bit.

Once again, my father enters the picture on this score. Sensing that despite how my father mistreated me, his feelings for me were deep and complex in ways I could never comprehend or understand, I intuitively knew that my Boyfriend and I had not finished with each other––or he had not finished with me. Sure, he wanted to be, and if it killed him, he would make a gallant effort to keep his word to himself that he was. On the surface, it looked as if he was winning.

I had recently attended an affair to which my Boyfriend and I were both invited, and he showed up with another Black woman on his arm. Rightfully so, I was not happy about this. But I also knew he knew I would be there and made this coupled entrance exclusively for me. We quietly taunted each other on and off the dance floor all evening. I boldly bumped into my Boyfriend and his temporary lady on purpose and sweetly smiled my apologies for having two left feet. My fake smile was as sincere as his uninspired attempt at making me jealous.

My Boyfriend was not the least interested in being with a Black woman; to him, it was a choice that did not align with his vision of his life story. It was also a complication he didn't feel he had the mettle to deal with. He wasn't a racist; he was a pragmatist. The minute I saw the color of her skin, I knew she was there for my benefit.

They were both tall, leggy creatures, and with her model looks, they looked stunning together. She seemed really into him, and for a moment, I felt terrible for her and angry with him for putting her in the middle of this messy game we were playing. Several times during the evening, I caught her eyeing me with curious suspicion. She knew something was amiss, and she wasn't pleased or amused. Although I was loathe to admit it because I didn't know how to face it or what to do with it, my Boyfriend could be cruel. That evening, staring back at her, I was uneasily reminded yet unwilling to accept this painful truth.

As I stood in Brother 1's bathroom, crying my eyes out and already filled with regret for what I knew I was about to do, I allowed my heart and actions to be swayed by the group's opinion. My Boyfriend and I had broken up, and I needed to move on with my life and love. Even if that meant sleeping with his Brother, which I did that night after the rest of the dinner guests had left. Knowing what I knew about my Boyfriend's hidden heart and the feelings he held at bay, was I acting out of my hidden cruel streak?

Even while weeping in sadness, did I also savor the cold, hard slap in the face and blow this brutal act would deliver to his ego? His showing up at the party with someone he was not serious about was child's play compared to the hand I was about to reveal. And, he would never see it coming––how could he?

The one thing I knew he was sure of and grappling with how to deal with was the power of the love I held for him. He was drawn to it, mesmerized like a moth to a flame. I watched him struggle so hard to have it and fight it simultaneously. And, yet, I would not help him break free of me; I couldn't. I was deeply in love. So, how could I choose to sleep with his brother in the face of that kind of love?

'There's something wrong with her," my Boyfriend later whispered to Brother 1 after I told him I had slept with him. He was devastated, heartbroken, and absolutely correct. My Boyfriend saw the bright red flag of my sexual abuse and sought to name it. He knew he wasn't mistaken about my love for him; he had experienced it profoundly and intimately. He was also sure that although he believed himself to be a master of disguise, I knew that he felt the same, no matter what he said or how he behaved to the contrary.

In the end, he never planned to end us or give me up. He was testing us––himself, me, and the relationship––to see if what he wanted in his heart would work. This breakup was only a time-out between the end of one phase and the beginning of another. My Boyfriend was secretly planning to make our relationship a more permanent one.

One of the many things I later discovered about my childhood sexual abuse was that it created a disconnect in the authentic connection between my heart and my sexuality––and replaced it with a false and distorted one. That disconnection and violation of both human and spiritual law is what I began to call 'the breach.' It was the time when my step-grandfather's egregious behavior broke the law and me with it.

Stimulated solely by my emotions, this wounded place within me of sexual actions and reactions had no relationship to or guidance from my heart. I believe that the reality of a woman as a 'whore' is a state of being and a behavior whose roots grew out of being sexually abused and sexualized as a child. Such a violent act disempowers a child's ability to learn, when growing up, how to make sound, self-loving sexual choices.

A child's first response to its sexuality––because of the abuse––is stimulated from outside of the self instead of from within. The inner wiring and timer for when one's sexuality is ready to unfold have been interfered with and essentially broken. It thus becomes a wild card living inside of you, waiting for someone or something outside of you to trigger its' inception.

You have no idea or control, not only over what, when, or how it will happen but also over whether or not or how to respond. The mechanism that governs choice is damaged, and you lack the intuitive ability to sense when you should say "No." So, "Yes." becomes the silent, unspoken response to a question you never learned how to answer or feel the truth of its meaning in your heart.

The other misguided component to this 'breach' redesign of my sexuality was my mistaken belief that sex was always an act of love. From a child's point of view, if the person delivering the sexual abuse is someone of authority who hides their actions behind a veil of kindness and caring without outwardly frightening the child, they have no immediate way of comprehending the danger or wrongness of the act.

I remember feeling 'off,' in some way, but I was too young to connect what had happened to what I felt. As I got older, I became more aware of my prickly discomfort with anything of a sexual nature. It felt like a forbidden, dark hole I longed to escape. But then puberty's arrival pushed my sexual feelings to the forefront of my body, mind, and life.


With my stalwart conviction to remain a virgin until I married, I have the Catholic church and an all-girl Catholic high school I attended to thank for that. Coupled with my father's relentless stalking of my comings and goings, they protected me from the after-effects of 'the breach'––and my broken nature.

That is, until my 17th year when, out of the church's and my father's reach and peering eyes, I dropped acid and lost my virginity to a 19-year-old wandering troubadour-revolutionary poet of mixed heritage, whose cold blue eyes and creamy brown skin took my breath away––and stole both my heart and my virginity without ever asking. He rightly assumed that he could.

Without my father or the church's diligent presence to speak on my behalf, all alone, I didn't know how to say no. It wasn't like the fresh boys in my neighborhood who tried to run their hands up your dress on the playground. That was just bad form, and in my indignant response to their unwanted familiarity with me, I had no problem dismissing them. But you see when it was a grown-up boy who had won my heart, giving the rest of myself seemed like the only right thing to do because he wanted to, and that was all it took. Suffering the after-effects of a bad acid trip, I don't remember wanting to, but like when I was a child, the choice did not seem like it was mine to make.

And, so, he took my virginity and left me pregnant in return. That was the first time I paid dearly for having been sexually abused and lacking the ability to protect myself with my right and voice to have a say in what happened to my sexuality and my life. The second payment came in the form of an illegal abortion that went very wrong and nearly took my life. Those events were only the primary fallout.

The secondary upheavals came in the form of my father's absolute hatred and disgust for what I had done. The coldness he showered on me after learning of my profound betrayal of him and his trust was unbearable. He treated me like I was no longer someone he wanted anything to do with. Everything I suffered to try and fix my mistake only served to make him colder while reminding me I deserved everything I got for what I had done.

When it became apparent, by my high fever and near loss of consciousness, that the illegal abortion he set up for me had gone afoul of its intended design, my father stared blankly and immovable at the world series on the television screen while ignoring my mother's desperate pleas for him to drive me to the hospital.

With his newest Cadillac sitting out in front of our apartment building, he was well-equipped to handle this situation. But his palpable rage was so out of control that instead of helping me, he struck my mother until she fell to the floor. He then proceeded to sit back down and stare at the television screen.



Are Broken Princesses Doomed To Break The Hearts Of The Princes They Love?

Spending the night with my Boyfriend's Brother was emotional and life-altering for us both. He was ending a months-long celibacy journey following the breakup of a marriage. I was treading on dangerous ground with him amid the breakup of my relationship with his Brother, which threatened to upend my entire life. There were shared tears of the release of pent-up emotion and mutual gratitude for being safely held and comforted in another's arms.

Were it not for my unsettled mind and anxious heart, I would have completely surrendered myself to this different feeling of acceptance in love. He wasn't fighting himself to be with me; he wanted to be there. I remember staring at the blissful look and the remnants of a smile on his face as he fell asleep, noticing that even closed and resting, his eyes still twinkled.

Before I left his house the following day, Brother 1 invited me to a potluck he and his housemates had planned for later that afternoon. From the caring way he approached me, I could sense that he felt ours was a budding relationship he wanted to feed, nurture, and explore. As I walked through the motions with him, trying to respond in kind and showing up as best I could, I felt that all of this was happening to someone else––someone connected to me but not the real, original me. It was like an offshoot, a splitting off of the person I was supposed to be who decided to take an entirely different approach to dealing with the breakup with my Boyfriend.

Before sleeping with Brother 1, the last thing on my mind or in my intentions was to start a new relationship with another man––and most certainly not the Brother of the man I loved. The whole idea, unconnected to the event that had just occurred, sounded ludicrous and unrealistic, something you would see in a wacky rom-com movie. What person, without the intention of causing severe distress and even harm to another, would choose to sleep with that person's sibling? How could such an act ever be considered even remotely innocent?

Yet, something else about my interactions with people (aside from this recent infraction) could also have been considered 'wrong.' I say 'could have been' because I'm unsure where this other behavior originated. It was a genuine and unfettered innocence I applied to any situation almost as a matter of routine. It was as if something within me would rise above the darkness, the madness, and the chaos of people and life, allowing me to traverse any circumstance, regardless of its uncertainty or perceived danger, as if it were, perhaps, meant to occur because I could handle it by adjusting my perception of reality to accommodate and navigate any unfolding situation.

 I do not know if this was an innate ability I was born with or a learned way of numbing myself to the impact of hurt and pain that emerged from the debris of my childhood and sexual abuse. When I would calmly show up for my friends in whatever tense or difficult life situations they were in––soothing them and lighting the way for the possibility of their recovery––it felt like the magical version of me.

When, after facing my doubts and regrets, I calmly chose to sleep with my Boyfriend's Brother, it felt like disassociation and an inability to set boundaries for myself in my behavior towards others. Or maybe it was just when I applied my 'magical' ability to calm any self-induced storm on my horizon––by enduring and riding the wave of the ensuing chaos it would bring––it felt more like being able to overcome any obstacle life put in my way––even if I put it there.

In either case, still operating from a fractured and unreliable 'No.' filter or response, I agreed to come to my Boyfriend's Brother's potluck and bring my two-year-old son. And, yes, since having my son involved me being with a man, there is a story about my relationship with his father. I realize now I have so many strange and unusual encounters and life stories about men. I didn't understand until later in life that because of the inner branding of a sexual violation and fatherly abuse, there would never be a happy-ever-after scenario for me. My stories would have no princess and knight in shining armor outcome.

The immediate and first assessment from that statement is that I was tarnished goods, and because of that, I had forfeited my chance to be chosen and loved. That was undoubtedly an operating factor in my life design: having the unholy misfortune of being sexually abused as a child. My Boyfriend told his Brother, "There's something wrong with her." And there it was: the damage report. She's a bad apple; do not choose her.

But check this out. Some of the princes did show up. My Boyfriend was one of them. He was a White male, one of the golden boys of our world. With strong family roots and a sure-footed sense of himself and his place in life, he could do and become anything he desired. The world was his oyster, and he knew it. Which, again, was why setting his sights on a Black woman to share his life with was so problematic. He did not believe himself to be built or prepared for the complications it would bring to his life. But, as I stated earlier, he was fast losing this battle. And, with one last stronghold of resistance, he was preparing himself to surrender to the inevitable longing of his heart. That was until he discovered what I had done and the truth of who and what I was.

Here's another thing. When the princes showed up offering me the potential of the dream-come-true relationship-life, I inevitably found a way to sabotage and destroy––not only the union––but, for good measure, the heart of the man who dared to believe he could love me and that I was worth loving. One could say that it was obviously because of the earlier tainting of my future womanhood which left me believing––with no room for doubt––that I was undeserving of the happiness and fulfillment that the truly good girls could have.

They were the unblemished ones who may have experienced other types of childhood distress and mayhem growing up, but they did not bear the scarlet letter of the breach. Or, if they suffered sexual abuse, they grew up in a supportive, loving family that sought to shelter and protect them from its adverse effects by raising them with a constantly reinforced belief that they were as worthy as any other girl of dreaming big and having them come true.

Growing up in a household such as mine compounded the damage already done to my broken spirit. There was no attention to my recovery or the impact my experience would have on my sense of self as I grew up into womanhood. My parents left my heart and my sexuality for dead––and my father almost succeeded in allowing my body to die, too. When someone who is supposed to love you throws you, body and soul. to the wolves the way my father did to me, you neither forget nor forgive.

We once went as a family to therapy to address my mother's deteriorating mental health. This crisis was brought on by her undergoing a total hysterectomy and neglecting to take the necessary hormonal therapy to offset its aftereffects. It was that, but my father also rejected her after the surgery, accusing her of being less of a woman because her womanly organs were removed. My father was the gift of darkness that relentlessly kept giving even after his death.

In front of the therapist, my mother, sister, and brother, I blurted out a burning question directly to my father, one I had been holding in until I couldn't anymore, "Why were you going to let me die, instead of taking me to the hospital?" Why did you do that?" My father sat and glared at me, stunned. No one in their right mind in my family would ever confront my father openly to his face and within striking distance.

Everyone was silent, watching, including the therapist. I stared back at my father, shaking, tears running down my cheeks. Suddenly, my father stood up and bolted for the door. The tearful words I shouted after him landed precisely on his fast-disappearing back as he hurriedly strode out of the room, "Why did you do that? Why were you going to let me die?"

Many years had passed before I saw or heard from my father again. Perhaps, if he had even bothered to attempt to answer my distraught plea with even a semblance of remorse, my heart may have fluttered open enough to accept whatever he offered. And maybe, then, I could have believed that I didn't have to hate him so much after all. And maybe, then, even with all the other abuses he heaped on me over the years, I may have held the tiniest belief that one day I could and would learn how not to hold every man I met accountable for what he did.

You see, this is what my Boyfriend was up against. The legacy of my father and my abuser turned me into an accuser––and punisher––of every man who came into my sphere. Mind you, I did not, at the time, know any of this I am sharing now. I was clueless about the haze of shame, grief, and retribution that darkly stirred within the depths of my womanly being.

On the surface, when hanging with my girlfriends, I would quickly announce that I would never marry a man. I never spoke kindly about them or felt any desire to get to know them as people. But, I never thought of my disdain for them being punitive but more realistic. I would remind my friends that getting married would hold me back and keep me from doing what I wanted with my life. Besides, I never met one smart enough to keep up with me.

Ironically, though, I could still fall deeply in love with them, and once I did and they fell for me, the relationship had to end. I had nothing more to give or get from them other than that. I could never envision or imagine living a life with a man beyond the first throes of romance. I loved the chase. But I never wanted to keep the catch or to be caught myself. Prince charming or not, the same rule applied.

So, I can honestly say that my inability to secure and sustain any relationship was never about lack of opportunity. I had many chances to do it. With marriage proposals, princes sincerely tried to end my declared state of singularity. And each one, in the end, sustained as much or more heartbreak and hurt as the one before. And I never belonged to anyone, not even myself.



Is It Betrayal If Someone Left––But Not Really?

The potluck at my Boyfriend's Brother's house was a backyard gathering with several tables covered with various dishes people brought to share. The day was sunny and warm, and a quiet, murmuring peace filled the air. People stood or sat around in pairs or groups, catching up, laughing, and enjoying the opportunity to be around each other. This outing was the second gathering in as many days that I got to experience in the company of my Boyfriend's Brother. I was struck by the constancy of ease and the quiet, pleasant ambiance that permeated both events.


While my son ran around his spacious yard playing with the other kids who came, my Boyfriend's Brother hung close to me, gently steering me toward certain people he wanted to introduce me to. His way with me was very couple-like. Though I allowed it, I was not on board with his assessment of what transpired between us. Remember, I had only spent time and slept with him the night before! In his defense, I must admit that I am dangerously easy to get close to. Though battered, bruised, and somewhat deranged, my heart was open.

I loved to feel closely connected to people, especially those with whom I felt an intimate bond. There were no apparent walls or barriers one had to transverse to get next to me. I made myself readily available for contact with others mainly because I didn't know how not to; it was a natural and easy way to be for me. And, if I sexually engaged with a man who was already feeling a deep, emotional embrace with me, he usually fell hard and fast. This passionate engagement was how all of my relationships of substance usually began.

That was yet another aspect of my behavior that, at the time, I had not fully assessed or made a claim to. I was just me, doing what I do, and things would happen. I was not self-aware and had little to no understanding of my impact on others. My Boyfriend's Brother was obviously taken with me, and though I liked him a great deal, my mind and heart were wondering what in the world my Boyfriend would think about all of this.

As if on cue in answer to my pondering thoughts, my Boyfriend strolled into the backyard. He wasn't invited or expected, but the Brothers were popular, and word of the potluck reached my Boyfriend's ears; he didn't need an invitation. After all, it was at his Brothers' house. My eyes were immediately drawn to his presence like a magnet. He could walk into any place in the world, and I would be the first to see him. He was that person for me. The one who, no matter what has transpired or how many years have gone by, would forever captivate and enchant me.

Brother 1 was unaware of his Brother's arrival and continued conversing with the people we were standing with. As I watched my Boyfriend coolly scan the various groups scattered about the yard, I felt myself contract inwardly and took the intuitive hint that I should take a few steps away from Brother 1 so we would appear less engaged and coupled. It was only a few moments later that my Boyfriend saw me.

As he walked across to speak, there was a look of surprise on his face, followed by a half-smile and a questioning gaze. What was I doing at his Brother's potluck? If he didn't bring me, who did I come with? Although I had briefly met Brother 1 on several occasions, once in his company, he knew we didn't really know each other or hang out in the same circles. Mind you, since my Boyfriend and I had officially broken up, I assumed he would have to figure out how to extract this information while not appearing to be interested in knowing it. I was wrong.

"Hi. So, what are you doing at my Brother's potluck?"

Fortunately, I didn't have to answer. Brother 1 fielded the question.

"Hey. I invited her," he said casually without further explanation, giving off an oddly protective vibe.

"Oh, I see," my Boyfriend responded, nodding, still without understanding why I was there. He appeared guarded and notably tense. He did not expect to see me there and didn't seem to recover from the surprise quickly.

I flashed a quick, neutral smile, tight with a tinge of sadness, and said nothing as I shifted my gaze from my Boyfriend to perform a visual check-in on my son. He was 'technically' now my ex-boyfriend, so I wasn't obligated to explain anything to him, and so I didn't. I quietly withdrew from the Brothers and played with my little boy.

Inside, my heart was racing. I felt lightheaded, confused, and guilty. The last 24 hours were just one day into this ensuing madness, and the mess already felt like too much. How in the hell did I let this happen? Why didn't I say no to Brother 1's advances at dinner and go home as I intended to? I realized today that I didn't know much about him, only what I had heard and gleaned the night before.

I later learned that he was the Brother with the sterling reputation––responsible, caring, solid character, with two feet on the ground. He had a rather mountain air about him, always dressed in plaid shirts, jeans, and construction boots or Birkenstocks. He was kind and sweet, with a gentle demeanor. What was there not to like about him right off the bat? I found it supremely easy, and I did. In contrast, my Boyfriend lived unapologetically and exuded a brooding mixture of dark and light, wit and mystery, an inaccessible yet captivating puzzle to solve, with an air of if you dare.

Now that he had arrived, I knew it was time for me to gather my things with my son in tow and head home. The potential for even the smallest gesture or look to get weird or go wrong seemed imminent. A cool breeze blew over the yard, dispelling the afternoon warmth that had settled in; I took that change in the temperature as a sure sign that, if I stayed, that coolness would turn into a chilling wind, setting in motion a more revealing look at what was happening between my Boyfriend, his Brother, and me.

I said my goodbyes to both Brothers without incident, lying to my Boyfriend awkwardly, saying that it was good to see him and separately assuring Brother 1 that I would see him at the party later. Yes, another gathering was coming up that evening.

After dinner, bath, and bedtime reading with my son, I dressed and headed to the party with Brother 2 and my girlfriend (his wife). This affair thrown by a major player in our sphere was one of those events that all the other major players––the people with resources, position, community standing, and power––would be attending. My Boyfriend and his Brothers would all be invited, of course. Once again, Brother 2 and his wife had asked me to join them. Also, now that I had connected with Brother 1, he had made sure I knew about it and was planning to come.

My Boyfriend would be there for sure. And, it would be the first very public appearance we would make as an ex-couple––and everyone would now know the tea. One of the reasons I was encouraged to attend was to show all interested parties––with my head held high and a smile on my face––that I had survived the break-up with my very sought-after, now free, ex-boyfriend.

On the surface, it seems like so much small-town drama when I write about it now. But, honestly, at the time, it was the most crucial thing occurring in my life and my world––however narrow my perception of the implications of what it all meant. As I type the details of how emotional and reactive I was, I sometimes revisit the question, "Why are you writing about all of this now, after the many years that have passed since it all happened?" Then, I am reminded that a missing piece of the puzzle of me revealed itself at that time. My behavior had exposed the truth that I was broken, with verifiable proof to support it—laying open a wound I needed to tend to and could no longer ignore.

Thus, I am riveted and fascinated by everything that transpired to deliver me a part of myself that would ultimately allow me to heal. While I'm here, deep in the retelling of what I can remember clearly, I'm moved by the almost innocent and genuine nature of these relationships. How we never intended to hurt each other, but we did. I realize how our lack of awareness of the crooked webs we weave from our broken, fractured hearts blinds our true sense of ourselves and each other and fosters our inability to respect our and each others' hearts, values, and worth.

The party was crowded and dense with warm, mingling bodies in a big house filled to the brim with music, laughter, and conversation circulating through its' many rooms. The mood was high and gay, and I was grateful for the cover it provided me and my circumstances.

As I passed through the archway of the high-ceilinged kitchen on my way to the back patio, I spotted my Boyfriend holding court and chatting amiably with a small group of his male friends gathered around the island in the kitchen's center. I caught his eye briefly as he registered my presence, quickly blinked my image away, and continued to discourse with the others. I ignored him and his discourse and headed to the outside area to grab a drink and meet up with Brother 1, who was waiting there for me.

I was operating on auto-pilot. Putting one foot in front of the other, hoping that solid ground would meet each foot as it landed. I did not know what I was doing and where this was all going next. I was annoyed with my Boyfriend and his openly dismissive treatment of me, despite knowing I had ample warning from my girlfriend and Brother 2 to prepare myself for how he would show up. Although he deigned to speak to me at the potluck––primarily out of curiosity as to why I was there––as they anticipated, his break-up mode would be in full effect at the party––which meant strategically ignoring me.

His peers, who held high marks in his world and mattered the most to him, would be present. They, very much like him, were highly self-impressed with their standing and circumstances and agreed with and co-sponsored his belief that hooking up with a Black woman would not end well for him. Nothing personal to me, mind you. I was simply the wrong color. No harm, no foul. Accept the loss and move on. All that sounded rational, in theory, but it did not account for the fact that we were both in love. To them, our love was considered the collateral damage of a situation that had to be made null and void for practical reasons.

So, I anticipated the coldness and the lack of acknowledgment I received, but it didn't prepare me for how it would make me feel. As I wandered out to the patio to drink and dance with Brother 1, I felt sad and heartbroken and grateful that Brother 1's caring and attentive nature would help ease my pain and grief. If what I just experienced was a taste of how it would be from now on, I believed it would take a long time before I would be okay again. Other women, having heard of our break-up, were already lining up to become my Boyfriend's next amour. I knew it was only a matter of time before ignoring me would be compounded by facing the presence of a new girlfriend in his life.

Brother 1 and I hung outside on the deck for the first hour, away from everyone milling about inside. Although others also sought fresh air and space to move and breathe, the deck was spacious, with enough room for everyone to sit, talk, or dance as we chose. I felt this niggling urge to speak more about my relationship with my Boyfriend to his Brother. The little that I had already shared, he met with a fundamental unwillingness to accept that––in knowing his Brother––what we had could be no more than a casual affair that had ended.

Brother 1 said that he liked me and didn't have any issues with who my previous boyfriend was––even if it was his Brother. He made it all sound so simple, but the erratic beating of my heart was beginning to drown out and override his calm assurance that everything would be fine.

To him, the most significant thing facing me now was to allow myself to move on. However, I had a powerful, almost pleading, gut feeling that once my Boyfriend knew I was involved with his Brother, things would not be as simple as Brother 1 surmised.



When You Know, You Know––Don't You Know?

There were eyes everywhere at the party that evening. Ours was a small community centered around young artisans, business owners, singletons, and new parents from the next generation of young adults ready to make their mark on the world. People were always interested in what everyone else was up to and who was doing who––or not. If someone didn't know you were actively together, they would find out when you got married or broke up. Somewhere along the way, someone would eventually inform them; it's called gossip.

The girlfriend of a close friend of my Boyfriend saw Brother 1 and me dancing on the patio. With the help of a few drinks to take away the edge, we were laughing and having a decent time. I embraced the stolen space to decompress and relax a little. When the song ended, she came over, said hello to him, and introduced herself to me. She and I knew of each other in passing but had never spoken.

Her following words, directed at Brother 1, may have appeared sincere and innocent––they were not.

"Lucky man. You have such great taste in women; she's beautiful!" Brother 1 beamed warmly at her, looked at me, and nodded in agreement.

I said thank you; that was sweet of you to say. My not-so-innocent admirer gave me a conspiratorial rub on the arm and took off back into the house. What I knew that Brother 1 did not know––or would have cared less about if he did––was that in a few minutes, my Boyfriend would hear about Brother 1 and me. I wasn't sure what exactly she would say, but whatever he heard would be enough to pique his interest.

Minutes later, my Boyfriend strode out on the deck looking for Brother 1. He gave me an overly long, intense, and questioning look while asking his Brother if he would give him a ride to his house to pick something up. My Boyfriend gave some excuse as to why he didn't want to ride his motorcycle to run this errand; something about the size or weight of what he was bringing back, perhaps a case of wine or alcohol.

Right away, the unspoken tension between the two Brothers became palpable. I learned later that growing up, of all the siblings, these two were the most competitive with each other. It was not so much about outdoing the other but more about which one was the better man or person. It was about their character and standing in the community. It was weird because they were both two very different people with different but equal gifts and abilities to offer. There was more than enough room for both to shine, so whatever the charge was between them began when they were growing up.

Brother 1 requested, in an assumptive way, that I come along. In his mind, I was with him, and he wanted me to join them on this excursion. I hesitated but knew I could not refuse to go and miss being a spectator to this collision course that my bad choices put into motion. You know how when you are irrevocably sure and clear about something and, no matter what, you stand your ground? If I had not been so hounded and silenced as a child, sexually abused, and thus disempowered on an intuitive level about my female sense of things––especially about men––none of this that was about to happen ever would have.

Robbed of my voice to speak truth to these two men and bereft of any 'girl game' or ability to openly read the room of a man's heart and help him get in touch with what he was feeling, I let my Boyfriend playact this break-up, without dealing with what was really going on between us and how conflicted he was. On top of that, I allowed me-of-no-sexual/emotional boundaries to engage with his Brother helplessly, feeling yet not seeing and unable to get a grasp of the power I held to say 'No!" to both my Boyfriend and his Brother.

No! I will not throw this relationship away because you're afraid of loving me. Take some time and figure out what you want, and I will try my best to love you through it if I can. No! I will not get involved with you; I'm still your Brother's girlfriend, which would make it inappropriate. Besides, in what universe would it ever be a good idea to date your Boyfriend's Brother? And, what injured place are you coming from to expect me to do so?

Instead of heading for this imminent pile-up, I would be sitting at home, chilling and catching up with my best friend and roommate, sharing the scoop about my Boyfriend's latest attempt at running away from this scary Black woman. And we would have shaken our heads and laughed out loud.

My Boyfriend's Brother readily agreed to drive him wherever he needed to go; competitive or not, they were still close, from a tight-knit family who would do anything for each other without question. As we headed to the pick-up truck, I thought about two things. How it would feel to sit so close to my Boyfriend in the truck and what it would feel like sitting in between the two of them, as I assumed I would be. I was wondering what would or wouldn't be said. I had no way of knowing; therefore, I could not plan any responses.

Would my Boyfriend come out and ask if Brother 1 and I were seeing each other––or somehow imply that he already knew? If so, was he also aware that we had slept together? No, I decided if he knew anything, he did not realize that things had gone that far. Otherwise, we would not all be running errands together as if nothing had happened.

However, Boyfriend 1 knew. Would he take this opportunity with the three of us to tell him immediately or subtly allude to our recent intimacy? I didn't know what he would say or do; I didn't know him well enough to say.

Brother 1 got into the driver's side as we got in the truck, and my Boyfriend sat in the passenger's seat without sliding over to make room for me. As I attempted to get in and maneuver over him, he pulled me down and into his lap, and with his hands guiding my waist, he leaned me back, facing forward, and nestled my legs in between his.

My Boyfriend said with a possessive and definitive tone, "You can sit here." It was both a directive and a statement. It inferred, "You're still mine no matter what's going on between you and me." To his Brother, "In case you were unaware, let me clarify, she's mine." He let us both know what could and couldn't be—done and dusted. Wow!

Brother 1 and I were left speechless while my Boyfriend continued his command of the situation by casually informing his Brother that he also wanted to pick up some coke and bring it back to the party. I couldn't tell what Brother 1 was thinking. When I glanced at him, I could see his expression was dispassionate and fixed; he wasn't giving anything away. Brother 1 applied himself to the task of driving and asked several questions about the drugs and their whereabouts. Whatever he was feeling about my sitting next to him on his Brother's lap, he was not giving.

They both carried on like this was a typical situation in which any two brothers could find themselves. For me, on the one hand, having been left to my deductions, this was frigging insane, and I could not for the life of me figure out how to land on any one feeling. I loved sitting on my Boyfriend's lap, the closeness, the feeling of being in my rightful place as his, relishing his statement about my importance to him.

On the other hand, I was annoyed and pissed off at his audacity in pulling such a stunt. He rebelliously and, without ceremony, broke up with me. He had exposed the underbelly of his arrogance by assuming that, since I was so in love with him and he was, supposedly, not as in love with me, I would be shattered and overcome with grief at losing him (in truth, I was) but not to the degree he imagined.

However, neither of us counted on Brother 1 arriving, like a knight on a white stead, to save said damsel in distress from imploding in a heap of tears and devastation. Talk about karmic blowback; in this case, it was immediate. Since I knew that My Boyfriend's Brother also had feelings for me, it created a dangerous cushion of illusion inside of me, protecting my heart but giving me a false sense of safety and distancing me from my true feelings and assessment of the situation.

Without Brother 1's affections shoring me up, I might have taken such an opportunity as this to wake up and realize this man was so in love with me that he was in no way ready to give me up. By doing this, I would have relieved my heart of any doubts about my position in the situation and allowed myself to calmly and with certainty relax and give my Boyfriend the space and time to work through his issues––if he could––and accept his true feelings about me and our relationship. But, of course, that's not what happened.

After making the necessary stops, we returned to the party without incident. However, for the drive back, I made it clear that I would prefer to sit next to My Boyfriend and not on his lap for my safety and comfort. He readily agreed; he had made his point. The lap sitting and our verbal interactions around the subject easily exposed the familiar closeness and intimacy we were used to sharing. It was like we hadn't broken up. We had just entered a new phase of our relationship. The faux walls he had hastily thrown up between us lacked the conviction and resolve to keep us separate.

Parking the truck and walking back towards the house, it felt so odd that we wouldn't enter together, just like we had many places in the past. Instead, I hung back in pace with his Brother and let my Boyfriend take the lead so he could return to the single and separate place he occupied when he left. It was an awkward moment for the three of us. At the door, my Boyfriend stopped, and half turned towards me as if he were about to say something. But, in the next moment, he seemed to have thought better of it, turned back, and headed forward to his new life without me.

I had enough excitement for one night and was no longer felt in a partying mood; I asked Brother 1 if he would mind taking me home, and he was happy to do so. We were mostly silent on the way there, deep in our thoughts. The evening events had a sobering effect on us both. I learned that Brother 1 was a quiet, reflective sort, a man of few words when expressing his feelings. The night before, he had been quite talkative with me at his dinner party and the potluck earlier that day. My girlfriend pointed out that his ability to reveal himself so effortlessly with me indicated that our connection was special. It was not how he usually behaved when meeting someone new. I had a way of opening him up and making him laugh, which his mother told me the first time we met.

We sat outside momentarily when we arrived at my house, gathering our thoughts and words. He told me he wanted to see me again, but he could see that his Brother and I still had feelings for each other. He could no longer dismiss our relationship as over; he admitted that it appeared to be more complicated than that. I silently nodded in agreement on all counts.

Although I felt torn about our involvement, I also realized I wanted to see him again. He had a calming effect on me, and I enjoyed his company. For now, I wasn't planning on sleeping with him again. Given what had transpired earlier with my Boyfriend, it seemed clear that the solidity of our break-up was in question, and it would be inappropriate to cross that line again. Besides, after spending that little bit of time with my Boyfriend, my sexual desire immediately tuned into him again. He was who I wanted to sleep with, not his Brother.

Exhausted from the day's festivities and emotional upheaval, I immediately went to bed, longing for deep sleep and a heavy dose of forgetfulness to temper the storm of uncertainty raging through my heart and mind. There would be no peace for me until––when? Where was everything headed, and how would it all turn out for me, for all of us? All the things set in motion––the break-up, the infidelity, the discovery, and the resolution––would all converge in some future design that would have to be lived through by me, my Boyfriend, and his Brother. Who would we be at the end of it all––or be with?



You Can't Always Get What You Want––But Can You?

Just as I was drifting off, there was a knock on the front door. My roommate and our two sons were all fast asleep. Since I did not want them to be disturbed, I got up quickly and, being as quiet as possible, whispered my inquiry about who was there, especially at this hour of the night.

My Boyfriend answered, "It's me. Can I come in?"

Wow, really? This whole scenario was starting to feel like it was rolling on an endless loop without a pause in sight. I was surprised by his unexpected visit and had no idea why he would want to see me. This random appearance was not entirely out of character for him; he would show up at odd times, mostly to my surprise and delight. I was always excited and happy to see him whenever I did. Just as Brother 1 calmed me down, he lit me up, making my heart quiver. However, I was primarily curious and apprehensive about this particular visit tonight.

I opened the door and let him in. Once in my room, I sat stiffly on the edge of my bed while he stood rigidly in the doorway.

"Why are you here, I asked? Is everything okay?"

He remained quiet, staring at me with a look I had never seen before. His pale blue eyes seemed to fill with sadness and pleading. His body's stiff and awkward stance was without its usual confidence and self-assured ease. Missing was his usual look of wherever he was; he had a perfect right to be there. That night, his body language was tentative, uncertain, almost apologetic. He cast his eyes down for a few moments before looking up at me again––this time, there were tears in his eyes.

"I don't want us to break up. I'm sorry for having done that to you."

Upon hearing this, I stared at him. I did not know how I felt or what to say.

"I love you, and I want to be with you," was his answer to my silence. I know now, but I could not feel it at that moment that this man was risking everything to open his heart to me and expose the vulnerability of his love, trusting that after all my declarations of the same, I would respond with happiness, forgiveness, and compassion in return. After all, wasn't this the moment I had dreamt of and worked so hard to arrive with him? Here he was, offering all of himself to me; nothing hidden, nothing held back. Why did I remain silent as if I no longer had a voice to speak?

When I look back on it now, I can see that he, in the deep recesses of my mind, had already begun to morph into my father, the unfaithful husband and abuser of his children. The man my mother would always let back into her heart after his convincing pleas of sorrow and repentance. What I felt my Boyfriend was doing was the same performance I watched my father do repeatedly as a child. And, I could feel the same dispassion and coldness settle and steal my heart against the lies masquerading as truth trying to worm their way in. That was the ticking time bomb buried in my silence. This blank and indifferent response was the prelude to my chance to show myself and my mother that I could make a better decision for the both of us––to make up for what she could never do.

As if the situation was not complex enough, there was yet another underlying reason other than my reliving the fractured reality of my parents' relationship. In a way, I was relieved when my Boyfriend broke up with me, though I was loathe to admit it even to myself. When you've spent most of your life since childhood, first trying to endure the chaos and uncertainty at the start and then struggling to survive the legacy of that beginning as an adult, it leaves you very little time for extras, like imagining that you can get your life actually to stabilize for more than two days in a row. Or, planning for the future as if you could even begin to predict where you'd be, let alone creating goals you could never be sure to show up for. The real-life walk was beating back the demons of the past daily and appearing as if you were on top of it all, including being in a relationship with another person.

When a Prince Charming shows up in the life of a Cinderella like me, it doesn't feel or play out as it does in the fairy tale. Whereas the real Cinderella, once all dressed up in her finery, thought she could attend the royal ball and stand up to the challenge of not only meeting the Prince but enchanting and marrying him, I could only manage half of what she did. I embraced Cinder's bold belief that no one on the romantic playing field, regardless of their heritage, race, or elite standing, was off-limits.

The same thing applied when it came to employment opportunities. My only criteria for accepting job offers was whether or not I found the employer innovative and the job interesting, even exciting. It never dawned on me to question whether or not I would fit in or belong. I showed up for jobs the same way I showed up for relationships: interested, engaged, and willing to explore all that they offered––to a point.

Cinderella knew that she wanted to marry the Prince. What I knew was that I never wanted to get married. The chase was the only part of the game I was interested in and knew how to play. Beyond that point, for me, everything was blank. And the very thought of taking on a Prince as a husband only made the prospect that much more untenable and undoable for me. I did not have the mettle to meet all the expectations I surmised would be asked of me. I didn't even know what they were by name or experience, and that was telling enough.

Fortunately, the subject hadn't come up with my Boyfriend, which was fine with me. Looking back, I don't know where I thought the relationship would go beyond where we were when it ended. It seems hard to believe, even for me, that I imagined us 'just seeing each other' for an indeterminate time. But that was the truth. I was too busy surviving my life and raising my precious son to think about much of anything else––indeed, not my future with another person. So fortunately, my Boyfriend ended things before that type of concern surfaced. All I had to grapple with at that moment was whether or not to continue our relationship––or start a brand new one with his Brother.

So, while facing nothing but silence from me, perhaps my Boyfriend thought I was thinking back over all the unpleasant ways he came up with to show me that he no longer wanted us to be together––which he did, it turns out, more to convince himself than me. Maybe he thought I had every right to be angry and unbelieving of his new turn of heart. Whatever it was he was thinking led to his shocking exhortation.

"I love you. Please don't leave me. I'll do whatever you ask, whatever you want. If you want to get married, then let's do that. Tell me what you want, and I'll do it."

Now, I was stunned. The outpouring of my Boyfriend's heart wasn't only about our not breaking up. He was looking into our future and securing the outcome he envisioned. Two things happened simultaneously for me. First, I realized this wasn't a father-mother-daughter flashback from my childhood; he was not my father. My father was always sorry and self-recriminating, but never promised to change.

By what my Boyfriend offered, he was willing to change everything if I would take him back––the operative word being 'change.' I had to say yes to his pleas for forgiveness on the merits of sincerity alone. He had finally reached through my cold snap, and I was present, open, and nodding, yes, but still with some reservation. I knew I would take him back. One thing remained clear to my heart through all of my barriers and defensive walls: I loved him.

Secondly, though, on a deeper note, I felt a sharp tinge of panic starting to brew. My Boyfriend seemed all-in and playing for keeps. The weight of my Prince's whole and open heart, with all his desire for and expectations of me, laid heavily on mine. I let him hug me sincerely and gratefully before he left. He would call me later that day and come over. I readily agreed to his plan.

After he left and I lay shell-shocked and wide awake, it dawned on me that, as of that moment, despite my Boyfriend's pre-proposal offer of marriage, I would still keep my date with his Brother. Unfortunately, my Boyfriend would soon learn that although his heart was all in, mine, it seems, was not.

There were so many layers of unwellness and injury operating inside of me all at one time. As soon as I speak to one in this telling, another one pops up to the surface, exposing yet another way that I was not being transparent, authentic, and, in the present moment. I didn't speak my truth regarding how I responded to this delicate and life-altering situation. There is no better way to describe the numbed-out, disconnected, frozen way I was walking through this than to say I was fast asleep. Awake, technically, yes, yet sleepwalking through so many moments and experiences in my life.

I didn't know I was asleep then, and that's probably for the best because in later years, when I first realized that I was, my journey to finding how to wake up was long and arduous––and, in the end, it took me nearly ending my life to figure out how to do it. And, even then, I needed help to get over the finish line. What I intend the most from writing this is to heal this experience in the past by walking through it in the present––while sitting in a different seat in my life's arena. Seeing and responding to it from various perspectives exposes my injury and highlights the truth beneath it.

In the week following my Boyfriend's visit, we hung out several times. Given that there weren't many opportunities for any fundamental changes to be implemented and acted upon in how we were with each other, we almost immediately began falling back into our old patterns of behavior, particularly the most recent ones that led to our break up. He wanted to be with me, but, at the same time, he hadn't worked through the feelings and beliefs that caused him to leave me. I wanted to be with him now, but not with the man who behaved like a jerk and someone I did not want to know in the latter days of our relationship. The edgy retorts and passive-aggressive bickering wormed their way back into our interactions. We still resented each other's presence for our old reasons but were afraid to admit it.

While writing this part, I remembered something significant that I forgot and left out of the events leading up to our breakup. It was, in truth, the most impacting experience of our relationship and the underlying reason why we broke up. How did I forget something like that––I don't know. When discovering that I had, I sat for some time, stunned, at seeing yet another thing I had buried away about me and this man I loved––

the abortion.



But Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

The night I became pregnant was a memorable one. My Boyfriend and I, my girlfriend and her husband (Brother 2), went out together one night to see The Pointer Sisters in concert. My girlfriend and I decided to go fancy and dress to the nines for the occasion. She and I went shopping earlier in the day and bought outfits representing our take on our inner essence and how many perceived us.

She wore a sexy, short, black dress that displayed her shapely legs and potent, sexual nature in a classy yet daring way. On the other hand, I wore an angelic, innocent-looking, two-piece, off-white full skirt and a cropped halter top with come-fetch-me-I'm-not-as-innocent-as-I-look vibes. The Brothers dressed similarly, indicative of their usual styles; my Boyfriend wore his signature low-hip blue jeans and a white shirt, and Brother 2 was decked out in shades of grey, a light grey shirt, and dark grey pants that matched well with my girlfriend's black.

We were all in great moods and excited about seeing the show. The sisters gave a soul-shaking performance that left us high, breathless, and never wanting the evening to end. We agreed to return to my Boyfriend's house and party some more. We had drinks, played music, and danced the night away.

The sex he and I had that night startled us both; it was the best sex we had ever had. While our bodies surrendered to an overwhelming passion, my heart was consumed by a closeness I had never felt with him before. It was the first time he allowed himself to merge seamlessly with me and embrace and savor everything between us. The vibrant energy of the whole day and evening was magical. What a time to conceive a baby!

Neither of us knew or planned for me to become pregnant. My son had just turned two, and I didn't feel inclined to become a single parent of more than him. Like I never wanted to get married, I didn't want to have children either––that is, until I planned to have him. It was never clear to me until he grew up why I had such an urgent need to bring him into the world. I only sensed that he was supposed to come, and I was the one he chose to be his mom. It was more like him choosing me than my sudden change of heart about having children. Once he arrived, my love for him was boundless. After he came, I never considered having any more, and those who knew me never called me out to do so.

I had experienced only one other surprise pregnancy before this one. That was the one at 17, terminated by the illegal abortion. After that, I had been on the pill and had only stopped taking it when I decided to get pregnant with my son. After his birth, I relied on other methods of birth control because I was breastfeeding him. I also felt it was an excellent time to move on from the pill and some of the unwanted effects it had on my body. I don't remember what I was using then, but I was aware that the night of the concert, my Boyfriend and I weren't using anything. I could call it careless, but I don't believe that's what it was.


That night, we both instinctively seemed to feel the need and desire to become closer than we had been thus far. We blended our desires for each other and merged into this inseparable sense of oneness, with a blissful trust that our feelings of love had grown enough to hold the two of us seamlessly together.

I have found ovulation sex to be hungry and thirsty sex, with a deep craving and desire for consummation and fulfillment. It's also when women are the most likely to get pregnant. The two states together make perfect sense to me. Ovulation sex is a celebration of the power of conception. Ovulation sex is divine sex and, to me, sex at its' best. It's not a wildcard of sexual flavors and favors. It has a purpose, meaning, intention, and the power to achieve its goal. Perhaps we should respect that and look to it as a template to create and give our other sexual experiences we share more purpose and meaning, other than just pleasure.

Several weeks later, when I discovered I was having a baby, I fell into a deep well of unexpected and conflicting emotions. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of having another child and the real possibility of raising both children on my own. As I said earlier, my Boyfriend was hard-pressed to accept our relationship as it was, let alone embrace the idea of having a child together. I was stewing in my bitter brew of wanting to be my Boyfriend's girlfriend but not his wife or the mother of his child.

I first shared the news with my housemate (who was indifferent, which was her life attitude) and then my girlfriend, who had been raising her teenage daughter as a single mom when she met and married Brother 2. She was happy for me if I was, yet sympathetic to the possibility that I wasn't, and sad about the fact that, in either case, it was my Boyfriend's child.

My girlfriend never tried to hide her dislike of my Boyfriend and her husband's Brother. She thought him cold, arrogant, and incapable of thinking of anyone but himself. There was always an edge between them when they were around each other; random bites and barbs constantly flew between them. He made it no secret that he wasn't particularly fond of his Brother's choice for a wife. He thought she was bossy and controlling and felt that he could have done better for himself.

A few days after finding out about the pregnancy, I sat down and shared the news with my Boyfriend. He was genuinely surprised when I told him; his mood turned somber and reflective. I didn't tell him how I felt about it; I wanted to know his feelings first without coloring them with my own. I neither believed he would nor expected him to want to keep the baby. Yet, there was this tinge of irrational hope that he would say that he did. Or, at least, ask me if I want to. It was because somewhere inside, I knew that, whatever his response, I would use it to gauge his true feelings for me and the depth of our relationship.

If he was even open to the idea of keeping the baby, that meant he, underneath all his misgivings about our future together, could envision a reality where we stayed together and even raised a child. That possibility ignited an unrealistic hope within me that if he gave the slightest hint that he was, in his way, pleased by this sudden turn of events, it would override my deep-seated belief that I was not going to bring another child into the world. That fate and my Boyfriend would intercede and alter the course of my as-yet unplanned life. A life I navigated based on what I didn't want––or would not do––instead of any hopes or dreams for my future.

I was still in my mid-twenties, and life planning had not kicked in for me. Besides, I had always been more of a seeker than a planner. Since I was a young girl, the thing I most wanted to find in my life was love: to love and be loved. I somehow believed that once I reached that pinnacle, my life would reveal its purpose and decide my future. All at once, I would know what to do next and how I would live my life.

"I'm not ready to have a baby," my Boyfriend blurted out almost defensively. "It's not how I see my life going and not something I want to do right now."

So that was my answer.

Although all hopes that my story would venture in a new direction disappeared, I could now see where it wasn't headed. My Boyfriend's choice of words, insensitivity, victim demeanor, and put-upon attitude signaled that this was the beginning of the end of our relationship. My Boyfriend had finally taken a wrecking ball to demolish a union he had no intention of ever building into a partnership. He went on to say that getting an abortion was the best thing to do, and he would, of course, cover the cost.

I sat there numbly, staring at my hands. My heart had somehow imploded, and I was swallowed up and buried beneath its debris. I could not find words to speak or a working voice to use. All at once, I was no longer sitting across from my Boyfriend. I had suddenly catapulted back in time to when I was 17, pregnant, and frightened, speechless as I sat across from my father, facing his unleashed wrath aimed at me.

Like my Boyfriend, he wanted nothing to do with this ill-gotten pregnancy. That, unlike my mother, he would not even consider sending me away to have the baby in a home and then give it up for adoption. There would be no babies, period. Not then, not now.

My father knew a man who would fix me and make this problem disappear. I learned that he had sent my mother to someone like him before. And, then, an image crept up of my mother bleeding down the long hall of our apartment, screaming, until the men in white coats with a stretcher came through our front door, gently lifted her onto a stretcher, and took her away. I remember following down the stairs behind them as a child, watching as they loaded her into the back of the ambulance. And the siren that started blaring as they drove my mother away. My father never said what happened to her, where she was going, or if she would ever return.

This man was who my father was planning to send me to. Sitting next to my father, my mother stared at the floor before me and would not make eye contact. I was frightened by everything happening and was looking to her for help. After what she went through––more than once––at the hands of this man, I thought she would protest or say something to protect me, but she didn't. I later learned––when it was my turn to go to the man––why she chose to remain silent. She was too busy protecting herself from my father to offer me aid or comfort.

My Boyfriend reached over and gently touched my hand after several failed attempts at getting me to respond to him calling my name. I heard him, but I didn't.

"What?" I answered in a distracted and solemn voice.

"I need your thoughts about our situation and how you want to handle it."

"Yes, of course. I'll have the abortion. That's fine," is all I could say. Any more, and I would start screaming uncontrollably and never stop.

I asked my Boyfriend to leave after that, saying I was tired and wanted to lie down. He seemed grateful for the opportunity to exit the situation without much fanfare. For a moment, though, as he walked out the door, he turned and looked at me quizzically as if my words were not as straightforward as I intended––or, perhaps, surprised that I didn't have more to say. Or, what I later learned that flummoxed me beyond comprehension and revealed how little I understood men and the male psyche.

Why didn't I fight to keep the baby––even after he clearly said he didn't want to? Why didn't I go ahead with my pregnancy and give him time to come around and get used to the idea of being a father? Knowing his family roots, I must have known he would never abandon his child or its' mother. In his mind, although he clearly said quite the contrary, were thoughts of this baby, perhaps, being fate's way of showing him that despite all his misgivings, he and I were meant to stay together. He just needed me and the baby to help him get across the finish line. After all, he did love me.

Yeah, right. Stand up to my Boyfriend like I did my father just eight short years ago when I was 17 and barely hanging onto my sanity and my life while he told me how things were going to be. I was doing what my Boyfriend wanted me to do with my body and the baby in it, just like my father.

In my mind, the possibility of a different solution didn't exist. My father risked my mother's life more than once so that he would not have to accept any more children into his own. My Boyfriend gave me my cue, and I read my lines, which I had learned from my parents.

I had neither access nor knowledge of a man's heart other than what he put forth on the surface. As a parent, my father never allowed us to discover or learn anything about what was happening inside of him. Never. He was closed off and wore an invisible sign with invisible ink that said: Don't Ask Because I Won't Tell. We weren't allowed to question anything growing up––let alone something personal about him. He was angry, sometimes enraged whenever we displeased him––which was most of the time. At other times, when he felt generous and not haunted by his demons, he would use his talent for humorous discourse to make his point––and he always had one to make.


Then there were these odd times when my father would remove his parental cap, take me aside, and show me something of himself in a completely different way. My father liked to draw geometrical pencil sketches of buildings, which he would whisk out and show me when only the two of us were around. He would describe them in detail and told me how he dreamt of being an architect. Because I was always afraid of my father, I would listen to him but never say anything. His drawings interested me, and when I smiled and nodded approvingly at his work, that was the most genuine I could ever be and the safest I ever felt with him.

I never told anyone else in the family about these private, impromptu meetings with my father. I'm sure he never did, either. Otherwise, I would have been questioned about it, especially by my mother. When these interactions with him were over, it was as if they never happened, except when they did again. Seeing and experiencing this more human side of his nature never scored me any favors or exempted me from any punishments or whippings he decided I deserved.

The two things that I learned about myself from those sessions with my father were that I loved listening to people share their dreams, and it was easy for me to encourage and support them to do it, which is why, after the first time, he kept doing it. So, I was adept at listening to my Boyfriend's dreams, only to discover that I was not a part of the future he was dreaming about. Beyond that, my father never divulged anymore about his inner workings or taught me what I needed to know about men––except that they were jerks who I couldn't trust and only wanted one thing from me.

Still with the unsettled look in his eyes, my Boyfriend left, and I lay down on my bed and cried. I felt so sad and alone, empty and hollow inside. I was terrified of having an abortion, legal or not. My memory of the man 'who fixed it' and what he did to me was a lingering nightmare for years after 'it' happened. The steel rod he used to open up my cervix. The excruciating, gut-wrenching pain as my body tried to expel what had now become a part of me. The fetus tissue that my womb partially aborted before it said no more and refused to expel the rest—the infection and the fever that ensued as my body battled with itself to right the situation. My father's adamant refusal to do anything to help me get to the hospital for treatment was, in my mind, further punishment for my betrayal. I would get no help from him.

The doctors refused to be complicit and complete the abortion and chose to flood my system with drugs, relying on my body to finish the job. There was a blur of kind nurses who looked after me while my mom and my aunt sat at the bedside, nervous and watchful, waiting to see if I would live. I was hazy from the drugs and wondered at 17 what would become of me now. How do I go back to my old life sans my virginity––my badge of honor and respectability––which I only then started to realize was now gone?

This virgin version of myself existed before I decided never to marry. My virginity was something I was so fiercely proud to have protected. Like many young women of my time, saving it for my wedding night was a magical dream and an honor.

I only now realize it wasn't until after I lost my virginity and everything that followed that something twisted and turned dark and foreboding inside of me. From the young man who took it to the father who decided hell was my fate, to the man who tore my insides, to the doctors who couldn't promise to save my life––men had become my enemies. I could never trust them again—all except for one.

One evening, after I returned from the hospital, my first boyfriend when I was 13, who lived in my neighborhood, came to see me. We were no longer together, but we still had a close bond, and he was protective of me. He had heard about the abortion and was visibly shaken and seething about everything that had happened––especially what my father had done. He grew up in a strict Catholic household, where abortions were a mortal sin. If a girl got pregnant, she had her baby; she didn't get rid of it. Just like hitting a girl or a woman, that was unthinkable to him.

At the end of our visit, he asked me point blank if I wanted him to kill my father. He hated him and would not hesitate to do it if I wanted him to. I knew he meant it and told him, please, no. That would not be necessary. I would be 18 soon and planned to leave home and never see him again. Although I did see my father after that, he remained until his death dead to me.



Does One + One + One Equal Two?

Everywhere I stepped in my life, there seemed to be a minefield of ticking time bombs, wired to my past, waiting to blow me and any hopes I had for a happy future to bits and pieces. Not understanding the relationship between my life's past, present, and future reality and what the one had to do with the other two, I viewed each misstep and 'bad' decision or outcome as how life worked.

When I looked around at the people I knew, they weren't fairing much better. Meaning everyone had stuff coming up or going on that wasn't working in their favor or wasn't the outcome they were intending, dreaming of, or planning. Someone may be happy in one area of their life that you wished was yours, but in another place, they were dealing with disappointment or discouragement.

Like me being pregnant with my Boyfriend's baby, there were probably women who would have been ecstatic to have this opportunity––and that's precisely how they would see it. Having a man's baby whose family was as respected and well-placed as his could have numerous benefits. And, he would be connected to you, if not with you, through your shared offspring.

He had four doting brothers who would all be supportive as uncles. And, maybe, if you played your cards right, the two of you would wind up together, raising your family. Mind you, I didn't see it that way myself. Since I could never see myself with someone that long term (raising a child together or apart) where this person would remain in my life indefinitely, I could not see that as a positive outcome for me.

My own family experience left that whole design unappealing to me as well. I had enough family life when I was growing up and did not want to repeat the experience with yet another group of people who would have no clue how to deal with what my family described as the strange and peculiar person I was.

After my Boyfriend left that day with the news, we didn't speak again until I called him with the date and time of the procedure. He dropped by later that day with a check; he would not be going with me. My girlfriend (Brother 2's wife) was livid and thought that was another typical, shitty move on his part. She asked me if I was sure I wanted to go through with it; I was.

It's funny how different people respond to life experiences. My best friend and roommate was pregnant at that time. She was divorced, raising her young son alone, and on her way to becoming a single mother of two. It was not a problem for her. She loved being pregnant, having her babies, and raising them as a single parent. After her first marriage ended, she was hard-pressed to find a good reason to do it again.

Her unborn child's father was a past lover and good friend. Although borderline in the responsibility department, she knew he would be there for her and their child as much as possible. That was enough for her. I am grateful that she accepted our different makeup and didn't judge or put pressure on me to follow in her footsteps.

While she readily agreed to watch my son while I had the abortion, my girlfriend went with me and held my hand through it all. The doctor who performed the procedure was a kind man who could immediately see that I was shaken and frightened. He calmly talked me through each step, preparing me for what to expect. Although there was some mild pain during and light cramping after, it did in no way resemble the illegal abortion I had suffered through before. Still, I cried some during and a lot when it was over.

The sadness and loss kept pouring out of me from a deep well of grief I didn't know was there. The one thing that was the same was my feeling of not knowing what would become of me after this. I suspected that things were about to take a dramatic turn. I knew before my Boyfriend told me that our relationship was over. Where could we go from where we were? His decision not to go with me was the final nail in a coffin set for burial. I felt sad about it but knew I was done with him. Well, I kind of knew, anyway. He avoided coming over and seeing me, which was probably for the best.

A few weeks later, he did stop by, and we had our official breakup talk. It was weird, in a way. I was pretty much over the abortion, and all the sad feelings I had waded through. Relieved to feel more like myself again, I accepted his desire to move on in a whatever, off-hand kind of way. We had this way of verbally jousting, something we did when we were annoyed with each other but not angry. We conducted our breakup that way, making it seem more like a provocation than an end––seeing who would best the other in getting over this new hurdle in this love that almost could.

The day he declared himself my ex-boyfriend, he hung around my house like he had just stopped by for a quick visit and decided to stay awhile. It was bizarre. Somehow, with the whole issue of him not being my Boyfriend dealt with, we became more relaxed and even playful. This easy way we had with each other was a thing that had a life of its own. We loved discussing various subjects and felt challenged by what we both offered up in our conversation. We appreciated and respected each other's minds, and though our relationship ended, that didn't.

He playfully teased and flirted with me before he left, and I responded in kind. It's just how it was between us, and neither of us made any effort to adjust to the new reality of our breakup. Still, I knew deep down the end was official, and the next day, when I got up, I would feel the realness of it. There would be no more dates, impromptu get-togethers, or late-night sleepovers. Without him in my life, there would be many spaces that he used to fill that would be left empty.

Since I had yet to return to work, I had quite a lot of time on my hands when I wasn't mothering and helping with the upkeep of our shared home. During this period, a few weeks after, was when I bumped into him at the party with the model-esque Black woman on his arm. He supposedly broke up with me because he saw no future with a Black woman, yet there he was with another one! That's why, as I mentioned earlier, I made his life miserable that night. After seeing him there, my girlfriend and Brother 2 decided it was time for me to move on and invited me to Brother 1's house for dinner.

After he left my house that night after the party, having declared his love for me, my Boyfriend showed up the next day as if to make his point. For him, we were back together, and he threw himself into repentance for his ill-chosen decision to leave me and make up for it by being present, attentive, and obedient. Whatever I asked for, I got. He even seemed to enjoy my admonishments for past bad behavior and my encouragement when he did what I considered better.

Meanwhile, Brother 1 phoned me several times and asked to see me. I told him that I had been spending time with my Boyfriend since the night of that party, and we were trying to mend things. He said I shouldn't trust his Brother because he had already shown me how little he truly cared about me. I knew what others didn't about my relationship with my Boyfriend.

Yes, he could be a jerk. There is no question about it, particularly in his handling of our relationship, the pregnancy, and the abortion. But I knew that for him to come back, change his mind, beg my forgiveness, and try his best to be a better person was a very tall order for him. And, each day, he got better and better at filling it. I was happy to have him back and wanted things to stay that way.

However, because he wouldn't stop calling––and I did enjoy our time together––I finally agreed to see Brother 1 again. Instantly, once in his company, I found myself enveloped by the gentle peace he always seemed to be in when he was around me. No barbs or verbal tit-for-tats. Just easy, warm conversation. We went to dinner, returned to his place, listened to music, and drank wine. When the evening ended, he kissed me deeply and drove me home. I had to admit that despite the newfound reconciliation my Boyfriend and I were building together, I was beginning to have feelings for his Brother.

The two were such different people, and what I got from each of them was just as distinct. My relationship with my Boyfriend was always teetering on the edge of fulfillment and failure. That in-built instability made it exciting and real because neither of us could rest on our laurels and assume the relationship would be okay. We were always present and aware of each other whenever we were together. It was that way for both of us; it was just how we were. The only continuity our relationship had came from our desire to be together. We had no patterns or rituals to take cover where we didn't work and could relax and be at peace.

I didn't realize this until after I spent time with Brother 1, with him reminding me how different things could be. He wasn't as exciting as my Boyfriend; he didn't own a sailboat or dash about town on a motorcycle. But he was a sturdy and safe port in any storm. I saw that with Brother 1, I brought the edge and the excitement to our interactions––for starters, I was the girlfriend of the Brother he most wanted to best. You can't get too much more exciting than that. In return, he gave me a safe place to land, take cover, and shift into the part of me that also enjoyed peace and a way to escape the excitement and drama of my regular life's show with his Brother.


Admittedly, my Boyfriend always left me breathless––in his presence and after his departure. It wasn't a feeling I could ever complain about simply because the first feelings of love I felt for him in the beginning never dulled or became placid or ordinary. And, throughout all that transpired in the coming weeks and years, that never changed. My heart would skip a beat whenever my eyes caught even a glimpse of him. And it was the same for him. There was an electricity between us that anyone in the room could feel, and family and friends often commented on it. It was just the way it always was and would be between us.

Another week passed, and while spending time with my Boyfriend, I went on another date with his Brother. No logic, thoughtfulness, or wisdom was involved in my decision to keep seeing him. I was operating on careless, selfish romantic emotions with no underlying awareness of the storm brewing in this thoughtless entanglement with the hearts of two brothers. I say 'underlying' because the delicate nature of this dance wasn't uppermost in my mind or actions. Fortunately, however, it was at the forefront of the minds of others.

Looking back, I know that my inattention came down to a fundamental lack of self-awareness and a sense of myself as a person and a woman. I needed to be more readily tuned into the impact I had or was having on the people around me and, thus, the impact that my choices and decisions had on them. In that regard, I remained somewhat checked out and exuded shallow sensitivity with an "Oh, I know" when my roommate tried to warn me of the potential disaster looming.

My girlfriend's husband (Brother 2) was the one who first made me aware that things were beginning to unravel. He came to my house to speak about what he called 'this situation with my Brothers.' With anxious concern, he sat down with me at our kitchen table and told me that my relationships with his Brothers were causing a severe rift in their family.

It appears that they both believe that they are in love with you, he told me, and are asking the other to back down. My Boyfriend took the stance that I had been his girlfriend all along and that he could not help it that Brother 1 had developed an infatuation with me. Although he knew where my heart was and didn't consider his Brother a likely threat to our relationship, he thought it was out of line and in bad form for him to pursue me.

Brother 1 responded that my Boyfriend had blown his chance to be with me because of how he treated me. He said I deserved so much better than him, and he should do the right thing and walk away. He speculated that because of how my Boyfriend had behaved in his past relationships, it would only be a matter of time before he found another excuse to break up with me. Brother 1 said he cared for me and wanted to give me a chance at real happiness.

My Boyfriend basically told him that he was delusional because no matter what he felt about me or him, he had absolutely zero chance of ending up with me. Brother 1's only response was, "We'll see." And, with a cold chill settling between them, they left it at that. Brother 2 recounted this story to me as I sat quietly listening. He also said that although they weren't best friends, his Brothers got along reasonably well and always had each other's back no matter what. It also didn't help that Brother 1 owned and managed a construction business, and my Boyfriend was currently involved in a building project with him. Our situation was also hurting their business dealings with each other.

I was stunned and saddened to hear all of this. The last thing I wanted was to create a rift between the two brothers. I knew I was a significant factor in this and would have to be responsible for my part. I also understood that although it was without intention, I allowed myself to be pulled and drawn into this situation rather than having chosen outright––head not heart first––this course that my life had taken.

In my attempt to assuage the pain of my breaking heart, I sought the comfort of a person I should not have. But, without the necessary filters in place, I could not assert boundaries when dealing with men and any ability to discern how my behavior affected them. I discovered I had very little concern about whatever they were going through. I never knew anything about it. And, whatever it was, I had no ability or power to help them. They were theirs to tend to. From prior experience with men, their baseline nature was to be cold, cruel, and likely unresponsive to my feelings as well.

Deep down, I didn't feel enough to care about the suffering of these two Brothers. Although I gave the emotional appearance of being sorry, even horrified, at the disturbance my selfishness was causing, I was utterly numb beneath the surface of all that fanfare; I couldn't feel anything close to the remorse I was selling.

Look, my father told me in no uncertain terms that men–– all men––only wanted one thing. Well, I gave them that and made sure that our sexual relationship was good for them. And all the feelings trapped somewhere inside of my heart that spoke of my love for them, I intended and believed were communicated through my desire and affection for them. Since I knew of no other avenue to show this love I felt and was never made aware of what other ways there were to convey it, I surmised that sex was the true expression of love. So, for me, the two were inseparable.

It would help if you remembered that while all of this was happening, I did not have the awareness I have now. Having a seat in my life's arena that allows me to look back at my past from a place of self-discovery and healing, I can share this updated version of what was happening inside me. Then, I believed everything I did and said; I was not being intentionally hurtful or disrespectful towards anyone.

And, if anyone implied or outright said that, it would have hurt me to the core. And, it did later, as this rolling tidal wave headed towards a tsunami-sized event when my best friend and roommate confronted me about a scene that I caused involving my Boyfriend and dared to cry about it afterward. But, for now, no one was blaming me. Even Brother 2, who came to implore me to decide between his two brothers, was sympathetic to my position in all that had transpired.

After all, he and his wife (my girlfriend) were the ones who introduced me to Brother 1 and even encouraged me to get involved with him. Until then, neither they nor Brother 1 realized how serious this situation was and how deep my Boyfriend's feelings were for me. Every time I attempted to tell them, they were so sure that they knew him better than me they brushed my concerns off and insisted that I carry on with the breakup.

Now that we were where we were, they were shocked to see that I had been right all along. The fact that my Boyfriend, much sought after but never caught, had finally found the person he wanted, albeit reluctantly, to catch him. It wasn't that I was fooling myself into believing I was what he was ultimately looking for; in fact, I knew I wasn't. But he had fallen in love with me despite his misgivings. If I couldn't feel anything else, I could feel that.

How stunning was the derangement caused by being breached and broken as a child! I knew my Boyfriend loved me; I fought for him to see and admit it. Our love was the most apparent thing about us––and I knew he felt it, too. What upset me the most was that he acted like it wasn't true. And that act was a lie. Maybe all I needed was for him to say so. The fact that he loved me but had to break up with me instead of not loving me is the reason that he did it. I couldn't live with that lie and had no intention of letting him get away without admitting it.

His not loving me touted as his usual reason for leaving his other relationships in the past, once again, made it appear that I was insignificant to him, just like the other women he had been with. Again, I knew that wasn't true. Can you see how, without awareness, having gotten him to admit it and even him coming back to rebuild the relationship, I had gotten everything I wanted? But where to from there?

If we attempted a more permanent union, what next? I hadn't even thought of wanting to or how it would be to live with a man as energetically high-maintenance as my Boyfriend. Besides, I was happy with my living arrangements with my best friend and our children. Nothing in my estimation of my relationship with my Boyfriend lent itself to the idea that we could live compatibly under the same roof. The very thought of it made me anxious.

From the time we spent together, it was apparent we had very different sensibilities about what defined a happy life. His social and financial standing and the power that gave him to create the life reality he believed would befit him were of uppermost importance to him. I didn't care about those things at all. I was more focused, in the short term, on providing a safe and nurtured life for my son. Also, I rebuilt my life from the single one I had to one that now included another human being for whom I was responsible.

Over the long term, I felt driven to discover my purpose for being born and how to best contribute to my fellow human beings' health, welfare, and support.

But the first thing on my life agenda––and had been since I was a little girl––was to find love. I believed my relationship with a man was the only avenue to provide that love for me.

How wrong that turned out to be! Little did I know that no man or any other person could fulfill the love I was seeking. My love for myself was the only one that could.

Sadly, I had never even heard of the words 'self-love' until I was further down the road of my life. By then, my need to know not only the words but how to do it was so crucial it became a matter of whether I would choose to live or die.

After Brother 2 shared what was happening, I had no choice but to address it directly with my Boyfriend. In thinking about our having that conversation, it dawned on me that there was no mention of my having slept with Brother 1. Although it had only happened once, technically, it had happened when we broke up. If he didn't know about it––which I was sure he didn't––I had to be the one to tell him. It would not be fair for him to hear it from anyone else. I wasn't too numb to realize that.

I didn't allow myself to seriously consider how he would take it. Perhaps I needed to believe we would still be okay once he knew. Or, maybe because I was still seeing his Brother, with unintended passive/aggressive intentions to get back at him somehow, I wasn't as concerned as I should have been. Why was I still dating his Brother after our getting back together other than as payback?

It could be because Brother 1 genuinely liked me and thought himself lucky to have the opportunity to be in my life. He was not confused or unhappy with how he felt. He was excited by my presence in his life on all fronts. He had no racial or life issues with our relationship. He felt our life realities and interests blended well together. But, mostly, it was about me that I chose to continue seeing him. He was the first man to make me feel safe in a relationship. I realize now that, unlike my Boyfriend, Brother 1 could never be confused with my father.



Does The End Justify The Means?

"So, I heard that you've been seeing my Brother. I suspected that was the case when I saw the two of you together at the party, but I wasn't sure. Why are you seeing him now?"

I didn't even get to bring up the subject of my relationship with Brother 1. It was the first thing out of my Boyfriend's mouth after hello when he came to visit next. I was okay with his question since I had been preparing to discuss the subject. I decided to be honest with him and said how hurt I was by our breakup and that our interactions with each other started when Brother 2 and his wife (my girlfriend) invited me to dinner at his house. No, he hadn't contacted me directly.

When my Boyfriend asked if I had met Brother 1 before then, I reminded him that we had met on a couple of occasions, one in which he was present. It was the day the two of us took my son, along with my girlfriend and Brother 2, on a day-long trip to Angel Island. For some reason––I can't remember why––Brother 1 was also on the island that day. It was no more than a quick introduction of hellos and nods; that was it. The only thing I recalled about our meeting that day was how I looked up, and Brother 1 glanced over at me as I was breastfeeding my son. He smiled, and there was a twinkle in his eyes.

It's interesting how men can tell women a different version of certain events, especially if they are invested and careful about protecting their egos. Since I knew exactly how everything transpired between my Boyfriend and Brother 1, he caught me off guard and surprised me a bit hearing his take on his Brother's presence in my life.

In short, my Boyfriend was not concerned about Brother 1 and me; it wasn't a problem for him. That was different from what I had heard from Brother 2. At first, I thought his almost indifferent presentation of the facts was a cover for what he felt about it. Perhaps he didn't want to appear to me as if he felt insecure or jealous. But then he said, "I'm not concerned about you hanging out with my Brother because nothing will ever come of it. You don't know him and the kind of life he leads. He has taken a vow of celibacy for the past year. It was after his marriage ended that he started this sabbatical so that he could grieve the loss of his wife.."

Gratefully, this supposed news was not a surprise either. Brother 1 told me on the night we slept together about all my Boyfriend shared and more. About his ex-wife, how he felt about their breakup, and why he had abstained from having sex until that night. I had awakened something in him that opened him up to wanting to end his celibacy. And he wanted to end with me. Our time together that night was soft, sweet, and gentle. He cried in my arms during and after we made love.

"Since I know he won't be sleeping with you, the rest of whatever you two share doesn't bother me. My Brother and I are very different, and we have always had different tastes in women. Surprisingly, he seems to have developed some need to protect you from me––his big, bad Brother. But he'll see that we're fine, and that will be the end of that. Besides, my Brother has a particular taste in women, and you're not his type." My Boyfriend shared all of this in a nervous rush of words, sounding like he was trying to convince himself more than me.

I stared at him curiously because he was acting a bit strange. Anxious but trying to appear calm. He was waiting for me to agree to his assessment so that he could exhale in the relief that everything was okay. The thing that I felt he was most confident about, however, was the fact that his Brother and I would never sleep together. It was the one thing he had taken comfort in. Or, he thought, it was the trump card he held, ensuring that he would not lose the game. When, in fact, I was the one who had the trump card, and if I played it, I now knew it would devastate him, and it would be game over.

At that moment, I felt caught in the crossfire and armed with a gun. Whether it was playing the trump card or taking the shot, either way, I knew that I would not only lose the hand, I would be seriously wounded in the exchange. I sat frozen while my Boyfriend stared at me, his eyes almost pleading for confirmation and, yet, at the same time, his mouth almost smirking at me as if to say, "Your feminine wiles may have worked on me, but they won't on my brother." I could only stare back at him in disbelief, and the one sound I could utter was, "Hmm."

He shouldn't have said what he said in the way he did. Then, follow it up with a smirk and the implication that Brother 1 was somehow too good for me. But, all the same, I was so glad that he did. Because for the first time––don't ask me why it took this long––I realized how my Boyfriend actually felt about me. He didn't love me (as I had mistakenly assumed), and he didn't like me that much. What he felt for me was pure obsession. What he was obsessed and intoxicated with was my love for him.

He could not give up my love's warmth, taste, and touch and didn't want to share it with Brother 1 or anyone else. He tried to make me believe his Brother wasn't interested in me so I would stop seeing him. When I looked at it that way, I realized how I would always do that––make excuses for my Boyfriend's overtly distasteful behavior, especially towards me. This time, I just couldn't.

I didn't want to have to clean up the bad feelings that he, too often, left me with while creating a new version of his truth so that we could continue to get along and stay together. Grant it; this was a complicated situation with many complex feelings running through our agendas. However, there was a constant, underlying feeling I continued to be steered back to by my Boyfriend. It was the realization that in winning him back, I would still lose because I would be with someone who was, in truth, more unhappy with this outcome than he would have been if he had managed to get away.

A sense of him already, even before we got further into our story, feeling beleaguered, caught, and resentful, as if stuck in a marriage he never wanted to be in. Mind you, he was working hard to say the right words and give the appearance that he was all in. But, at moments like this, when he was sneering at me and my shortcomings as a woman of merit and esteem in his eyes, I could see beneath the facade that he had produced to cover up the truth.

To be fair, my Boyfriend was a snarky guy towards everyone, not just me. It stemmed from his arrogant belief that he was more intelligent and clever than everyone else in the room. But, he was intelligent, charismatic and wickedly charming, and when he focused his attention on you and drew you into his limelight, it was hard to disagree with him. With all we had gone through recently, some sparkle and fairy dust had worn thin. I got to see and feel the strain and sharp edges of what was being exposed by this deeper look into the motives and intentions we both brought to bear in the relationship. Neither one of us was looking too good.

Did I set out to hurt him in responding to his assessment of my relationship with his Brother? Or was it just that the truth would have hurt him anyway, regardless of how I said it? Admittedly, when I responded, I wasn't feeling kind or considerate of his feelings. But, again, did it matter? I was about to tell him that I did sleep with his Brother. What possible way was there to say that without it not being an okay thing to do? Maybe it did make a difference whether I said it with contrition or glee. In the end, I think I managed to say it with a bit of both. Had he not said what he said and looked at me the way that he did, I might not have, deep down inside, wanted to cause him pain.

"Your feminine wiles may have worked on me, but they won't on my brother."

"Hmm. I paused for a moment and then, "But they already have. Your Brother and I slept together that first night after the dinner party at his house."

I'll never forget the shadow of shock and horror that swept across his face like dark clouds surging through the sky ahead of the thunderstorm. His stunned eyes spoke first before his once sneering mouth, now drooping in sadness, uttered a sound. When he found that he could talk, the first word he bellowed was,

"What?" Followed by, "You did what?"

Startled by the force of his reaction, I immediately recoiled and dialed back my cavalier tone and attitude. Suddenly, I felt like I had made an off-handed remark to my father about something he was dead serious about. I got careless and forgot myself and who I was dealing with. With my Boyfriend, I failed miserably at reading the room and registering the severe nature of what I had just shared and the potentially devastating impact it could have on him, me, and our relationship.

My only response to this question was to point out the circumstances as to when and how it happened. I knew the worst of it was that it was my Boyfriend's Brother, the least being that I had slept with someone else. But we had broken up, and I would have been surprised to hear that he had not done the same. Even if it was just his way of trying to forget me or prove that I didn't matter to him the way he thought. The one thing I certainly didn't believe he would do (I don't know why) was end it between us.

"I can't believe you slept with my Brother. You were supposed to be in love with me. Did you forget that detail? And, my Brother, of all people." He didn't wait for my response before getting up and heading towards the door. I tried apologizing to him and asked if we could discuss it.

"There's nothing left to say. We're through. It's over." He spoke without looking back at me and opened and rushed through and out the door, slamming it behind him. The air of finality was palpable. In my gut, I knew this was the end; there would be no more attempts at salvaging or working things out. All at once, I felt the way one always did when losing something we wanted, even if it wasn't what was best for us.

Oddly enough, but maybe not, I also felt relieved. In the end, the news of my infidelity with Brother 1 accomplished what I did not dare to do. It ended a toxic relationship that would have only become worse over time. I felt sorry for hurting him, but mainly because that's what I thought I should feel.



A Bruised Ego Or Broken Heart Or All Of The Above?

Sitting here, peering back into the past in my younger years, I am struck by how self-serving my peers and I were. We were mostly all in our 20s, and, from what I can recall, in looking at my behavior and those of the people I was involved with, the driving force for us was always looking for what or who would satisfy our most basic and outlandish needs.

Before noticing this pattern, I was ready to pounce on myself, shocked at how selfishly I had behaved in this and mostly all other situations at that time. Everything I engaged in, for whatever reason, always began and ended with whatever it meant for me.

For example, with what had just occurred with my Boyfriend, all I could think about was what I should do next. How could I right this situation for me? At least some of this arose from the sense that I could do nothing for him. With my girlfriends in my life and women in general, it was a different story.

Although my primary motivations for everything had the same focus, I was way more responsive to their needs than men. Mostly because I knew how to show up when they were in pain, had a crisis, or needed me to pick up or drop off something. These were things I knew I could do to help them out or make their lives easier or happier. The one thing I learned was men appreciate when you cook for them. But that was useless to me since I doubted my Boyfriend would have accepted anything I could give––least of all, a home-cooked meal.

The news of our final parting traveled swiftly to and through our circle of family, friends, and anyone on the fringe who wanted to know. Brother 1 wasted zero time calling me that next day and professing his happiness and relief that it was over––as he felt it was the only possible outcome. He asked if he could see me later that evening. His total lack of sympathy for my loss could have been seen, by some, as off-putting. But, for me, it was perfect. I didn't want to dwell on or grieve the end of my relationship with my Boyfriend since that was not how I felt.

What I did appreciate was that I could move on and start spending time with someone I genuinely liked, was attracted to, and who made no effort to disguise his pleasure in knowing me. If there was pain and hurt to heal, being with Brother 1 was the soothing balm I needed. Things in your 20s move so fast you have to move with the changes to keep up with your life story and where it will take you next.

For over a week, my Boyfriend vanished from my life and, along with him, all knowledge of how or what he was doing. As I believed, in this instance, that no news was good news and he was getting over us and on with his life, I was okay with that. I spent time with Brother 1, who refused to talk about him, especially after I told him what my Boyfriend had said about me not being Brother 1's type.

"Well, obviously, he got that all wrong, don't you think?"

Of course, I had to agree with him; that was never an issue. I never for one moment, since that first night we were together, questioned his total appreciation for all of who I was. He made it easy for me to know where I stood with him. It was such a relief and a breath of new air not to have to battle over something so foundational to a relationship as that. And, yet, that was mostly all my Boyfriend, and I ever fought about. I would soon learn that keeping our relationship continually at the starting gate was a contributing factor to why we never got around to building anything out of what we had. Since what we had and how we felt about it was always under question.

As I was about to type the following action sequence in this fast-paced story of my life, a sudden and vital observation caught my attention and insisted I mention it.

Throughout this entire saga of me and my Boyfriend, I never spent time alone unless I slept in my own bed or went to the bathroom. Never. Even when I was traveling, on my own, to and from seeing someone else, that might as well have counted as being with them since I thought about them the whole time––coming and going. As someone who now recognizes the absolute necessity and value of spending time alone, with oneself, it's hard to fathom how I made it through even a day of my life without taking the time to reflect, get in touch with myself, and listen to and understand all that I saw, encountered, and felt.

No inner reflection equaled no inner guidance. No wonder I didn't have much of a clue as to my feelings or why I was making the decisions and choices I did. I feel, sitting here, that I am going back in time––and finally taking the time––to add reflection to the narrative of that episode in my life. It's no wonder I could end a relationship one day and fast-track a new one the next. I never stopped, for a moment, to think about any of it. I just kept reacting to every situation as it arose and moved with it until the next wave came.

My life was running me––and so was all the accumulated injury I had sustained over the years before. I was as much of a mess inside as my life was outside; the first was an infallible reflection of the latter. What other shape could I have been in while operating in that state? I won't judge myself for where I was since it was all I knew then about what it meant to be a human being, a young woman, a mother, and someone's girlfriend. I didn't know––that I didn't know––how to be authentic, balanced, or good at any of those.

Though it saddens me to say it, I thought I was doing okay back then. Oddly enough, by the standards of those times, I was. I lived in a lovely duplex with my best friend on a tree-lined street in a nice neighborhood. I was responsible in how I raised my son, focusing on our quality time together, a healthy diet, supervising playtime and play dates with other children, and bathing and bedtime stories every night. My roommate would fill in for the evening tasks in my absence. It was our ritual, and we never skipped a night. I wanted him to experience the continuity and safety provided by these nightly routines.

His happiness and health meant everything to me, even if mine didn't. I wasn't aware enough to know that over time, if I didn't start paying attention to myself beyond the age of 2, he would start doing what I did instead of what I told him to do. He would begin to mimic my behavior of self-neglect, taking my lead in thinking it was the right way to behave towards yourself.

About a week into what was now the official getting-to-know-you-better phase of our relationship, Brother 1 started to come by my place and hang out with me, my roommate, and the boys. Sometimes, we would take off after I put my son to sleep and go out to a movie, a bar, or to eat. We were notably compatible and found our rhythm together quickly. Although he was the quiet type and I was more talkative and outgoing, the differences never collided. We had no issues allowing each of us to be who we were; it was never a problem.

He was very attentive and supportive, and just plain, easy to be with, still in an interesting and not boring way. He was a kind person who was always ready to lend a helping hand to those who needed it. My life calmed down and began to flow in a way I hadn't known since I started seeing my Boyfriend. Brother 1 was the first man I was interested in getting to know. I never had to jump through hoops or scale walls to get close to him. It only took my desire for him to allow me in.

One day, while he was sitting around with me and my roommate and best friend, watching a movie, there was an unexpected knock on the door. We hadn't invited anyone, but someone could have easily decided to drop by for an impromptu visit. We had friends who did that on occasion. I opened the door, and my Boyfriend was standing there with a somber expression on his face. More than surprised, I felt a twinge of anxiety rise in my belly and trickle down my spine. I took a step forward in an attempt to signal that I was joining him outside rather than inviting him in.

"What's up? I asked him flatly, without emotion. I wasn't clear how I felt seeing him again.

You see, there's something you need to know about me. The one power I discovered I had when I was ten years old was that when I felt that something had ended––like the realization that I could no longer handle living with my parents––I had no problem walking away and never looking back. If my parents had allowed me to, I knew I would have done that to them. It's my wiring. It operates as a form of protection when I can take no more and am done with the people or situation I am in.

After my Boyfriend declared us done and walked out over a week ago, I didn't know how I would respond the next time I saw him. The finality of his stance permitted me to adopt the same declaration he handed me. When people in a heightened emotional state say such things, they rarely can keep to them. Eventually, they might stick. Unlike me, most people need time to walk out what their hearts may have known all along would be. My heart and I seemed to always be on the same page regarding this particular move. Because once I decide something is over and leave, I never look––or come back. Hence, the greeting I gave to my official ex-Boyfriend. He chose to ignore my hint that we should continue our discourse outside.

"So, can I come in?"

He seemed a bit miffed that I hadn't already invited him in. I didn't want to. I might have if Brother 1 had not been inside sitting on my couch. But, with my Boyfriend's vulnerable body language and downcast look, no one had to tell me it would not go well. I was 100% certain that when he saw his Brother casually lounging in the same spot, he claimed many times as his, he would most likely unravel. He was not prepared for or, by appearances, in any state to deal with what was awaiting him on the other side of that door if I let him in.

"Who is it?" My roommate called out. "Hurry up, you're missing the best part of the movie.

Hearing my roommate's voice prompted me to back up and open the door wider so he could get through. He was already answering her question as he walked in.

"It's just me."

He entered the room, expecting to see only my roommate–– then he saw Brother 1 sitting there, too. He froze. We all did.

An awkward silence hovered in the air as everyone's minds scrambled to find the first words that would likely set the next few moments in motion. But in what direction? Honest or contrived? Surprised? Disdainful? Angry? Defeated? Self-righteous? The possibilities seemed endless. Me? My mind was jammed on, clueless. I honestly did not know what to say or do. Fortunately, because it was him, the rest of us were tip-toeing around; my Boyfriend chose honesty and forced us all, stuck or not, into first gear.

"Hey, I wasn't expecting to see you here. This is awkward," my Boyfriend challenged Brother 1, implying that it was him, not my Boyfriend, who was the unexpected person in the room.

"Hey, me, too," Brother 1 shot back, refusing to defend his presence, which left them now toe-to-toe and on even ground.

On that note, my roommate quietly nodded at my Boyfriend and announced she was headed to the kitchen to make a pot of strong coffee, which was her go-to for almost every occasion. We all knew it to be code for her having no interest in being anywhere near this situation. It was also an open invitation for anyone else wanting to escape or drown their discomfort in a steaming cup of coffee.

I could barely move, which positioned me shy of the now-closed door, not hugging it, but almost. I couldn't speak because there were no words in my wheelhouse for this situation. Anything that quickly ran through my mind, if spoken, I knew would make matters worse. I couldn't sit because that would be a statement worth volumes.

My Boyfriend stood a few feet from me, staring down at his Brother seated too comfortably on my couch. I was waiting to see if my Boyfriend––if he decided to stay––would sit on the loveseat or the single chair, which were both unoccupied.

"Can I talk to you alone for a minute?" Ignoring me, my Boyfriend directed his question to his Brother, the two now locked in a staring match.

"Sure," Brother 1 agreed, slowly standing up and walking towards my Boyfriend; neither included me in this exchange with their eyes or words. This scene that was unfolding was strictly between the Brothers. I don't know what prompted my Boyfriend to show up or what he had planned on saying to me, but clearly, his Brother's presence eclipsed the original purpose for his visit.

Or, at the very least, it had to be dealt with before he could move on to me. Even if it meant only a temporary stay in the unsettling events that would follow, I was relieved to escape a situation I did not know how to handle. I headed for the kitchen and the safety of my best friend and her pot of coffee. Perhaps it was because I left the room; the Brothers felt they didn't have to leave and go outside to talk, as I anticipated they would. I could overhear their conversation's tense and urgent sounds from the kitchen, but not enough to make out what they were saying.

I was sitting at the kitchen table with my roommate, with her usual chill, and I was shaking my head in utter disbelief at what was happening in our living room. I had already profusely apologized to her for bringing this drama to our home and into her life; it wasn't fair, and I knew it. Lately, it seemed, I had become the queen of relationship drama and dysfunction, and I was getting sick to death of myself and this cloud of disruption that followed me and my life everywhere.

How was one supposed to feel under such circumstances as these? Was there any upside to any of it, or was the whole affair a downward spiraling nightmare from which none of us would ever awaken? How does one even begin to repair the kind of damage quickly, building into an onslaught with every incident? And, like a runaway train with broken brakes racing out of control, what would it take to stop it, or would it end with a decimating crash?

I was out of my depth and out of my league, and yet, so much of what would happen depended on the choices I would have already and would still have to make. I was starting to realize that no matter what I did, someone would get hurt very severely before this was all over. Would our relationships be worth salvaging from the rubble and debris of the aftermath for any of us?

I heard the sound of the living room door opening as if someone was leaving. Anxious to know which part of my fate had been decided during this exchange between the Brothers and which one was going, I quietly walked towards the living room and peered in. The Brothers stood by the open door, and my Boyfriend was halfway out when he stepped back in.

"Listen, there's something wrong with her. I mean, who does that? She slept with you while telling me she was in love with me. And you, my Brother, of all people! I love her, and she knows it. What is she doing with you? The two of you together is all wrong."

"You know what's wrong here? You break up with her, tell everyone you don't love her, and then get mad because she's trying to move on with her life. It's not her fault that you changed your mind, and now, suddenly, you love her and want to be with her. Everything does not always revolve around you. We have feelings for each other, and that's not a bad thing. You need to let go now and move on."

"I can't," my Boyfriend uttered miserably as he hurriedly bolted through the door and disappeared into the night.



Where Do You Go When You've Already Been Where You Are–Again?

Stunned and wishing I had never heard what had transpired between my Boyfriend and his Brother, I retreated to the kitchen. It hurt to listen to what my Boyfriend said about there being something wrong with me. Beyond the obvious––that I was a terrible, cold, and unfeeling person––what else could he have meant? But was I any worse than all the other people I knew hooking up with this person and breaking up with that one? The brother thing was not cool, I could admit that. But why was he so willing to give himself a complete pass and, at the same time, vilify me across the board?

How did I suddenly become the villain, responsible for everything, including everyone's behavior and pain? I had already concluded that my Boyfriend did not love me, so why did he tell Brother 1 that he did and that he couldn't let go? Well, did or didn't he love me? What in the hell was the truth? I didn't know anymore.

Brother 1 came into the kitchen and put his hand on my shoulder, massaging it gently.

"I'm sorry if you heard that," he apologized.

"If you did, please ignore what he said. There's nothing wrong with you; this is not your fault. These things happen. People break up. It's hard, but it's not the end of the world. My Brother is struggling to let go, and I get it. But, in ordinary circumstances, I'm not the person he turns to for this sort of support. So, if it seems I'm indifferent to his feelings, it's not that. We just don't have that kind of relationship. Besides, I'm also involved in this and have feelings of my own to deal with."

Here was yet another man who, it appeared, had feelings I could not understand or show up for. However, earlier in the evening, Brother 1 spoke about some issues with a contractor. I listened first, interested in all that he shared, and then told him what I saw happening in the situation. I then offered several solutions and assured him he would determine the best way to handle it.

I realized after remembering that the issue wasn't my inability to be responsive to and supportive of a man's feelings. Like it was with my father, I was apt at listening and responding to anything a man wanted to share with me––except when they had issues with how they felt about me. I could deal with distant, cold, or breaking-up kind of feelings. But, I could not handle or understand the hurt and confused feelings of them being in love with me.

What am I saying here? The more surface, romantic, sexual feelings with a vague promise of love attached were an easy go for me. I could readily accept and embrace those. However, a more decidedly deep, complex, honest, heart-encompassing love left me blank and unresponsive. I had no template in my heart, familial or otherwise, to navigate such a more profound expression of love. Although I never felt loved as a child, I deeply desired to experience and know what it was despite my inability to recognize or embrace it.

When I was ten, I spoke of leaving my parent's house for good because I wanted to go 'home to where the love was.' I didn't know what or where this place was or even truly what I meant by that. All I knew was this unrelenting urgency I felt to return to the safety of the love I came from, the place that was home to me.

So, this was the dilemma I found myself in as a young woman with misguided directions seeking out the only place I was told where I could finally find love––in the arms and heart of a man. No one, not my mother, father, aunts or uncles, or anyone ever told me what I was supposed to know or do, what I was responsible for bringing to this union. All I could gather from all that I didn't learn was that he, the man, would know about love and what to do; he had all the answers. If I showed up with my passion in tow, he would take my love, give me his in return, and all would be well.

As unexpectedly as my Boyfriend appeared at my door that evening, for several weeks following, he was completely absent from my life, with no word or sighting of him. It was almost as if he had gone into hiding, at least from me and those in my inner circle. My life continued to move forward while I raised my son and spent more and more time with Brother 1. Without the ghost of my relationship with my Boyfriend hovering over us or any surprised visits from the man himself, we were able to settle into each other and grew closer because of it. My Boyfriend and Brother 1 had mutually agreed to stop working together, so besides hearing from Brother 2 that my Boyfriend was alive and well, Brother 1 also lost touch with him.

Everything was sailing along peacefully when my roommate and I received news that was suddenly about to change everyone's lives. Our reality company informed us via a notarized letter that they had sold both units in the duplex we occupied and gave us a 30-day notice to vacate the premises.

Just two days earlier, we celebrated the addition of a new family member. My roommate gave birth to a baby boy at our home. She was thrilled with his arrival and looked forward to settling in and exploring her expanding role as a mother of two sons. With the news of the impending move clouding the air, some wind got knocked out of our sails. Finding perfect housing for two single moms with three children would be difficult, and we were not looking forward to the challenge. We had such a terrific situation where we were; the location and its access to all the places we regularly interacted with would be hard to replace. We were attached, and with my roommate's recent birth, we were not especially inspired to move.

Brother 1––who had now officially become my new Boyfriend (but to avoid confusion, he will remain Brother 1 throughout this telling)––stopped by one evening, excited to offer us a solution to our housing issue. He and another housemate lived in this old, large, fixer-upper, four-bedroom house on a relatively large plot of land. He had made a deal with the owner to slowly use his excellent carpentry skills in partial exchange for rent to restore it to its original state.

He wanted to offer his place as our new home. There would be a bedroom for our two sons, one for my roommate and her new baby, and he and I could share his room. A rambling yard provided a playground for the children and was great for social gatherings. His house was even better located than ours and in a much sought-after neighborhood. The landlord had her house tucked away in the rear of the property, while another woman rented a separate, upstairs addition. The place had a warm, communal feel when everyone was out and about around the property.

When we first heard his offer, my roommate and I each felt like the hand of a higher power was responsible for creating this new living opportunity for us. On the face of it, caught up in the flurry of imaginings over what a great place it would be, especially for the boys, we were delighted by the prospect. This gift that suddenly fell into our laps would save the day and enhance our housing situation. It wasn't a lateral move but an upgrade in how it met our living needs and more.

The one thing we all overlooked in our excitement was how the move would impact my relationship with Brother 1. Suddenly, I was facing a complicated life change, from coupled yet living separately to living with and sharing a bed every day and night with a man I had not prepared myself to know with this degree of intimacy. And, yet, everyone kept right on overlooking it, including me. I was caught up in the moment like we all were, feeling too bright for our own good to have found a way to deal with the immediate problem at hand. Though short-sighted, gratefully, I did not raise a doubt or question about the efficacy of this decision for all involved; it was a time to look out for the well-being of my son, my roommate, and her sons, not just myself.

Things went on like that, moving too fast for reason or reflection. But, this was how it always was with me and men. Nothing ever made any real sense; things just happened. Hearts stumbled and fell open, then stalled and shut down, almost on cue. The moments when these things occurred were never predictable, but they would always be inevitable.

Men fell hard when in love with me and equally so when falling out. So, despite my past experiences, here I was entirely out of nowhere, making the random choice of moving in with a man, to be honest, I still knew so very little about. But, he was a good man. There was no doubt about that. And I wanted to know him. Although my Boyfriend was the most exciting man I had ever met, Brother 1 was the most kind and dependable one. We were good together, and our differences complimented each other.

I keep circling over this time before the move, I think, in search of some evidence that I did more than agree to the move without further thought or reflection. Perhaps there was a moment I sat down later alone or with Brother 1 and pondered the more profound implications of what we were headed into together. But, sadly or not, that's not what happened. From when I said yes to the move to when I started unpacking my things in his room, I kept going forward, never looking back. I would have to face whatever I didn't prepare for when it arose. And that was every day I spent living with him and them in that house.

Our singular, duplex lifestyle quickly morphed into a community style of living, where we had little control over who or what experiences appeared on our doorstep or in our house daily. Friends of friends or relatives who knew Brother 1 or his housemate showed up for one reason or another regularly. Gratefully, the children adjusted pretty quickly, with the boys spending most of their time exploring this big strange house and yard and all the new faces that peopled their world. It wasn't that there were a lot of visitors or that they came every day; it was more that you didn't always know who or when they would come by.

I bring all of this up because I was essentially a very private, control freak who thrived on being able to design my reality according to how I felt from day to day. Not a big fan of surprises or surprise visitors, this fluid, open-door policy was quite nerve-wracking. My roommate, the more easygoing type, was having a fun time meeting new people, including available men to date. I spent much time in the room I shared with my Brother 1, retreating there when overwhelmed by the big dining room table filled with dinner guests who lingered for drinks and conversation. In truth, I would say I had the best of two worlds; if I wanted to be with people, they were around. But, when I had enough, I could spend time alone.

Amid this flurry of change and activity, Brother 1 and I settled into the new rhythm of living together as a couple. He wore his Levis, plaid shirts, work boots, or Birkenstocks like a second skin and was one of those men who inspired those clothes designs. They were made for him. His understated but natural fashion sense inspired such a feeling of comfort and ease. I decided to adopt it as my own. He was generous in sharing his shirts with me––of which he had a variety––and I would pair them with my jeans, with a tank or tee shirt underneath. Depending on my mood, I would tie the bottom in a knot at the waist or let the shirt tails hang long and loose around my thighs.

Some people who noticed that we dressed alike quite frequently thought it was a sweet statement of closeness and solidarity. We were together and happy to be so was what it spoke to some. Others thought our twinning attire to be a bit corny and sentimental and too much 'in your face' and were annoyed by it. The funny thing was, since we were operating purely out of our desire to please ourselves, we never really cared or paid any attention to what others thought or said. When we did happen to hear about it, I would 'tsk-tsk,' he would chuckle, and we would continue living our lives together.

Also, because of our history––me first with my Boyfriend, then Brother 1, then with the two of them, and now suddenly living with Brother 1 after such a brief courtship––people were, not surprisingly, beyond skeptical about the whole affair. The consensus was that we could not survive our beginnings and make a real go at a lasting relationship. Again, from our bubble of contentment, we didn't pay much attention to what those people thought either.

We were too seriously involved in each other's hearts, minds, and bodies to care. That wasn't necessarily a healthy place to be because there was a reasonable probability that we were riding a wave of heightened emotions that allowed us to skirt any deeper issues buried beneath the surface. If so, eventually, they would rise and overtake our bliss, or we would crash down, forced to meet and greet them headlong.

There are two things I must fess up to before the story takes yet another unsuspected turn. One was years ago, when I was twelve, and the other was only a few years before I met my Boyfriend. I'm not sure how you'll react to these, but for me, remembering them and trying to figure out the best time to share these pieces of my puzzle only revealed more evidence of the fragmented, disconnected relationship I had with myself and the walk of my life from childhood to, and during, my journey as a young adult. Perhaps I would not have repeated the same act if I had allowed myself to reflect upon, question, and connect the dots in my earlier experience of dating brothers. And I also would have known what the outcome would be.

My first-ever crush was a student in my class with whom I attended junior high school, along with his twin brother. Not to belabor the details and get to the point, I dated my crush, who gave me my first kiss (and offered to kill my father over the illegal abortion)––and I dated his twin. It blew me away when I looked closely at what transpired between us. I realized it was the same set-up as what happened with my Boyfriend and Brother 1.

My crush and I were together for a while; his twin was there, but not in any way that mattered to me. Again, they were from a big family of five brothers. They were very polite and friendly boys and very popular in our neighborhood. One had dark wavy hair and a swarthy complexion, the other light brown hair and fair skin. The mix of their parents' genes, Mexican and Black, produced a set of twins, one wearing the hair texture, color, and features of the mother, the other, the father. Their personalities fit their look to a tee. My crush favored a dark, masculine intensity. His twin was dreamy, with an airy, playful quality. They were true opposites in only the apparent ways; as twins, they were thick as thieves and inseparable.

I don't have to tell any more of the story because I'm already telling it in its current iteration. The same progression of events and the basic dramas surrounding them happened in both instances. I am sure that when I was with my Boyfriend and Brother 1, I must have thought of my crush and his twin more than once. How could I not? But, apparently not in the way that would have served an actual purpose other than to fondly reminisce or display a faux-distress over finding myself with brothers again.

But the thing is when I ask myself the question, "Who does this?" How did I miss the most factual answer: "I do!" Maybe because I was just 12, I didn't think it would count as evidence of something missing inside me (like boundaries, for example), so I didn't see it in that light. Or that because I did not lose my virginity until five years later, it didn't count because I never slept with either one during that time. For me, the most chilling realization was that without ever having sex with them, I still was able to elicit the same painful results: two brothers divided by their feelings for me and me never realizing what my responsibility was in all of it.

The second overlooked but pertinent piece of information was that several months before getting involved with my Boyfriend, I was living in a different state with my son's father. We had been together for several years, before, during, and after my pregnancy and a year after my son's birth. One of the reasons I thought of this relationship and chose to bring it up now is how we wound up living together.

We worked for the same company and started having drinks after work. Soon after, we began spending most Saturday afternoons together; he was married (another feather in my missing boundaries cap), and that was the only time he could get away. He was supposed to be at the office, but he would come and see me instead. We had an intense, passionate affair, and though he was 12 years older than me––when you're 23, 36 could seem a lot older––we had a lot of fun and got on well.

One evening, I was sitting in my apartment watching television, and there was a knock on the door. Surprised, I opened it after asking who it was and he said his name. Looking weary and lost, he blurted out, "I just left my wife." He said he was in love with me and asked if we could live together––just like that. I was happy living alone and being on my own. Living with someone, especially a man I was casually seeing, was not on my schedule of planned events. I was stunned and confused. I never asked him to leave his wife for me. I did say that I was falling in love with him, and sometimes, saying goodbye on Saturdays was hard and made me sad, but this was a giant leap from what we had to a fully committed relationship.

So, to bring this all full circle, here I was again, having moved in with someone for reasons other than my making a clear, informed decision about doing so.

Yet, when faced with the possibility of building an actual life reality with my Boyfriend, I could not see how that would work. Now, I realize that the only way I ever lived with any man was not through a thought-out, walked-through plan but something off the cuff and by happenstance. If I had the chance to think about it, I wouldn't do it.

So, I left that relationship with my son's father only to enter another unplanned live-in relationship with Brother 1. And I can't help wondering why I didn't wonder that, without forethought and intention, the likelihood was that the two relationships would end up the same––that my undisturbed patterns and repeated choices would continue to create and foretell my future.



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