I don’t want to tell the next part of the story because I am ashamed. It’s weird because I have done a lot of things in my life that I am ashamed of, but I can tell myself I was mentally unwell, or in an untenable position, or I was too young to know better. But this time, I watched myself dig the hole and jump in, knowing I was doing something selfish and stupid, but unable to stop myself. Like watching a slow motion car accident that you yourself have caused. But I’ve shown the ugly side of my family and I can’t draw a line at showing how ugly I can be.
J lived down the road from Joyce and Jerome before they moved their doublewide to Tonia’s neighborhood. He was enrolled at the university and I had decided I needed to get a degree so I could support Nick and Monica and get off welfare, so I was enrolled at the university. We shared some generals classes. I’d danced with J a few times when we were out before Dan and I finally divorced. I knew J had a huge crush on me. I honestly don’t know how it started, but we started hanging out. I wasn’t recovered from the divorce from Dan. I look back at this time in the lives of Buddy, Pal, and Friend, and wonder why none of us or anybody around us seemed to realize we were mentally ill and had been for a long time, and we were decompensating.
‘Psychological decompensation’ is how psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists refer to periods of time, ‘episodes,’ when a person’s existing mental health condition deteriorates and their symptoms become very severe. Decompensation can be triggered by stress, fatigue, illness, or age. In decompensation, a person’s usual defense mechanisms break down, causing personality disturbances, worsening psychiatric symptoms, and extreme behaviors. Behaviors such as my descent into drinking, smoking, and promiscuity, or Tonia’s angry and hurtful outbursts, increased drinking, and deteriorating self esteem, or Sean’s return to drinking and experimenting with drugs more serious than pot.
When I kicked Sean out of my house, he went and found help. But my poor behavior continued. And one of those poor behaviors was taking advantage of J. He saw how hard I was working to pay my mortgage and offered to move in–just as roommates. I agreed. He quickly became my sitter and the person who paid for my alcohol and smokes. I let him sleep with me and he bought me a car and started paying all of my mortgage. The thing was, I didn’t like him. Not in a romantic way, and after a while, not even as a friend. He was so infatuated with me that I could basically do whatever I wanted and he wouldn’t protest as long as he could share my bed.
When I think about how I treated poor J, I’m deeply ashamed. But at the time I took it as a challenge. It became a game in my mind to see how far I could push him before he would stand up for himself and say ENOUGH. He watched me flirt and dance with Dan until Tonia made that stop and then he watched me flirt and dance with other men. I called him names and ridiculed the way he dressed. My brain was moving way faster than his because I was manic and I could argue him into submission easily. I tore him down if he showed any jealousy. He asked me to marry him and in a moment of rare self awareness and honesty, I told him no, because he couldn’t satisfy me emotionally, intellectually, sexually. I told him that, and said if we got married I would cheat on him constantly. Poor J was so twisted up by that time that he told me he would live with that as long as I came home to him. And I found that instead of finding his limit, I had found mine. I couldn’t treat the poor man that badly. He insisted I take the ring, because he’d paid for it and had it sized in hopes that I’d slide it on my finger after his surprise proposal. I wore it every once in a while, but it was far too flashy for me and it made me uncomfortable.
I had a dream that I woke up alone in my bed on a cool summer day. The house was quiet, but I could hear Nick and Monica outside. I walked down the hall to the living room which suddenly had new curtains: long white sheers, floating softly in the breeze from the open windows. The sun was shining into the empty room and it was so very peaceful. I walked back into my bedroom, also full of sunlight and floating curtains, and looked in the mirror. My reflection said to me, “It’s time. Get your shit together before you lose your kids, your house, and all your friends. Do it now.” and I closed my eyes and listened to the peacefulness of the empty house.
I woke up in my bed, alone. When I came back from rehearsal that night, I told J he had to leave. We couldn’t keep up this farce. He protested, saying I couldn’t afford to live without him and I told him I’d find a way. That’s when he finally seemed to realize that all the bullshit he’d endured from me was not going to end with us getting married and living happily ever after and he pushed me away from him as hard as he could. I went flying into the wall behind me. I stood up. I stepped up close to him until we were about three inches apart.
“Good for you, Big Man! You finally found your backbone! You wanna take another shot at me? You better do it now. Because this is the. LAST. Goddam. Time. a man lays his hands on me in anger and survives to tell the tale.”
Poor J burst into tears, begging me to forgive him, promising it would never happen again. I told him I knew it would never happen again because this was over. He was out of my house and he was never coming back. He took the flashy ring and threw it out into the back yard.
And so J left. And I went to the university and changed my major from psychology to theatre. Before long I had 2 new roommates–both female and straight. And I proceeded to try to get my shit together.