Thursday, April 9, 2009

Chapter 4: The Other Woman

James and I had hit a rough patch following (though not because of) the incident after our birthday party in April. We were fighting quite a bit, and James had begun regularly telling me that he didn’t love me anymore and that I was always mean to him. As I write this I am trying to remember what life was like at that time, but very little comes to mind. It’s almost as if my brain has blocked it out, like those people who have selective amnesia after a traumatic event.

I think I fooled myself into thinking everything would work out, because on the surface we had what seemed like an idyllic life. In December 2007 we had moved to Whitestone, a suburban-like area in Queens near La Guardia airport and Shea Stadium. James wanted to be closer to his job in Queen after a year of commuting from my Harlem apartment. Doubling my commute to an hour and a half was a sacrifice I was willing to make in exchange for the amenities of our new place. Our apartment had a backyard, and as winter turned to spring we began having regular barbeques for our friends. We would head over to the neighborhood Costco and pick up jumbo packs of Bubba Burgers. I had planted a little kitchen garden, and loved serving our guests roasted potatoes with the rosemary I grew or Caprese salad with tomatoes from my vines.

~ My Garden ~

I got a Queens Library card and started checking out books. James’ mother came to live with us for awhile before she retired and moved back to the Philippines. James would drive me to the subway on his way to work every morning and at night we’d come home and he would cook dinner. It was all so grown-up feeling, and normal and, well, suburban.

James would bring me home gifts, right up until the end, like little gnome for the garden (because I love the movie Amelie with its roaming gnome) or a pinwheel (I had once told him that when I was little my mom would let me get one at the checkout at Kmart if I had behaved on our errand). While I thought these gestures were signs that he really did love me despite his words to the contrary, maybe they were in fact to make up for the fact that his love had faded.

As much as I had been in denial as to how bad our relationship had gotten, by June I couldn’t deny it anymore. We were at a housewarming party for one of James’ friends and I admitted to the fiancĂ© of another of James’ friends, Carlos, that things were pretty rocky. She had moved to New York from Chile to be with Carlos and was having a rough go of it. We commiserated on how tough relationships are. Later on that night, one of the party’s hosts invited me up to his bedroom to look at a sculpture he’d made. It occurred to me later that James was not at all bothered by this, whereas earlier in our relationship he would have been enraged with jealousy. It was a sign that he really just didn’t care anymore.

James and I went to Chicago to celebrate the Fourth of July with my family. As I mentioned before, he made it known while we were there that he was not happy about being there. He had wanted to stay in New York and shoot off fireworks with his friends. They had been talking about driving to Pennsylvania to get a trunk full of explosives. By mid-June they had still not made that trip, so I asked James if he wanted to come to Chicago with me. I was going either way, as I hadn’t seen my family since the wedding the prior fall. He agreed to go, and I purchased our tickets.

James told me that I “forced” him into going and that it was another example of how I never cared about what he wanted. He would also say that I never supported him. And he thought that I felt that I was smarter than him (Early in our relationship I joked to my friends that he was my arm candy because I thought he was so good looking, and he held that against me for the rest of our time together). In time I came to decide that all of his complaints stemmed from his narcissism, and I wondered if the diagnosis was accurate or just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Thinking back to my vows to him, nothing I could say or do would be viewed as supportive. If something was amiss and I suggested a solution, he would see that as lack of support. It was a leap I did not comprehend. Why would you want to wallow in misery, when the opportunities for a solution were plentiful? For example, one Friday night I decided to stay in while James went out after his bartending shift with a couple of his guy friends. He called me from the bar to say that the money he earned that night (around $150) had been stolen out of his pocket.

My immediate reaction was to ask if he had inquired with the bartender, who was a friend of his, if anyone had turned it in. He said no.

I asked if he was sure he had taken it with him from the restaurant and was he sure he’d had it at the bar. He said yes, he definitely had it with him at the bar.

I then asked if he had retraced his steps or looked in the car to see if it just fell out of his pocket. He said no, and if it had fallen out at the bar one of “those assholes there” would have just taken it.

I asked if he wanted to file a police report. He said that wouldn’t do any good.

As I tried to help him he grew more and more frustrated and the phone call ended in an argument. I don’t know what I could have said to be more sympathetic. “Oh sorry, baby, that’s too bad” just isn’t the way I approach life. It is like the serenity prayer says:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

I guess James would have felt that losing his money was something he was powerless to do anything about, whereas I would try to do whatever it took (especially when it was a simple thing like asking the bartender a question) to try to make the situation right. James continued to be mad at me the following day until he headed off to work. Imagine how my eyes rolled when he called me from the restaurant to tell me that he had, in fact, left his money clip there the night before and the owner had set it aside for him. One phone call, as per my suggestions, would have saved him (and me!) so much agitation.

At the suggestion of a friend, I watched the YouTube video of Carnegie Mellon professor Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. In it, the professor says that in this world there are two kinds of people: Tiggers and Eeyores. That line hit me instantly and intensely. It is one of those observations that is just right. I realized that I am most definitely a “fun-loving Tigger” and James was pretty much a “sad-sack Eeyore.” I have come to learn about myself that I have little patience or room in my life for Eeyores. I mean we all have our days to be down in the dumps, but the people who have an overall negative approach to life are really hard for me to relate to. It is such a drain to coddle them and deal with their dramas.

And there was plenty of drama with James. When he told me he was leaving me, while standing in the same yard we’d been married in just ten months earlier, it came as a huge shock to me. Of course I asked why, and he told me that he just didn’t love me any more, and probably never really loved me in the first place. He said that I coerced him into marrying him. He told me that marriage vows are just a contract which can be broken. And he told me that he could find someone better. The last statement he later denied, saying he meant he could find someone better for him, not better than me.

Recently, a guy I was dating sent me an e-mail to break things off. As one of the reasons why, he quoted Neela from the television show ER who said, “I think there is somebody more right for both of us.” Hearing that reasoning again was really upsetting. How many Mr. Wrongs to I have to go through before the right one comes along?

In our discussions he said that he (with his Bachelor’s in Psychology) had "diagnosed" me with Borderline Personality Disorder. When I looked it up, I couldn’t help but agree. I recently asked a friend if it sounded like my personality, and he replied that it sounds like everyone. But if I do in fact fit the BPD criteria, it would make sense that I would try to make something work that is not meant to be. I have long known that I have an extreme fear of abandonment. I can even pinpoint a singular incident as either the cause of this fear or the first time the fear became actualized.

In eighth grade we took a class trip to Washington DC. In an effort to keep track of one hundred pubescent students, the chaperones said we were to remain in our hotel rooms until they came to knock on our door to take us to the tour buses. The hotel’s corridor was shaped like a T and my room was at the intersection. In the morning, the chaperones were sitting outside my door, watching for teenagers skulking the halls. My roommates and I grew a little stir crazy and asked the teachers if we could come out of our room. After being reprimanded and denied our request, we settled onto the floor for a game of cards while we waited.

Eventually we heard the teachers knocking on the doors of the rooms down each hallway. And then it grew quiet. My friends and I were generally the goody-two-shoes types, so getting yelled at by the teachers was enough to scare us straight. They said we couldn’t come out of our room until the came for us, and so we waited. And waited. Finally we heard a knock at the door and an angry looking teacher stood there ready to take us downstairs. They had realized when they did the headcount on the bus that they were missing four students.

Walking on that bus and having the teachers and students stare at me like I’d done something wrong was mortifying and confusing. Were we being punished for acting up? And even despite causing a stir, the chaperones were able to so quickly forget all about us? From then on I knew that I hated being forgotten, ignored or abandoned.

So when James told me he was leaving me, it was the worst nightmare I could imagine. He packed up most of his clothes and moved into his aunt’s basement apartment. I insisted that we do counseling. The counselor we met with first was a little to rainbows and unicorns for us, we both needed a firm straight-talker. The next session we met with a woman who was much more in-your-face. She basically told me if James wanted to leave, and his mind was made up, nothing I could do would change that. We met with her twice and were not making much progress. I tried to get James to come around so we could talk about things more. I was in so much pain and in such shock that I needed to talk to someone. I couldn’t bring myself to tell any of my family or friends so James was it. The counselor told James that by continuing to see me outside of our sessions, he was giving me false hope. I went home that night feeling really alone, depressed and pessimistic.

When I arrived home, I sorted through the mail and opened up the phone bill. The two of us were on a family plan. Sprint cell phone bills list every incoming and outgoing call, and I was shocked to see hundreds of minutes of calls to a New Jersey number (528 minutes spread over 52 calls in 16 days). The calls had started on the 24th of June and continued to the end of the billing cycle on July 10. There were many calls made while we were in Chicago, at times when James said he was talking to his father. To put it in perspective, during the entire month shown on the bill, he called me for 205 minutes, his dad for 58, his mom for 8, his brother for 41, and his son for 2.

I stared in shock at the bill with my heart racing. I knew immediately what that mysterious number implied. When he said he thought he could find someone better (with or without the “for me”), he meant he already had. After a few glasses of wine to calm my nerves and get up the courage, I dialed the number, making sure mine was blocked. It went to voicemail, and the girl on the other line identified herself as “Jacinta.”

I was confused by this because one of James’ friends had a girlfriend with the same name, but I knew her phone number had a Long Island area code. I wondered if they’d broken up, Jacinta had moved to New Jersey and changed her number, and maybe she and James were just supporting each other in their respective breakups. I have the tendency to run scenarios in my head, as in this case, to give people (guys who don’t call when they say they will for example) the benefit of the doubt. But deep down I knew this scenario was far-fetched, and the horrible truth was that he was leaving me for another woman.

It also explained why James had suddenly been so eager to get a new phone with a different provider. Our family plan was with Sprint, which had been my provider for years. James resented me for “making” him switch, and would cite it as another example of how I wouldn’t let him do what he wanted and forced him into things. We had also been fighting about how I felt I was the responsible one who paid the bills and such, and that I thought he was too much of a mama’s boy. So, in an effort to claim some independence he got a phone whose bill he would be responsible for. And one whose call log I could not see. Neat trick there – make it seem like the change is him punishing me or be high and mighty, when in reality he was just trying to cover his tracks.

I held on to this newfound kernel of knowledge for the week until our next session. As I asked James if he could explain what I saw when I opened the phone bill, I began to feel lightheaded, the room swam in front of me and my whole body seemed to vibrate. His explanation came out in a very nonchalant manner. He’d met her in Atlantic City while at Carlos’ bachelor party. He was acting as wing man for his friend Bruno and Jacinta was the friend of Bruno’s conquest. His only other explanation was that she was “nice” which I guess stood in great contrast to how mean her perceived me to be. He tried to blame Bruno and me for his actions, and my response was “Neither of us stuck your dick in some Jersey slut.” At least now I had an explanation for why he suddenly made the decision to leave.

I ended up texting Jacinta to tell her James was married (to me) and that her friend should be wary of Bruno because he is a scumbag. She replied “Ok thanks.” Over the next couple months I could see that he was spending an inordinate amount of time with her. On the EZ-Pass statement there would be tolls listed for bridges and tunnels to New Jersey, about three times a week. I also gleaned from his credit card statements that he was also filling up his car with gas from gas stations in New Jersey on a regular basis. The fact that he could jump headfirst into a new relationship and just cut me out of his life was unconscionable to me, especially since I was still reeling from the shock and seriously depressed.

After I found out about the “other woman,” I was finally able to work up the nerve to start telling people what was going on in my life. I started out telling a couple of my close girlfriends, and they were shocked. But for the longest time I couldn’t bring myself to tell my parents. They had just shelled out so much money, and worked so hard to plan, my dream wedding. And now this. My mom had even had a dream in January of 2008 in which James and I were divorcing. She called me up the next morning and asked if everything was going okay between the two of us, and I reassured her it was. Little did I know that six months later all that would change.

My parents finally found out by accident. I wanted to change my Facebook status to not show any relationship status, even though I was still technically married. It was just too painful to see his name every time I logged in. I didn’t realize that when I changed the setting, it would pop up a note on everyone’s feed saying I was no longer married. When my mom logged into her account that day, she got the shock of a lifetime. As soon as I realized what had happened, I gave them a call. It was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. Despite the fact that my guilt and shame were subsiding in light of the whole cheating thing, I was still really upset that I couldn’t make my marriage work.

The saddest moment was when my dad told me how disappointed he was in James. He recounted that at the wedding he had told my new husband, “Take care of my little girl” and James shook his hand and replied “I will, sir, I will.” Even just writing that now is making me cry. I hate that I’ve disappointed everyone, especially all the people who came out for the wedding, bearing gifts.

In September of 2008, almost a year to the day after we were married under it, the weeping willow in my parent’s neighbor’s backyard was struck by lightning. When my mom told me I took it as a sign, and doubly so when I returned home for Christmas that year and the neighbors chose that week to have the remaining portion of the tree cut down and hauled away.

~ Sad Tree ~

The day after the tree was struck by lightning the symbolism became real, as that was the day James finally visited a lawyer to file for divorce (I only just realized this after comparing the dates of the divorce papers and the date my mom emailed me the photo. At the time James didn't know about the tree, and I didn't know he'd seen a lawyer). In the state of New York there is no uncontested divorce, so he had to choose the grounds for divorce from Abandonment, Three Consecutive Years Imprisonment, Adultery or Cruel and Inhuman Treatment. Since he was clearly the one who was cheating and leaving (and was the one of us who’d spent any time in prison), he was left with Cruel and Inhuman Treatment. Once I confirmed that him claiming I mistreated him would not come back to haunt me in any way, I signed the papers and was single once more.

I was still living in our marital abode as the lease did not expire until December. James was still paying his half of the rent (I guess he felt a lease is more binding than wedding vows). Just after the lease ended, James changed his Facebook status to “in a relationship.” I imagine he figured since his commitment to me was now officially over, he could go public with his girlfriend. When I saw the update, I also noticed that he had posted a picture of them together.

~ James & Jacinta ~

Seeing that picture, two things struck me. First, I don’t think he ever put a picture of the two of us as his profile picture. His photos would be of just himself or him with Jamie. Thinking about it, I decided that he probably didn’t think I was attractive enough to show off to the world. Yet this new girl was. This brought me to my second observation about her. She looks just like him! Narcissism is of course being like Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection. So it made perfect sense to me that James would fall for someone who could be his twin sister. I understand that the conventional wisdom is that we seek out the image of our parents in our romantic partners. However, both Jamie's mother and I look nothing like James, so who knows.

Over time he continued to post pictures of the two of them. I could tell one of them was taken at his office Christmas party, and I wonder how he explained bringing a different girl to the party when his wife had accompanied him to the company barbecue that summer. Eventually he “unfriended” me on Facebook, the EZ-Pass was returned, and his mail stopped coming to my address. It is nearly a year later and James is at last physically out of my life. It makes me a little jealous that he so seamlessly moved on to this new life while I am left to pick up the pieces.

I try not to be too jaded or cynical, but have only just begun really opening myself up to trusting someone with my heart again. And so far, that hasn’t really worked out so well for me. I have taken to heart Gloria Steinem’s words: “There are many more people trying to meet the right person than to become the right person.” Right now I need to focus on finding myself and not as much on finding my next beau. And as they say, he will probably fall into my lap when I am not looking (though truth be told, having a man on my lap right now would be just fine with me!)

If I had known back in the beginning of our relationship what I know now, I could have either A) Ended things before they turned ugly or B) Learned his triggers and how to best handle a situation with someone like him. I think choice B is overly optimistic. I have come to realize that while I am no way perfect, it was not a specific flaw in me that drove him away. It was this other thing, his narcissism, which was the third entity in our marriage, well before the other woman entered the picture.

1 comment:

Karthik said...

I recognize that girl in the picture with James. I know who she is, and her real name. I slept with her, and if it makes you feel any better, the truth is that about 2 years ago she contracted genital herpes from me.