Last Year & Its History
When it all falls down and what’s left is everything
October 10th, 2014, my life imploded. A month prior my husband, Tim, a comic book writer, had gone to judge a cosplay contest at a gay bar and not arrived home til 7am. I’d woken up at 2 and he wasn’t home. I called and texted to no avail. By 3am with no word from him, I’d been in a panic. He hadn’t wanted to go, but I told him he made the commitment and needed to meet it. I expected him back by 11.
I was furious. I’d been incredibly worried. Even if he’d been at the bar til close, that was 4 hours prior. He explained that he lost his phone and had to cab to the places he’d been and then went to his studio to track it online to no avail.
A week before our trip to New York for Comicon he told me the truth. Yes, he’d lost his phone, but he also thought he was drugged because he almost totally blacked out portions of the night. He recalled someone being with him, someone he thought was in drag, and couldn’t remember more than flashes. He thought he may have had sex with this person and was now on a prophylactic treatment for HIV. The trip was work related, but also overlapped with our 5th wedding anniversary and he wanted to be honest because there couldn’t be any romance while he was concerned he may have contracted something.
I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, but he seemed so scared. I assumed he was scared because he didn’t know what happened, though in retrospect it could easily have been because he DID. It is certainly possible he’d done something without benefit of protection and that was behind his fear, after all he had told me more than once it all feels the same in the dark.
Still naïve to the more likely possibility, I told him we’d work through it. He’d finally need to get help for his alcohol use, and I’d stand by him and make our marriage stronger. He agreed and said his anxiety had been spiraling, which he was treating with alcohol, and he would seek counseling.
While in New York I stayed by his side, helping him through anxiety peaks, making sure he was prepared, thinking of the things that never occur to him till it’s too late because thinking ahead wasn’t exactly his strength. We had great open and honest conversations, better than we’d managed in some time. I was convinced we’d work through it and come out stronger.
At least till the morning of our anniversary, October 10th.
We were talking about something related to what happened, perhaps the effects of the medication, when he said: something something something THE LAST TIME.
“What do you mean ‘the last time?’” I asked.
“I always knew I’d tell you if you asked,” he said, seemingly distraught.
“Are you fucking kidding me? I’ve asked you repeatedly if something was going on! If you were cheating!”
And I had.
He confessed to 4 women since we’d been married. All one night stands except one. Let’s call her Trashley Garren. This was the worst part. I had repeatedly told him the way she acted around him made me uncomfortable. I was certain if there wasn’t something going on, she wanted there to be and that needed to be addressed. She had an open marriage with an older man she married for financial support, which told me all I needed to know about her character. I had pleaded with him to deal with whatever her feelings were. She acted with ownership of him, which I suddenly realized with a mixture of rage and humiliation, was actually her flaunting her relationship with my husband under my nose. He never even attempted to shelter me from that cruelty. Instead, he made me feel bad for not being nicer to her. I later found they had a “regular night.” It was devastating. Three one-night stands and an actual relationship.
But there had been no cheating since last December, he claimed. “I’ve been good since then.”
I’ve been good?
I was shaking with all the feelings running through me at once: anger, sadness, betrayal, confusion, and regret. So much regret. So much wasted time.
He left for the convention and I stayed in bed, not knowing what to do. Eventually I left the hotel and wandered the streets of New York. I walked from our hotel near Javits to Saint Marks Square. I bought a pack of cigarettes because my mood was destructive. I sat and smoked and watched a man selling stuffed pigeons, which he’d arranged on the plaza like real pigeons. They were actually very lifelike at a distance. It was a beautiful fall day and everything around me was lovely. People were everywhere. They looked happy.
I wondered if I would ever feel happy again.
I met him for the big company party that night at Gotham Hall. I avoided him as much as possible while taking full advantage of the open bar. Every time he touched me I’d twist away. When he’d try to speak to me I’d ignore him or hiss at him to go away. But I played the part publicly. I shook hands. I smiled. I schmoozed. I asked questions and listened attentively as people went on about their projects. Inside I really wanted to yell what happened. Did they know who they were working with? Did these industry insiders and their wives know he trolled conventions for easy ass?
I survived the hell he had trapped me in for 3 days when we finally flew back to Chicago. Once we were there I resumed distant politeness, and I truly believe he thought it would blow over. But I quietly made preparations to leave. My mom had been selling a small house in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, and when I told her what happened she gave me the keys.
When Tim wasn’t home, I’d pack my clothes and important possessions and load them in the trunk or hide them in my closet. Over the course of the next two weeks, I’d head periodically to my new home after work to drop things off and sit there in its stillness. I would lie on the air mattress that would be my bed and cry, wondering what would happen to my life. Fearing the inevitability that everyone would soon know my humiliation. Regretting with all the energy in my body, even though there was nothing I could do to change the past.
A couple days before I moved, I told him. He begged me to stay. I said no. He begged for counseling. I relented, afraid to compound his mistake with my own. I decided not to be rash but to be measured in my approach. Little did I know living in limbo would be the worst decision of all.
My life in Oak Park was not easy, and getting set up with the essentials was expensive. I had no bed, blanket, silver ware, microwave — not even a couch to sit on after a long day at work trying to put on a nothing-is-wrong front in spite of my private trauma. And it was a trauma. The shock left me unable to sleep through the night. I found myself waking dozens of times a night. At times I thought it may have been hundreds. The weight of what happened was exhausting enough, but after 2 or 3 weeks of nights like that I felt like I couldn’t string a thought together. I went in to my work doctor to ask for something to help me sleep and burst into tears. She promptly prescribed ambien. It was a god send. A couple weeks later she added anxiety medication to the mix.
Adding to my exhaustion was driving from my job back to the city for therapy once a week. I even came out to cat sit a couple of times while Tim was out of town. I felt like in addition to my very busy work life, I had a second life in the car. On therapy days I drove an hour to work, then an hour or more to the city for counseling, then an hour back to Oak Park. For Tim, his work was a 15 minute bike ride and the therapist was about 6 blocks from our place. Of course, just like all the effort of our marriage, I came to bear all the brunt of this travel. He wanted to get back together, yet here I was doing all the work without even questioning it. All the driving, all the thinking, all the wondering how trust could be rebuilt, all the analyzing how things between us could be reassembled. We were in therapy 5 months. During that time, he came to see me 3 times. A guy who had time to go out 5 nights a week and have a “regular night” with another woman seemed to have a hard time fitting me in. A guy with no qualms about spending $300 a month on personal training (while I paid the same for a payment and insurance on a car he drove half the time) didn’t want to shell out $40 for a cab ride. I still can’t tell you why I didn’t even question it at the time. There was so much I should have questioned, in addition to the fidelity I was already questioning, during our marriage.
I should have questioned why he always wanted to put dinner on the joint account when he always had $10–25 in drinks that I was essentially paying for. Why I paid $300 in car payment and insurance for a car he used half the time when he out-earned me by $40–50k a year. Why he had to meet his brother and friends to “talk writing projects” 3 times a week. Why his phone was locked. Then there are the things he made me feel bad for questioning like why he drank so much. Why he was private messaging women who made their living from twitter nudity. Why that Trashley girl was always at his side at events? Why he never mentioned me on Facebook or Twitter? He never answered honestly. He acted like I was a killjoy if I questioned his out-of-control drinking. He told me he always messages his fans back and why was I so insecure all of a sudden? He said Trashley was an awkward homeschooled girl who was just insecure and shy (in every way aside from how she dressed which, for the record, was like a goth stripper). He said Facebook and Twitter were for work not personal (yet he would mention his brother, his dad, his friends) and roll his eyes and sigh and tell me I was ridiculous for even asking. All of those things should have been questioned, and when they didn’t have answers I should have left. But I really started believing all his gas lighting. I told myself I was being insecure, that Tim has always been faithful, that he promised me so many times that he would never do anything like that because he knew it was the ONE THING I said we couldn’t come back from.
My last straw was stopping by in mid-March to get something from our storage space while he was out of town and, when looking in the nightstand drawer where he typically kept the padlock key, I found 2 large but nearly empty boxes of condoms and a prescription for viagra. We had not had sex since the “missing time” incident in September. So…with whom did he use all those condoms? And Viagra? Also, Viagra at 37? I was enraged, especially knowing I could have been free the prior 5 months and had sacrificed that to a man who BEGGED me to stay, pleaded with me for counseling and second chances, and then fucked other people. I went to the bathroom to make my most mature move and throw his toothbrush in the toilet (let’s face it: if you’ve seen his yellow snaggle teeth you know he’s not really using it anyway) only to find his dirty rinse glass with a red lipstick stain on it. He tried desperately to convince me that he was only using the condoms during masturbation to get used to the feeling again. He is simply incapable of telling the truth and being honest not only with me but with himself about who and what he is.
As soon as I told him I wanted a divorce he went out and bought a car. I suppose he realized he wouldn’t have mine for free any more. He also started dating immediately — likely the girl he bought the condoms and Viagra for while we were in counseling. Congratulations to her? The funny thing is, she doesn’t know he hasn’t changed. He texted me up till the divorce was official 4 months later asking me to change my mind and come back. He just couldn’t go five minutes without someone to validate him. She’s a fool — or he is.
Once my decision was made, I became so much happier almost instantly. I hadn’t realized how unhappy I’d been for so long, and how much of it was this bad marriage. The 5 months in limbo trying to decide had been even worse. After I decided to file, people commented on how I’d changed, seemed lighter. It’s true. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. It was like being released from prison, only my prison was built of unhappiness and lies. I still struggle with the regret, though. Those were a lot of years I could have spent being happy, and being in love with the right person.
I also had to wrestle with my personal truth. I thought something was wrong and allowed myself to be manipulated. Beyond that, I realized I was too scared to change. When I really look at it honestly I can finally see the biggest truth of all — his lies had eroded my love for him a long time before. I had been mourning the friendship as well as the relationship I had wished we had, but the in love was long gone. I spent too long thinking I could fix it, that I was the broken piece when I should have set myself free.
But I’m free now.