Growing up love between a man and a woman was a foreign concept. Monica understood love in the way her mother works until past ten at night to buy her school uniform, she saw it in the soft gaze of her grandmother who watched her face in the mirror when she braided her hair before bed each night.
Her mother told her that men are selfish, they don’t know how to love, they can’t be trusted, and they will always leave. She cannot remember when her father left; only that he has never been there at all. She can remember her stepfather’s departure; the image of her mother crumpled up on the kitchen floor clutching the papers while another woman waited for him outside in the car is forever etched in mind’s eye.
The first time Dontaye left Mo didn’t expect him to come back. She screamed at him to get out until her voice was raw and the door slammed shut, sealing the space between them like the lines of their story had come to an abrupt and unsatisfying end. Somehow without trying he’d showed her what it meant to be in love. His calm confidence reached into the endless chaos of her life and provided a steadying hand. He was a shore when she was drowning. A safe place to go and be protected from the judgment and exploitation the rest of the world was so eager to pin on her.
When he returned she knew for the first time what it felt like to be full. She had to lose him to know that she needed him, and he had to come back on his own to prove he could be trusted.
Eight years later they still play the game of tug-o-war as viciously as ever. It is a constant fight to come out on top and some days she hates him so much she can’t bear to speak his name. But it’s the other days she remembers when she’s alone – the days that blur into nights when his face is the only one she sees, when his voice is in her ear reminding her how much she matters – to him, to the world. On the good days she’s always good enough. On the good days she doesn’t need anything more than to touch him and to feel his breath on her skin to know she is alive and they will never die.
Today is a good day, and on days like these she always wakes up and goes to sleep with a prayer on her lips. She thanks God for bringing him to her, but most of all she thanks him for finding the patience to teach her how to love.