When I confessed to Bryant that my father abused me as a young teenaged girl, he listened carefully. His head always upright and proud, hung a little as sadness took over his face. I knew he was sorry before the words left his mouth. I said, “It’s okay,” to help ease the pain I sensed he felt. Since that day with my dad, my relationships with all males became damaged though I didn’t know it at the time. I wasn’t used to boys sticking around though Bryant was technically a man at 23 with a used car he’d just bought with winnings from a TV talent show. So, there I was with my first nice guy, a friend, but I had no idea what to do with an admirable man in my life.
Bryant and I hung out a few times, a week at the movies, at restaurants and we’d moved up to giving each other advice on dating. My parents loved him. He was the only guy my father didn’t accuse me of being a whore with. I warned Bryant that my father was a psycho. After he sexually abused me I became more promiscuous. One of his solutions was to nail my bedroom windows shut after he saw one young man exit that way.
“He doesn’t care,” I said, after Bryant expressed a concern of fire safety.
I always wanted a real boyfriend. They were a status symbol. Since Bryant and I decided to be friends, I needed another decent guy. I never had a problem finding men that were interested, just those who would call the next day.
Chris, a formerly shy boy from junior high resurfaced in twelfth grade. He had more confidence, straighter teeth and more muscles than Bryant. I decided he would be my boyfriend although he was bad at it, and very good at disappointing me. Chris always cancelled at the last minute, and it didn’t matter what our plans were. After one let down too many, I went to our bathroom medicine cabinet where my father kept his codeine medication. I emptied the bottle ¾ of the way and took the pills back to my room. I forced each pill to the back of my throat tasting the chalky white substance on my tongue. I swallowed. With each pill I felt drowsier. By pill 13 I called Bryant.
“Sharisse, what’s wrong?” Bryant asked hearing the slur in my voice.
“Can you come get me?”
“What did you do?”
He was at my house in minutes.
“What did you do?” he asked, knowing.
“I took some pills?”
“What, over a guy?
“Yes, just take me out of here. We can handle it, please.”
Bryant went out to the living room to tell my parents that he was taking me for ice cream because I wasn’t feeling well. My mother asked if I was okay, and he told her he thought I would be. She knew how headstrong I was and that if I insisted to go, I was going. “Are you okay?” my mom asked, “Just tired Mommy,” I said, with a slight rise of my hand. As soon as we hit our front door, the weight of the drugs took over. Bryant wrapped his arm around me and guided me to his car.
We drove on the 210-freeway from Pasadena to Monrovia, a city we would later live in as husband and wife. He took me to a Catholic hospital but the site of the Virgin Mary outside frightened me. I had issues with God for allowing my father to hurt me. “No, I won’t go in there. We are doing fine let’s just keep driving around,” I said. “They need to pump your stomach, Sharisse.” “No they don’t. It’s working itself out.” Bryant hated not taking me to the hospital but he knew my history and that I wouldn’t go. He kept me awake and talking.
In that same year we found love until a triangle with his ex-girlfriend destroyed our relationship. Months later on my return trip from Hawaii with co-worker friends, he surprised me with a declaration of confirmed love—for only me. In two months we were engaged and in four I married the man who saved my life that night when I was 16. I was 19 at our wedding.
Not realizing the true effect my relationship with my father had on me, I was unprepared to be anyone’s wife. My belief was that a man as good as Bryant could sustain and possibly override my pain. I didn’t trust that a man as good as he would wait for the work I needed to do on myself. I also couldn’t entertain the thought that if Bryant were not the man for me, any other man could be. A teenage wedding made sense. We had a son but separated by his second birthday partly because I was a horrible spouse despite the best of intentions. I didn’t want to be a wife at all. I cheated early in our marriage. We were divorced by our third wedding anniversary.
Co-parenting our son was first priority. Forgiveness eventually came and friendship resurfaced only to became stronger than it had been when we were younger. Years later, Bryant told me about a movie where best friends agreed to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge if they didn’t find love by 30. Not wanting to go that far or pay the expense of a trip to New York City since we were both broke and living in L.A., Bryant and I came up with our own pact. We decided to remarry if we didn’t find love with other partners. With 30 approaching, and both if us loving each other more like brother and sister, we knew a union would only be for companionship. We broke our agreement and decided to remain successful at the one thing we’d sustained for over a decade. Our friendship. He remained happily single and always dating some of the prettiest women I’ve seen.
I loved Bryant more than I loved myself. I didn’t love me at all. By cheating on him, and wanting out of our marriage it saved him from what I couldn’t be saved from. He didn’t deserve the pain I was somehow convinced that I did. The substandard, abusive relationships I ultimately allowed were proof of this. They were most difficult to watch for people who wanted me with Bryant and knew how much he cared about me. Somewhere along the line I learned how to cherish others despite having that same kind of devotion for myself. I never loved myself. I always thought that was someone else’s job so I actively sought out people to love me. My abuse, unfortunately, confirmed feelings I’d had since childhood. The affection from my mother was great but it was the hatred I felt from my father that shaped me. It was that acceptance I was always searching for. Bryant gave me that for a time.
I used to wonder if I was the reason why he had not remarried. I couldn’t live with myself if I’d hurt Bryant so bad. When my guilt got the better of me, I reminded him of how he couldn’t choose between his ex-girlfriend and me for years. “I know, Shay,” he said. This is the nickname he gave me. “It’s not you.” I believed him because I wanted to but a part of me knew it had to be just a little bit true. It’s not because I thought I was that great of a wife, obviously I wasn’t. It was because I know how wonderful a person he was. But Bryant is happy. He’s dated multiple women over the past two decades, some serious, some not. If he wanted to be married, he would be. I would sit proud in the front row of his wedding as he vowed to love the woman who would become the second luckiest in this world. He doesn’t rule marriage out.
I’m remarried now to a dedicated man in the Armed Forces who is a giving father and husband. I feel fortunate to have found two special men in one lifetime. He and Bryant get along very well. Bryant loves all of my children. Our 23-year-old son is lucky to have him as a father and my husband as a stepfather. He’s been like a second dad to my other kids, too. I didn’t know he would be my future ex husband, but Bryant is my male best friend and has seen me through some tough times. My husband is my life’s partner. Between the two of them, my children and I are in good hands. Every woman should be so fortunate to have found a few good men.
Originally published at Mommynoire.com