“Mr. Hammond has a crush on you, Ms. Shayla….” My assistant, Amala, teased as she took the pink shirt I picked for Mimi out of my hand.
“Mr. Hammond is fifty years old. What’s he doing still crushing on people?” I peered back at her with a smirk.
“Don’t act like you haven’t seen all the signs. That man is in love, and you keep paying him dust.”
“Well, if Mr. Hammond wants to talk to me on that level, he shouldn’t be afraid to ask a lady out,” I shrugged and went back to picking clothes out for my children.
When I divorced Michael in 1997, life was more challenging than I ever knew it to be. The common misconception about me was that since I had money, everything would be easy for me. Absolutely not.
Contrary to popular belief, money doesn’t solve all your problems.
Michael went on tour before our divorce was finalized, leaving me alone with two infants for six months. It took everything in me not to be spiteful and just take full custody. If he could leave me alone with two infants while suffering postpartum for six months, what else could he do? It was evident that he didn’t care. But that wouldn’t have helped me nor made sense anyway.
I had help from my nanny, Mona, Mariah, Carol, my mom, and even Katherine for those six months. So I had a strong support system. But my life got complicated.
I was a newly single mother. My ex-husband was on tour wowing the masses. I had nothing going for me as far as my company went. Remi stepped down, leaving me alone to deal with SJ&R, now SJ Publishing House, by myself. Compared to all the mothers on both sides of the family, I experienced the worst postpartum depression ever.
During those six months when Michael was gone, I found myself withdrawing from my strong support system. As a result, my self-esteem had reached an all-time low.
It wasn’t until maybe in my early to mid-twenties that I was comfortable with myself. That I had grown to love myself truly, that at that point, no matter what anyone said about me, it wasn’t going to deter me. As a thirty-seven-year-old divorcee, when I had just given birth to the children I had wanted all my life, all that went out the window. Simple as put, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had lost myself well before that, but this time was way worse.
PPD got so bad that sometimes my children had to be taken away from me, or I couldn’t be left alone with them.
1997 was not a good year.
I wouldn’t wish what I went through on anybody.
When Michael came back from the tour, I sent the twins to him as fast as possible. Mona was the one who took them to him along with my message telling him that he’d be keeping them for a month.
I was alone for a month.
The silence was surreal but needed.
Mariah would come by to check on me every so often until I would send her home. Calls went unanswered. However, my mental state did not improve.
My children were with their father, yes. That was one “problem” that was taken care of. Now, I had to master being alone. Something I had never had the opportunity to do.
The only time I ever “mastered” being alone was in college. Fall of ’79 to the spring of ’82 was the only time I was ever really “alone.” But I wouldn’t even really call it that. I had roommates, family, and Michael that I often found solace in while obtaining my education degree.
From the spring of ’83 to the winter of ’97, I was married. So, I was never really alone.
From October 16, 1997 to November 16, 1997, I finally felt it. Relished in it. Welcomed it. Didn’t know what to do with it. For the first time in my life, I had no one to lean on. No one in my space. No one, but myself, the Lord, and Janet's Velvet Rope album.
I would be lying if I said that that month brought a ton of understanding because it didn’t. Instead, it brought much confusion for the first week because I still couldn’t comprehend how being with the man I loved could end like that after eighteen years.
It wasn’t until week three that I decided to seek therapy. Therapy that I ended up needing for two and a half years…
In those two years, I chose not to see Michael. Mona was responsible for picking up and dropping off the children. I didn’t want to see his face. And that was healing for me.
On their first birthday, January 7, 1998, they had two birthdays. One at my house and one at Michael’s. Michael asked Mona if I would be interested in celebrating their birthday together, to which I told her no. For three years, they had two birthday parties. It wasn’t until this year that Michael and I finally coordinated on celebrating their birthday together. Unfortunately, my family decided not to come because they planned a party for the twins in Ohio. So, the twins ended up having two birthday parties anyway.
February 7, 2000, just before my breakthrough, just as my healing process finally came through, I received a letter from Michael with two words: I’m sorry.
When I received that letter, I was angry.
I was fine up until that point. I was even considering cutting off Mona as the middleman and finally face Michael for myself. But those two words relit a fire in me that I had worked so hard to die out.
My therapist listened as I yelled obscenities, cried, and asked rhetorical questions until I couldn’t anymore.
And when I was finally done, she said: “You’ve done the work. You’ve gotten to the point where you’ve considered communicating with Michael instead of having someone else do it for you. Now that he’s apologized, what are you going to do?”
I threw the letter away and moved on as I had initially planned to do.
The first time Michael saw me, he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“So, I’ll see you next week?” I asked him.
“Y-yeah,” he nodded. Not knowing what to say.
“Great. See you next week,” I bent down to kiss and hug the twins before they went off to be with their father.
“Shayla?” He asked. I stood up and waited for what he had to say. “You look amazing.”
“I know,” I nodded and walked back to my car.
At that moment, I knew I possessed a power that absolutely no one could take away from me. A woman in her early to mid-twenties would possess a power that I was only just now acquiring. At that moment, I knew I had “won” the battle between us.
The second letter I received from Michael wasn’t too long after that. Mimi handed me an envelope telling me that her daddy wanted to give me something. I don’t know why he was too scared to just give it to me instead. I mean, I was right in front of him every time we picked up and dropped off the children. But I guess he felt like he had a better chance of me actually taking it if Mimi gave it to me.
I looked at that first letter and didn’t even open it. Just threw it away. There was nothing I felt he needed to say to me. What we had was dead and gone. There was no point in him crying in letters about it.
He continued to write and send letters through our daughter. I guess he felt since MJ was the more outspoken one, he didn’t want to take a chance. He knew Mimi would do whatever daddy told her to do, but MJ didn’t play that. He would have told Michael that his mommy wasn’t reading it and to give it to me himself.
I read one letter…that I have since kept. Since the divorce, Michael never really acknowledged my birthday, and I actually appreciated that because I didn’t want to hear from him on my day… But for my fortieth birthday last year, he sent a large spray of roses accompanied with a letter:
July 13, 2000
I know the very last person you want to hear from today is me.
I know I haven’t said anything for the past couple of years since the divorce,
but today, I couldn’t help it.
Today is your 40th birthday.
When we were together, I told myself I’d lavish you in everything from jewelry to vacations for this milestone.
I told myself that I’d spoil you from head to toe and make love to you until the sun came up.
But since the divorce, I’ve done much reflection.
And I now know that all you would have wanted today was to be with our children and me.
You wouldn’t have wanted the material things.
Today, you would have just wanted to relish in love.
You would have wanted me to give you all of me.
The first thing you would have wanted to see today was the kids and me giving you breakfast in bed.
The second thing would be to enjoy all the rides the ranch had to offer for all of us to enjoy.
The third thing would have been to see me and the kids give you a cake we baked specially for you.
The fourth would have been to send the kids to sleep.
And the fifth and final thing would have been for you and I to spend the rest of the evening together.
Relishing in ourselves.
Relishing in our love.
That’s all you would have wanted.
And I’m sorry for messing up.
I’m sorry that since I messed up, I can’t give you that.
You deserve so much today, and I hate that I can’t be that person to give you all I have to offer anymore.
Happy 40th Birthday, Shayla-Elizabeth
I cried as I held the letter close to my heart.
It hurt that it took him this long to realize all I ever wanted.
Am I still in love with him?
I try not to think about that.
But I do still love him. Not just because he’s the father of my children, but because I spent a good majority of my life with him. Michael will always have my heart no matter what, but I’ve concluded that we will never work out again. And it’s for the best.
I didn’t respond to that letter, but when he lifted the restraining order from Matthew, I thanked him in letter and in person.
The letters continue, but aside from talking when we pick up and drop off the kids, we don’t talk much.
I haven’t dated since the divorce simply because I don’t want to. I’ve got twins to raise. I have no time for a man. But men like Mr. Hammond have certainly crossed my path many times.
“He said he don’t mind playing stepdaddy,” Amala smirked.
“Aha, I’m sure he doesn’t,” I rolled my eyes. Every day I’m reminded that my children could have been teenagers by now. The pros of having children as late as I did is that I got to enjoy my twenties and early thirties to myself. The cons include me being a senior citizen by the time they graduate high school.
“Your flight to Virginia is still on for six a.m. tomorrow morning. Are you sure you don’t want the one at ten tonight?”
“Yeah, I’m sure,” I nodded. “By the time I get there, it’ll be about time to pick up the twins.”
“Sounds good,” she nodded to make a mental note of tomorrow’s plans. “Still not staying the night?”
I sighed. “Nope… The quicker I get out of there, the better. You know my babies love the plane. Speaking of which, how long did Michael say he was going to be in Norfolk?”
“This coming week will be his last week. Then the week of theeee...,” she pulled her PDA out of her pocket. “...fifteenth, he’ll be in New York.”
“Gonna have my kids all over the place,” I mumbled to myself. “Okay. Sounds good.” For the past couple of years, Michael had been working on a new album, and because of that, the twins and I have been flying everywhere to keep up with our parenting schedule. I offered to keep the kids for an extended amount of time if need be, but Michael insisted on staying on schedule. Who am I to argue with that? Of course, it meant more flying for the kids and me, but if they got to be with their father, I guess it didn’t matter, did it?
While he worked on his album, I picked up the work I had abandoned a while back. I haven’t been working on any new pieces to release, and my fans hated me for it, but given everything I had been through, they understood. But many of the fan e-mails I received hoped that what I went through served as inspiration for a new book. Yeah, well, we’ll see about that.
“I’m done. Let’s go so we can get ready for this flight tomorrow,” my Nokia cellphone rang as we made our way to the cashier. I pulled it out of my purse and smiled. “Speak of the devil,” I showed Amala my phone.
She smiled. “It’s meant to be! I’m telling you!”
I shook my head and answered the phone. “Hello, Mr. Hammond.”
“Shayla, I keep telling you you can just call me ‘Drew,’” he laughed.
“Do you let all of your prospective clients call you ‘Drew?’”
“Only the special ones,” he called himself flirting.
His attempt at flirting got a smile out of me. “Nice try, Mr. Hammond. How can I help you today?”
“Well, I was wondering if you were available for dinner this evening? You know… to discuss the new building?”
“Unfortunately, I’m not. I have a flight to catch tomorrow morning. My children were with their father for the week.”
“Ahh, that’s right…” he sighed. “Any chance of seeing you when you come back?”
“You know I don’t like working when I’m with my kids. However, I will be in the office next Wednesday. Do you want to meet for lunch say at-”
“Yes,” he answered all too quickly.
I smiled to myself. “You didn’t even let me tell you what time I wanted to meet.”
He chuckled to himself. “What time, Ms. Jackson?”
“One thirty. Pick me up at the office.”
“I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
“To talk about the building, right?” I reminded him.
“…to talk about the building, yes.”
“Perfect. See you then,” I hung up without giving him a chance to reply.
“So,” Amala smiled. “You’re finally giving the old man a chance.”
“Don’t go getting your hopes up. This is just business.”
“Mmhm,” she tried hiding her smile.
Mr. Andrew Hammond, CEO of Grayson Properties, and I met in December while I looked for a new building to house SJ. I’ve outgrown the old building, and with many more employees and my expansion ideas, I sought Grayson. Upon meeting with them, a “very busy” Andrew Hammond found his way into my meeting with one of his agents, only for him to end up taking over. He gave me tours of the buildings they currently had up, only for me to dislike each one of them. Persistent to keep me as one of his clients, we’ve been talking ever since. We’ve kept it professional. His children are in their twenties; meanwhile, mine are four. His persistence is cute, I’ll give him that, but he may never get a chance at dating me.
I can’t wait until Michael wraps up whatever business he has going on here. I hate Norfolk. There’s nothing here but a beach. I can’t complain about why Teddy stayed out here, because I understand wanting to feel grounded. Virginia to him is what Ohio is to me. No superficial LA bullshit. I get it, but out of all the cities in Virginia, he chose Norfolk?
“Mr. Jackson said-”
“I know, he texted me,” I interrupted Amala as I looked out the window. We’re meeting at the same spot. The kids are ready. And he looks forward to seeing me. I don’t know why he insisted on sending Amala and me the same text. It’s the same thing every time. Nothing’s changed.
“Okay, well, he also asked if you have time to talk before you leave…?”
“Hmm?” My eyebrows knit together in confusion as I turned around to face her.
“Yes. He said it’s important.”
“Why didn’t he text me that then?”
She shrugged. “Guess he figured you’d pay attention to it if you heard it from me?”
“Did you ask him what he wants to talk about?”
“Yes, and he said that that’s between you and him.”
I sucked my teeth. “Okay. If it doesn’t have to do with the kids, we’re leaving.”
“Do you want me to tell him that?”
“No. I’ll tell him when we meet. You know you’re the middleman for certain things, not all. I don’t know why he felt the need to text you that and not me.” Amala went back to checking through her PDA.
Sometimes, I swear I can’t wait for the twins to grow up. Shared parenting can get tiring after a while. All the back and forth, having to keep in contact with a person you could care less to talk to, and all this extra stuff is just too much—only twelve more years of this. Once the kids turn sixteen, they can drive or fly themselves to their father as often as they want.
The driver pulled up to the gate of Teddy’s mansion and pressed the button for the intercom. Without discussion, the gate was opened, and we drove right through. Sometimes I wonder if Teddy is tired of us handling our mess at his house. But I guess not since he allowed Michael and the kids to stay here.
Once we pulled up, I got out of the car and knocked on the door.
“Hi Shayla,” Nia opened the door and hugged me.
“Hey, girly. The twins been working your nerves?”
She smiled nervously. “I enjoyed babysitting….”
I laughed. “It’s okay. Just keep in mind that when they talk your head off, it means they like you.”
“They might like me a little too much,” she laughed. “Come on. Everybody’s downstairs.” I followed behind her.
“Are the twins packed?”
“Yep. They’ve been asking about you all day.”
My heart melted. “I’m sure they have. I’ve missed them so much.”
“Dad, Shayla’s he-”
“Mommy!” The twins screamed as they ran up the steps to meet me.
“Hi, my babies!” I smiled. “Let Mommy reach the bottom of the stairs, though. I don’t want to fall.” They hurried back down the stairs and waited patiently until I reached the bottom. I bent down to kiss and hug them. “How was your week with daddy?” I asked as I smoothed out their clothes.
“Fun!” They replied in unison.
“Daddy picked up a turtle on the beach and let us touch it!” MJ explained.
“Nia and Taja painted my nails, Mommy. Look!” Mimi showed me her purple nails.
“They’re so pretty, Mimi,” I kissed her hands. “Y’all ready to go back home? We might make a pitstop in Ohio to see Grandma and Grandpa. How does that sound?”
“Pitstop! Pitstop! Pitstop!” MJ walked around like he was in a band with a trumpet for some reason, which only made me laugh.
“Go get your stuff. We’ll be leaving shortly,” I stood upright and looked over at Teddy and Michael.
“Hey, Shayla,” Teddy stood up to hug me. “The twins were perfect as always. I swear they’re the most brilliant four-year-olds I know.
“Well, when you’ve got nerds for parents, that’s what you get,” I laughed.
Michael stood up and waited for me to finish hugging Teddy. “Hey,” he gave me a soft smile.
“Amala told me you wanted to talk?” I asked.
“Do you have a minute?”
“Is it about the kids?”
He laughed a little. “Isn’t it always?”
“Is everything okay?”
“Can we talk in private?”
I turned to look at Amala, who nodded and went with the kids. “Teddy, do you have somewhere we can sit down and chat?”
“We’ll just go upstairs. Y’all just meet us up there when you’re done,” he followed everyone upstairs and shut the door, leaving Michael and me alone together. Something that hasn’t happened in years…
“Can we sit?” He gestured toward the seat across from his.
“Michael, I don’t have time to-”
“Shayla, it’s important. I just need five, maybe ten minutes of your time. That’s it.”
I looked down at the chair, reluctant to sit down.
I did it anyway.
He exhaled and sat across from me. “I don’t want to bombard you with anything I don’t deem important. But, um,” he cleared his throat and averted his gaze, then looked back at me. “Yesterday, Milan asked me something that I think we should finally discuss with them.”
“What did she ask?”
“The kids are smart. You know this. We’re raising excellent children. They aren’t blind to what’s going on. Yesterday, Michael expressed to me that he didn’t want to get on the plane today.”
“He doesn’t?” My heart just about dropped. Does he want to stay with his father?
“Michael and Milan asked me why we weren't together. I’m not bringing this to you as a means to get back with you. I know that’s not something you want, and I respect that. I’m only bringing this to you because the kids see Teddy and his wife parenting their kids together. They see their cousins with their parents, at least on your side. And the friends they’ve made… They see families. I guess that made them wonder why we aren’t together. Why we aren't a family... So I just…” he sighed. “I want to know if now is the right time to tell them why we aren’t together.”
“Do you suggest a kid-friendly version of events?”
“Shayla…” he sighed.
“I don’t mean that rudely. I’m genuinely asking, Michael. How are we supposed to explain that to them? You know why we ended things.”
“I do know, but I’ve come to the understanding that it’s more that led up to us finally letting things go. We don’t have to tell them about my sins yet. We can work our way there. But for four-year-olds? I think it's okay to tell them mommy and daddy aren’t together because it just didn’t work out.”
“What will you say when they ask why it didn’t work out?”
He nervously rubbed his lips with his index finger, “I’ll tell them it’s because of me. Because Daddy didn't treat Mommy the way, she wanted to be treated.”