I managed to calm down before he got home…at least somewhat. I took Abe out of his cage and put him on my shoulder, because his birdie warmth is always a comfort to me.
I kept reminding myself that I hadn’t done anything wrong and that, if anything, I ought to be angry that he’d violated my privacy, but the truth was that I felt anxious and defensive (which was his intention, I’m sure: leaving the Chromebook out like that, instead of asking me about it immediately in a gentle and non-confrontational way, was his way of maximizing the suspense. He knew he wouldn’t have to torture me while he was working all afternoon–he set it up so that I’d do it to myself).
How was I going to behave when he walked in the door? What did I do? He hadn’t given me anything to work with, so I had no idea what he was feeling. I jumped out of my skin every time my phone beeped, but he wasn’t sending me any text messages. I was just twisting in the wind.
Well, I’m not proud to admit it, readers, but, since I was afraid and, irrationally, felt guilty, I folded like a cheap card table before he even got home and decided the safest thing to do would be to acknowledge my supposed “crime,” explain myself–if he was interested in hearing it–and offer to do whatever I needed to do to diffuse the situation. I surrendered at the first whiff of gunpowder.
It’s embarrassing, really. Other people in my life would be taken aback by this passivity.
When he returned, I’d dutifully returned Abe to his cage and taken off my clothes and was working on one of these watercolor paint-by-numbers books he bought for me last time we went to the Met. My “paintings” all turn out horrible because I can’t paint for shit, but he finds them charming and sometimes hangs them on the fridge like I was a little kid or something.
The elevator stopped at his door and my stomach flipped over. I asked myself which was better: to look like a guilty Golden Retriever who’d scattered the trash all over the house, or to try to look “normal.”
I heard his shoes rapping on the wooden floor as he walked into the room, a little past the doorway.
“Welcome back. Can I get you anything? I put a bottle of wine in the fridge to chill,” I said. Sometimes he likes to have a beer or a glass of wine when he comes home from work.
He stared at me, expressionless, and then turned and walked out without a word.
I heard him walk down the long hall to his bedroom. Then, the sound of running water. He was taking a shower–it was a hot, sticky day outside.
I suddenly felt exposed, alone in that big room without any clothes, and I put my painting away and retired to my doorless bedroom. He’d come and get me when he felt like it. I lay down on the bed, curled up on my side, and stared guiltily at the big book that held the chromebook.
I heard him making a few work calls from inside his office, and that was it: no music, no TV news, no invitation to conversation. It was silent in the house, and it was making me a nervous wreck, because it wasn’t normal–he wasn’t a noisy guy, he never played anything at a high volume, but he typically kept to a routine: relax after getting home (or work), dinner, bathtime with me (or go back to work), etc. Even Abe was silent, and usually he sent me the occasional contact call when I was out of sight for too long.
Finally: cooking noises. If possible, my heart sank a little more. Dinnertime was usually a delight, part of our quality time, but since the toast, I never trusted it completely again.
He appeared suddenly in my bedroom doorway and I jumped, startled. This time, I hadn’t heard him come up–he’d taken off his socks and leather-soled shoes and was in his bare feet.
I couldn’t stand it anymore, and blurted: “How long have you known?”
He cocked his head to the side and calmly laid out a trap: “Known what, Margo?”
“About the book!” I pointed at it.
“Oh, Margo,” he said, softly. “I’ve always known. Do you think I don’t know what goes on in my own house?”
Oh, the horror, the horror. It reminded me exactly of growing up in my mother’s house, when she would give me no privacy and go through my rucksack and all my stuff even though I wasn’t acting out or disobeying any rules or having any behavioral or academic problems. It gave me a neurosis about privacy that’s endured all my life, and it made me paranoid as hell. It’s not fun, being paranoid and unable to trust people.
Well, I couldn’t take it. I burst into tears.
Now, I don’t know about you, but usually when someone I care about starts crying, I feel compassion and try to comfort them, even if I’m angry with them. It’s alarming to me, because nobody in my family ever cries and when I see someone else do it, I think they must be dying or something.
So, I don’t know, I was hoping this would be sufficient evidence of contrition and how miserable I was and maybe he would come over to the bed and give me a hug.
Instead, he just said, softly, “Dinner is ready. Come to the table.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think I can eat.”
“You will eat. Come to the table. We’re having ravioli.”
(In retrospect: telling your sobbing houseguest/girlfriend “We’re having ravioli!” strikes me as distinctly bizarre.)
I nodded, got up from the bed, and said I’d be out as soon as I blew my nose and got myself together in the bathroom.
I did that, smoothed my hair, and walked to the dining table. The table was set and he was dishing out the pasta.
“Have a seat,” he said, nodding at my chair.
I sat down. Again.
The pasta was fresh from the Italian deli up the street and so was the marinara sauce and I had no appetite whatsoever. Quite the contrary: I felt like I was going to throw up.
What is up with this guy’s weird desire to control the food? I thought.
“The cheese filling gets hard as it cools,” he reminded me.
I started to eat, mechanically.
“How do you feel?” he asked, as if it was not obvious. I sneaked a look up at him from my pasta. The expression was one part condescending smirk and one part devouring eyes.
“It’s not fair,” I said, slowly chewing and forcing myself to swallow. It wasn’t easy.
“What’s not fair?”
“It’s just a computer! You can’t go through my stuff!”
He cocked his head again. “I can do whatever I want. The computer is not the issue. I’d be happy to buy you ten computers. The issue is that you tried to hide it.”
“You make me paranoid! The stalker app on my phone!”
He ate another ravioli. He was enjoying this, I could tell. Savoring it.
“Is there anything else you want tell me, Margo? If so, now is the time.”
It was too much pressure. I started crying again. At the dinner table. My mind was swirling with all of these little trivial things that I had no idea whether he knew about or not.
Sometimes, when I get really upset, I throw up. Involuntarily. Or at least heave for a minute. It happens. I’ve always been that way.
“Can I go to the bathroom? I’m going to be sick.”
“You can throw up on the floor and clean it up later. We’re not done here yet.”
I gagged. My mouth was suddenly full of spit, which is always a good gonna-vomit indicator. I pulled my chair out a little way and bent over at the waist with my head between my knees.
“Don’t leave the table,” he said. His voice was firm now.
I nodded and waited for the nausea to pass. When it did, I sat back up and pulled in my chair.
Yeah, it went on like that for about an hour. It occurred to me, in retrospect, that I make the same mistake every time with these guys: when they’re legit torturing you, you can make the mistake of thinking that an apology and display of pain will eventually provoke compassion in them, but that doesn’t happen. The only thing it does is compel them to twist the knife.
Well, dinner ended at last, and I was feeling pretty traumatized, and I thought it was finally over.
I asked him if I should get ready for the nightly bath.
“Bathe yourself tonight,” he said curtly.
Ahhh, rejection. Although, after the ice-water bath, maybe this wasn’t so bad.
So I went to take a bath, feeling utterly emotionally exhausted. I just lay there and stared at the ceiling. The sad this is that I really missed him now, and just wanted him to not be angry with me anymore.
Time for bed.
TO BE CONTINUED