At work yesterday, a video came to my attention. It’s amusing, clever, and even sweet.
For me, it quickly became bittersweet, because the man in the video reminded me very much of my ex-fiancé, except Tony had a little less hair. Yes, now you know his name: Tony.
Anyway, it reminded me that I’d done a writing exercise back in January. My goal with the exercise was, as usual, to open Word and let out whatever was waiting to be spit up on the page. There was no forethought; I just started typing.
What showed up was a singular, rather horrific day in my relationship with Tony. I typed it in the third person, as though I was telling someone else’s story. The fact that I let it out at all is monumental; the details of that day were not shared in their entirety with any one person, ever.
I’m a person who, more often than not, will strive to put a good face on things. Part of that practice has to do with putting – or keeping – other people at ease (I’m a born peacekeeper and diplomat, and am a world-class enabler; used to be, at least), and part of it has to do with convincing myself that all is – or soon will be – right with the my world.
If I pretend that all is well in public, then surely all will be well in private. Right?
The problem with that practice is, it’s not 100% real. All this week I’ve been getting messages and signs related to “being real.” What you’ll be reading below is real; 100% so. I rewrote it in the first person to fully own it.
He opened the front door of the building, and the attached bells sounded his entrance in their sweet voices, while the heavy door with its large, glass pane quaked loudly in response when it met its frame.
He approached the window, and though he gazed through the mottled glass toward me, he didn’t make eye contact.
Without a word, I handed the envelope to him through the narrow opening. I watched with oddly (and gratefully) detached interest as he opened the envelope and inspected the tickets for two connecting flights I had purchased with money saved for our wedding; observed his eyebrows as they shot up in surprise.
“First class. Well, thank you for that, then,” he said in his proper British way. Today, that proper British way was at odds with the dark expression on his face, and the scathing tone of his voice.
I had nothing to say. “You’re welcome” would have been polite, and yet the words wouldn’t come.
“Can’t we talk about this?” he asked finally.
“Talk about what?” I asked in reply.
“What do you want me to do? Tell me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.” He finally looked directly at me, his eyes angry yet pleading.
“You want me to tell you what to do?” I was never so thankful for my acting experience, which was currently in overdrive and allowed me to speak without my voice cracking while maintaining a relatively calm demeanor.
“You want me to tell you what to do?” I repeated, dumbstruck at whatever ignorance within him prevented him from understanding that he, solely, was responsible for what was happening.
That was well and truly the last straw, in amongst straws that were almost too weighty for me to bear.
The man standing before me, my fiancé, who I was scheduled to marry in less than four months, had molested an 11-year-old boy; the son of a mutual friend. He had confessed to it only after the boy reported the incident to his father, and then to me only because our mutual friend forced him to.
The boy’s father made it clear he didn’t want the police involved, and he wanted the perpetrator gone. What he said to me was, “I want you to take care of this.” I accepted the burden, and did the only thing I could think to do.
“I want you to get help. I want you to know that what you did was wrong, and take responsibility for it, rather than asking for forgiveness; rather than continuing on as though nothing has happened,” I said, my voice rising slightly in spite of my desire to stay in control.
“I’ll get help, if you want me to,” he said eagerly, looking for all the world as though a carrot named “Hope” had been dangled before him for the taking.
I shook my head as much in disbelief as in refusal, control fully regained when any remaining softness in my aching heart was replaced with rock-hard resolve. “I want you to get help because you know you need to, not because I want you to. You need to leave now.”
He sputtered for a few seconds, unable to find adequate words to sway my decision. Finally, he turned around and left, slamming the front door as he exited, then slamming the door of his car after he got in, and screeching up the road as he drove away.
As soon as he was out of sight, I took a piece of plain, white paper from the printer, chose a black Sharpie from the pen holder, and wrote in careful print, “Closed temporarily due to an emergency. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please check back after 1:00.” It was 12:30.
I tore two pieces of tape off the dispenser, took the phones off their hooks, made my way around to the front door, affixed the sign to it, engaged the lock, and returned to the room behind my office.
Taking a folding chair from the stack against the wall, I opened it and then sat upon it, staring at the wall before me, which was blank save for a simple clock. My eyes were stinging with tears that wouldn’t come, even though my chest was heaving with them.
At 1:00, I stood, folded the chair, and placed it back in the stack. I walked around to the front door, removed the sign, crumpled it into a tight ball, and disengaged the lock. I returned to my office, dropped the ball of paper into the trash basket, and put the phone receivers back in their cradles.
I made phone calls to three different friends, telling them in a matter-of-fact manner that I had broken up with Tony. I didn’t go into detail, telling them only he would be on a plane to England early the next day, and, no, I wasn’t driving him to the airport; a mutual friend was.
At 5:00, I closed the office, and went home. All I could think about was taking a shower.
In the shower a few minutes later, with hot water pouring over me in its soothing way, the tears finally came.
There’s no way to get around the fact that on that particular day, nothing was right with my world; not one blessed thing. Its ripples still catch me by surprise, now and again.
A few months later, those ripples saw me retreating to the apartment I’d secured with the rest of the wedding money. It had gorgeous hardwood floors; a prerequisite because he had wanted hardwood floors in our home, and having them in my home afforded me great satisfaction.
That apartment was a passive-aggressive “F-you” that saved me, once the passive aggression faded. It became a sacred space; a healing space.
Time, as it happens, does heal. It doesn’t cure, and yet it does heal. And that healing has allowed me to see that I wouldn’t have been happy with Tony, even without “the incident.” For that, I’m grateful.