…masters, no trades…

I felt painted into a corner with a colour of oil paint that made my eyes water and my head hurt. Lin was my friend, mine. Ever since we met as budding reporters at the radio station I always valued her straight-forward level-headed opinion on things. I was sure that she would have agreed with me on this. Especially since she was pursuing her Master’s Degree as well. But he will always be a better salesman than me, even when it involved the direction of my life and career.

Getting my second degree was hot button topic of discussion since our daughter shot out of me and bumped his chest nearly three years prior. I would approach it from all angles and the desired response was always delayed. Today it felt closer to a ‘no’ as he got Lin to present the argument that getting my Master’s isn’t necessary if the intent is to leave my government job and become an entrepreneur. She was right, I don’t need it to run a business, it’s surely irrelevant in the business of mixing oils, butters and waxes. He smiled smugly, confident that I’d drop the topic finally and concede to his superior knowledge once and for all, while we stood in Lin’s spacious new townhouse we pretended we didn’t envy.

I couldn’t drop it. It was more than getting my Master’s. It was about getting back myself.

We were always partners in everything we did. All decisions were made after long discussions and a consensus was agreed upon. Communication made us work, that and the fact that I felt like he respected and truly valued my opinion. Then, I got pregnant. The anxiety of becoming a mother made me question and second guess my own shadow. I conceded everything to his seemingly better judgement. A decision which yielded mixed results. When we decided to turn our kitchen hustle into a legitimate business, I finally felt like I found my stride out of the post-par-tum fog. By then however, he wasn’t ready or willing to relinquish the reins or even share them.

Everything was what he said as he said. A sliver of dissent meant I didn’t respect him as the man of the house. The business, an idea born out of my struggle and love of mad science experimentation since the age of 8 years old was taken over by him the minute we grew in social media popularity. I became a mere workhorse employee, though he was excellent at selling a different version of events. I felt lost in my own life. I wanted to retreat to the version of myself that I knew best. The Academic. He wanted no part of it.

As we drove home, I sat in the front seat of of his gold Kia. Another bone of contention with us. A purchase he made with no consultation but the cost of every broken part was known all too well by my dwindling savings. I thought hard about the conversation that broke my heart. Is getting my Master’s Degree really a waste of time if my goal is to become an Entrepreneur. Is becoming solely an entrepreneur truly my goal?

I was silent when we got inside. He barely noticed. Probably preoccupied with the glow of his victory. I sat on the edge of the bed. I waited until I heard the click of the closed door behind him. Then, the tears flowed. I didn’t wail, scream or even sob. Partly because I didn’t want to wake our sleeping toddler in the next room. Also partly because my tears felt more like a mourning of someone passing. Someone you knew was sick, has been sick for some time and their death felt like an act of kindness given by the universe.

Like a drop of adrenaline, the idea dawned on me. Ms. Red. She has her Masters. She has her own business. She is a woman I admired. She’d have an insight that neither I, him or Lin can provide. Would getting that second degree really make a difference to your life trajectory?

Ms. Red and I were friends in the loosest sense of the word but we were more than just associates. I loved what she was about and showed my support. She provided an avenue through fashion for women of a particular size to learn to love themselves and the skin they’re in. She in turn gave me the opportunity to show my love of fashion and strutting in beautiful clothing without spending a cent. We didn’t run in the same circle but there was a mutual respect and admiration there that grew over time. I found her number.

I struggled to express my perspective as the phlegm and tears bubbled in my throat. I all but expressed how I felt lost in my own life. How getting my degree was more than just the piece of paper. It was an opportunity to find out beneath the labels of mother, wife, employee, businesswoman… who am I really?

She calmly listened to my blubbering, a disposition that seemed foreign on me as I was always quiet and smiling around her. Then, she spoke, “The fact that you are asking this question means you know in your heart what you want to do. I cannot tell you that getting your Master’s would be beneficial or not to your dreams to be an entrepreneur. Getting mine helped me in some ways but it wasn’t really essential. But if you feel like you need to take that step to really be effective as a business woman and become comfortable in your career and your life then do it. It’s knowledge. I can never speak against a woman seeking more knowledge. If that’s what you need to do. Find a way to do it. Pray about it. Ask God to make a way for it and do it.”

I applied in an MSc. Management Studies programme the following June.

…Cascade Carnival…

I sat with my group trying my best to pay attention to the tenants of brainstorming versus brain-dumping in relation to planning and plotting points for our Organisational Behaviour assignment. I struggled. My heart was a storm and my head was a dump. I bolted. I made up an excuse that my sitter called and she couldn’t keep my daughter. Truth was, I just didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to be anywhere. No where felt safe. No where felt comfortable. No where brought peace. At least, no where that I would go.

My phone buzzed, a text from Digicel that I missed a call from my mother. I returned the call. She was in Cascade with a patient who’s family left for the Carnival and she had the house mostly to herself. She heard death in my voice. The shell of the child she gave birth to some 29 years ago. She flexed a muscle she rarely used and offered me the opportunity to spend the long weekend with her in Cascade.

Perfect.

The house had a pool, it was near a green-space and mom made her own groceries. All I needed to bring was myself, my reading material for my project and a swimsuit. As for my daughter…it pained me but not her. I couldn’t look at her without seeing him. A face that once filled my heart with joy and pride brought rage and sadness. And it wasn’t even her fault.

I left her. Let him field the questions, deal with her pained face wondering where I am. When am I coming back? Why did I leave without her? All questions I’ve had to craft creative responses for her in an effort to save her father’s image in her eyes. I doubt he’d give me the same courtesy.

I arrived at the house. My legs stung from trudging up the hill. The house took up half a block in the gated community. The guards were lax as they just waved me in assuming I was a house-keeper or a geriatric nurse like my mom. My attire betrayed nothing about me, other than I was just tired. My mom greeted me with a hug. Something she usually asks for rather than take. She took it and I was grateful.

She showed me the room I’d be staying in for the next three days. It was small, it fit a built-in wardrobe and a full-size bed. I sat on the bed and saw the small green space outside. I decided that would be my hiding spot during the day. Just then, my phone rang. It was him. I couldn’t breathe. As far as he knew, I was still in UWI in my group meeting. I’m terrible at lying but excellent at playing dumb. I answered.

“Where are you? I have something important to do and you need to take our child.” I exhaled and chose my words carefully. “I’m out. Won’t be back until Tuesday afternoon” I heard his voice change in octaves before he responded, “Fucking Tuesday! Where are you? I’m coming for you in UWI now!” I somehow felt assured that he’s too far to do anything to me physically. My inner brat came out, “UWI is big, might take you three days to find me if you go searching. Either way, I’m not there. I’d be home on Tuesday. There is food for Sky in the fridge and if all else fails, you know your way around the kitchen.” He matched my attitude to deliver some jabs of his own, “I know all of this, I’m the one who cooked. You’re never in the kitchen unless it’s to make hair butter. If you cooked more…” I hung up. I knew where this was heading. I wanted to get away from that. My phone rang a few times, then came the messages, as quick and angry as the content and its sender. I left the room, and the phone in it.

The next day, I sat on the balcony overlooking the hills of Cascade. My laptop sat in front of me but my attention was captivated by the colours of the hills. I know nothing of birds, but they sang to me, or maybe to each other. My mom brought me a some toast and cheese with Lipton tea. I can count on my fingers the number of times my mother has attended to me so closely. Every single occasion I was sick. I guess this time was no different.

My phone buzzed. A message from Shivani popped up on my screen. Shivani, a new friend from Spanish class, had become both my sounding board and my ice-bath of reality since the whole ordeal started. I clung to her for her directness at a time when everyone around me treated me with velvet gloves. It also didn’t hurt that she was the best in the class at Spanish.

I opened her message, “So I’m in Superpharm with Chris, because I’m in need of deodorant. Guess who’s two lanes over?” I knew where this was going. I refused to accept it. But I had to indulge. I had beaten myself up for what had happened for too long.

“Who?” I asked the stupid question.

“Your husband, person or whatever. With her, the horsefly.” my heart sank at the sight of words which meant to inspire humour. As soon as I’m not around, he ran to her. But my imagination wasn’t enough to pacify me.

“Pics or it didn’t happen.” The pictures came. The two of them caught mid-flight like two criminals fleeing the scene. There she was in her signature attire of a cleavage bearing V-neck top and shorts that were two sizes too small. He wore a shirt I bought him back in his slimmer days. It clung to his stomach which hung over his grey shorts. He almost fell out of his leather slipper. His full attire, bought by me.

“I hope you appreciate me risking my life here, because he looks pissed.” I did. At least I had evidence that I’m not as crazy as he leads me to believe. There was now proof. Proof that would be helpful if ever there was a divorce. “I’ll keep you in my prayers, and sponsor your coffee next class.” Three hug emojis followed, “Make it a coke. So what are you gonna do now? If you’re confronting him, let me cash and leave first.” Made sense. I chuckled at how theatrical my life became. “Let me know when you’re out.”

“Out.”

I called him. Half of me didn’t expect him to answer. Half of me didn’t want him to. He answered. “What?!” Good. Give me attitude. Give me rage. Give me the liberty to peppa yuh muddacunt! “Where is my child?!” I stood up and walked away from the balcony as it was a bit too close my mother’s patient for this conversation. “Like you even care, she’s with the sitter. I had some turns to make so I dropped her there for a few hours.” I heard the car start.

“Turns? Did you somehow manage to turn up at Trincity?” I heard him honk his horn at fellow drivers. His fair to average driving skills fade to absolutely atrocious when he’s mad. Part of me wanted him to crash. Part of me wanted to hang up phone and flush myself down the toilet that I sat on. “So you have spies on me now? I see the coolie bitch and she faggot man taking pictures in Superpharm.” I laughed heartily at him. “Coolie? Ok dougla boy, self-hate is alive and well in you boy. A pity you’re behaving just like the father you hate so much.” I heard a car screech. Not sure if it was his. At the moment, I didn’t care.

“You ever thought that maybe the reason why I ran to her is because you’re such a cunt!” I did. But he’d run to her when I’m not being a cunt so why bother being nice. “Well you’re married to this cunt so how about you just divorce me and go live happily ever after with your slut. I hope she knows that wearing pants that tight causes yeast infections. Hope you like your fish cheesy.” He shouted something. I couldn’t make it out because his phone probably fell, a regularly occurrence, angry or not. “Fuck you! I wish I never met you! You ruined my life you fucking bitch!” Good. Lay the foundation, let me finish this house.

“Life?! What fucking life you had before me? With your two CXC passes and your security wuk?! Where were you possibly going that I hampered your future? I’m the one who was getting the degree. You hated that so much that you stopped me for two years from doing my Masters. Now I’m finally doing it, and you decided to fuck up my progress with this shit. You and all your insecurities.” My mind ran on my abandoned laptop on the balcony and all the reading I had to do. “My mother was right. I chose wrong. You, sir, were the one who fucked up my life and derailed my career for the sake of your legacy. The minute I no longer fell in line, you found my replacement. A diluted one at best, a fuck buddy at worst. You are the worst possible thing to happen to me. I should have taken another street instead of giving you a minute of attention by Nicholas Tower.”

He took a breath before he responded. A low blow would be a euphemistic description for my words. I knew him. I knew how to hurt him. And I also knew how to deliver a kill shot. “I wish you did too.” He hung up.

… a broken promise…

The validation of months of suspicions swelled in my chest. Then came the hubris: how dare you Cheat On ME?!!! I flipped back and forth through the three pictures scrutinizing her face, her body, her features. She laid on the floor of her livingroom with her skirt hiked up showing a generous amount of leg. She stuck her tongue out in assumed jest. In each frame her back was more arched than the previous shot. Seemingly innocent, obviously not. She wasn’t even that pretty, I thought. What a slut?! She looked like a horsefly. A cross-eyed horsefly.

It would be months before I noticed that in the right corner of each frame next to the yellow bowl of gold fish crackers was the bent knee and stubby toes of my four-year-old. This had to be a joke. But if it were, why would he delete the photos from his phone gallery. If it weren’t for the automatic upload feature of Google Photos, the evidence of his transgression would have gone unnoticed.

I didn’t give myself an opportunity to second guess it. Something had changed. He had changed. He got promoted. A bigger salary. Twice what he made before. His clothes improved, better shoes. He worked hard. He deserved it. That wasn’t all. He went out more. Honestly he was always a social butterfly, a prevalent point in our list of incompatibilities.

Then there were the strange questions and anecdotes. Once he asked me if I believed in emotional cheating. He insisted the question stemmed from a conversation he and his colleagues were having at work that day. He said the topic was raised by the new girl in the office. According to him, his colleagues believed she had a crush on him. I even played along at home whenever he raised the topic. “How could she not, you’re the cute star-boy salesman. She wants you!” I’d tell him. “Why else would she accompany you to go Christmas shopping?” 

Imagine my surprise when I discovered she never worked with him. The conversations with his colleagues were all convoluted creations meant to introduce his new friend. An attempt to acclimatize us to one another perhaps.

I met her once. Barely. He brought her to our home then took our daughter to Gulf City Mall to go Christmas gift shopping. I insisted that year that I wanted a leather jacket as my gift and I saw one one sale on Facebook at a store located in Gulf City Mall. She went for the ride. She sat in the front passenger seat, my seat, smiled and waved at me, “Merry Christmas!”. I half waved back with a sweaty face and cobweb in my hair from cleaning and holey pajamas. I messaged him, apologizing for my rudeness as I really didn’t expect guests.

In February of the following year, while in the pit of my depression, the events of that day came to haunt me in a case of mistaken identity. The mother of one of my exes recognized my daughter and husband with ‘me’ at the mall that day, shopping. She said ‘I’ looked so much slimmer with my braids and baby blue shorts. I got so fat now. I laughed it off insisting it was my sister she saw and not me. “It was my sister”, was a reasonable explanation of why the three of them looked so close and happy together like they were family.

With his phone still in my hand, I leaped at him like a soucouyant seeking blood, demanding answers I truly didn’t care to hear. The thumping of my pulse filled my ear with the opening chords of a song so fitting for the moment.

Who the fuck do you think I am?

You ain’t married to no average bitch, boy!

– Don’t hurt yourself, Beyonce ft Jack White.

“Me! You horn me?! You were a security guard before me! You lived in a rat hole before me!”

There it was again, the hubris that pushed him, emasculated him. A task made easy by the fact that every fibre of his character was riddled with insecurities. He was never confident in himself and what he brought to the table. Frankly, neither was I.