I stood at the stove in my kitchen, preparing dinner for my family. It was my routine, nothing different from what I had done the night before and the night before that. I had been married for ten years to my husband, Jeremiah, and during that time, I had given him two children and had taken in Kelly, his daughter from his previous relationship with his ex, Regina.
Kelly was now fifteen; my daughter Lena, eight; and J.J., which was short for Jeremiah Jr., was five. My babies were my source of happinessâand three of the reasons I hadn't packed my bags, got in my car, and just driven away. I wanted a new life, a new start, a do over, to be absolutely honest. I was tired of taking care of everything and everybody and no one taking care of me.
I was a wife, mother, housekeeper, listener, problem solver, cook, maid, first lady and, my least favorite of all, my husband's doormat. It had taken me a year after getting married to realize that Jeremiah and I weren't compatible. But instead of listening to that little voice of reason in my head, which said,
Leave his ass
, I had stayed and had ended up pregnant with Lena. At the time, I had used the birth of my daughter to fill the void I had in my marriage and to deal with the loss of my mother.
Although we were raising Kelly, when my baby Lena came along, I fell in love. All the things that I hated and didn't like about myself and my life somehow became a distant memory when I held her in my arms. My world was all right because of my angel, and I honestly believed at that time that God had enough mercy on me to give me someone to love who loved me back.
I didn't have to impress Lena, say the right things, watch my tone, or hold my true opinion inside. She loved me for me. She didn't know my flaws, of course, but each and every time she saw me, she'd smile and laugh. I made her happy, something I rarely did for Jeremiah. Yet I still stayed.
As Lena grew up, she still adored me, but when her little brother came along, she became a little jealous. And since I didn't let her mistreat her baby brother, she turned to Jeremiah, and they began to bond. Now she was Daddy's little girl, and nothing I said was fair or right. J.J. was still young, still trying to find his way, but he was definitely not a mama's boy. He didn't like kisses or baths or anything that didn't move on wheels. I swore that kid was going to be a mechanic, a NASCAR driver or, worse, a car salesman. Either way, I didn't see us becoming close, at least not anytime soon. Lastly, there was my stepdaughter, Kelly. Since her mother was still in her life, there was little room for me, and she played us against each other. A miserable, losing situation for me.
Work, however, was great. I was doing what I had been born to do, and I loved it. I was a hair and makeup artist. I finally owned my own salon, but after all that I had accomplished, Jeremiah still looked down on me.
Over the years, I had gone from a size twelve to a twenty-two, but I still had a great sense of style, and hands down, I was gorgeous. Short, yes. I was short, five-three, with the prettiest hazel eyes and the deepest dimples. Being a stylist, I changed my look often, but now I was finally wearing my hair natural. This was best beauty decision I'd ever made for myself. Clothes . . . I had racks of them, big girl or not. I loved to look good, but somehow I didn't look good anymore to my husband.
We hadn't made love in over two years. Sad, but true. It had been a year since we slept in the same bed, but somehow when I brought up the subject of divorce, we ended up in a yelling match. I could never understand how he wanted to stay married when he didn't want to be with me. I sometimes believed it was because he was the head pastor at our church. He'd say, “I can't teach my flock the values of marriage and how God hates divorce and then turn around and get one.”
But he still refused to love me. He still refused to be kind to me. Not that he was pure evil. He was just not there. There was no fun, no loving, and no affection. We watched movies as a family, went out to eat as a family, and ate supper at the dinner table together, but after the kids were down, he went to the spare room on the main floor and I slept alone upstairs, in our master.
Yes, I had tried to turn on the sexy. Yes, I had tried to entice him, but nothing had worked, and I'd felt like a fool for trying to make him do the things he just didn't want to do.
“Dinner is ready,” I called out.
The kids rushed to the table.
“Did you guys wash your hands?” I asked.
They all headed to the bathroom to do something I reminded them to do every single night.
“I'll pass on dinner, Mama Ann. I'm going to Bianca's for dinner,” Kelly informed me.
“Since when, Kel? Why can't you have dinner with your family?”
“Mom, I have a project due in three days, and Bianca and I have to finish it up. I already cleared it with Mrs. Wright. She said we can eat while we work on our homework.”
“What are they having?”
“Beggars Pizza,” she answered.
That was why she wanted to go. Beggars was not only the kids' favorite; it was also mine.
“Okay. Go. Just make sure you call when you are ready to come home. I don't want you walking, young lady.”
“Yes, ma'am,” she said. She shot out the door, and my other two kids took their seats at the table.
As I set the table, my husband walked in, wearing a suit instead of the shorts and tank he had had on an hour before.
“Going somewhere?” I asked.
He straightened his tie and then smoothed his jacket. “Yes. Sister Thompson called and asked me to come by to pray over her grandson. He has a fever, and it won't come down.”
“Well, you know we all have the power to pray over our children,” I said smartly. “She can anoint him and pray for him, and you can pray to God from right here.”
“Yes, you are correct, Ann, but not every saint is blessed with healing hands.”
“According to the Word of God, all of us have the power to heal.”
“Let's not do this, Ann. I'll be home later.” He shut me up, as usual, and kissed the kids. “Where's Kel?”
“She went to Bianca's.”
“You permitted that on a school night?”
“Yes. She has a project. At least that is what she said.”
“Make sure she's home before bedtime.”
“Will you be home before bedtime?”
“Please put my plate in the warmer,” he said, not answering my question, and then he walked out.
I took me a moment to get myself together.
Lord God, you are all-knowing. I'm not. How long must I suffer this arrogant man, Lord Jesus?
I was miserable, and I wanted a new life. I wanted a man who adored me, who wanted to be with me, who wanted to hold me and spend some romantic time with me.
I wanted to wear a smile behind my smile, instead of the frown that was buried beneath the curled-up corners of my lips. I was the first lady of our church and the go-to person for our members. I was on top of my career, my children, and my home. I was spread so thin, and I just wanted God to either take me home or give me my heart's desires, because I no longer wanted to be in the Young house. I wanted to be free. I wanted a new love. Someone who wanted me.
“Mommy, I'm hungry,” Jeremiah Jr. said, snapping me back to the dinner table.
For a moment, I had been absent, the troubles in my life taking over my mind, but now I moved quickly and carried the dish of potatoes to the table. Then I sat and ate with the only two people who I knew loved me for me, Lena and J.J.
I reached for their little hands. “Okay. Bow your heads and let us pray.”