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Emotional Parlay

“So, how did you end up in here?” 

Jihad almost didn’t hear the question. The voice was low, and the hum of the AC almost drowned it out. He turned halfway to his left to make sure he didn’t imagine the voice. He’d been sitting so long that he nearly forgot another man came into the room.  

The look on the man’s face let him know he wasn’t hearing things and was awaiting an answer. How would he answer was the real question? There’s the truth. That whole sordid ordeal. Then, there’s her story, which likely landed him in that seat. Finally, there was the story he made himself believe, his version of the truth.  

Honestly, all versions of the truth landed him in this predicament. There was yelling, cursing, glass shattering. All a misunderstanding if you ask Jihad. The problem was no one asked Jihad. He never got to tell his side of the story. He was tried and convicted before he knew what happened. The court of the group chat doles out justice swiftly.  

Now, he was sitting here wondering where it all went wrong. How did it go so far? He’s about to lose it all because he couldn’t keep his cool. His mother always told him to mind his temper. One of the few things he remembers about his father was him saying that his anger was going to be the death of him. This wasn’t death, but it felt like it.  

He looked toward the voice again and said, “Long story short, my girl and I had an argument and I’m sitting here.” 

“An argument? It has to be more than that, dog,” the voice laughed. 

Jihad didn’t know what else to tell the guy. That’s really how it happened. 

“Me?” the voice volunteered, “I’ve been in and out of places like this since I was 13.” 

It was Jihad's turn to be puzzled. The man appeared to be much older than him. At the very least, he was 40 but may have been pushing 50. If he was younger, his Black had truly cracked.


“You’ve been coming to therapy since you were 13?” 

The man looked at him. Smiled a little, then looked toward the door as if someone walked in. He laughed to himself, nodded his head, then shifted in his seat. Jihad figured the question made him uncomfortable. But why share the information, if a simple question angered you?  

“I’ve had some problems since… since my grandfather died. He used to pick me up from school back then and one day…” 

The man’s voice trailed off and his eyes weren’t far behind it. Jihad imagined he was reliving the day. Now he wished he never asked the question, never told the man his issues, never knocked the glass over, never yelled, never bet on that damn game. 

“My grandfather had a heart attack while he was driving me to football practice, and we crashed into a parked car. The doctors say he died before the impact. As for me...” 

The man stretched out his leg, then hiked his pants up a little to show the result.  

“Damn. Sorry to hear that.” 

The man waved off the sympathy. 

“Changed everything. My NFL dreams, my family, my mental…” 

Jihad thought about the domino effect that started that day. The way a family was impacted, a teenager’s dream dashed and all these years later, he’s still trying to cope with it all.  

“What did you say your name was again?” 

“I didn’t.” 

He said it so frankly that Jihad thought the question offended him. He then realized he never offered his name either. Just a poor explanation of why he’s going to therapy. For all he cared, they could stop talking right now, and he could go back to setting his fantasy football lineup and checking the line on the Thursday night game. 


“Nice to meet you, Rasheed. I’m Jihad.” 

The two men leaned toward one another to exchange a dap. When Jihad settled in his seat, he tossed the question around his head but wasn’t sure how to approach it. Rasheed had shown his leg, so it was fair game to discuss if you asked Jihad. 

“I lost it two years after the accident,” Rasheed answered the question in Jihad’s brow. “Infections. Restricted blood flow, so the doctors said they had to amputate from the knee down. Good thing my parents had insurance; I would’ve gone a lot longer than four months without the leg. And the therapy.” 

Jihad nodded. He had so many questions but didn’t want to intrude. Plus, the more questions he asked, the more he’d have to answer. It was the defense mechanism he’d carried with him through life. Never share more than you must. Never ask more than you really want to know. That lack of vulnerability and need to stay guarded had ruined plenty of relationships, romantic and otherwise.  

It was the armor of protection. For himself and those he loved. It kept his buttons from being pushed, kept the anger suppressed, and kept him from…yelling, cussing, and breaking a glass. He’d let his guard down with Simone. It wasn’t something he planned to do, it just happened. From a simple DM to a full-blown relationship in a year and some change.  

He kept telling himself they were just hanging out, but the months kept passing and now they were living together. None of this was what he wanted, but there was something about her that he didn’t want to lose. He generally kept everyone at arm’s length, but Simone wiggled her way right into his heart. 

That’s why he’s so disappointed in himself. Not for letting her get close, but for the way he reacted during their argument. It was the anger. He hadn’t been that angry in years. Probably since college. Since Felicia.  

Felicia and Jihad were a thing from the beginning of freshman year through winter break junior year. She was his first true love and his first (and only) heartbreak. Their breakup built the wall it took years, and Simone, to scale and then break from within. 

“So, how does all this work? Therapy.” 

Rasheed looked closely at Jihad. The clenched fists, the bouncing knee, the knotted brow, and he realized he was nervous. 

“It works as much as you want it to work. The man in you gonna say this ain’t for you and won’t open up. The person in you is constantly at war with that man, and that’s how you ended up here.” 

“That something you learned with the therapist?” 

“Nah, life taught me that. We fight so hard trying to do what a man is supposed to do, and what a Black man must be, that we never give ourselves a chance to just… be.” 

Jihad thought about it. He responded to Simone the way he did because he felt she was threatening his manhood, and his ability to lead their household. Things went left with Felicia because he felt he wasn’t man enough for her, so he acted out. He was kicked off the football team senior year after an argument with the coach over wanting more passes thrown his way.  

The truth was, he gambled the house savings away, he wasn’t ready to love Felicia the way she needed to be loved, and he dropped two key passes on a potentially game-winning drive, so the quarterback began to look to the other side of the field. Pride, ego, machismo, whatever you wanted to call it wouldn’t allow him to see any of this. Not before that moment. 

“So, what do you suggest I do?” 

“Be honest. With yourself first. From there, you’re on the path to healing. Yourself. Your relationship. Everything in between.” 

If it was a punch, it couldn’t have hit Jihad harder. He sat quietly for minutes. Thinking. There were at least two times he wanted to say something but stopped himself. Had he been lying to himself all these years? Lying about what, though? Was his protection a lie? What was he protecting himself from? 

He asked himself these questions repeatedly, glancing at Rasheed here and there. The man was patient. He didn’t push for responses. Instead, gave him the space to ponder what he felt. There was an ease about him. If this is what therapy did for him, it was worth a shot. A real one.  

“I don’t want to be as impulsive. Or angry. I want to make better decisions. I want to be better. I don’t know how to get there. I’m trying this because my girl told me it was either get some help or she was leaving. I don’t want to lose her. I didn’t think I needed help, but… I hear what you’re saying, and I know there are things I need to work on.” 

It was now Rasheed’s turn to be quiet. It wasn’t as long as Jihad’s silence. But he had to carefully craft his response.  

“You just took the first step. What happens in that room starts with you. You’re going to be fine.” 

“Speaking of that room. Is the therapist usually this late?” 

The smile should’ve given it away. 

“Late? We started our session 45 minutes ago. Nice to meet you Jihad, I’m Dr. Worthy.” 

Dr. R. Kevin Worthy. Jihad mouthed the name. A bit of anger crept in as he felt deceived by the approach. Then, he smiled.   





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