The author, celebrating Jouvert in Trinidad.
The author, celebrating Jouvert in Trinidad.
Photo: Philbert Williams (Island Vision)

I gaze upon myself in the mirror and I am both enamored and inspired by what I see: The woman staring back in my reflection looks strong, confident and empowered. She has been through hell and back, but you can barely even tell because she looks so at peace and empowered. The gems on her Yuma Carnival costume glitter and glisten as she turns from side-to-side, checking herself out.

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It’s hard to believe that we are the same person.

Less than a year ago, I was depressed, 70 pounds overweight after two back-to-back pregnancies, and in the midst of a gut-wrenching breakup with the father of my two kids. I also had no idea that it would be his ex-girlfriend (who I will refer to as “L”) who would help me survive it all.

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Everything started with a far less-than-friendly message.

“Back off my man,” it read. “I’ve been building with him for 10 years plus.”

The message was from L.

My then-boyfriend and her father were best friends from childhood and ran a church together, so they had very strong ties. Both families were heavily invested in their union, but by the time I received her message, “her man” and I had already been dating for months and he was heavily campaigning to prove to me that I was the love of his life.

“God sent you to me,” was his constant refrain.

I believed him. I was also both perplexed and offended by her desire to fight over a man.

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Then a woman in her mid-twenties who had survived New York City’s “hook-up culture” during college, I’d learned to be more heavily invested in travel and career than relationships with men. I had also only recently reconnected with my culture and homeland in Trinidad and Tobago and spent most of my time daydreaming about the liberating feeling of freely shaking my waistline to the heavy bass of Soca music while surrounded by people of color.

I dismissed L as needy, immature and unworldly.

“Girl, you should go to Trinidad for Carnival, be free and shake your ass a bit,” I urged her.

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“She’s crazy,” my ex explained when I told him we were communicating via Facebook Messenger. “She loves drama, that’s why she always watches Love and Hip-Hop.”

His explanation was confirmed when she started to send mail to my home, vandalized his car and angrily verbally accosted me through every available communication medium. She was just like those “ghetto” girls on TV, while I was the classy woman who got the good guy I deserved.

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The harassment went on for months. When she caught wind that I was pregnant with our first child, she backed off.

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“You don’t have proper discernment,” she wrote to me, before telling me congrats on my pregnancy. I hoped that would be the end of our conversations.

If only I had known I would eventually become her—“the crazy ex.”

The red flags were all very there, but I was very naive. Not too long after I got pregnant, my “perfect” relationship with my ex became hell. The barrage of constant accusations began.

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“Tell me who you were with!” he screamed one day when I came home a bit late after a hangout.

“You trying to trap me!” he would accuse.

“I don’t want you talking to him!” he would order anytime I exchanged messages with male friends.

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I had never seen anything like his rage before. But after every blowup, he would become the perfect saint. And that is exactly how most people viewed our relationship from the outside: Perfect.

After the birth of our first child, we moved together to Trinidad and Tobago, finally realizing my dream of “returning home.” I figured there was nothing the island breeze couldn’t cure for our tiny new family. We had all that we needed to be a successful couple: We were both college-educated, loved sports and being competitive and thoroughly enjoyed family life. In the mornings, I would work on my writing while he pushed the baby in the stroller to the grocery or made breakfast. We took smiling family photos on scenic beach lookouts and partied together for Carnival. His temper also started to cool down. Every evening, we took family strolls through our island community, greeting neighbors with smiles and a “goodnight.”

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Months later, we reluctantly returned to America. We were hell-bent on moving to Trinidad, but he wanted to get more financially stable before making the move. And I was pregnant with our second baby, so the support of my family was crucial. We moved in with my mom and he started to work a new job.

And the rages returned, full-force.

“Where were you?” he screamed in my face early on Father’s Day morning, not too long after our return. “Who were you with?”

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I snuck out of bed to run to the grocery to get things to prepare a nice surprise breakfast, but even the groceries in my hand couldn’t convince him. He stomped around and yelled so loud that he woke up my mother, who came running out of her room, concerned.

Then, the ex popped back up.

I was 8 months pregnant with baby number two and exhausted from carrying around a big belly and living under the weight of never knowing when the next embarrassing blowup would happen. By that time, even my neighbors had seen how bad his temper was. Plans of saving money to return to Trinidad were also falling through, because he never saved a penny, spending most of his money on his car or hanging out. We were going to our second set of therapists and counselors, but nothing seemed to be working.

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In came the message from L.

Her email contained a video of him checking into a hotel room. It was the same hotel we had stayed in with my daughter for a little getaway on her birthday weekend. It was also dated the same day.

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I felt sick.

I was so tired of the relationship that I simply acquiesced.

“You can have him back,” I responded plainly.

I was exhausted and just wanted peace.

When I confronted my ex, his toxicity finally and truly became apparent to me.

“She is just an evil, lying, manipulating bitch,” he said.

I told her about his response and she sent me a screenshot from her phone. It was a message from him calling me the same exact, degrading words.

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It took months to unravel the facts: He had a long history of being abusive and aggressive. He had been trying to rope her back into a relationship for a long while, using promises that he loved her. He had also been badmouthing me to anyone who would listen while purposely withholding access to finances for basic needs.

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I also learned that he’d promised to marry and was emotionally and financially abusing L, then ghosted her when he met me. I could finally understand why she was so heartbroken and angry in the beginning.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know,” I tried to explain.

I was so caught up in the lies he had sold me that I neglected to truly empathize with L.

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“You know he is doing all of these things on purpose,” my therapist explained.

For so long, I had been branding him as “out of control” and it finally clicked: He was completely in control the whole time. I was the one who had lost control.

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I decided I would take my life back. The first and hardest step was accepting the harsh reality that I was in an abusive relationship and needed to get out. And I took those first steps while bracing myself with L’s support.

Though we were very skeptical of one another at first, after being fed so many lies by our ex to keep the game going, we quickly recognized that we were the only two people willing to be honest with one another in a three-person relationship. We also found we had a whole lot of mutual respect for and genuinely liked one another.

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“We deserve better than this,” we both agreed after one of our hourslong sessions of trying to decipher facts from fiction.

We were both victims working diligently together to recover. We shared what we discovered about abusive relationships with one another.

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Narcissistic abuse. Love bombing. Financial abuse. Gaslighting. Triangulation. Emotional blackmail.

Having the words to explain what we had endured was both affirming and freeing.

Eventually, I was emotionally and psychologically strong enough to turn back to my hobbies, passion and career to help me move on. I started to run every day, shedding 65 pound. I focused on my kids and giving them the stable, comfortable life they deserve—free from abuse. I began to write again.

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And I found the sexiest costume to parade in for Trinidad Carnival.

The author celebrating in Yuma Mas Band surrounded by friends and loved ones
The author celebrating in Yuma Mas Band surrounded by friends and loved ones
Photo: Theon Graham
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“You should come with me,” I suggested to L.

She had also finally moved on, freeing herself of him and their social circle.

“Trust, I’ll be there 2021,” she responded.

We agreed that I should “take a wine” in her absence: That’s the least I could do to express my gratitude.

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So this year, while I parade through the streets of Port of Spain shaking my hips to the bass from the big music trucks, I will be celebrating the truth that the road to freedom from abuse was far less onerous—because I traveled it with another black woman.

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