Chapter One: Burning Down The House

December 2011

I’m about to set my house on fire.

Our wooden deck seems the most logical place to start. I’ve got a container filled with a few gallons of gas stored in the garage somewhere. We purchased it the same day we bought an emergency portable generator for our home. It’s been sitting in the garage for the past two years waiting. Waiting for it’s chance to fuel the generator. I’ve got bigger plans for it. Much bigger. I’m going to use it as a catalyst to burn my entire house to the ground.

The family has left me alone for a few days. They say I’m acting strange. I all but ruined Christmas. They left the day after to go see my wife’s father in Virginia. It’s good that no one is here. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. I just want the house to burn to the ground and take all the lies with it. I’ve had enough. A person can only take so much before they snap, and I’ve taken all I can take.

When you think about how crazy the holidays can get, you don’t typically think about burning down the house. That’s madness! Crazy for the holidays means hectic shopping malls and impatient drivers looking for parking spaces. It usually doesn’t involve setting the house on fire to get to the bottom of a government conspiracy that your wife is somehow involved with.

If everything goes as planned, my home will be in a full blaze in less than an hour. There will be local news helicopters overhead. Fire trucks will be lined up and down both sides of the street. And it will get prime-time coverage on all the major news networks. When the rest of the media find out what’s going on inside, the coverage will go from coast to coast.

I find the gasoline container next to the generator. It’s heavier than I expected. I have to lug it upstairs through the house. I finally get to the upstairs kitchen. There’s a door that opens onto the deck. Our deck overlooks our swimming pool, a few acres of land, and a small private lake. It’s more of a pond really, but there are plenty of bass for fishing. I pour the gas onto the wooden deck and step back. The gas spills across the deck covering the wood. Some gas falls between the wooden slats onto the wicker patio furniture below. I don’t have a lighter, but I do have those long wooden matches that are typically used for lighting fires in the fireplace. With a flick of my wrist, I light the match and toss it on the deck. The fire spreads fast. Within a minute half the deck is ablaze along with much of the patio furniture below. I’m mesmerized for a moment thinking about what I’ve just done. Not trying to burn down the house, but altering the course of my life forever.

A few things happened that triggered this decision. I mean, who sets their house on fire? You need a reason. Even if it’s total bullshit, you need a reason. When you’re psychotic, reality blurs with delusion. That’s just how it works. It can be a terrifying and dangerous place.

__________

Let me back up and give you some information about my life. Our life, that is. At the time of my breakdown I was forty-eight years old. I had a wife, Christie, and two boys, Austin and Carson. Austin was in high school, Carson in middle school. We lived in Johns Creek, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta, Georgia. We moved here because the schools were better, the yards were bigger, and the crime was lower. We’d lived here for eleven years. In a very tiny subdivision. It wasn’t really a subdivision; it was a road that ends in a cul-de-sac with only eleven houses. We were never the type of people who wanted to live in a five hundred-house neighborhood where kids come to hang all day and friends drop by unannounced. We liked our space. We were as much a part of the community as any family.

I owned a small advertising agency in Atlanta. We did a lot of business-to-business advertising. Our sweet spot was legal marketing. Not the ambulance chasers you see on TV. Our clients included some of the Top 100 law firms in the country. These are the guys that bill $700 an hour working with Google, Facebook, and Apple. Can you imagine billing $700 an hour and still being miserable? No. Then chances are you’re not a lawyer at one of these firms.

From the outside looking in, I had it made. I did have it made too, except for the drugs. I have a history of drug use. Coke was my drug of choice. It helped with my Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. It actually calmed me down. Focused my mind. Weird.

Plus, I liked the buzz. I used on and off in my thirties. Had a few years clean and then a relapse.

A few more years and another relapse. I’ve done my fair share of rehabs. I stayed clean for most of my forties.

From 2003 to 2008, I was clean and sober. I started training for triathlons and fell in love with the sport. It took a few years, but I had a few podium finishes for my age group for Sprint Triathlons. One age group win for Olympic distance. Yeah, me. That was amazing. Every day I woke up for a race felt like Christmas. It was a gift to be able to train so hard and compete. A runner’s high is real. It also worked for swimming and biking. Training for triathlons taught me that I could get high without actually getting high. I’m not going to get all New-Agey here, but something happened to my body when I pushed it to the limit. My mind too. Something good. So why did I pick up again after five years sober? Because … drugs. Duh.

My first brush with psychosis was April 2008. A few months before the high energy, particle smashing Large Hadron Collider went online. Coincidence? I don’t think so. Looking back now, it’s almost like a miniature black hole was created in my brain that sucked out all my logic and reasoning.

One night, I was on coke and looking at the computer. Christie is cheating on me. This idea entered my head. I knew not from where it came. Not only was she cheating, she was also an escort and an adult movie star. Somehow she had been leading a double life and I was just becoming aware of it. What a fool I’d been. How was I so stupid for all those years? I confronted her. She denied it with a you’re-being-ridiculous eye roll. She thought I was joking. I wasn’t. It was not a bit funny. She was a lying slut who was trying to protect her reputation and client list. Fuckin’ bitch!

From that moment forward, I was on a mission. I couldn’t be wrong. I would sit and stare at a computer for hours. Clicking on anything that could help me find proof that my wife was cheating on me. Checking her emails. Checking her phone. I’m not a suspicious person by nature, except when I’m on coke and accuse you of cheating on me. I’m not an asshole by nature, except when I can’t find any proof you’re cheating on me. I’m not a psychotic fire-starter, except when I believe the delusions in my brain are true and you will not admit to them. Then it seems all bets are off.

2008 was not a good year. I continued to use on and off. When I was on coke, I was paranoid and delusional. When I was clean, things were clearer but still not right. I always had this niggling suspicion things were not OK. When I used, I wanted to get to the bottom of it. Figure this shit out. What was I trying to figure out? Didn’t matter. Anything. Without drugs I felt something was missing. I was somehow disconnected. That was a new feeling for me. I don’t remember feeling like that before. It was a lose-lose situation. With or without drugs.

By 2010, my former business partner realized I was out of my mind. I stayed after work almost every day and stared at the computer for hours. You know, looking for information to prove my wife was cheating. Sometimes I would take a break and look at the ceiling. Then it hit me: She had installed cameras in the vents so she could record videos for the porn empire she was running right under my nose. I called and told my partner this new revelation. He had a right to know what was going on. Unless he was in on it too. Damn it! Who can I trust? I had been asking him about Christie’s infidelities over the past few months. He was losing his patience with me. I called him around midnight, I can’t remember the exact time. What I do remember was him driving down to the office and praying for me. He’s a good guy. Conservative Christian. Always has nice things to say about everyone. He did his best to perform an exorcism. It didn’t work. A major buzz kill, though. He called his brother, an EMT, and they tried to persuade me to willingly check myself into a detox facility. I refused. He then called the cops to see if they would arrest me and force me to go. I wasn’t a threat to anyone, so they wouldn’t do it.

Eventually he talked me into checking myself into detox. He’d had enough. He would be gone in a few months.

It was as amicable as any business breakup could be. It was also a wake-up call to stop using. I rallied my employees, the ones who stayed with me. They wanted to believe I could get and keep my shit together. Other employees left because they’d had enough of cuckoo Tom as well. I focused hard on building the agency in my vision. At that time, my ego would not allow me to fail. I used social media as a tool to build my expertise nationally in the legal marketing field. I found a voice. I had a blog. I was a thought leader. I had Twitter followers. The company had new clients. I stayed clean for eighteen months. When I picked up again, shit went south in a hurry.

__________

I’m staring into the flames. Staring into the fire I just started. Of course I’m on drugs. I’ve been using on and off again since October. The drugs reignite the idea that Christie is cheating and running a porn empire. No one will believe me. My employees and family are getting worried about me. I’m only worried about getting to the truth. I am obsessed with the idea. Anyone who disagrees with me is in league with Christie. That is what I believe in my altered state. And make no mistake, I believe it with every ounce of my being. No shred of evidence or lack of evidence to the contrary will convince me. I’m paranoid too. I think I’m being watched by the government. Obviously, Christie has contacted one of her high-profile clients with connections to follow me and make sure I don’t find out the truth. I’m insane by any outside measure. Inside, I’m just trying to figure this shit out.

I panic and call the fire department. They have trucks there in no time. They quickly put out the fire. They have a question for me: “How did the fire start”?

Well, Mr. Fireman, our house was robbed a few weeks ago and it’s probably the same people. Apparently someone has it in for us.

“There is a cushion from this couch inside the house that was tossed onto the deck.”

Well, maybe they came in the house when I was in the bedroom. Mr. Fireman is compassionate. My dad comes over and pulls him aside and they have a talk. My dad lives a few miles away and is always helping around the house and with the kids. Mr. Fireman comes back and asks a few more questions. We wrap things up and they all leave. As Mr. Fireman walks away, he glances back one last time. The look on his face is not one I’m used to seeing directed at me. It’s not suspicion; it’s pity. He feels sorry for me.

My family wants me out of the house. The kids are scared and I’m acting more erratic every day. I sleep at a local hotel. I have a suspicion they want to put me in a psych ward. I have no one to trust. Everyone is in on it. Wait! I can get help from my cousin in upstate New York.

There is no way Christie has got to him. I pay a limo $500 to drive me straight through. It takes all night. I check into a hotel and give my cousin a call. He is polite as can be. He lets me stay with him for a few days. I tell him Christie is a porn star and is stealing money from the company. OK, Tom. He gives me the same look I got from the fireman. I spend New Year’s Eve at my cousin’s house while they go out and have a good time. They ask if I want to go out with them. There is no way I want to go. I just need to rest. I hire a friend of his to come back to Georgia with me. We rent a car and he drives. I pay him by the day. I need him to move some boxes out of my office into storage, things I will use later in the divorce from Christie.

The first thing I do after the fifteen-hour drive is meet with a lawyer. I file for divorce. I also need them to hire a private investigator to follow Christie. Someone who can go through my office and sweep for cameras and recording devices. No problem. They can find someone. I tell them what is going on with my wife. Taping us having sex without my consent and posting the videos online. Stealing from the company. Stealing from me. They need to know everything.

My lawyer doesn’t yet know I’m out of my mind. He’ll find out soon enough.