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Living on the Up and Up

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"I'm sorry." Those were the words I was looking for. Almost 25 years had passed since our ugly breakup and divorce, and all I wanted from my ex-husband was "I'm sorry." I wanted to know that it wasnít my fault. I needed to know that I wasnít crazy, and those two simple words would have released me from years of self-doubt and anger.

My ex-husband, J.L. King, whom I have known only as Jimmy, never apologized for what he did to me. In his book, On the Down Low, he chronicled his life, and our life together, when he discovered he liked having sex with men. While he was cruising the parks, going to those men-only parties, and finding new "friends" right under my nose, he was living the life of the perfect husband and father, complete with two children and a fine home. But as Jimmy laid out in his book, that was one big lie.

Unfortunately, it was a lie that I, too, was forced to live because for most of the eight years we were married, I did not know that Jimmy was sleeping with men. Later, when I did have an inkling, I doubted myself. I believed that Jimmy was sneaking around with men because I was lacking as a wife and as a woman. Perhaps something was wrong with me.

One Saturday night in 2002, I found myself in front of the television watching my ex-husband tell the world he was a man living on the "down low." Several months earlier Jimmy had invited me and our daughter, Ebony, over to share something he said would "change all our lives forever." He wanted to talk to us face-to-face and would speak to our son, Brandon, separately.

Ebony picked me up and we drove to Jimmy's house, a brownstone in an upscale neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. We sat in the living room. As Jimmy started to speak, he seemed nervous. He was fidgeting and fumbling, and I wanted to scream, "Out with it already!" He began talking about how there are men who have sex with men, and they are infecting women, and they aren't being honest about their lifestyle. Ebony finally said, "What exactly are you saying?"

The fact was, Ebony and I both already knew the truth. We had even talked about it. But we wanted to hear Jimmy say it. He finally told us he would be speaking about the subject of men who have sex with men while he was touring the country as an AIDS activist. Jimmy never once got around to admitting that he was one of these men who have sex with men. He talked about wanting to help save the lives of women, but he never said, ìIím talking about myself.î

Brenda Stone Browder, a writer, educator and speaker, lives in Springfield, Ohio. This piece is excerpted from her memoir, On the Up and Up: A Survival Guide for Women Living With Men on the Down Low, published by Dafina Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., copyright © 2005 by Brenda Stone Browder. All rights reserved.

To read the entire article, "Living on the Up and Up, pick up the June issue of ESSENCE.
Credit: George KerriganBrenda Stone Browder

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