Moving to the University town of Durham is everything I hope it will be. Seth receives me like a queen and I am touched to find he has already made room for me in his lovely residential quarters; personalized towels, throw-pillows in my favourite colours of red and purple, and a desk by the window where I can do my writing. Coming from being with someone who couldn’t even declare me to the world, this feels like an enormous step up.
I am disappointed to find that the University doesn’t have a Creative Writing program, and that, with it being early August, I am too late to apply for a Masters degree program. But Seth convinces me to start a Certificate program in Philosophy, Arts & Literature, with the plan for both of us to move to Yale University next year, where he will accept an offer he has been considering and I will start a Masters degree program in Comparative Literature. It sounds like a great plan, especially as it will see us moving to Connecticut and closer to home…or what home used to be. New York City.
By the time the academic year is in full throttle at the end of August, I have fully settled into my new life. Thankfully, Seth was able to get me a Teaching Assistant position which also helps keeps me sane. The money is less than what I would use for lunch back in NYC, but in the small town of Durham and with my now conservative lifestyle, it is more than enough to take care of me and ensure I don’t touch my very plush savings. Yes, I might still have my job at Goldman, but you never know what could happen tomorrow.
As for Seth and I, even though there are no sparks for me, he is more loving and devoted than he was the first time we were a couple. I am finally able to understand what people mean when they say a person has ‘enough love for two people’. Seth definitely has enough love for us both, and even though it is nowhere as heady and intense as what Dili and I shared, it is nice, familiar and comfortable. The only glitches occur when he tries to talk marriage or our long term plans. Somehow, the mere mention of that literally makes my heart race…and not in a good way. By the middle of September, he has already proposed to me twice, and I have declined twice. To be honest, I’m just happy with the way we are now. Relatively happy and with no strings attached. Can’t it stay that way forever?
But at night, even as Seth and I cuddle to sleep, I am unable to shake off thoughts of Dili. Though I am able to successfully refrain from thinking of him during the day, late at night when I close my eyes to sleep, there he is. I see him almost as vividly as if he is lying there beside me. I remember his touch as if his hands are tracing my body like they used to. I feel his breath almost as if his face is mere inches away from mine. And I hate myself for still thinking of him this way.
However, at the end of September, all that changes when I get a phone call from Michelle, our Immigration Lawyer.
“Dili got his permanent card last month.” she says. “He says he tried to get in touch with you to let you know, but found out you’d moved.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” I answer in the most aloof tone I can manage. “I guess it’s time for me to send him divorce papers. I’m surprised he hasn’t done that already.”
“That’s actually why I’m calling.” she says, and from her tone, I know I’m not going to like what she says next.
“I recommended a divorce lawyer to them…Dili and his girlfriend.” she continues. “AI thought they were getting along fine, until the guy told me a few days ago that Dili’s girlfriend started asking him some very leading questions. She wanted to know if you’d been married long enough for Dili to file for spousal support, and she also asked a lot of questions about Equalization Payment. Either she’s been doing a lot of reading, or someone somewhere has been pumping her with a lot of information!”
I find my blood start to boil. “Equalization payment? Really?!”
“Ezi, you should have signed a Pre-Nup when I told you to!” Michelle sighs. “As it is, if they can establish that you have a higher Net Family Property value than Dili does, which you obviously do, you could be mandated to split it with him 50:50.”
“And is he in on this as well? Dili?!” I ask, my body quivering in my anger, unable to believe what I am hearing.
“Well, when I called him to ask him about it, he seemed genuinely shocked. He sounded like he was hearing about it for the first time, and when I asked Steve, the Divorce Lawyer, he confirmed that Dili’s girlfriend was alone when she asked him the questions.” Michelle answers. “Steve declined to work with them after that, and when I spoke with Dili earlier today, he told me they were looking for another lawyer and would be in touch soon.”
I am so angry, I am literally seeing red. Even though Michelle has exonerated Dili from being a part of Onyeka’s scheme, I can’t help but hate him for it. How dare they, after all the help I have rendered them?! If it weren’t for me, he would have been deported back to Nigeria ages ago! How dare they repay my kindness with this act of treachery.
“You need to lawyer up, babe!” Michelle continues. “Who knows if the lady will succeed in getting into Dili’s head. You need to be prepared so you can fight off whatever they come at you with. I’m going to send you the number of one of the very best Divorce Attorneys I know. She doesn’t come cheap, but she’s a monster and will crush these guys if they try anything stupid.”
She leaves me with the Divorce Attorney’s details; Samantha McNeil, a name I have heard many times from some of my senior colleagues at work. When it comes to Divorce Attorneys, there are very few better than her in the city of New York. Michelle and I agree that the best thing would be for me to establish contact with Samantha, and then watch and wait for Dili and Onyeka to make their move.
As Samantha and I have our first conversation, and as she sends me a tentative bill, I am angered anew that the thanks I get for my help is court time and a big hole in my pocket.
But as September rolls into October, and then into November, and then the end of the year, but with no word from Dili and Onyeka, I start to get anxious. Could this be a strategy on their end? To delay and prolong things for as long as they can? Michelle says she hasn’t heard from Dili in just as long, and is equally as in the dark as I am. By February 2017, I am insistent that I be the one to kick-start the divorce proceedings, but she remains adamant that I wait to see what they have up their sleeves. We agree that if we still have not heard anything by June, a year after our separation, then I can go ahead to file first.
As frustrating as the delay is, I nonetheless use it as an excuse to ward off Seth’s proposals which, by March 2017, have reached seven. But I find myself feeling less anxious about the thought of being married to him and start to contemplate actually telling him ‘yes’ soon.
In the last weekend of March, I am invited for a wedding in Chicago…an old friend from Nigeria, Obida, who is almost like family. I know it will be a reunion with several familiar faces both from Naija and America…but what scares me the most is the prospect of running into Dili and Onyeka there, as his late father was just as close to Obida’s father as mine was. My first instinct is to send my regrets to Obida, but I soon change my mind in annoyance. I most absolutely will not spend the rest of my life running away from Dili and Onyeka! In fact, I want to look them both in the eye and challenge them for daring to conceive whatever it is they are planning. The ingrates that they are!
As I leave for Chicago on Friday evening, I have to physically restrain myself from running to the stores to buy the slinkiest and sexiest dress I can lay my hands on. I will be making no special effort for Dili or anybody at all, for that matter. I am going for that wedding as the Ezioma of today…and not the frivolous and flashy girl of yesterday. If Onyeka shows up looking like she just stepped off the runway, which I’m sure she will, well…that will be her business and not mine.
These are the words of affirmation I repeat to myself all through the 2 hours and 15 minutes it takes to get to Chicago. I make sure I book a hotel far away from the wedding party, to avoid any chance of running into Dili and Onyeka in the lobby, and the next morning, I head to the wedding in a simple peach dress and a small rose in my afro. Unlike in the past when I would have spent hours painting, moulding and contouring my face, this time, a single sweep of light foundation, mascara and tinted lip gloss are enough for me. I am no longer desperate to make up for whatever beauty handicaps I might have, and am much more comfortable in my own skin.
Or so I thought. Because walking into the reception after the Church service, I find myself so nervous I could actually pass out. I almost wish I’d made more of an effort with my appearance. Dili and Onyeka were not at the Church service, which is no big surprise. But beholding the large crowd at the Lakeshore Hotel where the party is holding, I actually have to slow down my walking pace lest my quivering legs send me crashing to the floor. I am grateful to be distracted by a few long lost aunts and cousins, who barrage me with questions and soon lead me to their table, making me glad I’d had the good mind not to invite Seth along, as their questions would have been more probing if I’d shown up with a white guy. Maybe even more tragic than still being single a few months to my 40th birthday.
As I am laughing over a very native and crude Igbo joke one of the ladies cracks, which is very reminiscent of the kind of thing my late Mom would have said, I see him. He is walking up to my table with a smile on his face, and the one on my own face vanishes completely.
“Hi Ezioma. I knew I’d see you here. I’ve been looking all over for you.” he says, after politely greeting the older women.
Not wanting to give the women a show, I force a smile. “Hello Okwudili. How are you doing?”
He shrugs. “Okay, I guess.” he looks at me in appreciation. “You look really lovely. You know I always said you looked best this way, beautiful and natural. It really suits you.”
“Onyeka nko?” I ask, unable to mask the hint of sarcasm in my voice. “She’s not here with you.”
Something flashes in his eyes before he shakes his head. “No, she isn’t. Ezi, can we talk?”
“If you want to talk, nọdụ ala! Sit down here.” I retort, my irritation rising, wondering what on earth he wants to say to me.
“Ezi darling, we see some people who just came in that we’d like to greet!” the older ladies say, rising to their feet, and their eyes twinkling with mischief. “You two young ones can have the table all to yourselves!”
I am both angered and anxious as they leave the table. I am also all too aware of how much of an impact he still has on me, several months after. Standing there in his navy blue suit, I am so aware of his body, of his familiar smell, it is killing me inside. I am afraid to look him the eyes, lest I melt to butter right then and there, so I keep my eyes and attention focused on my drink.
“Ezi. I’ve really missed you.” he says, sitting beside me. “It’s like a part of me died last June. I haven’t been the same since then.”
“And Onyeka? What about her?” I mutter, still not looking at him.
“It didn’t work out.” he answers. “We just kept fighting over so many things. She was convinced I was still in touch with you…and there were some things she did that I didn’t quite agree with.”
“Like try to squeeze me for spousal support or equalization payment?!” I confront him, glaring at him.
From his deflated look, I know I have hit the nail on the head. “Michelle told you. I swear to you, I didn’t have a part in any of that. I almost lost my mind when she told me about it. I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at anyone the way I did at Onyeka that night. I was so angry she could even conceive something like that.”
“And so you broke up with her?” I retort sarcastically.
“No. I had to find a way to just forget about it somehow. It changed my perception of her, no doubt, but I’d made her a promise and I had to swallow my feelings and see things through.” he answers. “What broke us up was less dramatic. She went to Atlanta to spend Thanksgiving with her cousins, the same ones I’m sure pushed her to demand those things from our former lawyer, and she just never came back. Apparently, they introduced her to a rich Nigerian Web Developer over there. According to what she told me over the phone, I just wasn’t a sharp enough guy. From what I hear, she’s even pregnant for the dude now. I guess they’ll be marrying soon.”
I look at him, filled with both anger and…well, anger. “You guys are lucky you didn’t try any mess with me, because trust me, you would have regretted ever even knowing my name if you had!” I laugh mockingly. “So she was the one to leave you in the end. Who would have ever thought?!”
“To be honest, it was a relief.” he says, taking my hand. “Ezioma, I didn’t know what love truly was until you happened to me. With you, I knew what it was to fall in love with your best friend. I was just as happy being in bed with you as I was sitting beside you in the living room arguing politics. You were a slow burn for me, and like all slow burns…the flame remains there, burning a little brighter every day. I don’t think words will ever be enough to tell you how much in love with you I am.” he pulls out his phone and smiles wistfully. “I actually made a playlist of all the songs that remind me of you. Every single day, when I’m home alone, I listen to them and it’s almost like you’re right there with me.”
He hands me the phone, and true enough there is a playlist called Ezioma, with such songs as Russian Farmer’s Song, Ordinary People, Me & Mrs. Jones, Knocks Me Off My Feet, the Moonlighting theme song, and even You Get What You Give.
“Russian Farmer’s Song is the one that really brings you closer to me.” he continues, a smile and faraway look on his face. “I listen to it, and it’s like you’re right there next to me. I love you Ezioma. I loved you then…and I love you now.”
“But yet, you left me for her.” I answer tartly, even though a lump is forming in my throat. “Tell me something, Dili. If she hadn’t left you for another man, you’d probably still be with her now, wouldn’t you?”
He stares at me for a few moments. “What choice did I have, Ezi? I couldn’t do otherwise. I could never hurt a woman the way my father hurt my mom. And I’d made a promise to her. She flew to the U.S. just because of me. I could never have been the one to end the relationship. Not even when I was dying inside, missing you!”
“Well, newsflash. You did hurt a woman just the same, maybe if not worse, than your dad hurt your mom.” I say, looking him in the eye. “You didn’t want to break her…but you broke me. You broke my heart.”
He has nothing to say in response, and we sit in silence, the weight of my words bearing down on us both.
“I hear you got back with Seth.” he finally says. “I ran into Mia once, and she told me you’d quit your job at Goldman and left for North Carolina to be with him.”
I sit up straight. “Yes, I did. We’re back together now.”
“And you’re happy?” he asks, looking at me probingly. “Being back with him is what you want?”
I laugh sardonically. “You think I would have given up my whole life in New York if I didn’t.”
He moves so close to him, I can feel his breath on my face. “Tell me what you have with him comes close to what we had. Look me in the eye and tell me that you’re truly happy with him.”
I look away, unable to lock eyes with him for fear that all the emotions I have locked up in a cage for months will break loose. I don’t want him to see in my eyes that, truly, I have loved nobody the way I love him…I never have, and I probably never will.
“I’m very happy with Seth.” I manage to answer. “And we’ll getting married as soon as you and I can get our divorce sorted. So I’d really appreciate it if you could kindly speed that up.”
He nods sadly, and I am surprised to see his eyes water. I am almost tempted to take back my words, to tell him I am a horrible liar, and that he is all I want…all I need.
“I’ll work on that as soon as I get back to New York.” he answers, before smiling sadly. “If you’re happy, then I’m happy.”
“Thank you.” I answer. “We’re actually moving to Connecticut in August, so that I can start a program there. He also got a great job offer there.”
“Yale?” Dili inquires.
I smile and nod in forced enthusiasm. “I can hardly wait! I love this new life of mine. I really do.”
Another sad smile from him. “I’m really glad to hear that, Ezi.” Then he rises to his feet. “It was wonderful seeing you again. And I’m happy to hear that you’re happy.”
As I watch him walk away, it feels like I’m dying inside…it feels like my soul is being crushed anew…like my heart is being ripped out of my body all over again. A part of me wants to chase after him to tell him he’s right, and that there will never be anyone else. But instead, I remain seated like I’ve been glued to my chair. As I watch him walk out of the hall, tears I didn’t even know were gathering pour down my face.
I can’t help but feel that this time, I have lost him forever.
Lying in my hotel room later than night, I am more determined than ever to finally accept Seth’s marriage proposal. Maybe being married will permanently exorcise me of this Dili obsession of mine. Maybe it will get rid of all these wanton feelings I still have.
I return to Durham the next day, a Sunday, and make a big show of fussing over Seth. I am more affectionate than I have ever been, and I am eager for us to finally take things to the next level. I decide that if he doesn’t propose again, I’m going to bite the bullet and propose to him myself!
“Are you busy later on today?” I ask, as we prepare to leave the house the next day, Monday.
“Not really. I have a Faculty Meeting later this afternoon, but it should be done by 6. Why? What’s up?”
I smile coyly. “How about we have dinner at the Fairview? My treat.”
“The Fairview? Fancy much!” Seth laughs. “What’s the occasion? Did I miss a birthday, anniversary or something like that?”
“Let’s just say it’s a surprise!” I wink at him. “Just make sure you arrive well dressed.”
We kiss each other goodbye, and as I go through my day, I practice the words to tell him that I love him and am ready to commit my forever to him…again. The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this is the right decision. The best decision for us to make. With any luck. Dili and I should finalise our divorce in a couple of months, and maybe Seth and I could even be married before we have to move to Connecticut in the fall.
I am having lunch at a diner near campus when my phone rings.
“Hi Ezi. It’s Naomi. Do you have a minute?”
Naomi is a Medical Doctor and one of the good friends I have made in Durham.
“Sure. I just drove out to town to have a meal at Charlie’s. I was craving a bacon and cheese wrap.” I answer. “What’s up?”
It is only for the shortest of minutes, but I notice that she hesitates. “It’s about some of the tests we ran, Ezi.”
Every year for the past decade, I have ensured I get a comprehensive medical check-up. This being my first year in Durham, I’d convinced Seth to get it done with me, and we’d spent a couple of days getting thoroughly tested and checked out.
“What about it?” I ask her, not wanting to get unnecessarily worked up.
“We saw a suspicious shadow in your mammogram.” she continues picking her words carefully. “I had several of my colleagues look at it, and they all agree that it looks suspicious…like a mass.”
“A mass?” I repeat, my heart racing. “But I don’t have any lumps or anything!”
She is quiet and I know she is trying to carefully pick her words. “I don’t want us to jump to conclusions, Ezi. Could you come over to the clinic tomorrow, so we could run some more tests? An MRI scan? Maybe even run a biopsy of the mass if we can?”
I agree to return to the hospital the next day, and after the call is over I remain seated at the diner, the implication of what Naomi has just said weighing heavily on me.
I might have cancer. Just like my mother and sister before me, I might have…not to mention die of…cancer!
I remain in that seating position in the diner as day turns into night. I ignore Seth’s numerous phone calls, knowing he is probably waiting for me at the restaurant. I am just like someone in a trance.
As The Cars’ Drive starts playing on the diner’s sound system, I can’t help but contemplate its deep lyrics, especially at a time like this.
Drive (The Cars) – March 27, 2017
Who’s gonna tell you when
It’s too late
Who’s gonna tell you things
Aren’t so great
You can’t go on
Thinking nothing’s wrong
Who’s gonna drive you home tonight
Who’s gonna pick you up
When you fall
Who’s gonna hang it up
When you call
Who’s gonna pay attention
To your dreams
Who’s gonna plug their ears
When you scream
You can’t go on
Thinking nothing’s wrong
Who’s gonna drive you home tonight
There’s no point being delusional or unrealistically positive. If they think it could be cancer, it most probably is cancer. It killed my mother…my baby sister…and now…
It’s here for me.
Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:
- A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
- A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
- A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come
- A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song
- A Love of Convenience! 5: Moonlighting Strangers
- A Love of Convenience! 6: Knocks me off my feet
- A Love of Convenience! 7: A simple kind of life
- A Love of Convenience! 8: I can’t help it
- A Love of Convenience! 9: Edge of desire
- A Love of Convenience! 10: The Fear
- A Love of Convenience! 11: Ordinary People
- A Love of Convenience! 12: Me and Mrs. Jones
- A Love of Convenience! 13: You could be happy
- A Love of Convenience! 14: Linger
- A Love of Convenience! 15: Sunday Morning