It was just a week after “Nategate,” I was barely moved in to the apartment and even though I was still committed to making things work, Tina and I were not really on solid ground.
I was working on setting up counseling for us, but Tina had made plans with Amber months in advance to go to Rock Fest – a weekend of outdoor partying, music and camping somewhere in Wisconsin. I’d given her money to pay Amber back for her ticket, in fact.
The timing wasn’t great for us, but I couldn’t begrudge her for keeping her plans. As usual, Tina was broke. Amber was bringing groceries, booze and bottled water for the two of them, but I didn’t like the idea of Tina heading out hundreds of miles without any cash, so I gave her another hundred dollars for pocket money before she left. Regardless of our difficulties, I loved her and wanted her to be safe and happy.
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We were going to be apart for a few days, so I wanted to have some intimacy before she left, but Tina brushed me off, prioritizing packing for her trip. Then, when it was getting pretty close to the time Amber was expected to be arriving to pick her up, she initiated a romp in the sack. We’d been at it for a while when Tina told me I had to hurry it up because Amber was going to be there any minute. I obliged, but only after did I learn that Tina had left the door unlocked and given Amber instructions to let herself in, which she did. I was just in the middle of dressing when Amber surprised me by appearing unannounced in the bedroom doorway.
It was Tina’s design, of course. She’d wanted to create a situation where there was a danger of being walked in on. That seemed to be her new thing. Maybe it was always her thing, but it had become apparent by then.
Tina was ready to go in a flash, but before they departed, Amber took it upon her self to warn me that Tina might be out of cellular reception range where they were going. “Just so you know,” she said.
The moment felt contrived.
I spent the weekend doing some future planning and went car shopping. Just to get ideas. It was getting to be about time to replace my aging minivan. I bought myself a modest selection of new clothes and went out to shop for a gun – again, just looking. I planned to take Tina with when I actually made a new car or handgun purchase.
I did shoot Tina a couple short texts, just to say “good night, sweet dreams,” or “good morning, I love you,” while she was away, but I didn’t hear anything from her that weekend, just as Amber had suggested.
Plugging my phone into my van’s charger gave me a fright, when my phone seemed to spontaneously initiate a factory reset. It didn’t actually reset, but I lost a fair amount of data and no longer trusted my Samsung J7. I drove to a T-Mobile store and saw that they had a deal on Galaxy S9s. Buy one, get one free if you add a second line. That seemed like perfect timing, since I was planning to add Tina to my account, anyhow. I decided to wait until Tina returned from Rock Fest so I could discuss it with her. My phone still worked, even though I didn’t trust it to last or keep my data safe.
Maura had gone off to spend the weekend with her sister, so I had the Farmington apartment to myself. I was fairly bored and found Tina’s bed a lonely place. One night, I was thinking about the promise ring I’d given Tina for Christmas a couple years prior. I’d been fond of that ring. Of course, she didn’t wear it anymore, since I’d given her a proper engagement ring, but I wanted a look, so I was poking around the various baskets and jewelry containers she kept on top of her dresser to see if I could find it. I didn’t locate the ring, but I did find an Atlas condom in an unfamiliar green wrapper in one of those baskets, hiding behind a little paper astrology wheel. Given that Tina and I had never once used a condom of any brand, this discovery was a little unsettling. Especially with all the other recent circumstances.
I reflected back on that day I’d come back to the apartment early and Tina insisted I change in the bathroom, because the bedroom was such a mess. Strangely, after I’d changed and needed to hang up my suit, she no longer had cared about me going into the bedroom. Whatever she’d had to tidy up only took her a minute. Could this have been part of that?
I’d seen that purple paper astrology disc before. I could remember picking it up and examining it. I’m pretty sure I’d have noticed if there’d been a condom beneath it, so it would have to have been put there somewhat recently.
Then, I thought back about when Tina had made a similar discovery in my night stand. She’d pulled a box of condoms out and asked me, “What’s this about?” They were purchased while Tina and I were broken up, but never used. I pointed out that the box was still sealed. I told her I’d throw them out, since we had no use for them, but, to my surprise, she’d wanted to keep them. She said she’d like to keep some condoms in her purse to hand out to people, like “the safe sex fairy.”
The suggestion made me uneasy. “I think I’d feel better if I just disposed of them,” I told her.
“Fine,” she’d said, crossing her arms.
There had been a legitimate explanation for the condoms Tina had found in my room, so I convinced myself there could be an equally valid reason for this green Atlas condom to be tucked away with Tina’s jewelry. Like always, I gave Tina the benefit of the doubt, even when the mounting pile of evidence of serious problems was about to collapse under it’s own weight and bury me. I compartmentalized and looked at each situation as an isolated incident.
I knew from experience that being apart from Tina was the most miserable experience I’d ever suffered. I felt like we were fated to be together. There was no other way to live, so my subconscious kicked denial into overdrive to prevent the dark depths of despair that would consume me if my Tina was removed from my life. I didn’t understand what a trauma bond was, but that’s the psychological force I was contending with. It was so powerful that with the vocabulary I had at the time, I could only attribute it to the supernatural.
When Amber brought Tina back, I had quite a lot on my mind. I let her get settled in and get some food before I brought any of it up, though. I was cautious. I still had my sights on counseling for us and I needed to make it work. We had to still be somewhat intact as a couple to make it as far as counseling, so I didn’t want to kick off any big fights, but I needed to put my mind to rest on a couple things. Nate was among my concerns, but a couple others took precedence just then.
First, I asked her about her weekend, if she had a good time and all that. She said she had a lot of fun, except for the woman who’d punched her in the head.
“What? Why? What happened?” I asked.
Tina related a disjointed story to me about a couple that was camping in a tent near Tina and Amber’s. The woman was upset with Tina for flirting with her husband, but Tina insisted that she wasn’t flirting with him. It was one of those stories with a lot of blanks glossed over with “de dah de dah da das,” and an example of how difficult it is for narcissists to take any responsibility for their part in what happens to them. After several warnings, the woman eventually brought her fist down on the back of Tina’s head.
If this was the only time I’d heard one of these segmented stories, I might have had more sympathy, but things like this just kept happening to Tina “for no reason.” A woman stabbed Tina with a fork at a bar for no reason. The neighbor’s friendly dog bit Tina for no reason. A woman who used to be her friend just started hating her for no reason. Things generally happen for a reason.
Tina asked what I’d been doing while she was away. I told her a bit, then I went into the bedroom and emerged with the Atlas condom in hand. “I found this,” I said.
“Where did that come from?” Tina asked.
“On top of your dresser,” I said.
“You’ve been snooping,” she chided.
“Hardly. It was right on your dresser, under that astrology disc thing.”
She launched into an explanation of how the disc worked, and how it was from a book and that the book was a gift…
This was one of Tina’s tricks, I was getting wise to. When there was something she didn’t want to talk about, she’d try to overpower the conversation with a fast-talking, long-winded filibuster of subject-shifting nonsense until I’d forget what we were originally talking about and then she would re-frame the conversation. There’s a name in psychology circles for this manipulation tactic. It’s called “word salad.”
“I’m really not as interested in the disc, as what was under it,” I said. This time, I was locked on like a pit bull.
“Oh, that’s been there forever,” Tina said. “You’re the only one I’ve ever slept with without a condom – well, except for that one I told you about that burned. You should be glad I was practicing safe sex when we were broke up.”
“The thing is, I specifically remember seeing and picking up that astrology disc before. I think I would have noticed if there was a condom under there.”
Then the gaslighting: “Yeah well, Dan, you know how your memory is. Trust me. That’s been in my room since the last time Cassidy was here.”
“Well, now that you mention it, when was that, exactly? Something’s been bothering me about that, too.”
“Over a year ago,” Tina said.
“Well, I know that isn’t true, because I saw him here the night before we decided to get back together, back in September.”
“Oh. He still lived here, then. He wasn’t coming to see me,” she replied but we both knew that wasn’t true. I was dumbstruck by the lie, because it was pointless. It didn’t help Tina’s position and I remembered that night well. I also knew that the new neighbors had moved in upstairs September 2nd, but the night in question was September 10th. Cassidy had definitely moved out prior.
There were too many open threads and I knew Tina’s way of tangling them, so I didn’t dwell on those details. I pressed on, past the date discrepancies.
I told her I’d been thinking about the messages she kept receiving from Cassidy and that it was bothering me. “If you aren’t having anything to do with him, he doesn’t seem to be getting the message,” I said. “You told me that you blocked him a long time ago. Then you told me you were going to block him, but didn’t know how…”
“OK. I’ll do it right now,” she said, produced her phone and turned on the screen. I moved closer to where I could see the screen, which made her hesitate. She waved her finger absently over the icons as though she couldn’t figure out where to begin.
“That one,” I said, pointing at the Facebook Messenger app.
“No, I don’t think that’s it,” she said. “Was it this one?” She opened a notepad. “No, that’s not it…”
“That one. Facebook messenger,” I assured her. It was obvious she was stalling because I was watching her.
“No. Was it this one…”
“Yes, Tina. It is. This one.” I reached out and tapped it.
There, right near the top of the conversations was Cassidy’s face in a little circle, next to his name.
“Oh,” Tina, said. “OK. Now, how do I…” her finger traced nervous figure eights above the screen.
“First, select it,” I said. I reached out at tapped Cassidy’s name, even as Tina tried moving the phone away. The text of their conversation sprang up as she pulled away. She really didn’t want me to see something and I determined that I was going to see it.
I took hold of her phone, even as she tried in vain to wrest it away from me. I was able to hang on to it long enough to scroll quickly through the messages they’d recently exchanged.
The most recent of them was from Tina. Cassidy hadn’t bothered to respond. It said, “Oh, and, um, I’m engaged. He doesn’t smoke, so I have lots.”
“There, see? ‘I’m engaged.’ I told him,” Tina said defiantly.
I scrolled a little further and saw they’d been chatting about getting together to “smoke some weed and do some other stuff.” until Mid-June. There was more, but I’d seen enough. I let my grip on her phone relax and she pulled it away from me.
I stood up.
“Where are you going?” She sounded alarmed.
“Right now, to the bathroom,” I said. I went in to relieve myself. I’d suddenly had an urgent need to go. I noticed I was shaking. I stayed in there for an extra minute or two to compose myself.
“There. See. I deleted him,” she held up her phone with the Messenger app open, when I came back out.
I was pretty sure she hadn’t deleted anything but the conversation and he would still be in her contacts, but didn’t choose to press that point just then. “You said you never answered his messages,” I reminded her.
“He was just looking for weed,” Tina said.
“You lied to me.”
“He was going to buy some weed from me,” she said.
“Really? Where was that conversation? I didn’t see that in your messenger.”
“Did you talk to him on the phone?”
“No. It was just… another message app.”
“You changed apps to carry on a text conversation? Where’s that one?”
“I don’t know… I don’t have it any more. I deleted it. You probably cost me a couple hundred dollars.” she changed her tone and went on the offensive. “He owes me money and was going to buy more weed, but now that you made me delete him, I’m going to be out that money.”
“You told me you deleted him 8 months ago!”
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