I will survive

Nine months ago tonight, I was lying wide awake with disbelief and pain so visceral that I couldn’t breathe.

It’s been hell.

I have fought tooth and nail to get here. I have spent thousands of dollars on therapy, plus medication, and innumerable hours in the upside down trying to figure out how I could have loved and trusted someone so cruel, vapid, and deceitful.

And I’m here. I am surviving yet again.

I understand now that he was a pathetic excuse for a human, let alone a man, and I very, very narrowly dodged a bullet.

There are scars though. I am now a woman with trust issues and baggage that I have to wrestle to fit into my overhead bin before, on, and after dates. But I am doing it.

I am trying to give seemingly kind and authentic men the benefit of the doubt … and there is a simultaneous, niggling fear that crawls over my skin. I cannot help but remember that same grace for another man is what bit me in ass.

I hope I will not always be in protective mode or that I will at least learn where the line is but it’s proving to be a prickly thing to embrace. So far.

And to her, I only have one thought left …

Good luck, hun.

Oh, as long as I know how to love, I know I’ll stay alive

I’ve got all my life to live

And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive

I will survive

I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
An aspirational prick.

Aftershocks

Featherlight kisses

Skimming up her spine

Warm breath at her neck

Her head turns, shoulder arches

She smiles

Foreheads touch

Four eyes crinkle

Her body shudders once more

He chuckles

She floats

He lies

Again, and again

.

She shudders now at the memory

Again, and again

.

And again

It’s different in this light.
Revulsion erasing ecstasy.
Reckoning replacing reveling.

Music for the Mood:

Reckoning

Reveling

– Ani DiFranco

Learn to Live Again

Fairly certain I’ve used this song in a previous post but I’m okay with that. I love Dave Grohl, my longest unrequited love. I love the Foos and even went to see their objectively terrible “horror” movie last week. Loved every minute! Pat Smear was the absolute best part throughout. Anyway, this song is one that spirals through my mind often enough that I suppose it’s kind of like the soundtrack of my life in a lot of ways.

I recently got this sticker and put it on my laptop … to make it mine and try to erase the memory that the last person to type on these keys, for the better part of two years, was actually not me. It was a man I loved, wholly and without hesitation, a man I gave my laptop to without question, but also a man who isn’t at all the person I thought he was. I’m still having trouble accepting that the John I knew, the John I loved, was the same person who lied to me from the moment he met me. It’s easier for me to think of them as two different people. I want to keep the good memories and those only exist in the person who was never real.

I met with my therapist tonight for the fourth time and, while I guess I am still glad that I am making this investment in myself, I am also angry that I have to. It’s a hell of a lot of money and just so much mental and emotional work. I am angry that I have to pay to talk to someone every week about betrayal because I cannot figure out how to process it on my own — me, someone who has spent two decades working in mental health!

I’ve experienced a lot in this life. A lot of loss. A lot of emotional trauma. A lot of things that I’m only now realizing may have made me an easy target for a man like John.

My therapist told me tonight that John is a sociopath. This is a label that I am having trouble accepting right now. I don’t think it’s accurate; I think it’s actually inappropriate and unprofessional. But I also question what I know … about anything anymore. I feel like she’s making a diagnosis of someone that she only knows through four conversations with me, and this online journal. I have known a sociopath before, years ago, I dated him; he was evil and I struggle to assign the word “evil” to the John I knew the past three years.

The therapist though is trying to get me to accept that there are not two people, like I keep referring to during our sessions. There is just one person. One man who intentionally talked to me in a bar in July 2018 while he had another woman at home. He came home with me. He woke up with me. He asked for my number. He intentionally kept seeing me. He gained my trust, made me feel comfortable and understood and like I had finally found a someone that I did not want to imagine life without. He never told me about the other woman.

This therapist described my experience as catastrophic and emphasized that John did that to me; a good man could not have done that, to me or to his fiancé. She’s trying to get me to accept that although he tried to tell me he didn’t want anything serious in August 2018, that all of his actions prior to and in the three plus years after did not indicate that he was already in a serious relationship. He never told me he was sleeping with anyone else, let alone living with them and engaged to them.

She’s trying to help me see that I was too trusting, that what I thought was convenience (him always coming to me, or respect for my need for space, or admission of feeling sad in winter and needing to hibernate) — all of these things that I thought made us alike were really just easy ways for him to take advantage of my trust. I made it too easy for him to live two lives and to take advantage of the goodness in me.

While it is very easy to beat myself up about being too trusting, it isn’t very helpful. Because at the end of the day, I cannot help but think about all of the time we spent together, the conversations we had, the things we experienced, and I cannot make myself accept that a deceitful person was in those times, conversations, and experiences and continually & intentionally thinking of what to say to protect his double life. The reality is that half of the dystopian Trumpian nightmare, the fucking insurrection, the election, all of Black Lives Matter, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, all of COVID, so many tv shows and movies, the end of GoT, nearly all things sports, a particular SNL skit about Philly, so many dumb little inside jokes, all of my experience with my appalling excuse for a manager, all of my application and selection process for grad school, all of my experiences with every cohort of scholarship recipients — EVERY PIVOTAL AND TRIVIAL PART OF THE LAST THREE YEARS were experienced with this human. All of those experiences and memories cannot be divorced from my conversations with John about them. His thoughts and perspectives on those things are essentially mine; they always have been. I couldn’t have experienced them with anyone else and, even still, wouldn’t have wanted to. How fucked up is that though??

Why can’t I get my brain to accept that this person was LYING to me the entire time I knew him? There is no reason to believe that his compassion, empathy, earnestness, or curiosity about and toward the world and other humans was ever real. But how do I accept that?? It means I also have to accept that none of the good was ever real, and that all of the happiness I felt was based on bullshit. In theory, I understand that he likely just fed off of what I felt and expressed it back because he knew that was a way to make me feel seen and heard and a sense of solidarity and belonging. We were peas in a pod, in my experience. Not his though, I guess. Or, he just had two (or more) pods. I have no idea. Who does?

There is literally not one person who knows more about the situation with my boss, no one who knows how fulfilling and proud I am of the work I have been doing the past four plus years. I have never had a role that I felt fit me better, like it was handcrafted for me. And yet, the lack of leadership and toxic relationship I’ve experienced because of my completely inept and insecure manager the past two and a half years has been incredibly stressful. John has been around since the day this moron was hired. I work 50-60 hour weeks with no support, no understanding of the actual work or even education, generally, no acknowledgement of the immense effort it takes to do the work well – beyond glowing performance reviews but also a hostile working relationship. I applied to this management program with John’s encouragement, and he was as excited as I was in September when I finally got in after two years of trying. At least, he seemed to be.

When I finally reached my breaking point and applied for a new job tonight though, he was the first person I wanted to tell. I actually had the thought that he would be proud of me and, at my hesitation to leave a job I love, he would say “Fuck her.” He would be right and hearing him say it would fortify me and make me smile. But I didn’t have him to tell. And because he was really the only person I ever confided in about it, instead, I just didn’t tell anyone. Except this therapist — which I also only have because of him. Thanks, man?

Before our next chat, I’m supposed to send this therapist a list of the aspects about this whole nightmare that have had the most impact, the things that we’re going to systematically work through together. There are too many, she says, so we need to narrow it down. I am stuck. I know I need to start recognizing that the “good guy” and the “good memories” are figments. I know he’s a bad dude who intentionally deceived me, and his now wife, for more than three years, every single fucking day. That he continually and willfully made the choice to lie. Honestly, I never thought he was smart enough for that level of duplicity, but I am slowly starting to acknowledge that I was duped in more ways than I can process at any given time. Acceptance is another animal, altogether.

This therapist also says that it’s not my place to worry about her, about Crystal, his now wife. That I’m a good person and that’s why I worry almost every day, at some point, about whether she is doing okay and if she has support and what will happen when he does it to her again. And when she thinks back to five months ago, a month before she married him, to when I told her who I was and that I’d unknowingly been in a relationship with her fiancé since 2018… I can’t imagine the guilt and shame that will come with the realization that she made the wrong choice. Maybe it already has? The therapist says that she is still picking her own jaw up off the floor to know that Crystal married John. My friends and family are too, but I’m not. I know how charming he is, how much you want to believe in his version of his love for you. “Would she be worrying about you?,” she asked me. No. She probably hates me, even though I don’t deserve it. But, as someone who’s been cheated on before, I also don’t blame her. And I will not apologize for trying to make sure she knows what and who he really is. I wish someone had told me. There were people in the bar that night in July 2018 that had to have known that John was living with, not just roommates, but a woman he was sleeping with and had been for years, even though they weren’t engaged then. He was too fucking social. Someone knew.

But also, if John is really a “sociopath” or, even at the very most has some pathological penchant for lying, shouldn’t I worry about her? As the only other person who was victimized by him, at least in this situation, shouldn’t I try to make sure she’s okay, as a woman?

I’ve tried to play devil’s advocate — that maybe she still doesn’t know? That it’s possible she never got my email in October and he never told her. But when I’m in that absurd thought loop, the therapist reminds me that I shared this blog with people I found on social media that were on their wedding guest list (left on my laptop) after I found out the wedding actually happened. And I don’t know who they were, of course, but there were hundreds of views on this website in the following days so there are people in their lives who know. People who should care enough to tell her, and support her. The regular views here come from all the places they & their village live.

I tried to push back too by saying that he’d probably tell everyone I’m just some crazy bitch or that it wasn’t that significant. The John I knew would never say that about me — but she also reminded me that all the details are here. On these many pages, in these tens of thousands of words. There is just no way that anyone who reads them, especially anyone that knows one or both of them, could possibly think it was any less. Even if it seems impossible to believe.

It’s not my business whether they or she believe it. I’ve done my part to make people aware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. That’s all I have control over.

So I want to live again. Sooner than later. I have to get it out so I can move on. That’s what all of this drivel amounts to. Four months of pouring onto the page. Living again is the goal. I’d love to love again but I’m not sure that’s possible. Sidenote: do you know how many “John”s there are on online dating? It is brutal, y’all. I swipe left on every single one.

I’m trying. That’s something I’m proud of. There are no days where I don’t think about it, about him, about why I have to go through this. Yet. But the amount of time it takes up in my day is getting less. The sadness still weighs a lot and comes in waves. The anger and thirst for vengeance comes less frequently. I’m hanging my hat on that for now. Little by little. After all, it’s times like these we learn to live again, right?

It’ll be a while before I’m ready to give again. This is the selfish season of my life. I hope it doesn’t last too long.

Music for the Mood: Times Like These – Foo Fighters

Forgiveness

I went on a solo vacation for a few days, the sixth of these trips I’ve taken alone – always at a time of transition or a time when I need to recharge my batteries. I went to Cabo San Lucas because I’ve always wanted to see the humpbacks in winter off the Baja Peninsula.

I did. And it was an incredible and indescribable experience. They are massive, majestic and deceptively elegant, playful and unbothered. It felt freeing to watch them. I was lucky to witness so many of them waving their dorsal fins, splashing their tails, and blowing air in enormous geysers from below the surface where, for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, there is no indication on the surface of the ocean that a behemoth lies beneath. Some are 60′ long – nearly double the length of the sailboat I was on. To watch one of these creatures rise up from the depths and breach up and over onto their backs is something I will never be able to put into words. To see it happen so many times in just a few hours in this lifetime seems like cosmic hyperbole.

Here is one short video but I’m saving the rest for myself because I want you to go and experience it on your own one day. Up close. Where you can feel the spray and hear the sound and revel in the magnificence.

I thought I would come back renewed and refreshed, hopeful and maybe a bit inspired. I am so sad to say that I am not. I have a bit of a tan and a new magnet for my fridge full of travels but, otherwise, if I’m being honest, I’m a bit disappointed. Not that the trip is over – though I do miss having a countdown, something to look forward to. Not that the resort I chose was just okay and pretty boring for a single gal – it was and it was. I am disappointed that I did this big thing for myself, to take care of myself, to pour into myself – and I feel like I was derailed.

Two days before I left, I received a worksheet from my therapist. I’ve met with this person only twice so far but felt really hopeful after those sessions. This assignment that I was to review before our next session is on “Forgiveness” – I reviewed it that day because I hate having unread notifications of any kind. I spent that entire night lying awake, feeling panicked and anxious and angry. Forgiveness? Really? Already? I still don’t even believe that it’s real from one night to the next day — and I still have zero answers. How can I think about forgiveness at this stage? And although I was excited for my trip, that assignment has just stayed niggling at the edge of my periphery.

The tears started the minute I got on the plane in DC. I was looking across the river at Arlington and thinking that maybe the next time I saw it, I wouldn’t care which building was his or if I could see it from the runway. Or maybe the plane would crash and I wouldn’t have to care anymore, period. And the tears weren’t because I was sad about either possibility, but because I was hopeful one or both would be true. More tears came when I closed the door to my gorgeous suite at the resort. It was so lovely and I was just sharing it with myself. It had been a long day of travel, I knew I would miss my connection in Dallas before we even left the ground in DC, and it kind of kept snowballing from there. I was hassled by aggressive time-share-pushing gatekeepers immediately after check-in at the resort. At one point, the woman tried to hock a free couples massage for me and my companion — and she was the first of many (presumably) well meaning people that would be confused about why I was traveling alone over the four days. I arrived too late to get a reservation for dinner that night so I sat out on the beach … where a couple was getting married. I turned my chair so my back was to them, listened to the waves, and watched the sunset until it sizzled behind a mountain to the west. But sitting there, surrounded by unquestionable beauty, I felt defeated. It was like I knew that the desperate and expensive quest for a reprieve that I had booked last minute was a futile endeavor before it really started.

I had peaceful moments. I smiled lots of times. Had delicious food. Made memories with myself walking around the harbor, meeting sea lions and pelicans at every turn. Lots of excellent people watching. Three hours spent sailing around the beautiful Baja Peninsula were three of the best hours I’ve ever spent in my life. I have photos and videos and memories that will keep my wanderlust burning. I also read the most amazing book — Cloud Cuckoo Land — the last 50 pages of which I cannot bring myself to finish yet because I do not want it to end. I loathe endings. I cannot bear the weight of another one right now.

And so this morning, I carved out some time in my busy morning of catching up on work and I tried to complete the forgiveness assignment. It asked me to describe the injustice I endured and why it seemed unfair. This journal already holds all of that in painful detail from October onward. I summarized it in two paragraphs on the assignment. Almost four months later, it really does not hurt any less. My anger is no less intense. My disbelief has only grown. I learned earlier this month that he proposed to her nine months after meeting me, a week before my 40th birthday and two weeks before he met my brother – this revelation set me back in ways I couldn’t have anticipated but should have.

Maybe I feel the waves and cycles less frequently but not by as large a degree I wanted, expected, or hoped by now. The intensity of it makes me feel anxious to the point of nausea, and focusing on the present, honing in on what it feels like physically in an attempt at “mindfulness,” almost always makes me start to cry. It’s just too much to contain. This is really inconvenient, say — when you’re lying in a lounger in paradise or cramped between people in coach, in a tin cylinder flying through the sky.

The assignment asked me to describe the pros and cons of “deciding” to forgive my offender. To describe in detail how things would be different if I made that choice. But I can’t – I cannot describe it because I cannot imagine it. I said that *if* I could, I would go to bed and not think about John next to me, laughing, snuggling, and feeling warm. That I would feel hopeful about the future and be able to block out the fact that I have to start all over, a longing for love and belonging that has eluded me for decades already. That I would forget all the questions I have that plague my sleepless nights.

Forgiveness is supposed to unburden you by choosing to let go of what was done to you. How can I CHOOSE to let go of it though when the blindside and deception still hurts so fucking much? Forgiveness allegedly doesn’t mean that you condone the action or that the person doesn’t deserve consequences —- but that’s what it feels like I am being asked to do. To give him a pass.

It asked me to describe what life was like for my offender during childhood and if that could have impacted their behavior. And what was life like at the time of the offense for the offender? That is a lot to unpack — obviously it’s leading me to empathize with him. But of course I empathize with him — the him I knew. I loved that man for g/God’s sake! And no, neither his past or recent present indicates to me anything that may have impacted his willful, conscious, and continual choices to deceive me for more than three years. And to also do it to another woman he was apparently with, not just living with but engaged to and allegedly loved/s? I can’t see what in his past or present impacted that repeated and daily choice, to deceive us both.

And then it asked what feelings I currently have toward my offender and then what positive feelings I have toward him; again with trying to pull even more empathy out of my too-big and dripping heart. I said:

It is painful to think about positive feelings toward the offender, John. I feel positive feelings toward the memory of the person I thought I knew, the person I loved so freely.

I do not feel any positive feelings toward the person I am trying to reconcile with those memories.

I guess I just don’t know where to go from here. Despite sunshine, books, whales, a couple well-deserved days away from work, another check mark on the bucket list, and a few grand less in my bank account, I still feel simultaneously stuck and untethered. I want to be hopeful. I want to believe that this too shall pass and all that bull shit. But I also want to not look with contempt on a married man or a man with a woman at his side who dares to check me out. It repulses me to think that John was one of those men – to me and likely to others – and probably always will be. I unknowingly fell into his safe and warm little web of deception. Why doesn’t he have to redeem himself or accept responsibility or be held accountable? Why do I have to do all of this hard, heavy, relentless work to get back to a place where I can move forward?

In the words of my therapist: “John has moved on with his life.” That line reverberates through my skull like it’s a pinball in a game with flippers going crazy but without a button on the outside for me to even try to control their movement or their pace.

But, yes, he has moved on. He didn’t have to pause to mull it over because although he was my person, I was just a toy for him to use and discard after a few years of being his favorite one. It seems like forgiveness, for a transgression that has never received an apology, is the only way for me to move on. But how do I get there?

Music for the Mood: A Song For You – Amy Winehouse

What’s the frequency?

No, this actually has nothing to do with Kenneth, or REM, or Dan Rather. I was thinking of the song but only because frequency bias has been on my mind.

Well aware that cheating tropes are present all over film and tv and, while triggering to varying degrees based on my disposition at the time, I recognize that I can’t really avoid them. But the real Baader-Meinhof mindfuck that happened this week has me in a snit, days later.

I was watching a random show the other night, FBI Most Wanted (Season 3 Ep 11, if you want to check my facts) and within the first moments, a man is subdued, taken to the woods, and given mere minutes to free himself and run for his life before he is hunted and shot dead, like an animal. We find out this victim was a pedophile and he deserved what he got — but his name? John Clemons. I shit you not. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

What are the chances? Like, what are the actual chances?? Had I seen this random opening of this one episode of this random show any time in the past three years, I’d have immediately texted John. It would have been crazy and kind of funny in a sick way but we both would’ve gotten a kick out of him sharing his name with a procedural drama perp. And had I seen this random opening of this one episode of this random show more than three and a half years ago, I would’ve just changed the channel because it was a creepy opening and I didn’t know anyone named John Clemons.

So of course I watched the whole twisted episode. An act of masochism, I suppose. For a few moments, I think I just sat in stunned disbelief with my mouth agape but then they kept saying the name, both first and last, over and over again. It made my heart race and my cheeks and neck feel warm – it was kind of like a tiny panic attack. Why that name? Of all the billions of names in this world, why the exact name of the man who blew up my world mere months ago?

What’s even wilder is that the towns where this episode’s plot took place were these quiet, little, podunk, Western Pennsylvania towns that most viewers probably didn’t know were real. But they are very real to me. Brookville, Clarion, etc. these are all places where I have spent a lot of time, since I was a tiny child. This is where my family owns a cabin, where my dad and brother and uncles have hunted actual animals, not human excrement named John Clemons, for decades. What are the chances? In this random episode, at this time in my little life?

It doesn’t mean anything. I know that. In the grandest scheme of it all, I know that. But it makes me think of frequency bias and Baader-Meinhof and just the sheer injustice of cosmic coincidence sometimes.

Why does life get to twist the knife deeper as you’re working so hard to pull it out, all by yourself, while you’re still partially paralyzed?

It makes no sense.

Music for the Mood: What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? – REM