Garvey gave me words. Words that did a sultry bump and grind to our hearts’ melodies. Read me pages from Egyptian history books. Wrote me magnetic poems. Sent me dismissive messages.
Us, two young journalists. We believed our writing could heal our neighborhoods’ wounds. We pulled our commas and exclamation points from Manhattan’s skyline.
Our chance meeting became the perfect metaphor. We met in Starbucks. The barista held out a towering Americano.
“No, that’s mine,” I said, snatching out my ear buds with a swift tug. “Melanie.”
“I’ma tell you what,” he said. “Let’s pretend this cup says “Garvey.” Give me your phone number, and I’ll buy you as much coffee as you want on our first date.”
The city became our notebook. Us, handholding, powerwalked in our Nikes. Soulmates. Garvey taught me how to laugh loudly. How to sleep in on Saturdays. How to make a tight fist.
“Stand up for yourself,” he begged. “When someone hurts you, you let that sucker know.”
We were obnoxious, drunkenly talking racial and gender politics in lower Manhattan’s half-blind bars. Me furiously chewing my gum, defining my feminism from Cosmopolitan and Audre Lorde. He holding the small of my back, kissing my forehead after I spoke of something enlightened. Our call-and-response.
Eight months later, when we broke up, I cried in the fetal position on Garvey’s bathroom floor. The echoes of my hard sobs seemingly swallowed me alive. The worst call-and-response.
Garvey and I had created alternate realities. His fantasy relationship was filled with women and power, mine filled an emotional void after my best friend moved away. We both retreated into the syllables of words in which we could hide from the inevitable pain that comes from an ill-matched romance.
I didn’t know if Garvey was cheating, but I knew he was hurting me. He gave other girls words. Flirtatious tweets. Seductive iMessages. But I
wanted him to admit what he was doing. Instead, I believed the sweet spells he whispered in my ears as I slept. The potent “I promise.” The soulless “I’m sorry.”
“Young Angela Davis,” he would joke, “You are amazing. I’m yours. Don’t overthink.”
Later, I heard this: “Your feelings for me are getting stronger, and mine aren’t. I just see you investing in ways that I’m not. You’re, like, the perfect girl. But I don’t want to be in a relationship with you. I thought I could do it, but I can’t.”
“You said you were happy!” I shouted. “We talked about this, G. Specifically. So many times.”
He glimpsed at his Afro in the bathroom mirror as if he had never spoken my name. “I don’t remember having those conversations.”
I remembered everything. When we began dating, he had lied about traveling to Nevada for work; he actually wound up on a guys’ trip to Vegas. He posted a photo of himself in a sea of beautiful dancers.
His homeboys commented in approval. “Yes! My man.” At home, I frowned in disbelief. “No! My man?”
Weeks later, he apologized on bended knees. “I didn’t want to hurt you,” he said, “I’ll never lie to you again.”
We sealed the promise with a passionate night. But the wound festered.
Feminism looked a lot different in the arms of my relationship. I distrusted Garvey. I snooped. I became an insomniac. At night, I checked my iPhone’s glowing face, wondering what I might discover next. Did he call me back? (No.) Was he tagged at an event? (Yes.) Were there other women around? (Always.)
I brought my baggage with me everywhere. My eyes puffed up. I quit Pilates. My mood raged like the cruel winter’s winds. I wanted him to know what I knew, but what I was unwilling to say. You don’t want to be with me.
At the same time, I dismissed my discomfort. I thought, If he needs to keep himself occupied while I’m working, why not? As long as there’s nothing physical going on. Plus, flirting could be good for the ego.
So, I compromised. Our visits were a distorted remix of Beyonce’s romantic “We be all night.” I stayed up with Garvey until the sun rose, listening to him talk about himself. I offered head nods and smiles until my cheeks hurt.
I gave Garvey words, too. I said “I’m fine” instead of “Fuck you.” In his absence, I filled the silence with my insecure panic. Yet I woke up the next day to wish him good luck before he left for work. Clean slate. I supported him in his carelessness about my feelings. I was a true ride or die.
Garvey lost his job, and then we lost ourselves. He stopped speaking.
The night before our break-up had been our last attempt at a recovery. Garvey blamed the universe for his lateness. “I got caught in traffic,” he said. “What am I supposed to do, fly over the highway? What’s the point of calling me five times in a row?”
“Just say you’re gonna be late. My feelings matter, too,” I whispered. My Pad Thai got cold.
The next day, I felt the chill of Garvey’s bathroom tiles on my cheek as I lay there stupefied. He helped me wipe the tears from my face.
“I’m really sorry, Mel,” he said. Unblinking.
I stood on the soles of my still-sore feet from my five-inch suede boots. An attempt to boost our broken relationship into new heights. Not the ideal shoes for making a get-a-way, but, a fabulous way to stomp into the beginning of the end.
“You wanna not coming to go with me, G?” I asked. A final jumbled lump of words.
He said something that I could not hear. I let myself out. Teetered outside into the sunlight that burned my teary eyes. My stride wobbly, but lighter. The knot in my stomach slowly unraveling.
I was alone.
But something miraculous happened to me that night.
Kesi Augustine is a second year English PhD candidate at New York University. She geeks out for African American culture from Lorraine Hansberry to Kendrick Lamar.