Backstage

I don’t think anyone expects every aspect of their relationship, or even their life in general, is going to be great.  Life just isn’t like that at all, there’s no trick coins to make sure that the lucky penny of your personal universe always lands heads up.  Our relationship was no different, and we certainly had our fair share of ups and downs.

It started years ago, online.  It wasn’t instant for either of us.  I was living with one guy and crushing on another when I met him.  He was thousands of miles away from me, and crushing on someone else, who was almost literally halfway across the world.  I remember chatting with him one night; something just clicked inside me, and I knew that this was a guy that I could love forever, if he’d let me.  It wasn’t as quick for him.  After a couple of doses of liquid courage, I admitted how I felt to him.  I let him know that if it made him uncomfortable, I’d back off and leave him alone.  Our late night chats continued, and we slowly fell in love.

There was a long wait before we could actually be together.  He was stopped in the Toronto airport and denied entry into the US, which delayed things for an extra eight months.  We filled out stacks of immigration forms, in triplicate sometimes, before he was finally allowed back into the country so we could be together and get married.

Like anything, it wasn’t always great over the years. We were married for 16 years before that Wednesday morning.  Sixteen years is a long time.  Jobs were lost, and weight was gained.  Stress made me anxious about things, and he would become withdrawn.  When I’d ask him to talk to me and tell me what was going on, it was always the same answers.  “I’m fine,” he’d say.  “There’s nothing wrong.  I love you and that’s all that matters.”

If our lives were a reality show, this is where the narrator would say something ominous.  But backstage, things were falling apart.

Our love life steadily declined, but it wasn’t in the typical way you’d see in after the honeymoon phase of marriage.  There was the expected tapering down in frequency, but there were also periods where it seemed like he actively avoided any bedroom activities, or doing what he could to get me off quickly so he could do the same and be done with it.  I’d rub against him in bed, and I’d feel him get hard.  In response, he’d tuck it back, or roll over, like he resented any erection that wasn’t his idea and was embarrassed that his body betrayed his true feelings.  More than once after these nights, I woke up to him watching porn as soon as he got out of bed in the morning, but before he would wake me up.  He followed the same script every time we’d make love, his actions rehearsed and perfected with years of practice.  I felt like everything he did in bed was done in a way that would allow him to pretend that I was someone else.  There was one night where he got me off as quickly as possible before going to sleep.  Hours later, I woke up alone to find him in the living room watching porn.  Like he was training bad behaviors out of a puppy, he taught me that such attention was not welcome.

During a particularly dry spell, I looked through his computer.  I wanted to see if there was something I was missing, an unfulfilled need that I couldn’t meet, or someone else.  The only thing I found was evidence of online chat rooms.  The logs varied; sometimes he was male, sometimes he was female, but it seemed like the only common thread was a desire for validation and attention.  In the grand spectrum of the infidelities he committed, this was on the lowest end.  When confronted, he gave two explanations. It was partially wanting an outlet for the stress of being strong for me while I dealt with my grandmother’s rapidly declining health, and partially just boredom.

“If you’re so bored you’re skirting the line of cheating, you need a fucking hobby,” I told him.

We’d been together for about 12 years when we bought our house.  Everything was going so well, and we threw ourselves into making it our own.  We painted, we decorated, we hosted Christmas.  We were adulting, we were responsible grown-ups.

Narrator:  Things were good, until suddenly they weren’t.

It was about six months after we bought the house that everything, everything, went bad.  At the end of February, during the deep freeze of the polar vortex that gripped half the country, our furnace gave out.  What we thought was going to be an easy fix of about $700 turned into an entire heating system at $7800.  At almost the same time, he lost his job.  April, I had a tire blow out on the highway that required the purchase of two new tires.  Less than week later, I ended up with two visits to the hospital within 3 days, which ended up costing us $4000 that still hasn’t been paid off.   Anything that could go wrong, went wrong, in every single way.

The stress of it was immense.  I discovered that being active greatly reduced my anxiety, and threw myself into almost nightly workouts after dinner.  He withdrew from me; if we were together at home, it was just a nonstop cycle of Food Network shows and reading each other things from our phones or tablets.  I may as well have been a roommate to him, and I stopped even trying to initiate things in the bedroom.  After years of feeling like I was everything he didn’t want in his bed, I had stopped trying.  I was the frog in the pot, the change was so gradual that I didn’t even notice it happening.  I told him I was afraid for us.  Everything that made us us was almost gone.

“We’re fine, babe,” he said.  “We’ll make it through this together, like we always do.”

In July of 2016, about three weeks shy of our 14th anniversary, I found a condom wrapper in the bedroom trashcan and confronted him about it.  He was at work at the time, and I took a picture of it and sent it to him with a single word.

Explain.

Oh, how he tried to convince me, each lie becoming more unbelievable than the last.  He’d found the wrapper outside and he picked it up to put it in with our house trash – give a hoot, don’t pollute!  It was in the bedroom trash because he didn’t put it in the downstairs trash, and it fell out of his pants when he got undressed for bed, and he didn’t want one of the cats to eat it.

After I found the actual condom, he tried the Shaggy approach: it wasn’t me.  Several days earlier, we’d come home from work and realized that we hadn’t turned off the TV when we left in the morning.  At the time, we had joked that maybe the cats had turned it on, or that the state’s dumbest criminal had come in and watched our TV and left, taking nothing.  Now grasping at straws, he suggested that maybe more than one person had let themselves into the house, had sex in our bed, watched our TV, and left.

I booted up his computer and logged into his email account.  I scrolled through his social media notifications and merchant newsletters, and saw nothing.  I typed “craigslist” into the search field, and effectively destroyed every belief that I had about my husband.  The beginning seemed to coincide with the time when everything had started going wrong 18 months earlier.  There were responses to ads, and ads placed.   Sometimes he was talking to other men, playing a straight guy curious about being with another man.  Other times, he replied to escorts, inquiring about their services.  Some emails had been exchanged as I sat next to him in the living room, applying makeup.  I’d like to chat, I’m available after 10 AM, he wrote to someone.  Most damning of all was an email from the previous week, which had him inquiring about the services of a topless housekeeper who would come to your home and tidy things up, and what sort of costumes she might be able to bring with her, did she have a nurse costume by chance?  Stomach churning with heartbreak and disgust, I took pictures of his computer screen and sent them to him.

you're a fucking scumbag

Still at work, his lies built up, a cairn of rocks over the grave of our marriage.  Someone must have hacked into his email and was pretending to be him.   It would be so easy to pretend to be someone else because it was Gmail and Google, and everything in our entire lives was tied to that account.  That’s why they had all of his details and pictures, couldn’t I see that?   An hour later, at home, the lies continued to unravel as he insisted that he had done nothing at all.  He swore on his grandmother’s life, nothing had happened.  Minutes later, he swore on his grandfather’s grave that he didn’t actually do anything.  It was just email.  Nothing happened, no one ever came over to the house.  He wouldn’t do it again, he promised.  Please, nothing happened.  It was only when I brought up coming home earlier in the week and remarking on the freshly vacuumed rugs that he gave up the lies.  The cairn was complete.

The analytical part of me tried to figure out where things had fallen apart.  If an error is ever made in my profession, the person responsible for it fills out a report, working backwards to break down the root cause of the error.  The error was directly caused by Reason X, with Reason Y being a contributing factor to X, and Reason Z bringing about the circumstances of Y.  I asked him to help me out and to break down his actions, because I needed answers.  He wrote things out for me.  He was under so much stress at work, I wouldn’t understand how stressful it was, and he couldn’t burden me with his stress when I was already dealing with my own anxieties.  He wanted to be with me, and for me to offer him some sort of comfort, but I was always doing a workout.   He felt like I didn’t show any appreciation for anything he did, and that I didn’t want him.  He wanted to be wanted.

And he was bored.

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