…and because I fall short of what I say I’m all about
your eyes leave with the soul that your body housed
and you stare blankly into space
thinkin’ of all the time you wasted in on all this basic shit…
I was going home for a month and you came to my house so we could spend time together before I left. We were beefing and you brought me flowers to make amends. Sunflowers because the florist said peach tulips weren’t in season. You smiled and I couldn’t remember why I was mad. It didn’t matter then. You were here. You were home. You have always felt like home to me. There was a moment that day…when we were laughing in bed that I looked up at you. Your hand across my stomach and my head on your chest, I looked at you and was happy. I knew with you…in us was where I wanted to always be.
That was a year ago this month. Blocked communication makes dialogue between us difficult these days. I told one of our friends I’m finally ready to admit that you robbed me of the belief in love for myself. I told him that the quicker I let go of the idea that love is for me, the easier it will be to move on and never be hurt again. Because I can’t trust the words or actions of men anymore. They can be meaningful and meaningless all at the same time.
I thought about you when the album dropped. Wondered what you’d say about it and how you’d rank it. Classic, right? Nothing like your beloved “Reasonable Doubt” but it’s up there. I only had one issue with Jay, though: strippers need their coin too. “Family Feud” is my favorite and -before you say it- it’s not because she’s is on it…although when she started singing, my soul lifted. It’s something about him quoting the Quran over a sample of a Christian group singing a Hebrew tongue that just feels like Heaven to me.
I wondered what you’d say about Jay’s growth and how you’d see it in relation to your own. And then I played the track that reminds me of you the most. Reminds me of you because it’s not our story and that makes me sad. Listening to it, I laid across the bed that only you have been in and wondered what happened to us that we didn’t get to that point of restoration. I found myself sitting in the tension of wishing loving you never had to hurt and being upset that the pain didn’t produce the outcome of us being together.
…we’re supposed to vacay ‘til our backs burn
we’re supposed to laugh ‘til our heart stops
and then meet in a space where the dark stops
and let love light the way…
Because if we’re going to go through this shit, it should be for a purpose. Right? Do we not love to be loved? Or have women like me mastered the art of being starter relation/situationships? Do we provide men like you with everything necessary to become the men you want to be---without us? Is that how this works? Who made these rules? I’m glad you’ve grown and are finding your way. But how am I supposed to celebrate growth that happened at my expense? What am I to make of a strength, nourished by food I cooked and dreams I fed, that I’ll never experience? There are far too many of us doing the emotional labor of birthing men we’ll never get to have and hold.
Sitting across from you in the coffee shop that day when you said you still wanted to be friends, it took everything in me not to slap the shit out of you. It was the sheer arrogance of it all. To receive the deepest of my love and ask me to settle for your crumbs. And so, I left them because I was always taught you don’t have to eat if you don’t want what’s being served. I fed you well and you were going to let me starve. I think about all the things men like you say that are so beyond ridiculous that they make absolutely no sense. “You’ve made me better.” “I know more about myself because of you.” As if women like me are one of those Myers-Briggs tests you take at required employee trainings.
I do apologize for punching you that one time, though.
It was wrong despite the circumstances.
And even that night, love and care were present. You were running around trying to figure out how to stop my panic attack. The fear on your face. The tears you cried because you knew I would never be or look at you the same. I wonder if you realize the cost we pay for loving men like you. My anxiety. Bey’s miscarriages. My cousin’s hair loss. Your homegirl’s weight gain. Depression. Suicidal ideation. Substance abuse. Retail therapy and maxed credit cards. Entertaining niggas we don’t even like just to feel wanted. So many forms of self-harm. We pay with our bodies. Sometimes our lives. And even in that trauma, we still find ways to sow deeper into the love we have for you, hoping it will get better. We cry out to God and give in to you. Our legs wrapped around your waist, praying yours don’t walk out of our lives. And then…when you’re done…we painfully watch you leave.
…our love was one for the ages and I contained us…
I say “men like you” because you don’t live on an island. You are part of a nation of brothers whose selfishness-turned-growth always leaves someone wounded. And we’re left with more questions than answers. How did this happen? Why didn’t I see it coming? What did I do wrong and how can I fix it? Wrestling with re-emerged insecurities because you were unable to deal with your own. You were right, you don’t deserve me. I’m too much for you.
But I never wanted to be too much.
My girls came over, trying to cheer me up. Body rolling and singing “I ain’t sorry” knowing I’m lying. Knowing I’d willingly accept responsibility if it meant starting over. But we’re never supposed to say that out loud. It betrays all nouveau riche expressions of Black feminism and articulations of self-love. I’m not supposed to say I miss you and still love you. Because you broke my heart and my spirit. Because my best friend told me I deserve better and I responded, “I know…but still.” Because the commentary quickly shifted from discussing Jay’s actions to questioning why Bey stayed. Because we’re not supposed to have any grace for dudes who don’t have it for us. Remember when you said I was the picture of grace in your life? Funny how you refused to be it in mine. We 0:00-4:43 girls aren’t supposed to have any country for men like you because you don’t deserve it. And yet here we all are. With visceral reactions to an album that reminds us how we never got to “4:44”- all you gave us was “Song Cry”.
And I did. I cried.
Because I saw the best in you. I nurtured it, pruned it, watched it grow. And now someone else gets to sit in the field of my flowers. I can’t even fault her though. I’m sure our stories are similar. I’m sure, before you, there was one who robbed her of hope too. I’m sure he allowed her to invest in him with no intention of ever offering a return. So, I can’t even be mad. They say when one of us wins, all of us do. I mean…I guess. I just hope she knows where to offer gratitude. Because the man you are now doesn’t exist without me- that’s the legacy. And it’s a damn shame. I long for the day when a woman’s strength isn’t measured by how much shit she takes from a man as deeply as I yearn for a time when the growth of men doesn’t require broken hearts, shattered dreams and pounds of flesh.
So what are we supposed to do when we were one second away from a lifetime of sunflowers in summer? I hope your growth came with humility and truth-telling. I hope it finds a way to be honest with brothers, encouraging them not to be who you once were. Maybe who you still are now. I don’t know. I hope you will tell them that it’s not enough to have progressive race and gender analyses if they are going to wreak havoc in the intimate lives of the Black women who love them. I hope when the women in your life come to you with a story like mine, you will remember me and remind them that it isn’t their fault. I hope you’ll tell them that, unfortunately, loving a man who never deserved your love is a tale as old as time and the shame doesn’t belong to them. I hope you saw the men in you that I did -both of them- and rightly chose which one needed to live and who had to die.
As for me- I’ll think of you every time I hear this album. And if you aren’t in my life, I’ll say a prayer and wish you well. And I will encourage every sister to be unafraid of asking questions for fear that they may say the wrong thing too early. I will tell them to run from men who cannot show proof that they are actually doing the work to be well. I will challenge the men I know and love to just…do…better. To not exploit and exhaust the love of women and then discard them as if they are trash. And I will be proof to everyone -including you- that there is life after insufficient love and, though rare, peach tulips actually do bloom in summertime.
“4:44” lyrics are italicized. Written by Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, they can be found here.