I should have suspected something was wrong last year during March Madness when we’d gone to a neighborhood bar to watch the Final Four. At half-time, a lively woman with short gray hair in a pixie cut wandered over and struck up a conversation with us. She seemed a little tipsy but was friendly enough, and as we continued talking, we agreed to meet her next door at another bar where she claimed a good band was playing. She said she was planning her 60th birthday, and after a few more shots of tequila, I had the feeling she was trying to pick us up. When she finally leaned into me and asked if we were monogamous, I answered “yes.” My partner said: “no.”
We didn’t take her up on her offer to go home with her, but over the next couple of weeks the incident got a few laughs when I told my friends how surprised I was that my age, 55, anyone–man or woman–would take an interest in me. But I never really told them how angry my partner seemed to be as we walked home, or how a couple of weeks later, hoping to clear the air, I told him that I’d waited ten years for him to move in with me, and I wasn’t interested in sharing. Little did I know that two months later he’d be gone, leaving me to pick up the pieces of our thirteen year relationship that included two broken marriages, a partnership in a small literary press, and what I thought to be love.
Each afternoon that he lived with me, he’d go downstairs to the lobby of our building to pick up the mail. When I came home from work later in the day, I’d find envelopes addressed to me sitting neatly on the corner of my desk. This arrangement work well until he abruptly left, and less than a week later, I received a strange envelope with my name on it from a bank I had no business with. Inside, was a credit card statement, detailing an outstanding balance of over $18K.
In that brief moment, I was no longer a middle aged college administrator with a part-time writing/publishing career, whose “partner” had just announced he was leaving to pursue his interests in poetry as well as other women (and possibly men); I was a victim of the sort of deception dramatized on Dateline NBC and documented in tabloid magazines that I’d always skimmed over.
When I look back on it now, all the clichés ring true. I considered him “the love of my life,” “my soul mate,” but now a whole new set of clichés came to mind–phrases I never thought would ever be applied to me. I had been “blinded by love” with “the wool firmly pulled over my eyes.” That’s when I started to look for clues, clues that would’ve told me that even when he’d first moved in, he wasn’t with me to stay.
#1. The Zipcar Account
I’ve owned a car for over twenty-two years. Not the same car; different cars. Used cars. Cars that wouldn’t be a vandal’s first choice for break-ins or put me out thousands of dollars if wrecked in a crash. Cars that can be easily parallel parked in New York City and loaned to friends, neighbors, (or lovers), if need be.
My partner was a man with great aspirations, but was always short of funds, so I was surprised one day when he insisted on opening a Zipcar account because, as he pointedly explained: “you never know when you might need to get away.” At the time, I hadn’t thought he was speaking literally, as get away from me, or the fact that despite never carrying around more than a couple of bucks, he’d already gone ahead and set up a Zipcar account, the automatic payment taken directly from his debit card.
#2. The Storage Facility
I’ve never owned more belongings than I have space for, yet my partner, who had virtually nothing, had been renting space in a storage facility in an out-of-the-way location a couple of miles from our apartment. Another automatic deduction was drawn from what I was soon to learn was a coding checking account. When I suggested he move his things into my building where storage was cheaper and easier to access, he balked, explaining that having his own space gave him a sense of autonomy, an idea I empathized with, but felt could be trumped by convenience and expense, especially since it appeared that our life together was just beginning.
Surprisingly, a year after he moved in, he took my advice and hauled his boxes of books, drawings, and “correspondence” into a locker only an elevator’s ride from our apartment. I thought he’d feel relieved–his possessions were secure in the basement of the building, his monthly expenses cut in half, and he could access it all whenever he liked! Instead, two years later, he muttered incoherently as he hauled those same boxes out into his waiting Zipcar, eager to get everything out of my building as fast as he could.
#3 The Three External Hard Drives
As a writer, I’m aware of the importance of backing up computer files, and I admit, I’m not as conscientious about it as I should be. I know where my files are, and the important ones have been copied onto flash drives, other computers, and nest in the cloud above, so it may not come as a surprise that I wasn’t too bothered by his desire to purchase several external hard drives. I rationalized it this way: he was a publisher. He needed to make sure his most valuable possessions—the manuscripts–were preserved. But in what I now know where the waning days of our relationship, as he packed up to flee the apartment as if scrambling for the last chopper out of Saigon, I saw how useful those external hard drives were: they could simply be stacked into a messenger bag, as easily as shoving a couple of paperbacks into a backpack. “Yeah,” I sighed, realizing the practicality of it all. He hadn’t even needed to waste time turning on the computer and copying the files.
How does one recognize deceit or honor feelings of disharmony or foreboding? Are the clichés true that “nothing is as good as it seems,” or “all that glitters is not gold?” My partner had been a shining nugget, nestled in a gutter of sludge. My eye caught the gleam but never asked why the thing had been tossed away in the first place or how something that seemed so precious could blend in so well with mud and muck. People ask me if there were “red flags,” warning signs of his criminal intentions? Of course there were red flags, but they only became apparent once my vision cleared and I was no longer blinded by love and the belief in happy endings.
In the months before he left, I remember coming home from work, feeling an overwhelming sense of harmony–more specifically, after all the uncertainties in our relationship, we were finally together, sharing a home, and managing what seemed to be a successful business. While coasting down the wide tree-lined streets in my neighborhood mesmerized by the newly budding dogwoods and manicured lawns that still existed in the crowded borough, I promised myself that when I got back to the apartment, I’d tell him how happy I was.
But at the same time that I was having these profound feelings of tranquility and joy, I was also conscious of the others around me who seemed mired in discord, caught up in lawsuits, divorce, and general middle aged malaise. Little did I know that soon I’d be thrown into a drama a thousand times worse than I could have imagined which would include emotional and financial betrayal, lawyers, bank executives, and unspeakable acts of cruelty counterbalanced by infinite depths of love as my friends’ tried to bring me back from the abyss.
#4 Pronouncements About An Uncertain Future
Whenever I mentioned plans about our future, my partner would shake his head and remind me: “You never know what can happen.” Of course I knew what could happen. I was a writer. I read Russian novels and French philosophers…but I just never thought it could happen to me. I was fully aware that any day a tragedy could strike. I could contract a fatal illness; he could be run over by a truck, lose an arm, a leg, become paraplegic. I never thought that what he really meant was: “I’ll be out of here soon, so don’t make any plans that include me.”
I was under the impression that since we’d fought so hard to be together, our connection would remain strong, not, as he must have seen it: that our struggle had been the relationship, and when things became calm, the tension that existed between us was no longer there, and my existence became simply a vehicle for his own survival, just as other women had performed that function for him in the past.
#5. The Maxed-Out Credit Card
For two and a half years, he’d been living with a secret. Once a month, after returning to the apartment with the mail, he’d have to hide the envelope with the credit card statement so I didn’t find the evidence of the increasing debt in my name. Sometime, toward the end of our relationship, just as the credit card was maxing out, he must have put his exit plan into place, knowing it would look better for him if he got out before I found out.
By the time I opened the envelope, he’d been gone a week, living on a friend’s couch. I couldn’t even read the dollar figure because I never kept an outstanding balance on a credit card, which made his crime even more egregious. Not only did I lose my partner, I was forced to realize that this person who I’d loved and cared for, who’d acted charming and thoughtful for most of our time together, had been doing just that: “acting.” He didn’t care about me or my values, or how his irresponsible behavior might leave me in debt. Either consciously or subconsciously he’d waited until the funds ran out before announcing it was time for him to go.
I don’t know where my former partner is now, or who he’s living off of, but I know it must be someone. Since his departure, I’ve read a lot about sociopaths, and incredibly, he seems to have all the characteristics: charm, spontaneity, intensity, intelligence, poetic, as well as the others: a liar who sees the world in win or lose terms, incapable of love, delusional, and unapologetic for his behavior. Most advice for dealing with this kind of personality disorder is to keep a strict “no contact” rule because sociopaths hardly ever “get better.” This is not the way I’d like our relationship to end, but it’s the way it has to be.
Friends tell me that I shouldn’t blame myself, but who else is there to blame? The signs were all there. I just didn’t care to see them, or thought I was exempt from the way he’d treated others. I wanted that happy ending, not an episode of Law and Order. If I’d been more skeptical, I might’ve been able to understand that our time together was limited and he wasn’t.