Cherise Morris | Longreads | October 2018 | 22 minutes (4,598 words)
“What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of ‘love’”? I asked you this question four months into our relationship, while writing an essay about love for a contest I never entered.
This was long before we exchanged the L-word, back when the winter’s cold gave us short days and long nights spent with no one but each other.
“Uh, can we come back to that one? Gimme some more options first.”
So, we did a quick word association activity. I stated words and you responded with the first thing each brought to mind.
I said, “water.”
You said, “me.”
I said, “air.”
And you said, “love.”
Then, with the smile of a fox you replied, “Ah, I see what you did there.”
I was born in the image of my mother with broken teeth and a half-broken heart to match; air gave birth to air. My mother is an Aquarius, and I, a Libra — both “air signs” — and perhaps that’s why we’ve always gotten along.
I watched her, full-hearted and lonesome my entire childhood and adolescence, longing to be consumed by a certain kind of fairytale love. A love which never lies to you, never takes you for granted, never hurts or harms. But if I know anything to be true, it is that the perfection of fairytales is a grandiose illusion, which is why we love them so. Little girls are taught to long for the fairytale love stories of princesses far more than the bittersweet kind that grow us into goddesses.
According modern western astrology, Libra is the cardinal air sign of the zodiac, ruled by Venus, the planet named for the Roman goddess of love, which governs the ways Libras seek and build relationships. We value affirmation, aesthetics and the rosier side of justice above all else. At all costs we seek to avoid the topsy-turvy shakiness of conflict and anything less than perfect equilibrium, while often settling for pseudo-perfect if it will keep the boat from rocking for a while. Those living under the sign represented by the cosmic scales are obsessed with the romance of keeping up appearances, and thus, are predisposed to a sometimes-never-ending quest for alignment and acceptance through partnerships. They exalt a fabled euphoria, a dream of being made to feel weightless by the love of another. But if I know anything to be true, it is that love, despite its intangibility, is the weightiest of matters.
Although, one’s approach to love and relationships can’t be simply boiled down to the properties associated with one’s sun sign. Astrology is more complex than that. But back when I started to live this story, I did not yet have a nuanced understanding of the workings of the cosmos. I fell into the predictability of the Libran archetype, wanting to fall in love only to feel what it was like to be loved.
During the brief period of flirtation which would lead to my first “I love you,” long before I ever met you, I was obsessed with Drake’s 2013 SoundCloud release, “Girls Love Beyoncé.” While I did not share Drake’s playing-the-field sort of aversion to commitment, I did connect with his disdain for games and uncertainty and apprehension regarding letting in new friends — symptoms of a distrust borne of having been burned before. He punctuated it all with references to Beyoncé’s iconography.
Say my name, say my name
And this ain’t no time for actin’
And this ain’t no time for games
And this ain’t no time for uncertainty
And this ain’t no time for locking your phone and not coming home
And startin’ some shit when I’m in the zone
This is why I’ve been saying
No new friends, no no no
I’ve always reserved a special space in my heart for Beyoncé. “Dangerously in Love” was the first CD I ever owned, the only gift I asked my mother for on my 10th birthday. I was now a big girl, officially in the double-digits of life, and I would hide in the tube slide at recess listening to Bey’s silky vocals about topics of which I knew nothing. My favorite song on the album back then was track eight, “Signs,” a novice’s journey through the zodiac of love, one of the album’s deeper cuts which never earned a visual accompaniment.
Beyoncé is a prime example of the Virgo’s highest vibrations — the perfectionism she brings to her craft, the earthy femininity of her aesthetics, and her knack for material abundance.
A keeper of records, I do not easily forgive or forget. I hold a running tally in my mind, ensuring no lover’s flaw goes unnoticed, no wrong un-reckoned with.
I would come to understand, four years after Drake’s release, that I, too, had some of these Virgo attributes. Venus in my natal chart is, to its detriment, ruled by Virgo. This means, at my best, I bring a down-to-earth approach to courtship and show my affection in practical yet endearing ways, and, at my worst, exhibit a persnickety, nitpicky drive for perfection in my affairs. A keeper of records, I do not easily forgive or forget. I hold a running tally in my mind, ensuring no lover’s flaw goes unnoticed, no wrong un-reckoned with.
The first conversations you and I had during our brief courtship were about astrology and other universal and metaphysical mysteries. I had been studying my lay practice for four years then and gained a deeper understanding of the belief system than you, and most other people.
I knew my mother’s Aquarius moon made her a pro at concealing the vulnerability of her romanticism in a veil of hippy-dippy Aquarian longings for freedom and detachment. I knew my Capricorn rising made me seem well-versed in feeling unbothered, to those who didn’t know me, like you at the time. But it also gave me an acute awareness of how, once we’d broken through the inertia of outward appearances, that facade would soon be shattered by my Cancer moon, the sign of your sun, and the most emotional of all moons. And I knew from the beginning that I was in for a challenge I had wanted to avoid at all costs with you and your uncertain Gemini moon, the most difficult of all lunar placements.
At the core of the essay I wrote for the contest I never entered was a lesson I had been fortunate enough to learn during my junior year of high school, back before “RuPaul’s Drag Race” became trendy. A sage RuPaul would end every episode by asking the contestants and thus the viewers, “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” And though this RuPaul-ism has become somewhat trite against the performativity of commercialism and reality show competition editing, it remains a cardinal truth of the human experience.
I had come to further understand this truth during the two-year decline of my first serious relationship, which I walked away from after meeting you.
The week before I discovered your lies, while having one of our umpteenth debates about monogamy, something you’ve always been afraid of, you told me “I don’t know how to love myself yet. I think that’s what it is.” Acceptance.
Two months before your straying, in the lonely aftermath of one of our arguments, I had the impulse to re-watch Beyonce’s “Lemonade” in its entirety and feel my way through the emotional landscape of once again being the one on the other side of infidelity. Lemonade is an epic poem of Odyssey, of finding oneself in false calms before the storm of broken trust, and its destructive aftermaths . It is a story of having to break down to come back together and break through.
In sequence, Beyoncé’s self-reflective ode to devoted women who have been done wrong and taken for granted, journeys through the minefield of her eleven stages of emotional recovery: from intuition to denial, anger to apathy, emptiness to accountability, reformation to resurrection, and hope to end of a note of redemption.
I sat in a dim room lit only by candlelight, divining a prophecy I hoped to reject as paranoia, to the tune of Yoncé’s heartbreak, resolve and triumph. I fantasized about you touching her, your tongue between her lips. I cried, trying to predict whether you would have kept going, or my image would have popped into your mind, stopping you in the tracks of your bad judgement, the way you said it had before. I imagined the moment you’d come home to me after the dirt of the deed, tell me the somber truth, and repent, and beg for forgiveness, and to have my heart back. I thought of how you’d wrap your passed down lips around mine to siphon out the hurt, and how I’d make you, on your knees, wrap that cheating mouth around me and make me feel like the queen I know I am, bowing before me.
But the inherent spontaneity of the universe ensures things never play out in the exact sequence you envision. When you cheated two months later, you came home five hours late. Without words or confession, you hugged me in a manner I was not supposed to read as consoling. You never told me, didn’t have the decency to grant me the immediate freedom of absolute certainty. You didn’t possess the self-respect and courage it takes to stand in the openness of your wrongs as you had promised you would, and had made me promise I would. You did the same thing that had been done to you, the thing that had made you walk away from the woman who’d done it to you. And worse, you did it with that very same woman. And when you realized how much easier it was to stay caught in the two-faced limbo of deception, you stuck to the idleness of concealing the actions you knew would cut me deeper than anything else ever could.
In the twenty days after your transgression, each time you prodded me about monogamy; each time you questioned my unwavering faithfulness and made me defend myself against things I had never done and never thought of doing; each time you gave me those lost puppy-dog eyes when speaking of the hypothetical of adultery and told me, “It’s gonna happen. I know I’m going to do it,” it was neither warning nor worry so much as it was a coward’s admission of guilt.
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Two years before you ever entered my life, when a friend sent me her bootlegged copy of “Lemonade” two years ago, I named the files “w/e,” shorthand for “whatever,” and never knew why. The brilliant and beautiful compilation was anything but whatever. I now know that was my first divination of your infidelity and the challenges it would create, long before I knew you.
“‘Whatever’ is like my new my favorite word right now,” I would tell you offhand one afternoon during the 20-day period in which you lied to me, “I don’t know — everything just feels like whatever right now.” Apathy.
My mother and I haven’t lived together in six years, but we coexist in analogy. We’ve sat side by side across the distances of time and space waiting for our age of Aquarius, watching days gone by, letting the smoke trails of cigarettes say what we can not. We’ve shared lofty hopes and dreams of one day living in a high-rise, thinking that would be the closest we’d ever come to flying. When one of us slogged through the depths of depression, looking back towards lovers who walked away and love that never came, the other did, too. When one of us thrived, bathed in the currents of newfound infatuations, the other did, too. Together, we’ve willed ourselves back to wellness, willed ourselves to speak and to listen.
Back in January of 2017, we each set new year’s intentions over a long-distance phone call, both promising to let go of what no longer served us, which led to the endings of our respective long-term relationships.
Three months into that year, she called me yet again with sadness in her voice, and it broke my heart because I’ve heard her cry so many more tears than she deserves to cry. She told me she worried about leaving this lifetime without ever knowing the feeling of having been loved, and in love.
Underneath the veneer of my somewhat naïve Libra hopefulness and Capricorn rising self-assuredness, there lived the intimate connection of knowing when you can’t trust another woman’s intentions.
Later that evening I wrote a letter to her which I never sent. I wrote about Oshun, one of the African goddesses, or “Orisha,” that I worship. Oshun, the mother of sweet waters, love, prosperity and fertility, is the most beautiful and radiant woman in all the pantheon with a golden personality, an enchanting dance and an enormous heart.
“I am the image of the Oshun who dances and laughs like a hyena,” I wrote, “And you are the Oshun who dances and weeps, the one who is always looking and longing for the love she deserves, the one who cries because her world is not nearly as beautiful as it should be.”
I told her, “I want you to focus on loving yourself harder than you ever have. Before I could receive the type of love I needed, I had to get to a place of loving myself more than I had ever imagined I could. You gotta take this time to love you and only you so you can heal and be full enough for the sort of love you deserve to receive.”
And as I wrote that letter I never sent, I hugged myself, feeling all the love she’d filled my life with, and understanding it as the foundation of the love I now know for myself.
Four Sundays before, when you went to visit your ex-girlfriend of four years, I didn’t put up a fight because perhaps deep in the fog of my subconscious I had already accepted the truth of what would happen. She had always been a source of tension between us, a relationship archetype — or at least of the relationship I pattern myself into — the clingy ex who refuses to move on.
But for the first time ever I was not perturbed by this meeting. After a year-and-a-half of your having been separated from her, and too many hours-long conscious uncoupling conversations between you two for me to keep count of, you had promised me it was over. And I looked forward to the day when she would no longer have the power to draw cortisol through my nerves, and you and she could be friends without longing for anything more.
“You have nothing to worry about,” you told me before you left and I believed you.
But underneath the veneer of my somewhat naïve Libra hopefulness and Capricorn rising self-assuredness, there lived the intimate connection of knowing when you can’t trust another woman’s intentions.
I brushed away this intuition, passed it off as unwarranted insecurity and spent hours alone in your apartment trying to match my pitch with Beyoncé’s, singing along to the sexy serenade “Rocket” from her 2013 self-titled album, while you were out until after midnight, making out and dry humping and cumming on her back, which you somehow rationalized as less harmful because it wasn’t “going all the way.”
The weekend before you got caught, you asked me if I wanted to meet her, “She wants to go out with us tonight…She said she really wants to meet you.”
“Huh?” I responded. And you said the look in my eyes was that of someone who could kill you, and then, you deflected your lies by criticizing my anger as excessive.
Later that evening, we saw two cars narrowly avoid a crash, tires screeching, and you acted as if you saw no synchronous correlation to your earlier proposal of a big fun menage a trois, which grew into an argument about our favorite subject. When I told you she still wanted to be with you, on our way home at the end of the night, you pretended as if you had no idea, the same way you pretended not to know what I was talking about when you woke up the night I found out and I asked you what you had to done with her in the back of the van.
The day after the near car crash, Beyoncé and Jay Z release their duo album “EVERYTHING IS LOVE,” under their pseudonym, “The Carters”. The work speaks to the couple’s shared trials, tribulations and successes against the backdrop of nouveau riche opulence.
Over those 20 days of self-inflicted purgatory, you asked me multiple times if I was open to taking her as a third — a selfish and deluded last-ditch effort to prevent yourself from feeling the weight of guilt and the itch of shame, shrouded in a bad joke.
The morning before the night I discovered the truth, finding the evidence while digging through your text messages. At the witching hour of 3 am, she sent you some self-pitying bullshit about releasing, which I knew was more of an attempt to win you back than a commitment to letting you go. I preached to you my tough love sermon on moving on, and forward. And you showed your insensitivity and selfishness yet again asking me, “You sure you don’t wanna just bring her into this thing we got?”
And when you said, “I just don’t want to hurt her,” you really meant you didn’t want to hurt me more than you already had, and what you really didn’t want was have to face the consequences.
Four days after an Aries full moon spelled the cosmic demise of my first relationship, the day after my birthday and seven days before our first date, I called my psychic, Lori. She told me the most important part of any relationship is what it teaches you and asked me to write a letter, which I never sent, to an ex, who had always wanted nothing more than for me to write about her and us.
You and she share strange traits. You both were raised by Capricorn fathers who you share tense relationships with. You’re both going gray early. You both find solace in woodworking and experienced an exodus of friends from your lives upon meeting me. Neither of you care much for Beyoncé’s music. Both of your ex-girlfriends seemed to want to adhere harder once I entered your lives. And you both felt comfortable slipping into sin with these ex-girlfriends a few months into your relationships with me, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to break me, the “Strong. Black. Woman.” you had both hoped for, the one who would be tough enough to withstand your faults.
By the time I accepted the truth of your lies, I understood Drake even more when he said, “You know how this shit goes/This is not four years ago.”
“The one rule I made” you said.
“You broke,” I retorted.
The one thing you asked of me, which was to never lie to you about anything that had happened with anyone else, you couldn’t reciprocate.
And I told you, you had done the worst possible thing: ripped open a wound in me that had healed, or so I’d thought. I made you tell me what I meant to you as you shrunk in the driver’s seat of the truck you had first kissed her in.
My Mercury in Scorpio was in full effect, and I enjoyed seeing you waste away, and knowing my words could make you feel small.
I was “the fire of the sun, the give and take of oxygen, the flow of water, and the fruits of earth that give life.” And I understood, in that moment, why you did what you had done, because you are only human. And humans haven’t yet given up their short-sighted impulses to disrespect and destroy the very things which sustain them.
After I first watched “Lemonade,” I brought it into the arts workshop I facilitated at the women’s prison three weeks in a row, due to popular demand. An audience of women who had ended up behind bars because of their responses to jilted lovers’ indiscretions; accessories to fraudulent finances and drug dealing and car theft; defenders at all costs who had harbored fugitive suitors; victims to the sort of anger that emerges from ripped-open pre-existing wounds and the sort heartache deep enough to make you try to kill yourself, or someone else. These were ride or die chicks burned in the ashes of far-from-Hollywood myths about quotidian Bonnies and Clydes.
It was the summer solstice and we celebrated in a simple ritual with my married friends, writing our intentions down and sending them up in a paper lantern. I snapped into an unexplained anger later in the night as we got ready for sleep.
“You better appreciate me,” I said to you, echoing a warning of which you were well-aware and had heard many times before.
You flipped it, rolled over and sucked your teeth, “You don’t appreciate me.” I sprang to my defense, I told you how beautiful and deserving and good and worthy you were and that, “I hope you can one day learn to love yourself.” And I cradled you until you pushed me away, saying it was too hot, but meaning that you knew you didn’t deserve my gestures of affection because you lay chained in guilt, using every insecurity you could muster to make what you had done feel ok to yourself.
Before we went to sleep and before I woke up to the nightmare from which I watched the next morning’s sunrise with you, I asked you, “What did you write on the paper lantern?”
“I wished for a long and happy marriage with you, and kids.”
The morning after the fallout of your mess, my friend calls me to talk through their confusing recent break up.
“It’s like just last month we were talking about having kids… and now this,” she said.
“You know,” I said, taking a breath to process what had just happened to me earlier that morning, “the universe is a beautiful thing, but it can be a tricky motherfucker sometimes. When you put those sorts of intentions out there, and you’re open to it, the universe will test you. If you had kids this would be ten thousand times worse. So, if that is truly your intention for the future, you have to work through the muck of the present to prove you are committed to and capable of getting there.”
I had brushed aside my impulse to look through your phone as neurosis, and forced myself asleep. When I woke up at 3:45 am, the tea light candle I had lit on my ancestral altar was still burning. I remembered a meme I had seen the day before while scrolling through Facebook, and the unexplainable urge I had felt to send it to you:
Then I saw the message from her, second in your text list, right under one you had sent to me, and I felt my heart bursting. My initial numbness unraveled to ticking rage, as my Mars in Scorpio would have it, and I looked at you and thought over the past 20 days and wanted to kill you.
You woke up at 4:44, a synchronous occurrence, the hour Jay Z claims to have woken up in revelation and penned his 13th album and musical repentance, “4:44.”
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about the moments just after you woke up. What you said and felt, how and where you looked.
In a moment of revelation, I ask myself why every serious or semi-serious partner I’d ever had had cheated on me.
Would it be that all people regardless of gender, age, background, class or sexual orientation have the ability to descend into the selfishness of philandering? Or that non-monogamy is an inevitable return to the truest human nature? Or that people just like fucking with me? Perhaps, it’s some imperfect alchemy of one or all of these reasons.
And it is quite possible that why it happened has everything to do with you and nothing to do with me.
But if this has happened to me in literally every relationship I’ve ever had for more than two weeks, why was I still so afraid of it?
I wonder how much of that initial Lemonade premonition was intuition? How much of it had been divine intervention, a manifestation of my biggest fears, crystalized into one selfish act over and over again to present me with the possibility to face my fears head on; to conquer them; and to soar far above them.
You made excuses — said you did it because your life was in chaos and her Scorpio sun sign eyes know how to pull your Scorpio rising back into the toxicity of what you two had. When you can’t deal with my explosive anger, I say, “Too fucking bad,” because my Scorpio Mars placement knows how to turn me into a powder keg that could destroy anything or anyone in a moment’s breath, and my politicized Black woman anger makes me feel like I’ll kill you and her both, and bury you side-by-side in the same plot in the cemetery. I guess the new thing to do is use astrology as an excuse for the parts of ourselves we don’t want to change.
I saw the message from her, second in your text list, right under one you had sent to me, and I felt my heart bursting. My initial numbness unraveled to ticking rage.
When I kicked you out of my bed at midnight the next day, I asked you why your Cancer sun couldn’t think of the pain you’d cause my Cancer moon with enough time to prevent it and you blamed it on not knowing what you wanted and not wanting to feel trapped in something real.
You wrote to me at 3:45 a.m., long after I was asleep. You told me you were haunted by your actions and that you would repent by any means necessary and asked if, in time, I could ever forgive you.
As much as I know our astrological predispositions are never an appropriate excuse and we always have free will in our actions and responses, I also know that resentment is a powerful spell which binds you to the object of your disdain, and in the words of Beyoncé on “LOVEHAPPY,” the concluding track of “EVERYTHING IS LOVE,” and my personal favorite: “Nightmares only last a night.” Release.
In life, we always have the choice to let ourselves fall back into the comfort of sameness — the same old actions and responses and resentments we’ve carried this far — or we can move a little closer to freedom by trying something new and letting go. I could have been mad at you and rightfully stayed mad about it and stopped believing in you or anything you had to offer me. But I think that would have been to comfortable to make me a better version of myself.
I keep an altar to Oshun next to my bed, a breathing tribute to the Mami Wata goddess who weeps because she knows life is nowhere near as beautiful as it could be, and that love is the most bittersweet thing in this world, and I admire Libra rising, Scorpio moon Beyoncé most when she’s draped in gold.
And you know girls love Beyoncé and I take my cues from goddesses, knowing that, as Beyonce sings, “Nothing real can be threatened,” and “I believe you can change.”
So, with a teary inhale, I tell you that “we’re gonna heal, we’re gonna start again.”
* * *
Cherise Morris is a Detroit-based writer and spiritualist. Her essays have previously appeared in The Feminist Wire, Bustle, Fourth Genre, and The Iowa Review.
Editor: Sari Botton