This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.com.
Taraji P. Henson is getting candid about her painful past.
In her upcoming memoir, Around The Way Girl, Henson reveals that she broke off her relationship with the love of her life, whom she refers to only as Mark, after he allegedly hit her — only to have him die violently at just 34.
Now a single mother to their 22-year-old son, Marcell, the actress proves she is just as strong as Cookie Lyon, the character she plays on FOX’s popular show Empire.
In the new book, out Oct. 11, Henson explains that she first met Mark when she was just 17 years old. From the beginning it was a passionate but turbulent relationship, in part because Mark felt he was somehow inferior to Henson.
“You’re better than me,” she recalls him saying to her, while she rested in his arms. “You need to leave me alone.”
They broke up and Mark went on to father two children with separate women. However, the pair got together in the early ’90s when Henson was at Howard University where she studied theater.
Henson stayed in school during her pregnancy and initially felt supported by Mark, but writes that things began to unravel after Marcell’s birth. She recalls that the stress of a new baby, working and Mark’s disappearances late at night resulted in a huge fight one night that turned physical.
“The next thing I knew, Mark’s balled-up fist was coming straight for my face. I fell onto the bed crying and holding my mouth; blood seeped off my lips and across my teeth,” Henson writes. “Droplets splashed across my shoes … slowly creeping into the fibers of my suede boots.”
After she saw the blood, Henson writes that she screamed at him: “This is over! Get your s— and get out!”
Though her father encouraged them to reconcile, Henson ended the relationship — for the well-being of herself and her baby.
“With that separation, my forever man, my first love, was no more,” she writes.
While Henson raised their child on her own, Mark wasn’t completely out of the picture. She remembers the last time Mark was with their son. It was Christmas and the two played tic-tac-toe. Marcell was upset because he’d lost. In response, Mark “put his hand on his shoulder and schooled him,” writes Henson. Johnson told their son: “Use your head, black man.”
This was a moment Henson still cherishes because “love was there” in both Mark’s look and words.
Three weeks later, Henson got a call from Mark’s mother and was told five words that would forever alter her and her son’s life: “Mark was killed last night.”
Though Henson doesn’t share the details surrounding his death and never uses his full name, news reports at the time indicated that Henson’s boyfriend, William LaMarr “Mark” Johnson, was violently beaten and stabbed after a confrontation over slashed tires.
While Henson was devastated by Mark’s death, she continued to fight for success for herself and Marcell.
“I’m not some fantasy. I’m tangible,” Henson once said while reflecting on her role as Cookie. “And I bring that realness not only to the screen, where it deserves to be, but also out into the world.”