She was a good girl. I was a bad dude. Her family had money. Mine didn’t. And, unsurprisingly, her family hated me.
We started dating when she was 15 and I was 17. We were high school sweethearts and I, really, owe her my life. Literally. She was with me when I was accidentally shot in the face at 18 by a buddy planning a robbery with my gun. She was with me when I went to prison and over, under and through numerous arrests, fights and angry, confused young-man insanity.
But I found some religion in prison. She was and is a great Christian, and so I got married to her. I didn’t want to be married, but I did want to have sex, and I was the first person she had had sex with, so in that world marriage made sense.
I knew how many people, especially women, felt about me at this point: irresponsible at best, evil at worst.
She became a public school worker. We had three kids. This changed my life. Until about six years later. It’s safe to say at this point that I was not doing so well at marriage. When you aren’t following your belief system, you might make excuses or even lie, not because you’re bad, but because you’re good and don’t know how to deal with regret.
In any case, I started seeing other women. Some once in a while and some on a regular basis, none exclusively. She and I got divorced. These other women weren’t just women I was sleeping with, though; they were beautiful inside and out, and as luck would have it, I got serious with one. She was 23 years old, a decade younger than me, a good Christian girl who went to a Bible college. And I … was an ass.
How much of an ass? Well, around 2004, I’d just got a court date for knocking a dude’s eye out of the socket. He attacked me in a bar, but I was still looking at five years largely on account of priors. Facing the prospect of extended jail time, I got really, really sexually active. It was a selfish time and not at all helped by me finally getting sentenced to five months in jail.
The mother of my kids was supposed to visit me in lockdown one Saturday and bring my kids. Many dads won’t see their kids in jail. It’s tough and humbling. Me? I wanted them to know only bars or death would separate us, not work, not another woman, nothing else, and to learn from my mistakes. Plus, I didn’t really feel like I should be in there at all.
“D … D … D … Derby? Visitation room.”
I go up and there is a guard stuttering my name, and he can’t make eye contact. Which was strange, since the guards were really cool to me, for the most part. I was one of the most popular idiots on my island, and I say this, not bragging, but just as a matter of fact. So, I’m in a room with 30 inmates, then I go into a smaller room with five seats, a glass wall, five phones and five seats on the other side.
And standing on the other side of the glass, hands on their hips, waiting for me, were my ex-wife and my new girl. Both were angry. And both were pregnant.
“Guard! Guard, visit over!” I got the hell out of there. I didn’t know how to deal with it, and it probably speaks volumes that jail seemed the best place of all for me to be right around then. I later tried to ask forgiveness, and said, “Don’t take it personal,” but they took it very personally. Both said that they were on birth control at the time that they got pregnant, and I don’t believe that they lied about that. Me and my new girl had been dating only three months before she got pregnant.
Anyway, I don’t even remember too many conversations after that. I don’t remember how we all got along. Women I slept with in the past who had heard what happened hated me. Women I didn’t even know who heard about it hated me. In any case, I couldn’t hide out in jail forever and even if I had my sentence padded out for getting in a few fights while waiting to go to court for fighting, I eventually got out.
Just in time for my two babies to be born. On the same day. At the same hospital. To different moms. And at that hospital, I even had the same nurse in both rooms.
“How do you know these people?” she asked me as I moved from one room to the next.
“This is my baby too.”
She did her little checks but about a minute later, she laughed, “No, seriously, how do y’all know each other?”
I showed her I had two wrist bands. They put one on you and one on your baby, so you don’t get them mixed up. Outer Banks, North Carolina, is like a small island and in that small hospital that day two babies were born and both were mine.
She gasped and ran out. And then the nurses all came around to sneak a look at me. Some looked at me angrily; others seemed just curious. One nurse even looked me up and down, like I was a Snickers bar and she was starving. I knew how many people, especially women, felt about me, at this point: irresponsible at best, evil at worst.
I also knew how I was supposed to feel. But my sisters had prepped me. Not my siblings, but Black women. I don’t call them “sisters” because they’re Black. I call them sisters because they’re my sisters from my church.
“Did you rape those girls, David Derby?”
“OK, then. A child is a blessing. You be a good dad; they’ll forgive you. If those babies are here, then God meant for them to be here.”
I have found an unbelievable strength in Black women that’s incomparable. They encouraged me to push beyond religion, ideology and opinions and see this thing for what it truly is. They also encouraged me to take care of my kids. If moms can’t forgive, that’s on them. So the way things now stand, I did end up remarrying my ex-wife, even if we later divorced, again. Then I ended up with my other kid’s mom, which is where it stands now. Regardless, on May 5 that year, I walked out of that hospital the happiest man on Earth.
How? Easy: Baby A is now 13, and she can run a six-minute mile. She’s never gotten anything less than an A in any class, ever. She won semi-national essay contests. Baby J, also 13, of course, is a southpaw boxer, on the honor roll and can wrestle and box like my other sons. There were some rough Christmastimes and rough birthdays, but people put aside selfishness for the kids, and I love my kids.
I imagine I still look pretty dirty to casual observers, but I’m a good father to seven happy, healthy and successful kids, so who’s to judge?