Thanksgiving (Two years ago)
“Aaron, dude, where are you?” Jamal asked. “If you’re trying to make nice with Kam, you better get your ass over here. Now, isn’t the time to be bullshitting.”
I’d gotten caught up in the Knicks game and time had slipped. “Shit. I’m on my way.” I jumped up from the sofa and hurried to the coat closet.
“Why didn’t you come over here with your wife to help out in the first place? You don’t act like a man in the doghouse.”
“Trust me I’m locked deep in the doghouse. She’s sleeping in the guest room and she won’t let me touch her. I barely got her to agree to even come today, so I didn’t want to push it by insisting we ride together. Is Kari there yet?” He hadn’t attended a holiday gathering since he left for college, I figured as long as I beat him there my lateness wouldn’t be so noticeable.
“He’s here with his fiancée,” Jamal said. I could hear the humor in his voice. No one seemed to care for Leela.
I stopped putting my arm in the sleeve of my jacket, shocked about this tidbit of news. “What? He asked Leela to marry him?”
“You didn’t know? I know how you two keep your little secrets.”
Used to my brother’s guarded ways, I wasn’t surprised nor hurt he hadn’t shared his plans with me. Just jealous. “No, I didn’t know. We don’t tell each other every motherfucking thing.”
“Hey…why you sound bothered?”
“I’m good.” I finished pulling on my jacket and admitted, “Aggravated I guess that I can’t get my wife to agree to be with me, let alone renew her vows and my little brother is all happy in love.”
“Oh, I thought you were bothered because you don’t like Leela.”
I put my earbuds in my ear, so my hands could be free. “It’s not that I don’t like her, I don’t really know her. She’s just not wifey material.”
He contradicted. “Every woman is someone’s wifey material.”
Grabbing my keys off the holder by the kitchen door, I responded, “I meant for Kari, for our family.”
“Ooh… let me not insult the Youngblood family. I’m just a lowly Carter.” Jamal was my maternal cousin and he’d always joked that my family behaved like we were the black royalty of the DC area.
“Man, fuck you.” I laughed. “Let me get off this phone, so I can make it in time to sit at the table.”
As I walked up the driveway of my parents’ home, past all the cars, I felt confident that I would get my wife back. It was Thanksgiving. The holidays. She loved my family and they loved her. She wouldn’t want to lose them, and I couldn’t lose her. These last couple of weeks without her had been horrible. I couldn’t function, I couldn’t sleep or eat. When we had that fight the day, she left me, she’d hinted that there was someone else. I agonized over whether she really would cheat on me, and I’d resolved that she’d only said that to get back at me. Kam wouldn’t cheat on me. She wouldn’t betray me that way.
Kam had been a good wife, better than most from what I heard from other men about their wives. I’d taken her for granted and hadn’t been the best husband to her. She accused me of being selfish and controlling. And maybe I was spoiled and wanted things my way. But honestly, a large part of me had been that way because I hadn’t been able to tell her the truth that some of those “business trips” were trips to spend time with my son. Or that I chose our house without her having seen it because I owed child support and I needed to choose a house that I could maintain and still take care of my son. Kam knew how much money I made and would think we could afford a much bigger house if I left it up to her to choose. So, I found a home, based on her preferences and my affordability and bought it. Kam had been pissed when I first told her. But once she saw our house, she fell in love and made it our home.
Thinking of our home and how I didn’t want to live in it without her, I became even more determined to earn her trust and love back. I would own up to my cheating with Vonni and ask for her forgiveness. I would wait until we were alone tonight and tell her about Dominick and maybe we could go together and visit him for Christmas. I had to make this right and show her she made the right decision when she allowed me to be her husband almost ten years ago.
I opened the front door, and I could hear laughter and the clatter of plates coming from the dining room. When I walked through the entryway, I clapped my hands and announced, “I’m here. Now, Thanksgiving can really get started.”
Everyone groaned good-naturedly used to my arrogance. I loved my family. I really did. As much pressure as my parents put on me and Kari, I loved them and all our extended family. It made me love Kam more that she fit in so well with them. With Kari back in the fold, our family felt whole again.
Jamal clasped my shoulder in greeting as he passed me on the way to his seat at the table. “Just like you to show up in time to eat, so you don’t have to help.”
“This the part where the woman does all the work anyway.” I smiled searching the room for Kam. Warmth flowed through me when we connected eyes. She looked beautiful. I always liked it when she straightened her hair which she only did for special occasions. She’d tapped the seat next to her.
“Okay.” Jamal nodded. “Let’s see if your ass gets up when it’s time for the men to clean.”
I dapped him. “Why you have to be so negative all the time? Ye of little faith. Besides the last family dinner, Kam pinched the shit out of me for not helping. She might kick my ass this time.”
He chuckled and strode to the other side of the table next to his pretty wife while I bent down to kiss my own wife’s cheek and sniffed her favorite coconut flavored hair oil. I eased down in the chair next to her, grateful that she’d saved me a seat. Kam had been such a part of my family we didn’t always sit together during celebrations and dinners. So, it meant something that she saved me a place next to her. Just then Kari and Leela walked entered the room. She positively glowed from happiness. My brother, however, seemed uncomfortable. Then again, he never liked to be the center of attention and with his appearance at Thanksgiving and a woman on his arm, he was the main attraction.
Leela rushed to Kam. “I was wondering where you were. This family is so huge. It’s going to take a while for me to get to know everyone. We’re moving here soon, so we need to have lunch or something the next time I visit. I don’t know anyone yet.”
I wanted to snicker at Kam’s barely veiled dislike of Leela with that weak ass hug she gave a painfully clueless Leela. Kam responded drily, “Once you get a job here, I’m sure you’ll have no problems making friends.”
“That’s just it. Bakari doesn’t want me to work yet in case we have to travel for his job,” Leela bragged. “I don’t mind since he’ll be making enough to take care of me. I want to stay at home and have children anyway.” She flashed her left hand in front of Kam, begging for Kam to acknowledge it and I knew my wife enough to know she wouldn’t. She hated when women gloated about their upcoming nuptials.
Leela then looked expectantly at me and I obliged by standing and hugging her politely. I picked up her hand and teased Kari, “Dude, you didn’t tell me. Congratulations! Ma, did you know?”
Ma had just walked in the room and her pained expression clearly showed her dislike of her baby boy’s choice of a wife. “They just told me. We have a wedding to look forward to.
In the face of my mother’s disappointment, Kari seemed beyond uncomfortable. My protective instincts kicked in and I grabbed him into a hug, hoping to loosen him up. “Congrats. I’m happy for you. When?”
Leela answered looking at Kam. “We’re thinking about a traditional June wedding, and I would love for you and Aaron to be in the wedding. I think it was you two that convinced this man that marriage could be a good thing.”
Kam quickly placed her glass down on the table and cleared her throat.
Amused that Leela still couldn’t read Kam’s “fuck off” body language, I glanced at Kam with a smirk. “We would love to, right, Kam?”
My wife gave the weakest smile I’ve ever seen as sheanswered, “Sure.”
Bakari tugged on Leela’s sleeve and added, “Hey, no pressure. We don’t have to decide anything yet. The wedding is a few months away.”
While the three continued to speak, Ma beckoned me over. I headed to Ma to kiss her soft cheek and whispered, “Ma, get that frown off your face. Do like me and pretend at least for a little while. Guarantee he won’t go through with it.”
She looked up at me with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. “You’ll make sure of it?”
“Have I ever let you down?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
I kissed the top of her fluffy hair. “On that note let me speak to Dad.”
Dad stood at the head of the table, talking to my uncle David, his younger brother.
Uncle David smiled. “Tell him that the Wizards have a good team this year.”
My dad will always be a Laker fan, even though he was born and raised on the East Coast. Raising my hands up, I said, “I’m too smart to argue with this man, Unc. You would be wise to keep your opinions and your money to yourself.”
Dad laughed. “My son is definitely smarter than his uncle.”
I patted my dad on his back. “Time for grace, Dad. The sooner we eat, the sooner we can catch the Lakers game.”
He nudged my uncle’s shoulder. “Yep, definitely smarter than you.”
During dinner, although I made sure to remain by her side and not spend time with my relatives, I noticed that Kam kept her attention focused on Kari and Leela. I leaned close to her ear. “Kam don’t worry about it. I don’t care for her either and I can’t see them getting married.” I spoke for her ears only. “Living here in DC, he’s going to meet another woman more suitable for him, and he’ll forget about her. She’s too caught up in her looks. I know him—he likes women who have beauty and brains.”
Kam cleared her throat and wiped her mouth and looked at me pointedly. “I’m not worried. We have bigger problems, like our own marriage right now.”
“That’s true.” I stared into her brown eyes, knowing what I needed to do to prove my desire to be a better man, a better husband. Wiping my own mouth and tossing my napkin on the plate, I stood and held her hand in mine. “Can I have your attention please?”
The room fell silent, and everyone turned their focus to me. “I need to say something to my wife, and I want all of you to hear. Okay, before I do, I want to say congratulations to my brother and his future bride, who recently got engaged. I wish them the best of luck.” I nodded my head in their direction where they sat across from us and next to Ma.
There were hand claps, cheers, and shouts of congrats as Leela beamed proudly while Kari barely smiled.
“I couldn’t be happier that Bakari will be moving back to DC. We haven’t always been close, but the older we get, the more we understand each other, and I look forward to having a better relationship with you.” I nodded again, meaning every word because I loved my brother. Kari seemed pleased by my words and held his glass of wine up toward me.
I then turned to look down at the beautiful caramel brown face of my wife. “What I want to say to Kameron, who will be married to me ten years on December fifteenth, is that I love you, and I’m sorry for all the things I’ve done over the years to make you doubt my love for you.” She smiled although the uncertainty of my intent shone brightly in her eyes. “I want to be honest with her, and I want to show her how serious I am about making a change. What better way to do so than to say this in front of my family?”
I looked at the faces of my family and continued, “We canceled our renewal ceremony in large part because she suspected I had been unfaithful to her. She left me because I wouldn’t tell her the truth—I had cheated on her. I figured she would just trust my word as she always has.”
They were gasps all around.
I looked back down at Kam, wishing I’d been honest as Kari told me to be years ago. I held back tears, at the reality that despite my best intentions, I could lose this woman who meant so much to me. Afraid I would break down in front of everyone, I shifted my focus back to my family. “I took her for granted, didn’t listen to her, or make her feel she mattered. I did whatever I wanted in our marriage, and because Kam is the woman she is, she allowed me to be me. But I didn’t give her that same space to be herself. She left me almost two weeks ago, and I can barely function. I landed one of the biggest deals I ever have the other day, but it didn’t matter because my wife wasn’t there for me to share my good news. I watched her today and saw how much she fits in with my family. I can’t believe how I could be such an idiot and let this beautiful, intelligent, caring woman slip through my hands. We all love her, dearly.”
There were murmurs of agreement all around me, and one of my aunts wiped her eyes. I was too afraid to look at either of my parents whose love was so pure that they had been so disappointed when they found that I’d cheated on Kam with Vonni. They probably hated that I confessed my sins to the family and shattered the image of the perfect couple that Kam and I probably appeared to be to the family. But I no longer cared about my image and pretending to be the couple we weren’t. I wanted us to be real, accepting of our flaws. Kam and I were damaged, and I hoped like hell, my confession was a start, and we could become whole again.
“I can’t believe I messed us up like this. She did nothing wrong except love me the way I deserved, and I didn’t return the love in kind. I’m telling all the people I love most in the world that from this day forward—if she gives me another chance—I will be the husband I should have been all of these years. My parents were a good example that I didn’t follow.” I finally looked at them both as they silently stared at me, expressions unreadable. Not to be perturbed by them, I turned to Kam, the only one whose opinion mattered to me anyway. “Kam, I’m not asking you to say or do anything right now. I’m not trying to put you on the spot, because I know you’re hating this moment. I just wanted to show you that I’m done with all the lies. I know you don’t trust me, and you have every right. But I will do whatever it takes for you to believe in me again.”
Tears streamed down her face and I bent down to kiss her sweet lips and my heart swelled with relief when she kissed me back. She held tight to my hand when I sat back down next to her. My family nearest to Kam and I patted us on the shoulders while catcalls and whistles were thrown at us along with wishes of good luck.
“I can’t do this anymore,” Bakari said, breaking into the moment. “Ma, I can’t do it.”
I turned stunned eyes to him. What is he about to do?
“Bakari,” Ma warned.
“You done with lying? Is that what you just told all of us?” Kari asked with a raised voice so that he was heard over the family noise. He still sat but his fists were balled on top of the table.
My whole body grew tense at the anger so tangible it practically spewed from his pores. Warily, I responded, “Yeah. I’m done.”
“You still lying, bruh.” He sneered at me. “You make this big, shocking announcement, and I’m thinking that finally you’re going to tell her the truth.”
I stared at my brother wondering what the fuck he was trying to do. I had told the truth and I planned to tell her about Dominick later tonight. So why the fuck is he so pissed?
“What is he talking about?” Kam asked me with worried eyes.
“I told you the truth.” I glared at Kari as I answered Kam, in disbelief that this motherfucker wanted me to tell her about Dominick in front of everyone. She’d just accepted my apology and now he was ruining it because he hated that life seemed to work out for me.
“Tell her, or I will,” Kari threatened.
Old resentments resurfaced as I snarled, “Kari, always hating to be second best. Can’t stand to let me shine. Trying to throw shade where they ain’t none.”
Kari averted his gaze to Kam. “Ask him to tell you about Dominick.”
“No, not this way,” Ma cried out and my stomach dropped painfully.
Kari pleaded with my mother. “Ma, we can’t keep lying for him. We tell Kam we love her, but we keep lying to her for him. He started it by telling all of us how there are no more lies. It’s time.”
I couldn’t believe my brother thought he had the right to tell my wife anything that I shared with him. He had the audacity to even say my son’s name out loud to my wife. I don’t give a good fuck, that he thought I should have told Kam years ago. It was my secret to tell. My cross to bear. And no matter what I said, Kam would never believe I planned to tell her later tonight when she and I were alone. She would think that I had no intention of ever telling her about my son.
“Who’s Dominick?” Kam tugged on my hand that gripped hers. She seemed so scared, that the truth would somehow destroy her. And I couldn’t do anything to comfort her because the truth the way that Kari chose to reveal it, could destroy her. Destroy us. The room had become silent again, but this time, a sense of foreboding prevailed. That this time the confession wouldn’t end in happy tears and forgiveness.
My eyes begged Kam for understanding before my fury returned when I stared at my brother who looked back at me with righteous indignation like he didn’t have a secret that he didn’t want others to know. I shook my head hating him, wanting to hurt him as he’d just hurt me. “I don’t know why I ever thought I could confide in you, trust you with my secrets. Tried to give you the benefit of the doubt because of your issues. Ma and Daddy were always so careful with you, scared that you couldn’t handle shit.”
“Tell her who Dominick is, Aaron,” Kari continued, though his eyes darted away from my unrelenting gaze.
“No secrets, huh? We’re telling the truth, right?” I’d become the calm before the storm uncaring who got damaged in my wrath as I smiled at Leela. “Leela, did your new fiancé ever tell you he has mental issues? Huh? You know, he gets so fucking depressed he disappears?”
“Please, Aaron.” Kam squeezed my hand. “Just tell me the truth.”
I dropped her hand, unwilling to retreat. Kari started the war and I refused to surrender. “I’m still waiting to hear if Leela knows ‘the truth’ about the man she’s about to marry. Shouldn’t she know everything about him, Ma?” I glanced at my mother whose eyes were sad before I returned my focus to Kari. “Did you tell her what happened when you were sixteen? Huh?”
“Stop it!” Ma yelled. “Stop it now! This is my house!”
Kari closed his eyes for a long moment before he opened them again. “Who is Dominick?” His voice trembled with emotion.
I taunted, “Yeah, you’re right, I should finally say something to Kam. I see your voice is already shaking. I better hurry. Is all of this getting to you? Is this too much? Are you going to try to hang yourself again like you did when you were sixteen? Wait… is that the only time? I mean, we only see you every other year, so—”
Kari jumped up, seething. He leaned across the table. “Fuck you!”
Game over. I slowly rose from my chair, determined to act unfazed. “Just telling the truth, bro.”
Kari began to curse me and call me vile names, and in my rage, I can’t recall anything I said to him in return. My mother stood in front of Kari trying to hold on to him, trying to calm him. Jamal jumped in front of me, demanding I shut up. Nothing no one could say could stop this release of pent up animosity, jealousy, and sibling rivalry as we continued to hurl insults at one another.
Except for my father.
“Enough!” My father thundered. His booming, paternal voice scared Kari and me into immediate submission. He’d always had that effect on us.
He stormed over to me and I took a step back almost involuntarily. “How dare you talk to your brother that way? I have never been more ashamed of you. You sit here making this announcement about truth but still won’t tell your wife that you have a son who is almost ten years old. We all allowed you to hide Dominick from Kameron, and I will always regret that we let you keep up the lie. Then you have the audacity to be mad when Kari forces your hand and use his past— something that nearly destroyed him, me, and your mother—to get back at him. You should be thanking Bakari for helping to take care of and be there for your son. Instead, you act an ass.”
My father’s admonishment directed only at me and the insinuation that Kari cared for my child more than me, infuriated me even more. Kari and I were both wrong tonight and as usual, only I received the blame. “I take care of my son, and I love him,” I finally admitted with a mix of pride and anger. “Once again, you take up for Kari, even though he ruined our dinner. And believe it or not, what he did when he was sixteen nearly destroyed me too.” I wanted to add that I was the one, not my mother, who fucking walked in on him as he stood on that damn chair and tried to put the other end of the belt around the ceiling fan, leaving unseen scars that could never be healed. Scars that made me frightened of my own emotions. Instead, I simply left Thanksgiving dinner without another word unable to handle seeing the utter disappointment on Kam’s face.
I jumped in my car and sped off, simultaneously beating myself up for allowing my anger to go too far by drudging up one of the most horrible days of our family’s life and for leaving Kam alone to deal with the aftermath of my behavior. How could I win back my wife with what I just did? I yelled in frustration and hit my steering wheel. Why did Kari have to push me so far? Why couldn’t he have pulled me to the side later and tell me how he felt then I could have told him that I had every intention of telling Kam about Dominick tonight. Before he said anything, I could tell in her eyes that she was willing to forgive me and start anew. Now I can’t impossibly imagine how she feels and then caught up in my anger, I fucking left her like she didn’t matter. FUCK!
I looked in my rearview mirror and drove across all three lanes to immediately get off the exit. I had to get back to her and beg for forgiveness. I had to get her to believe that we could get through this together. As I made the loop and entered the highway again, driving back to my parents’ home, my mother called. I pressed the button on my steering wheel.
“Ma, I know I fu…messed up. I’m on my way back to fix this. I…”
My heart fluttered at the panic in her normally soothing and peaceful voice.
“We don’t have time for apologies. Get your selfish behind to Memorial Hospital. I’m in an ambulance with Kam.”
“What?” I swerved and almost hit the car in the next lane. “What happened?”
“She fainted not long after you left. Your father said she’ll be fine, but we called the ambulance to be on the safe side. Just get to the hospital. You need to be there when she wakes up.”
I defended. “You’re saying that like I don’t want to be there like I’m not already on my way.”
Ma spoke sternly, “You did walk away without so much as a goodbye, too caught up in your own self to make sure Kam was okay. So, no I don’t know if you have the common sense to be at the hospital when she wakes up.”
“Ma, I don’t need this right now. I’m on my way.” I clicked off the cell and sped to the hospital, praying that after all had been said and done, it wasn’t too late for us.
Little did I know that at that time, she’d already loved someone else. She loved my brother and he hated that she was falling for me again. Anyone that night could see that she’d taken the first steps in forgiving me. And Kari saw it too and he did the only thing he could do to stop her from coming back to me. He told her about Dominick, destroying any chance that she would truly be able to trust me again.
As I rose out of the car, wordlessly I enveloped my former wife within my arms. My stomach clenched at the familiar scent of the coconut oil in her hair. She laid her head on my chest and I closed my eyes, holding her even tighter. We remained locked in a timeless embrace and I couldn’t help but wonder if she was still disappointed in me. And if she ever regretted leaving me.