Jenny Parks and Brandon Hughes have been dating for about eight months. Before the relationship, she explains, “I sort of thought Brandon was a one-sided jerk—he seemed to only be interested in me.” Though they know one another since childhood, she says, “we had never been one-on-one, until now.”
As a teenager, Brandon started driving Chris, his two sisters, and a couple of friends to school and then “just didn’t get home,” his sister Kelli says. Her mother put her in a hospital psych ward for six weeks, “and it was because I’d said I’d run away with this boy in the school cafeteria.” Soon after, Jenny was bullied and sent to a treatment center for kids with emotional disabilities. She worked hard for a degree in criminal justice from Wright State University, eventually becoming the school’s lead instructor for girls.
In 2013, Brandon’s sister called Jenny a “nice person” but didn’t like that he was doing “a bunch of drugs on the weekends.” Chris thought it was Jenny being himself, and started to question Brandon’s relationship with Jenny. Eventually Brandon moved away for a few months.
After eight months of communication, the two finally met. “He made me feel beautiful again,” Jenny says. When they reunited after the two months he spent out of town, “he drove right by my house,” Jenny says. “I was like, ‘I’m sorry to have to wait.’ ”
They moved in together, and their relationship didn’t take off right away. “I knew he’d never have an interest in me if I was white,” Jenny says. Brandon, meanwhile, felt he was being treated as a “kink object” and “dumped on” by other women. Though he’s made progress “with money, sex—nothing wrong with that,” he felt bad about ending their relationship.
In February 2015, Jenny underwent a hysterectomy and ended her relationship with someone she had been seeing for three years. “I really didn’t want him anymore,” she says. “And Brandon, he was asking me all the time, ‘Are you dating anybody?’ And I was like, ‘Uh, no.’ And he was, like, ‘Do you think I could talk to him?’ ”
But eventually they started dating on a more “no strings attached” basis. Each weekend, Brandon and a female friend would drive her to Greensboro, North Carolina, to meet up with him. They spend the week together and make lunch and go shopping on Friday. “We get along well,” he says.
When Jenny visits, he says, “it just kind of feels normal.” And they have similar goals for their relationship: “I want her to be happy and I want to be happy.”