To get over my divorce seven years ago, I drove myself, my cat and our things to St. Louis playing nothing but No Doubt's "Return of Saturn" and Hole's "Celebrity Skin," two rock albums about the absence of love, death (actual and romantic) and self-loathing.
As big of an R&B lover I am, the amount of turmoil I'd gone through seemed beyond the platitudes of Toni Braxton's "Another Sad Love Song" and "Breathe Again." I needed songs about angst and being assaulted in my mind by a poisonous person. In the realm of Pop R&B (with soul as the exception), there were songs about cheating and songs about heartbreak. But where was the song about someone turning you into a perversion of yourself?
When I read the story of "Skin Deep," I could only think of two songs from my post-divorce playlist, No Doubt's "Magic In the Makeup" and Hole's "Reasons To Be Beautiful."
Hole won because Skin Deep's story is that of a woman who in love was prized only for her appearance, and the superficiality of her man's commitment drove her to change everything about herself in the hope love would not go unrequited.
He invades my dreams at night, making them more like nightmares. The man who I swore to love for life is now my boogeyman.
It started four years ago. In a new city for an internship, I begged a friend to introduce me to some of his classmates. A few weeks and several hours' worth of phone calls later, I found myself on a date with a beautiful young man. We walked, talked and ate ice cream. He put his arm around my waist and told me about his family. I put my head on his shoulder and told him about my goals. He walked me to my door and kissed me on my lips. I called my best friend and told her about my new summer love.
Things didn't go as planned. After weeks of picnics, late night talks and love making, it was time for a goodbye that wouldn't come very easily. Phone calls and emails turned into cross-country visits.
We fought during his first visit when he took one look in my closet and announced that my clothes were outdated. I explained that poor graduate students like myself didn't have time or money for shopping. Besides, everyone in my program was too depressed or stressed to care. It didn't matter. He wanted someone with style and class. Where was the fashionable lady he met over the summer?
We fought again in the car on the way to the mall. I asked, "What do you really love about me?" His reply? "Well, you have a beautiful body." This statement would color our relationship for the next two years.
Instead of running away, I stayed around; convinced I could do no better. The distance we had from each other did not ruin our unhealthy bond, and I found myself relocating to live with him and be his ideal woman.
My love for him soon became a competition with ghosts: the "just a friend" phone buddy who never wanted to meet me, the images of naked women on his computer, starving myself to became the black version of bobble-headed starlets. My "sista-girl" hips, thick backside and full breasts vanished, turning me into an emaciated woman I didn't know.
His recognition of me was only the tip of the iceberg when it came to our Titanic relationship. His mother moved in with us unexpectedly. My protests were met with his lament that it wasn't "our home" anymore and he didn't need my approval for anything.
I packed my bags and left the next day. I cried on the way to my new apartment, angry that I put up with it for so long. The unconditional love that I wanted didn't exist with him.
He creeps inside my mind when I least expect it. He's the boogeyman who makes me scared to find love again. My curves are back and sometimes I don't even bother to comb my hair. When I look in the mirror though, I see a fat girl in need of a weave. He stands behind me, giving me makeover pointers while he flips through the latest girlie magazine. He's right, what man would want me?
And then I climb in to bed, close my eyes and pray he doesn't return again.