When I got home from my visit with Greg, I found Brad sitting in front of the television watching a bootleg copy of Dexter. Uhg! He knows how I feel about shows we don’t pay for. If it doesn’t come with our cable package, then watching it is the same as stealing, plain and simple. I’m not OK with that, but he sees nothing wrong with it. Says, “People do it all the time.” Doesn’t make it right, so how do I justify being married to a thief, and what is this teaching Calleigh? A visceral discord ate at my conscience.
“I know how Dexter feels.” Brad shared his random thought as I entered the room.
“Excuse me?” I stared at the TV screen for a moment, confused by the odd comment. “What do you mean you know how he feels? Isn’t Dexter supposed to be a psychopathic serial killer?” For not having watched the show, I had seen people post on social media and had gleaned a few magazine covers on newsstands.
“Yeah, but he only kills the bad guys—the ones who think they’re getting away with stuff. If you’d watch it, you’d know that Dexter’s really the good guy. He takes out the trash society is too stupid to see; but he gets away with it because he’s learned the dance—you know, how to perform and give people what they want.” Brad sounded proud about this trait. “Dexter’s mastered the act of B.S.ing—so well, in fact, that those who know him actually believe the charade, kind of like me.” Blasé. Detached. Devoid of emotion. Brad mimicked Dexter’s character, almost too perfectly. A shudder ran up my spine.
“So, tell me, how does that pertain to you?” Staring at Brad’s lifeless expression, I almost wished I hadn’t asked.
Brad’s sneer ridiculed my refinement. “What do you think it means? I know you’re not as stupid as you look. Act like you have two brain cells between your ears and come up with your own conclusion.” He shifted in his recliner, irritated by my presence. “I’m a pretty damn good actor, Hope. You still don’t know the truth from a lie. I could be Dexter’s understudy.”
My heart caught in my throat. Even though I wanted this to be some kind of perverted joke, I suddenly felt the urge to vomit. Does he really mean what he just said? Is everything I know about him a lie? Calleigh’s dramatic entrance into the family room interrupted my scathing thoughts.
Displaying a royal air, Calleigh waltzed in front of the TV, decked out in her princess ball gown and plastic tiara. Her doe eyes batted long lashes as she looked up at Brad. “Will you come to the ball with me, Daddy? It’s getting ready to start, and I need a date.”
Brad looked down at his little rabble-rouser, declining her invitation. “Not tonight, Sweetie. Daddy’s tired. Maybe some other time.”
Calleigh’s lower lip rolled out into a dejected pout. “But the dance is tonight, and I won’t have anyone to go with me.”
Brad chuckled at her exaggerated predicament. “And where is this lovely little dance?”
Calleigh jumped up and down in her oversized slip-on shoes and giggled. “In my bedroom! I’ve made it all pretty in there, and there’s music, too!” She grabbed at his hand and started tugging in the direction of her bedroom. “Come on, Daddy. You will love it.”
“But I’m not dressed for a ball,” he objected. “Daddies don’t go to balls in t-shirts and jeans.”
“I can fix that,” I interjected, winking at Calleigh. “Wait right here.” I darted past the kitchen, through the living area, and into the master bedroom, returning with a black sports coat and solid red tie from Brad’s portion of the closet. “Here, I think this will do.” I produced a confident smile, handing Brad his ballroom ensemble.
“Really, Hope? You expect me to wear a tie? I’ve had a long day at work. I just want to sit here and veg in front of the TV. Is that too much to ask?” Brad gave an exasperated sigh and stared at me with deadpan eyes. I draped the sports coat over one of his arms and dropped the tie into his opposite hand.
“Pretend,” I smiled through clenched teeth. “When a princess invites you to a ball, you attend the ball.” I matched his stare, refusing to back down. Sensing an objection coming on, I turned to Calleigh. “Sweetie, please give Mommy and Daddy just one moment. Daddy needs some help getting ready for your special event.”
Calleigh’s head bobbed up and down in excitement. “OK. I’ll go turn up the music. You’ll be able to hear it, so come find me in my bedroom.”
“Daddy will be there in just a minute,” I promised. Calleigh’s skirts rustled about her legs, swooshing and whooshing as she dashed toward her bedroom—all princess-like, of course.
I grabbed Brad’s arm and forced him to look at me. “You have a little girl in there who has been planning this pretend dance all afternoon, waiting for Daddy to escort her to her fairytale ball. You will not disappoint her,” I said in hushed tones. “I don’t care how tired you are. She never sees you, and this is a simple request you can make happen.” My glare dared him to challenge me. “It doesn’t have to be long,” I continued. “Five, ten minutes tops—but you need to show up. Little girls need their daddies to be their heroes, and Calleigh needs you to be hers. Five minutes,” I reiterated. “She’s not going to remember how long you were there. She is going to remember, however, whether or not Daddy came to her dance. So, you’re going to make this memory a positive one.”
Brad rolled his eyes and extended his coat to me. “What do I do with this?”
I looked at him in disbelief. “Wear it.”
“With a t-shirt?” He wrinkled his nose.
“It’s make-believe,” I stated. “Pretend it’s a tux. You’re good at that, remember?” I didn’t even try to hide the snide edge in my voice. “Pretend you’re having a good time. I guarantee she’s going to think you look handsome.” I took the coat from his arm and helped him slide into it.
“The tie, too?” he groaned.
I rolled my eyes. “Yes.” You big baby. “The tie too.”
Brad fiddled with the polyester material until it fit like a noose around his neck. “How’s this?” He held out his arms and showed off his mismatched attire.
I forced a grin. “Your princess will adore it.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A few days later, I stood in the kitchen with cell phone in hand. “Mrs. Moore? Ma’am? Are you still there? Did you hear me?” The female on the other end of the line voiced her concern.
“Um, yes. I heard you,” I answered softly.
“The test results are positive,” she repeated. “Would you like me to connect you with the scheduling department so you can make an appointment to see the doctor?”
I shook my head slowly, trying to press through my mental fog. “Uh, no. I’ll schedule a follow-up later. Thank you for letting me know.” I ended the call then laid down the phone. Positive. The test results are positive. How can that even be possible? I sat at the kitchen table, stunned. Now what?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Brad stood in the middle of our master bathroom, waiting for me to move. Blocking the only exit to the room and Brad’s only way of escape, I challenged him for an answer. “I have never, ever been with another man, Brad, so please tell me how I got chlamydia. I’d really like to know.”
Brad stared down his nose, bothered by my existence. “I don’t know, a toilet seat in a public bathroom? How would I know that information? I don’t follow you around all day.” He crossed his arms, clearly annoyed.
“Do I look like I have S-T-U-P-I-D written across my forehead?” I retorted, noting the smirk on his face. “What part of this do you think is funny?” I blinked back his absurd response, unable to fathom what he found so hilarious. “I just told you I have a sexually transmitted disease, and you’re the only partner I’ve ever had, so is there something you would like to tell me?”
He observed me blankly, his posture sagging. “Like what?”
A big DUH! projected itself with my raised eyebrows. “Have you been with anyone else? If it’s not me, that only leaves one other person in this equation.” I vocalized the math for him, irritated that I had to spell it out for him.
“And you think it’s me?” He nearly choked on his laughter.
“Well, was it?” I kept my tone firm. “This isn’t a joke. I want a real answer. Have you been with anyone other than me?”
Brad made eye contact for all of two seconds then grunted. “Of course, I haven’t slept with anyone else.”
I searched his face for truth. “Look at me when you say that,” I demanded. “Is that a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’?”
His countenance shifted, his breathing controlled. “No, Hope. I’m not sleeping with other women.” The daggers in his eyes dared me to defy his reality.
I may choose to ignore it, but I know a lie when I see it. I stared back at him, unwavering. “Any men?”
He just about hit the ceiling. “Oh, my word, no! Do I look gay to you?” He opened his arms to display his masculinity. “I am absolutely, positively not homosexual,” he stammered. “I do not swing that way.” His awkward laugh only brought on more suspicion.
“Well, whatever’s going on, you need to get tested. Fact is, my test came back positive; and, if I have it, that means you probably do, too. Thank goodness it’s treatable!” My gaze remained fixated on his face.
“What?” he copped an attitude.
“Chlamydia can cause infertility,” I emphasized. “You know that big family you said you were wanting? You can kiss those chances good-bye. I may not die from this disease, but there are still consequences.” I crossed my arms and tapped my foot on the tile floor. “So, who was she? What’s her name? Was it worth it?”
“I told you,” he spat in disgust. “I don’t know how you got chlamydia. There was no her. The person who should be pissed here is me! Who have you been screwing while I’ve been gone all day? Huh? That’s the real question.”
My eyes widened, and I choked on my words. “How dare you!” I exploded. “I have never been unfaithful to you—ever!” My body trembled, every fiber of my being wishing I had poured my faithfulness into someone actually deserving of it. A sharp pang pricked my heart, zapping my breath and weakening my knees.
False pity and contempt filled Brad’s eyes. “It’s actually a shame I didn’t see you for who you really were before I married you,” he scoffed. “I could’ve saved us both a whole lot of time and heartache.” Pushing past me, he exited the bathroom, grabbing his keys and jacket while heading out the bedroom door. “Forget supper,” he yelled over his shoulder. “I’m going out tonight. Don’t try calling or texting me, either. I’ll be home whenever I’m damn ready—and not a moment before!” I stood frozen until I heard the front door slam shut.
Running to my purse, I pulled it off the closet door and rummaged through its contents until I located the pamphlets Greg had given me. Collapsing on the edge of my bed, I read the bold letters across the top of the first page: “WHAT DOES ABUSE LOOK LIKE?” I scanned the bulleted highlights.
- Using economic power to control you
- Threatening to leave
- Making you afraid by using looks, gestures, or actions
- Smashing things
- Controlling you through minimizing, denying, and blaming
- Making light of the abuse and not taking your concerns about it seriously
- Continually criticizing you, calling you names, shouting at you
- Emotionally degrading you in private, but acting charming in public
- Humiliating you in private or public
- Withholding approval, appreciation, or affection as punishment
Tears started streaming down my face. “Lord, this is my life. This is happening to me!” I cried. “I don’t want to live like this. How do I get out of this nightmare?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
A few days later, the washing machine chugged and whirred, sending an unknown item tumbling and clanking against the metal sides. I ran into the laundry room and lifted the lid, abruptly stopping the cycle. “What’s making all that racket?” I muttered to myself. Digging through several of Brad’s sopping-wet work slacks, a bright red cigarette lighter slid from one of the pant pockets. It dinged the basin as it fell back into the remaining clothes. Fishing it out of the tub, I dropped the lid shut, restarting the machine. “Why would he be carrying around a cigarette lighter?”
Marching into Brad’s office, I entered, unannounced. I tossed the lighter at him. It made a small thud as it landed on top of his desk. I stood back and crossed my arms.
“Hey, Babe! What’s up?” His greeting held a rather unusual, chipper tone. Stretching out his arm, he gestured to me to join him by his desk. I didn’t move.
“What is that?” I nodded to the lighter, irritation creeping into my voice.
“It appears to be a lighter,” he stated.
“And where did it come from? What is it for?” I pried.
Brad looked at me like I had a third eye on my forehead. “Is this some kind of trick question? Lighters are usually used to light things.” He rolled his thumb across the top of the tube, igniting a flame. “See? Like this. Looks like this one still works. Mind telling me where this conversation is going?” He set the item of contention back on his desk.
“Any idea where I found it?” I challenged.
He feigned innocence. “I have no idea, but I bet yer gonna tell me.”
“Don’t act all innocent,” I denied his sarcasm. “I pulled it out of the wash tonight, but you probably already knew that. Know how I know you know that?” I pursed my lips. “Because it fell out of one of your pant pockets. Nobody could have put it there besides you; so, I’m just curious. What was it doing there?” I waited for a plausible answer.
Brad began to squirm. “Your guess is as good as mine.” He looked at me and chuckled—the way he always did when concocting a lie.
“Are you smoking? Is that what you’re using it for?” I probed.
“No, Honey. I’m not smoking.”
“Really? Are you sure about that?” I debated. “You’ve been coming home a lot recently smelling like cigarette smoke, and I found a hidden stash of cigarettes out in the garage a few weeks ago. Is this a new habit you’ve picked up?” His visual discomfort grew.
“I don’t know where you come up with your cockamamie ideas; but, I promise you, I’m not smoking.” He leaned back in his chair, eyeing me with ridicule.
I shook off his attempt at an insult. “Don’t lie to me, Brad. I’m not stupid. I know when you’re not telling the truth, and you’re lying through your teeth right now. What aren’t you telling me?” Too much eye contact. Not enough contact. Nervous chuckles. Erratic sighs. Fidgety hands. Restless words. Inconsistent answers. Irrational reasoning. Questionable logic. Intolerant communication. I know he’s covering something up. I just don’t know what.
“You’re making something out of nothing,” he insisted. “Nothing’s wrong, and I’m not smoking. Your imagination is running wild again. Give it a rest.”
A knot started forming in the pit of my stomach. He is hiding something. Why won’t he say what it is? “What’s her name then? Is that why you haven’t been coming home until almost midnight every night these past few months? Is it someone from work?” I watched his eyes spark, then relax into humor.
“Since I’m not smoking, I must be sleeping around, huh? That’s your conclusion? You sure think a lot of me.” He mocked my thought process. “You’re full of it. You know that? There’s no other woman, and I’m not cheating on you. You need to find a hobby. Our marriage is never going to last if you keep up with this witch hunt.”
I shook my head. “I’m not buying it, Brad. Something more is going on here, and I deserve to know what you’re not telling me. I’m not crazy. When you’re ready to tell me the truth and let me in on your little secret, I’ll be in the other room.” I breezed out of his office, slamming the door behind me.
“Grow up!” Brad yelled after me. “I’m not talking to you until you start acting like an adult.”
Whatever. I kept walking.
No matter what time Brad came home, he now had a new routine. Shower. Brush teeth. Gargle with mouthwash. Fresh clothes. Give the wife a brief hug or greeting when he reentered the room, but that depended on his mood. He preferred keeping distance between us, pretending I didn’t exist most days. Yeah. Something’s going on, but it’s not me inventing stories or losing my mind.
About twenty minutes passed before I felt Brad’s arms encircle my waist while I stood folding laundry. I jumped at his closeness. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” he apologized.
I let out a deep sigh, shoulders wilting. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“It’s just me.” He nuzzled my neck, attempting to show some affection. I cringed at how insincere it felt. “Will you forgive me? I shouldn’t have talked to you the way I did.”
I continued folding the shirt in my hand then reached for another, forcing Brad to loosen his hold on my waist. “I wish you’d start being honest with me. I’ve never done anything to deserve anything less from you,” I shared my hurt.
“Fair enough. You want the truth?” Brad took my hand and guided me to a cushion next to him on the loveseat next to the couch. I followed mindlessly, tossing a pair of socks into the laundry basket before sitting down.
“I always want your honesty,” I voiced sincerity. “I can’t imagine it’s any worse than the number of things I’ve conjured up in my head, wondering what you’re keeping from me.”
He nodded, face sullen. “I get that.” Releasing a pent-up sigh, he paused for dramatic effect. “Where do I start?” He struggled to find the right words. “I haven’t been up front with you, but I want to come clean now.”
My heart began pounding. You can handle this. Knowing is better than not knowing. He’s finally going to tell you the truth. I sucked in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. “I’m listening.”
“I hope you don’t hate me when I’m done telling you what I’m about to.” He looked me in the eye, trying to gauge my emotions.
“Just say it, already. You can stop with the suspense,” I instructed. Placing both hands in my lap, I forced myself to look him in the face. “Who is she?”
Brad’s lips transformed into a smile, and he shook his head, maintaining the mystery. “It’s nothing like that. I can only wish it were that easy. That’d make what I’m dealing with so much simpler.”
My confusion deepened. “I don’t understand. You think adultery would be simpler than your current situation?” I studied him with concern. “What have you gotten yourself into, Brad?”