Thursday, June 07, 2007
The Ex Files
Because of the response to the material I published a few days ago dealing with my time in rehab (Welcome to the Monkey House/6.4.07), I had originally decided to post one or two more quick excerpts from the original version of the manuscript I wrote focusing on that rather tumultuous period in my life.
Then something, well, interesting happened.
Suffice it to say that I'll get into it further in the very near future (to paraphrase Ash from Alien, I need to "collate" for a couple of days), but for now I'm going to go ahead and post the portion I had initially intended. It details an incident that took place between myself and my ex-wife during our engagement -- one which devastated my sense of safety and probably should've spoken volumes about what was to eventually come in our marriage.
That said, I make no excuses for my own sickening and monstrous reaction in the heat of the moment.
Her name has been changed.
August 1999: There's Out, and There's Out
By the time this happened, Kara and I had already moved in together—into the tiny apartment from which she had once run crying. She'd quickly made it her mission to convert the place into something more to her liking, which meant new curtains, better artwork for the walls and a couple of coats of colorful paint. I was willing to admit that the Martha Stewartization of the place certainly made for a dramatic improvement. What I kept to myself though was the strange feeling that the transformation of my living space was somehow symbolic of a larger change that had taken root in my life. I was more serious. More responsible. More dedicated to making a relationship work. More of an adult—and less the fucking asshole child I’d been ecstatically unleashing wholesale on an unsuspecting public for almost three decades. Kara made it clear that she would tolerate nothing less, and for the first time in my life—rather than declaring mutiny against the perceived tyranny of high expectations—I was happy to rise to such exacting standards.
In spite of the change for the better and the sense of pride that came with it however, my demons were still my demons. One insecurity that I just couldn’t shake was the fear that I somehow didn’t measure up to my fiancée’s ex-boyfriends and lovers—and there were many. Kara’s stories of men with money and status bending over backward for her—and her in turn simply bending over for them—were enough to give just about anyone an inferiority complex, particularly someone whose credit rating looked like one side of a soccer score. One man took her to Borneo. One took her to Rome. One was an investment banker. One was a guy her father had recently fired—whom she bedded simply as a form of late rebellion. The bottom line was that it all added to the fear that I was somehow inadequate and eventually she was going to realize it. It was a fear I attempted to counteract by telling myself that it was completely illogical. The past was the past after all.
That is, until the past became the present.
It was a Wednesday evening when Kara told me that an ex-boyfriend—a big-time lawyer from out west—had called her at work and told her that he was in town for a day or two. He wanted to get together with her for a drink after work. She agreed, seemingly without so much as a second thought.
“You don’t see anything that might make me a little nervous about this?”
“No,” she responded as she busied herself about the kitchen. “Why should it?”
“He’s an ex. Isn’t there some kind of relationship rule about having a drink with an ex when you’re engaged? I seem to remember that from watching sitcoms.”
“It’s only a problem if you make it one.”
I was surprised at how calm and rational I was being, in spite of the fact that there was a part of me that wanted to just tell her to go hide in the closet and not come out until the threat had passed and lawyer-boy was safely back in California.
“And if I told you it makes me uncomfortable?”
“I’d tell you it shouldn’t.”
“That’s not exactly the reassurance I was hoping for.”
She stopped looking through the cupboard and turned to face me.
“What do you want me to say? Honey don’t worry? Honey I love you? Honey he was a completely meaningless fling?”
“Everything but that last part sounds like a decent start.”
“Well I’m not going to say that. I’m going to say that you need to trust me.”
She turned her back to me, and her attention back to whatever was eluding her in the cupboard.
“And I do. That’s not the issue.”
“Well what is?” She said—exasperated—into the open cabinet.
“I don’t know this guy. I don’t know in how high a regard he holds the whole sanctity-of-marriage thing.”
“He’s a friend Chez.”
“He’s an ex-boyfriend Kara. Friends haven’t slept with you.”
“Exactly. He’s already slept with me. He won’t need to again.”
That actually got a chuckle out of me. She finally grabbed a can of tuna from one of the shelves and popped it in the electric can opener.
“You really don’t know how guys think do you?” I said, over the whir of the opener.
“Of course I do, but it doesn’t matter. He’s an old friend and I’d really like to see him.”
I walked around the counter separating the dining room from the kitchen and approached her from behind, putting my hands on her waist. I turned her around to face me.
“Look—it makes me uncomfortable.”
“That’s just irrational.”
“It’s not just irrational, it’s completely fucking irrational,” I said. “But you know what, if you asked me to do something for no other reason than because it made you feel better, I’d do it—even if I thought you were being completely fucking irrational,” I said, giving her a genuinely warm smile. “That’s what a commitment like this is about sometimes: doing something the person you love wants, just because he or she wants it.”
“I just don’t see why this is such a big deal.”
“It’s not. But it bugs me, and I think that should be enough. I’m not gonna tell you not to go, but you should know that irrational or not, it’s probably gonna hurt me if you do.”
I smiled, kissed her gently and backed away. “That’s it, okay? I’ve said my peace.”
I went to sleep a couple of hours later thinking that I made my little case as best I could and that—since she had a heart and said she loved me—she’d probably figure this wasn’t by any means a battle worth fighting.
I found out how wrong I was when I walked into the bathroom the next morning as she was getting ready for work. I stood in the doorway for a few seconds taking in the sight of her. She was leaning into the mirror applying a coat of deep red lipstick—the kind I had always told her could stop traffic. Her makeup was perfect. Her hair was perfect. She had on a tight black low-cut top that immediately drew your eyes to the space between her breasts. Her skirt meanwhile, was cut high enough so that as she leaned across the bathroom vanity, I could practically see the color of her thong underwear. She looked more like a girl heading out to a South Beach club on a Saturday night, than a woman heading off to work on a Thursday morning.
The conversation lasted all of one sentence.
“I guess this means you’re going.”
She turned around, looked at me and gave me an expression that I could never imitate, but neither could I ever forget. The main ingredient for the most part, seemed to be pity. It was a little shrug coupled with a kind of sad smile that said everything she wasn’t bothering to put into words. It said, “Sorry, but yeah. I’m going.”
I was angry. I was hurt. I spent most of my day at work stewing, wondering how the hell the woman who said she loved me and was going to marry me couldn’t make the most miniscule of compromises for me. The only mitigating factor that stopped my growing outrage from boiling over into unadulterated fury was the knowledge that none of this was about the man she would be having a drink with later that evening. He was simply the catalyst—some guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. The person this was truly all about was Kara. No one had ever asked her where she was going or why she was going there. No one had ever interrupted her daily flow. No one had ever stood in her way. Her “date” that evening wasn’t happening because she wanted to see someone else; it was happening because she wanted to prove that she still could if the mood struck her. It was her personal defiance against the oppression of a real relationship. This was the woman, after all, who had once told me, in reference to dating for longer than a few weeks: “I don’t keep milk in the house, because it’s a living thing and I’ll kill it.” As far as she was concerned, she was simply asserting herself.
Or so I wanted to believe anyway.
My hope that this might just be her way of thumbing her nose at “The Man” flooded out of me, along with most of the color in my face, when I walked through the door of our apartment after work, well past midnight. She wasn’t home. I immediately added up the time in my head. She was supposed to meet her ex at 6:30 on the beach, it was now almost six hours later and she still wasn’t home. I dialed her cell phone twice and got only her voicemail. I went to the fridge and opened a beer, then sat down on the couch and waited like a helpless father waiting for his teenager to stroll through the door after curfew.
While I sat there in utter silence, I thought to myself—
Why in the hell am I putting up with this?
Is this worth it?
Is she really so goddamned special?
Does she even want to marry me?
Does she want to marry anyone?
Why do I love her so much?
Why can’t I break free?
This last question was the one that wound up haunting me for far too long.
The key hit the door, the knob turned, and in she stumbled—just a little after one in the morning. I stood up and breathed in as deeply as I could, appealing to my brain and body for calm.
“Man—you are a piece of work.”
She just gave me a languid smile and walked past me toward the bedroom. The smell of alcohol seemed to be seeping from every pore in her body. I turned and followed her—talking to her back.
“I tell you openly and honestly that I’m uncomfortable with you going out with an ex-boyfriend, and not only do you go—looking about as good as I’ve ever seen you look by the way—but you go, and come home trashed at one in the morning.”
“Sorry,” she shrugged, slurring the word to the point of turning it into one long syllable.
“That’s it? That’s the best you can do? That’s all I’m fucking worth?”
“Can we talk about this in the morning? I just wanna go to bed.”
She plopped down hard on the edge of the bed, unzipped and pulled off her black leather boots. The part of my brain that wasn’t being absorbed by a steadily growing rage knew she was right—that it should wait until morning when she was sober and I wasn’t ready to put my fist through a wall. That rational side though, didn’t stand a chance of being heard at the moment. The blood thrumming through my ears was drowning it out completely.
“Answer me please. Tell me something. Give me an excuse—anything.”
“There’s nothing to tell. We had a few drinks. We were having a good time. We stayed late.”
“Did it ever occur to you to either just give me a call and let me know you’d be late, or God-fucking-forbid, to actually come home because you knew it’d make the man you love feel better?”
She stood up, swaying briefly before steadying herself, pulled the little black top over her head and unhooked her bra. Then in one motion she slid down and stepped out of her skirt and underwear, and she was naked. As usual, I was momentarily stunned into silence. Her makeup was perfect—a little too perfect I suddenly thought. Her hair was perfect—also too perfect. Her body was gorgeous. I immediately felt the usual desire for her welling up inside of me—flooding every part of me. This time though, the feeling was something else—something frightening. Malevolence mixed with passion mixed with fury mixed with lust mixed with violence mixed with sex.
I wanted to fuck her.
I wanted to brutalize her.
I wanted to defile her.
I despised her.
I swallowed hard. I breathed in as deeply as I could. I clenched my fists. I fought back the pain and the rage and the horrible thoughts that were threatening to take control of me. I took a step toward her and put my hand on her wrist, despite the unwavering knowledge that this simple act could open the flood gates that would unleash—something. Something that I would be unable to stop once it started.
“I want an answer. I deserve an answer,” I seethed.
She looked at me with sleepy, empty eyes.
“I don’t want to marry you,” she spat defiantly.