“I was a newly single 22-year-old who had decided to take a belly dancing class with one of my girlfriends and her mom. As we were checking out at the front desk of the rec center, I saw a flyer about co-ed volleyball. I had played volleyball in high school. It was a passion of mine, so I was interested in finding out more information. The lady working the desk had an open spot on a team and asked me to come to their next game to try-out. I went to that game and loved playing again. It was there that I met a guy named Mario, who also played on the same team. Mario told me that he played for another co-ed team at the local YMCA and asked me if I wanted to come play with them as well.
I met my ex-husband in a church gym and I was hooked the minute I laid eyes on him. The next 5 years were filled with lots of love, tears, addiction, abandonment, fear, strength, courage, and love. It all sort of fell into motion the day I rolled my ankle. My best friend Anna was there and I managed to hobble over to her, with some help. My ankle was pretty swollen so I knew I needed to get it checked out. Anna took this opportunity to play match-maker by blurting out, ‘Hey A’Jay, why don’t you walk Mandi to the car.’ And so he did. She gets me to the ER and I get a splint and as we’re on our way out we see A’Jay’s sister and her husband, walking out the doors. They said they were trying to see how I was, but they didn’t even know my last name to ask for any information from the front desk. After that night, we spent almost every day together.
Anna and Shavonne knew there was a connection between myself and A’Jay and tried their darndest to get us together. I can’t recall exactly how it all happened, but eventually it did. We moved from just friends into an actual relationship. At this point in my life I was living with my best friend, Anna, her husband and their twins. The five of us eventually moved into a house together and A’Jay and my relationship got a little more serious. October 15, 2009 was the day my life changed. During a Grey’s Anatomy commercial break we were in the garage for a smoke break.
I vaguely remember the conversation we were having, but I vividly remember my best friend Alison looking at me and telling me, ‘I’m going to need you to take a pregnancy test.’ So, we paused the show and went to the store to grab a couple of tests. We all crammed into the bathroom and I pee’d on the stick. I had never been so scared in my life. I was 23 years old, living with roommates. I could not have a baby with someone I had only been dating for a few months. I flipped the test over and just laughed. It was positive. I couldn’t believe it. I was freaking out, but I thought everything would be okay.
One of the first times I knew something wasn’t right was a couple months later on New Year’s Eve. We went out to a friend’s house and since I was pregnant, I was the Designated Driver. My partner drank a whole lot that night and he got really irritable. That night he ended up getting his brother-in-law’s car when we got back home and taking off. This was the beginning of a very long road. I should’ve heeded the red flags, but I waved them off. The following month I was able to get myself into a 1-bedroom apartment and he came to live with me. Valentine’s weekend my sister, her boyfriend, and my nephew came in town to visit. He had just gotten a new car so the three of them decided to go out to a bar and I stayed home with my 1-year-old nephew.
Fast forward to 1:00 A.M. and my phone rings. It’s my sister trying to get into the apartment complex, or so I thought. When I answered the phone, it was a police officer, and my heart sank into my stomach. She started asking me questions about A’Jay, like his name and date of birth. The three of them end up getting arrested that night. The next day, as I am 6 months pregnant and with a 1-year-old, trying to bail them out of jail, I find out that A’Jay can’t be bailed out of jail because he has a warrant for his arrest in New Mexico and he is going to be extradited. My heart is broken. My mind is blown. My world is crushed. I have no idea what I’m going to do. I didn’t tell anyone outside of family and a couple of friends what was really going on. I kept up a façade so that I didn’t have to explain anything.