At college, Joy quickly fell in with the OAASAU, the very long acronym for a very young group, the Organization of African and African-American Students at the American University. The OAASAU was rallying AU's black students into engagement with the national, international, and campus issues roiling around them. The battling organization elevated her consciousness beyond her assimilationist dreams and sparked a passion for justice and the good fight.
A charismatic AU senior named Bill was the treasurer of OAASAU, and two months after they met early in the exciting whirlwind of her freshman year, Joy was engaged to marry him. Despite the quick engagement, they waited two years to get married, by which time Joy was a junior and Bill a recent graduate looking for work. Marriage brought the sobering realities of life into focus. The truth was, they were both still trying to find their feet as adults and feeling a little in over their heads as a married couple.
As the love haze wore off, Joy began to see that the same qualities that had made Bill so attractive as a college romance—his free and rebellious spirit, his nearly paralyzing contempt for "the Man"—made him a completely unreliable husband. And she discovered that what she had foolishly thought of as his typical low-level recreational drug use was really something much worse. In a time of drug experimentation and excess, Bill was starting to look like a casualty.
As the years passed, Joy kept hoping that Bill's alcohol and drug use would fade. She was caught in a familiar trap for young women and girls—the fantasy that she alone could change her man. So she doubled down on the relationship. They had a child together. She hoped that would motivate Bill to make some changes. But his addiction just got worse, and the physical, mental, and emotional abuse he unleashed became more intense.
One night things came to a head. Bill came home and started to badger Joy about washing the dishes. His yelling threatened to wake up one-year-old Nikki, and Joy tried to shush him. He kept yelling. He moved in on her. The two of them stood face-to-face, him yelling, her pleading with him in hushed tones to lower his voice.