“If I had been a better wife, he’d have been a better husband.”
I wept that sentence so many times. Even after I stopped saying it, a part of me truly still believed it. Then, one day, I was cleaning out my hard drive and I found the conversations online. I only read a few lines. I didn’t need to read more. I thought of the time he had to go “work” out of town for one of the jobs that wouldn’t pay him. I thought of his indignation if I even touched his phone. I told Gail via text message and she responded with…
“And how do you feel about that?”
Emotions freak me out, y’all. A tenderhearted moment by text was not going to help the raw humiliation coursing through me. I’ve never been a fan of therapy and called it witchcraft through the several college courses Gail had taken. It was a mutual joke, but her asking me such a Black Couch question made me feel like a case study. Defensively, I responded with…
Me: “Oh, don’t try that voodoo crap on me. Go shake your rat bones at someone else.”
Gail: “Well, fuck you. I was just trying to help.”
Me: “Did they teach you that in your Intro to Psych class? I’m glad you changed your major if you’re going to tell your patients to fuck off.”
I can count on one hand how many times Gail and I have fought in ten years and this would be one of them. It didn’t even escalate. We stopped texting each other about it and spoke in person. Calmly, I explained that she’d made me feel like Test Subject 9. She apologized and clarified that that wasn’t how it was meant. I apologized for being a bitch. End of fight.
I remember setting his clothes out for him the rare times he had work, so he’d have no excuse not to go. I remember telling him how proud I was that he was providing for his family so he’d keep it up. He never did… even when he wasn’t lying about having a job in the first place.
“If I’d been a better wife, he’d have been a better husband.”
I told Gail that day that I didn’t believe that anymore, but I was lying to us both. The conversations I found were dated from the last year of our relationship. A part of me still thought that if I’d motivated him properly, he’d have gotten a job early on in our marriage and would have become someone else, someone faithful.
Then, one day, I was lying in my living room floor. I wasn’t upset at all and was just trying to ease the pain in my back by resting my legs on the couch. I let my mind wander. I thought of all the times I’d left candles burning, forgotten to turn the stove off, microwaved a fork, left my Chi plugged in… and nothing happened. Fires don’t just start themselves. On July 12, 2007, my ex-husband lost his job… and I came home from work after less than an hour and everything was gone. What could be salvaged still smells of smoke and sometimes, just opening the right DVD case is enough to bring tears to my eyes.
The skill in my ex’s deception lay within his conviction, not his storytelling. He was always too innocent. He was the only one home, but claimed he’d never even turned on the stove. There was no insurance and therefore no thorough investigation, but there was still cash. The Red Cross and our landlord combined gave us around $1,000. That doesn’t include what we got from family. The devastation took everyone’s mind off the fact that he’d lost his job. The rent for the next month had been handled. The fire report stated that the cause was unknown, there were no wiring problems, and that the fire had started in the kitchen. The firemen speculated someone must have left the stove on.
My pets lay on the lawn with a blackened sheet over them. They looked like they were sleeping. The firemen said the cats hid from the flames. The stray puppy we’d just taken in was crated. They died of smoke inhalation… scared and confused. We acquired the kitten and the stray together, but the black cat had been mine since I was 13. I brought him into her life when I was the one who was supposed to protect her. I still hate myself for that. She must have been so terrified… and I wasn’t there.
Gail and I had drifted after high school. We hadn’t been close since my wedding, seven months earlier. We had both been so busy being miserably married that we hadn’t had much time for each other. She was still Gail, though. So when my heart was broken, I called her. She says the worst way I’ve ever opened a conversation was with “They’re all dead.” Hearing the story, she knew then that my ex had started the fire. She also knew better than to tell me that, because I’d feel I had to show loyalty toward him and defend him. It wasn’t until I lay in my living room floor a year and half ago, crying with the kind of sobs that shake your whole body and make you look uglier than a crying Anna Paquin, that I put the pieces together. When I relayed it all to Gail, she just said sadly “I know.”
He wasn’t sad the pets had died. He didn’t cry. He even told me he was relieved not to have them anymore. He tried to get me to spend the Red Cross money on a new XBOX. He swore he’d never used the stove.
He swore he’d never used the stove.
He swore he’d never used the stove.
Fires don’t just start themselves.
I slept next to that man for three more years.
Our junior year of high school, there was a man in a nearby town who had killed a little girl and contemplated eating her. I remember discussing with Gail how awful it would be to be the woman who lost her virginity to that man. I was right. I want to scrub my skin off thinking I ever let such a monster touch me… that he’s the only one who has.
I don’t know if my ex-husband ever loved me or if I was just his meal ticket. I tend to think he did at one time, but that he truly and thoroughly lost his soul that day, at 19 years old. I realize now that it doesn’t matter. He made his choices and I made mine. He used and abused me and I took it… for years. He honed his skills with me and he’ll only get better. Regardless, I’m waiting for the day he ends up in federal prison for targeting the wrong person. Nothing gives a gal peace of mind like knowing her psychotic ex-husband has a warrant out for his arrest in her home state. He’s not my problem anymore, though. Thank you, Jesus.
If I’d have been a better wife… he’d have just had a sweeter deal.
Thank God I lost the baby.