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 Seven: Crack-up Casserole

“What’s her name?”

That was the question on Night One of the crack-up. But it was just a whisper in the night. Even with Jules’s revelation that, yes, there was another woman, I did not focus on her. I was surrounded by cruel uncertainties that threatened my home and my son, who I alone must feed and shelter and help complete college. I was all about having a secure roof over our heads, and here I was sharing a deed with a man who had just proven himself to be not just a liar, but a deceiver. The middle schooler tells a lie when he blurts out “It wasn’t me.” A lie is a one-time untruth used to deflect a consequence. But deception is a long term assault on the truth, a worming and a tunneling under the wall of truth. The ones who aren’t being told the truth, in this case the wife and the son, move along through their lives, living, doing, thinking all is well, or if moods go low, that all will be well in the end. But going and coming from their lives, and living side by side with them is a man who is leading a double life, a man who is in constant electronic communication with another woman developing a relationship to the point that she is actually flying halfway around the world to get here—and soon. The deception had been going on for months. And that deceiver was who I owned my house with!

These were the dire dreams that haunted my tables—not names or other women. I had two problems: home and financial autonomy. Solutions: buy out Dan’s half of the house and divorce. When those unhappy losses were tallied up, would there be anything left? Would I have enough to support myself and Max? Those costly concerns held all my concentration.

The lawyer we hired was drawing up the divorce papers, but what about the house? Dan and I would have to agree on a price if I were to buy out his half. Using our tax bill and its appraisal of our house’s value as a general starting point and factoring in the price a nearby house recently went for, I mentioned a number to Dan. We were riding in his car to Comcast to transfer the internet service to my name. The trip involved other stops having to do with notaries and transferring services and was hellish as were all the encounters I had with Dan after the crack-up. He kept his eyes on the road, but his response was “I feel screwed by that price!”

Oh no. So, put the house back on the list, the heartbreaking, soul draining list with all the other to-do dilemmas. The house, the home, the only place for Max and me to call our own, what can I do to get an agreement from Dan?

And screwed! He felt screwed. Does he really get to feel screwed after all he has done to us. You can hear with your imagination the words which could have come from me, the words I would never say, and almost won’t write. “You, you feel screwed! I was blindsided, ruined, blasted into a psycho wasteland, and you feel screwed!”

Well, there it was. He was the one who had been in control of the crack-up from its inception. All I could do was suffer and try to survive. I took some of those deep survival breaths they teach you to use when you are in labor. I would just have to have faith that something would work out about the house.

Dan and I rode on to the business of breaking the family cable service. He had arranged his own service in his new apartment. Max and I could not afford TV and internet, so we had decided on just the internet. Next was on to a notary to get an affidavit that would let us close our natural gas service and transfer it to just my name. On and on. I felt myself shrinking. I was losing weight that summer. My hair was falling out. The heart breaks. All falls down.

When it was over and we were in the parking lot saying goodbye, Dan wanted to show me pictures on his phone of how he was painting and decorating his apartment. I tried to stare at his phone. My eyes were swimming. Does he really think I can look at this place he is fixing up for the arrival of his other woman? I just wanted to get away. I always had to be alone before I could put myself back together.

Was Dan oblivious, or did he know and just not care? That night, you won’t believe what he did. He messaged me wanting my chicken and asparagus casserole recipe!

At first I started to hop to. Like old times. He wants something, up I get going to make it happen.

Asparagus Casserole

Boil three half breast pieces of chicken, bone in, skin off. Season the water with salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary sprigs. Remove the chicken and when cool enough to handle, debone. In a large casserole dish, measure 2 cups of minute rice and 2 cups of the broth from the cooked chicken. Add a can of cream of asparagus soup and a can of drained asparagus pieces or better yet fresh, steamed asparagus cut in pieces. Stir until combined. Top with grated cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wait. Does Dan really get freedom, another woman, and my asparagus casserole? Then I thought, well, we are working toward a house settlement and a divorce; I need his cooperation; maybe I can throw in a recipe or two.

But I found it was not that simple. This recipe was not just a recipe. It was a meal we shared and enjoyed together for many, many years going all the way back to New York, and back from there to Aunt Sallie and Mother in Mississippi.

Does it now go forward to Dan in his new life apart from me, a life that will be shared by this other woman who would have no history here, no care, and no connection?

I wrote him back a stall. “You’re on the list.” I went to bed, but I did not sleep. Or if I slept it was that thing where you wake up three hours later and can’t go back to sleep. It was always one of the two with me during those nights.

This night I had a thought to think and time to think it. It went like this. I have been on a broken trail with so many twists and turns. My home and the dreadful divorce have taken precedence over more personal, lost love concerns. But this casserole request has sliced into the personal wound, the lost family, the no more meals together, the way of life gone now forever, gone forever. The hurt was bitter as blood. Hot blood with red hot anger in it.

Oh the deception! Oh the nights he lay in his recliner with his Iphone messaging and flirting with another woman while I was nearby in the kitchen cooking our dinner, washing our dishes. Jules had said she was coming over from Australia in two or three weeks.

Was Dan planning to cook casseroles for her?

The affair suddenly came into sharp and immediate focus. He had flirted with her for months on-line, and she’s now on her way. Who is she? Is she real? What’s she like?

I think if I had been able to read during those long crack-up nights, I would have suffered less damage. All though my life, I have loved to read. Even during the busiest years of my life when I became a teacher, I still found time to read each evening at bedtime both to relax and to be stimulated by the ideas, the characters. But all through that terrible summer of my discontent, I could not focus to read at all. I tried to read novels. No luck. I would not finish a book again for months, not until after the divorce when I was gifted with a book from my dear friend Marlenas. It was the perfect recovery book. On the left side of the page was a factual or descriptive account of some piece of the emotion or real life experience during a loss and on the right hand side a poem written in response. It felt like right brain/left brain, both were given something to gnaw on.

That was much later. I still had nights and months to get through. After another sleepless hour or two on this crazy casserole crisis night, I got up and went to my computer. I was finally angry enough to pry. When your husband cheats on you, for some crazy reason, you want to know her name.

Ok. So Dan met her online. When Jules told about it, I may have vaguely thought Facebook, but now that I was at long last ready to give the thing some serious, furious thought, I remembered that Dan had lost interest in Facebook once he became so involved in taking pictures and putting them up on Instagram. I thought, “Forget Facebook. It’s Instagram, of course!”

Dan’s online other woman was an Instagirl!

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.