How do you know when you are in a romantic relationship with someone? Is it when an odd quirk becomes appealing? When you fear you could lose them to someone else? Is it the first time they hurt you? The first or fifth time they make you cry? When you hope the pillow has retained the scent of their hair? When you buy them something just because? When you question whether or not you can handle another risk, another heartbreak? When you want to retreat into the shelter of old thoughts, that you are not worthy of joy, that all will fail and it will be your fault? Or is it simply when you first yearn to hold him before you go to sleep or when you awake?

When I was little, I craved affection. Instead, I got rage. Instability. Inapproriate and mislaid attention. I got the wrong messages about who I was. I internalized myths and half-truths. The craving for affection only deepened. It has made my life difficult at times, the longing for love twisting into something dark and dangerous.
Thankfully, in recent months, I have begun to reach out to my child self, to love myself fiercely. But this self-love is new and fragile, like a tender shoot. It is a new process, sometimes alien, often terrifying.

This is a story I have not told. Only the DJ’s husband knows it. Many years ago, when He-who-shall-not-be-named-lest-I-retch was still Nice Guy, we had embarked on a whirlwind romance. One morning early in our relationship, I was cleaning the room, picking up clothes from the carpeted floor. A crumpled piece of paper fluttered out of a windbreaker jacket. I grabbed it, placed it on the nightstand, and kept cleaning. A while later, I looked at it again. It was his handwriting. It read “Coco, black girl, Susie hot blonde” and had a 415 phone number. I read it several times. Then I picked up the phone. Heart pounding. Mind racing. A woman answered and stated the name of a massage service. Despite my nerves, I said my boyfriend asked me to call and I asked for the names on the paper. I was informed they were on outcalls and that others would be available to accomodate couples. I said I would call back. Gasping for breath, I shakily dialed the DJ’s home phone. Hubby answered. I broke down sobbing, stammering my story. He helped me calm down, drew the distinction between Nice Guy’s private life and his new relationship with me, scolded me for snooping. He reminded me to communicate openly with Nice Guy. When I confronted Nice Guy later, he denied my suspicions though he did confess to hiring a masseuse on occasion. During the three years of our relationship, he grew accustomed to searches of his pockets, drawers, and phone. But I got past that episode and for some time, we were happy.

Trusting someone with my body and heart is a risk. I have been hurt badly one time too many. Still, I continue to forgive and hope.

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