Hardrick sat impatiently on the couch waiting for Doreen to come down the stairs. He yelled for her to hurry up as he glanced at his watch for the tenth time. They had an eight o’clock reservation at Kapnos; the hottest new Greek restaurant in town. Luckily, he’d made reservations two months prior as the waiting list was ridiculous. Tonight they were celebrating their ten year anniversary and Hardrick couldn’t wait to surprise Doreen with the princess cut black diamond wedding ring he’d purchased. Nervously, he double checked and rechecked to make sure the ring box was in his suit pocket where he’d hidden it last week. It was something Hardrick had always wanted to do. When they married ten years ago, he couldn’t afford the ring she wanted but he promised Doreen that if she’d honor him with her hand in marriage, he would spend the rest of his life honoring her. It’s what he felt she deserved and by all accounts he’d kept his promise. But tonight for the first time in their marriage, Hardrick wondered if Doreen would feel the same.
Doreen loved surprises and even more she loved when Hardrick took charge. And the fact that he made all of the plans was a bonus but would it be enough he wondered. He’d already dropped the twins off with his mom for the weekend and was looking forward to spending some quality, quiet time with Doreen without the kids. They would be spending the weekend in the penthouse suite at the Ritz Carlton; a far cry from the kids club at Great Wolf Lodge. Although, they’d had regular marital ups and downs, there wasn’t a day in which he ever regretted marrying her. She’d literally changed his life by giving him something to live for; a blessing for which he was eternally grateful to God. Eight months after Hardrick was released from serving five years of a ten year prison sentence for a drug offense, they began dating. From the moment he saw Doreen standing in line ordering a Grande Java Chip Frappuccino, he knew she was the one and she would one day be his wife. There was something special about the way in which she spoke. The warmth of her smile and the soft, gentleness of her voice seemed to sooth a hurt so deep inside of him he didn’t even know existed; it was an energy that couldn’t be described, only felt. Patiently, he waited for the clerk to write her name on the side of her Starbucks cup so he could seize the opportunity to properly introduce himself. A simple, shy good morning greeting turned into long nights and really good mornings for the two of them. And subsequently provided Hardrick with a mission; a mission to take care of Doreen and provide a good life for her which fueled his urge to succeed and live beyond his past.
Hardrick began working at Sloan, Loggart & Associates as a mailroom clerk. With long hours, hard work and Doreen’s support and encouragement, he went back to school to obtain his Master’s degree and eventually worked his way up to Chief Accountant; an accomplishment for which he was most proud. Even as a kid, Hardrick was always a good student with a special love for math; a skill he unwisely put to use to fulfill his desire for fast money and the finer things in life. It was a decision he spent every day of his life regretting. As it turned out selling drugs cost him much more than five years of his life but he refused to allow a youthful indiscretion stop him from becoming the man he knew God had created him to be. As he sat on the couch waiting for Doreen, he couldn’t help but reminisce about how far they’d come from the ghetto studio apartment, to the lavish three story home sprawled across four acres in the suburbs. He chuckled as he remembered the low budget meals Doreen cooked for him every night that made him feel like he was eating a meal fit for a king. Hardrick smiled as he glanced around and thought about how he’d taken care of her and the kids and honored her just as he’d promised. However, his smile was suddenly replaced with an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Suddenly Hardrick was nervous. As much as he knew his wife, he had no idea how Doreen was going to react to the news he had to share. He struggled with how and when to tell her but he knew it had to be tonight. He’d run out of time and he’d been warned. It had been six months since they attended John’s coming home party and it was quite a shock when Doreen introduced John to Hardrick as her favorite first cousin. They recognized each other almost immediately as he and John had both been assigned to cell block H. When Hardrick walked through those last gates to freedom, he was leaving behind a part of his life and his past he hadn’t planned on reliving or sharing. It was five years of his life he’d never talked about. But much to his chagrin, silence was no longer an option. John made it perfectly clear that unlike Vegas, what happened in cell block H wasn’t going to stay in cell block H. If you don’t tell her, I will were his exact words. Words that threatened to potentially change his life as he knew it.
“Bae, I’m ready”, Doreen yelled as she made her way down the stairs. She stood before him in a simple black form fitting dress with her overnight bag. Hardrick was still amazed by her beauty and her elegance. Ten years, two kids, thirty or so pounds later and she was the still the most beautiful, sexy woman he’d ever laid eyes on. “You look beautiful,” he said as he helped Doreen with her coat. She thanked him and smiled with anticipation of the nights events. As they headed out the door for what was supposed to be a night of pure bliss, Doreen held his hand and smiled at him. Hardrick held her hand tightly not wanting to let it go. It was as if he knew this would probably be the last time Doreen would smile at him in that way.
They’d finally settled into their hotel suite after a delicious tappas style meal. They were both stuffed from all of the small plates and wine they’d both consumed. Doreen was still staring at the diamond ring he’d given her at dinner. She unpacked her bag and pulled out the brand new black negligee she’d purchased for their fun filled weekend. She kissed him passionately and started to walk in the bathroom. “Doreen, I need to talk to you”, Hardrick said softly. “Okay”, she said hesitantly as she came back and sat down beside him on the bed. Instinctively, she knew something was wrong. He grabbed her hand and began to tell her about the part of his life he thought he’d left behind those prison bars. Even though he was free, tonight confirmed that somehow he was still in prison. For the first time, he shared with his wife that he’d been brutally gang raped repeatedly in prison. How the brutality and the trauma he’d experienced as a result caused him to live in constant fear and how he struggled with wanting to live and die at the same time. After several unsuccessful suicide attempts, he knew the only way he could ever survive his prison sentence was to accept an offer of protection from another inmate. He fought back tears as he recounted for her the role he had to play and the things he had to do and have done to him as payment for protection. Undoubtedly, what he suffered he wouldn’t wish on his worst enemy. He stopped short of telling her that the inmate to whom he was referring to was her cousin John’s cellmate. In Hardrick’s mind, although it was true, he couldn’t admit to Doreen that the only reason he was telling her was because her cousin recognized him.
The admiration he’d once seen in her eyes whenever she looked at him turned into disdain and horror as he continued to explain to his wife of ten years what he himself didn’t even understand. It was a look he knew all too well. He saw it whenever he looked at himself in the mirror. His will to survive was the only thing he could hold on too and the day he met her he immediately understood why. Yet, none of that mattered in this moment. The life they shared and the vows they’d made before God no longer mattered. It was as if their lives prior to this moment never existed. The hurt he saw in her eyes said it all. It was a look he’d promised to never be the cause of and up to this point, it was a promise he’d kept. Hardrick whispered, “I’m sorry,” as Doreen snatched her hand away as if she were repulsed. She didn’t look at him the same. He pulled her closer and placed her head on his chest as she began to cry. Somehow he knew, her tears were a precursor to goodbye. For hours, they sat on the edge of the bed exchanging nothing but tears. Hardrick held her in his arms as she seemingly mourned the death of the person she once knew as did he. Knowing she, they, this would never be the same.