One black eye. Two broken ribs. Broken nose. Two cracked teeth. And a swollen jaw.
When the ambulance came, I was rushed to the ER at Santa Ynez Cottage Hospital. The news of my arrival was so hush-hush, I was actually surprised I didn't hear my name outside.
Although surprised, I'm glad. I wouldn't want anyone to see me in this condition.
In all of my life, I have never gotten in a fight.
In all of my life, I have never gotten my ass... beaten like this! And I'm not counting Joseph.
I have always had someone to protect me from something like this in all of my adult life. But all this time, I never had someone protect me from the people I needed protecting from the most: Shayla's family.
Never in a million years would I have expected something like this to happen to me.
I can't even look in the mirror because I don't recognize the person in the reflection.
My face has been black and blue before because of surgery. Not because someone whooped my ass.
Not because someone attacked me.
Because of something I deemed important enough to fix.
Now I have another broken nose that needs to be fixed. This is the third time this has happened to me. Twice at the hands of the Johnson family.
I need to get a restraining order against Shayla's family. They'll never be able to step anywhere near me or my children.
Now look, they've messed up. Can't even see their niece and nephew.
I might be kind enough to let James and Angie see their grandchildren, but who knows what James might do to me? I wouldn't want to risk it.
I can't have my children around those dangerous people.
My phone rang on the table beside me.
I looked over to see that Joseph was calling me. I sighed. Guess it's his turn. I cleared my throat before saying hello.
"How have you been?" My father asked.
He sighed. "What's going on, son?" I opened my mouth to speak, but the words refused to come out. I still can't believe any of this is even happening to me. This wasn't supposed to happen to me. Maybe the shmuck down the street, but not me! "Son?"
"I'm in the hospital, Joseph."
"Hospital? I thought you and Shayla checked out a long time ago."
I swallowed and abruptly said, "no. Her brother came here. Promptly whooped my ass. And now I'm here."
"He what?!" Joseph snapped.
"He snuck me. To be honest, I didn't-"
"After everything I've taught you, boy? What did I teach you, huh? You're a Jackson! How you let some nigga from Ohio come into your city and teach you a lesson?"
"Who was it?"
"Who was it, Michael? You know all I have to do is make one phone call, and I'll make sure he never touches my boy again."
I sighed. "Don't even worry about it."
"What?! Michael, I didn't raise you to be no bitch! I raised you to be a Jackson. Jackson's don't let shit like this happen to them. Did you forget who you are?!"
"He's in jail as we speak."
Joseph scoffed. "'Don't worry about it. Don't worry about it.' Huh. Yeah, alright. Ima call James and give him a piece of my mind. He needs to keep his sons under control. They done messed with the wrong one if they think they gon' touch one of mine."
"Just don't tell Katherine, okay?"
"You think I'm stupid, boy? Your mother would throw a fit if she found out. Now, if your brothers find out..."
"Dear God. Please don't tell them. I don't want to ensue some kind of family war."
"Shayla's family already started that. Don't think James isn't going to be hearing from me. Because he will. What hospital are you in?"
"Santa Ynez Cottage."
"I'll be up there today. Does Shayla know anything about this?"
I scoffed. "Please! She's probably the one who put a hit out on me. Of course, she knows."
"No... No, see, when she said she wanted a divorce, I got it. I understood. But to send her family after you is out of line. James and Shayla will be hearing from me."
"I gotta go." I hung up the phone. Talking about it is only making me more upset. No matter what Joseph thinks he's going to say or do, that doesn't change the fact that Shayla will try to divorce me. And if she tries to go through with it, after what just happened to me, I'll see to it that she never sees our children again.
I sat up from the bed and swung my legs over to the side. My entire body ached from my head to my feet. I'm going to sue Matthew for every dime he's got. Which isn't much.
I limped over to the bathroom, the pain never ceased. I looked long and hard at the unfamiliar reflection in the mirror.
My right eye had swollen over so bad that I couldn't see out of it. My left eye bloodshot from a vessel bursting. Nose hidden under bloody bandages. My cheek the size of a grapefruit from the constant blows to my face.
Matthew really did a number on me...
This should have never happened to me.
"Okay, baby, Mommy's coming." I rushed over to my crying son as I held a screaming Milan in my arms.
I just fed both of them not too long ago. They've been changed and burped in a timely fashion. Now, I don't know what's going on. As if I didn't have enough to worry about. As if I already didn't feel like a terrible wife, now I'm beginning to feel like a terrible mother, and it hasn't even been a week. I'm starting to feel like I was never meant for this.
I put Milan down to attend to her brother. His tears were hot against my chest.
"I know, baby. I'm sorry. I know." A tear streamed down my cheek as I cried with him. I don't know what to do...
A knock came on the front door right before it was opened. "Mrs. Jackson?"
I let out a sigh of relief at the sound of the nanny's voice. I hired Mona as my nanny last week. She's been such a tremendous help. Her hours have been slightly sporadic only because I want my babies to bond with me and know who their mother is. I appreciate Mona, but I don't know. Maybe that's just the overprotective Mama Bear in me.
When she has been here, she's helped so much. I swear I never get so much as a peep from the twins when she's here. But when I'm alone, it's a whole different story, and it makes me wonder if I'm just not doing anything right. Eating and getting a good night's rest has become a luxury that I simply cannot afford, and I'm actually upset at how much I took it for granted in the past.
"Mona," I smiled as I wiped the tears from my face.
"Are you okay?" She hurried over, taking Michael from my arms. I turned to pick up Mimi, only to be stopped by Mona. "Go to your room. I got it."
"I don't want to leave you with both of them crying."
"It's okay!" She assured me. As soon as she picked Mimi up, my children stopped crying almost immediately.
"I-" I covered my mouth as I tried to blink back my tears. How is it that my children are so calm and collected in the arms of a stranger, but with me, all hell has to break loose?
"Go get some rest. I got it from here."
"Are you sure?"
"We'll be fine."
"Okay," I kissed the twins on the forehead. Michael whimpered as if the mere touch of my lips bothered him... "C-call me if you need anything."
"Get your rest." She repeated as I left the room, tears streaming down my face.
Michael was right. I can't do this alone. I can't do this. This is the hardest thing I've ever had to do, and I'm failing tremendously.
I closed my bedroom door behind me and crawled into bed, hugging myself tightly.
I asked for space, but now I'm scared of it. All my life, I've had people there for me. Someone was always at my beck and call, whether it was my parents, siblings, friends, bodyguards, or my sorry excuse for a husband. Now, it's just me, and honestly, I don't know how to take this. I've never been alone before, and the thought scares me. Space. Solitude... It terrifies me.
It frightens me so much that I actually can't wait to see Michael. Even if it's just for a moment. Even if it's just to drop the twins off to him...
While I haven't been entirely alone because of the twins, raising them on my own is tough and tiring.
It's interesting because while I wanted Mona's schedule to be sporadic for bonding purposes, somehow, it's easier for her to bond with and calm down my children more than I ever could.
I'm convinced my children hate me, and I wouldn't be surprised if they thought Mona was their mother all along.
God! This is too much to take in all at once.
Is this how my life is going to look without Michael?
Alone and raising twins who act better with the nanny than they do their own mother?
I picked the phone up off the hook and dialed my parents' number. Since leaving the main house, I haven't had any time to talk to anyone. I was lucky enough to speak with Matt when I got the chance.
My brothers came and went without seeing me last week.
Matthew was in jail for the weekend until I was able to send money to bail him out. Whatever altercation he had with Michael caused my brothers to be banned from the property.
All I wanted Matthew to do was talk to Michael. But with a hothead for a brother, what could I expect?
"Hello?" My father answered.
"Shayla? Are you okay?" My father's voice became alert at the sound of my voice.
"What's wrong, baby? Was it Michael? I'll kill him dead! Michael still hasn't learned, has he?"
"No, it wasn't him."
He calmed down. His voice was now soothing. "Well, what is it, baby?"
"I just-" I choked on my words. "It's hard. The twins don't like me. They cry every five seconds. I have to get a divorce because my husband cheated. I never envisioned my life this way. And it's hard. It's hard to put up with so much when you did nothing to deserve any of this." My daddy listened as I cried and expressed my frustrations to him. This was far from the soldier he raised me to be as a little girl. While my brothers were always taught to be careful with their little sister, it wasn't odd to find me going toe to toe with them. Trying to be just like my brothers and my father. Racing bikes up and down the street. Listening to a James Brown vinyl in my daddy's lap. My skinned knees and bruised knuckles being tended to by my loving father. I was a tough little girl. Fighting was nothing to me. Going toe to toe with a boy was never an issue.
With three big brothers and an overprotective father, boys were never a problem for me, but he always warned me that men would come around. And if trouble came my way, I'd have three brothers and a father to handle them. And even if I didn't have them, daddy made me fight. It wasn't always right, but he said it was my second amendment. My father taught me to be strong, yet here I am, nothing of the sort...
"Don't cry, baby girl. I know it's rough. I know it's hard. It's okay to not be okay right now. Your husband hurt you. And like I've said many times before, your brothers and I will handle it, don't worry. My rifle is locked and loaded. If you want to come out here with the twins someday, you go on right ahead. Lord knows if I step foot on that property, Michael's gonna get a piece of my mind, and it ain't gonna be pretty."
"It wasn't supposed to be like this." Daddy warned me about men like this, but I never would have suspected Michael. Never in a million years...
"Baby girl, your babies love you. Don't you ever forget that."
"Yeah, well, the way they respond to me verses the nanny says otherwise."
"Babies can sense negative energy, ya know. You're going through a lot right now... Your mother told me you have this weekly set up for the twins?"
"Okay. You're handling a lot at once right now. When you drop the twins off, you come home. You hear me?"
"Yeah... Come home. We can talk. You can have a break. Sleep! You been gettin' sleep?"
"No." I shook my head.
"You been eatin'?"
"Yeah, come on home. Your mother and I will take care of you."
I sniffled. "Thank you, Daddy."
"And next time you see Michael?"
"You tell him he better think twice before messing with you again. What Matthew did was just a warning."
Monday came and went. My inability to properly bond with my children remained alongside my anger towards Michael. I never thought that I would look forward to the day I would drop the twins off to be with their father.
Michael and Milan screamed their little heads off as I put them in their car seats.
I was on autopilot and had tuned out their screams a long time ago.
They've been fed, burped, changed, hugged, kissed, cuddled, coddled, napped. What more do they want from me?!
"I know..." I cooed. A few tears rolled down my own cheeks. It's getting to be more difficult as the days go by. If Michael isn't crying, Milan is. If Milan isn't crying, Michael is. If neither of them is crying, good God almighty, I'm lucky! But that won't last long because now they've decided that they're bored, so they "have" to cry.
I have nothing left in me. It's time for them to go to their father. I can't take it anymore.
I put my duffle bag and the diaper bag in the passenger's seat, then went back to retrieve my screaming children and put them in the back seat of the GMC.
Their faces were red. Voices straining as their little lungs worked hard to produce the loud crying they've been doing for the past forty-five minutes.
I strapped them in, got into the driver's seat, and drove toward the main house. Gotta let their daddy deal with this because I can't anymore.
He was right. He was right all along. I can't do this on my own. I've damn near driven myself crazy trying to do so.
When I drop them off, I have to go home as soon as possible. Catch the first flight out. I'm contemplating not coming back, but I can't do that.
Not only do I have to come back for my babies, but because I have to get this divorce over with. I don't want to prolong it any longer than it already has.
Just as I pulled up to the house, Michael limped out with a fedora on his head and a pair of sunglasses on his face. Dramatic ass.
I got out of the car and opened the back door to get the twins out. Their cries never ceased.
"What's wrong with them?" Michael asked as he went over to the other side to get the other car seat out."
"I don't know." I unstrapped the car seat and took it out, placing it on the ground away from the car.
"You don't know? What do you mean, you 'don't know?'" His face scrunched up.
I shrugged. "I don't know. They've been fed, burped, and changed. I don't know what else they want from me."
He walked over to me, car seat in hand. "Have you tried being a mother?"
"Have I tried being a mother?!" I screamed. It was like a switch went off in me. The audacity in this man to ask me if I've been doing the only job I have right now. Is he serious?! "I've been a mother to your children for the past week by myself! And you dare to ask if I've been a mother to them?! How's that black eye? Huh? I see you had emergency surgery on your nose again. How was that?" Michael's lips pressed into a thin line. You know, I wanted Matthew to talk to Michael. Not beat him to a pulp. But now, I'm glad he did. Bet Michael won't fuck me over again. Once this divorce is final, he'll never get the chance. Stupid.
"I hope your brother enjoys the lawsuit that's coming to him."
"Yeah? Well, I'm sure you regret not getting me to sign a prenup now, huh? Here." I threw the diaper bag at his feet. "See you next week." I got in the car and sped off. "Have I tried being a mother?!" I yelled, banging my hand against the steering wheel.
Change of plans. I told Dad I was coming home, but nah. I've got to get this divorce over with. I have no choice but to take him for all he's worth now.
Insult me?! When I just gave birth to your kids under conditions brought upon me because of something you did?!
"You ingrate! You selfish ingrate!"