Tuesday, December 11
“When are you sending details?” I texted JB this morning. “Please disclose everything. I can’t take any more slowly dribbling out. It’s all going to come out, so get it over with.”
“I know...,” JB texted. “Sending you a letter shortly. Sorry for the drip drip.. I’m ashamed and embarrassed..but you are right... It's inevitable.”
I rode Jack. When I was done I drove home, parked next to my house, and checked email sitting in my car. There was one from JB.
“When I tried to come clean with you earlier, I was trying to do it on my term (sic) by admitting I’d done wrong but framing it in a way that might seem somehow forgivable. That obviously didn’t work. And I managed some fresh lies, half-truths and omissions while I was trying to ‘come clean’ with you.
“You are right, being sloppy with money and carelessly piling up debt is a lifelong pattern with me. As long as I’ve been an adult I’ve had varying amounts of secret debt. Some of the debt is the result of inappropriate behavior, which I will share below. Most of it is the result of letting small mistakes add up to bigger mistakes, and by not addressing them, they become so big it’s impossible to imagine coming clean.
“There are a lot of mundane expenditures, rounds of golf, lunch, and so on. A lot of business expenses, most of which were reimbursed but the missing receipts or disallowed expenses (movies, minibar) all add up as well. Some bills to the IRS and IL Dept. of revenue for additional tax payments. Using expense money to pay down one credit card while balances pile up on others. Late fees, bank fees, interest, insurance payments.
“Then there was some stuff that wasn’t just stupid and careless, but wrong. The first fresh lie I told you is that I had a one night stand 10 years ago. That actually never happened. Up until about four years ago I was a perfectly faithful husband. I was guilty of many things, carelessness with money being one of them. I indulged in the odd dirty movie and looked at other women but I wasn’t a cheater.
"I made up the 10 year old fling on the road because I thought one mistake a decade ago, while certainly wrong, might be a way to acknowledge wrongdoing in a way that could be forgivable. Not sure why I thought that would work. The truth is more recent and not so easily forgiven.
“About four years ago, I was restless, depressed, bored and starting to feel old and past the peak of my career. Rather than talk about it, or get help, or try to make positive changes in my life, I started down a dark path that I followed on and off for the next few years.
“I discovered websites catering to people having affairs. I joined Ashley Madison in 2007 and it soon became an obsession that waxed and waned but didn’t completely end until this year. I deleted my profile six months ago and haven’t been back. But what was done was done. I probably spent $300-400 a year on these sites.
“While I joined AM, my main focus was chatting online with women, at times explicitly. I convinced myself it was harmless, but it was really a gateway drug to infidelity. I dabbled in a few other similar sites, but AM was the main one.
“I didn’t have any actual physical contact with anyone for the first year or so. I did spend a lot of time emailing and instant messaging with a number of different women but nothing ever developed beyond chat. The process of getting to know someone, having her respond to me and stroke my ego became a kind of addiction, or at least an obsession. Pathetic as it sounds, I was in it for the attention.
“I would go through periods where I spend (sic) a few hours a day doing this, then would come to my senses and stay away for weeks or months, then eventually go back. This stopping and starting pattern was ongoing for the entire time I was involved with the site.
“In summer 2009 (sic), I met a few women face to face and one of those led to a liaison in a hotel room. It wasn’t a good experience. It was awkward and I felt terrible afterwards. I dropped off the site for a while after this. I drifted back gradually and also had a liaison with another woman I met online during the following spring. And I stayed away for a while again after that.
“In early last year I again drifted back to AM and the cycle started again. I eventually started chatting with a married woman from the North Shore. We hit it off and a friendship developed. After a while started (sic) meeting for drinks or coffee, and things progressed gradually into an affair that went on for about a month and a half. I won’t pretend that I was dragged into anything but we were both ambivalent about what we were doing. It eventually fizzled out for that reason. But we did meet in hotels about 4 times.
“I haven’t spoken with her nor have I initiated any other relationships since on that site or anywhere else. My interest in the site waned, but I did keep my membership going for a while. I finally permanently deleted my profile this summer and I haven’t been back.
“I now realize that going to therapy helped to shake me out of my destructive patterns. Even though I wasn’t completely honest with my therapist about all I had done, as long as I was seeing him, my focus was on talking about and thinking our (sic) marriage, the family and trying to understand myself better. That process seemed to keep my worst impulses in check and helped me focus on the right things.
“Over the past 3-4 months in particular I really did feel that I was finally starting to focus exclusively on being a husband and not letting my mind wander down dark paths. Despite the burden of all the secrets I was still carrying, that made me feel pretty good. I still hadn’t resolved all the behaviors that drove me to secrecy, but I was feeling more content than I had in a long time. I genuinely treasure the time we spent together in Spain. And all times we have spent together.
“What is strange and hard to understand is how compartmentalized this all was. I always loved you and desired you and wished for a strong relationship with you but at the same time did so many things that made that undermined that (sic) possibility. I can’t blame the Internet, but it certainly made easy something I might only have fantasized about otherwise.
“Then there’s Thailand. I can’t explain that one. I could almost forgive myself for the past but I can’t forgive myself for this one. It was just ego and moral weakness and impulsiveness and stupidity and selfishness and thinking I am far from home and it didn’t mean anything. I have to own it. That incredibly bad decision has unraveled everything.
“Ultimately, the secrets were the root cause of the distance and lack of emotional connection that you often complained about (rightly so). It is a vicious cycle. The more secrets you keep from someone, the harder it is to be close with that person. I’ve thought countless times about coming clean on everything, but I never had the guts. I still don’t. I can only muster the courage to do this in writing. Looking you in the eye and telling you all this would be excruciating.
“We do need to communicate about the kids, and we need to talk about how to deal with the financial challenges of having two households and fixing the mess I’ve made. We are going to have to find a way to reach some peace between us so we can work together on whatever the future holds.
“I love you, and I am so sorry for failing this family. I know I’ve hurt you to the core with this betrayal. I know your anger is raw and that anger has probably been advanced considerably by reading this letter. I keep digging a deeper hole, but we can’t move forward until the secrets are out. I’m sorry to have dragged this out longer than necessary.
“Regarding therapy, if we had money for it I would go back. I think a fresh start with more honesty would help me. I have even started to wonder if I’d benefit from medication, an idea I’ve always resisted. I have incredible difficulty with focus and concentration and it seems to keep getting worse. I don’t think a pill will fix all my character flaws, but it might help me see things more clearly as I try to get back on the right path. I don’t know.
“This may sound crazy now, but at some point you and I might benefit from seeing someone together, even for just a few sessions. It doesn’t have to be about repairing the marriage, though I’d welcome that. It could just be about getting all the issues out so we can move on in the best way possible.
“Below are my credit card logins. Pore (sic) over them and ask me any questions you like. I am now completely giving everything over to you and to fate or a higher power, or whatever it is that determines what happens next.”
I sat frozen in my car. I was breathing rapidly. I burst out crying. I abruptly stopped. I burst out crying and stopped again. This was repeated many times. I walked into my house jangly and unsteady. I pictured JB texting and emailing. JB almost always had a phone in his hand or a computer on his lap. I’d believed he was talking to international clients. He texted and emailed before and after groping and fucking me. I felt filthy, defiled, diseased.
I called my friend, Tracy, a realtor, and asked her to come over and tell me what the house was worth. We walked through my house then sat at the kitchen table and drank tea.
“You’ve been unhappy in your marriage since I’ve known you,” Tracy said. “I’ll never forget you talking about ‘the hand.’ How ‘the hand’ would reach over and you’d seize up inside. You knew a lot was wrong. There was a boogieman in the room but you couldn’t see him. You felt him but you couldn’t see him. Now you see him.”
“I’ve been waking up at three in the morning in a cold sweat,” I said. “The things JB’s done or might do jolt me awake. My sweat smells peculiar. I used to work for CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, representing abused and neglected children. My office was in a juvenile courthouse connected with a juvenile detention center. There were holding cells between the court house and jail. The cells had a strange yeasty smell. I smell like that.”
Tracy’s eyes widened. “I smelled like that when I was getting divorced, too! I had to go on medication. I started taking Xanax so I could sleep. I couldn’t sleep for months. I couldn’t take it anymore.”
“I had no idea how much this fucks up a person Tracy. I wish I’d been a better friend when you were going through it.”
“You were a good friend. You came over and did yoga at my house every Friday night.”
“But I had no idea how bad you felt.”
“You have no idea until it happens to you.”
Tracy left. Matt texted and asked me to go out Friday night. I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to be alone on a Friday night. I said yes.
“We should get together and talk,” JB texted. “If you need more time to process that's fine but we should talk about what has happened and what happens next. And we need to talk about telling Blake... He'll want answers and I know I need to be honest with him."
I ignored JB.