The California Caper

After Tina returned from her extended stay at the Nategate Hotel, she told me some things. First, after some tears and apologies for “being away from me” she told me that a big part of the reason she stayed those three nights with Nate was that she was binge drinking and didn’t want me to see it. She said further that she thought it was time for her to quit drinking and wanted to seek some counseling.

She said she’d discussed it with her mother and got a commitment of support on her new determination to give up the bottle, which she was blaming for her abhorrent behavior. She insisted that she had spent the first night with Amber and that she’d gone back to Amber’s for the third night to make Apple Pie Moonshine. It was Nate who dropped her off. I didn’t believe her about that.

Once she’d said she wanted support quitting drinking, that put a stop to my pressing her about her stay with Nate. I refocused on how I could help. I knew it would be a long shot, but I felt some sense of optimism in that moment. I told her I forgave her and wanted to help in any way I could.

Later, while Maura and I were smoking outside, I suggested, “I think it would be a good idea if you didn’t keep any alcohol in the house for a while.”

I was under the impression that Tina had discussed this with her mom already, but Maura’s eyes spoke of confusion instead of understanding. She nodded without comment. The alcohol in the house stayed right where it had been.

Later on, Tina told me that she’d been talking with her brother Nick who’d recently relocated permanently to Colorado with his girlfriend, Kelly. Tina’s dad had been out to visit them and she was upset that she didn’t have the opportunity to go, so she’d been discussing it with Nick. She hoped to go soon.

“I’d be happy to take you out to Colorado to visit Nick,” I told her.

She dropped the subject after that.

I’d been planning to get her added to my phone plan since I was paying for her by-the-month plan already and it would save a bit of money and hassle.

Although things were rocky with us, I was maintaining optimism and didn’t want to lose any forward momentum. We had a house to buy, a wedding to plan, probably a car to buy and getting our phones straight was part of the overall future plan.

T-Mobile had a buy one, get one deal going on the top of the line Samsung Galaxy phone, so Tina and I both walked out of there with a spiffy new toy. We weren’t able to keep her old number, but Tina said that was probably good, so she could slip away from people she didn’t want contacting her anymore.

Back at the apartment, we spent some time setting up our new phones and had some fun customizing our cartoonish Bitmoji avatars for Snapchat.

We went to bed early, curled up together nice and cozy.

My subconscious was hard at work and when I woke, I didn’t feel quite so forgiving. I had a lot of misgivings. I had a lot of anxiety. I realized that I didn’t trust or believe Tina at all. I confronted her again when she woke. I was set on having the truth.

“You never went to Amber’s at all, did you?”

“Yes, I did. That first night and last night,” she insisted, but her story fell so hopelessly apart under questioning that she finally admitted that she spent the first night at Nate’s hotel, too. Oddly, she persisted in her assertion that she’d gone to Ambers the last night.

“I don’t believe you,” I said plainly. “You were planning to spend all those those nights with Nate all along, weren’t you? You lied to me at Bingo. You lied to me every day you were gone and you’re still lying to me.”

She started crying. “I wasn’t lying all along. I meant to come back. I was only going to spend two nights at the hotel. I was going to go over there, but Amber wanted me to go pick up the stuff in Wisconsin and it was too much hassle, so I stayed on the couch in Nate’s room and read instead.”

“This is bad, Tina. You’ve really put me in a bad place here. I don’t know how I’m ever going to trust anything you say again and if I can’t trust you, I can’t begin to fathom how we’re going to have a relationship. How am I ever going to be able to trust you again?” I was genuinely looking for a lifeline. I couldn’t see a way to fix this and I was madly asking Tina for a solution.

“You can put a tracker on my phone,” she said. “I promise I’ll never lie to you again. I can’t lose you. I don’t know what I’d do if I ever lost you. I want to get into counseling. All that lying my mom made me do with my dad really screwed me up.”

She was gifted at turning a situation around to garner sympathy. I softened.

“Fine,” I said, switching to problem-solving mode. “Your insurance should cover counseling. I’ll set it up. I’ll set up couple’s counseling for us so we can work on rebuilding trust and we can get a recommendation for a therapist for you at my clinic.”

She agreed emphatically, relief washed over her teary face. “I’ll quit drinking. I know it’s a problem.”

“I think you should get into treatment.”

“I want to try it by myself, first.”

I considered that. I felt like I needed treatment to help me quit, but I’d managed a month sober on my own before I got admitted and I never followed up with recommended AA meetings. I relied on individual therapy, which Tina was on board for. It’ll work if she wants it to, I figured.

“I might have to smoke a little more weed in the meanwhile.”

I calculated that would be less harmful to her and our relationship than the drinking.

“If I’d had easy access to it, I probably would have been tempted to smoke some, too when I first quit drinking. The withdrawals were terrible,” I agreed.

Tina and I set out to get her some healthy foods and beverages to help I spent over $100 on fruit, salads, easy-to eat foods, Gatorade and Slim Fast shakes, in case she couldn’t stomach solid foods right away. After I put her back to bed, I went back to my Mom’s house and collected up my left-over detox medications and supplements to bring back and get Tina started on her journey towards sobriety.

The next day was moving day. Tina had agreed to help me get the last items out of my mom’s house. I’d arranged a storage locker near Tina’s apartment in Farmington and rented a truck. There were a few items too heavy for me to risk lifting with my injured back. At the last minute, I coaxed two of my friends to help load those few items into the truck, but unloading was still going to be a challenge.

Tina was a trooper. I could see that she was suffering alcohol withdrawals. She was shaky and sweaty. I honestly don’t know how she managed any labor at all in that state. When I was going through withdrawals, just walking could be a challenge. I later learned that she was already drinking again, which would have alleviated the symptoms, but that day, I marveled at how tough she could be.

We loaded the truck and my friends left us to it. I was hoping to recruit another friend to help with the unloading, but he turned out to be drunk beyond usefulness that day.

There were only a couple items I thought were going to be dangerous for Tina and I to unload ourselves, so we unloaded items destined for the apartment and put our brains to work on getting the heavy stuff done.

“The only people I can think of are Scott and Doug,” Tina said. “Or I could call Cassidy, but I don’t have his number anymore and he works out, so…”

“You’re killing me, Tina,” I said.

My back injury made me feel like an incomplete man when I couldn’t do tasks like this. Suggesting recruiting help from former lovers made me feel pretty small. I didn’t really care if Cassidy worked out. Good for him. Tina seemed a bit hostile when she quickly tacked on that bit about not having Cassidy’s number anymore. It sounded smarmy.

It was she who kept asserting that she had no contact with him. She insisted the only reason Cassidy was still contacting her was to get weed and she just didn’t know how to block him on her phone. She’d had no difficulty blocking me back when we were broken up!

Maura came home from whatever she’d been up to for the day and with some creative engineering, the three of us managed to unload the rest into my storage locker. To show my appreciation, I took Tina and her mom out for dinner.

Sitting at the table, Tina again brought up her desire to go visit Nick. She told her mom that she felt bad that her Dad had chosen to take his girlfriend Karen with to Colorado instead of Tina.

“I’ll take you to Colorado to visit Nick,” I said again.

“Oh, will you?” She shot me an angry look. “Because I’m going to go to some brew pubs.”

Her look, tone and words felt like a hard slap to the face. The sting must have shown.

“Is something wrong, Dan?” Maura asked.

I looked at my plate, unsure where to begin. Scarcely a day had passed since Tina announced her intent to quit drinking and she was angrily declaring her intent to drink in Colorado. I took it that she was acting salty because she resented me for her decision to stop drinking. Her hostility about blocking Cassidy and now about going to breweries was stunning.

“Are you just worn out?” Maura persisted.

“I’m pretty tired.”

“He’s upset because I said brew pub,” Tina chided.

“I never asked you to stop drinking. You said you wanted to. I don’t understand this hostility,” I said.

“I’m not being hostile. I never said I was was going to quit drinking forever. I just don’t want to be a drunk. There are some really good micro brews in Colorado, that’s all.”

I never cared if Tina drank in my company. We often went to bars together to shoot pool. I bought her whiskey. Of course, I didn’t like it when she got so drunk as to be dangerously impulsive or embarrassing to be out with, but besides futile efforts to curtail that aspect, I’d never interfered with her enjoyment of alcohol. I was disappointed that she was already abandoning her plan to get sober, especially since that was a big part of her proposed solution to the problem she’d created between us by taking off with Nate.

I was reeling a bit, but I was actually too tired to discuss it further, especially in front of Maura. I let it drop. I wondered if moving in with Tina could be my undoing. Somehow, I’d just have to make it work. It’s the course we were locked into.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the whole notion of going to Colorado was itself a ruse and if I accompanied Tina, it would have spoiled the real plan. In retrospect, that explained the unwarranted hostility.

Something I’ve finally come to grips with is that when Tina’s words or behavior seemed irrational or inexplicable, deception was in the works.

After Tina returned from Rockfest, We retreated to her grandpa’s cabin to get away from everyday concerns and have some together time. It was a pleasant weekend for us. We took her German shorthair, Jasper, to the dog wash and gave him lots of treats.

Tina’s kinky side was on an upswing and I felt like I had to step things up to keep her excited about me. I felt like she was slipping away, sometimes. That night, I tried things a bit differently – in a way I wasn’t completely comfortable with, but speculated she’d enjoy.

“I loved everything you just did,” she said breathlessly, afterwards. I went out for a cigarette and she had fallen asleep before I returned to the bed.

I was still pretty alert, so I stayed up for a while doing crossword puzzles. I noticed Tina’s new phone sitting next to her old one on the counter. I wondered why she’d brought them both to the cabin. Her old one was deactivated and the new one didn’t get any reception there. I was reminded of her two-phone situation from years before. Back then, I’d also provided her a smart phone which I paid for, but she was still maintaining a second one that her dad paid for. Watching Breaking Bad together and observing Walter White’s surreptitious use of two cell phones, I asked, “is that why you keep two phones? Are you running a meth business?”

“No, Dan. It’s for my prostitution business,” she’d replied glibly.

Reflecting on all my past misgivings about her double-phoned life in the past, I snooped. Her old phone was off and nothing seemed unusual about it, but her new phone revealed a disturbing text exchange between Nate and Tina. They were discussing plans for her to fly out to California, “The earlier the better,” Tina wrote. She followed up later with a caveat that she had to go to Colorado to see Nick, first. Nate offered to foot the bill to fly her to California from there.

She’d said nothing to me about any plans to go to California, except that before Nategate, we’d discussed going there together to visit my friend Bergt, come winter. At that time, I still believed Nate to be a platonic friend with innocent intentions and offered to make it a “two-fer” trip. We’d visit Nate and Bergt while there. They lived relatively close together. I offered to take her to visit Nate. Why was she making plans to go to California behind my back?

I put the phone back on the counter and sat in a chair in the dark, quiet cabin and I wept.

Things with Nate just kept getting worse. I felt betrayed, again. I realized that Tina and I were on the verge of break-up and speculated that she’d made these plans while we were arguing. Maybe she’s dropped it now that we have a plan to get counseling, I thought.

Tina came out from the bedroom and saw me sitting in the dark.”Is something wrong? Are you Ok?”

“I’m feeling very sad and worried,” I said. I decided not to mention what I’d seen on her phone and wait to see where that went.

“It’s all going to be OK, Dan. I love you. So much. You don’t even know. Come to bed.”

Some instinctive part of me wanted to fuck again. Like the time Tina asked me if I was trying to “fuck the Doug out of her,” I might have thought I needed to fuck thoughts of Nate out of her. Sex seemed like a way to cement our relationship. That rather unhealthy thinking was probably borne from desperation. I was at a loss.

“Since you’re up, I could go again,” I offered.

“That was wonderful, but I’m wiped,” she said. “I just got up to use the bathroom. In the morning, for sure. Let’s go to sleep.”

I laid down with her and drifted off while trying to assemble all the pieces of an increasingly complex-seeming puzzle. It wasn’t really that complicated, but at the time, I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

A week or so later, Tina had a doctor’s appointment up in St. Cloud, so I took a day off of work and we drove up to the cabin to spend the night before her morning appointment. It was a chilly, rainy day so we didn’t have much enthusiasm to stay at the lake afterwards, but Tina wanted to get some things from her Dad’s, so we drove over there. Her Dad came back from work as we were about all packed up and ready to head back to Farmington. We only exchanged a few words and Tom said something about going to see Nick. My ears perked up, since we’d been discussing that. I was about to mention that Tina and I were talking about going out to Colorado to visit Nick, but Tina made a swift topic change and started rushing us out of the house. Something was off, but I shrugged it off for the nonce.

Then at yet another cabin trip, everything went from terrible to a fucking shit storm. After Tina had passed out one morning, I found the letter Nate had just sent her and read it. I didn’t feel in the least bit ashamed after the lies I’d caught my fiance in about her rendezvous with this supposedly helpful and well-intentioned friend. I had a right to know what was going on before marrying this woman. Nate, who was supposed to be this platonic buddy with no romantic designs, who she’d lied to spend three nights with at his hotel had sent her what can only be described as a love letter and in it, he wrote about taking her back to California with him, where, if there was any breast-grabbing, it would be “tasteful and distinguished or lewd and inappropriate, anything but awkward and confusing,” and because his bed was “meant for pants-on canoodling” and that purpose was “going unfulfilled.” He further proposed dancing and awkward kisses after awkwardly professing his love and affection for her.

To say this letter was disturbing would be like saying the sun is warm. I had a slight melt down, swearing to myself, nosily stomping and banging around the cabin before going out for a smoke. I walked around outside a bit and debated just getting in my van and leaving Tina there. I nearly did, but I remembered promising her that I’d never leave without telling her, first. I took my promises seriously. I went back in, wrote “What the FUCK?!?!” on a piece of paper, left it on top of Nate’s letter and asked myself if that was a good enough explanation. I figured it was, but I heard Tina stirring in the bedroom, so I decided to speak to her directly. That became quite an unpleasant scene and my head was spinning from the rapid-fire of outlandish lies Tina began shooting at me.

“You’re going out to stay with him in California?” was just one of my many questions.

She insisted that she wasn’t. She told me just the night before, she’d asked Nate to stop contacting her. She told me that the letter wasn’t meant for me.

“I beg to differ,” I’d said. “This is exactly the sort of thing I should see.”

At one point, she told me that the letter from Nate wasn’t genuine. She claimed it was a ruse they’d concocted together to test me and see if I’d snoop her correspondence. Evidently I failed the test.

She asked me to leave so I started collecting up my things while Tina went to the bathroom. I retrieved the half-gone half-gallon bottle of whiskey I’d bought for Tina from the freezer. She was more upset that I was taking the bottle than she was that I was removing myself and she put up such a fuss about it, I relented and let her keep it.

Ultimately, after considerable drama, we remained committed to pursuing therapy together, but after that fell apart (mostly over Nate), we broke up (again). I asked her again if she was planning to go to stay with Nate in California. She again insisted that she wasn’t going to do that. “He asked me to come stay with him, but I don’t want to do anything to lead him on,” she’d said.

Tina got drunk at a wedding and fell, severely breaking her upper arm which left her out of commission for a while, but after healing a bit, she informed me that she was “leaving Minnesota for a while.”

Maybe she meant she was going to Colorado to visit Nick, but I doubted it. Sure enough, a few days later, photos of her and Nate together in California and Nevada appeared on facebook.

I was never completely sure when the California plans were formed. I initially guessed that she’d discussed it with Nate when Tina and I were on the verge of breaking up. Bergt had a different take on it when I related the story to him. He was sure it was already planned before that. He figured it was planned out while Tina was at the Hotel with Nate and she was lying to me about it all along. Colorado was a ruse – a way to get away to California without me knowing where she was really going. Bergt was most likely right.

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