Although Joel was hurting and felt betrayed, he hid his emotions and said, “
You love me?
You need help.”
“No, Joel, you need help trying to understand me better. I'm a woman with a new opportunity.”
Joel laughed. “Take advantage of it then.” He looked up at the ceiling and jokingly added, “God, please give me strength and guidance to keep me from killing this crazy-ass woman.”
Renee sighed loudly. “Thanks to you I've basically been forced to take advantage of my new opportunity, because we don't have a future together. All we've had for the longest time is convenience. Well, this is very inconvenient for me now.”
Joel's demeanor changed because he started to take Renee's words seriously. “Don't say that. I don't believe you.”
“I need a husband and you're not willing to step up and put a ring on my finger.”
Joel pointed to her right hand. “What's that right there? Looks like a ring that I bought for you and put on your finger.”
“I'm talking about a wedding ring and not this friendship ring. I'm twenty-five and you're twenty-six. I think we both need a little more than a friendship.”
“All right, I respect that and I ain't even mad at you. Now I see where you're coming from. Finally, you sound like a responsible adult. I understand you perfectly. Effective communication has taken our relationship to another placeâlooks like we've finally arrived and reached the end of the road.”
“I guess so,” Renee said sadly.
Joel tried to lighten up their situation a bit by saying, “I wouldn't mind getting married, but we both know damn well we'd end up killing each other right after our honeymoon. It would be all downhill from there.”
They both had to laugh at that.
Renee said, “That's true. The pressure alone from trying to make a marriage with you last beyond the honeymoon would be enough to kill me.”
“Me too. Damn, girl, you had me feeling sad enough to cry, but fuck that. I'm not that weak and life is too short to be sad.” Joel glanced at the alarm clock. “Look at the time. I gotta shower and get outta here. Just believe me when I say that you'll never find anybody as real as I am.”
Renee had the nerve to ask, “What about me? Am I real?”
Joel frowned and reluctantly agreed. “Yeah, you're real.”
Renee read Joel's facial expression and said, “A real phony, huh?”
“You said it, not me. Keep it real with me and I'll keep it real with you. Haven't I always said that?”
“Yeah, that is one of your sayings.”
“Seriously, I gotta get going.” Joel misread something in Renee's eyes as a sign of hope. He was already thinking about how good the make-up sex was going to be. “So, can we talk about this later this evening after work?”
Renee looked at Joel like he was out of his damn mind. She rolled her eyes and gave him a quick and simple reply. “Sure,” she lied.
Joel was so used to arguments that he almost acted as if nothing had happened. “Oh yeah, I love you, too.”
Joel caught her off guard with his last statement. She smiled and her voice cracked as she said, “I love you.” It was painful to say those words again because she had already figured out what was next for them.
Joel and Renee embraced tightly as if this was going to be their last time together and neither of them wanted to let go.
From the start Joel knew that he and Renee were opposites, but he strongly believed that opposites did attract. As he held Renee, he closed his eyes and saw an image of two opposite puzzle pieces. He could see how well they complemented each other. He knew that if the pieces were the same they would never have made a connection. The only problem was that over time the pieces started to wear out and began to take on different shapes. The connection wasn't the same and the pieces no longer fitâpermanently disconnected.
Joel and Renee had changed too much to be together. Renee's embrace loosened. Joel got the subtle hint that it was time to let go.
When Joel arrived at his apartment after work that evening it looked like a hurricane had hit the entire place. He knew that his apartment hadn't been burglarized because his computer, plasma and LCD TVs and other expensive electronic equipment were untouched. He knew that his apartment had been struck by Hurricane Renee.
Joel figured that Renee played hooky from work and removed most of her belongings. He saw that she had removed everything except for a bunch of gaudy pieces of fabric that she called evening gowns, some old ugly multicolored knit sweaters, two pairs of dusty hooker boots and a few pairs of worn-out high-heeled shoes with broken straps.
The thing that shocked Joel most was finding Renee's door key on the bedroom dresser. That wasn't all. Attached to the key ring was Renee's one-and-a-half-carat diamond ring. Women hardly ever returned rings, and Joel saw this as Renee's arrogant way of saying that she no longer needed his friendship or his ring.
For some strange reason, Joel felt empty and found himself drawn to the one who hurt him most. Maybe it was the fact that someone else wanted Renee. Was Robert really willing to marry her? The whole thing made him wonder if Robert saw something in Renee that he couldn't. Maybe Robert brought out something special in her that Joel couldn't.
The most embarrassing thing was that Joel thought that he and Renee would sit down that evening to actually try and work things out one last time. Joel knew that somehow he had to shed his indecisiveness and try to get the message through his thick skull that there was nothing left to salvage when it came to his relationship with Renee.
Joel understood that he had created a concept and had fallen in love with a woman who never really existed. Renee was never the woman Joel made her out to be. Everyone has the tendency to build people up and make them into someone greater than they could ever possibly be.
He was bitter because Renee cheated on him, but for some unexplainable reason he still wanted her. It's hard as hell for a man to admit to something like that. He hated Renee, but at the same time he loved her so much. She had disappointed Joel, even though he knew their breakup was inevitable.
oel and Renee met at an upscale nightclub in downtown Baltimore called Club One, two and a half years ago. He picked Renee out of a crowd of women, offered to buy her a drink and he'd been paying for that drink ever since.
In public Joel and Renee were the type of couple who appeared to be in love one minute and the next minute, in private, they were completely at warâvolatility at its finest. The simplest thing would set them off and lead to an argument with lasting effects.
Joel and Renee knew for a while that their relationship had been stuck in neutral. All of their possibilities had already been maximized and completely exhausted. They couldn't see a promising future together whatsoever. The weird thing was that for the longest time they just couldn't break up. They had developed a fragile bond based on convenience. Instead of breaking up they used to act as if nothing was wrong and did crazy stuff like fantasize about their jacked-up future together. They joked about their ghetto-ass wedding day even though neither one of them wanted to marry the other.
Renee craved attention from day one and Joel basically went along with just about everything she wanted. For example, the time Renee casually mentioned that she wanted a diamond ring, one that she and Joel both refused to label an engagement ring. Renee automatically referred to it as a friendship ring. To Joel calling it a friendship ring was a weak but appropriate title. He temporarily lost his mind and bought that ring, but he swore that he had no intention of marrying Renee. Buying that ring was more or less about going through the motions in a strained relationship and trying to keep his girl happy. In reality, Joel viewed that one-and-a-half-carat diamond friendship ring as a small price to pay to keep Renee's big mouth shut.
Fortunately there was never any talk of kids or accidental pregnancies. They were always extra careful when it came to involving a new and innocent life in their messy relationship. More proof that they didn't intend on anything too serious or long-term.
Things between Joel and Renee weren't always bad. When they first hooked up he knew that she was a high maintenance type. She told him that it took lots of effort to keep up her BeyoncÃ© appearance. What guy wouldn't want a beautiful celebrity-lookin' chick on his arm? If it meant kicking out a little cash to get Renee's hair and nails done, then Joel was fine with that because she made him happy and happiness meant everything to him.
Renee had her own cash flow. She worked as a disability claims processor for the Social Security Administration. Joel's first impression of Renee was that she was a glamorous well-educated sista with a decent career. He was incredibly impressed. Here was this Howard University graduate, no kids, career-oriented, low debt-to-income ratio and a slammin' body that any man would love to have. When Joel seriously thought about it he knew that some serious drama had to come along with this one: Renee was too good to be true.
Like most beautiful overconfident women,
was the name of Renee's game. The thing that bothered Joel most was that she used her looks to get whatever she wanted from him and her body to get whatever else was left. In the beginning Joel was just plain ole pussy whipped. Renee had the whip appeal for real. She had him wrapped around her little finger and eating out of the palm of her hand from the moment they first laid eyes on each other.
After dating for six months, Renee asked if she could move into Joel's cozy little one bedroom apartment located in the Owings Mills section of Baltimore County. Renee was in Joel's life, in his heart, so he thought why not his apartment. Being the accommodating type of man that he was, Joel welcomed Renee with open arms.
Joel was a graduate of Morgan State University and now a fifth grade social studies teacher with a pretty decent income. He automatically assumed that with their combined incomes, he and Renee were about to be elevated to a new socioeconomic level. He thought their relationship was moving in the right directionâhe was delusional. The excitement and initial steady flow of great sex often has that effect.
He felt that the best way he could get to know Renee was if they tried living together. He assumed from her personality and general appearance that Renee would be an absolute pleasure to live withâeven though he never had the opportunity to see Renee's old apartment on a real functional level. When they met she had most of her belongings boxed up or lying in huge piles all over her apartment. Renee blamed the clutter and confusion on the fact that she was in the process of moving. Joel believed her because he thought there was no way a fine-ass woman like Renee could purposely be living in a junk pile.
Joel's apartment was full of art and imported furniture. His place could have easily been featured in a magazine. When Renee moved in, it slowly began to resemble an obstacle course. Organization was important to Joel, but he eventually got used to having tons of makeup and other beauty supplies all over his bedroom and bathroom. He couldn't get used to tripping over expensive high-heeled shoes, designer handbags, and blow-dryer and curling-iron cords.
When Joel said something to Renee about the condition of his apartment, her response was, “I'm still getting settled in.”
He frowned and said, “It's been almost a year now.”
Renee was very squeamish about doing housework. Cooking and cleaning were at the bottom of her list of priorities. Renee and Joel ate out every weekend and at least two to three weeknights per week. Joel's money was going fast with Renee living with him. He was paying most of the bills. In the meantime, Renee's money was going even faster because of her incessant shopping habits and mandatory monthly spa treatments. She was a broke-ass wannabe who was in love with an upscale or celebrity lifestyle. All she knew was running up to New York to Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue for fashions by Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Manolo Blahnik and Marc Jacobs.
Joel almost lost his mind when Renee suddenly traded in her reliable little red BMW 325i for a brand new fully loaded white Cadillac Escalade. He thought that getting that expensive oversized SUV was nothing but a power move. Renee loved to pull up next to his black Jeep Cherokee and look down at him. From that point, Joel knew that there wasn't any way he could possibly marry Renee. Relationships are supposed to be give and take, but from Renee's end it was all take. She was a parasite and too superficial.
A stupid little voice in Joel's head said,
Don't give up on Renee. You can change her.
Instead of changing Renee, Joel felt himself changing. He never imagined enduring so much drama from any woman. Renee continued to change into a complete phony. She lied to all of her friends about investments she supposedly had and how much money she had been saving up to buy a huge new house in Prince George's County. Renee wasn't saving jack. Joel was the only one with investments and he had been saving for a house long before he met Renee.
Renee began to show personality traits that Joel never knew she possessed. At one time Renee was cute and affectionate, but that side had taken a backseat to her psychotic side. She had turned into a rebellious childâit was her way or no way. She became temperamental, unreasonable and very argumentative.
Renee used other couples to gauge her relationship with Joel. She would say things like, “Tim and Nicole just bought a new house in Howard County. We need to hurry up and get ours. Jajaun bought Pam a diamond ring, I need one, too. Did you see Kia and Rick's new Lexus truck? People are starting to notice that your Jeep is getting old. It's time to trade that in because I can't be seen in that thing. We'd look real nice in a Mercedes-Benz 500 SL.”
Joel wasn't cheap, but more like frugal. He was in his mid-twenties and already saving money for an early retirement. At the rate he was investing and saving money, wealth was definitely in his future. And then there was Renee and all of her friends, the compulsive shoppers. They were broke as hell, but their dumb asses would do just about anything to look rich.
Before long, Renee was living paycheck to paycheck, acting as if the instant-wealth fairy was going to appear any day and grant her a wish for everything her money-grubbing heart desired.
Joel admitted to being a foolâa fool in love. He knew that his biggest problem was being stuck on stupid and trying to make things work between him and Renee. He considered Renee a well-educated woman who lacked common sense. To him there was a big difference between a well-educated woman and an intelligent woman. A well-educated woman had been taughtâsupplied with the knowledge she lacked. On the other hand, an intelligent woman is naturally equipped with knowledge and common sense and really knows how to apply herself in real-life situations.
Before long, communication between Joel and Renee had drastically changed because of mutual suspicions of cheating, jealousy, boredom, and general lack of interest. The romance factor was at absolute zeroâgone. Their sexual relationship was shaky at times, but remained their common link. Everything around them was falling apart. The only thing they were building was an impenetrable wall that separated them even more. They both realized the relationship's downward spiral had gained too much momentum to be stopped. A breakup was inevitable, and they were too distracted and too stubborn to try to stop it.
Some days Joel felt like he was dying inside. He had lost his sexy best friend and lover of more than two years. Now the woman who slept next to him every night was more like a beautiful stranger with an unpredictable personality that made her ugly.
For months Joel sensed that his relationship with Renee was coming to an end. For some reason his heart and mind only wanted to hold on to the highlights from the past and the few remaining good qualities she possessed.
He wanted to beat Renee to the punch by ending their unstable relationship as soon as possible, because he didn't want her to have the last word or the last laugh. The crazy thing was that for a while Joel was way too comfortable and attached to actually do anything like carry out the dramatic breakup scene that had been repeatedly replaying in his mind.