How To Love
See you had a lot of crooks try to steal your heart
Never really had luck, couldn’t never figure out
How to love (how to love, how to love)
How to love (how to love, how to love)
Mm see you had a lot of moments that didn’t last forever
Now you in this corner try’na put it together
How to love (how to love)
How to love (how to love)
– Lil’ Wayne
Okay. Humm. So, how do I start?
Well, for starters, I was planned.
I was a decision – option “C”, the final answer, the last goddamn rose – whatever you want to call it. Whatever you want to call me.
My point here is – I was a choice.
Kinda like, the other week, when I went to the gyno. I was having some issues with my lady-bits. I told the doctor I wanted to talk about switching my birth control. She looked over my records and said, “I see you’re taking 100 mg. of Topamax (for my chronic headaches). That shouldn’t be effecting your birth control.” I interrupted her, “Umm, no, no, no. I’m taking that times three.” “Oh. Ohhhh. Well, that dosage is certainly effecting your birth control.” I did a double-take. “‘S’cuse me? Uhh. ‘Effecting my birth control’? What does that mean?” My gynecologist proceeded to tell me that the dosage of headache medication my neurologist had prescribed was basically canceling out my birth control pills.
I thought of those three yellow pills compared to that tiny birth control tablet I take every night. No wonder. I imagined three mini ninjas running rampant through my body – just a’ judy-choppin’ the fuck outta those little baby blockers. They were my best line of defense just waiting to intercept the ball on Super Bowl Sunday. I was free-ballin’ it, an open GD sesame, a… well, you get the picture.
And so then, I was all, “Tha hell?” And my gyno was like, “What? No one told you?”
That’s when I had to give it to her straight, y’all, “No. Lady. Look. No, seriously, look at me. I rolled up in here – to the OB-frikkin’-GYN – askin’ to get my giney scoped out and didn’t even have the decency to shave my legs. I didn’t brush my hair, or put on any make-up, or even bring a god forsaken insurance card with me. Oh, and I just smashed your fucking tablet in the lobby. So, let’s revisit that question one more time. Do I look like the type that’s just – oh, I don’t know – taking birth control for shits and giggles? Me thinks not, ma’am. We need to fix this. Like, now. How do we fix this?”
I was sent home with a 5-year IUD pamphlet.
You make choices and shit happens.
Happening shit = life.
And life = responsibility.
All together now…
With choices come responsibility.
For me, my life choices came with the responsibility of calling my boyfriend. I was faced with the responsibility of telling him my – our – situation. Naturally, I started out with, “I have chlamydia. I have chlamydia and I got it from you.” I could hear his heart shatter into a million pieces on the other end of the phone.
[Aside: I truly do not deserve him. Why he loves an asshole like me I will never understand. But he does, so, surprise! You get fake chlamydia from time to time.]
“Baaahahahhaha! I’m just fuckin’ with ya! No shit though… my birth control isn’t working.”
You see how I handled that? Uhh, like a fucking grown-ass woman, that’s how. Okay. Minus the chlamydia joke. Whatever.
What I am leaving out is the conversation we had after my tiny STD prank – the one where we discussed our next steps. The conversation the two of us had as adults. What we decided to do as a couple if something were to happen. What if something happened that wasn’t part of our plan? What if it wasn’t necessarily what we chose for our relationship at this moment? What would we do?
We made choices and were prepared to take on the responsibilities. However, the same could not be said for others.
I am lucky. I have found a man who loves me through and through. He is good, and decent, and honest, and humble, and gracious, and funny. He works very, very hard. He would do anything for me – anything to make me happy. We are a team.
But this story isn’t about me and Tayler.
It really isn’t even about me…
Momma always told me I was born nine months to the day she stopped taking birth control.
That always sort of took me aback.
When I realized (at whatever age – 10? 12?) that my father had two women pregnant at the same time, I thought for sure we both (my sister and I) had to have been mistakes. Or “unplanned”, rather. Whatever. Children are all gifts, or some shit like that, right? Even as a preteen I was intelligent enough to know that a man didn’t plan to get pregnant with his wife and then cheat on her. Obviously, my father wasn’t as versed on Maury Povich at twenty-two as I was at twelve.
Must have been all of those Eagle Scout meetings he managed to make.
She said they had discussed having a baby and they decided they were ready. So, she went off the pill. Within a couple of weeks, during a weekend trip to Florida to visit my grandparents, my father mentioned to her that she should take a pregnancy test. It had been such a short time since she had quit taking birth control. Surely it wouldn’t happen that fast? Could it? At the time, she sort’ve ignored the test comment.
But it did.
During Momma’s first trimester with me my father told her he had been unfaithful.
Actually, the very weekend she was at home taking a pregnancy test alone, he was two states away with some other woman. When she came to him with the news of her pregnancy, she said, “I took a test!” Momma still shakes when she recalls the 29-year-old story:
It was almost as if he was aggravated, “What kind of test?” “A pregnancy test,” I said, “I’m pregnant! We’re going to have a baby!” He looked at me like, “Oh shit.” It was if I had just ruined all of his plans. The next week was when he told me he had slept with someone else.
It’s confusing. It’s hard to follow. It’s a tight timeline.
It gets worse.
My Momma and father were high school sweethearts. Both came from interesting households. Back then, Papa (mom’s dad) had his vices and Grandma Leoni (my father’s mom) did too. They were married two years after graduating high school. They had a boat, two cars, and a house in North Charleston. My parents really were set to do great things. And at the time, my father was all Momma had ever known. They were doing well for themselves and a baby was just going to be another step in the right direction.
And then this.
I could only imagine what my Momma was going through. She was 21-years-old. She was pregnant with a child she wanted – a child she had planned to create. And her husband had just admitted to infidelity. How could your heart burst with excitement and break with betrayal at the very same time?
Let’s back up for a second.
Forgive me if I am painting with broad strokes here, but please keep in mind, I can only go off of the memories I have been told over the years from all parties involved. Do I think my parents had a fantastic relationship? No. My mom talks about my father’s controlling nature. She has told me about how isolated she felt throughout their relationship, how jealous he could be, and has described some of their more heated fights. Do I think this was the first time he had cheated? Probably not. What I think was, this was just the first time he might have felt guilty for doing it.
By her third trimester, my mother had been abandoned and left to take care of “things” (a.k.a., all of their marital possessions, bills, unborn child, etc.) back in South Carolina.
My father had decided Florida suited him better. Cultivating a relationship with his father took precedent over creating one with his own child. Ensuring the health, wealth, and happiness of lovers was more important than his wife – the mother of his planned unborn child. Not only did he ignore his responsibilities, but he ran from them.
On June 10, 1988, around 8:05 a.m., I arrived.
It was a rainy summer day. Sort of chilly for Charleston. I, however, was my Momma’s ray of sunshine – a little girl.
For nine months, Momma had anticipated the arrival of a baby boy. A third. A constant reminder of the man who had wrecked her world, her plans, her home. But here I was – her baby girl.
So, she gave me her names. She named me Chelsea Clariss. “Clariss” after her and her mother. Because I was hers, after all.
Nana drove us home from the hospital the next day. My father followed in his truck. He visited with me for 20 minutes, or so, before taking off back to Florida. By this point, he had another baby on the way.
My mother filed for divorce soon thereafter. For whatever reason, he refused to sign the papers. Maybe he thought “with or without pregnant side-bitches” came after “for richer or for poorer”. Who knows? Guys are fucking dumb. But seriously. Why? Why continue to be so selfish, immature, and cruel?
Lost in a whirl wind and far from home
I found love and happiness nowhere did roam
– Momma’s handwriting on notebook paper.
Once the papers were signed, the custody battle over me began.
Long story short, he married his second wife at the courthouse in order to receive over-night visits with me.
After everything. After walking out on my mother, walking out on me, abandoning us, moving states away, starting a new family with another woman, ruining my mom’s credit, her home, her life – a judge granted him joint custody of me.
What part of this story would lead a decent judge to believe that this man was capable of taking care of a human being? What part of this story would lead a decent judge to believe that this man even wanted children, much less me?
Again, I was a planned.
I wasn’t an accident. My Momma didn’t get knocked up with me one day and “ruin” my father’s life. They weren’t 16 and pregnant. They were stable. They had made a life and a decision – a decision to have a child. I was a choice.
And he chose to walk away from me.
What right did he have to walk into a courtroom and choose to take me back?
From the moment that joint custody order was made, my Momma’s heart started roaming around outside of her chest in a totally different kind of way.
To some extent every mother feels this way, right? You see it all over Pinterest – “You are my heart beating outside of my body.” But I’ve always thought that mother’s of divorced/separated kids know this feeling on such a deeper level.
My father was the first man to ever take me from my mother. The first man to ever break my heart. The first man to ever disappoint me, make me cry, misunderstand me, and hurt my feelings. The first man to ever walk away from me.
She would spend a lifetime worrying for me, and crying over me, and praying for my well-being, and wishing for the day it was time for me to come home. She would work her whole life just to give me everything she had and hope she made the right choice for us. She would spend hours on the phone with me, or talking on a bed with me, or listening as I sat by her bath tub. She would put me on planes, take me to a hundred different neighborhoods, and meet wife after wife with a smile. Worst of all, she would spend birthdays away from me.
Looking back, that had to have been harder on her than it was on me.
On June 10, 2014, she wrote:
A profound day it was…
Twenty six years ago today changed my life forever in more ways than one. Early that morning I was presented with “A GIRL !”… I didn’t even have a girl name picked out. But she was beautiful and perfect and she was exactly what I needed. A purpose, a reason, a new set of eyes to see life with. To smile again and look forward to love again in a whole new way. In some baby name book I had seen the name “Chelsea”. So, that was it. Chelsea Clariss there she was. She was my rock. A little bundle of stability and true everlasting love all wrapped tight in a pink blanket and she was all mine. I prayed that morning that I would be strong for her and I think I heard God say, “I sent you an Angel”. That day was a profound day. Yes, it was. I am forever grateful and thankful to be your Momma. God knew exactly what He was doing when He gave us each other.
Chelsea, today is your birthday but today is also a day I can celebrate with you the new life you gave me when you arrived in my arms. Happy Birthday! I love you very much.
In January 1989, things started to change.
Momma and I were living with Nana, Papa, and Uncle Jeffrey in North Charleston. My mom, as you could imagine, was in a very dark place. She didn’t want to go anywhere for fear of bumping into people she knew and having to answer questions about my father. For months, she went to work every day and pretended everything was fine – husband, house, baby – everything was okay. However, the ol’ “allergies have my eyes swollen” excuse, only goes so far. She needed a night out…
My godmother, KayKay, called her one evening in January. Everyone was home from college and wanting to go out for the evening. When Momma hesitated, Nana urged her to go.
That night she met my Dad.
From the moment she walked out of my Nana’s back door, Dad and his best friend, Eugene, started making bets about who would ask Momma out first. Hearing Momma tell the story all these years later, I told her it was probably those milk jugs (I breastfed until 8 months old) on a 95 lb. frame that did the trick! “Now that you mention it…” she said.
By the end of the night, Dad (being the only other sober person in the group) had mustered up the courage to ask mom out. Mom, like every other girl in the universe, figured she would never hear from him again. Dad gave it ’til Wednesday before he called to seal the deal…
On November 25, 1990, my Momma married my Dad in a modest lace gown with a crown of pearls framing her face. There’s a picture of the two of them standing on a set of stairs right after the ceremony. They both have these grins on their face – these cheeseball grins – and you just know. You know that they will be forever.
To this day, my parents only smile like that in pictures with one another.
Meanwhile, there was me.
I was two at the time Momma and Dad were married but technically Dad came into my life when I was just six months old.
For 28 years, I have considered that. I have had plenty of time to sit with the idea. I have thought it through, talked it over, and really – genuinely – reflected on what that means.
What it means to me that a man – a 22-year-old man – would choose a six month old.
A six month old that wasn’t his.
I had a conversation with Mace once. She said, “Yeah, but could you imagine how hard it would be to date someone with a middle schooler? Like, what if they hated you?” That’s when I corrected her, “Have you ever been on a date with someone… and an infant? Or tried to hook-up with a chick who’s breastfeeding? Dude, I have a hard enough time getting my boyfriend (I was dating Dickbag at the time) to pick up dog shit. I’d like to see that asshole help with a dirty diaper!”
Speaking of Tyler…
We had these friends. The girl had two children from a previous relationship but the guy loved them like they were his own. The kids were great. They were a really fantastic family unit. Everyone blended very well together. The “step-dad” reminded me a lot of Dad. The kids loved him. He was great with them. But every time Tyler’s mother or sister would bring up that particular couple, they would say, “Yeah, you know those kids aren’t his.”
It broke my heart every. single. time.
Yes, they were.
The very same thing could have been said about me – “I am not my Dad’s kid.” I know they were too ignorant to mean anything by it, but, seriously? They knew the ends and out of my situation. They knew “I was my Dad’s daughter.” They know that it’s not who makes you, it’s who raises you. But they would say it anyway.
“Those kids aren’t his.”
My real father only sent money every week because it was siphoned out of his check by the government. I can remember going on visits as a child and him asking me what my mother used his child support on. Me. A child. A child who had no idea that her mother even received a check for support, was asked how the money was allocated. I gave it to him straight, “Food? Clothes?” Honestly, those were the only places I ever saw my parents go – grocery and clothing stores.
You know, so we could survive.
Turns out, I stand corrected.
That check didn’t go to food and clothes after all.
It went to daycare.
Because his shit sixty bucks a week could barely cover that.
On the other hand, Momma and Dad busted their asses to make up the difference. The three of us kids – Bubba, Mace and I – grew up well. We grew up right. There was not a team we did not play on that my Dad did not coach (well, except for volleyball…). There was not an activity we wanted to participate in that Momma did not work to put us in. We played sports, piano, took art lessons, modeled, sang in chorus, joined clubs, and even had a stint with the Girl Scouts. My parents sacrificed weekends, and alone time, and date nights, and hundreds of thousands of dollars, and many of miles, and vacations, and years of their actual fucking life to have us.
Because we – Chelsea, Blake, and Macyn – were a choice.
We were Bob and Angelia.
I can count on one hand how many times we stayed with a babysitter throughout my life. I can never remember a time my parents fought in front of us. The three of us were responsible for chores around the house. I made an allowance. Since I didn’t play sports, I had to get a job when I turned sixteen. We each contributed to the household, were taught how to act in public, and learned respect. At Christmas, we were only allowed to ask for three things. We were spoiled but never knew it. If we were wrong, we were corrected. If we hurt someone, we apologized. A disagreement never lasted too long and laughter always filled our home.
I can count on one hand how many times – twice, specifically – my father came to my house in North Carolina.
I think back specifically on my 28 years.
There is not a single moment of triumph or tragedy that Dad was not around for to lend a helping hand.
Dad taught me to drive a straight-drive when Momma got too impatient with my footwork. He spent evenings helping with homework – math, especially. He was the first person I called when I got this ticket, or in that car accident. When I have a question about job hunting, or resume building, or insurance bullshit – he’s my guy. I inherited his sense of humor and love of a clean kitchen. Despite having just lost his job of 17 years; he insisted on paying for my college. When I needed my locks changed at the house, he came over to help – no questions asked.
So, after not really much thought at all, I made a choice.
I asked Momma and Mimmie (Dad’s mom) to huddle over to Dad’s chair as he opened a gift from me.
On Christmas Day, I gave my Dad adoption papers.
I have struggled my whole life with my relationship with my biological father. Growing up, I cried – literally sobbed – going to his house. I hated staying there. I hated that I never got to spend quality time with him. I hated that he put women before his children. Later in life (when I was a teenager), I hated that he treated me more like a friend than a child. I hated that he thought money meant more to me than him. I hated that he seemed to show me off – parade pictures of me around – as if he really had a relationship with me. Like, he even knew me.
In my adult life, relationships suffered because of my “daddy issues”. After my break-up with Tyler, a therapist actually told me that I was seeking out someone like my father so I could subconsciously right the wrong of that relationship. It made sense. Tyler was exactly like him.
It was at that point, nearly two years ago, that I realized I wanted to marry a man like Dad. A good man. An honest man. A hard-working man who came home to his family every night. A man who puts the needs of his wife and children first. A man that would rather sit at home on a Saturday and watch football than go out.
A man who would choose another man’s child over being twenty-two.
People, I have seen some interesting shit. I have been caught in the middle of domestic abuse, I have been verbally abused, I have had to give statements to police, I have even been accused of drug use, etc. all before the age of 13. My father has been married five times. One of the last times I saw him, he told me he couldn’t afford to fly me in for my sister’s high school graduation. Why? Because I was currently in town to witness him propose to his fourth wife at her sister’s wedding and money was tight.
My fondest memory of my biological father was the summer I got to spend alone with him. I was fourteen. He had been arrested for slapping his mother-in-law at the time and one of my sisters who had tried to intervene. Anywho, he was prohibited from going home until the hearing and was staying at a friend’s house. I primarily stayed at Nana’s that summer and he would come and get me when he had time off from work. We had such a nice time together that year – just him and I. We ate meals together, and went to movies, and even rented jet-skis for a day. Granted, we did spend a lot of time trying to woo his third wife. But then again, I liked her, so I didn’t mind.
My point is, I felt like a priority.
For the first time, I actually felt like he was my dad.
And then, he wasn’t again.
One time, in college, I tried to be consistent about calling.
Maybe I didn’t put forth enough effort. Or maybe I just got frustrated – you know, kinda like, “Why am I always the one who has to call? I’m the kid. Shouldn’t he be calling?” Who knows? It didn’t last long though.
And then, on Labor Day weekend 2009, I just stopped responding.
I had enough. I was tired of being an afterthought. I was tired of all the “miscommunication”. I was tired of him thinking he was making such awesome decisions for me – when he had no idea who I was. I was tired of all the drama and the toxic bullshit. I was tired of only hearing from him on holidays, or birthdays, or when shit hit the fan. I was tired of just being another email address on the mass email chain.
I. was. tired.
I miss you and hope your birthday is a happy one. No matter what today was as special for me as it is for you. You came into my life. I love you. Dad.
– The last card I received from my father. June 2010. “Dad” was underlined twice. He had since moved to a new state. There was no return address.
You see, contrary to popular belief, you can choose your family.
At some point, during my mother’s pregnancy with me, my father got another woman pregnant. He would later tell me, “I knew you would be safe with your Momma and Nana but I wasn’t sure about the other baby.” So, he chose to leave. He chose Florida. He chose another woman, another child – a different family.
Momma, was forced to make a choice. And despite the circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, she chose to rise above. She chose a better life. She chose to raise an independent, strong, healthy, happy little girl. She chose me.
Dad chose us.
And now, I choose him.
As an adult, I realize people make mistakes. Raising children and being married is hard. Whatever. But as you go through life you learn. You make better decisions. You apologize for wrong-doings. And then, you do better.
I think now, I might be over any grudges I hold against my biological father. If anything, just for the simple fact that I’m just tired of holding onto them for so long. I know I will never get any honest answers. I know he will never take any accountability for his actions. I know I will never receive an honest, “I am sorry.” And when I really think about it now, I say to myself, “He never knew me. I can’t get my feelings hurt over someone leaving when they walked away before ever knowing me.”
That puts my mind at ease.
But what I will never get over?
What I will never get over is how he treated my Momma.
The things that man did to my mother were unforgivable. And I’m old enough, mature enough, and brave enough to say that now. How he treated her – his wife and the mother of his child – was despicable. He stepped out on their marriage multiple times, abandoned her in her greatest time of need, allowed other women to use credit cards in her name, ran from his responsibilities, racked up debt after debt, and God knows what else.
Blame it on age. Blame it on peer pressure. Blame it on a quarter-life crisis. Blame it on whatever the fuck you want.
Respect is respect.
Bob Baker had no problem staying faithful to your wife, raising your kid, and living within his means.
[On February 20, 2017, Momma, Dad and myself (the original three) met at the courthouse to finalize my adoption. As we were walking out of the building, Dad reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a jewelry box. To celebrate my “first birthday”, he gave me a pearl bracelet monogrammed with my new initials. The first monogrammed anything I have ever received from my parents in all of my twenty-eight years. Later that night, we ate birthday cake and I blew out a single candle. My siblings are none too thrilled with me having a second birthday. 😉 ]
So, I leave you with this:
Men: Treat your woman the way you would want a man to treat your daughter.
Women: Respect yourself.
Parents: Children forget nothing. Choose them every. single. day.
Children: Appreciate the sacrifices your Momma and Dad made for you.
See I just want you to know that you deserve the best
You’re beautiful, you’re beautiful
Yeah, and I want you to know
You’re far from the usual, far from the usual
– Lil’ Wayne