Excerpt from "The Sidechick Chronicles Vol. 1: Misplaced Love"
When they say, “Everything that glitters ain’t gold,” they were probably talking about me and my life. We all have that one friend that who seems to have it all together. That woman with the seemingly perfect life. To most people, looking in from the outside, it may look like I live a glamorous life with my fabulous career that affords me access to celebrities, travel to beautiful places, and an extremely sexy husband. Truth is, beneath all the glamour, my life was not perfect. I had secrets, dark secrets. The man I was married to had secrets. Secrets he didn’t think I knew about, but I did. I knew them all and they chipped away at our marriage. It wasn’t a noticeable chipping. Still my life, my marriage was full of soul-crushing secrets that were boiling to the top. Each of them waiting for the right moment to explode, exposing us and everything we buried beneath surface.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, my name is Valentine Monique McDaniels. Formally, Valentine Monique Cunningham and I’m the dutiful wife, supposedly anyway, but we’ll get to that. On the outside looking in, I am a 37-year-old celebrity fashion stylist who is married with two stepdaughters. For the past thirteen years, I’ve been with Byron McDaniels, whom I married eleven years ago. I met Byron at a Howard University homecoming about 14 years ago that me and my cousin Brandi attended. He wasn’t a Howard graduate, but Brandi and I were. Like most HBCU attendees and alumni, people knew Howard’s homecoming was the place to be. That particular year, he attended with his best friend Remi.
I discovered he was an Alpha at a party and was attending because his frat was throwing this huge shindig to celebrate their 100th anniversary. One thing led to another, we exchanged numbers, and soon after we started dating. At the time, I wasn’t big on long distance relationships due to my work schedule. But Byron was different. There was something intriguing about him, something magnetic that drew you to him. Curiosity was the allure that gravitated me to him. His ability to make me feel safe, make my heart feel protected was the cocaine that hooked me. The pure arrogance and underlying grittiness that exuded from his six feet, three-inch frame kept me unwillingly fiending for more. I fell fast and hard for Byron McDaniels. After two years of me flying back and forth to St. Louis, and him flying to New York, I finally agreed to make the move. After a candlelight dinner and romantic night of making love, Byron asked me to be his wife.
Eleven years later, I ponder over that day and if I made the right decision. He and I didn’t have any children of our own, but he had children from a previous relationship. And that’s where the drama, secrets and other deceptions lied. Well, technically he only had one daughter named January, but he also took on the father role for her younger sister, Karter. Karter’s father was this big-time drug dealer they both grew up with who ended up getting locked up shortly before she found out she was pregnant with her.
Initially, I had an issue with his involvement with Karter seeing as though her conception came while Byron and I were engaged. He and Haven were no longer involved, so she wasn’t his responsibility. Even though he wasn’t too pleased about her pregnancy, he still stepped up. Part of me knew it was because he was admirable in that kind of way. The other part recognized his role in her life was because he had this twisted codependency with Haven. They were like Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston. The love was there, but it was toxic, detrimental to anyone in close proximity of them. There wasn’t much I could say or do about the situation other than stay or go.
Clearly, like a dope fiend unable to detach from her pusher, I stayed.
During our courtship, there were times I questioned if they were truly over or was I some rebound he had bounced to until he realized he really wanted to be with her. Once she found out about our relationship, she found ways to do all kinds of petty, childish things to make him get up and run over there to her. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another when it came to those kids. My initial encounter with Haven was awkward to say the least. I could tell she wasn’t too excited about meeting me. In hindsight, I can see how Byron contributed to a lot of the problems. Instead of being honest with her, he chose to spring our relationship on her. For the longest time I would tell my cousin Brandi she would be so dry when she would see me, or we’d be in the same place for the kids, and she’d act like I was a non-factor. Brandi on the other hand was convinced they were still sleeping together. She would tell me nonstop, "Len, I don’t know any woman that’s doing all of that over a man she’s not sleeping with, baby mama or not."
I wanted to agree with her. The sane part of me should have listened to her, but fuck, something inside of me wouldn’t allow me to. Love was a bitch that way. It would enter you, slither inside of your crevices, implanting itself so far into your depths, you could claw your entire soul out and still not find all of it. Love was your scent, your oxygen, the spark burning in your eyes. There was no getting rid of it until it was done with you. Love, despite what I wanted, was not done with me and Byron. Call it blind loyalty, or a severe case of denial. Either way, Byron was so entrenched inside of me, finding the will to leave would be no easy feat. With no public affirmations given, standing by my man was what I had decided to do.
I pushed the haters to the back and boasted proudly to anyone who would listen. After we got engaged, I expected her being a priority would change but it didn’t, and I had to put an ultimatum on the table… her or me. Naturally, a person would choose the person they asked to marry them, and he did, but something still felt off. It was like he was different. It was like the dynamics of their relationship changed. Almost like he flipped a switch and she got in line with how things were going to be in the future. Just like that, she was nicer to me. We weren’t best friends in the least bit, but she wasn’t a bitch anymore.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t trust it. I wasn’t convinced we were suddenly this perfect blended family. We may have looked like Will, Jada, and Sheree to the world, but we were nowhere near being that functional. Our façade was more along the lines of that thin layer of ice when a lake froze, and the slightest ounce of weight would pull us under. In my eyes, we were more like Faith, Miles and Teri from the movie Soulfood. Cordial, maybe even amicable on a good day, but the nice nasty undertones were always there, they’d always be there. Why? Because of the secrets. The lies and deception that made up this blended family people wanted so badly to hashtag as relationship and family goals.
We were two women who loved the same man. Which meant we would always be two women divided by a man, an emotion we had no control over. Our hearts sat in opposite palms of this man’s hands and he undoubtedly controlled the strings. At the end of the day, I had something she didn’t. I had something she desperately wanted, what they all compromised their integrity to obtain. I possessed the prize. The final level in a game you were trying to win. The one thing Haven had sacrificed parts of herself to get time and time again.
I had Byron’s last name and that would always make us enemies.