A few weeks after moving out of the apartment, I was getting ready to fly to Miami to visit an old friend in hopes of resetting my mind. Going to Ireland after my divorce had worked some magic I hoped to at least partially recreate in Florida.
I was living in a motel and my mail was still being delivered to the apartment in Farmington, so I needed to drop by from time to time. The night before I was flying out, I stopped over to see Tina and collect my mail. I was at that time still trying to maintain some kind of friendship and I was still trying to encourage her to get into some kind of counseling.
I hadn’t seen Tina for a couple weeks. I knew she’d been languishing with a very painful broken arm. I was surprised, then, when I arrived and found her well-dressed, wearing dangly earrings and makeup. Her hair was braided. She looked very pretty and put together. It put me off a little. Her right arm was in a sling. I gave her an awkward hug.
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“You look nice,” I said. “Going somewhere?”
“No.” she gave a nonchalant shake of her head.
“Nice” wasn’t normally a word I’d apply to Tina. She considered it less than faint praise, but “beautiful” felt awkward in our circumstances. I guessed she was making the effort for my sake. She retrieved my mail from a drawer in my mom’s dresser that was still in the living room where I’d left it. I said a quick hello to her mother who was watching TV in the other room and Tina and I decided to get dinner together and catch up. I really had no idea where that conversation might go.
I drove us to Carbone’s Pizza and just as we were pulling into the parking lot, my van began to malfunction. The lights dimmed. The alternator light came on. Mechanical problems the night before I was set to both move out of my motel room and fly to Miami was considerably less than optimal. I didn’t want to get stranded in Farmington.
I decided to drive to the nearest auto parts store before having dinner. I was looking for an emergency jump-starter pack, which I found for sale. Problem was, they didn’t come charged. I bought ordinary jumper cables instead, hoping for the best and drove us back to Carbone’s. The van had started and drove fine for the trip back to the pizza joint. Crossing my fingers, I shut the van off and we went inside. We’d been to this pizza joint many times (there weren’t a whole lot of dining options in Farmington). It was familiar and awkward at once.
We made small talk and ordered food. While waiting for our pizza, I asked her if she’d figured out what she was going to do about counseling, since she’d cancelled all her appointments at my clinic.
She said she’d been looking at other places closer for her to get to, but shut down further inquiry, saying, “I really don’t feel like giving you a progress report.”
I still considered therapy of critical importance for her, but I left it at that and steered our conversation into more tranquil waters. I’d say we had a nice time. We didn’t get very deep.
After Dinner, we walked out to my van and I opened the passenger door for her. I noticed the dome light didn’t come on. “Fuck!”
I went around to the drivers side and tried my key in the ignition, anyway, but, of course, there was no power. Not even a click.
I went back inside and asked around for the person who owned the pickup truck that was parked facing my stranded van. He turned out to be an employee who was just on his way out and he obliged me by letting me connect my new jumper cables to his battery. The van started and I got us back to Tina’s apartment, but now I was in trouble.
I needed to drive back to my motel to finish packing up my things. I was expected to check out in the morning and I had been planning on storing the things from my room in my van while I was in Miami and finding a new place to stay when I got back to Minnesota. I needed to get back to Burnsville and I needed to get my van towed to the garage.
Maura lent me her Saturn to go back to my motel and offered to give me a ride to the airport in the morning if I wanted to spend the night in Farmington. I felt awkward about all of that, but I accepted the offer. It certainly solved my immediate problems. I called the garage I used to work part-time at and arranged for my van to be towed into town and Tina accompanied me in her mom’s car to my motel. I guess she wanted to see how I’d been living. It wasn’t pretty.
I had been doing a small amount of work in my room, so I’d brought my big office printer over from my storage locker. That didn’t fit easily into the small Saturn, but after rearranging things, I managed to get it and my suitcases loaded. Tina noticed that the rubber baseboard was peeling off the wall in my bathroom and wanted to pose for a picture with it. I guess she wanted a memento of how low I’d fallen.
We got back to the apartment and without much else said, Tina, Maura and I were off to our separate beds. “I’d let you sleep in bed with me, but…” Tina indicated her broken arm in the sling.
The notion hadn’t even crossed my mind. “That’s fine,” I said. I slept on the futon in the TV room.
In the morning as we were about to ride to the airport, Tina picked up a pair of mirrored aviator-style sunglasses off of my mom’s dresser. They had silver rims with some kind of woven pattern on the temples and seemed a bit on the flimsy side. She handed them to me. “When you’re in Miami, can I just ask one favor?”
“Sure,” I said. I was still conditioned. Anything for Tina.
“Can you take a picture somewhere with these on and send it to me?”
I thought it was a pretty strange request, but harmless. “Sure,” I said again. I tucked them into the suitcase I was taking to Miami. My other belongings were being left with Tina and Maura.
With her broken arm, it was difficult for Tina to get in and out of the small coupe, so she sat in the front seat while I wedged into the back for the trip to the airport. I bought coffee for the three of us on the way.
On arriving, Tina hugged me goodbye, reminded me to send her that picture and I thanked her and Maura for the ride and help with storing my things while I’d be away.
Our flights got in at about the same time, so I met Bergt at the airport and we took a cab together to the AC Hotel in Miami Beach. After getting checked in, we went up to the roof, where there was a swimming pool, patio and a nice view of the ocean. I put on the mirror shades and posed for a picture for Tina. The lenses, I noted, had seen better days. They were a bit scratched up. I sent the photo to her and her mom and posted it on facebook to announce the onset of my mini-vacation.
Seeing Bergt and soaking in the tropical weather put me in a better mood and we set off on an adventure exploring Miami Beach. Tina was out of mind for a while, until one of her flying monkeys reached out to touch me through the ether.
We were walking down a bustling street. Music was coming from everywhere. The humidity was palpable. The smoky scent of cuban food cooking wafted by. Well dressed men and less-dressed women crisscrossed the sidewalks. Miami nightlife was in full swing. My phone vibrated in my pocket. Like Pavlov’s dog, I was conditioned. Whenever my phone made the slightest murmor, my heart would still skip a beat in anticipation of word from Tina. Maybe a comment about my mirror shades picture?
There was a new text. “So Dan, I hear you have an issue with me? Is that true? I’m a great dad and amazing friend to Tina.”
I couldn’t immediately tell who the message was from, but I guessed it was Scott. I had deleted his number some time back, but past text exchanges with him were still there, so I confirmed it pretty quick.
I stopped walking for a beat. Bergt looked back, noticing that I wasn’t keeping up while I pondered this message. Bergt snapped me out of it and we got back on our fun-seeking mission, but Scott’s out-of-the-blue message wouldn’t get out of my head. About a half-hour later, we were at a little dance club called “Do not sit on the Furniture” that featured a mirrored disco shark instead of a disco ball and no furniture that I can remember. I stepped outside for a cigarette and typed up the reply to Scott that had been percolating in my head.
“Actually, Scott, the last time I can recall your name coming up, I was telling Maura and Tina that I thought I should offer you an apology for my past drunken ravings. Tina suggested that I buy you case of beer. The circumstance just never arose, so I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“I’m having a hard enough time since I broke up with Tina. I’m heartbroken and I don’t need you trying to stir up drama. Peace be with you.”
He wrote back right away. “Peace? You should’ve thought of that before you disrespected all of us… And you’re heartbroken? Hmmm…”
All of us? All of who? I couldn’t make sense of that, but guessed that Tina or Maura were over there trash-talking me to explain the breakup. I realized it was a fools errand to try to reason with Scott. I considered that Tina had lied to me about Scott and certainly also lied to Scott about me, so there was nothing but angry confusion there. I ceased that conversation, but I texted Tina and Maura to ask them why Scott was picking a fight with me. Neither bothered to reply. Sadly, I allowed that sliver of lunacy to spoil my mood.
Hanging out with Bergt in Miami Beach was a slight distraction, but wasn’t the pick-me-up I’d hoped for. My woes still loomed too large.
When my flight landed back in Minneapolis, I took a taxi straight to the garage to pick up my van, then made a quick trip down to Farmington to recover my belongings. I returned the sunglasses to Tina, but I didn’t linger. I had a tight schedule to keep. First and foremost, I had to find a place to sleep!
For quite a while, I told myself that it must just be a coincidence, but when I saw the picture on facebook of Chris sitting in an airport wearing an identical pair of aviator sunglasses a couple months later, I was floored. I’d never thought to ask Tina where she’d obtained those rather masculine sunglasses that I’d never seen in her possession before. They certainly weren’t a new purchase, judging by their condition. It was so bizarre and surreal that I just went numb. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing.
Trying to understand the value a diseased mind finds in that kind of “prank” is a treacherous road to turn down, but my best guess has to do with feeling powerful.
Even though covert narcissists are by definition secretive, I think they ache to talk about their machinations as if they were accomplishments to be proud of. Because of that, they tend to give themselves away. Their victims just don’t tend to immediately recognize it because of the manipulative gaslighting tactics that were employed to cloud their reason and better judgement.
Tina, I believe, relished hiding in plain sight. Triangulation is the other likely motive. Narcissists triangulate their supply-sources to keep them off balance and feeling vaguely threatened. The mirror shades provided all of that while leaving Tina an avenue for gaslighting, plausible denial if confronted about it. “You’re crazy. Everyone has those glasses. You’re being paranoid,” she could say. To either of us.
It does seem crazy. It is crazy. Without the proper context, telling a story like this can make one sound crazy. That’s gaslighting. That’s crazymaking. That’s what narcissists very deliberately do.
Incidentally, “Mirrorshades” is a funky, mellow song by Minneapolis’ own Information Society. I’m a fan. It’s a bit abstract, but the tune could easily be about falling for a narcissist.