Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light gleams. I’m home for Christmas, that part is true. But it does feel a bit like a dream. I’m not completely here but I’d really like to be. After all, time is precious. I want to soak up the time I have left with my parents. All of it.

I sat in Christmas Eve church with my parents this evening. I believe in g/God about as much as I believe in elves at this point in my life but I went because it’s tradition and, although technically unspoken, very evident that my mother’s Christmas wish includes going to Christmas Eve church with whichever of her children may be home. All of four people in a congregation of about 150-200 were wearing masks, and two below their noses. This is a redneck (and red), steel mill and farming town. The virus is wholly and completely political here. It’s maddening but it is what it is. I was prepared for this earlier when I pasted on a smile, put down my book, curled my hair, and agreed to get in the car to go along.

My brother is also home this year, which is always welcome, but was doing husband duties with one of the three houses required in his in-law-visits any time they are home. Marrying a gal from our hometown when he lives 10hrs away should/could have been great but, a gal from a split home, with a grown brother who is also a single dad … there’s a lot going on. And those obligations always seem to get priority. We are an accommodating family by nature. So we take my brother when we can get him. It’s been eleven years. We are used to taking the leftovers and being authentically grateful.

Christmas church (like Christmas songs and movies) makes me nostalgic rather than joyful. And I always tear up during the service more than once, regardless of heartache (past or present). The poinsettias on the altar are always “in memory of” my grandparents and my uncle. I have no memories of my grandfather, who died the year I was born, but my grandma and my uncle were a daily part of my life until I left for college. We all lived on the same farm land. I saw them every day. And in 2002/3, I lost both of them, on that farm, within six months of each other. I have no shortage of childhood emotional trauma. But I was in my early 20s then and those losses felt different than the things that had come before. Insurmountable, really. I also lost both of them mere months before my first heartbreak. 2003 was an awful, awful year. And I cannot help but reflect on it every time I’m sitting on the hard, wooden church pew on Christmas Eve, looking at the flowers in honor of my family, staring up at the rafters of a beautiful narthex that served as backdrop for so much of my formative spiritual and social development, and listening to hymns that I can still almost viscerally hear my grandmother singing next to me. Though I haven’t actually heard her voice or felt her arms in nearly 20 years.

I also look around at all the familiar faces, but with more wrinkles and inches and shades of grey. The couples I remember as a child — often now permanently missing one part of what I always assumed would be an eternal pair. And “kids” who were toddlers when I was in youth group, are now balding, with beer bellies, mirror images of their dads & moms, with adolescent and even teenage children of their own. It’s always a little bizarre. As if I’m in some Scrooge-like vision of the future, only, I’m no longer a teenager or even a college kid. And yet, I’ve been experiencing this same future version of actual reality since I was in college. As if I’ve been watching life go by as reflected in everyone but myself, one Christmas Eve service at a time.

Sure, I notice that I am older. Obviously I see that I am 42 when I look in the mirror. And it is never lost on me that I am still “the single kid” tagging along with my parents to Christmas church, to family functions, to everywhere. I hate it. I’ve always hated it. I’ve always felt like an other. The years have passed but that feeling hasn’t.

It was so hard seeing the family of distant cousins in front of us, the parents about 15 years younger than mine, their three children, who farm the hillside across from ours, all married within the past five years, all with small children of their own. And tonight, the two boys, both with new baby boys of their own, only a couple months apart. We watched them coo and gurgle and smile from a few pews away. It makes me feel guilty not to be able to give that to my parents; they would be the world’s greatest grandparents! I think they were born for those roles. And yet, my brother and his wife seem content with just their dog. And me? I’m not content right now but I am trying to be. I try to play up my career and the fulfillment it gives me and downplay the singleness in any given year, but especially this year. This most recent bout of unbelievable betrayal is kind of too hard for me to fake.

I am grateful to be home, surrounded by people I love. But I am struggling a bit. I’m struggling to keep the melancholy at the periphery, to stay present, to stay gracious and patient. At this, the “happiest” time of the year.

Is this what he wanted? Is this the end game he hoped for? To shred the confidence and certainty and trust of someone who selflessly gave to him, and then when the illusion is broken, when his façade has been stripped away, he takes comfort in knowing that somewhere, two months later, that other someone is still sitting around wondering how they could have been so blind? Why they are spending yet another Christmas alone? While he’s spending his first Christmas Eve as a married man, to a woman I never knew existed.

If only in my dreams, right? That’s how the song goes so maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have all been a dream. Maybe, like Scrooge, I’ll get to wake up tomorrow and it will be twenty years ago and I’ll be able to get it right this time.

Music for the Mood: I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Michael Bublé

It’s looking like a limb torn off…

Having a real Detlef Schrempf kind of day. And, yes, I know the title of this post comes from a different Band of Horses song but, honestly, those words are all too sad and loving. I’m more in the sad and unloving camp today.

That’s the thing about heartache, right? Especially the kind caused by a blindsided betrayal. You vacillate between disbelief and anger, aching to quench your thirst for retribution, and then sometimes, you still feel the disbelief but also just want to remember the way they looked at you, and hope they treat her better.

As much as I loathe thinking about it, I do hope John actually loves Crystal and wouldn’t dare cheat on her again. Let alone for more than three years, again. I still cannot wrap my brain around it. Certainly not my heart.

I don’t know how other eyes look at you. I hope everyone around you finds out who you really are. I’d like to know how those eyes look at you then. You certainly know how mine did. Once.

I’m looking forward to looking at someone else like that again, sooner than later.

When eyes can’t look at you any other way,
Any other way, any other way
So take it as a song or a lesson to learn
And sometime soon be better than you were
If you say you’re gonna go, then be careful
And watch how you treat every living soul

Music for the Mood: Detlef Schrempf – Band of Horses

For whom the bell tolls

I know this references death and the interconnectedness of humanity. I cannot help but think though that wedding bells, at least the ones today, also mark the death of a collective us.

I have to assume the wedding is still on, that at 4pm today, he will marry her. That she will still choose to marry him. That they will say those vows I found on my computer — vowing to be “generous with my time” which is the antithesis of him, but also not even a whiff of a vow to be faithful, though I, and really anyone who deigns to get married, must assume is implied. And yet, already violated.

Really wish I didn’t care. That just hours shy of a month to the day since I discovered that ceremony script, and the guest list, and the venue contract, and the pictures — all confirming a dark, duplicitous, unbelievable side of the “good” man I loved — that I would have somehow been able to compartmentalize by now.

But I cannot stop thinking about it today. Every moment of it. I’m with my family and trying so hard to keep everything tucked beneath the surface. I hope they don’t wish I hadn’t come here. I really have tried to keep my melancholy and the manifestations as impatience, crankiness, and general malaise at bay. Actively gritting my teeth, baring a smile, and partaking in conversation, food, and drink. I’ve consumed more calories in three days than I have in three weeks for the sake of appearances, for normalcy, for not further worrying my village.

Being with my family is the highlight of my meager existence and the lack of it is generally the biggest source of ache. But these days have been a bit difficult, as much as I do not want to waste them or take them for granted.

This time is too precious.

This day though is too hard.

I’d rather be dead, or at least drunk, but instead, I’ll try being distracted. I’ll run errands and get out of the house just so I can stop fixing my face, cry in the car, punch at the air, think out loud in solitude, even if just for a brief reprieve.

I don’t know if the bells will be ringing. But I assume they will. Cowardice is too strong. And when they do, I am positive I will be able to hear them in my soul.

Mood music: For Whom the Bell Tolls – Metallica

Edit: It happened. Side note: Can we agree on how truly and remarkably hideous this is? (figurine? cake topper?) Wow.

Here I go again on my own

I pray karma is sharpening her claws.

John Clemons can go to hell.

How many times have you heard that when someone shows you who they are, believe them? But what if they say they are something you should avoid (“selfish with their time,” “not looking for something serious right now,” “I know myself and at some point, I’m not going to be ….” committed? happy? I genuinely can’t remember at this point; it was one conversation more than three years ago) but then, for years, they show you a person who is definitely selfish with their time but, for all other intents and purposes, is your person? Your best friend? The person you want to see, talk to, feel, hear, touch, smell, taste, believe in, the very most in the world? They are kind and good and make you feel valued and understood every time you’re in their presence. And you never get tired of them. For a relatively solitary person, that is still hard for me to accept. I loved every minute I spent with him.

Reading back through some of the posts here from the first months that I knew John, and early on in the winter of that first year, I guess I should have cut my losses and moved on then. Do I wish I had? Kind of. Knowing what I know now, of course. But for most of the past three years, three months, and ten days, you couldn’t have told me that he wasn’t the best guy I’d ever dated and one of the best, kindest, most emotionally intelligent men I ever knew. You couldn’t have made me believe it. I still hardly believe it. And yet, I’ve seen the proof.

He’s getting married next month. Less than a month from now. Not to me. To a woman I heard about on occasion, but only knew as one of his two roommates. I found out by accident. I found pictures on my computer, this computer, which he had borrowed for most of coronatine. I was coming here to write about him leaving, suddenly moving to Philly, our future unknown but seemingly over with zero input from me. I needed to get it out and I hadn’t written anything in years, purely because he had my computer. Clearly, I wasn’t going to come here to write on my work laptop; it’s too personal. He returned my Mac to me when I needed it in a pinch about six weeks ago. I hadn’t opened it since that night and, even if I had, I didn’t have any reason to think that I needed to look for something. On Thursday night though, just three days ago, I found pictures in the trash and, at first, I didn’t think anything of them. I never have things in my trash but when I was trying to clean up the desktop from all the junk he’d put on it, I saw jpegs in there. I was curious.

I shouldn’t have looked. But he left them on my laptop and, only the morning before, he had said he was “probably” moving to Philly (allegedly) and what if they were pictures or memories of us? But most were of him with some red head, pretty-ish with make-up (though always with that garish red lipstick) but kind of “handsome” and maybe butchy? That sounds horrible and I don’t mean it that way at all. It was just a first impression but John & I talked about our celebrity hall pass list way back at the start of our relationship and, let’s just say, this woman wasn’t like any of those women. I thought he liked more feminine, classically pretty women. Actually she reminds me of the crazy, crass, Chef Rachel on Below Deck (I don’t know if this other woman is crass or how she speaks; just how she looks). He has a million gay friends, I assumed she was part of that circle. Maybe a roommate? All he’d ever said about his roommates was that “Crystal” was white and Karen was Vietnamese and white. One was a teacher, one has family nearby, one he had been roommates with since college, one has the same birthday as him, and I couldn’t tell you who was which or if all those things were the same one. Or if any of those descriptors are even true. I also thought maybe it was this college friend, “Annie,” who he stayed with every time he went to Chicago for Pride Bowl. A woman he always said reminded him so much of me. Who knows what Annie really is to him at this point. A once-a-year lover, probably.

The point is … I really didn’t think much about those pictures at first. It was just a bunch of pictures of John and this other woman dressed up at (presumably) weddings or events or something. I had lots of +1 events that I took a friend to, though not in the more than three years while I was with John, obviously. I couldn’t tell how old the photos were either. John got some grey hairs while I’ve known him, but he always looks the same. To me.

I didn’t feel alarmed at that point at all — he went to a lot of weddings, he has a lot of acquaintances, and always seemed to be going to some wedding, baby shower, birthday party, etc. Now I recognize those for what they were; excuses. He travels a lot – despite always saying he has no money (I looked up his govt salary today; he wasn’t lying about that) and he must have an unlimited supply of vacation days. Not that he ever used them on me – except when he left work in the middle of the day to drive me to my hotel in Baltimore before I flew to Croatia, 4 days after I met him. That was a nice night. A nice memory. I’m keeping that one. But I digress… At this point I was still reeling at the idea of him up & moving to Philly without so much as considering me, let alone talking to me about it. I was honestly just kind of weepy looking at his smiling face and remembering his laugh.

But then I saw what appeared to be a proposal picture. Clearly him, clearly this frizzy haired red head, in casual clothes, in someone’s kitchen that I’ve never seen, with him down on one knee. The picture was small and fuzzy but, if you zoomed in, maybe he was holding a ring box? Were they cleaning? Laughing? Was it a joke? Some weird inside thing? I couldn’t tell – her arm was blocking his hand from full view and you couldn’t see the expressions on their faces. I remember thinking, that would be John if he were to propose – completely unromantic and without any hoopla. Just like I would want, I thought. He could have given me a ring made of tinfoil and I’d have loved it. Not that I ever needed or even wanted a ring. But it was a passing thought in that moment.

Then I looked at some of the documents in the trash. Or maybe I found them somewhere else? Or maybe they were in the trash but I didn’t look at them until I found more disturbing things elsewhere? I don’t know anymore. It’s all a muddled blur.

The point is, these things were on my computer, under my login, and he was moving to Philly. That’s what he had said via text the morning before. Out of the fucking BLUE. After more than three years with me? No discussion? Just a “yeah, I think so” when I asked? He’d allegedly been there for weeks but I only jokingly asked if he was moving there when he said, Wednesday morning, that he was realizing how much he missed being near family. What if I had never asked? How long would I have been left in the dark about all the rest that he wasn’t saying?

I was desperate to understand, to make it make sense. After I found more than just pictures, of course I logged in to my computer as him because of course I know his password. We’d shared enough of them with each other. I’ll miss his (her?) Disney+ but that’s the least of the casualties.

The nightmare, as I found it:

  • All I found under his login on my computer were some other pictures of this woman sprinkled within his iPhoto library – from races, from what appeared to be maybe his family?, some had location tags in Philly anyway with people who look like John (seriously, Charmene could be his twin), others were in places I remember he traveled, and many from flag football tournaments that I had no idea guests could go to — I often wondered if I could go to cheer him on, especially sunny places! I followed his tournaments online and we texted back and forth throughout them but, had I known I could go, I would have. Clearly, I now know why he never suggested it. So many things have a different meaning now, but only now that the light has gotten in through the cracks. I also found pictures of trips he went on with his friends where that woman didn’t appear so it was somewhat comforting to know he wasn’t lying about the places and times he said he was out of town with friends. Though clearly there were also plenty of times when he didn’t tell me his “roommate” was with him.
  • A discarded “destination wedding” contract for a place in Mexico in April 2020 — a month after the pandemic shut everything down. I remember him saying he had to cancel a trip to Mexico with friends when we were still wondering week-to-week how long the pandemic would last. But, obviously, I never dreamed it was for HIS WEDDING!? Christ, I had been with him for nearly two YEARS at that point! And even three nights ago when I first saw this document, I was still thinking, maybe he & Crystal were pretending to be a couple to get a cheap package for their friends or a suite upgrade or something? I mean, that sounds like John too — cheap and looking for a deal, an angle to exploit. I pretended to be engaged to my friend in college so we could take this Song of Solomon class with an amazing professor that only engaged couples could enroll in. I’m just saying, it wasn’t that implausible. And in a sick twist of irony, that friend was my roommate for years! But actually my roommate and only that. Like NORMAL roommates.

All of the things in the trash were dated Sept. 21 which must have been 2020 because he brought the computer back to me when I needed it for work on Sept. 13, 2021. I hadn’t used it since that I remember and I haven’t actually seen him since (him allegedly being in Philly the past month and all), so I have no idea. Maybe I deleted all these things while I was bored during my live event that night he returned it, just mindlessly deleting stuff from my usually clean & uncluttered places without looking at them? That seems implausible given all I know now but I had no reason to be suspicious or care what he’d been doing on my computer six weeks ago. And why would I have deleted any of John’s things? They weren’t mine.

But it does seem like me to delete the clutter — which is how all of this shit started! Or could it be that in iCloud, there’s a remote desktop or something that would mirror what he did on his on computer since he returned mine? Still, all of this was under my login, not John’s. I barely used this laptop before John borrowed it and I don’t really know the Mac world. It’s honestly just one more seemingly small detail that doesn’t add up or make sense right now. Probably never will.

  • But the world really went black and my heart started cracking open when I saw a “notes” document in his work files. I went to delete Microsoft from my Mac, again under my login — the license or whatever he had from his work had expired — but I didn’t want to delete anything important so he could get them later if he needed them. I started putting everything on a thumb drive for him (it’s like I’m in some fucking AI-cyber crime movie where all the incriminating evidence is on a tiny stick and someone’s going to hunt me down to get it; good luck, asshole). I mean, at this point on Thursday night, I still thought that he was “just” moving to Philly to help out his sister, Evan, and be closer to family. Abrupt and perplexing and profoundly hurtful, but he’d been telling me he had been going up there to help out, three times in August, more in September, and then just staying there and teleworking full time this past month. I didn’t have a reason to question it. Why would I?? He seemed worried about his sister and family is the most important thing in the world to me; I got it. And he was communicating with me as often as always. Only the weekend before, he was texting me, saying he was heading to my place because he missed me. I presumed he was drunk and clearly not driving from Philly but the point is that everything seemed fine, just from hours away instead of across the river. But I was still gob smacked to learn on Wednesday morning that he was probably moving to Philly in the immediate future without even talking to me about it first. He was a huge part of my life for more than three years, how was I not even a consideration in uprooting his? Said he had started talking to the “family” therapist about how the move would affect relationships down here. That “family” therapist was probably a fucking pre-marital counselor. Now I realize he probably wouldn’t have fed me any of that bullshit if I hadn’t asked.
  • These “notes” though were in OneNote, which I don’t use and don’t really understand. Most everything saved there looked like work stuff from the titles so I was just saving it all to the thumb drive for him. Return it when I eventually saw him again? Ha! But there was one “note” from a meeting or final prep session for a wedding. “One-month-out” it said in the title, dated Oct. 23, 2021. Last Saturday??? What?? How? That’s beyond weird. Weeks after he returned the computer to me? Five days before I found it? Tons of details and questions and things that referred to “Crystal” and getting an extra room to get ready in? Crystal — like, his roommate, Crystal? Why does he have notes about her wedding, period? Was he helping plan it? Weird, even for John. Maybe she is the woman marrying his sister? But why is this on my computer? Was this Crystal person using my computer? How and why?? Oh, wait — this must be a cloud-based app, it stores things live … he didn’t type or save this document on my computer at all. He did it, or she did it, and it just synced with his work’s Microsoft app installed on my computer. Panic set in then, and it was legitimately hard to take full breaths. It’s hard to breathe even now as I write this. The pictures in the trash didn’t seem so easy to brush off. Then I started looking at other documents.
  • A contract for the rental of the ceremony and reception venue at a golf club in Virginia. With Crystal’s name and John’s. My John. Their address. Crystal Zancig? Her fucking credit card number, complete with expiration date, her signature, and even the CVV. What the actual fuck?
  • The wedding is on Thanksgiving weekend — who the fuck gets married on a holiday weekend? That is so gauche! And profoundly selfish. NO ONE wants to spend their long weekend at a wedding, not even family. I know this from experience. The holiday travel costs for out-of-town guests alone! But again, given what I know now, that selfishness goes much deeper than I ever knew.
  • And there was a whole spreadsheet of the wedding guest list with names, addresses, emails. Two actually. One was probably for the Mexico wedding because his mom’s name was still on it, g/God rest her soul. SO many names I recognized from more than three years of living my life thinking I was in a real relationship with this man. All of his friends, his family, the “other” roommate, the handsome red head’s family. I’ve Googled most of them, trying to find any social media, anything to prove that I wasn’t blind for as long as it seems. And I caught another lie through that spreadsheet – he can’t be moving to “Philly” to live with his gay sister like he texted Friday morning. He/they *might* be moving but Charmene lives in NJ according to this spreadsheet, which I knew (or thought I knew), but she’s over an hour from the other sister — the one he’s been claiming was put on an involuntary hold in the psych ward, who is still struggling, whose husband is allegedly useless, and whose daughters John has allegedly been driving up there to help. He might as well drive from DC if he’s driving from Jersey. I also can’t imagine they are both moving. She’s a teacher. If she’s any kind of teacher, she wouldn’t leave in the middle of a school year. Especially as a special education teacher. Or maybe selfish people just glom onto each other? Christ on a cracker, what, if ANY, of what he’s been telling me the past several weeks is even true?? The past three years???
  • It seems more likely that maybe everything was true except this whole ridiculous Philly Saga as of late. Oh, and of course the part about not only fucking but being engaged to his “roommate.” It seems he wasn’t smart enough or pathological enough to actually invent a different life. He just lived the one life, with two women who loved him (maybe more?). How long have they even been engaged?? When did they meet???

It all makes me want to drink until I cannot think anymore, and maybe then I could actually sleep.

.

Why in the hell did he leave this stuff on my computer, under my login, especially when he had created his own? One of my friends, who thought he was such a great guy and regularly reminded me of how lucky I was to be so content, asked if I thought he did it intentionally. I don’t. I think he just fucked up. For two reasons. 1-he returned my computer that night in September less than 30 mins from the time I called. He said he had to swing by his place to get it and bring it to me before practice at the Mall. Allegedly, I guess. But, assuming that was true, or even if it wasn’t, there wasn’t time to think about wiping it, and why would he? Everything was still “Peaches” then. I’m going to miss that nickname, btw. I loved it, corny as it was. Sure, it started from all those thirsty and graphic texts he sent in those first weeks we knew each other, but it became kind of sweet. I had panties that matched socks I got him with peaches on them! She should burn those. And I digress, again. 2- there is SO much personal and sensitive information. I could destroy their lives. I considered using her credit card to mail them a really nice, engraved wedding gift and sign it “Peaches,” let him explain that to her. Force him to tell her the truth. But that would be credit card fraud. And he’d probably lie about it anyway. I considered emailing pictures of his dick or at least our more graphic texts to their entire wedding guest list. I still could I guess. But I’m not that person either. I could just show up at the wedding and object – but what would be the point of that? I don’t want his trifling ass. I’ve thought about reaching out to a sister because, honestly, if some man (or woman) had been this deceitful and duplicitous to one of his sisters, he and his brothers would be enraged. Goo and Courtney would very possibly murder him; if they aren’t incarcerated at the moment. I could never really follow their paths. His mom must be rolling over in her grave. Then again, I only knew his family through the stories he told me of them. The lens through which he wanted me to see them. Maybe they’re all like him? How would I know?? I cannot fathom how everything he shared with me could have been false. It hurts too goddamned much.

I did email this Crystal woman all the texts with John from Wednesday morning when he abruptly told me he was moving, all the ones from Thursday evening when I found out, and through Friday morning when I tried to get him to come clean, but he didn’t, like a fucking coward. I wanted him to admit it so badly. I tried to ask questions to point out the implausibility of all the details he had told me about this “move” to Philly. Wanted to give him an opening to answer honestly. He should have remembered I wasn’t stupid. He always joked with me about how much I overthink and complimented me on my intelligence. We actually used to do logic puzzles together; I bought him a whole daily Mensa calendar of them one year for Christmas. Bizarre he wouldn’t consider that when he was working so hard to keep his final lie from unravelling. Except I don’t think he realized it was his final one.

He should have just come clean. Via text, even! That’s what cowards and fuck boys do, right? I think I know why he couldn’t ever tell me in person – it’s likely that he actually cared about me in some fucked up way. It’s even more likely that he knew it would hurt me, that it would eviscerate me, and he didn’t want to have to deal with my hurt or take responsibility for causing it. Or he just didn’t want to lose access to his peach. So he didn’t. Probably didn’t ever plan to. Clearly didn’t intend to right away, anyway. That’s exactly what his pitiful, lying, cheating ass asked before I told him that I knew. What was his end game? How did he think this would play out? I’d guess that he didn’t even know. Certainly wouldn’t tell me (or her) if he did.

But I NEVER knew that side of John, that cowardly part. I never saw it coming. He was never anything but brave and bold and shockingly open and in touch with his thoughts and emotions. Ultimately, I had to let him know that I knew. He blew my ever-loving mind on Friday by asking if we could still “use each other for sex” from time to time after he moves. Still “talk about life.” What?? Did he really believe it was just sex? After more than three YEARS? Did he honestly think we could keep having all these deep talks, what? … over the phone from Philly instead of in my town, my house, my bed? After he is married to this woman who probably has/had no idea that I existed? This poor woman that he was presumably sleeping with, while fucking me at least weekly, always without a condom — because — why would we use protection?? I never dreamed I wasn’t the only person he was with. He talked often about how he hadn’t had sex in however long since we saw each other last. When I’d go to my folks’ for a few weeks during Covid to escape my tiny home, he’d be practically rabid when I got back. I never dreamed he was actually, let alone regularly, sleeping with another woman. We talked about my annual STD test, and my pain in the ass IUD, and he definitely knew I wasn’t sleeping with other people. (Ironically, I declined that test this summer in my annual — seemed silly since I was in a monogamous relationship… It’s okay to eye roll). And he was so “busy.” So much golf. So much practice. So many trips. So many “my buddy is having a …” <<insert random reason for a party I was never invited to here>>. How could he juggle two people? Were there others??

It disgusts me so much, I want to throw up in my mouth.

And there are reminders of me in his daily life, just like he’s in mine. I’ll probably never eat Sweetgreen again or Ted’s Bulletin, never, ever go to a driving range, never buy candy or that gross iced tea/lemonade shit that I kept in my house for him. I’ll continue to hate Tom Brady but now also the Bucs. And what about the dumb little things I’ve given him, and the big things? Sunglasses, golf tees that modeled our favorite sex position, covid masks, a vaccine card holder, electric toothbrush, those effing 🍑 socks! He still has the fucking parking pass for the back alley of my place. I baked him cookies and often sent him to work with leftovers — where did he hide that shit from her or how did he explain it away? And where did she think he got this MacBook from for the past year and a half anyway??

But he also bought Bose headphones just like mine. He bought Brooklinen sheets just like mine. It absolutely sickens me to think he’s been sleeping with her in my sheets, a replica of my bed? Honestly, how fucked up is that??? I didn’t buy him those sheets, but I bought him several nice things. He blindly accepted them, seemed grateful, always complained about not making much money despite blowing it constantly on golf and trips. I have far more than I need, I love taking care of people, cooking for them, doing things for them, whatever, and (I thought jokingly) he would send me links to buy him things like golf clubs or a caddy or even dumb little things that I always saved in a “John ideas” file on my phone for future birthdays and such. We even had an emoji key for what was a long term wish and what was a more immediate want (genie and lungs, respectively). I gave him a TRX system like mine so he could workout during coronatine while the gyms were closed. What did he tell her when he installed that in the basement? I saw pictures. I know it was hanging from an I-hook in his ceiling. And I got him these effing golf balls from Germany that I thought were “special” because he had showed me this whole website and video about them one day and how they compared to basic bitch balls, and because they cost so damned much, in shipping alone … only to find out he already had dozens of them. But I didn’t mind because he liked them and that made me happy. He would always ask me to check the stock at Dick’s when I’d go back to my hometown and I even FaceTimed with him there over Christmas last year trying to find exactly what he wanted. It nauseates me now, though I remember loving that day at the time. It felt so normal and good. I love normal and good. I love comfortable. We were always comfortable.

Over the summer, I was beyond excited to give him these old Nike golf shoes that I thought were objectively hideous, but that he wanted from eBay. He had given me a pair of Yeezy’s at one point last year that he said were too small for him and he didn’t have the receipt. (Why didn’t he give those to her? From pictures, it looks like she’s bigger than him so, maybe that’s it?) They were too big for me but SO comfortable … but those ugly ass shoes went in the trash this weekend, along with all the framed pictures of him, the peach panties, things he’d gotten me, and anything at all that reminded me of him. Except this Mac…I’m not that wealthy or stupid. But since 98% of our “relationship” happened in my 385 sq ft condo, there isn’t anything that doesn’t remind me of him. I hate him for that. He’s ruined the sanctity and safety of my home. He took that from me. He took three years of my life. Three YEARS when I could have been with someone who actually deserved me. Who wanted to be with me. Who wanted to sleep with just me. Who was worthy of my care and concern. Who might have made me a mom; the only thing I have ever wanted to be in this fucking joke of a life.

I had these dumb golf shoes hiding in my bedroom for months before I finally caved and gave them to him a month early for his 40th birthday this summer. I was so excited to see his face! Now I wonder if he even fucking cared. And where he told her those came from. Surely she’d be pissed that he spent that much on more golf shoes when they were planning a wedding, right? And… I just remembered… I also donate $50 a month to the Equal Justice Initiative in his name, have been doing it for well over a year! It was part of his birthday gift last summer. I keep forgetting that we went through all of that together. That last summer, he and I spent TWO DAYS of work time drafting a letter to his well-meaning but decidedly dense colleagues who all wanted to tell him, the token black man, about their little black childhood friend or the ways they’ve witnessed racism. What I can’t figure out is — his fiancé is a special ed. teacher. Who is better equipped to help him craft a letter about sensitivity, equity, and appropriate ally-ship? Why ask me?? Whatever. I mean, I’m not going to stop the donations because Bryan Stevenson is a g/God damned national treasure and personal hero but, c’mon, receiving that statement with “In Honor of John Clemons” on it every month is no longer going to make me smile. It is going to just pick off whatever scab has a chance of forming between now and the 29th of next month. I already got the one for this month. This weekend. That felt amazing, as you can imagine. I need to see if I can at least take the name off.

Jesus. The layers of this. I can’t even begin to get a handle on it.

I was never anything but kind and generous with my heart to that man. Does he think I deserved this? Did he all along? Did he think about that every time he kissed me goodbye and left my house to go “home” to her? I never had a choice about being the other woman. I never knew. He obviously knew I wouldn’t stand for it. He knew my fucking heart. The intentionality of his deception … for YEARS … is truly beyond my comprehension. I can’t. I honestly cannot comprehend it.

.

Anyway, I emailed her. This Crystal Zancig. On Friday morning. Right after I deleted him and all of his stuff from my computer (after sending all of it to a couple people I trust, just in case something happens to me) and changed all my passwords and re-hid my spare key. I created a bogus Gmail in John’s name and sent a message introducing myself, with all the texts and a couple of pictures of him in my home to her at work. Maybe I shouldn’t have. But I don’t regret it. I hated sending it to her at work but she’s basically a ghost online aside from some grainy race day pictures, and I have no other contact info except their physical mailing address. It might have gone to her spam box, especially with all of those attached pictures (it would at my work), and that worries me. But I told myself I would send that shit and, whether she got it or not, I would let it go.

I don’t want her to hurt. I know that hurt. I don’t want her to know – just like I wish I didn’t know. Wish I could rewind to Tuesday. Wish none of it had ever happened. Definitely wish she didn’t exist; or that she was just his roommate. I have to assume she was as unaware of me as I was of her. I choose to believe that. Did he ever wish he had met me first? Does he still?

I have never been “the other woman” before. I have been cheated on though. My first real relationship. My first sexual relationship. When I was 24, practically still a child. And I wish the other woman had the decency and the balls to tell me. She knew about me all along. And she was engaged to him five months later. If John was trying to break me, he should have gotten to me in 2003. Right now, in this moment, that still kind of feels like it happened yesterday— not 18 years ago.

Women have to look out for each other. I have to be okay with this Crystal hating me. I’m just as innocent as she is but I know that feeling. You need someone to blame, someone other than the person you love/d so hard. I have to be okay with being the bad guy for her.

If she knows that he cheated on her regularly for over three years, with the same woman, and still marries him, that’s on her. I know how my dad cried for me today when I told my parents through sobs and breaths I could barely choke out. I keep thinking that her mom and dad would cry too. I have their emails and their home address in the guest list John left on my computer, like a fucking moron. But I can’t be the one to do that. She has to. Before the wedding that I’m sure they are paying for. More appropriately, John should. He wouldn’t even tell me; he certainly won’t tell them. And unless she got my email on Friday, I sincerely doubt he will even tell her of his own volition.

Why would he? He’s probably been lying to her since before he met me. I have to assume he met her first, though I guess I don’t know. The night he met me at that bar in Arlington, another woman was there, a mutual friend of friends, that he had made out with during the Caps’ Stanley Cup run. So, what, just a few months before I met him that July? Who knows how many others there were before. During. There will definitely be more after. That’s not even a question at this point.

I also can’t help but think about the sliding door of what if she was just his roommate? Or didn’t exist? What would our relationship have been like? Would I have seen him more often or would all those events and trips and other priorities still win out? Would it have been amazing? Or would he have just done it to me? How many women has he done this to? I remember SO early on he told me about this chick from the gym that he kissed at her house soon after we met, but that she turned him down. He used it as an anecdote in a “Me Too” convo we were having. And he mentioned something about a co-worker trying to set him up with someone and wanting to see where it goes but, again, that was so early on. I didn’t love that he was still talking to or seeking out other options, but I was too. I slept with someone else in October of that first year we met. He was a fucking 11 and he was into me; it was flattering and I felt like I had to (for the sake of women everywhere). I am sure John had and still has no idea. It only confirmed for me though that I wanted what John was giving; more than just sex. That was also before I was even sure if I was attracted to John. I bet he never knew that I spent the first several months wondering if he’d grow on me. Bizarre to think about now. Especially because right now, all I can think about are the times we’d be sitting on the couch or lying in bed and I would actively be questioning whether I was even attracted to him physically or if it was because he was nice to me and made me feel like part of a whole, or if I just didn’t want to go back into the dating cesspool? The bar seems far too low now.

And I feel sick and stupid again.

.

As I read through that list of horrible finds now, I can clearly see how it might appear to someone who didn’t live the past three years loving this man and believing that he cared about me too. It looks like I was an idiot. Maybe I was. I am embarrassed and ashamed and wondering what my two friends and my mom and dad and brother are saying to each other about it behind my back. It is nearly crippling to think about. They are the only ones I have and probably will ever tell about this, beyond the anonymous internet here.

I know how it looks. Sure, we never said I love you. I’ve been hurt too deeply twice before, and I was hell bent on not saying it first. I have never said it to a man actually. And, sure, he wasn’t around all that much and rarely made time when I initiated, whether it was just me or with my friends. That didn’t make me feel like a priority, but I wasn’t trying to be all demanding and needy. And mostly, I liked what we had just the way it was. I was happy. Genuinely.

Only as recently as this summer did I realize that I loved him. I still love him. And I loathe him. I can’t believe I didn’t really know him. I truly cannot believe it. I don’t want to believe it. That he wasn’t the kind and good and thoughtful man I knew. Did I wish we saw each other more often? Of course. An average of weekly, less in the winter. It wasn’t ideal but it worked for us, for me. That was a constant feeling for me to wrestle with after those early days when he was insatiable. I’d go back to those first weeks in a heart beat, if I could Eternal-Sunshine-of-the-Spotless-Mind these last days of utter hell.

I wanted more but never needed more.

I’d have loved to spend more days with John. The John Clemons I knew? Of course. But most times, no, if I’m being honest. I’ve been on my own a long time, I love my space. I like the quiet and the solitude. I thought John did too; that’s what he said. Despite his relative comfort with his many social sports (football, basketball, golf), he always talked about being like me in that way, and in lots of others, like having SAD in the winter and needing to just kind of hibernate. And needing to recharge after being social. I wanted to weather it together sometimes, but mostly I wanted to be alone during the sads. I just kind of liked that we lived separate lives but were (seemingly) so good together, every single time we were together. Now I don’t know how much of any of that was bullshit — though I can’t imagine someone lying about depression. In fairness though, I also can’t imagine someone with a modicum of compassion lying about having a fiancé or lying to someone who gave so much of themselves to him for years. How did he live two lives with no feelings?

John had met some of my friends, and my brother. I would have liked him to know my parents, though I wasn’t comfortable doing that until very recently. They knew he existed, but I never referred to him any differently than other people/friends. And not because I was ashamed of him or didn’t think they’d like him; quite the opposite. I know how much they want me to find someone and I worried they’d like him too much. They’ve only met three people I’ve ever dated, all nearly 20 years ago or more, and I’m not aching to recreate that mess if things don’t work out. My parents visited me this past weekend and my dad picked up a framed picture of John and said, “Oh, is this Mr. John? He’s cute.” It kills me now to think about how entertained I was thinking about what John would say when I told him my dad said he was cute. But I never got the chance. And I would have liked to have known his friends and his roommates, but now I know why our schedules never aligned. Why he couldn’t invite me to the joint birthday events he would have for him and his “roommate,” or Stu, with the same birthdays. And that really aches.

The light coming through the cracks is blinding.

Were there red flags? Honestly? No. Not with the John he showed me. Should there have been? Honestly? I’m not sure. When I read back through posts here from winter of 2018, the last time I had anything even remotely worrisome to say about him, it makes me think I tried too hard not to paint him with the brush of the past. That I should have been more cynical and less trusting and less open. But I’d have missed the dance.

I’ve done nothing but overthink this for three interminably long days now. I’ve thought about every moment and memory. To look for holes. I joked with him several times about how he could have a wife and kids and I’d have no idea! I know I asked it more than once. I know he laughed it off. But even if he had said “no, I don’t have a wife,” it wouldn’t have technically been a lie. And I wouldn’t have questioned it. I asked him about living with females; something he said he’d just always done since college. I lived with guy friends right after college (but honestly, having roommates beyond 30 is sad and bizarre). I asked if they had family dinner together; they did sometimes but he said he mostly stuck to his basement bedroom. He complained about them being neurotic during early covid. One of them routinely Chloroxed the dishes, he said. He also said they’d have had a fit if they knew he was seeing me — though, obviously for more than one reason. When did they even get engaged? Was it after he met me on July 21, 2018?

I never went to his house which, after this long, was kind of weird but, in fairness, I told him from the morning after we met, when he asked for my number, that I was never going to Arlington. I meant it. I’ve been “across the river” to visit friends in Alexandria or Arlington less than 10 times in the entire time I’ve known him. He met me out over there sometimes. He held my hand and kissed me in public which seems reckless and foolish now. Other than that though, he always came to me. He was always in the city for practice or to hang with Seyni (before he moved) or the gays. Always said he didn’t mind and it was an easy drive. It was nice for me! I felt spoiled. So, yeah, it’s weird thinking about it now but, when you’re in it, you just kind of wake up one day and three years have gone by and you never really cared to go to a dude’s place that has roommates. A 40-year old dude with roommates is weird. With Covid, I’ve barely gone to anyone’s house for nearly two years now so, yeah, in hindsight I hate that I never asked to go there. In reality though, why would I?

Once or twice, I asked if he was embarrassed of me that I wasn’t more a part of his life. Covid or not, it was odd that I never met any of the friends I knew so much about. I asked this pretty recently actually, maybe even the last time I saw him in September. He would always say some version of “Nah, Peach” and whatever he’d say would make me feel ridiculous for even considering it. In the very early days, he saved my number as “Stu.0” because his friend Stu was also from Pittsburgh and he said he only remembered that part about me that first morning, so he saved me in his phone that way. And he thought it was funny so he kept it. I thought it was funny too! I said it was shady when I was still Stu.0 after some weeks, but that was SO early on — I honestly assumed he changed it. And again, I realize only now that I never knew if he did or not. Knowing what I know now, sure, I see why he would have wanted me to appear on his phone as one of his guy friends. Fuck me sideways. How could I have known then? I’ve used John’s phone many times before. He’s showed me text chains and group chats and, christ, I even played fantasy football and march madness brackets with several of these guys, Stu included! I don’t know who they thought I was. Or who John said I was. You should see the profile picture I used in those leagues — it was John’s bitmoji leaning against a giant peach. An image he had sent me, of course. How did no one ask him about that? Did they all know?

Why did I try so hard to overpower the old hurt from assholes past? Turns out, I just found another one and willfully chose to believe he was who he showed himself to be. Because I didn’t want to be that girl with baggage. That woman who lets doubt get in the way of something better. Sometimes people can show you who they are, and you shouldn’t believe them. No one tells you that. Everyone tells you not to be cynical, not to put old hurt on new people, all that. What IS the answer? You get screwed either way. Too trusting? Screwed. Too skeptical? You’ve got baggage. Too curious? You’re demanding. Speak up for yourself? Too clingy. Too accepting? Too caring? Too honest? Too sweet? You get taken advantage of. He took advantage of the best qualities in me, the parts of me of which I am most proud.

I honestly think I did my best to find the holes as they happened, but also give him the grace to be who he was, and not condemn him because of the demons of my past. My friends certainly did. My brother definitely did. These people in my life who had been through the last one, nearly a decade ago, would thoughtfully ask probing questions, to make sure I was sure. They were also the ones reassuring me though that this one wasn’t like the last one. That he was evil; John was not him.

One of my friends asked me if John knew about the legit sociopath I dated back in 2012 or 2013? I mentioned him but don’t think I told John the sordid details. Not enough to use against me. As open as I was with John about almost everything, I learned the hard way to keep some things close to the vest with that other animal. To keep my guard up. To wait until I was sure before I let someone too far in. The monster taught me that. For nine months, I had no idea this guy was not only seeing another woman but after reaching out to her on Facebook after she tagged him in several pictures over a few weeks and after some things he said and did weren’t adding up, I found out from her that she caught him responding to and posting ads on Craigslist for sex and drugs. He was nasty. And not in a good way. This other woman was going into his apartment once as a young girl was coming out and it was clear that they had just had sex. I got the first STD test of my life, at age 31 or 32, the very next day after she told me. When I reached out to her on Facebook, she took it as proof of what she suspected herself and confronted him rather than responding to me first. He started texting me horrible, horrible, abjectly terrifying things. He was a big man, 6’5″, and he owned guns. He was so charming. So cunning. An attorney at a fancy law firm in DC. He knew everything about me, all my insecurities; he had pathologically asked about them over time, and then used it all against me with zero compunction or compassion or remorse. He seemed to have some deep-seated vendetta against white women. There was this creepy artwork in his penthouse apartment that he would never explain. He told some weird stories about his father doing duplicitous things to white women, just because he could. He sounded proud or at least entertained. I was terrified of him in the end. I called the police and filed a report. They came to my house and took a statement, read my texts (just the ones I hadn’t deleted before I realized just how unhinged he was), told me there were no specific threats in those texts and it seemed like I instigated it by uncovering his infidelity. They acted like I was just a jilted lover and said I could file a restraining order but told me that he could too — as if he should be scared of me?? It felt like I was being scolded for being a victim. It was before #MeToo so maybe that was still normal; still, bizarre and profoundly damaging. I have no idea who he was or if anything he told me was true. His name and profession were real, but I don’t know what else. I still find myself looking over my shoulder when I’m in his old neighborhood, and he moved to Boston years ago. I check online at least once a year, just to make sure he’s still there. It was years before I dated again.

And again, if John’s goal was to destroy me, he should’ve gotten to me before that one too. How many narcissists can one woman fall for?

I never told John all of those details. Why would I? But the morning after we hooked up in July 2018, I know I told him how I had just paid >$4K for a matchmaker that was a complete waste of nearly half my savings at the time and utterly demoralizing. I felt silly telling this to a stranger and someone I had just woken up with after taking him home from a bar, but it was always too easy to talk to John. I joked about wishing I had that money back for my mortgage. I told him I was tired of online dating, tired of looking, but mostly tired of guys who only wanted sex. That I didn’t understand that mindset at this age. I told him I’d just ended an eight-year “situationship” with a retired NFL player and while I knew exactly what it was, and what it wasn’t, I still had hoped that maybe it would eventually turn into something more serious. He was almost ten years older than me, gorgeous, grossly wealthy, and wanted to retire by 45. He bought himself an Aston Martin at 42; he was definitely on track (I couldn’t give one shit, let alone two, about money but that car was incredible). I figured he’d slow down and settle down. That chapter finally ended two months before I met John. Ironically, I met John on D’s birthday, and that was the last time I talked to D beyond texting him on his birthday in July every year.

At that point, D had been part of my life, for better or worse, for nearly 1/4 of my life! He was good for that time in my life when my job was my entire existence and I had no room to focus on the life part. Sure, now I wish I’d had a better work-“life” balance all along but I don’t regret the time I spent with D either. He was the reason I opened up sexually (which John really should thank him for) but he never kissed me on the lips, only the forehead or the cheek. He was drawing a line; a line I agreed with. We both saw other people and if I started seeing someone I wanted to sleep with, I stopped sleeping with him. But, other than nine months with the monster, other flings never lasted long. In fact, I can only remember two others in those entire 8 years and they were nothing. I stayed at Ds house often, if only to chill in his jacuzzi tub and read books while he worked. We cooked (well, I cooked, he’d occasionally dump some frozen bag meal in a pan), we watched college ball nearly every weekend, and I’d leave Sunday morning so I could be back to watch the Steelers with my dad over the phone. We had a nice, casual routine. D was the first one I called when I was scared shitless of the psycho. I trusted him. He was a protector and a good man. He made me grow and stretch in cerebral ways too. He didn’t have a lot of close friends because he said it is hard to trust people’s intentions when you have wealth and a modicum of fame, but he trusted me. He confided in me and pushed my buttons and turned me on with his curiosity about the world. Just like John. And also just like John, we had amazing conversations. That’s already what I miss most about John. It’s been three days and I have had about a dozen things I’ve wanted to tell him or pictures or moments I’ve wanted to share with him or hot button things I want his opinion on.

I miss my friend – so much – and then I remember this nightmare, and I feel the bile rise up.

But I know John had feelings. I have seen the man cry. When we would talk about his mom, look at pictures, his memories from childhood, there were tears. Real emotion. Compassion. He wasn’t a monster. At least, not to everyone. Maybe just to me? And her?

The other morning, moments after he said he was moving to Philly and had “been slowly moving things up to my sister’s,” he asked, “Are we gonna still talk life once we no longer bumpin uglies?? Has been on my mind too…” It was abrupt and shocking. Like this was a joke, or something inconsequential, rather than a major change in both our lives. I was taken aback. I couldn’t process fast enough. I should have asked then, point blank, have I been just a fuck buddy to you all this time? That’s what I should have done. That’s my one regret right now. (I’m sure more will come) But would even that have been the question to get him to come clean, before I experienced the full horror of discovering it myself in the midst of misplaced heartbreak the next night? I wish I hadn’t — of course because of the shock and the sadness and the betrayal — but also because of all the details I am now armed with. He left all this ammo in the chamber.

I feel vengeful and contemptuous sometimes and I just want to light that fuse and watch the destruction.

I vacillate between unbelievable and crushing sadness, nearly ever-present nausea, and then sometimes, when I am working, kind of just a fugue state where I don’t feel anything and I’m not thinking about it and it doesn’t seem real when I do. And then another wave of nausea rolls in. I have no idea now if John ever cared about me. Deep down, I believe he did. I think he genuinely probably got in too deep, didn’t want it to end, didn’t know how to get out, didn’t want to, or “didn’t know how to end a one night stand that lasted years,” like he said via text on Friday morning. But he had so many opportunities to come clean or to let me figure it out over the past three YEARS. Years. Let that sink in. Years he let me believe this.

There was no way he thought our situation was just sex. At first, sure. All relationships are casual at first. The YEARS since then were not casual, not for me, and not for him. He can claim whatever he wants now to assuage his fucking guilt but he knew. There was some level of intentional deception the entire time. He knew he was being dishonest. He knew he wasn’t giving what he was taking. He knew it would hurt me when I found out, however I found out. That is the hardest part for me to fathom. I cannot wrap my brain around it. The duplicity. How could he? Why?? To me …and to her.

The times we’d lay in bed, talking for HOURS, about everything and nothing, sharing deep thoughts and feelings and confessions. I never felt so seen, so understood, so implicitly free to be exactly who I was. John (seemingly) loved my quirks. He had a lot of the same ones. It made me feel so comfortable with him. I mean, we started peeing with the door open from the jump! He had bad breath, but I never minded. I’d have weird things happen that, in hindsight, he probably caused by sleeping with other people, but he’d always just say, “I know how bodies work.” It never felt weird. Maybe it should have. The frustratingly stubborn cum stains left on my comforter? Definitely weird. And sad! Who ever knew the minutia of trivial shit that can make you so profoundly sad. And disgusted.

I felt like I’d known him forever too quickly but I still hesitated to dive in. He was so thirsty in those early days. It was kind of overwhelming, but also intoxicating. Flattering, I guess. He remembered every detail of every interaction — it freaked me out sometimes. I have been a counselor for nearly 20 years, listening and remembering and knowing people is what I do! But he remembered things I didn’t about mundane conversations, and it made me like him so much. It felt like I mattered enough to him for him to remember all. the. things. That “we” mattered enough to him. He was easy to know, easy to talk to, easy to laugh with, easy to love … easy to believe in.

In hindsight, I know I couldn’t have helped falling in love with that man. That was the man he wanted me to know. He craved what I gave him; me. He had the control the entire time. He knew and he let me believe in a lie.

Regardless of anything else, there are indisputable facts. He talked to me in that bar. There are plenty of mutual friends as witnesses. He came home with me. He stayed with me. He asked for my number the next morning. He kept calling. He kept coming, in multiple ways. He kept lying. To me. To her. And as of two days ago, he was still clearly planning to keep seeing me after he is married to her on Nov. 27.

I don’t know what to do now or how exactly to move forward. In years of listening to teenage heartbreak in my office, I know that I should tell myself what I tell my kids – “The only way past it, is through it. You have to feel it, baby. You have to sit in it and keep feeling it until eventually, one day, you notice that you’re smiling and don’t feel guilty about it, or that something isn’t triggering the ache anymore.” But I also know that’s more applicable to teenage puppy love. This shit … this is how women end up scarred and irreparably damaged. This is how they become bitter and vindictive.

Trust won’t come easy to me or her ever again.

From as early as childhood, I already have some deep emotional PTSD and I have worked so, so, so fucking hard to persevere through and beyond, to pick myself up and glue myself back together, time and again. Alone. With John, I intentionally had to check my insecurities and trust. To keep checking in with myself and making sure I was giving him the grace I believed he deserved. That my friends and brother thought he deserved. That I thought a good man deserved. Not being clingy, not asking too many questions, not adding too much pressure, not asking him to “define the relationship” (which all men hate). It was a battle I alluded to but never really told him directly, I guess. I wanted to but I was scared to push him away. I rationalized it as choosing to have something nice albeit imperfect, rather than address it and have nothing. I don’t know why I assumed he’d reject me. I guess that’s the old stuff, the cobwebs, the black tar that I can never quite completely wash away. I guess I got used to taking what simple pleasures and kindness I could get – the random trips to the driving range, surprise lunches, a really thoughtful book for my birthday this year, cleaning me up after sex (no one had ever done that before and it was incredibly endearing), bringing me something little and smile-inducing or calling me when I was stressed about work.

On the anniversary of the day I met him each year, I’d send him a text that said “happy x years of knowing me!” and he would always reply with some very sweet version of knowing how blessed he was. Especially if one of our friends was complaining about their girl. Sometimes I’d get him to admit out loud that he was lucky; tell me that I was the perfect anti-cling, easy-going, unconditionally kind, sports-loving, sex-positive, deep-thinking, open-minded, funny, smartass of a woman who liked that he had his own life and could spend as much time as he wanted with his friends and on the golf course. I cultivated that ease over time and practice over decades; it didn’t actually come easy.

It doesn’t come easy to any woman.

I felt comfortable being exactly me with John all of the time; I just kept the old scars hidden pretty well. I hide them from everyone. At least I tried to. Especially in the winter, when I wouldn’t hear from him for a few days or a week because (I thought) he was dealing with his own winter blues. As I’ve lamented in this blog ad nauseum, winter is when my darkened mind races more than usual and makes all things seem worse than they are. I am dreading this winter more than I ever have. It is going to be so dark, and so, so lonely.

I actively chose not to be needy with John, not to be demanding, not to ask why he couldn’t make me more of a priority in those darkest of days. That’s the only thing that ever frustrated me about him, about us. And I didn’t hide that from him, I just held back on how it made me feel when I knew I was too in my feels to be rational. I told him that I believed people make time for what matters, full stop. He said he didn’t agree. Only now do I understand what he meant. We never fought, rarely disagreed. About anything. He didn’t annoy me. Well, except when he chewed (he inhales while chewing, like his food is always too hot or like he is running out of time) but I hate the way most people eat. Mostly, I just liked that I had someone to cook for or someone to stop by with lunch, and someone to talk about the myriad things that race through my head and heart in any given day, and that’s what I focused on instead. Being happy he was there, weird inhaling chew and all. It was kind of lovable. I miss his ridiculous laugh so much it hurts.

.

In fairness, John tried to break things off exactly one month after we met by saying (while his dick was buried inside me) that he wasn’t looking for anything serious right now and that he knew I wasn’t looking for another casual relationship. I won’t reiterate all of that because I wrote about it three years ago at length in private (now public!) posts. It suffices to say that it seemed preposterous at the time; he seemed scared of a good thing and I just wasn’t going to accept it. What we had started seemed too good, too promising, too easy. It was so chill and fun. That is the last we ever talked about it. THAT night would have been the time for him to tell me that he currently had a serious relationship. But he didn’t. At the time, in August 2018, his pushing back seemed like reluctance due to fear or lack of experience, and it seemed premature and silly (he said he’d never had a serious relationship, just friendships, ha!!).

I also keep thinking about how we talked about marriage just this summer, maybe August or so, as it related to other people, not us, to be clear. We talked about how no one we knew who had gotten married was happy, so why would anyone do it? That the only couples who seemed sort of happy are the ones we never knew before they got married. That getting married seemed antiquated and unnecessary. That was less than two months ago! I wish so badly that I could go back to that conversation now and watch his face. Look for signs of deception or worry of finally showing his fucking cards.

I also can’t help but wonder if I had just let it be way back then and moved the fuck on, despite choosing the hurt of heartbreak. I have to think it would have been less all-consuming after only a month of knowing him. Because this, right now? This feels like I’m suffocating.

There were exactly two times in those three years, three months, and now ten days since I met him, where I let insecurity get the upper hand and it felt like I didn’t matter and it really hurt — but I just got quiet and withdrew. He knew it, he’d sense it, and he showed up, both times (once with those ugly Yeezy’s!), and all my worries melted away almost instantly. When I was with him, I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I really mean that. I just felt content. I am going to miss that so, so much. It was so simple and so effortless and easy. It feels so unfair to have gotten to feel that! I don’t know if I wish I hadn’t. What would it be like to have never felt loved at all? But was any of it ever real? Was it really only sex to him? How does he explain everything else in his own head? Was he just getting something from me that he wasn’t getting from her? Something that was worth the effort of maintaining a massive lie for YEARS? What the actual fuck am I supposed to think?? I know I will never get any answers and that is hard to swallow. I unblocked his number long enough to send him a string of questions this morning because, if I’m laying wide awake perseverating on them all night, he should be too. I deserve answers. But he’s already shown his propensity to hide from responsibility, to keep lying. He hasn’t responded. I didn’t think he would.

I think it’s ironic that they are having a Christian wedding, or at least having scripture passages read at the ceremony. How in the world can this man purport to be a Christian? Oh, did I not mention that a draft script of the ceremony was on my laptop for me to deal with too? Yep. There’s a poem or something in the ceremony and the words in it make me hurt … for her, for this Crystal Zancig, who is probably lovely. I’m lovely. He wouldn’t be with someone who wasn’t. He’s already broken so many of those things, those beautiful platitudes that I’m sure she wants to believe are true. He knows they aren’t. He knows! Before he knew that I knew about the wedding, about this other woman, clearly he was still hoping to have sex with me “from time to time!” I wish I was joking. I sent that to her in his texts to me from Friday morning.

I would absolutely crumble if I were her. I wish she didn’t have to. I wish neither of us did.

More than anything, I wish he was the man I believed he was.

*Edit* Curious about his side of the story? Be sure to check the Receipts

Music for the Mood: Here I Go Again On My Own (acoustic cover) – Warren Atwell

Racing

My thoughts are constantly racing across, through, under, over and deep down in my brain. Especially at night. Sometimes weekly, usually less. And I forget to come here and write instead. It’s hard to make your brain remember that this would be more helpful when it’s the dead of night and it’s too quiet to do anything but think.

During the day I can find ways to occupy or distract myself. At night though, the more I try not to, the more my brain drills down; really just ruminates and grinds on something, anything, nothing. I never seem to gain any clarity or find a solution or a way through whatever it is. Honestly, at night and in the idle times when I spend too much time in solitude, I exacerbate the smallest, maybe harmless worry or problem. I work myself into a state of almost nausea, tingly fingers and chest, wild eyes and racing mind.

Sometimes I can lay wide awake or in a state of purgatory between waking and sleeping for hours. Hours! On those nights, I might find sleep in the early morning, seemingly just before my alarm sounds and it is so, so unsatisfying. On those mornings following fitful sleep, when I’m vertical and especially after I’ve left the confines of my house, whatever I was perseverating on seems less … consuming. Almost as if I dreamed that the battle raged.

Matters of the heart are a frequent source of my discontent and remain longer throughout the day than other conundrums because, unfortunately, I’m just not good at navigating relationships. I am currently trying not to penalize a good man for the sins of the ones who weren’t. I have a lack of positive experiences for sure but maybe even just lack of experience period? Unclear. This has never, ever been clear.

Work-related midnight wonderings definitely seem lesser in the morning light. For instance, I have an event this week, three nights from now, and I started perseverating on it last week. At night. I work on it all day at work and I am adequately if not overly prepared with very little left to do these next three days. And yet…and yet! I think about some of the details or the steps or the potential questions or the flow or the logistics, and I think about each of these things over and over and over. Sometimes complete thoughts but often I start to drift to sleep before I can gnaw down far enough, only to wake with a version of the same thought over and over again.

I’ll try to intentionally think about something else, another problem even, but it seldom works. I just move on to doing the same thing with that new thing though and, usually, I cycle back to the original or both or just keep adding more to the mix trying to overload the matrix so that I short circuit and have to shut down. If only I could force quit my brain! The too many open tabs analogy has never been more accurate.

I’ve spent nights worrying or over-analyzing or reliving awkward or powerful or scary or sad or frustrating interactions with others, perceived slights or wrongdoings, guilt over times when I am the slighter or the wrongdoer instead, my upstairs and next door neighbors and how loud and inconsiderate they are, what to say to them, how to say it, whether I’m too sensitive or if they really are willfully or blissfully ignorant. If I could afford to move. To sell. To rent this place out and rent or buy elsewhere. But I love my place and my location. Why should I have to move? Can’t I just insulate the ceiling or find a non-offensive way to get them to be less oblivious? How much would it cost to buy a beach house and live off the grid? What can I do to work remotely in perpetuity? Maybe it’s time for John and I to get a place together? But I like things the way they are.

I worry a lot of those restless nights about my parents, their age and health and safety and missing out on time with them by living here instead of there. Of what I could do for work to allow me to be there instead. Of how much time I have spent here on the earth and what I’ve done with it. Or not done with it. Whether I’m continuing to waste it or if I am motivated enough to make changes so that I don’t. Whether I am clinically depressed or just seasonally. Whether I have a clinical level of anxiety. Both? Whether I will ever meet someone that will value me and want to make time for me because they would rather be with me than do most anything else. Is John that person? Am I unsure because of what we have or because I am projecting the past onto the present? Is it actually too late to fall mutually in love for the first time at this age? Whether it’s actually too late to get married and start a family. Whether I actually want either of those things or if I just always thought and said that’s what I wanted because, you know, it’s what people do and I think I hurt far too much in wanting it for it not to be worth it. Right? Right? What if he doesn’t want that? The last one didn’t. At least not with me.

I think about how I would be able to live this life without either or both of my parents. About how I wouldn’t want to. About how I just wouldn’t. I think about what it might be like to have someone in my life that I could do it all with; if John were there all the time, to go through life with me for the trivial shit and the big moments. If it is possible that this relationship could allow me to withstand the loss of a parent or my brother, either of which render me unable to breathe at the thought. Real hit your knees, shit.

I think about g/God, religion, the origins of us, the purpose of us, why it even matters, who I am or what I do but also who am I and what should I do? Is it different from what I want to do? Why am I here? Why are any of us here? Am I a good person? What is a good person? Why do so many people and opinions and mannerisms and *lack* of manners annoy me so. damned. much? Why am I so judgmental? Am I judgmental? Do I annoy others? In what ways? Am I inconsiderate? Am I not as self aware as I think? Is this why I’ve always felt kind of alone? But also why I find comfort in it? What exactly is wrong with me? Nothing? Actually, wait, do I want to know the answer? To most of those questions?

How did I let myself get out of shape? Do I drink too much? Is it a problem? How would I know? Maybe I should have my liver tested. Then again, several people in my life drink as their primary social interaction, regularly to excess and repeatedly. Surely, I’m not as bad off as them. Why am I so nervous to walk away from a dude if he isn’t making enough time for me? Why isn’t it enough time? What is enough time? Am I accepting less than I deserve? Do I even have a clue what I deserve? Who even decides what that is?? Is it wrong to accept whatever it is with said dude because it’s so, so great when I am with him and it makes me happier than being alone-alone? I lean toward the latter and I think I actually feel guilty and slightly embarrassed about that. You know, in the age of renewed feminism and all.

Why do I become so emotional about the outcome of Steelers games? What will I ever do without my dad? I definitely do not want to know the answer to that last question. Ever. But it’s maybe the only one I care about. All of the others? I think I would really appreciate an answer to all of them. Please. Then I can sort through them and analyze. Probably drum up a whole new round of questions to ponder in the process though. So, never mind. I’m good.

How do you know you know?

See, the racing in my head just doesn’t stop. Ever.

Kind of like the fucking upstairs neighbors.

“I’ve learned less from daylight, than from night threatening to leave”

Music for the Mood: Try for Thunder – Chamberlain