Tag Archives: grief

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 13, Unforgiveable

Time, the constant traveler, walks with the Moon and rides with the Sun. Days and nights crumble and blow away. Months slide slowly by. It has been almost two years since that fateful night when Dan first told us he was leaving and Max and I first faced that he was done with us. It has been over a year since the day the dreadful divorce went down. And, it has been a full year and a half since the last time I saw Dan.

That was on a night just before he flew to Australia to join the woman he had met online, the woman he was leaving us for. I had not expected to see him. I knew that Max had spent the day helping him move his things from his apartment into a storage container in his parents’ backyard. But Max had gone on to see friends. I was alone when Dan messaged that he was bringing by a shelf unit that he wanted me to have.

A few minutes later, he was at the door. I was shaky and nervous as I fumbled to turn the lock. We said “Hello.” Dan looked tired from all the moving he had done that day. We stepped off the porch and over to his rental truck. Together we moved the shelf cabinet into the house. It was replacing an older, rickety shelf which he carried out to the garage for me.

Once his shelf was in place, and I had thanked him for it, Dan said, “Well, I guess this is goodbye.” I asked, “How long will you be gone?” He said that he did not know,  maybe a year. I shook my head and said, “It’s very strange.” He said, “Yes, I never expected anything like this.”

He reached to hug me. His manner, maybe because he was tired, lacked the happy-go-lucky style that he had shown in so many of our encounters since the Crack-up. We hugged, and when we pulled apart, I reached down and held his hand for a moment. He looked at me, more directly than he had in months, maybe years, and said, “Forgive me.”

That caught at my heart. I began to cry. “Oh, I do forgive you,” I said. “It’s just that I am so sad.” He nodded as if he understood, then he turned, and I watched him walk out the front door and out of my life.

A long and lonely hour followed. I was listening to music in the den when I heard Max’s car pull in. He sat on the couch and talked of his day helping his dad move. He said Dan tried to talk to him about the Stages of Grief. Max said, “I told him I reached ‘Acceptance’ the first week. I see there is nothing I can do about the situation, so I accept it. It does not mean that I like it or think it’s a good thing, especially for the family, but I accept it.”

Max told me about the container that Dan had bought and placed in his parents’ back yard to store all his possessions. He said that Papa, Dan’s eighty-year-old dad, was out there helping them that day. Max could see the strain and grief on Papa. He later talked to Dan about it, but he was oblivious.

Max said once again how selfish he thinks Dan is. He said that day Dan was going on and on about how bad it is for him that he could not sublet his apartment. Max said his dad has no idea of how more than bad everything has been for us. He only thinks of himself. He later said he doesn’t think Dan cares about us at all. He’s going to spend $5,000 on dual citizenship and more on a lawyer. Max said, “The $100 I got for helping him move today is probably the last money I’ll ever see from him.”

* * * *

Forgiveness came easy for me that night when Dan asked for it. I forgave him for what he had done to me. I bore him no anger or ill will, only a great sadness as I told him at the time. Max, too, on his last day with his dad, was able to speak of acceptance, which is his version of forgiveness.

I am a spiritual, loving person; I understand the importance of forgiveness. To live well we must be free of anger and negative thinking. But though I forgave Dan for his betrayal of me, I found I could not live in peace with his treatment of Max. It did not seem right or fair. I felt passionate about it. I felt unforgiving.

The night Dan announced the Crack-up, he walked out without leaving so much as a twenty dollar bill for Max. In the year and a half since Dan left us, college tuition for Max has come due six times. He has gone to the dentist and the doctor. The car he drives back and forth to school has needed gas, tires, service, and insurance. His health insurance sends bills regularly. Max has worked some part-time jobs and has usually been able to pay for gas and car expenses and his own spending money. But the rest I paid. Once he left us, Dan paid nothing to help Max with expenses as he completes college.

Two months after Dan left for Australia, Christmas came. He sent Max nothing. The next Christmas, again nothing. Birthday, also, nothing. No gifts. No contributions to help Max with school. Dan sent email greetings, but nothing else.

Dan’s disregard of Max seemed especially unfair considering how much help he was still–at his age–getting from his parents while Max is only in his early twenties and just beginning to make his way in the world.

It was as if Dan had turned his back on Max and disowned him. This was what held back my complete forgiveness. I felt that for Dan to cease altogether in providing for Max as a father was unforgiveable.

When I began this final chapter, I entitled it “Unforgiveable.” My heart was still breaking over the fact that Max does not have a father in any real sense of the word. But over the course of writing and struggling to get at the truth of how I feel today, of how I want to feel today, I find I have come to a new place. As I was writing about that day a year and a half ago, the last time we saw Dan, it began to seem like a long, long time ago. Dan has drifted into the distance now.

Max and I have gone on with our lives. Though we haven’t had Dan’s help, we have made progress with our goals. Max’s self-esteem was greatly damaged by what his father did, but he accepted it, and when I see him now, see how well he is doing, see his smile, I know that he is on his way. He is intelligent, hardworking, dependable, funny, loving, and loyal. He will make a success of his life.

As for me, I have been finding my own way, as well. I live now completely alone. Max took a job and moved into the city. It is strange and very quiet here sometimes. The nights are long and lonely. But I soldier on. I think of other women who have been in my position for a time in their lives, my mother, my Aunt Rene, even me in my younger years.

I am a hard worker, just as they were, and that helps. I work two part-time jobs and always have a renovation project going on here at my home. I love to garden and commune with nature. Inspiration flows into my writing and creative sewing and painting projects. And my friends are many and such fun and interesting people.

My life has not turned out as I would have liked. I wish Dan had loved me. I wish we could have spent this time of our lives helping Max find his place in the world and laughing, playing, and doing good work with all our friends and family.

But, as Max was so quick to see, Dan did what he did. It is done. It is over. Our only choice is to accept it. And as I close this Crack-up story, I am guided by my better angel to take the final step. This chapter began with “Unforgiveable,” but it will end very differently.  The writing has cleared my mind. I am still sad and sorry for what Max and I had to suffer, and yet I feel at peace with what remains behind and what he and I can build anew.  I breathe in a sweetness, a strength, a purpose, and a sense of being fully alive.

Internet Infidelity and the Ease with Which Homes and Hearts Can Be Broken

We might not think that a husband could meet another woman and form a relationship which moves from flattery, to flirtation, to infatuation all from the comfort of his easy chair and within sight of his wife as she cooks his dinner, but with the Internet and digital devices this is just what can happen. As Brendan L. Smith, writing for the American Psychological Association, has said, “The typical affair used to start in the office and move to a seedy motel room, but the vast reach of the Internet has brought infidelity into many couples’ homes over the past decade.”

Dr. Al Cooper with his ground-breaking research at Stanford University illustrated the profound effect the Internet is having on relationships. He defined the special power of the Internet both to plant and to nourish the seeds of infidelity with his term The Triple A Engine: accessibility, affordability, and anonymity.

Accessiblity: Through the use of computers and social media, individuals have access to an unlimited number of potential partners. Once the partner is found, the same computer, tablet, or smart phone provides around the clock opportunities to connect and communicate. The problems of time and geography are overcome. Nor is it necessary to sneak around. The affair can often be carried on right in the same room with the unknowing spouse.

Affordablity: Computers, Internet service, and smart phones are affordable for much of the population and considered almost an essential of modern life. Infidelity does not add to the cost of the devices and services that most middle class people already pay for as part of their basic budget. Nor does Internet infidelity carry the cost of real life extramarital affairs. One does not have to so much as buy a cup of coffee for the potential partner. Online dating requires no wining or dining. There will be a cost to be paid, but it will be paid by the victims of the online affair, the betrayed spouse and children.

Anonymity: Of all Cooper’s Three As, perhaps anonymity is the most powerful and beneficial force to the online affair because in the virtual world the partners have much more control over how they present themselves than is possible in real world dating. When getting to know someone in person, many nonverbal cues are perceived that influence opinion and response. In addition, the visual information is vastly more complete than the carefully chosen photographs that are presented to the online prospect. With the Internet, both the personal information and the visuals can be edited and enhanced: one can, in effect, become a different person.  This is especially appealing to those who are unhappy with who they are in real life. It is perhaps this cloak of anonymity which affects the findings of K.S. Young who, writing for the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, says that individuals feel less inhibited when communicating online. For this reason, they more readily share personal information than they would in person, and this can build feelings of trust and connection with the other party more quickly than would happen in real life relationship building.

While the pioneer work of Dr. Cooper laid the foundation for research on the effects of the Internet on relationships, many researchers are now adding to the body of knowledge in this field. Recent writing by Katherine M. Hertlein and Armeda Stevenson for Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace provides a meta-analysis of the impact of the Internet on infidelity by incorporating the work of other psychologists with that of Cooper. From this research, four additional A’s can be added to Cooper’s original Triple A Engine. They are approximation, acceptability, ambiguity, and accommodation.

Approximation: M. W. Ross, M.R. Kauth, and R. Tikkanen argue that the Internet experience goes far towards approximating the pleasure and excitement of getting to know someone and even falling in love that can happen in real life. The stress management benefit of real life relationships is found to be simulated by online relationships. M.T. Whitty’s research has revealed that the flip side of the approximation coin is that once the affair is discovered or revealed, the experience of being betrayed is just as painful to the spouse as a real life affair.

Acceptablity: The findings of S.A. King, K. Daneback, A. Cooper, and S. Manssoon reveal acceptability as an especially insidious contributor to the power of the Internet. Real life behaviors that are not accepted by the individual or by society are often found to be acceptable through the use of the Internet. For example, someone who would never go to a casino and engage in gambling may well do so online. Typing, chatting, and befriending people online is not viewed as inappropriate in the same way as going on a date with someone other than your spouse would be. If the online friendship is allowed to develop into an online affair, it will take on the negative judgment that real life infidelity carries, but, at least at its inception, it can begin with more innocence. It is this apparent initial innocence that enables some to begin a virtual affair when then would not so easily begin one in real life.

Ambiguity: The fact that different individuals vary in their view of what constitutes unfaithfulness contributes to internet infidelity according to researchers T.S. Parker, K.S. Wampler, K.M. Hertlein, and F. P. Piercy. It is as if there is a spectrum that begins with conduct that would be viewed by all as innocent and ends with conduct that all would view as unfaithful, but the precise moment or exact conversation or act when innocence tilts toward guilt is difficult to pinpoint.  M.W. Ross is quoted as saying, “When the definition is diffuse, the involved partner’s likelihood of being accountable for their behavior drops, thus maintaining the problem the couple is having.”

In order to alleviate ambiguity and aid clinicians in their work with those whose relationships are affected by Internet infidelity, T. Docan-Morgan and C. A. Docan have developed a widely accepted definition which defines Internet infidelity as follows: “An act or actions engaged via the Internet by one person with a committed relationship, where such an act occurs outside the primary relationship, and constitutes a breach of trust and/or violation of agreed-upon norms (overt or covert) by one or both individuals in that relationship with regard to relational exclusivity, and is perceived as having a particular degree of severity by one or both partners.”

Popular media has also weighed in on the subject. For example, Andrea Miranda in an article for CBS Houston dismisses ambiguity and concludes that online affairs are emotional adultery. She goes on to add that “The problem with emotional adultery is the cheater is no longer actively securing the emotional bond with the spouse. In many cases of traditional and emotional affairs, spouses spoke to counselors about being treated worse shortly after the affair began. The need to be online or on the phone became more important than being physically present for real world activities.”

Accommodation: The final “A” in the list of contributors to Internet infidelity is accommodation. K. Hertlein and A. Stevenson draw on the “self-discrepancy theory” of E.T. Higgins when they make their case for accommodation as a contributing factor in online unfaithfulness. This theory holds that some individuals feel a strong conflict between their real and their ideal self or self image. Because they feel their own life is limited or lackluster, they turn to the Internet in the hope that it can provide the fantasy and excitement they crave. K.S. Young has found that, because contact through the Internet can be international and diverse, it can seem more “glamorous” than that of everyday life.

Heather Dugmore in her article “Divorce by Facebook” takes the Accommodation argument to its logical conclusion. The more the online relationship is seen to fulfill a fantasy and the more perfect its intimacy is perceived as being, the more the real life relationship will pale and wither in comparison.

The Rolling Stones once told us that murder was just a shot away. Research is now telling us that with seven powerful “engines” driving Internet infidelity, the destruction of home and family is just a click away.

 

References

Cooper, Al. Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the New Millennium. CyberPsychology & Behavior. SUMMER 1998, 1, 187-193.

Docan-Morgan, T., & Docan, C. A. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing views of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55(3), 317-342.

Dugmore, Heather. Divorce by Facebook (2014). Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.biznews.com/opinion/heather-dugmore/2014/09/20/divorce-by-facebook-why-online-affairs-dont-end-happily-ever-after/

Hertlein, K., & Stevenson, A. (2010). The Seven “As” Contributing to Internet-Related Intimacy Problems: A Literature Review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 4(1), article 1.

Miranda, Amanda. Online Affairs Are Emotional Adultery (2011). CBS Houston. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://houston.cbslocal.com/2011/10/10/online-affairs-are-emotional-adultery/

Smith, Brenden L. Are Internet Affairs Different? Journal of the American Psychological Association. March 2100, Vol 42, No. 3, p. 48.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 12, The Dreadful

Through the twisted danger of memory fades a day from long, long ago. It was a lovely day, sunny, with only a slight chill in the air, unusual for February in New York City. Dan and I rode with four friends on the Avenue B bus downtown to the municipal building where a grey haired judge with kind eyes asked some questions and said some words. I wore a purple velvet suit that I had sewn myself and carried a few lavender roses. Dan looked dashing in a black vintage suit. After the ceremony, we walked with our friends across a park to the old City Hall where Lincoln had lain in state in the sad spring of 1865. One of our friends took a photograph of Dan and me in our wedding attire that day. We were standing in one of the grand rooms under an ancient oil painting; we were looking out at an uncertain future. Hope, history, loss, beauty, betrayal, and terrible mistakes turn the tides of memory and all that was or never was is gone forever.

Some memories, though, are seared into the flesh and may never take their leave. Such was the moment that night at the Dylan concert when I noticed that Dan was not wearing his wedding ring. I did not speak. I only reached out and touched the bare skin of his finger. All he said to me was “I don’t want to be married.”

So soon! So coldly soon. Dan had told me nothing of his feelings until two days prior, but now, already now, so soon after his first announcement at the dinner table, here was the realization as to where all this must inevitably lead. I managed to ask, “But we’d have to get divorced?” A dizzy swirl of fear fell on me as I looked to him for confirmation but hoped for denial.

He said, “Yes, we’d have to get divorced,” and he began to tell me about cheapie, easy, do-it-yourself divorces that his buddies at work knew all about.

I sat beside Dan in the stadium seats of the concert pavilion, the arm rest between us, and over this I stared. I stared at what he was saying and that he could say it.

Divorce. The word ran through my veins, through my nerves. Divorce. I had always had a horror of divorce. It was one of the reasons I waited so late in my life to marry. Divorces were so dreadful.

When I was very young, my first job was working at a bank in downtown Memphis. I worked with thirty or forty other women. We took breaks together, and over the course of the three years I was there, I heard enough divorce sagas to put the fear of marriage into anyone: he cheated on me, he stole my kids from the babysitter and went off to Arkansas with them, he put his hands on somebody at his job and he’s in jail now. So many horror stories! I came to view marriage as a high-risk experiment with the odds heavily in favor of disaster to be followed by the doom of divorce and the deadly warfare that seemed to rage all around it.

It took my own marriage years to get there, but finally I was there, right where I had always dreaded to be. I did not want to call its name, so I just called it The Dreadful.

During the back and forth emails when we were working with the settlement papers, Dan had said he wanted to be present at our court date, but when the dread day did arrive, he said he would be working. A girlfriend said she would go with me because she remembered her own divorce and how it had helped her to have a friend waiting when she walked out of the court room. But when the date arrived, she said she couldn’t go because she had to babysit her grandchild. I considered asking Max to go with me, but quickly put that aside. A child does not attend the divorce of his parents.

I would have to go alone. Like Woody singing the old gospel song, there was a lonesome valley up ahead for me, and I’d have to walk it by myself.

The Dreadful was scheduled for a day in early October, a month that is usually gloriously warm and beautiful in the South. It was the best month of the season that had been my father’s favorite and mine. He used to say he loved the fall of the year because the weather was mild with very little wind unlike spring when, though the weather is nice, it is often windy.

Now my favorite month of the year would be forever tainted. And, strangely, this October, coming as it did during the season of the Crack-up, did not follow the usual autumn weather pattern. The whole week and especially the day of The Dreadful were grey and rainy and dark. There was a hopeless bitter wind blowing and the sun was gone forever.

The time I had been given was 9 AM. I had worried that I might oversleep because I was taking several prescriptions at the time, but I did not sleep at all, so waking up was not a problem. Driving was. Driving with a blur before my eyes, my chest compressing my heart that was breaking, and beating, and breaking like a lost cause.

I was so alone walking the sidewalk, the cold stone that led the lonely to the columns and the walls and halls of the county court house. I had no idea what to do. Courtroom B, I think I had been told. I went in, hesitated, and then sat to the side in the back on a very cold bench. Nervously, I wondered, where is the lawyer? Does she find me, or am I supposed to find her? Up front the judge was questioning a man and then granting him a divorce. Next there was a woman. She had two friends with her.

Finally, my lawyer came and spoke to me. A few minutes later, I was the one standing up front being questioned by the judge and being granted a divorce. It was not until I was downstairs in the clerk’s office that I broke down. The room went dark; I gripped the counter to keep from falling. My lawyer tried to comfort me, but I just wanted her to hurry up the filing process so I could go, so I could get out on that lonesome road and run and keep on running.

Finally, it was over and I was home. I felt so destroyed, so driven down to nothing that the only thing to do was go to bed. When I woke up, I remembered that Maria and Mark and several other close friends had planned a little dinner for me at a restaurant in Decatur. I began to get ready. The rain and dreary weather continued making for a dark afternoon.

Max came home from school and stepped back into my bedroom to check on me. I turned when he walked in; I was still weak and weepy. He looked at me without talking for a minute, and then said, “How are you?” I said, “I’m sad, so sad, but I’m going to be OK.” He reached out his arms, so very kind, I walked toward him, and we embraced. It was then that I noticed my son is now grown so tall that he can put his chin on the top of my head when we hug.

I told him that I loved him. He said, “I love you, Mom. I’m sorry this had to happen to you.” It was very sweet of Max, very generous, and very brave, because, of course, the loss, the sudden loss of love and of our old life had happened to him, too.

The dinner out on the rainy night with friends was darkly, somberly pleasant. Everyone wore their sweetest smile, their deepest hope that I would last through my sorrow. It was reassuring. It did help to spend the evening with people I had known and loved for so long. Although the lonesome road lay up ahead and was not to be avoided, although I was sinking lower as the unfamiliar aloneness of divorce crept nearer and nearer all around me, at least for this first post-Dreadful night, I would raise a glass to dear friends, and I would blink so no one could see the tears.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 11, The Heart of Decay

Max met me after I got off work at school that day. Together we rode to the house closing at Dan’s bank. I was grateful for Max’s support. The house that was being sold was his house, too, the one that he had lived in ever since we moved from New York when he was two. And the seller in the dark heart of that market was his own father.

I arrived at the bank with a pounding in my chest, a breathless, strange unease, and a rock cold fear. After eight hours in a middle school, I was also tired and frazzled. On the way over, Max and I had made a quick run into my bank to my safety deposit box to pull the checks that had been prepared, amounts that Dan had told me would have to be paid to settle his debts on the house, and the balance in a check for Dan himself, money that he would use to pay for his three weeks with the Instagirl on her visit to the U.S. and his trip to Australia to live with her. And what was this money of mine that I was giving up? Hard-earned teacher pay. No one who has not been a teacher can know how hard-earned it is. But there I was walking into Dan’s bank with it in my hands for this closing and with my heart so heavy.

Property closings often involve ordeal both in the negotiating phase and on the actual day itself when papers are being signed and money changes hands. Ours involved ordeal, for sure, but that was just the business hassle of it. There was also the emotional side, the turning turmoil of my life going swirling, swirling down through a spiritual vortex.

With relief, I saw that Dan’s father was already there waiting for me. If my father had been alive, he would have been there with me to offer support. As it was, I had turned to Papa, as we called Dan’s dad, and he in his goodness had answered my call.

One more person was needed. Because Max and Papa were relatives, they could not serve as a witness on the closing documents. My dear friend Kate agreed to help me, and soon she, too, was with us.  I spoke to the mortgage banker Mrs. Simmons. She was ready on her end and placed us in a small conference room.  All that was lacking was for Dan to arrive. Meanwhile, my throat was closing up; it was all I could do to contain myself and sit as I knew the situation required. My heart was pounding so powerfully that I could hear the blood rushing through my ears. Would I be able to withstand the next hour?

Finally, I looked up and saw Dan enter dressed all in black. I wondered if he would actually sign the quit claim deed. I wondered if the check denominations that I had brought could be made to work once it turned out that Dan had given me incorrect figures for how much I would need. Since the closing papers had been typed using those incorrect figures, they had to be retyped. Kate volunteered to do this, so in the middle of the closing, she was in the office next door typing and coming back to me with questions. The tension was terrible.

Dan was so cold and remote, not like himself–not as I remembered him. I could no longer make myself stay in that little room. I rushed out and began to pace the lobby of the bank blinded by tears. The president of the branch came out and rescued me. She brought me into her office and gave me tissues and a few minutes of privacy to collect myself. Eventually, I was able to go back.

In the conference room the atmosphere was chilly between Max, Papa, and Dan, who had all remained in the room together while Kate and I had been out. I would later learn from Max what had created that cold and empty climate.

At last the papers and monies were ready. The notary was brought in and we all signed. I now owned the house that I had thought I already owned and would live in forever as Dan’s wife, and he and his bank had all my teacher savings.

None of that really registered with me at the time. My emotions were running so strong that perception and memory were disjointed. There were sudden vividly held vignettes and then gaps where I’m not sure how I got from one place to another. I don’t remember Kate leaving, but clearly I remember what came next. Max and I stood to bid goodbye to Papa. We were all three in tears; Papa’s eyes are blue and the sunset light in the crystal blur of his eyes, oh, I remembered that. Max and I hugged him, one of those three-person hugs. There aren’t many of those in life, so I remembered that. Dan just sat there, disengaged, a demonstration of how done with all of us he was.

The next that I can remember, I was rushing from the bank with Max right behind me. I was crying, moaning, feeling as much pain as I had ever felt in my life. Was I saying something? Was I moaning, “I can’t believe this is happening to me! I can’t believe this is happening to me!”?

As Max drove me away, I think I looked back and Papa and Dan stood together and watched us go. In that moment, Max saved my life. One more minute in that bank, one more look of pain from Papa or Max, one more look of indifference from Dan, and my life would have ended.

On the ride home, Max told me what had gone on in the conference room while Kate and I had been out. Dan had finally confessed to Papa the truth that he did have another woman and he told about her. We all, of course, already knew about her, knew, in fact, that she had arrived a few days earlier from Australia. But here, two months after the Crack-up, Dan finally, formally admitted his deception. He had waited until “the money was in the bank,” so to speak, his bank. All along he had feared that a revelation of adultery with the Instagirl would affect the financial part of our separation proceedings. Now that he could see how pitiful and cooperative I was being, he knew I was not in a state of mind to make trouble for him. He was going to have it all his way. I could feel the tension and the hurt in Max’s voice when he said that Dan had said he loved the Instagirl more than he had ever loved anyone. There was such hurt and anger coming from Max.

Dan was still married to me that day when he professed his love of the Instagirl, so one might suppose that Max’s anger was for me, for the faithlessness of his father and the betrayal of his mother. But I believe that his anger and hurt were for himself. When Dan professed a love for the Instagirl beyond anyone one else, Max took it personally. My life with Dan cracked that night at the dinner table when he told me he was leaving. I think Max’s life with Dan cracked that day at the bank. For Max, that day was a journey into the heart of decay. He witnessed firsthand what Dan could do so easily, so carelessly to me, to Papa, and to him. That day was the end for him. Dan would never get another chance to hurt Max. Max would see to that.

Our home–the home that Dan and I had lived in, taken care of, and loved for years, our son’s home–was broken. I alone now owned it, but with a price paid that would impoverish me for the rest of my life. My savings were gone.

Relationships were gone as well. That day marked the end of any hope Dan would ever have of a relationship with his son. The relationship between Dan and his father would be forever tainted by the fact that he had lied to his father’s face in response to a direct question about the existence of another woman. And it separated me not merely further from Dan himself but from any sense that he had ever loved me.

I long for a day free from the downward spiral, the sinking, the loss. I long for a day when the late light will shine on eyes of crystal vision instead of eyes of crystal tears. Papa’s heart was broken, Max’s heart was forsaken, and my heart learned that it had never been loved. On that day at the bank, we journeyed into Dan’s cave of lies, of forsaking, and the knifeblade of neverlove. We journeyed into the heart of decay.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Ten, Details of Decay

Crack-up nights were brutal, such as should not be retold. Mornings offered more promise. With the Sun and the day’s tasks to be done, there was a momentum to morning. Max made a pot of strong coffee each day that was my salvation. Once August came and I was back at my teaching job, breakfast had to be quick and simple. Sometimes, though, on the weekend, I’d prepare something special like my

Spinach Omelet

Slice a medium Vidalia or other sweet onion into slivers and sauté it in a little olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet. When the onion begins to be translucent, add handfuls of fresh spinach. Sauté spinach just until it wilts. Meanwhile in a bowl beat three to four eggs vigorously with a fork and add grated feta or white cheddar cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the sautéed onion and spinach and cook. Once the egg begins to set, stir the center. Then lift the sides of the eggs and tilt the skillet so that the raw egg comes in contact with the skillet. Add salt and cracked pepper. Once the eggs are set, fold one half over the over. Cut into half to serve two. This is delicious with sliced tomatoes from the garden.

It was so much more difficult to cope with my shock and grief once I was back at school. I told only three of my closest friends there what Dan had done. For all the rest, especially, the students, I had to keep up a brave front and show nothing. The strain was extreme.

Some of my worst worry centered around the need to secure my home from the fallout associated with Dan’s dissertation. Although it was difficult to face strangers with my story, I had no choice. I had to visit bankers and lawyers. I had to seek advice. The lawyers and bankers who I saw did not know Dan, so what they had to say was not based on any knowledge of what he personally would do. Still all of these professionals were unanimous in what he could do, and I felt that they had seen could shift to would enough times that to ignore their experienced advice would be foolhardy.

I did not even have to go into much detail. I had them on my first sentence: “My husband is having an affair with a woman he met online who lives on the dole in Australia.” That would be enough to immediately launch them into warnings on the legal binds of marriage, the liabilities of mutually-held properties, how I could be held  responsible for Dan’s debts, he could borrow more than he already had on the house, and if he went to Australia, I would have to pay or lose the house.

Dan has since shown anger that I or our friends who gave the same warnings as the lawyers and bankers, that any of us could have doubted or suspected him. He thinks he should have been trusted based on his “track record.” But he is talking about a record of honesty from before he met the Instagirl. Once he met her, he began a pattern of lying, deception, and disregard for the feelings of others that made it difficult to put anything past him. Trust in him had been broken irrevocably for me and for Max. In fact it was Max who was the first one to say “Get a lawyer” once he learned of his dad’s deception.

Obviously, I could not share ownership of my home with a person capable of deliberate dishonesty and cruel treatment to those who had loved him, still less could I remain married to him. The lawyer I had hired, Ms. Madison, was in the process of drawing up the dreadful divorce papers. I would sign. Dan would sign. A court date would be set, and our marriage would be officially over in the way it had been spiritually over from the minute Dan took up with his online other woman.

But the house? How to handle that? First of all, Dan and I needed some kind of agreement on a price if I was to buy him out. I had paid cash for my half of the house when we had first bought it 20 years earlier. Dan mortgaged his half and then borrowed more on that to pay off credit card debts. How much would he need to settle these loans? How much would he want in order to sell?

The next time Dan was scheduled to visit so we could go over separating the cars titles, insurance, utilities, etc, I brought up my buying him out on the house. I gave him a figure based on the county tax assessor’s valuation and the selling price of a house on the next street. He said he would feel “screwed” by that price. This flew all over me! Did Dan really get to feel screwed by anything after his sudden backstab to me and Max?

A few days later, I called a realtor from the neighborhood who came by and gave me an unofficial, but informed estimate for the value of our home. It was more than the amount that I had quoted Dan; in fact, it was more than we had paid for the house.

I had worked as a teacher for years and had been frugal. Unlike Dan, I had no debt. I had savings, yes, but that was for my retirement and to help Max finish college. My hard-earned savings were not enough to pay Dan half of the appraised value of the house. I brooded over the problem, but my heartbroken head could not think clearly. I was so alone.

Finally, Saturday came and there was time for coffee, a spinach omelet with Max, and time to get outside for a little yard work which always served to clear my mind. I thought, “Ok, I want to buy Dan out on the house, but what price? I should not have to hand him the top dollar, open market price. A sale on the open market would involve realty fees, closing costs, upgrades, and repairs.” But it was difficult to come up with a number that allowed for all those costs.

Then I had what I thought of as an epiphany. What about paying him half of the original selling price? I thought I could stretch my savings to meet this price. Doing so would seriously impoverish Max and me, but we would have a home, we would not end up on the street. With this deal, Dan would not make money, but he would not lose, and he would be getting all I had. If he wanted more, we would have to list the house on the open market. The downside of that though, he would have to continue to pay his mortgage until the house sold which would eat into any potential profit. If he took my buyout offer, he could have money right away.

I sent Dan an email with my offer to pay him half of the original selling price. I had learned that this would be enough to pay off the balance of his mortgage, his credit card debt, and he would still have $12,000 left over to spend on the Instagirl. In order to be fair, I did offer an alternative. If he did not like my offer, we could list the house and take our chances on the open market.

Knowing the hassles and delays of selling real estate, I had a feeling Dan would accept my offer and its promise of ready cash over the uncertainty of an outside sale. He kept me waiting in suspense for a few days, but finally I heard back from him. He would accept my buyout offer.

Although I was relieved to have an agreement on the house, I had never wanted any of this. When I paid my half of the house twenty years earlier, I had thought I was done; I had a home. Now, I was, in a sense, being forced to buy it again. The process was painful, involving fees for early withdrawal of my savings, endless phone calls, so much paperwork and running around to banks to gather the funds for the sale. I was falling apart. I was losing sleep. l was losing weight. My hair was falling out. I was trying to do my best at my job, but the effort, the effort was ….

I am trying to relay the details of decay: our marriage, our family, our home as it had been, and even the money from my life’s work, all lost, all over, all gone. I try to tell the story, but like Flaubert, I find my words are hollow beats on a cracked and broken drum when I wish they were a song that would melt the stars.

Don’t Keep Score When Music Is Losing from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

—dedicated to Dan and to his best friend

We’ll talk now of what he was.

It may serve as antidote and sedative,

As palliative to what he has become.

There once was a man who wanted

To be different, to be new, to be himself,

Influenced, of course, by the past,

The present, and the future,

But not owned by and certainly not

Speaking for any of them, speaking for himself.

 

He was to be his own new man

A work of his own art,

And that art really did not need to entertain

Or be accepted. Of course, if it were,

That would be amazing, dazzling, fitting,

But that was never the great thing.

It was as if he were a scholar

Whose job it was to quietly, steadily,

In a large way or a small one, to

Quietly, steadily, and quite seriously,

With enormous intention,

And yet no thought at all,

Absorb though exposure

Strange and random images,

Music, noise, sounds, thoughts,

Poetry, dangers, bliss—

Drink all the transporting tea of this

And then to breathe it in the heart

Of this new self that was himself

Influenced, of course, as we have said

By the past, by the press of all,

But not owned by any of it.

He would make a sound, a song, a music

That would speak a simple or

Complicated truth, or joke, or twist of fate.

A 12 or 13 philosophy—his own yen yang,

Surrealistic hog calling if that would

Bring I into B-B-B-B–Being,

Tell of Lake Tear of the Clouds,

And a spear through the ambient veil,

Or, now here’s where it gets personal,

About a call to a woman in the night,

A test of love she passed driving

Backwards down Spring Street waving.

It would involve chance elements.

The statement would be open to interpretation.

The participation of the listener and the viewer

Would play a part.

That’s how new it was meant to be.

 

This art, his sound, his music

Would exist and live in the air

Around the listener, but

Freedom, real freedom,

Not a catch phase version,

A real freedom searched for and found

Would fly in the space

Where his song was being born.

 

I’d like to end this story there

On that high and positive note.

I will resist Morrison’s deathless dirge,

And only say that what we have talked about

For these past few minutes went away.

He went away. Everything went away.

Not just the music, but the place

That he was so close to creating.

It is floating now, unformed,

In that still, chill oxygen

That fuels the dreams

That dwindle

Down at

Dawn.