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The Not So Sweet Truth About “Sugar” Relationships

Summer

     I felt like it was time to explore a new path, and that path was the seemingly glamorous and fulfilling world of being a “sugar baby.” My self-esteem plummeted, and my faith in finding a partner who would treat me well was diminishing, after I was groomed by older men in my adolescence, and then taken advantage of by the men who were supposed to love and protect me in my young adulthood. However, all that glitters is not gold, and what made me ultimately recognize that this path was harmful and dangerous to both my being and soul, and why I would not recommend this to other women who were in my position.
    I believed that giving up on the idea of traditional love, and instead finding a wealthier, more mature man who could materialistically and financially support me, and who would worship my beauty, would be the solution to my sufferings and hardships. The way that films such as “Pretty Woman” glamorize similar relationships was attractive to me when I was young and vulnerable, and made me want to find my own Richard Gere who would take care of me and whisk me away from all of my worries and problems. 
    I joined a popular site for these kinds of relationships and was overwhelmed with all the messages I was getting. It would be a lie to say that I only had bad experiences, as this world is not black and white, and there are all shades of gray. The rush and high I felt after being gifted with cash made me feel so powerful and gave me a sense of worth, but it came at a higher cost than I knew at the time. I was manipulated by men who saw me as a target and disguised themselves as “sugar daddies.” In reality, they were nothing more than fraudulent johns who were gaslighting naïve girls into doing things they otherwise wouldn’t. The chump change that I received was not worth the trauma and damage that I ended up going through after already being in a fragile state. 
    The arrangements didn’t always start off sexual, as I never have been comfortable with sex in any relationship after having gone through both medical and sexual trauma, but that is always where they were headed whether I liked it or not. It had my head spinning. I couldn’t even think straight. I ended up feeling just as used and dirty as I had in past hurtful situations, except this time I ended up with some money. 
    Despite what other girls may think of their sugar daddies, I never looked at any of mine as just a wallet or piggy bank. They were real people to me, and in order to feel comfortable, I wanted an emotional connection and a sense of mutual caring and safety. What I ended up with, though, was being spoken down to, degraded about my body, used, abandoned, or in worse situations I don’t even want to mention.
    I don’t believe that relationships in which rich men and young, beautiful women come together is inherently evil, but what I do think is evil, are these websites that are really just a glorified means of promoting escorting and prostitution, and that allow these older predators to take advantage of young women, who are usually hurt and in need. 
    I chose a difficult road, and I finally realized the reality that there is something deranged and wrong with the men who do this, and that this is not a situation I want to be in ever again. I am worth more than this, and I won’t settle for less or anything that makes me feel uncomfortable or unsafe. I do regret making some of these choices, but unfortunately sometimes in life you need to learn things the hard way. I realized that I don’t want to depend on a man to take me away from my problems, because they never will. I want to be the heroine of my own story, and create a happier, more peaceful life for myself.

Two Pandemic Sketches

Meg Marciano

                                     For All the Lonely People 
       Beginnings used to make me excited. The possibilities of something bigger, brighter. Even though my home is surrounded by blooming flowers, it still seems dull. Peeking out the window through the gap in my paper window shades, I see my cement color car dusted with yellow pollen. The petals molted from the one tree blankets a corner of the driveway. Rolling over, the white ceiling above me glows a purple gray. Where has the shine from a new morning gone? 
       As my body wakes I feel the ache in my left knee, reminding me that I’m human and old, and that beginnings are meant for the young, the dreamers, the naive. I hear the surge of water rushing through the pipes from the apartment above. A few years ago I would still hustle to the shower to get the first dose of hot water. I would use a hairdryer and put on makeup. I was still optimistic. There is no rush now. Let the young couple have their hot shower; lukewarm still does the trick. 
      It has been only a month since I was laid off. I worked at the same restaurant for the past 21 years. My sister-in-law’s best friend’s family owned the restaurant. Vespucci’s Restaurant. When I started there I saw myself as an explorer, starting a new adventure. I’d be discovering new worlds, new people. I was 38, newly divorced, this was the only ship I could get on. It was fun for awhile. Drinking with the other wait staff until 4am, feeling young again. I even dated here and there. But like most jobs it became work. The patrons continued to get younger as I weathered the journey. The years added up like barnacles on the hull of the ship. I would serve the same meals day in and day out. As I served I slowly disappeared, even though I showed up every shift. I became a ghost. Delivering clams casino and shrimp fra diavolo. I would wake from my coffin, the first floor apartment of a four-story building, drift through my shift, return home, quietly closing my mausoleum. I was employed, I was around people, but I was lonely and hollow. 
      The pandemic came on quickly. I remember in early January a table discussing whether or not their business trip to Singapore would take place and mockingly saying they’d be okay since they don’t eat dogs or bats. Now those men are locked in their homes, probably still working remotely and getting paid. Before I knew it. Vespucci’s was empty and my co-workers and I were out of jobs. The pandemic hasn’t changed how I’ve been living my life these past several years. I just don’t go to work anymore. I move slowly and aimlessly throughout my apartment. My job had built in my physical fitness but now, why bother. The couple right above me is still working. I can hear them upstairs doing their morning dance in their kitchen, drinking coffee, preparing breakfast. The morning TV news is muffled. One is a middle school teacher; he speaks so loudly to his students as though he still has to be heard. His husband is a music director and one foot is tapping on my ceiling at all times to the music streaming through his headphones. They email me about once a week to see if I need anything. But I don’t. 
        After showering, I prepare a cup of tea. My knee aches more these last few weeks. Years on my feet my left knee is bone on bone. I was supposed to get surgery in May but it has been canceled. I stopped taking my painkillers and anti-inflammatory meds a few weeks ago. I sit with my tea on the couch by the front window looking out to the spring day. The season of renewal and rebirth. My life has been lived and I have lived it alone. I’ve had people in my life but I think I preferred to be alone. I worked surrounded by energy and camaraderie but was always drawn to isolation at the end of the day. It was comfort and then it became all there was, solitude, but now it feels sad. Like the spring I will begin again, I will be reborn. It is not filled with anticipation. It just is what it is. My tea is getting cold. I use it to swallow the pills that I have stored up. Toast to new beginnings. 

 (Author’s note: “I read about this woman in the obituary section of Saturday’s paper. It wasn’t reported as a suicide but this was the story I read between the lines. Thinking of Eleanor Rigby and all the lonely people during this time.”) 

                                                    *****

                               Journal Entry: Cheering Through the Pandemic 
         I never wanted to be a cheerleader, but that’s what I am. I don’t get to be thrown high up into the air smiling, light, momentarily free, suspended, defying gravity. I’m the one down on the ground, the center of the pyramid, the one who holds the whole damn team together. Not flying, but terrestrial, reliable, no wings, just dirty knees. 
         Everyone needs a cheerleader to shout, “You can do it, you can do it, yes you can!” Of course, I celebrate and encourage my kids, giving them that extra high kick to propel them forward, customizing cheers for their different personalities and motivational paces. But my husband is Chicken Little. He leaves every day expecting the sky to fall on him. Terrorist attacks, financial meltdowns, children with lifetime diagnoses, an apparently healthy wife who happens to be an anatomical lemon, and the current pandemic, prove him right every morning.
        “You look nice. Have a good day,” I say, raising my coffee mug like a pom pom goodbye. 
        “Futures down 2% and Matt is going to be late. You up on my life insurance payments?”
        “Come on, it’s a new week. Things are settling. You got it. Good luck.” Star jump, clap clap clap. 
        Not surprisingly, I blame his parents. His father’s parenting methods drew from "The Great Santini." My husband was told what to do and he did it; he’s a rule follower by nature. In high school my father-in-law told him he could only go to Harvard, Yale or Brown. My father-in-law didn’t have a college degree and I don’t know if he knew there were other schools in the Ivy League. His mother didn’t provide that oasis he needed; she is cold and unemotional and still barely acknowledges me. So I scooped up this emotionally-broken cutie pie with a Yale degree and have been cheering him back together decade after decade. I’m the in-house therapist, comedian, optimist, dreamer and buffer from the kids when the depression overwhelms him. I force everyone to practice feeling dumps. Real, imagined, irrational or justified. Get it out, talk it through. Move on to the all important kitchen dance party, while we make dinner. My husband is still healing, as most childhoods take a life to heal from, but he lets it all out and is so empathetic with the children, particularly our daughter on the spectrum. 
      “I get frustrated too when the tag on my shirt scratches my neck. And when I want to be angry and mom tries to make me laugh.” 
      Cheerleaders are always willing to take the hits for the team, especially when the team is down. Pandemic cheering is more of a steady chant. We have a lead and no need for any fancy tricks. Just stay loose and ready in case we lose the ball and I need to make a pyramid. I’ll be ready.

My Native Village

Outoume Sebastian

My father taught me to be brave. He used to tell his children in the evenings, after he had a cup of local drink: "If you leave your hoe at one place on the farm, the next morning, you will find it in the same place you left it." This literally means you must keep using the hoe or working with the hoe in order to grow your farm.  My father did not only teach me through his words, he also taught me through his actions. I am the son of a farmer who was named Manabourou, Pkonteme, and was born and raised in the district side of Anandana, Benin, in West Africa. I was raised in a district side where everybody was doing farm work, alongside my five brothers and three sisters. I had some difficulties at an early age, and people expected that I would become a farmer like my parents; however, with my father's words of advice and my determination, I now inspire the whole village.

My mother passed away when I was very young. I don't really know how old I was when she passed away. From what people had told me and from what I can guess, I was around two or three years old when my mother passed away. I missed my mother at my early age. I missed my mother for a different reason. My childhood friends had their mothers who could give them advice, but in my case, I could not. My childhood friends’ mothers could do laundry for them, but in my case, I did not have my mother who could do my laundry. My friends could spend the night sleeping next to their mother, but I could not sleep next to, nor spend a single night with my mother. The only thing I could do was think about my mother at night and pray. The worst thing was that I could not find any pictures of my mother.

I grew up in a village of eleven houses where all the inhabitants were farmers. In the village, if a boy or a girl is still in school by a certain age, that means he or she is lazy. In the village, at some age, a boy is considered to be old enough to do farm work, and a girl housework.  I was born in a village where the farmers' children become farmers themselves. Thus, I was born to become a farmer. All my siblings went to school, except our elder brother and sister. They did not go to school because my father needed someone who could help him with his farm work. I have to say that I was very lucky to have nice sisters and brothers who were able to help me buy clothes, soap, and to give me some advice when I really needed it.

 I felt lonely at an early age because my mother passed away, and it was challenging. By some people, I was pitied, and others thought I was not going to succeed in my life. However, I chose to have a breakthrough in the village, and I was the only person to get my high school diploma among my childhood friends I grew up with. My breakthrough is not only to honor my parents, but also, I think it shows that their relationship was strong, and they really loved each other.

 My father and mother went through a lot of difficulties before they got married. My grandmother did not want my mother to marry my father. However, my mother insisted on marrying my father. My grandmother took clothes, shoes, and kitchen utensils from my mother when she was going to marry my father. With all these pressures, my mother did not cede, and she did not have a good relationship with her mother before she passed away. I witnessed a shocking event when I grew up. I qualified it as a shocking event because I could not find any reason for my grandmother to return the bag of yams from my brother. One day, in the afternoon, I came from school. I changed out of my school clothes, then I went outside. Suddenly, a guy came home with a bag of yams on his bicycle. He told my father and older brother that our grandmother gave him this bag of yams to give them back. The bag of yams was the yams that my older brother brought to my grandmother as a gift. Unfortunately, she refused the bag of yams and returned it because my mother did not follow her instructions.

The good news I can tell, is my mother gave me the name Pkonteme. Pkonteme literally means "it will finish." As I grew up, many questions came into my mind. Why did she give me that name meaning “it will finish”? I have tried to give different answers to that question. For me, it means the situation between my grandmother and mother would finish. It can also mean the poverty would finish. I don't have the right answer, so if my mother were alive, I would have asked her why she named me Pkonteme.

With my father's, sister’s, and brother’s advice, and my determination, I'm happy to motivate the whole village. I’m sure that an important part of my success is from my parents’ love. I learned from my father not to give up. I learned from him that to get a better result or to have goodwill, I needed to work hard. I did not only learn from his words, but I also learned from his actions. My father used to do everything he could to let me get an education. I tried to follow what my father taught me. I studied hard, and I worked hard. This helped me get my high school diploma in 2012. I attended university after high school.  I was in my second year at the University of Abomey Calavi studying Chemistry, Biology, and Geology when I got my green card to come to the United States. Coming to the United States is an honor for my village, especially to my parents, as I'm the first person from the village living in the United States. Now all eyes are turned toward me like I’m an important person.

NCC Journal of the Arts