Category Archives: Divorce

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Nine: The Eyes of a Stranger

Dan always had a lot of possessions. Even in his early Beat Pad days, he had tons of records, wooden crates stacked with decades of Life Magazines, huge speakers and lots of stereo sound equipment, band equipment and instruments, oil paintings, clothes a plenty, furniture, appliances, etc. When we moved to New York, we hauled it all up six flights of stairs to our sublet on Avenue B in the Lower East Side,.

Once we returned to Georgia and owned a three bedroom home with closets, an attic, a garage, a utility room, and a basement, Dan would accumulate even more. He worked in construction and came across things all the time that were cool or had some value or purpose, and he would drag them home. If something broke, it did not have to fear the trash heap. It would end up in our basement, saved to be repaired even though Dan had never in his life spent a Saturday repairing anything. His connection with music and former bands brought in more items to store such as towers, wooden risers, carpet, drape, recording equipment, most of it obsolete.

Everyone has stuff, right? But gradually, over the twenty years we lived in our house, Dan’s accumulating reached critical mass. Seriously. He even wanted to store equipment towers and unwanted tables in Max’s room. Why Max’s room in a home with a garage and a utility room? Because everywhere else was too stuffed with stuff!

Our home, I realize, was like that of a, if not a hoarder, a pre-hoarder. Was Dan filling a need, a gap in his life or just weighing himself down in dirt and clutter?

Was he hoarding out of unhappiness? I know he was unhappy with his limited success in music. During our last years together, he no longer had his own band. He played in a cover band; he liked it and his band mates, but it was not a vibrant creative outlet for him. As for his personal life, his life with Max and me, was he really all that unhappy? His mother has told me that she does not think he was. I don’t think he was either. I remember, for example, after a particularly good meal that I had cooked, and as we had sat there with Max talking, he said, “I love my family!”  And he looked around at me and Max and meant it. He would tell me of guys at work who were married to women they described as “psycho bitches from hell” and tell me how glad he was I was not like that.

Hindsight analysis to the side, he had, over the years of our marriage, filled our house top to bottom with junk. That was the setting, as he and the Instagirl spent the months preceding Crack-up Summer flirting their way into an online affection.

Once he had reached an understanding with her and she had agreed to fly to America to visit him, he needed a place for her to visit, he needed his own apartment. Fate smiled on him; he immediately found an affordable efficiency in an in town neighborhood. All very nice for love nest purposes, but note, I said efficiency.  Dan the pack rat could not pack much into an efficiency.

And sure enough on Crack-up night when he told Max and me that he was leaving and in minutes was out the door for the last time, he took very little. In the weeks prior to that night, he had secretly supplied his new apartment from our basement with camping pots and pans and household things left over from a yard sale. And, of course, he had culled through his closet and dresser drawers for the summer clothing he wanted and taken a few toilet articles. But much, much was left.

His announcement to me and Max that he was leaving came on a Thursday. Two days later was the Dylan concert that we strangely attended together, and the next day was Sunday when he had arranged to borrow a pick-up truck and his best friend Mark had agreed to come over and help him move. They took Dan’s L-shaped computer desk which was large, a chest of drawers and bed frame from the basement, and, and…. I don’t know what they took because I was in the middle bedroom, my studio, as I called it, sitting in a chair suffering and waiting for it to be over.

When it was finally over and Dan and Mark had driven away in the truck, I slowly emerged reclaiming the interior space of my home, and saw that in the middle of the living room floor there was a pile of Dan’s things. Not enough room in the truck? These things did not fit? I circled them. Stared at them. Dan’s things had such a presence for me. Now there was a pile of them in our living room the other end of which was our dining room where I ate most of my meals. How would I ever be able to stand this?

And still his closet, the hall closet, the foyer closet, the attic, the basement, etc., etc., were full, full, full of him, him, him. He was gone, but his stuff, tons of it, still remained.

Gradually, I began to add to the pile that he had left in the middle of the living room. If something of his was out and caught my eye and I thought he might want it, I added it to pile in the living room. From the kitchen, I added dishes that he had used more than me, like the Boonton Melmac serving dish that he used for corn chips with his cheese dip. Our cupboards were full; I added to his pile cans of beans and rice packets that he liked. I don’t remember all that I added or why I added certain things to the pile. If ever I was demented, it was in those days.

On day five after Crack-up announcement night, Dan finally got around to telling his parents. He called me saying he would stop by here after he saw them. I dreaded it. He had begun to act so strange and cold toward me. Once he arrived, we sat at the fateful dining room table and discussed some of the business of breaking up our marriage. He told me that his parents had been wonderful and very understanding. To be honest, that surprised me. They had always seemed to be people who valued the family above all else and what’s more to be people who knew right from wrong and tried to live accordingly. To think that they were OK with what he was doing was one more disappointment and blow to bear. They had always been kind to me. I loved them. But, of course, Dan was their son. They would side with him. I realized that here was one more Crack-up cost for me. I would lose my place with Dan’s family, a place I had held and enjoyed for thirty years.

After a few minutes of tragic, marriage tear down talk, Dan went to the bathroom and gathered a few more toiletries. He packed the pile from the middle of the living room floor into his car and once again was gone.

But still there were so many of his personal things left here in this house, surrounding me, over my head in the attic, under my feet in the basement, on his dresser, and in his closet in my bedroom. He even had stuff stuffed under the bed, the very bed I slept in every night. I talked to a few other teachers at work, my friends, my confidants. Of these, the ones who had been though a Crack-up were quick with what to do with stuff left by a “no good two-timer.” They said, with great emphasis,” I’d tell him, ‘Yo stuff is on the street. If you want it, you better get over here right quick and get it ‘fore someone else does!’ ”

Somehow, I just never was able to take that sound advice. But I did begin some symbolic shifting of Dan’s things, moving them, if not off the property, at least farther and farther away from my own most personal space. These shifts often occurred in the middle of a particularly sleep-spared night. One night, trying to see through the crystal blur of tears, I cleared all the many dusty things from the top of his dresser and put them into his dresser drawers. A few nights later, I took those same dusty possessions and the socks, underwear, t-shirts from the drawers, all his second-tier clothing that had not made the first cut and been taken with him when he left, and bagged and boxed it all, beginning a new pile in the living room. This time not in the middle of the floor, more over to the side where his desk stood.

On another noxious night while lying in the bed, I became acutely aware of all that was underneath it. I got up and began to pull his things from under our bed. So much of it was pure junk. There was even a bag of what could only be described as trash: unopened junk mail, used tissues, old bank statements. Creepy! Who puts a bag of trash under the bed like that? I knew what had happened. On a day when Dan needed to clean off the top of his desk, rather than go through and deal with things properly, he had stuffed them in a bag and then stuffed the bag under our bed. Voila! Clean desk! But under our bed—trash, actual garbage. Strange. Sick strange.

One day when I knew he was coming by to take me to the cable and gas companies to switch service into my name, I bagged all his dirty laundry from the hall closet, and his vitamins, cold remedies, shampoo, mouthwash, and whatever else from the bathroom. This was all by the front door, and he took it at the end of the visit along with some things from the pile in the living room. But still there was so much, so much.

For one thing, there were all his clothes, a huge closet full, and the foyer closet was full as well.  One night, I laid a sheet down along the wall in the living room where his computer had been and made trip after trip with his clothes in my arms. When I had removed everything of his from both closets, the pile along in the living room wall reached waist high and was ten to twelve feet in length. I covered the pile with a white sheet. It had a funereal appearance, like a draped coffin. The dining room table where Max and I ate was on the other end of this room. Soon I could no longer cope with this coffin of Dan’s clothes, and I transferred the pile to a side wall of the garage. I failed to cover the pile, and the next day when I pulled into the garage after work, right at eye level on the top of the pile was a dark green print shirt that I remembered him wearing the previous Thanksgiving. That shirt tore my heart. I burst into tears and went in search of a sheet to cover the pile. I could not look at Dan’s clothes. They made me so sad.

Gradually, night by sleepless night, I transferred as much of his stuff as I could first to the living room, then from there to the garage or basement. There were still some items of furniture in the house that were his and I knew he wanted, there were hundreds of record albums, books, video tapes. The bedroom and the bathroom were cleared of his things, but the garage and the basement were now more packed than ever, and there was still the attic and the utility room. I was constantly surrounded by so many reminders that could bring tears like the Thanksgiving shirt had done.  There was so much presence, and weight, and volume to so much stuff. It was hard to breath in the midst of it all. How could I ever begin to feel free of him, to begin to sever my life from his, as I would have to do, if I was completely surrounded by his possessions?

And it wasn’t just the suffocation problem. There was the realization that if he was leaving this stuff here for weeks and months after the Crack-up, it must not mean that much to him. He had cherry picked around the house for the things he most wanted and needed. Those cherished items had gone with him to the apartment that he was prepping for the arrival of the Instagirl. What he had left was the unwanted, the, in a sense, disposable trash. Since Max and I had been left, we were in that category, too.

But wanted or not, I needed his stuff to be gone. He was gone. His possessions needed to go. In August he messaged that he wanted to come by to leave me a check for his half of the divorce lawyer fee and to pick up a few things. It troubled me just to hear from him, but to get a check and to be rid of some of his things were incentives to agree. I was at work. The plan was for Max to let him in. Here’s what happened.

Max was in his room on his computer about an hour after the time when Dan was supposed to arrive. He said he looked up and was startled to see his dad suddenly standing in the room right beside him! He said to Dan, “Didn’t you want to ring the doorbell to let me know you were here?”

Dan said to him in a voice that Max described as creepy, “I still own this house.”

Max told me, “Mom, it was like your dreams.”

What dreams did he mean? Soon after the Crack-up, I had begun to have these dreams where I would be in the kitchen and hear someone come in the door. At first I would be very afraid, but I would look up and see that it was Dan. I would feel a sense of relief. But then, I would look at him, and he would look at me with the Eyes of a Stranger! A chill, a killing chill would run right though me, and I would try to wake myself from the dream to escape the horror.

When Dan suddenly appeared beside Max in his room that day, Max felt the same horror. A stranger suddenly stood in his room. A stranger dad.

Dan did not leave a check, of course, He later offered an excuse that blamed Max. He said he forgot to leave the check because Max was giving him the evil eye. What he wanted was our camping equipment from the basement. He had been telling us and his family that he was going on a solo camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. Although by this time, we all knew of the Instagirl, he was still denying her existence, thus his emphasis on a solo camping trip.

Max let Dan into the basement to get our camping equipment, but instead of taking one of the small tents, Dan took our large family trip. Maybe Max was watching to see if he would do it. Max told me that what he said was “So this is what you are going to commit the adultery in!” Dan’s response was to disconnect which is what he would do whenever anyone confronted him. He just did not answer. Talking to him was like talking to a misfiring robot in those days. He did take the family-sized tent and the rest of our camping equipment. Once again he went away with just the few things that would serve him in his affair with the Instagirl.

There was a real insult imbedded in his taking just the things that would furnish his efficiency apartment, readied for the visit of the Instagirl, and our camping equipment for the trip he planned to take with her, while Max and I were supposed to cooperatively and foolishly store and stare at all the rest of his mountain of possessions.

I reached a point of actually begging him to come get his things. I said, “You know you have to get this stuff eventually, why not rent a storage unit, get a couple of friends, and in a day or two you could have it all moved.” I did this one fateful day in front of Max and Dan’s father. I did it with tears, begging, pleading, saying, “This is breaking me down. I cannot stand to have this stuff here Any Longer! Please!!!” But Nothing I could say cut ice. By that time the Instagirl was in the country. He was not going to give me even a minute’s time or a half-thought of consideration.

I could drown in a sea of his castoff, unwanted piles and piles of stuff, and he just really did not care. He made that perfectly clear. He made it perfectly clear to me and since Max was there, he made it eternally clear to Max, too. Our interests, our life and death struggle, a small relief that could have meant the world to us, meant nothing, nothing at all to him.

He left us, and not only that, he left us to live, die, survive, or not, in the midst of all his things, his records, his clothes, his furniture, his empty boxes in the attic, and beat-up band equipment in the basement.

I was crazy enough to beg him to come get them, to help lighten my load, to free me from the detritus that was drowning me. He turned a deaf ear to all my requests, all my suffering. He, who had been my friend, my lover, my husband for thirty years turned and looked at me, and for a minute I may have felt relief. “He may not love me now, but he used to love me. Surely, he will help me. He will free me from being suffocated by his things, by all this that I cannot, cannot bear. He will finally move out and take his things away, he will have pity on me, and then Max and I can breathe and begin to build our new lives.”

But when I pleaded with hope and faith for him to still have some goodness, some care for me based on the old times, Dan turned and looked at me with the cold, cruel, chilling eyes of a stranger.
 

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My Past from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

You broke our hearts.
You broke our home.
You left us with no choice.
We had to move on.
The keepsake box with its souvenirs
Of romance, of child, of home
Was smashed, left out,
Tossed on the trash alone.

The flood fell, the tide rose,
It was lifted, and lost from sight.
The heart and what it held bled, shed.
The place, the locus, the where,
All this was lost that night.
The home, the family, the history,
All adrift, no place, no center.

I stare at the dim light
In the distance as the
Storm still flashes and threatens.
I see only space and
A midnight sea that is so somber a silver,
So empty, so fearsome, so empty.

Where do I put my memories?

Chapter Eight: The Online Other Woman: The Instagirl

El had it right: no man leaves his wife and home in order to alone. Garbo wanted to be alone, married men do not. Though Dan had denied it and pretended it wasn’t true, there was, of course, another woman all along, someone he had met online as Jules had said.  With Dan so constantly absorbed in Instagram, I knew that was the starting place if I was to trace the paper trail of his betrayal.

A new character was about to enter the stage of my existence. I was soon to learn the identity of the woman who had been responsible for the great shift in my life.  As with many significant dramatic entrances, the elements aligned with ironic timing. The date on which Dan asked for my casserole recipe was July 27; this was the exact one-month anniversary of his Crack-up Confession on June 27 when he drove away and left me and Max behind forever. And now exactly one month later he had sent this text, this fateful casserole request that would lead to my finally uncovering the truth that he had been keeping from us for so long, the truth that caused him to leave us, the truth about his other woman.

Robbed, murdered of my sleep by Dan’s text and the disregard for me he showed by making the request, I had lain awake contemplating my predicament, alone and adrift with my plans and finances thrown into a state of chaos and a college-age son to finish raising. Whereas Dan was, according to what he had told me, living a free and happy life in the city where everything and everyone was very cool and inspired. He did not miss his life with us at all. Added to that as I knew through Jules, Dan was eagerly expecting the arrival from Australia of the online other woman.

The uneven balance of my lost soul and Dan’s happiness drove me into anger, finally, at least for this one night. In my lonely, late-at-night house, I left my bed and went to the computer, to the computer, of course, finally ready to use it as I could have any night this past month but had not, finally ready to see for myself what Dan had been up to with this online other woman.

I sat down and typed google.com

I then typed Instagram and V4 Vision which was the name of Dan’s avatar. A number of links showed up in a list. I chose the one that seemed the most likely, and it led to Dan’s gallery on Instagram. I recognized his work immediately, his colorful, abstract washes, the pieces and lines of color and no color. I saw the knowingly pretentious titles he gave his photos, rich in modifiers and foreign languages.

I knew his pictures received lots of likes and also some comments. The previous year he spent the evenings on his Iphone while I was in the kitchen cooking dinner or washing up. He would tell me about the comments he received and that he wrote back and forth with some of the commenters to the point that they became friends.

There was one called soulwindow who was from Vancouver, there was a guy in Italy who had access to much photogenic Renaissance architectural art, and a woman from Australia, Dox Dart Nellie, who was known for the profanity of her comments. I realized that his “special” woman friend would not be any of these. She would not be someone whose name he ever mentioned to us. No. This one would have been kept a secret from us.

Looking at the comments under his photos, I ruled out the ones that seemed to be made by men, and clicked on the ones that seemed to be women. I looked to see if he had posted comments to their pictures. Very soon one woman began to stand out as posting lavish praise to all of his pictures: “Brilliant,” “ gorgeous” (with seven r’s), “Killah.” His comments to her pictures were equally extravagant in their praise: “Awesomely C oooo l,” “Sweeeet! Love the tasteful edit,” “Exquisite,” and even just the one lone, eloquent word “Love.”

Most of the people male or female who commented on Dan’s pictures used for their avatar picture one of their photos, but this woman used a black and white head shot of herself. Jules has told me that Dan’s girlfriend was 42. The age looked right for this woman in the photo; she was a brunette with her hair styled like Farah Fawcett’s popular 70s do. Her Instagram name was Tundra. From comments to her it seemed that was her last name and Tammie was her first name. So there it was. I had told Max the night of the Crack-up that the whole time the question had been going through my mind: What is her name? Now I knew. Tammie Tundra.

For confirmation as a scrolled down through all Dan’s pictures, I found one that showed two different pictures of a rainbow that had been put together to make one complete rainbow. One picture seemed to have been taken by Tundra in Australia, and to it Dan had pasted a picture he had taken of a rainbow. He joined the two pictures in such a way that the two rainbows merged and his completed hers. It was an interesting effect and well done. He gave it the title, “Your Rainbow Song,” and I saw that only minutes after he had posted it, Tundra had commented with “Love” and ten pink hearts.  Noting the date, I saw that this had been done back in May while I was still hard at work completing my school year of teaching, knowing nothing of what was to come.

Their overuse of “sweet,” “cool,” “awesome,” heart symbols, and extra letters such as o’s and r’s in the spelling of their comments reminded me of notes I had taken up from my middle school students. The sentiments seemed equally like those of a teenage crush. They were, after all at this point, only pen pals or picture pals, you could say. They had never met in person. Soon they would meet, but as yet their entire romance had been carried out online, and the foundation of the affair, the Instragram part, was available for all to see.

Scrolling down through Tundra’s pictures, I could see that she was a good amateur photographer, not, perhaps as good as Dan, but definitely good. And she was prolific with lots of variety. There were many, many photographs going back for over a year. Her gallery had abstract close-up shots of rusted or paint-dripped surfaces similar to Dan’s, but she also depicted delicate nature images and even occasionally pictures of herself, her home, her son.

So she was a real person. When Dan had told his friends about the Instagirl, they had wondered if she might not turn out to be a scam. This was why Jules has first contacted me about her. Everyone has heard so many stories of people meeting someone online, falling for them, and then they turn out to be a man from Nigeria or some other scam artist who is not what they seem and is out for money or whatever they can get. This woman could turn out to be out for money, but from seeing her presence and her body of work on Instagram, I did have confirmation that she was a real person who took real photographs.

The pictures and the posts between Dan and the Instagirl dated back into the winter, our long, last winter together when Dan had had so little time for me and so much time for his Iphone. I now knew why. I now knew why he had had so little to say to me or Max for so long, no words of love, support, or praise. All of that had been going to the Instagirl. She was the obvious object of all that he had failed to give to me or Max. No wonder he had been so quick to anger, so quick to lash at us with unkind words. We had become nothing more than obstacles in his way, impediments to making his Instadreams come true.

Crystal Blur of Tears from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

Crystal Blur of Tears

Losing occupation,

Broken soul confrontation,

It is what occupies us

As we sift through sorrow.

The mind is not idle or at peace,

So to be occupied, we cry.

No, that is not correct

We are not in control.

We who cry are not in control.

This is not a choice, not a decision.

 

The out of control see

The Abyss, yes,

And the fear of falling,

Fear of the dark,

Fear of being alone,

Fear of being unloved,

Fear of having made a

Searing and fatal mistake.

 

Monsters rise

From their depths

And we cry

As we remember…

What shall I remember?

A beautiful, ancient memory of snow and

Walking and kissing in Central Park,

Or a terrible memory of

The way he would not listen,

The way I could not

Capture his attention.

 

Warm and oozing,

Hot even, when at their worst,

But soon tears cool,

On cheeks and down the

Neck they cool.

And the eyes, crystal springs

And source

For crying and all the tears,

Burn; my eyes burn.

There is a sting as the

Tears push through.

Salt. Is it salt?

 

Through the days, weeks,

Months that followed

The crack, the great divide

in my life, I cried.

I cried so much–

A river, like Ella, I cried a river.

I cried a foolish flood,

So much that I lost weight,

So much that I was loud.

Sobs, breathing, sobbing

In a rough rhythm. Crack-up crying

Has a sob, an unsung sound,

That I don’t remember

Hearing in earlier tragedies.

 

Triggers. Heartbreak songs,

My public playlist on YouTube,

Crack-up Favorites.

For example, Neil Young,

“I went insane like a smoke-ring day…”

That time when Sweetness and Jules

Came to comfort me,

She stood beside me, and I buried

My face in her belly, little belly,

That made her a mother and

Now pillowed her crazy friend.

 

Tears have a partner named Pain

Who twists in every muscle

With a tension that coils and coils

Like the hanging rope that

Can snap a life in an instant

Or leave you there to dangle

And dwindle in slow suffering.

 

The mind thinks the

Thoughts of all trapped animals.

“What is happening to me?”

“Is this the end?”

“Will I die?”

“Please, don’t let me suffer.”

These death wish thoughts

Coil and coil, wrap and wrap

The trapped animal.

Release would be merciful.

Tears could be a release,

A drop of mercy falling like rain

From the shifting vault of Heaven.

 

But it is too soon to hope for release

Because it is not just the wet mess of tears,

The oozing, and it’s not just the coil of tension,

The contorted, tortured face,

It’s the tears inside my head,

The clogged contagion of

Wrong and hurt and

A back-stab to the heart.

 

The tears, the hot wash, and the eyes close,

The mouth moans and moans,

And the paws of the trapped animal

Paw and dig at the air

To escape the inescapable end

As the pain grips and holds,

Tears and rends the tender flesh.

 

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Six: Get a Lawyer!

“Get a lawyer!” Those were the first words out of Max’s mouth when I told him that his father had an online girlfriend living in Australia with a son and a sick father. It turns out that his generation is even more suspicious of online affairs than is mine. Jules had warned me to protect my money, but Max seemed to think the risk could run even deeper and should be dealt with right away.

“Oh, Max, I don’t know if I can do that! I don’t know if I have the strength right now. I am so nervous and shaky. I’m not sleeping. I break down and cry all the time. Right now I’m on summer break, but soon I have to go back to my job at the school. I think I should wait until I’m stronger.”

“No, Mom, you can’t wait. This is horrible for you. You are depressed, nervous. This can’t go on. It needs to be resolved, so you can really start to rebuild. Get a lawyer!”

Max was right about my state of extreme anxiety. Aside from the heartbreak of losing the man I loved, our marriage, and our family, I feared what the change would mean for my home, for my finances, for my future. Max was not even halfway through college; I feared for his future. Our home was my chief concern. Even a crazy crack-up chick like me needs a roof over her head. The night Dan left me, he said he would continue to pay the mortgage and help with upkeep on our home. I remember wondering at the time if that would really work. Dan made his money with freelance construction jobs: sometimes it was boom, but sometimes it was bust. Would he really be able to afford his apartment in Atlanta and pay his half on the home expenses for Max and me?

Now that I had confirmation of another woman, I immediately saw that the financial side of the crack-up was extremely serious. My fears ran like this: even if Dan means well now, he would have a hard time paying for his apartment and his half of our home for Max and me especially during lean times with his work, and more especially when a girlfriend was added to the mix.  What’s more, this was not some lady from the successful side of Atlanta, but a woman who lived in faraway Australia, and, as more information was forthcoming, we learned that she was a single mother who lived on the dole. Even if she was not a scam artist as Jules and other friends feared, she began to sound very expensive.

The status of our home was this: When we bought the house 20 years ago, I paid cash for my half. I had the money because before I even knew Dan, I had worked as a waitron at a downtown hotel for 6 years and saved enough money to buy a huge house on North Highland which I sold two years later for twice what I paid for it. A couple of years later, after the demise of TV Dinner, Dan and I moved to New York City, and I bought a condo on the Lower East Side with my Atlanta house money and a small loan from Ransom Paid. After living in New York for ten years, we had Max and the New York apartment was too small. I sold it and once again doubled my money. When we bought our home in a pretty, older, Atlanta lake community, I paid cash for my half of the house. Dan mortgaged his half. Did he qualify for a mortgage in his own right? No. It was the fact that my half of the house was paid for that gave him his mortgage. But to his credit, once he got the mortgage, he paid the monthly bill faithfully for twenty years.

How much was still outstanding on his mortgage? I knew he had taken out a home equity loan last winter to pay off his credit card debt, but did not know how much it was.  Had he paid the most recent mortgage note, and how would I know if he did not?

Suddenly, it was urgent that I visit his bank. We had our own accounts and used different banks. Would his bank even talk to me? I was always the one who kept up with all the family paperwork, so I had mortgage statements showing the loan number. Would that be enough to establish credibility with them? I went the next day to find out.

It was never easy for me to tell my story to all the different people that I had to speak to. Talking about the crack-up brought back so much emotion. That day with the mortgage banker was an especially difficult one, but it was made easier by the kindness and cooperation of the lady who helped me, Mrs. Simmons, a pretty professional with a Jamaican accent. She immediately began pulling up information on her computer and told me that Dan still owed $18,000 on the house mortgage, and that he had paid the most recent payment. His home equity loan had been for $15,000. This shocked me; it was a much bigger sum than I thought he had borrowed. The figure he mentioned to me was $7,000.

Mrs. Simmons and I talked about the Australian affair. I asked how much more Dan could borrow on the house. She said he could borrow up to the value of the house and I would not even know about it. If he were to go to Australia and not pay on the loans, I would have to pay them or lose the house even though my half was paid for and the equity loan was for his personal credit card debt.

All of this was terribly troubling. I knew that Dan had been honest with me in the past and had paid his bills all along, but this was new territory. He had recently been very dishonest to me and he had borrowed more on the house than I had thought. He was interested in a woman who lived on the dole in a faraway county. People can sometimes decide that the ends justify the means when their desires take over. If this woman asked Dan for money or if he needed money to in order to be with her, would he really resist the temptation to use our house as a source? I knew I could never be at peace with that kind of uncertainty. Mrs. Simmons explained the path to safety: once his name was not on the mortgage or the deed, he could no longer borrow on the home. I would have to find a way to buy Dan out.

And, of course, Max was right; a lawyer was the next step. But it was not an easy step because I did not know a lawyer to call. As with many of the challenges that came to me as a result of the crack-up, I looked to family and friends for advice. After a few days of trial and error, I found someone I thought would do, Ms. Madison, who was with firm located near our local county courthouse. By the day of my appointment with her, I was back in school at my job as special education assistant teacher at a middle school. My appointment was in the afternoon after a hectic workday. As I waited to be seen, I tried to calm my nerves, but it was no use. There I was waiting to talk to a lawyer about a divorce. There was no calm to be found.

Once I was with Ms. Madison telling her the details of the crack-up, I went from nervous to breakdown. I tried to hold back the tears, I tried to hold myself together and answer her questions. The tension in my chest made it hard to breath, but somehow I told what I had to tell. She said that as long as I was married to Dan, I could be held responsible for any debts he had. For me to buy him out on the house would keep him from borrowing any more on the house, but only a divorce would protect my assets and keep me from being responsible for his debts.

The Australian affair was a great concern because as Ms. Madison explained if he were to go to Australia before the house or the divorce were finalized, there would be very little I could do at that point. Time was of the essence, she felt. I agreed. Divorce filled me with dread, but now that it had to be, there was no need to draw out the suffering. She explained that an uncontested divorce would be the quickest if Dan and I could come to terms. She would begin to draw up the papers; I could review them and so could Dan. We would sign, she would file with the court, and a date would be set for the divorce.

I left her office sad and shaky. A divorce, a dreadful divorce was to be the next turn of the crack-up screw.   How to endure that? How to negotiate through it with Dan? How to settle with him on the house?

When Dan left me, he said he wanted to be free. I thought of all the steps between now and my freedom from heartbreak and financial jeopardy—so many staggering steps. All Dan had to do was pick up and walk out the door to gain his freedom. I wouldn’t get mine until I had mopped up after him and settled so, so much business. I can’t believe this is happening to me. I can’t believe what all I have to go through before it will all be Over!

The Bandit and the Poet: Crack-up Poems from Long Ago

As told in Chapter 5 of The Online Other Woman, it was through my sister the Sierra Bandit that I first met Ransom Paid, and it was through Paid at TV Dinner that I first met Dan who would be my husband until his head changed his heart.

Sierra was once friends with a poet. He titled a group of his poems “Bandit Poems,” and yes, they were about her. These old poems tell a crack-up tale of their own, so I place them here where the Muse sings the dry and cracking song of how love dies because, of course, the poet never kept his final promises.

BANDIT POEMS

“And with that I ascend into the regions of the ice mountains and am lost there forever.”
— Kafka

One.

August.
An extinct organ
is loose somewhere
in my body.

Indecision
haunts my tables
like a suicide note.

I dream of your hair
crawling through wet roots.

All the addresses
are avoiding me.

Two.

(I am a cloud
watch for me
in the sky – from a letter to me late
July from the Bandit)

Every time I remember
the music you never played
on my piano of hands and feet,
eyelids and lashes,
it breaks my spine of hearts.

I suffer a disease
common among gold prospectors:
enlargement of the expectations.

(I am a stone;
watch for me in your shoe.)

Three.

December.
It is raining
in all the photographs.

I keep falling into my body
like a cave falling through the ground.

Your white dress is rooted
like a tent in my brain.

I feel from the borderlands
of your dark forehead and cheeks
the weather that turns nomads south.

Four.

I have put all my thumbs
in one basket,

counted my bridges
before they collapsed.

I won’t hold your breath.

Five.

Your hair passes my face
like a bird
leaving nothing behind.

I wanted to be
as close to you
as the light
to the surface of the moon,

but I feel like a planet
that no one will ever set foot on.

Six.

(“At dusk you appear, a schoolgirl still,
a school girl …
At dusk you appear, still taking exams.”
— Boris Pasternak)

You must be sitting now
in a wooden desk.

I think of your legs
crossed under the darkness
of your dress.

Does your teacher know
that outside of his school
the clouds carry your name
through the sky?

That in his classroom
you are as subversive as a tree?

You carry your books home
like cages.

Seven.

Your mind has left us behind
roaming the hills like an animal
we were trained to fear in childhood.

When I see you in your wooden clothes
when you look back at me, even
the first-aid kit of my heart fails.

I don’t want yours to be the body
found in spring when the snow begins
to creep back up the mountains.

Eight.

I will come
to all your birthdays
all your weddings
all your funerals.

I love you for my life;
you are a friend of mine.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Five: TV Dinner

 

I spent the 10 years prior to the crack-up as an English teacher, but before that, I had several lives, one of which was in Atlanta where I co-owned a small café at 1028 Peachtree Street called TV Dinner or TVD to friends. It was there that my dear friend Diane met Jules. It was there that I first met Dan.

The space we rented for TV Dinner had been a strip bar, the Aquarius Lounge, and was on the old hippie stretch of Peachtree between 10th and 11th Street. My partner at TV Dinner was a rock ‘n’ roll guy known as Ransom Paid. Most people called him Ransom or Paid; I called him those names but also Ransam or just Sam. Our history was this: he was an interesting guy who would call me in the night to chat, but in a few minutes he would either fall asleep in mid-sentence or say he had to get off the phone because he heard “cats” at his door. Yes, he was good looking. And yes, girls would come prowling around his apartment. He called them cats.

We left intact the old Aquarius Lounge neon-lit runway because the colored neon still worked even though the space had been vacant for several years, and, of course, we left the pink kick pole. After a Paint It Pink Party, the walls were pink. With the help of my sister Sierra’s boyfriend from Memphis, we pulled out the sin-soaked carpet, mopped, and painted the floor grey. Ransom hired an electrician who installed outlets around the upper walls where we mounted TVs. The TVs were linked to a system that could show Atlanta cable TV or our own videos.

Ransom bought a Sony Beta camera. TVD produced videos and also showed the videos of other artists. Bands performed there: Boat Of, The Weasels, Oh OK, The Now Explosion, and many more. Once, Allen Ginsberg gave a poetry performance there in exchange for one of my garbanzo burritos. Atlanta has always had the best drag queens of any city, and they graced the neon runway of TVD: Diamond Lil, a crazy Ethel Merman impersonator, and someone who was either called Banana Peel or Lemon Cream. I can’t recall the name exactly, but her act had to be cut short one night in the interest of preserving some kind of peace on old Peachtree Street!

TV Dinner Burrito Garbanzo

            Drain a can of garbanzo beans and smash with a fork. Use a garlic press and add the juicy pressings of one squeezed garlic clove. Add curry and chili powder and snipped green onion. Stir in enough mayonnaise or sour cream to reach a creamy, comfort-food consistency.  Spread a dollop of garbanzo mixture down the center of a very fresh flour tortilla, top with some very slightly steamed rough-chop cauliflower, grated cheese, and a drizzle of Hitsville hotsauce. Give the tortilla a burrito fold and heat briefly in a microwave or oven. Serve with tortilla chips and Hitsville hotsauce; Hitsville was the salsa we made at TVD, but you could substitute your own.

My favorite performances at TV Dinner were random events staged by our own mad man, Ransom Paid. He was a bass player and a talent impresario. One group who played with him was the Cowboys in Paradise, good looking guys playing after-hours new wave in a dark corner wearing trench coats and cowboy boots. The great guitarist Miami Beach was another TVD regular favorite. Glen and Ellen were friends of TVD, unpaid door keepers, and made noisy-fun cassette tapes for us to play in between bands.

One night a week, Ransam and his girl Lola would stage a Teknoglyphics event which featured music, dance, and costumes. The concept blended Sam’s Techno New Wave with Lola’s Egyptian burlesque. One night La Dearest, Diane, entered TVD and the Cowboys in Paradise were cranking huge, live, bass-driven music, and Ransom Paid, wearing a vinyl tunic and a mask, was dancing on the runway with Lola who wore black tights and a small piece of red duck tape on each titty. Roz, A3J, Julia, and probably Meg Fox were trying on pseudo Egyptian garb and Bag Lady fashion to see what looked insanest, Barbara Mackenzie was taking photographs, and in stepped La Dearest, was this before or after she wrecked her Mercedes? She gave the joint one look and delivered the deathless line, “What are all these people doing here in drag-g?”  What indeed? No one ever found out. But so many people had crazy fun!

Down the street from TVD was the Atlanta College of Art, and its students were some of the early discoverers of TV Dinner because they could stroll a few blocks down P’tree and cop a cheap meal, view some video, and maybe hear a band who would play for no money and still be amazing.

Ransom Paid had his night prowling cats, but Lola was his real girlfriend. She was a figure model at that art college that was close to TVD. I think she had been a tom boy earlier in her life. Of course, once Ransam had claimed her, she became stunning with an edgy boyish fashion, but she kept the sexy down-drifting smile that could have been a meal ticket somewhere if she ever gave a damn about food which she didn’t. She cared for costume, but she did not mind walking around nude. In her off time, she would pose for Ransom Paid, Inc., and he would bring the videos to TVDinner. They would be black and white, a fan would turn in the background, and behind that would be Atlanta. Their apartment had high-ceilinged charm and would be one of the ones soon lost forever, transformed into a condo that only a sultan could afford. But even on his best day, that sultan would not have a dish as delicious as Paid’s Lola stretched out on his divan.

So how did I know Ransam?  This is crazy, but I knew him almost forever, or at least from the very beginning of that scene in Atlanta in those days. I was at the Agora one Halloween with my sister, the Sierra Bandit. I was always clueless in crowds, but like Ransam himself, the Bandit could always spot talent. She saw Sam that night wearing eye makeup, no shirt, and a see-through raincoat. She said, “Hey, this girl wants to dance with you!”  She meant me. Paid took one look at me and moved in for a dance.

He called me two weeks later. He was putting henna on his hair and waiting for it to dry. I heard from him from time to time in between cats or girls he was living with. He always drank too much, he sometimes liked to come over and soak in my huge claw foot-tub, and then sit out in the stillness up on the roof of my back porch with the oak tree tassels falling down. By the time we did TVD, he was pretty tight with Lola.

Back to Diane and how we met Jules: one night a favorite band, the Now Explosion, was playing TVD.  OK, now remember this space had been a strip bar. It was a long narrow room with a neon runway dividing it down the middle. Most bands played on the runway. The dancing crowd had to fit itself around this middle-of-the-room obstruction. So Diane and I were dancing on one side of the runway, and we looked just across from where we were and saw a guy whose face was covered in red kisses. We knew where those kisses had come from. They were one of the signature art forms of Elouise Montague, who, along with the Lady Clare, sang lead in the Now Explosion.  Once the Now Explosion had played 688, a top club of our scene in those days, and Elouise had red-kissed endless streamers of white toilet paper and festooned the stage with them. Her kisses were always serious, and artistic, and they were all over the beautiful face of a beautiful guy whom Dearest and I had never met. I called to him from across the runway, “Hey! Come over here and dance with us!” Around the runway he came, and we danced, and we talked about kisses, and we danced.

A few days later, he called TVD. I don’t know why he called, but it was kind of like that night at the Agora when Sierra said, “This girl wants to dance with you.” It felt right to say, “What’s your name again?” “Did you say Jules? Like Jules et Jim?” “Oh, I love that movie.” “OK.” “Well, call this number ‘cause my girlfriend Diane just loved dancing with you. You remember her? She’s your Jeanne Moreau, kissy face boy; you jus better give her a call.”

Of course, he did, and decades later they are still married and living in crazy Tuscany! Just one of those little fairy tales that real life throws in now and then to show it is not the depressing, boring, dead end that we usually take it for.

Here’s another hook-up story. One night during TVD’s early days, Ransam booked some friends of his to come in and play. They were not a real band. The lead guy, his name was Dan Dacron, was in this very popular local band called War Torn. The band Dan brought to TVD was his “playin around with jazz and noise” band. Were they called Heidegger? It doesn’t matter. They only played one or two gigs. Anyway, I heard a knock at the TVD back door and pushed it open. I was dressed fancy in my beige lace tight dress with TVD stenciled across the neckline. At the door was a guy in an old suit coat, some baggy grey trousers, and a pair of shoes that had been worn out by whoever had worn them before him. He was Dan, the lead singer of War Torn, here to load in Heidegger or whoever they were. I had seen him around and even heard his War band on New Year’s Eve that year, but this was the moment when we met.

Later that night, when Dan was winding cords and packing up, we talked. He told me that one day cords would be gone forever and everything would be wireless. I stared at him. I had never before contemplated a wireless world. He may have won my heart then. I am a pushover for ideas. Tell me something that I don’t already know, and I am yours pretty much. A few nights later, Diane and I ran into him at the Bistro at a Method Actors show. I don’t remember much about the show that night. Dan was hanging out with Clare from the Now Explosion, and then he was pretty much hanging out with me and Dearest. Was this one of those nights when Vic persuaded Diane to let him stay at her place so he would not have to drive back to Athens?

I was living in an apartment near TVD. Just before this apartment, I owned a huge house on North Highland. But I developed a bad attitude toward houses, sold my house, and when I moved into an apartment, I would not call it an apartment. For me in those days, life felt temporary. Houses and apartments were too permanent. So I called my apartment the hotel. I only lived in the front room and the bathroom. I never had the stove connected in the kitchen. There was nothing in the refrigerator except sometimes a bottle of cheap Spanish champagne. I think Vic did avoid the drive to Athens that night, and I think this was the night I took Dan back to my hotel.

Once I was seeing Dan, Paid began to do this flirt tease that was one of his antidotes to boredom. Example: one day I called him to talk about TVD. It turned out he had tried to call me. We got together and bought paint and ended up having dinner together, making plans for TVD, and then went for drinks at Lafitte’s, this bar on Peachtree near TV Dinner. He flirted with me, then talked about Lola, and then about our future. Later when I dropped him off at the apartment he shared with Lola, he said, “You aren’t going to kidnap me?” No, I let him out.

Sometimes I was the one who flirted with Ransam. One afternoon, while I was still working as a waitron at a downtown hotel, he called. We needed to take the kegs back that were from the last TVD party. After we did that, I was leaving to go, but he wanted me to stay. “I wish you did not have to go to work,” he said.

Here is me flirting, “Oh, oh, I shouldn’t have gotten you into this weakened condition.”

He said, “It’s been getting weaker and weaker.” I left him reading Ferlinghetti and went to work.

In the midst of all this, we were seriously trying to do TV Dinner. My metaphor was that TVD was a boat in which we had set sail, we were out of sight of the shore, so there was no turning back. I wrote in my journal, “No turning back. I must sail until we reach our destination (destiny). I must be a good sailor. I’ll just think about the ship and how to make it float. Emotional upheavals have no right to sink a ship, only winds and waves, and outside forces. Anything else is suicide. So how to be good sailor and steer clear of emotional trials that rock the boat? Any possible romance between Paid and me we should throw overboard. Let some whale swallow it. Maybe the whale will spit it out one day on some safe shore, but that would be up to the Whale Gods of Destiny.”

Still upheavals and storms kept blowing. One night at TVD, Ransom was in such a dark mood. I tried to get him to go to a movie with me and Dearest. NO.

Later after the movie when we stopped back by, he was out on Peachtree Street in front of TVD with a bottle of wine. I said, “How are you doing?”

“Not good,” he answered.

“Diane and I are going to make some coffee. Why not have some with us.”

“No. I’m too vicious tonight!”

I said, “I love you.”|

He said, “Thank you.”

Lola was nearby with her bicycle, but she was talking to this young guitar guy called Sid.

“Jesus!” I thought. “Secret Storm!”

The next day, Dan brought me a red carnation: the fragrance, the cold, damp, soft feel. I cooked fettuccine and spinach. Then back to his place we called the Beat Pad, a storefront on the Edge, a million records, electric typewriter, crazy clothes on a free-standing rack, the Mr. Coffee maker and hot plate in the corner, the toilet with the paint can catching the drips from a leaky pipe. The New Bohemia and this is not NYC where even a place this rancid would have cost some cash. Dan lived there and his band rehearsed there rent free because the owners just never got around to collecting rent.

Lack of demand caused TV Dinner to give up on being a real café. We quit serving lunch or dinner, except on Friday and Saturday nights. This left some time for some real Secret and Unsecret Storms to get going on.  I have journal entries from those days that don’t even say who I was with. I wonder if I knew even at the time. They read like this: “Zazu’s for Filet Mignon. Friday film French Lieutenant’s Woman. Champagne and Spray Paint.  Disorderly conduct at 688. War Torn was playing. I was going nowhere. Diane, La Dearest, took me home. Saturday night to the movies. Later Paid came over, and then left. I went out. Dressing room with Dan. Marriott Hotel for coffee and a sandwich. Beat Pad. Skin. Next day at the former Pillowtex factory, low tech life style with the very great Arthur and Lucia. Aqua bathroom. Coffee and Brandy. The Big Room at Pillowtex so breezy cold; dance to keep warm. Pizza. Laundry. Fun to just run around and play.”

Ransam was at the War Torn show for a while and at one point, he threw everyone out of the dressing room except Dan who he grabbed and said, telling the truth, “I love you!” He kissed Dan, so I am told, and left terrorizing some unsuspecting partyers on his way out of the club.

Now, my journal wondered, “Will he punish me? Will either of them punish me?”

Yes, if innocent partyers must tremble, it would not go easy for me. At TVD, Paid was distant and so was I. He had turned the tables over. Really, he did that kind of thing. When we talked about who would set them right, he threw tequila in my eyes so I could not see, but I saw.

A few days later, more words, a kind of truce. “Paid and I made a minestrone and put a peace carrot in it. American Music Show at TVD. Comedy Hour. Paid is sweet to Lola. She leaves. She calls. They fight. He comes home with me. What a scene! He is wearing her artifacts, her fish tackle from the old hardware store at 10th and Peachtree. This is good. I would not want to get the wrong idea. I make eyes at him and realize I am getting to be just as dangerous as he is. We split.”

“Dinner at Capos. American Ballet Theater with Diane, Elise, and Susan, stunning in white moire peddle-pushers and a white beaded sweater. Now, I am in my clean hotel (just done today). I have to make the transition. Alone tonight.”

So there it is. How did Diane meet Jules? How did I meet Dan? We met in a hopeless place of crazy clubs, beat pads, and music that put Paradise in its name and also War. Yes, I am headed where you think I am. Of course, I am writing about Paradise Lost when I write my story.

For all the others: Paradise Found. Paid would soon meet his dream girl whose blonde beauty would keep his eyes on her and whose humor would keep him off his darkest roads on most days. They are still together decades later. The same for Diane and Jules. Some loves last. Some don’t.

When should I have turned back? Maybe I should never have opened the back door that night at TVD. Maybe I should have gone home to my hotel instead of listening to Dan tell about the wireless world. Maybe I should have played longer at Pillowtex. Was the Beat Pad the cool music romance nest that I thought it was or was it the no-rent room of a loser? You can see I have thoughts that cast dark questions.

If a love fails, are you allowed to look back and wish that it never was?