I’m Toni and I Approve This Message

K.E. Mullins

There was a certain eeriness to the night, but I didn’t catch what it was, perhaps that sixth sense you fail to acknowledge. I failed. Epically. Let my mom tell it. I’d proven myself to be a true Mack or Williams or whatever surname you’d like to attach to a certain trait of people. I thought it was a life-changing experience. She thought it was our family being themselves. In other words, my maiden name was Williams and, in her eyes, both Williams’ – mainly my dad and my Uncle Rudolph Mack, her brother – had a reputation of being unfaithful. This episode would be the last of my many escapades. Everyone has some type of addiction, and my alter ego, Toni’s, was sex.

Enough about that already, at least for now. It was early in the 90s or late 80s. Who cares? The point is, it was late and the neighbourhood was dark but watchful. “Other’s People’s Property” or “OPP” by Naughty by Nature and “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown)” by Two Live Crew were popular at the time, and both were my favourites. Not because they were good artists, but because I was the character in most of the songs in more ways than one. Did I say I was in the Navy? Yeah, that too. Married with one small child.

I don’t remember where he was at the time.

*

The house was exceptionally quiet except for the squealing of the headboard and his heavy breathing. Max was sweating profusely. It was a definite turn off. Everything was relatively normal considering the affair. But something didn’t feel right. He was good and all. However, I didn’t like him. I didn’t like the way he was sweating, as if he’d just finished a half marathon. I didn’t like it doggy style, and he wasn’t really my type. I was just being me at the time. I just didn’t give a damn! And here he was, breathing hard in my ear. “Do you like it?’

I would like you to leave right now. But we changed to my favourite position, missionary.

Everything was back to normal and I was about to reach my climax. “Did you hear that?”

“What?” Max said, stopping mid-stroke.

“I thought I heard a door close.”

He stopped gyrating and listened. “Naw, Toni. You’re just tripping.”

“I hope so,” I said. But. I was almost sure I heard the door close gently.

We continued our hot and steamy sex for what seemed like another ten minutes. Until—

The crap happened so fast. No. He didn’t come, but Jake did. Who’s Jake? Oh, that’s my husband. The door opened wide, banging the handle against the wall. There he was, all 5ft 8in of him, taking up the whole doorway. As least, that would be the impression you would’ve gotten looking at his stance. “What the fuck is going on!”

It felt as if everything moved in slow motion, like that accident you see happening and can’t prevent. Does he have a gun? I wanted to answer that first question, but I thought it may not be to my best interest. In my head, I said, You see nothing. Nothing is going on at all. Or as mum would say, “It’s just a figment of your imagination.”

Before I knew it, Max was off the bed and grabbing his pants in full sprint, passing Jake. All I remember was seeing his brown ass sprint. Jake right behind him. I grabbed my clothes, pulling them on as I made my way to the door.

Where’s my keys?

In the meantime, Max made it to his car. I could hear the rubber burning as he pulled out of the cul-de-sac with Jake behind him. Running like he was the Incredible Hulk or some shit. His hands were waving in the air and obscenities came out of his mouth like popcorn kernels jumping out of hot oil. Our next-door neighbour stood in the yard and watched the commotion. His mouth hung open in disbelief.

I eased into my car and slowly turned the ignition. It was my chance to escape without any notice, or so I thought. Lifealways has a way of playing tricks on you.

“Yes…I can escape,” I said.  I put the car into reverse, but unlike the cars nowadays it didn’t have that cool back-up camera. And to my surprise, who jumped behind the car like Jason from Friday the 13th? You guessed it – Jake. The only thing missing was the mask and the knife.

“Toni! Toni! Get out the car!”

I watched him in the rear-view. It seemed like the reasonable thing to do, but why? Why were we going to talk and what were we going to solve? I zoned out for what seemed like hours. It was only minutes.

Jake tapped on the car window. “Toni, let’s talk this out. Please–––”

My mind continued to race with unanswered questions. What are we talking about? Our failed relationship? Your jealousy? My unwillingness to work it out? My choice to move on? My total emptiness? Was this worth the risk? For the last question, I had an answer. No.

I rolled down the window and stared at him for a moment. “What is there to talk about, Jake?” I couldn’t believe I said it. “I’ve made a huge mistake. Why would you want to talk to me?”

“Can you just give us a chance?” I could feel his crushed ego with the next statement. “We can try counselling.”

“Yes,” I said. But in my mind, I didn’t see it working out. He would use this day against me, and a year or so later, I was right.  It all backfired. I should’ve said no. Although it may seem cruel, sometimes you gotta take your losses.

Funny thing, that next night I called my mum to bond with her. That was a mistake. I don’t know why I entertained the thought. She’d only been married three or four times, maybe more. I don’t know what advice I was looking for. But I remember the conversation went something like this…

“Hey, Kimmie,” she answered.

“Hey,” I responded.

“Is everything alright?”

“No, not exactly,” I said.

“Well. What’s wrong?” she said. “I can’t help if you don’t tell me.”

I knew that already. But, how do you tell your mum you just got busted during an affair. Like this.

“I…I…I had a situation last night.”

“What?” she sighs. “Just say it already.” I could see her smoking a Virginia Slims looking at the phone like, “spit it out already.”

“Jake–––”

“He hit you!”

“No…he came home early yesterday.”

“Okay, what’s wrong with that?” she said.

“Well. Nothing, if you don’t have somebody over,” I said.

“Somebody over? Noooo…” A very long pause.

“Hello. Mum. Are you still there?”

“Kim, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

“What? I didn’t know he was going to come home early.” As if that justified it.

“Does it matter?” her voice went up ten octaves with the next statement. “You can’t be bringing them to your house. Have you lost your mind?”

How is it that she can ask me these questions? The woman who saw so many men I can’t remember. That dude that molested me when he came over to fix shit. He was always available even when she was asleep at home.

“No. I haven’t! I’m just tired of this relationship. I guess that wasn’t my best decision.”

“Well, get a divorce! What did Jake say when he got home?”

“It was a mess. But he wants to work it out.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, you don’t sound like it. At least you’re alive.”

“What did you say?” I asked, even though I heard the statement. I just needed to verify what I heard.

“He could’ve killed you and gotten away with it. You know they still have that law in Florida.”

I knew I should’ve called someone else. Who says that to their only child? Maybe I watched too many episodes of the Walton’s. Cause my family life never had a happy ending. “Yeah, mom. Thanks for listening. I gotta go.”

“Ok. Be careful. I love you.”

The dial tone took over and I was back where I started. Lost. Why did I call her? I couldn’t call my dad. He was another version of Archie Bunker, just in black skin. He would never admit to his indiscretions. Between the two of them, they’d been married to different spouses at least ten times. No wonder I didn’t have a role model as far as happy marriages went. But there was one. Mum’s sister, Ruby, and my Uncle Joe. They were married for over 20 years until her death. Then, he lost his mind, dating women as young as my cousin and I.

*

Jake and I were both in the Navy. We met at my first duty station in Florida. He was from New York and he made it known. The typical New Yorker, always bragging about the city and what it had to offer. He said I was country and had no culture. I guess he thought he was my saviour. Four years my senior and more senior than me in the military. I guess he thought he would teach me a thing or two.

However, he found out quick I wasn’t a pushover. I’d joined the Navy to get away from it all –from my over-bearing mother and her many men; the rejection of nursing school, which was probably a good thing. Because after working in medical during the Navy, I found out a career in medical wasn’t for me. We dated for six months and were married within a year. But, little did Jake know, I applied for an Officer programme before we were stationed in Puerto Rico.

Shortly after being stationed in the Caribbean, I was notified of my acceptance. I told Jake. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday. “What? Why would you accept that? We won’t be able to be together.”

“What? This is my chance to become an officer?” I said.

“You can do that later. We just got married and are trying to start a family.”

I should’ve gone with my first instinct. “Ok. I’ll tell the Masterchief I’m not going to accept the invitation.”

“Good,” Jake said.

That should’ve been my first sign. The others. He always accused me of seeing guys. I think he was jealous, and I was right. We would be walking in a mall and if someone looked at me, he would say, “Why are you looking at him? Do you know him?”

“No,” I would respond. “What is your problem?”

After a year or two, I couldn’t take it. So, I met some friends, and we hit it off. I did start seeing someone. We were working different shifts. But I never got caught. It wasn’t until moving back to Florida that it all fell apart. I don’t even remember how I met Max. I do remember he kept making advances at me and somehow, I let him talk me into a lunch or something.

He wasn’t even my type. He was tall and all, but we really didn’t vibe. For some reason, I always thought him sleeping with me was on a dare.

Although getting caught was horrible, it came full circle when I got to work Monday morning. I’m not sure if Max had a conscience or he just decided to go into his apartment butt naked. Whatever the case, I got a call. I was taken aback.

Like I said, it was Monday. The phone rang…

“Good morning, this is PO Glover, Medical Clinic, how can I help you?”

“You sure can, bitch,” the caller said. “I’m calling your boss and letting her know you’re having an affair with my fiancé.”

My heart dropped. “Fiancé? Who is this? I don’t know anybody that’s ‘bout to get married.” “What? Who is this? And what are you talking about?” These were all questions I asked aloud.

“Oh. Don’t act like you don’t know Max. Max Singleton. That’s who I’m talking about!”

I was stunned. I knew Max, but that fool never told me he was getting married. There I go again. “Hello?”

The dial tone set in.

I sat down for a sec to regain my thoughts, then, I began with my daily routine. An hour hadn’t passed when I was called into my Chief’s office. Chief Moore was more like a mother figure to me. Puerto Rican from New York, been in the Navy at least 20 years, and up for promotion. Nobody would mess with her. She must’ve been 5ft 2in and 130lbs, but by her presence you thought she was 6ft.

She told me to sit down. “What happened with you this weekend?”

I shook my head. “Not much. Why?”

Her eyes pierced my very soul that morning. She knew when I was lying. “I’m not believing that. You wanna try again or do I need to go into this call I just got?”

Butterflies began to dance in my stomach. I now knew that woman, or Max’s fiancée whom he failed to mention, had kept her word. I felt as if my life was on display. “Well…I got caught doing things I shouldn’t been doing.”

“Go on,” she said, “I know that much.”

“I was fooling around and got busted. Then, I get this call from his fiancée this morning warning me she’s going to ruin my life.” Tears came from nowhere, moistening my cheeks.

Chief handed me a box of tissues. “Calm down. We got this. What did Jake say?”

“He wants to work it out.” I said between sniffles and snots.

“You know… it’s up to you. In the end, you must live with your decision. I’ll take care of this woman.”

I nodded.

“In the meantime, I need you to remain focused and act like nothing happened. This will not leave this office, understood?”

“Yes, Chief.”

She came over and gave me a hug. “PO Glover. I am disappointed this happened. Only because I’d just recommended you for Sailor of the Quarter. I’ll have to pull that package.”

“I understand.” This was equivalent to employee of the month.

I walked out the office, dragging my tainted ego with me. Could life get any worse? It didn’t.

K.E. Mullins is a Florida native. She began her writing career while in the Navy by venturing into poetry. Her poem, “My One Last Cent,” was published in Amistad, a literary journal at Howard University. Currently, Ms. Mullins has self-published a book of poetry, Thinking Aloud: Dimensions of free-verse and her fiction novels, The Friends and Family Connection: Get Unplugged, In the Company of Strangers, and Murder: Another Name for Revenge, all available on Amazon. She was selected in March to attend the Donna Kaz Comedy Workshop and is also a regular contributor to Harness magazine.

 

*Image by Maite Tiscar on Unsplash