This is an original short story by Danielle Richardson.
“You know what’s fucking crazy? I loved him more than I loved myself, and I didn’t get shit for it. The problem was we both loved him more. He didn’t give a shit about me.” Amber was going through a breakup, and as her best friend it was my job to bring her ice cream, listen to her vent, and try to get her out of the house. For the past five days she’d been losing it. I’d been at her apartment every day, trying to console her after she found out her college sweetheart was cheating on her. Luckily we had a month before we had to go back to grad school, so I had time to help her move on from this.
“Am, you’ve gotta get out of this apartment. If all you do is sit in this apartment and mope around all day, you’re gonna go insane,” I told her. Amber was sprawled out on her plain beige couch in the middle of her small living room in her one bedroom apartment. She had on gray sweatpants, one of her ex’s old t-shirts, and her matted hair was pulled into a messy puff on top of her hair. Amber is one of the cleanest people I know, so when I saw she was neglecting showering and doing her hair, I knew it was bad.
She sat up and looked at me. I was seated at her little red desk on my laptop, looking up places we could go out for the night to get her mind off her ex. “Joy, why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this? I gave him everything, and all he did was take advantage of me. Be honest with me. Do I deserve this?” I tried to avoid eye contact with her, but she wouldn’t look away until she got an answer. Maybe this was the time I could really lay it all out there and be honest with her. I sighed and turned to face her.
“Amber, there is nothing wrong with putting your all into a relationship. It’s a beautiful thing when two people care about each other and put their hearts and souls into building a strong relationship. But you didn’t love yourself, Am. You put so much into making Dre happy that you didn’t even care if you liked yourself anymore. You couldn’t even pick a nail polish color without wondering how Dre would feel about it! You were so wrapped up in him that you forgot about yourself. If you’re gonna be a good partner to someone, you have to fully understand and appreciate yourself, and you have to know your own shortcomings. You have to be self-aware.
“Neither one of you was really ready to be married or be in a serious relationship, but that’s okay. Take this as an opportunity to get to know yourself. You’ll be so much better when the right guy comes around.” I’d been holding that in for a minute. When your friend is in a toxic relationship, what can you really tell them when they’re all googly-eyed? Not a damn thing. This was my chance to get to her before Dre tried to win her back.
Amber was crying into her sky blue throw blanket again. “See, this is why I fuck with you Joy. I didn’t wanna admit it when I was in love with Dre, but I see it now. I need to focus on me, so I can be ready for the future. You’re gonna be such a great therapist, girl. Thank you,” Amber said between sniffles. I joined her on the couch and embraced her. She was shaking. It was beautiful to see her finally ready to move on and become a new woman.
“You know what’s really fucked up Joy? We’re all getting sold this idea of Black Love being perfect and picturesque, when really that shit beats you down sometimes. It’s hard. I think me and Dre were trying so hard to have that perfect love for everyone else to envy, and we chose to ignore what was really going on in our relationship. Just once, I wanna see the Black Love story that’s honest. One that’s not glorifying perfection, but also isn’t selling suffering as a prerequisite to fully requited love.” I nodded in agreement and continued to hold her as she cried into my sweatshirt.
Out of nowhere, someone started knocking on Amber’s door. She’d only moved into her apartment three weeks ago, so there weren’t many people who knew her new address. I got up to answer it while Amber laid down. It was about time for her mid-morning breakup nap. I looked through the peephole and saw Andre there with a brand new outfit, new shoes, a bouquet of flowers, and a gift bag in his hand. He had on his best pretend-sad face. I whipped my head behind me and whispered, “Bitch! It’s Dre! He’s outside. Do you want me to answer it?” Amber shot up from the catch and whispered back, “Yes! Stall him while I get it together. I need to talk to him one more time.” She ran into her bedroom.
I opened the door slowly and cocked my head to the side in annoyance. Andre looked me up and down before he made eye contact with me. “Is Amber here?” I crossed my arms. “What do you want, Dre? You already broke Amber’s heart, are you here to put it back together so you can stomp on it again? It almost seems like you enjoy doing this shit,” I nearly spat. I don’t remember how many times Amber and Dre have broken up. This might be the fourth time in three years. They never last long. Dre and I established that we don’t like each other about two years ago. From then, Amber just kept us apart. I’ve only seen him a handful of times throughout their relationship.
Dre looked at me in disgust. “I asked to see Amber. If you’re here, I know she’s here. I ain’t here to talk to you, Joy. I’d appreciate it if you gave us some space while we talk.” I rolled my eyes and plopped down on the couch. “If Amber wants me to go, I’ll go. Otherwise, I’m fine right here.”
I don’t get what she sees in him anymore. You’d think the charisma and the shallow compatibility would wear off after a while. There’s nothing deep there. Dre’s plan for his life changes with the seasons. One second he wants to be a CEO and he’s getting his business degree, then he’s going part time while being a music producer, now he’s dropped out and is “self-employed” while he figures out his next steps. He has no idea what he wants to do or how he plans to support a family if he and Amber were to get married. But he gets me, she says all the time. He’s my best friend. What kind of best friend would treat you like this?
Amber stepped out of her bedroom looking like a whole new woman. I’m not sure how I didn’t hear her in the shower. Her hair was wet and in a cute-but-messy bun on top of her head. She had on a tank top and jeans with a pair of earrings Dre had given her last year. Her energy was excited, like she was ready to forgive again. She didn’t look at Dre when she walked in. “Joy, do you mind giving us some time to talk? I’ll call you later. Thanks for coming over.” And just like that, I knew she’d be back with him before dinner time. I grabbed my things and walked out without saying a word to either one of them.
I drove straight to Leo’s house, which was only ten minutes away from Amber. I parked on the street and waved hello to the guard at the front desk as I made my way up to the seventh floor. Leo gave me a key to his apartment last month. I turned the key and found Leo’s apartment calm and still; Leo wasn’t there. He must be gone to get food or something, I thought. I dropped my stuff on the couch and made my way to his bedroom. Leo has a big king size bed with a wrought iron headboard that he made himself to look like clouds. I snuggled underneath the covers and allowed myself to doze off.
Leo woke me up about four hours later. I didn’t realize how tired I was – consoling Amber is a 24-hour job, and I hadn’t slept more than five hours since the week before. “Hey babe,” he said to me as I woke up. I immediately smelled tomato sauce and bread. “Hi baby,” I replied. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. He was bringing our food into the bedroom. On the tray he had two plates of baked cheesy pasta goodness with fresh baked bread that he’d probably bought from the bakery across the street.
“How’s your day going, babe? Why’d you leave Amber’s?” Leo said between bites of food. I smiled at him. “Dre showed up like he always does. A gift and some flowers. He’s trying to woo her back into being with him, and she’ll probably fall for it. She always does.” I did my best not to sound angry, but it wasn’t working. Leo shook his head and decided to change the subject.
“What do you think of going down to Raleigh sometime soon? My family has heard so much about you, and they’re ready to meet you. Mom included. We could make a long weekend out of it and see everyone, if that’s okay with you.” He was talking to his plate, which he always did when he was nervous. We’d been dating for almost a year, and he was finally asking me to come down to meet the family. I put my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek with excitement. “I would love to,” I told him.
I met Leo at MahoganyBooks in Southeast DC. He was working there at the time, and saw me trying to decide between In Love & Trouble and Half of a Yellow Sun. I had just gotten out of a horrible situationship with the devil in human form, and I wasn’t looking for anything. I told myself I would allow whatever was meant for me to flow into my life, but I was done looking for the perfect man for me. Finally here he was, making me dinner and asking me to meet his family.
“Alexa, play Best Part,” Leo said. The song drifted through his speakers and swirled in the air, and soon we were up dancing around his bedroom. As I stood on his toes while he twirled us around the room, I couldn’t help but feel at peace. I heard my phone vibrate and I ignored it.
“Joy, I think the world of you. You inspire me, and you make me want to do more with my life. You’re such a beautiful person. I know we’re still at the beginning of all the time we have with each other, but I want to do this with you forever. I want to make you smile, and I want to make you feel safe. I hope you’ll allow me to do that for as long as I can.”
I had no words. I had waited and prayed and waited some more for a man like this, and here he was dancing with me in his beautiful apartment. This is the love that I’d been waiting for. I buried my face into his chest and smiled, and I whispered something to him that I don’t remember. But it made him happy, and we danced until we were tired and fell asleep.
The next morning I got a call from Amber. Leo had left to get us some breakfast. “Hey girl, what’s going on? What happened with Dre yesterday?” I was still trying to rub my eyes into consciousness. Amber was calm on the other end of the phone, with a tinge of embarrassment. “We talked it out, and we decided to get back together,” she told me. “He’s really trying to do better. He showed me his phone and he blocked her on everything, so there’s nothing to worry about. I think this time is gonna be different, Joy.” I couldn’t tell if she really believed that or not. I guess you have to if you decide to continue, even if it’s only a little bit.
She told me more about the conversation they had and about how he bought her a beautiful new dress with expensive shoes to match. “Love is complicated, Joy. You know that. There are ups and downs in every relationship. We’re no exception. I know I’m not gonna find this kind of connection anywhere else, and we always come back to each other, so I think that’s proof that this is special. This is what real love looks like, and I’m willing to fight for it.” I wondered how much of that was what he had told her to win her back. I told her that I hope he genuinely commits to doing better, and that I’d see her soon.
Love has so many different looks and feels. Sometimes it’s like smooth, expensive leather that’s built to last through all phases and stages of love. And sometimes it’s like frayed burlap – you can put it on and you’ll be covered, but you’ll always know that this isn’t the material you’re supposed to be wearing. The question we have to ask ourselves is, do we want love that simply does the bare minimum, or do we want satiating, long-lasting love? And what are we willing to do to get it?