Ossie couldn’t lie. He refused to lie. He felt strongly that extramarital sex didn’t destroy marriages, but that lies and deception did. Of course this was before AIDS and at a time when ideas about sex and marriage were changing rapidly. We both understood that there were absolutely marvelous, beautiful people in the world, that there were temptations to be with them, and that we two weren’t the only ones we’d be attracted to. So we gave ourselves permission to have other partners if we wished to, as long as we were honest, kept it private, and didn’t expose the family to scandal or disease. Ossie prided himself in not being a jealous person. “The most miserable thing,” he would say, “is to love and not trust.” And he was such a loving and giving person. Not just to me and not just in a romantic sense.
How did this period in your marriage end?
It didn’t last long, and when Ossie put an end to it, I was glad it was over. He saw that it could hurt many people and break up families. It’s too dangerous; you could come up on somebody you can’t let go of. We saw that what you treasure most could be lost. And Ossie and I had matured. We began to understand that it is possible to be married to one person and be faithful to that person all your life, and that in a marriage loyalty and fidelity and trust cannot be compromised.
If there is anything I could ask forgiveness for, it is this.
What do you think Ossie would say to brothers today about infidelity?
I think he’d say that no matter what you may feel for someone outside your marriage, he realized that you can’t mess up your family, you can’t mess around with love because there are serious consequences. There really is no such thing as an innocent affair. Preserving the family means everything to our community now. One of Ossie’s sayings was, “You can rise no higher than where you have your feet planted in the community.”
At this tender time, what would you say it was that made the fullness and longevity of your relationship with Ossie possible?
The fact that we worked together, thought a lot alike, and came from the same background. Ossie, his soil was the South, in Waycross, Georgia; mine was the North, in Harlem. But we both came from like soil in different places. And we both loved words and ideas. Some of our best times were just talking to each other, and as we got older, we talked about everything. There was nothing we couldn’t tell each other, nothing too private for us to share.
What advice would you give to us sisters and brothers that will help us walk the long road together?
Get to know each other as human beings. Black women have to know the historical and everyday struggles of Black men, and our men have to know the struggles of Black women in America. Even before I knew Ossie, even before we fell in love, I knew the man, because I knew the situation of Black people. You have to help each other know who you are. You have to sanction each other’s gifts and encourage each other. “I want you to be the best you were put here on this earth to be, even if it costs me,” Ossie would say, and he lived it. He told me on so many occasions, “I love you means I want you to be the best you can be, whether it benefits me or not.”
How does it feel to have loved so deeply for so long and to have been loved so deeply in return?
I have an incredible feeling of thanksgiving. When I feel like complaining, I remember how blessed I am to have been married to Ossie. I miss him incredibly, especially in the mornings. He would get up early and read the papers and discuss it all with me over breakfast. At night he’d wait for me to come to bed and sometimes I’d be messing around, doing this and that, and by the time I got to bed, he’d be asleep. I’m so sorry I didn’t hurry up. We just loved being together. When I wasn’t working, I started going to work with him. I’d visit the set, and it was great being in hotels together. It was like our little honeymoon.