Karrine Steffans-Short

“If we are silent about our pain, they will kill us and say we enjoyed it.”
-Zora Neale Hurston

A woman is all things.

She is your Becky. She is your Beyoncé.

She is the embodiment of all that is light, all that is dark, all that is all. She is your wife. She is your whore. She is your priestess and your infidel. A woman is your lover, your hater, your everything and she is nothing to you at all. She cries for you. She laughs at you. She is your forgiveness. She is your vengeance and your concession, your cover, your nakedness.

A woman is all things.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to side chicks.”

Over 15 years ago, I had Beyoncé's husband.

Yes, I was one of Jay Z's Beckys back in the year 2000 for about three minutes, which is about as long it takes me to satisfy a man in the back of a Maybach while overlooking the beaches of Malibu.

I was a 21-year-old California transplant who'd been tossed into my first music video after a fateful meeting with director Hype Williams. A single mother raising my son on my own, I jumped at the chance to make $2,500 a day to dance around and look pretty next to the artist — Jay Z. He was a long-time friend of my cousin, Chuck, and after a call from him, Jay knew to keep me close, making sure I got loads of camera time. This was the beginning of my stint as a video girl, and one day Jay and I stole away for some time alone toward the end of the day.

Chauffeured away from the set, down the winding road, and closer to the shoreline, Jay and I feasted on our attraction to one another — rabidly and quickly. After just a few minutes, I lifted my head from his lap, wiped my lips, and knew we'd made a mistake. Over the next few years, I would see Jay again, as I became close with his then business partner Damon Dash. We never mentioned our Malibu melee and acted as if it never happened. My cousin Chuck would be livid.

This was pre-Yoncé, of course, but the fact is that a Becky is a Becky, and I was the Becky for many men, and they were all my salvation and my destitution. They were my reason and my rationale, my life and my death, and eventually, my fame and my infamy.

Karrine Steffans-Short
Karrine Steffans-Short for XO Jane

Eventually, I would soon become the wife of several men — three to be exact — each one more disappointing than the last. One I married for convenience, one I married out of fear, and the last I married for love.

“Who the fuck do you think I am? You ain't married to no average bitch boy.”

Before I met Columbus Short, I felt him. With my back turned to the door in a crowded hookah bar, I felt him walk in. His energy drew me to him as I turned around to see what or who could cause such heat.

I saw him, he saw me. As he introduced himself, I could not speak. For the first time in my life, I didn't have the words.

Later that evening, when Columbus caught me in the hall, he said, “You are so beautiful.”

I blushed, looked down to the ground and walked past him without uttering a word. We left separately that night and for five months, I regretted never getting his number.

Then, he walked back into my life.

Three months later, we were married.

Nearly three months after that, I was kicking him out.

I married a man whom I so desperately wanted to change.

I married a man with addictions and emotional afflictions. I did everything I could to get him help. His mother and I talked tirelessly about the resources available to us and how to get him to take advantage of them. But, he never did and I hurt myself trying.

The alcohol, the cocaine, the other women, it all became too much and I raged. I cried. I mourned and still mourn the loss of my husband, my friend, my confidant.

And to be honest, I always wonder if I should have just kept taking the pain. I still wonder if I should have saved my marriage at any cost, no matter how much it hurt me.

Karrine Steffans-Short
Karrine Steffans-Short for XO Jane

“So what are you gonna say at my funeral now that you've killed me? Here lies the body of the love of my life whose heart I broke without a gun to my head….Rest in peace my true love, who I took for granted. Most bomb pussy, who because of me sleep evaded. Her shroud is loneliness, her god was listening.”

As I watched Lemonade, I heard a wife, a Beyoncé, cry about a Becky. I listened to her wail on songs like “I Pray You Catch Me” and “Sandcastles,” and I resonated with how she felt as a woman who was promised forever and faithfulness only to have these notions dashed by a woman, or women — by “Becky with the good hair.”

I saw my role. I saw hers. I saw an endless march of Beckys who can never be stopped no matter the rage, no matter the brilliance of the lyrical vein cutting.

And I listened to a woman who seemingly has it all but is riddled with the same insecurities of a woman who has not nearly as much. I witnessed as she went through the same stages I've gone through and am still traversing through as a wife, and the stages I have contributed to as a Becky.

Until Lemonade, I thought these two women were mutually exclusive but quickly realized they are not and are, in fact, often the same woman.

Because a woman is all things.

“Prayin' to catch you whispering. I'm prayin' you catch me listening. I'm prayin' to catch youwhispering. I'm prayin' you catch me.”

I stepped outside of my flash-in-the-pan dealings with Mr. Carter and thought back to my 7-year relationship with another well known rapper and member of the celebrated Wu Tang Clan, Clifford Smith, known better by the world as Method Man — known to me as Bizkit.

The year was 2000 and there was no Instagram, no Twitter and no Facebook. There was no way to know about a person's personal life other than what they decided to reveal in private.

We were already a year into our romance before he called me with the news — he was getting married.

Well, I never knew about her or their children, or anything about his life back in New York. All I knew was our life in Los Angeles and the memories we'd created in our own little world.

I loved him, as a person, as a friend, as my lover, and with that love, I warmed his cold feet over the phone and soothed his doubts and fears about marriage. After all their years together, after giving him children, she deserved to be his wife.

And for the next six years … I would be his Becky.

Karrine Steffans-Short
Karrine Steffans-Short for XO Jane

“I can wear her skin.”

When I sat in front of my television to watch something called Lemonade, all I knew was that it was a thing and it was Beyoncé. I knew there'd be music and fashion, wigs and words, and that was all I needed to know. I was tuned in. Our pop music Lord and Savior Yoncé was about to speak and I needed a word.

I needed saving.

What happened over the next hour was nothing short of confusion and surety, questions and answers, complexity and the simplest form of expression I have known. What happened over the next hour was that a woman, human in all her ways, yet, a goddess, bled all over me.

And she spoke to me.

And she spoke to you.

She named me, she branded me.

“You remind me of my father, a magician … able to exist in two places at once. In the tradition of men in my blood, you come home at 3 a.m. and lie to me. What are you hiding? The past and the future merge to meet us here. What luck. What a fucking curse.”

— BEYHIVË (@BeyHiveMore) April 27, 2016

Moving forward in the film, we travel with the Queen through the stages of loss and grief, through the stages of being married to a lying, cheating husband who reminds you of your lying, cheating father.

Holy Mary Mother of God, I married my father.

I wondered how many other women came to the same realization as Beyoncé plainly compared the man she married to the man who made her, as she compared herself to her daughter, as she compared herself to me and to you.

Karrine Steffans-Short
Karrine Steffans-Short for XO Jane

“Fruit too ripe to eat.”

I have been the other woman and I have been the wife.

As the other woman, I have had more privileges than the wife, knowing all the secrets, the lies and truths. As a mistress, I have known more about a man than I have ever known as a wife. As a wife, I have been lied to, I have been betrayed, and disrespected.

As a Becky, we saw it all.

There is a stigma attached to the other woman, the side piece. There is this notion that her position alone warrants shame but, honestly, I don't see the difference. Becky may not have him all the time but what she gets of him is usually more honest, for he fears not being judged and there are no consequences, no higher standard, no vows to uphold.

With Becky, he can be free.

“I smell your secret / And I'm not too perfect to ever feel this worthless.”

There is a silent shame that comes with being a Beyoncé, being a wife who knows she's been cheated on and lied to, but for the sake of matrimony, she stays. Knowing that Becky lurks in his phone, on his mind, and that scent of suspicion he has when he comes home — it's her. There is a silent shame with hanging in there, saving face, with being a faithful wife to a man who can never be faithful to his God, his self, or to his beloved.

At the beginning of Lemonade, I just knew Jay was getting served divorce papers by the end, but at the end, I knew she would never leave.

And even if Her Royal Highness was only playing a role and speaking not for herself but for other women, even if this was a form of artistic expression and not indicative of her real life experiences, Bey left an indelible mark.

She left the ugliest stains on my brain.

“Going through your call list/ I don't wanna lose my pride, but I'ma fuck me up a bitch.”

The “outing of Jay-Z” can be argued as simply artistic expression and not at all based on reality but, what about the conspiracies and the grainy pictures and the whispers that never go away.

A parade of Beckys. A ghost army.

LIV? The singer seemed to slip in her affair with Jay in her single, Sorry Mrs. Carter. Or Rachel Roy?

It is speculated Jay's relationship with Damon Dash's ex-wife is what set Solange on fire in their now infamous Met Ball elevator incident in which she attacked her brother-in-law as his Bey stood idly by.

Or Rita Ora? Was she also one of his Beckys? Or is she just playing into the marketing genius that is The Carters?

And what about Cathy White? The rumors that never go away. Articles tucked away in shady corners of the Internet that she was just about to reveal her affair with Jay, but just days before the story would leak, she was hospitalized with what was first categorized as blunt force trauma to the head, but later changed to a brain aneurism.

She was a Becky.

She had good hair.

“What's worse, looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy? / More like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I'd rather be crazy.”

It is staggering how many wives are still sides, and how many sides become wives, only to realize they are still one of many.

Will we ever be happy? Will we ever find the sort of love we deserve? Or will we find ourselves taking Louisville Sluggers to our lives, demolishing everything in our wake, hurting others because we too are hurt? Will we accept our pain as actuality and choose it over our own betterment simply because we don't want to be alone or appear to have failed? Will the world ever accept all our cries and not just the ones of pop icons who blur the lines between reality and entertainment? How much Lemonade do we have to drink to be as passively aggressive as Beyoncé? How much do we have to drink to accept infidelity and marry men who remind us of our cheating, lying fathers? How much do we have to drink to stay? Whether you are a Becky, a Beyoncé, neither or both, how much is enough and when do we just leave?

I am Becky with the good hair. I am Beyoncé. I am the keeper of secrets, the betrayer of women, the confessor of my sins, the owner of my secrets, lies and salvations. I have traded in my Scarlet A for a Scarlet Bey.

Because we are all Becky with the good hair. Every last one of us.

* Editor's note: This essay originally appeared on our sister publication XO Jane.