She has built a fortress surrounded by the furniture of deceit, guilt, dishonor, depression and low self-esteem. She sat comfortably in the chair full of lies.  For many of us this house seems all too familiar. We invite ourselves to the pity party, get all dressed up and cry hoping someone would share for that brief moment just how low we feel inside. The Outfit - picture of wedding couple

All polished for the Sunday Service. Closet full of clothes, shoes stacked to the ceiling, accessories galore…Every woman in the church secretly envied her. Charlotte never realized how envious the people actually were until she would walk pass them and hear the whispers. Barely recognizing the woman starring back at her, Charlotte wondered where she had lost herself, in what year, on what date, and at what time did dignity escape?  When there is so much to hide, so much to excuse and so much to deny, the cover up mounts and the pretending begins.

“Let’s see”… Charlotte paused, as she gave herself the once over. Her mind told her all she needed to get through the charade-“it’s only a few hours, you can do it girl”. She took a deep breath and began her  morale checklist-“the right smile (check)”,” the right words to say (check)”,” the right outfit (check)”,  she looked at herself in the full length mirror and rehearsed the walk to hide her new limp. “You can do this, it ain’t hard”, she whispered.  “I know who I am; I didn’t get this far by not sucking it up. Lipstick, foundation, under-eye concealer?…. check, check, and check. The foundation serves a mighty purpose. No one needs to know the bags under my eyes are the result of me being up all night waiting for my dear pastor husband to finally get home.”

“Fix your self up Charlotte”, she said to herself. “Women would love to be in your shoes. You have an image to uphold. Remember who you are, the First Lady not the second. This is just another Sunday morning in the Howard’s home.” As she bent down to pick up her coat the door opened abruptly.

“Madam”… she peeked her head into the room, “they’re bringing the car around for you, hurry. You’re going to be late.”

“Alright, here I come-I wish you would stop making such a fuss over nothing.” Charlotte glanced back at herself, placed her biggest hat on her head, and biggest pearls around her neck. She had it going on, at least for that moment. As her driver chauffeured her to church, Charlotte realized she’d sold herself out for a front row seat, someone to carry her coat and some honorable mentions from her husband. She took a deep breath exited the car and walked with impeccable taste only a first lady could pull off. Clouded by her inability to make sane judgments and distinguish fact from fiction, she proceeded with her lie.

“Good morning first lady how are you doing? Fix your dress you look fine!”  Her attractive assistant Sade quickly gave her the thumbs up. “The people are waiting to see you. This is who you are.” Charlotte fumbled to get her Bible and her handkerchief and was on her way.

“First Lady??” Charlotte smiled, “I know what they want me to be, (while smoothing out her clothes) just having trouble with people finding out who I really am. What a disappointment that would be.” She waited patiently as the door was opened and she was ushered out of her room of comfort and thrust into her first scene, the happily married, highly esteemed, well to do, high heel wearing, fur coat having, Bible believing woman of God. As she entered the church she nodded and walked down the aisle. She was wearing the biggest smile her Chanel Lipstick could buy. “Now this is what I was made to do, I can handle this.” Half way down she heard a voice that stopped her in her tracks, surely that wasn’t the same voice that only the night before insulted her into tears using words unthinkable for a man of God.

Growing up in a house without her father was difficult. He left when Charlotte was ten.  No one taught her how a man was supposed to treat a woman. Charlotte witnessed her mother Laura live a life of bitterness and misery that seemed to suck the very life out of her. Laura never took full responsibility for her failed marriage. She somehow managed to blame Charlotte for this. Charlotte saw her mother lose herself in her own pain and not allow joy anywhere near her life. Laura took care of her family the only way she knew. She worked 2 jobs to put food on the table, but this didn’t give her ample time to spend with her daughter and raise her. Even as a young girl, Charlotte’s parents never totally focused on her. She watched her friends grow up in normal two parent households and often questioned if she WAS actually to blame for her parent’s breakup. Charlotte vowed if she ever met the man of her dreams and was fortunate enough to become a mother, she would not allow her children to grow up as she did. Meeting Bryan was her ticket to happiness but right now that ticket looked very questionable.

“Praise the Lord everybody.”  Her designer shoes suddenly felt two sizes too small, her throat became dry and her hands that usually wave to rejoice were motionless. She was frozen.  As her heart rate elevated and her palms began to sweat, she glanced at her assistant, turned around and ran out of the church.

“Are you alright?”  “Yes,” as she pauses to adjust her hat and makeup. “I will be fine, just have to pull myself together, that’s all.” She turned around and asked the question that was worth everything she had become, “do I look okay?”  She stood there waiting for the answer which took forever to get. “If this (extending her hand from head to toe) is what you consider looking okay, then I guess you’ve pulled it off once again.” Sade managed to help her wipe away the runny mascara and make Charlotte smile for a moment. “Exactly what is that supposed to mean?” Charlotte said. Not caring to hear the response…she asked if someone could take her home. Sunday morning service suddenly seemed old and played out.

Bryan enters a darkened room smelling of cheap perfume, as he reaches for the light switch a quiet but stern voice came from the darkness. Service had been over for a few hours already and not one phone call from him. Bryan’s entering the room as though nothing was wrong made Charlotte boil with anger.  She took a deep breath and calmly looked at him and said, “Don’t turn that damn light on,” as she twirled the wine in her glass. “I won’t even give you the privilege to look into my face and lie. It’s about time you got home, what they’re working you over time? I can smell that cheap perfume all over you. Who is she Bryan?”  Charlotte took a big gulp of wine, “Oh I know, it’s the choir director, or maybe it’s the new woman that joined the church last Sunday.” Charlotte sighed and wiped her eyes. “You know what; you should get a Grammy for the performance you put on day in and day out. I mean it tires me out just to see you act the way you do.  You know you really have to admit if people really found out what you were really like I have to wonder if our Mega Church would be Mega at all. You’re so high and mighty, thinking you have it all together, thinking no one can see through your mess. Well pretty soon they will find out and when stuff hits the fan don’t come running to me. I normally got your back but lately you turn your back on me and our children.  No, no please don’t humiliate me in my own home by letting me know who she is. I prefer you continue allowing her to grin in my face and sleep with my husband behind my back. I have nothing left to offer you and from the looks of it you feel the same way. Charlotte got up from her chair and walked towards Bryan until her darkened silhouette became perfectly visible. Bryan was not prepared for this blow. I want out, I…I want a divorce.”

Bryan chuckled softly…”A divorce, are you serious?”

“As the sermons you preach”, she laughed. “You don’t need me; you got it all together…I’m just a show piece for you.  Oh don’t get me wrong; I appreciate all you have done for us but don’t get it twisted, I’ve been with you since the first person came through those doors. When you didn’t have a dime, when your own family thought you wouldn’t be anything. Now look at you. Every time I turn around family members are asking for money and certain church members are asking for even more……

“That’s the furthest thing from my mind Charlotte. I don’t know where this is coming from? Take a look around here darling, your life isn’t so shabby and you are well taken care of. This is not a blame game but neither of us is without fault, there is plenty to go around” laughed Bryan. “Not once have I heard you ask me what’s going on. You listen to others whisper to you what they think is going on, I am your husband but you treat me like a stranger. Get out of here with that divorce stuff…that’s not something we entertained when we said ‘I DO’. Remember the vows for better or worse. They were not just words and they happen to be the circumstances and right now, I am going through some major challenges.”

Bryan Howard was no stranger to challenges; he worked his way through college but even with the prestigious degree he’d earned he found himself working pay check to pay check with a family to feed. Bryan remembered the hell he went through when he told his parents about him marrying Charlotte. He never told her the opposition he faced from family. Bryan came from a middle class family that practically disowned him when he started dating Charlotte seriously. Bryan grew up in the church, the son of a pastor. He had practically dedicated his entire life to the church. When the time presented itself Bryan decided to start his own ministry. It started with 25 attendees his wife and two children and now has grown to nearly 2000 members. Though he faced numerous obstacles as he grew his church, he always figured the one constant in his life was Charlotte. Now that was in danger of going terribly wrong.

“You don’t complain when you are waited on by personal assistants. You don’t complain about the drivers, makeup artists, stylists and cooks. You don’t complain when you’re eating at fancy restaurants. So get out of here with that divorce stuff. You wouldn’t know how to survive outside of these walls. Let’s not forget, I found you dancing around a pole to pay tuition. I took you out of that hell trap and gave you a decent place to live while you finished school.  It was me girl, not your mother that did that for you. What could Laura do for you Charlotte? Nothing, I’m surprised you even made it this far. Why are we even having this conversation? Is it because I ignore your games such as making a scene and running out of the church during service?” Bryan gets closer to Charlottes face. “Your home is here and if I were you I would get leaving out of my mind. I would make your life hell. There is currently too much at stake and it’s not going down like that.”

Charlotte realizes everything Bryan said was the truth even the part of survival. Now that she has been shown the mirror of her life what would she do?

She picked up her shoes and threw them across the floor, wiped off her make-up and laid across her king sized bed, alone. She needed to find herself, but would she even recognize who she’d become?  A woman lost in another person’s dreams or a woman ignorant to her own?

Bryan enters the room to Charlotte packing her bags. “Where do you think you are going Charlotte?”  Charlotte kept right on packing her small overnight bag. Charlotte, I know you hear me talking to you”, Bryan grabbed her arm. Charlotte just looked at him and graciously pushed his hands away.

“Oh don’t worry darling, I’m not leaving you, wouldn’t dream of doing that. I’m going to get my children out of that God forsaken boarding school.”

She closed the door and left Bryan alone with his thoughts. Golden engagement ring that's broken There would be no kiss and make up tonight, there was not enough ‘I’m sorry’ to go around. This was it. Charlotte was done worrying about her marriage. It was time for her to grow up and decide what was best for her. Would she stay by the side of the man she has loved for years and continue to be the First lady that uses makeup to cover her bruises, or would she garner the strength to leave and start a new life of her own. It didn’t matter right now, because she was on her way to pick up her children from school. They had been away from her and now was a good time to bring them home, but to what?

“Yes this is Bryan”, he yielded to the voice on the other end. “I know what I owe you and …and I told you I would take care of it.” Bryan turned his back to the door attempting to prevent Charlotte from hearing the conversation between him and the angry voice on the phone. Charlotte frequently overheard Bryan talk about church finances, so she didn’t pay it any attention. She slipped down the stairs quietly got into the car and drove away.

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