by Danisa Bell
People called him a sissy.
But he was a minister, a man of God, and he was my husband. It wasn’t really fair, the way people would point at him and snicker because of his long hair and flamboyant clothing. They didn’t know what kind of person he was. They didn’t know, like I did, that he knew God and everything He had written. The congregants though, they called him a gentle spirit, humble and meek. He was Christ-like, they said, and they called him anointed of God, smeared with His very own likeness. They didn’t care about his tender ways or call him vulgar names. He was a minstrel servant of the Most High God.
I knew already, from the very beginning of our courtship you might say, that he was not what you would call a man’s man. I knew he would never go hiking or play football or get his hands dirty working on a car. Instead, his hands were manicured every Saturday morning at 10:30, his hair and attire always brilliant, always meticulous. And there was the way he spoke, the way his words lingered not only on his palate but in the air around him, ornaments of expression and emotion, matched impeccably with feminine gesticulation.
It was his vivacity and confidence, though, that drew me. His spirit and personality pulled me to him like a lifeline. He knew God! And somehow he loved me, and all that that entailed. I was only twenty-six, and he picked me out of thousands, and I loved him for loving me.
And at the tabernacle where we were members, we learned a new way to sing and dance, to shout “hallelujah!” and praise our cares away. We came by the thousands and grew together in knowledge, assembled in the holy haze of the sanctuary, pressed into the wooden pews. We recited life-changing affirmations and declarations that could make mountains crumble and demons flee; declarations that could make a gay man straight, if that’s what he wanted. There was hope for everyone and anyone. We were elated! The pastor showed us on the gold-trimmed pages that we were forgiven, and our hearts swelled. Certainly, in the likeness of our God, we must forgive, and forget.
And I remember him telling me in the beginning that he had never loved a man in that romantic way a man loves a woman. But not because he hadn’t wanted to, he said. “It’s something I’ve thought about before.” I felt myself slowly begin to wither. His confession was casual though, as if considering which pair of shoes to buy. I said nothing to him then. I only looked down at the floor. I didn’t know what to say. He took my hand into his. “I love God, and I love you. I choose to walk in deliverance.” He wept easily at the thought of His goodness.
How perfectly things turned sour. By the time autumn turned to winter eight times, I had learned to pray, and learned to hate. I don’t know why I remember sitting on the back patio with him at the house on Dorchester, telling him I’d seen his secret glances with other men, at the bank, in the stores, everywhere; told him I’d seen his girly thong underwear in the dresser drawer that made my heart sink into the pit of my belly. I wanted to be like my Father in heaven and be merciful to his unrighteousness and remember no more.
He looked at me helplessly that day on the patio, puppy dog-like, eyes big as chocolate chunks; innocent it would appear. I’d heard it a thousand times: “You are my world,” he told me. I was the only one who let him be himself, he’d say. But who was this self unfolding in the cocoon of our marriage?
I stayed up so many nights then; 2,920 sleepless nights, many in the first house—the pretty white house in Chicago with the ice-cold walls and broken furnace. And more nights awake in the brand-new house in Atlanta with the hardwood floors and triple-crown molding. I was unable to sleep and unable to concentrate on anything but my mistake of him. I didn’t know how to stop the whirlwind of regret that spiraled into a world of depression and heartache, and little brown pill bottles filled with solutions for all life’s issues.
I remember his hot, greasy curling irons on the bathroom counter and long black hair that cascaded past his narrow shoulders; the favorite salon chair at Etta’s, and his eyebrows arched like Miss California’s. Are we really close to God, I wondered, a minster and his wife? I don’t know why I remember the lustrous, full-length fur coat that he sashayed around the city in; chocolate-colored and flowing, nearly dragging on the ground if not for the high-heeled boots that went click-clack, click-clack on the laminate kitchen floor in the pretty white house. I closed my eyes to the sight of it and was ashamed to know him. I tried hard to be merciful, to remember no more.
But I hid myself from his company. I didn’t want him anymore. I don’t know how I ever could have.
There was that grand fashion show downtown, the peacock pride he wore like an evening gown as he glided past the crowd. He was the highlight of the evening, showing the young models how to strut, how to “own the runway,” he said. “I showed them how to do it right!” He beamed with delight, holding his finger up high to stress his point; he was giddy and on top of the world. More woman than me. What had I done, believing God would intervene, rid him of his secret proclivities because of my fasting and prayers, hope and desperation? Why hadn’t the mountains crumbled? Why didn’t the demons flee? I came to know, God was not a genie in a bottle.
There was the secret videotape, tucked away in the armoire, of sexy, half-naked men on some faraway beach with giant rocks carved out by waves. He watched it in our bedroom and he thought I’d never know. But I knew, and I cried because of him at the top of the steps that led down into the yard; hot, salty summer tears, running into my mouth and mingling with unspoken resentment. Rage and seething burned on the inside of me.
And yes, there was that letter, just before we said I do. Why did I say I do? It was from Elder Jimmy, at the tabernacle, that holy, holy sanctuary. He wrote of secret sex, and God and goodness; Elder Jimmy, who had a wife. Yellow notebook pages neatly folded, neatly tucked away, memories for secret savoring. Again I swallowed my voice until it was nothing but an ache inside my throat. I prayed and fasted and upheld the banner of forgiveness, and he embraced me more for it. Surely heaven would smile upon such undying resolve and commitment in the face of marital hardship.
Year after year I stayed; all red flags saturated with the blood of Christ. My virtuousness would be pleasing in the sight of God. Surely it would! I believed.
And even in the midst of his hidden appetites, he continued to chase God. He pursued Him with maniacal praise in the morning, and wooed Him with sweet songs of worship at night. He studied His promises for hours at a time, until the moon disappeared in the sunlight; the pages in his Bible worn, exhausted, like the pages in a waiting room magazine. And God seemed pleased. He placed him in the company of great men around the world; goodness and mercy followed him. He’d often smile and humbly tell me, cupping my face within his hands, “In you I’ve found a good thing. You are my most cherished blessing.” And with a gentle kiss on my forehead, he’d tell me I was beautiful. His once stunning words had become lifeless vessels of hypocrisy.
My heart sang songs of forgiveness. I tried hard not to remember.
I wondered what had become of me after all these years, and where God had gone in all this madness in His name—we were a minister and his wife. They taught us at the tabernacle: Pray, pray, pray; without ceasing, pray. Somehow we got it wrong. We paid our tithes unto our God, emptied our wallets, and filled our hearts with His sacred words; we followed the formula to a tee. And still…
How could I forget my own self-mutilating behavior? The aching flesh. Flesh from the heel of my foot tossed into the bottoms of trash cans and toilets, sometimes balled up in tissues, and always peeled off layer by delicate layer until the agony rose up into my belly, satisfying, climactic; blood on my hands and loving the pain, hating myself. I was not to be trusted with my own heart.
How I do remember the scorching June day in our garage when I sat on the back of my car. He stood facing me. Was he suspecting somehow that I was about to shatter his world, about to expose his counterfeit masculinity? Or maybe he was beaming on the inside with restrained anticipation that his much-awaited moment was here, the moment he could truly be himself. Who knows? I told him I was leaving. He reached for my hands and held them tightly, close to his beating heart. “You can’t leave me!” His eyes flooded with pain, and silence grew between us. Silence saying more than either of us could articulate. I pried my hands away from his heart. He said nothing more.
And in just one hour on a Sunday afternoon while he worshipped at the tabernacle, leading the Christians and singing the Jesus songs, I loaded up a U-Haul truck. I left him eight years tightly packed in a box in the foyer at the house on Maple Leaf Drive.
And by now winter has turned to spring many times over. In the likeness of our God, I have forgiven him. But I remember.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing