After he spewed that venom, he still went to the party. I stayed home and replayed his words until I started believing them. Obviously now, I can see those are the words of a deeply insecure and troubled human being, but over time, I feared he was right. I know that’s sick, but Andrew was my husband, my supposed soul mate, the best thing that had ever happened to me. We’d been together for a while, and I trusted him implicitly. If he was upset with me, my first instinct was to figure out what I’d done wrong.
So, I tried to be better. From then on, I always made sure I was dressed and made up when he got home from work. I never turned down an invitation to attend a party with him and while we were together, I made sure to be a sweet, doting wife. In return, our marriage stayed the course. Andrew continued to bring home flowers (Yellow roses, my favorite!) even though I suspected he’d delegated the task of retrieving them to his secretary. We continued going on a date every Wednesday night, but more often than not I shared the time with his phone, which was never on silent.
Andrew kept climbing higher at his company, closer and closer to the American dream. His stress filled the empty space beneath our thinly constructed veneer, until there were too many cracks to control. It became impossible for me to differentiate between normal marital blowups and insidious emotional abuse.
“Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you!?” he yelled at me one night after he’d lost his erection in the middle of sex. It was an impossible situation to navigate. If I consoled and reassured him, he would lash out defensively. So, I said nothing at all, and he seized the silence like a weapon. “I can get it up just fine—guess you just don’t turn me on anymore.”
In case you’re wondering, I’m a fucking excellent lover, I’d just reached the point where I couldn’t stand his touch, and he must’ve felt it. Of course, now I can look back and spot the abuse and manipulation like a vandalized copy of an I Spy book. Oh yup, there it is—circled right in front of you. But, when I was in it, I didn’t realize I was in it, living it—a complacent participant. The incidents were so spaced out that during the peaceful periods in between, I’d convince myself he’d changed, that he’d learned to cope better with his stress and wouldn’t say another hurtful thing to me. Even worse than that, I started to expect the abuse. I’d grown calluses. When he said I was pathetic, dumb, and worthless, I believed him because he coupled each insult with a dose of gaslighting. “Who else would want to be with you? If you left me, no one else would have you. You’re a boring wife and a boring fuck. Be glad I’m with you.”
Be glad I’m with you.
Be glad I’m with you.
He was holding my head under water, and I didn’t drown, didn’t break. I grew gills.
Four years into our marriage, it looked like Andrew was perfect. Everyone agreed, and I was glad.
I hadn’t spoken a word about his behavior to anyone around me, and that was an intentional choice on both of our parts. After the first few arguments, he’d hold me in bed and rub my back and tell me our personal life was ours. “We’re stars, babe, and stars burn hot. People won’t understand.” Of course, I wholeheartedly agreed. In the beginning, I still believed the best of him. I didn’t want to betray his trust and spew our dirty laundry to the world, especially since I was so sure each bad time was the last. Somewhere in the middle though, denial that it would continue dissolved into shame and embarrassment that it had and would.
I turned inward, pushing my family and everyone else away even more, and Andrew capitalized on that. He kept in touch with our friends when I didn’t. He put on a warm, friendly facade when we were out at parties. He was such a clever puppeteer, especially when you consider the fact that you can’t file a police report for words like you can for punches, and Andrew knew that. He never once hit me.
I did finally work up the courage to talk about it with Rebecca. She was the closest thing I had to a friend back in Los Angeles. We’d get lunch a few times a month and meet up for yoga here and there.
I broached the subject in a whisper, after a scripted answer about being annoyed with his adorable quirks.
“Actually, I don’t think I’m happy…with Andrew.”
She looked up from her salad, confused. “What do you mean? Is he working a lot?”
“Yes, but it’s not about that,” I said, talking in a stream-of-consciousness confession I was piecing together in real time. “I feel like I’ve told myself I’m happy so many times I’ve totally forgotten what the word means.”
She waved her hand as if to say, Nonsense. “That’s just life. God, Jeff has been in the office more than ever. I swear he’s screwing his receptionist.”
She laughed and continued eating her salad like, chomp, chomp, chomp, my husband is cheating on me, can you pass the salt?
I focused on my untouched pasta. “I’m thinking about leaving Andrew. I’m really considering it, actually.”
“Because he’s working a lot?”
“No.” I was annoyed we weren’t on the same page. “I’ve been thinking about this a lot, trying to objectively say whether or not I’m happy.” I shook my head, trying to make my point clear. “I don’t think it’s something you can measure. It’s just—when I wake up in the morning, my first thought is to run, to get away.” I leaned closer and lowered my voice. “He’s not who everyone thinks he is.”
She rolled her eyes, sat back in her chair, and dabbed her mouth with her napkin. “Listen, Andrew might not be the best husband in the world, but your marriage seems pretty perfect to me. Didn’t he just buy you that bracelet last week? The last thing Jeff bought me was an air freshener for my car.”
I looked down at the diamonds shimmering on my wrist. It was true, he’d bought the bracelet for me out of the blue, but we both knew it was an apology for the hurtful things he’d said. The night before that lunch, I hadn’t been wearing it, and he’d told me I was ungrateful. I’d learned my lesson: it would never leave my wrist so long as he was around.
Rebecca took my silence as an admission of guilt. “Listen, if you’re trying to get some kind of settlement from him after the divorce, you’d better be careful. I have a friend who went down that path, and she ended up with nothing. Now her husband is married to some woman half her age and she’s waiting tables in Santa Monica.”
It was pointless. I was getting nowhere. She didn’t want to hear the truth any more than I wanted to speak it. I knew then that if I was ever going to leave, I’d have to do it on my own, so I did. That diamond bracelet is sitting in some pawn shop in Beverly Hills and here I am, the new housekeeper for Blue Stone Ranch.
It feels pretty good, though technically, I haven’t started yet. I’m still working out where to begin. Jack spent all of two minutes pointing me in the direction of the cleaning closet, all the while reminding me of my duties.
“Clean the house, do the laundry, make sure the fridge and pantry are stocked. Cook lunch for Edith and me, sweep, vacuum, that sort of thing.”
My go-getter attitude seemed to poke at him. “Right, and of course, I’ll need you to feed and bathe your new furry friend, too.”
I swear his eyes held an evil gleam.
I wasn’t kidding earlier when I said my life flashed before my eyes as Alfred ran for me. Dogs just aren’t my thing, not since one latched onto my butt when I was a kid. I still have a tiny scar on my right cheek.
Of all my duties, I’m most excited about cooking, but Jack mentioned he and Edith were planning on eating leftovers from last night for lunch. So, that leaves cleaning and dog duties. Cleaning it is! No problem. Awesome. I root through the closet then make my way through the house, collecting any supplies I think I’ll need to complete my tasks. I’m going to start with the bathrooms, mostly so I can prove Jack wrong.
I saw how gleeful he looked at the concept of me on all fours, scrubbing toilets. He thinks I’m going to cave and leave, or beg for another job, something a little more glamorous. Little does he know, I’m done with glamour. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be.