I guess I went a little wild after that. I couldn’t find a way to escape my situation with Rico, I couldn’t numb the pain of losing Sara, I couldn’t figure out how to make enough money to get out of those awful low-income, drama-filled apartments… Basically, I was lost. So, instead of driving my life back to God and asking him to fix it, I decided to drive it off a cliff.
Rico was doing shady things for money. Since I had lost my jobs due to his antics, that left me with whatever moola I could get from the welfare office, and, believe me, it wasn’t even nearly enough. To be honest, I was so worn out emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually, I don’t think I could’ve worked anyhow. I started getting an, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” attitude. If he had money, even though I did NOT approve of where he got it, I would wheedle some out of him one way or the other. Not much, but enough to buy some clothes for the kids or me, or some food or toilet paper. My conscience nagged at me a little, but I always found some way to justify it.
I wasn’t feeling like the most attractive woman alive. Let’s face it, I’m not beautiful, and at the time, after everything I’d been through, I felt downright unacceptable and ugly. That’s what’s so weird about what happened next. I tried on a mini skirt that was on sale at my favorite shop in the mall and wore it out to a club one night. I hadn’t been in the habit of going to bars or clubs. Not EVER, but some people I had met were going, and I nervously tagged along.
The admiration that little mini skirt got me was phenomenal! Men were literally falling out of their seats watching me go by. Women hated me. Ha ha I was hooked on the attention from the first night out. I had NEVER experienced such a high. Someone wanted me! Lot of someones. For the first time ever in my life, I was confident that I could have my pick. Funny thing was, I really didn’t WANT one of those guys, I just needed to be seen, heard, and desired. That kid in me who had been abused, ridiculed and bullied was eating it up.
Then one night my friend introduced me to a Cuban club owner who “swept me off my feet” with his charm and good looks. After that, I crept out every weekend to see him… (Hmm, let’s just call him, “Ramo,” ok? Not his real name, but, it ain’t nobody’s business. Ha ha He’s still alive out there somewhere, so let’s not be hasty in telling his stuff to the world!) Ok, now, getting back to the story…
It wasn’t hard to sneak out to see Ramo since my so-called boyfriend was prowling around with all kinds of girls and was never home anyhow. YET, if I had been caught, I would have gotten the snot knocked out of me. That was a real source of frustration for me. I was unloved at home, and didn’t stand a chance of finding someone else to love me, either. He still couldn’t leave me, though, by now, I had learned to hate him and really longed for it all to be OVER.
After a few months, I found out that Ramo was married and that I was only one of many women he had on the side. NO, I didn’t stop seeing him. I justified my ongoing trysts with him by telling myself that he was going to cheat on his wife anyway, it might as well be with me. I was in love, didn’t that count for something? Maybe she was a hag who didn’t understand him. Blah blah blah. I knew in my heart it was wrong, but I wanted what I wanted and I wasn’t about to give it up for anything.
Rico got wind of my affair with Ramo, and gave me a hard time. But, for some reason, he would never follow me into the club or bother Ramo about it. Some time later I found out that Ramo was known as the “Cuban connection,” so was Rico’s rival in more than one way.
I did do one smart thing; I started at the local community college. I guess I was going to try to make my untamed, artsy spirit settle into a respectable nine-five job, so I signed up for secretarial classes. To be honest, I really still thought I was stupid and that I’d never pass the entrance exam. I didn’t even have my GED yet, but that college let you take classes if you promised to work on your GED. Knowing me, even just a little, how do you suppose that worked out? It didn’t.
In December 1985, I came back to Marietta to visit my family for Christmas. I met my friend at the “Continental Club,” and, just for old time’s sake, we smoked some hash. Right away, my head started reeling and I began to throw up violently. I remember telling my friend, as she took me back to my grandma’s house, “Well, it’s been a looooong time since I did anything stupid like this, but I can’t figure out why it made me so sick. Either I must be allergic to that stuff, or I’m pregnant. Nah, couldn’t be!” Famous last words, huh?
I was pregnant, again, but whose baby was it? On one hand, I was all in love with Ramo, so I wanted it to be his. On the other hand, I really did love him and didn’t want to mess up his life. I had some nerve trying to protect such a philanderer, huh? My loyalties have often landed in the wrong place. In addition, Rico was so upset considering that the baby might not be his, he threatened to kill me AND the baby if he found out otherwise. I took him seriously at the time, though now I know it was a threat made out of a feeling of helplessness.
At any rate, it was a very stressful pregnancy. I was so embarrassed at my lack of responsibility in not using birth control, for not being married, for bringing yet another child into a life of poverty, domestic violence, and drugs, I didn’t even tell my family. I didn’t make my usual visit to them on the holidays so they wouldn’t see my belly getting bigger.
I wondered all along if my baby would be born healthy, or share Sara’s fate.
Meanwhile, Rico’s life kept spiraling downward. Many mornings he would wake up in a pool of blood streaming from his cocaine-damaged nose. It scared him, but not enough to quit. The money was too good, but he was using more than he was selling. As much animosity as I felt for him, I feared the drugs would take his young life.
When the baby was born, it took Rico 12 hours to visit the hospital. I was used to the life of a single mom, used to bearing the weight and hogging all the joy. However, I never stopped longing for some normalcy. Mom, Dad, the white picket fence. So it hurt when he didn’t show. Later I came to the realization that he was just waiting to see if our son would live, or we would lose him the way we had lost our little girl. When he felt sure, he did arrive, and I saw something on his face when he beheld our son that I didn’t think possible. LOVE.
I named the baby, Jesse, “God’s grace,” because I knew it was only by the grace of God that my baby was born alive and healthy. His middle name I gave after King David, which means, “beloved.”
We got a DNA test done, and the six-week wait was agonizing. One day I would look at Jess and think he resembled Rico. The next it I saw Ramo in his tiny face. Rico got so attached to Jess right away, he said one day, “I don’t want to know if he’s mine or not. I still love him.” Even after all he’d put me through, it just about killed me to hear that. I decided to hope and pray that Jess didn’t belong to Ramo. It was too complicated anyhow, and Rico’s family was crazy about Jess.
Finally, the DNA report came, and I fumbled with the envelope with my stomach on spin cycle. I told myself I could always hide the report from Rico if the results weren’t what we wanted. Would he get violent with me if he weren’t the father? I was more than a little scared. But Jess was not Ramo’s.
Jesse David was adored by his siblings, who were so protective of his hyperactive little self, that Nathan would often shield him from a whipping and say, very dramatically, “No, Mom! Take me instead!” ha ha The whole neighborhood of kids came to call on Jess regularly. He was a star in the family, too. A little prince. Spoiled.
When he was two, he found me crying on the steps. Again. It was a regular sight. He peered into my eyes and asked, “You crying?”
I told him, “Yes, but it’s ok to cry. Sometimes people just need to cry things out so they can feel better.”
He said, “Don’t listen to my daddy. And don’t hate him.” Then he flew into the living room and punched his dad right in the nose, called him a dirty name and said, “…you hurt my mommy!”
You see, he was torn, even then, between wanting to defend me and justify his dad.
At least he developed a coping mechanism: singing. If his dad and I started arguing too loudly, his singing would get more and more intense in an attempt to drown us out.
I rather hoped that having Jess would settle his daddy down. Maybe we could start fresh. He’d stay home and enjoy the family life. But in just a few months after Jess was born, I gave up on those fantasies and decided to go full steam ahead to get rid of Rico for good and find someone who wanted to be serious about me.