It was early March and Jon was student teaching at an elementary school that was near our apartment. I had just gotten home from my classes and the phone rang.
It was his aunt from NY. She told me that his mom was not going to make it through the night and Jon needed to get home immediately.
I drove to Jon’s school to bring him home so we could start packing for him to go home to say goodbye to his mother. His aunt was getting the airline tickets for us and just wanted to get us on the next flight out of Knoxville. There was a snow storm scheduled to come in that night and we had to get to the airport immediately to be able to get into NY before they closed the airports.
We made it to Atlanta before a jet slid off LaGuardia’s runway and went into the ocean and they closed the airport. At the same time, while calling to check in, Jon learned that his mother had already passed.
We were facing having to spend the night in the Atlanta airport, with my boyfriend completely distraught over losing his mother. This was a nightmare. Luckily, his aunt has secured us on the last flight out of Atlanta that would land in JFK. So we made it back to NY.
Only not in time to say goodbye.
It was a very sad time. Jon really loved his mom and she loved him. He always said the Paul Simon song, “Loves Me Like Rock” reminded him of his mother. Now that I have my own son, I understand how special their relationship was.
Ironically, my son was born on the same date in early March that Jon’s mother died. It has always struck me that I endeavored to have the type of relationship with my son that he had with his mother. So I am forever grateful to have been a witness to their relationship.
It was after Jon’s mom died that things really started to change. At first for the good. Jon bought me an engagement ring and we become officially engaged. We had a beautiful engagement party with our friends , set a wedding date and started to plan our wedding.
When he got his money from his mom’s insurance, we took a vacation to Colorado and California. We had a great time. We hiked a mountain. We went white water rafting. We saw the Dead at Shoreline and went to Muir Woods. We ate breakfast in San Francisco. We were at Stanford when the World Cup was there. We saw Blues Traveler at Red Rocks. We saw a few more Dead shows.
Then his grandfather died. It was just a really tough time for Jon.
At the same time, his family’s rabbi made a comment to me that sticks with me to this day.
I was raised in the country and was taught that when you entered someone’s house, you took your shoes off. Even if you were wearing sandals.
We were at his aunt’s house for the receiving time after his Zadie’s funeral. And I was sitting on a chair and the rabbi sat down next to me and looked at my bare feet and said
“What are you, some kind of monkey?”
I was highly offended, but I didn’t say anything. Nobody did. They just let him say that to me and never said a thing to me or him. As if it were ok.
That comment changed me. It made me realize that I would never fit into this world. And at the same time, probably trying to process all his loss, Jon withdrew from me. We started drifting apart.
and that scared me. Now what? If I didn’t marry Jon, then what would I do. The thought of not being able to get married terrified me because that symbolized failure. It would legitimate to all those who were from my hometown and family that I was not good enough to get married. But how could I live in a family that allowed someone to call me a monkey?
At the same time, I had started tutoring football and basketball players at the university.
Very quickly, I learned that the people from back home were wrong. The people in my family were wrong. And most of all, Jon was wrong. I was pretty. There were boys that preferred how I looked over skinny, white girls with long hair.
There were probably a number of reason why these boys wanted to get with me – money…. a new conquest, …a game… whatever the reason, I was flattered and overwhelmed by their attention.
And there was one boy who I started to like as well. He was constantly solicitous of me. He’d call me at home and tell me things like “I’d never let you out of my sight if you were my woman.”
And I was lost. He had me hooked. He was the first Black guy that I had really ever spent any time around. And we started to creep around to see each other.
It was a really weird time for me, because I was engaged to be married to Jon on one hand, but seeing this other guy on the other side. And we were secretive or quiet about our relationship around the athlete dorms. Everyone I saw would tell me that they thought I “talked” to this football player.
And I was really flattered. He was one of those better players that everyone knew and he had all kinds of girlfriends. Which I was jealous about, but he would remind me that I lived with someone. Point well taken.
I sometimes think in another time and another place, if I had been a more mature person, I could have helped him become a superstar athlete. But instead, I was a confused knucklehead back then, intent on destroying all that was around me.
I was completely absorbed with him. I wanted to be with him all time and would do anything for him. Because I spent so much time over in the athletic dorm at UT, I saw a lot of the depravity that goes on over there. And a lot of perks and a lot of the other dark little secrets of Division I football.
To say it was eye opening is an understatement. It was a whole new world for me.
But I still lived in the other world, trying to play both sides and no one can live a dual life forever.
Eventually I started to feel enormous guilt for what I was doing to Jon. Especially considering that he had just lost two people who had been very close to him. And I was pulling away too. So I eventually told him that I was cheating and that I was moving out and that we needed to postpone the wedding.
So less than a year after his mom died and about 6 months before our wedding, I moved out and moved into the apartment dorms on campus.