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"Carm, is he talking about you?"
Nas's insistent voice penetrated the fog in my head. I must have picked up the ringing telephone in my sleep. Had it awakened our daughter, Destiny, too?
"What?" My bedside clock read midnight. It was 3 A.M. for Nas in New York. Uh-oh. Whatever prompted this call was troubling enough to keep him awake.
"I keep hearing about this Memphis Bleek song with Jay-Z. It's supposed to be about you."
The song was news to me, but at the mention of Shawn's name my heart sank down to my stomach, which tightened into knots. I sat up in bed and tossed aside the silk comforter. With the movement the diamond on my left hand caught a silvery ray of moonlight. I took a deep breath and calmed down. Nas and I were finally getting married. This was no time to panic.
"What song?" I asked, as neutrally as possible.
"'Is That Your Chick.' Carm, it's getting harder and harder for me to ignore the rumors about you and this dude -- "
"They are just rumors, Nas." I put on what I hoped was a persuasively reasonable tone. "People talk. I put up with rumors about who you're supposed to be with all the time. Foxy, Beyoncè, Mary J. Every week they're saying it's someone new. You're just going to have to charge it to the game like I do."
Nas was silent. I could almost hear him balancing it out in his mind. On one side, there was my comforting explanation. A big part of him wanted to believe it. On the other hand, there was the growing weight of his suspicion. Nas wasn't exactly buying my little speech, but he let things drop for the moment. We hung up and I lunged for the bathroom, where I was sick.
Nas was very competitive in that he had two part-time jobs: he spent half his time talking up himself and the other half talking down others. In public, Nas tended to be more low-key and aloof than other entertainers. But at home, he was extremely opinionated and vocal about his peers' artistic efforts. Even if he was cool with someone personally, Nas always had a raw comment about their music. For example: in my opinion, Foxy Brown is the most talented female MC. Most will agree Foxy wears the crown, hands down. Not Nas. "You could just throw a few ingredients in a bowl, stir, and come up with another Foxy," he would rant. He had criticism of just about anyone. He would say Ja Rule was biting DMX's style, or Fat Joe was corny. These reviews always led up to the same point: "There is no real talent out there." The only lyricist Nas considered to be in his league was the late B.I.G. Nas's battle with Jay-Z was as much one of words as of the heart. I'd started seeing Jay finally doing to Nas what he'd been doing to me for years.
Nas and Jay-Z always had this bizarre competition. Nas would make comments to me like, "I don't remember that nigga being no ill drug dealer." In fact no one with any real credibility could confirm Jay-Z's "back in the day" drug dealer/baller status. Exaggeration is standard in the music industry. But according to Nas, Jay-Z had no merit to his claims and not one defender.
"Carm, this nigga Jay is so shallow," Nas would say. "He's a surface MC. He's plastic on stage. That's bad enough. But he doesn't even know what he's talking about. He hasn't done half the shit he's talking about in his rhymes. I don't believe him. Period."
Still, I couldn't imagine what might have motivated this "Is That Your Chick" song. Naturally Shawn would appear on Memphis Bleek's single -- a fellow artist on the Roc-A-Fella label. And the song certainly could have something to do with me. Throughout our clandestine relationship Shawn had made many references to me in his lyrics. But he had never said anything negative or explicit and had never used his relationship with me to taunt Nas.
This was turning into an urban soap opera with me in a leading role as the femme fatale. I had to hear this Memphis Bleek song. After a few calls to friends in New York, I found someone to play the song for me over the phone. It went "How foul is she? And you wifed her" and talked about how he put the condom on "tighter."
At first I thought, Psss . . . I don't know who Shawn's referring to, but he damn sure ain't talking about me! The lyrics were rather racy and described a type of liaison that was the exact opposite of our relationship.
Shawn's disparaging lyrics gave no indication of the solid friendship we'd shared over the years. Not to mention the fact that it took a good year before we even became lovers or that I had recently been pregnant by him -- 'cause he didn't wear a condom at all, let alone tight enough.
After listening to the song, it was evident that the record was designed to take a direct stab at Nas, making me a casualty of this ongoing and highly publicized strife.
I tried to put things in perspective and take it like a hard-nosed realist, but I couldn't feign callousness. Shawn's actions were a complete disappointment. Instead of being hurt, I was enraged. I knew what I had to do before this thing went any further. I had to bring Nas up to speed. It was time to reveal the truth, once and for all.
Throughout the next day, Nas gathered evidence that the song referred to me. That night he called back for another round of questions. As I quietly deflected them, I walked by Destiny's room to make sure she was asleep, then headed downstairs. I walked down the stairs with the cordless phone to my ear, my forehead breaking out into a sweat. My heart was racing, my breathing became heavy and my stomach was in knots. I even said a quick little prayer and turned off all the lights as if darkness provided an escape.
After some anxious pacing between the bathroom and kitchen, I ended up in front of my bathroom mirror, in darkness. My reflection was a vague silhouette, just barely visible. I was so tired of misrepresenting myself, of sneaking out, of lying and denying the truth. Of course, Nas had long done the same thing. It had been a rough and rocky nine years for us. But for all our drama, we were inextricably linked -- we had a daughter and deep, deep history together. I couldn't let Shawn belittle Nas as a man. Nas deserved to have a fighting chance.
"Nas, it's true." My words tumbled out. "The rumors are true. I have been seeing Jay-Z."
"Carm, how could you?" Nas asked in disbelief. "Why that nigga? I can't believe what you're telling me right now."
"Nas, I'm sorry." I choked out my apology as I started to cry. "I am so sorry." I had always thought that when this day finally came I would feel vindicated. For so long I had craved the taste of bittersweet revenge. Nas would finally feel what I had felt over the years. But this was completely different. I felt horrible, not for my actions, but because I had hurt Nas and he was suffering from tremendous heartache. It just wasn't what I'd envisioned.
Nas was unmoved by my sobbing regret. He wanted details. "How long have you been fucking with this dude?"
"It's been a minute," I answered. Even though I'd resolved to tell him everything, it took a while to get my courage up.
"How long is a minute, Carm?"
"Like five years."
"Five years! Five years, Carm? What the fuck is wrong with you? What were you thinking? You mean all this time I been hearing rumors about you and this nigga, brushing them off like, 'Nah, not Carm. She may do her thing but she would never disrespect me like that. . . . Where did you meet this nigga at?"
"We met at a club in the city. It started as a friendship. Was for a year before we slept together."
Nas sucked his teeth. "I don't give a fuck if it took you ten years to sleep with him. You're supposed to be my wife, that shit wasn't supposed to happen, Carm! I don't deserve this. I want to know everything! You ever been to his crib?"
"You ever been to a hotel with him?"
"No. We always hang out at his crib."
"Did you ever take my car to go see this nigga?" I thought to myself, What kind of question is that? But I continued to answer.
These intimate details would give Nas enough material to spin some elaborately jealous story lines in his mind. Still, I had to answer the questions to prevent his imagination from getting the best of him. He would drive himself crazy with speculation if he didn't have this chance to grill me.
"Does he hold you at night?"
He hesitated. I realized what he really wanted to ask. Guys may feign disinterest about the matter, but they're all anxious to know: Is he bigger than me? For the moment Nas avoided the size question.
"Did you go down on him?" he asked.
"Once, I don't believe that! You're such a fucking slut! I can't believe you sucked that nigga's dick, Carm. Come on, you're gonna tell me you only did it once. You're such a fucking liar."
"It's true. You can ask him."
"What? Ask him? Carm, I'm gonna kill that nigga! I fucking hate you!"
Nas hung up on me. I called back. He just kept screaming through his extensive vocabulary of derogative terms: I was a slut, a whore, a dirty bitch and more. He hung up, but then immediately called back, hoping to find some release in another diatribe. It had the opposite effect: Ranting only sustained his sense of violation, kept his feelings raw. We went back and forth with a few more rounds of confession and condemnation until he finally stopped answering the phone. Nas was done with me for the night. Maybe forever.
I turned on the bathroom light and looked in the mirror, still crying. Tears seemed to be washing away my features, making an anonymous mask of my face. So I had finally confessed to Nas. I looked at myself a little more closely. It was time for me to get real with myself.
I was crying tears of frustration. Shawn had stripped me of the opportunity to divulge our relationship in my own private way. I was mortified that Nas found out in such a public manner. But that's the way it goes down in a love triangle, the unholiest of trinities.
I stared in the mirror until I finally stopped crying, then washed away the residue of my tears. Facing the truth gave me a new clarity. Self-realization smoothed my forehead and conviction strengthened my jaw. I was naïve enough to believe the uncovering of my affair with Jay-Z would bring closure to my relationship with Nas. I was ready for it to end.
But it wasn't the end. In fact, it was only the beginning.
Copyright © 2006 by Carmen Bryan