Big Books Feature
The Other Woman
Jamilah Barnes Creekmur writes about growing up in Baltimore with her single mom--who loved a married man
Published: September 15, 2010
Jamilah Barnes Creekmur
Participating exhibitor, 2010 Baltimore Book Festival
Visit baltimorebookfestival.com for details
“You know how it feels when you have a lump in the back of your throat?” Jamilah Barnes Creekmur asks as she talks passionately about her past. “That’s how I felt for several years. I walked around with a heavy heart.”
It’s a past—riddled with secrets, shame, and confusion—that she writes honestly about in her new memoir, Raised by the Mistress, which Creekmur, 33, is self-publishing through her own Imagine Me imprint. But growing up, she’d smile, as she does brightly and frequently during an interview at Harbor East’s Teavolve, to mask the hurt.
She was only 7 years old when Wayne Lampkin Sr. walked into her mother (then Valli Barnes’) life. He was a hardworking correctional officer who let Valli be a woman first. He listened to her and didn’t judge her mistakes. Fresh from a divorce and a rebound abusive relationship, Valli found Lampkin both warm and familiar. A breath of fresh air who was fun. She didn’t mind, at first, that he had five children and a new wife.
This reality haunted Creekmur as a young girl who envisioned mailing a letter to Lampkin’s wife to out him. She hated that he was married. She hated that he would leave her mother to go to another woman. She hated that her mother accepted it. She hated that he would profess his love to her mother. She hated that she had to hear them having sex. She hated that she wanted him to leave his wife.
She also believed that he was the force behind her mother’s drinking. For all of Creekmur’s childhood and teenage years, her mother abused alcohol. Creekmur admits that she’d rather her mother be a mistress than an alcoholic. “My discontent with her abuse was so deep,” Creekmur says. “It sent me to bed at night with tears.”
Even through all the layered offenses, Creekmur couldn’t help but watch her mother interact with her boyfriend, how her mother excitedly ran down the steps and into his arms. He’d pick her up and swirl her around. He’d tend to her needs, even in her drunkenness. “I hated what their relationship represented on every level imaginable, but deep down, I admired it,” Creekmur says.
Such admiration wasn’t nearly strong enough to dismantle the pain and emptiness that she felt. As a sophomore at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a guest speaker who shared his journey from Baltimore to the University of Delaware sparked something in her young mind. Prior to that day, she hadn’t considered that there was a world bigger than her house, neighborhood, and city—even as her cousin, Tupac Shakur, was making a name for himself as a rapper. “At that moment I got focused on my future,” Creekmur says. “My home life was so blurred that I knew I had to find something else to attach my heart and energy to.”
Upon graduation, she enrolled at the University of Delaware to distance herself (but not too far) from her circumstances, and to prove her independence. The experience proved to be life-changing: She pursued and met her goals with vigor, she temporarily left the problems surrounding her mother in Baltimore, she gained an infectious confidence that she carries today, and she met her future husband, Chuck Creekmur. He’s the co-owner of the music and news web site allhiphop.com, a business Jamilah helped build up until her most recent post as chief operating officer, a position she left this April.
“I never let go of the possibility of finding love or what marriage represented to me,” Creekmur says. She did have other examples of substantive relationships to mimic—mainly that of her father Danny Barnes and her stepmother Jackie. “I prayed hard for a good man just like my father, who would do everything to provide for his family,” she says. The fact that Chuck and her dad share a birthday further solidified the union. The couple married in 2003 and had their daughter the same year; the following year, she started the book.
“I was journaling to get my feelings out,” Creekmur says about the genesis of her memoir. “Then I realized that I had chapters.”
To make the emerging manuscript a priority, she enlisted New York Times bestselling writer/collaborator Aliya S. King to co-write the book and then decided to start her own publishing company to release it. “I felt compelled to share how infidelity impacts the children involved and to bring closure to that part of my life,” Creekmur says. “I wanted to release the negative feelings that I held onto for all those years. It was my therapy.”
Creekmur’s mother helped her recount and trigger memories. Her insight and perspective was so essential that Creekmur asked her to contribute a few chapters, and subsequently extended the offer to Lampkin as well. “Each one of us was able to tell the same story from three different perspectives over 20 years,” Creekmur says.
The format works, and provides rare insight from the mistress and the husband. “We often see the sensationalized version of adultery,” Creekmur says, “but we hardly see the common family struggling with it.”
Even though the book delves deeply into this relationship’s highs, lows, and in-betweens, Creekmur says her mother is proud of the book. “She’s in a different place in her life right now,” Creekmur says of her mother’s decade-plus sobriety. “We’re not telling it from a place of shame or embarrassment.”
And Creekmur and Lampkin have a healthy relationship that continues to grow. “It’s still a work in progress,” she says. “But it’s not like what it used to be in the past—rough, complicated, and stained.”
After maintaining a rocky, extramarital relationship for more than 20 years, Lampkin and Valli got married in 2005. Creekmur frequently visits them in their Baltimore home. “We never really hear of someone being a mistress for 20 years,” Creekmur says. “We don’t hear about him leaving his wife for his mistress, and we don’t hear about him marrying his mistress. It just doesn’t happen this way.”
It’s a twisted story with an equally twisted, yet happy, ending. Do note, however, that “we’re not celebrating that she was his mistress,” Creekmur says. “It’s celebrating this unique love they share, that’s rooted from something that’s very painful.
“I don’t want to hear about any mistresses in my house,” Creekmur adds, only half-jokingly. “But there’s one little mistress whom I love, and that’s my mother.”