I counted the sunrises. It was Dec. 2, 2012, and if my math is correct, I had been in a relationship, for better or for worse, for 9,634 days—or just about every day of my adult life.
I walked away that Sunday morning. There had been too many tears that last night together, too much shouting, too much of everything bad and too little of anything good and worth holding on to.
I was raised to believe that my self-worth was inextricably tied to whether someone else found me good enough to make house with and, until a few years ago, I suppose I believed that.
Raised in a family of women, we were ensconced in tradition—from who was responsible for the Thanksgiving ham to who did the dishes and who took out the trash. There was woman's work, and then there was work for a man—even if there wasn’t one around just then.
My Uncle Ross saw after the dogs and the yard, and dutifully re-painted their two-story framed house every other spring, while my Auntie Gerry wrung out the laundry and pinned our unmentionables on a clothesline out back. They were happy people, coupled and fully in love until the day he died in 1985 some months after a stroke that took the light out of his eyes.
For me, that is what loved looked like—pushing and pulling, planting and harvesting, chasing children away from an open fire hydrant and making sure they all get home before the streetlights come on. It is soothing his cracked lips with a damp cloth and some balm, long after he cannot recall your name. It is scrubbing his ruddy, brown skin and slicking petroleum jelly on his knees and elbows, long after other people stopped coming by to see how he was making it day to day.
I cannot remember them embracing or sharing a kiss or arguing much, but I can only guess what they did when there were no prying eyes to steal away with their secrets.
That is the kind of love I thought I wanted, the one I was promised I could have and should have, the one I was taught should supersede every other ambition I might have for myself. Not the party all night then stay in bed screwing like rabbits the next day kind of love, but one that sustained itself on dreaming the same small dreams while breathing the same air.
Try as I might, I did not find it and it has not found me.
It is not for lack of, well, opportunity. I never bought into the notion that there were two few available, sane and employed Black men or that interracial dating was off-limits. I have had my own heart broken and, unwittingly, broken those of some others. I have been kissed at daybreak, cooed at in the moonlight, and otherwise adored by men whose attention was well worth having. I have also been chased down, stabbed, cheated on, spat at and choked until my silent sobs in the dark were the only things left that I could call my own.
I liked my love hot, not like the kind that comes dripping out of a Toni Morrison novel—that third beer you drink “because it’s there, because it can’t hurt, and because what difference does it make?”—but a passionate thing that stings a little going down.
Nearly five years after ending that near-decade long relationship—with a man I swore I loved every piece of—a little over a year ago and right after the holidays, I found myself foundering. I found myself thinking back about him, and us.
We had become better people because of one another and better at life without each other. He was not “Barack,” though he had soap opera star good-looks and a brilliant mind to match, and I am nobody’s “Michelle.” It was not so much that I missed him specifically—I did not—but I missed having something. I was supposed to have “something,” right?
I did do some dating in the intervening years and wrote about some of the, shall we say, escapades. There was a lawyer from Baltimore: erudite, brown and intoxicating, someone I could have a life with. I even planned our wedding, right down to the hog roast and champagne-drenched reception. And, before and after that, there was a retired NBA star—a deeply compassionate creature who could hear and understand the pauses between my words.
“I believe in all of you, Goldie Taylor,” he once texted, without prompting, while I was in the midst of grappling with one of those life-changing decisions I had not told anyone about.
For a while, at least, he was my somebody to “watch over me.” We are still friends and will be until someone rolls one of us, face up in a pine box, down a church aisle.
For the record, I am 49 years old now—turning 50 this summer—the mother of three grown children and two grandchildren. And, for the first time in my life I am single by choice.
Yes, I enjoy absolute power over the remote control and I have a handy-man to take care of things like broken dishwashers and clogged toilets. If I want to stay up all night, as I sometimes do, listening to Sarah Vaughan at Mister Kelly’s while swigging bourbon straight from the bottle, there is no judge other than my alarm clock. I dress to please myself, travel at-will, and the dinner selection, like the peculiar color of the guest bathroom rug, is always my choice.
What I did not learn in all of those years was how to care for myself. Nobody ever taught me how to look after me or that it was even important. No one ever said that life could be filled with passions and joys that require no company, that I alone could choose and nothing would be wrong with that… or with me, if I did.
I value time with myself, the utter lack of obligation, as much as one needs a warm coat and snug boots in the wintertime. I no longer regard this as a time “between” relationships, as many of my single friends—men and women—still do. Heaven knows I am still tickled by a random flirtation in a grocery store parking lot, and sometimes wonder what it might be like to let somebody stay a while.
It is not that I have ruled out dating or marriage. But I have “ruled” myself in. And that feels good.