“My daughter Tina came to me one day and said we need to talk. She had been out with friends. We live in the outer suburbs and they had gone into the main city downtown for dinner with her boyfriend on a double date.
They had finished their meal when my daughter sees her mom, my wife Michelle, dolled-up for the evening with a well-dressed man about our age.
Tina had the presence of mind to get a photo, but asked her girlfriend’s boyfriend to get a closer shot by walking past them with the video running on the phone.
By the time he crossed past them, Michelle was seated with one hand clasped with his across the table.
The look in her eyes was the same hunger I recall she had with me when we first met. I thought we had a healthy, loving marriage. Clearly, I was mistaken. I was reeling.
‘What are we going to do?’ Tina asks. ‘What’s your plan?’
Tina confessed she followed Michelle’s lover across and down the street to his offices. He was a leasing manager for many downtown properties, one of which was Michelle’s office building. Not hard to connect the dots here.
I felt like I needed to do something in Tina’s direction since this would be a huge impact and I didn’t want to leave her feeling alone, so I shared what I planned to do.
Where Tina went to college, four hours away, was sprawled but modern, with lots of nice places to live within an hour or less of the college. I could lease an apartment for a few years, be nearer to her than I am now, so she wouldn’t have to travel so far to make a visit to me. The new job had regular travel. I wasn’t looking forward to getting back on the road– I’d spent a few years already as a road warrior and didn’t miss it, but the potential money was like picking fruit off trees. I could increase my lot considerably.
I sent Tina back to college and planned my exit. I set all this in motion over the following two weeks. Michelle could not have been more oblivious. She was glowing with joy every day, and our intimacy surprisingly went through the roof.
Meanwhile, I had squared away a new place to live, accepted the new position, and would start within a couple of weeks. Michelle knew nothing about it, as far as I knew.
Then, it gets weird.
I get this email from her with the subject ‘Please don’t leave me.’
Well, this is interesting. She knows that I know? Did Tina tell her?
And when I pop it open, it starts out with a desperate plea for us to stay together. It was essentially an abbreviated diary of all the things we’d done together during and since college, and various interludes with more romantic meaning to her. With each diary entry, she expressed her deep affection, and said things like, ‘didn’t this mean something to you?’
Problem was, I wasn’t all that far into the diary before I realized something was off. The dates were wrong. The places were wrong. Some places I’d never been to. Experiences I’d never had. Like she was living a parallel life in an alternative universe.
I went back to the top and re-read it in this context. It started out ‘when we met that day at the coffee shop’ – but I had been introduced to her by a friend on the intramural fields. Not a coffee shop. Who was this intended for?
Time for a little FBI work. I discovered some interesting things about her lover, Tom. He went to the same University as she and I (we met in college) and the years of attendance overlapped. He graduated before either of us, and received his masters at the same college. It means he stayed around after graduation. Near her.
She spoke of their first night together after a spontaneous meeting at a coffee shop across the street from the campus. I recalled the time frame – our first big fight. We were apart for a week and got back together. Apparently that’s when her relationship with Tom started and she had kept it in the shadows ever since. His LinkedIn profile showed he had lived within the same locale as us all our married life.
I still recall when we moved to our current home, halfway across the country. Michelle was depressed for months. She would have ‘episodes of happy’ – and according to the diary. These were times when Tom flew out to visit as he was making arrangements to follow her to this area. Her depression wasn’t from missing friends in our former locale, but from longing for him.
Learning all this had me in a total funk. It’s hard to describe.
She’s smart, and clearly diabolical, but it got a lot worse.
Michelle and I had a ton of problems getting pregnant. We went from one infertility specialist to another. She would come back from the doc’s office and say they were starting a new protocol for this or that, being as aggressive as possible. They had both of us on meds to boost our fertility and after five years of this, Tina popped out. We didn’t expect to have any more children as Tina was hard enough to pull off.
But all this time, Michelle had been jumping in the hay with Tom, and was using birth control to avoid pregnancy. In her diary she essentially confessed to faking all the trips to the doctor as a smokescreen. When the pill stopped working for her, she had a bunch of side effects. She got pregnant with one of his kids and aborted it.
I would find out later she aborted five babies and every one of them were conceived on boundaries of us having intimacy. But because she was also doing it with Tom, she could not be sure who the father was and she didn’t want a kid in our house as living, breathing evidence of an affair.
I asked her later if any of these kids could have been one of ours, and she said she didn’t know, but aborted it anyway. There were ways to find out of course, but she didn’t bother with it.
I think back to all the times we prayed together for children. Even in the evenings, she would sit in a chair and howl in tears for not being able to have a baby – all the while she was flushing our ‘family’ down the toilet. Literally throwing our children in the trash.
This wasn’t completely evident in the email I was reading, but enough was there to raise the questions I needed to ask. And I did, over the time since the divorce.
It occurred to me that this email wasn’t sent to me intentionally. Duh.
Why would she beg me not to leave her? And give a dissertation of points, any of which would be a good reason to leave her? At the end of it, the email said, ‘Please call me, Tom. I’m desperate.’
Ohhhhhhh. This wasn’t intended for me at all. She made a mistake. She may have already discovered it and was in damage control even now.
I copied the email contents to a Word document and set it back to ‘unread’ as though I hadn’t seen it.
Michelle arrived at the house within an hour of sending the email. I greeted her cheerfully, but normally. I didn’t want anything in my behavior to tip her on my knowledge. Apparently, it worked. Or she was too upset to care, or too upset to notice at all.
When she bounded into the room, I closed the email application. This was to make it look like I hadn’t seen anything yet today. I was playing the deception game too. So weird.
She was breathless and jittery. She said she forgot her laptop and was just in-and-out of the house, how is your day, and all that. So here was her veiled reason for coming back to the house. Was she really there to attempt deleting or intercepting her email?
I was in our home office. She was standing at the office door with her laptop against her chest, but her eyes were bloodshot and her whole being was on fire with anxiety.
She bade farewell and then acted like she ‘just remembered’ something. Did I have the recipe she used for a dish she made some months back? She recalled I looked it up for her and sent it.
I vaguely recalled this. Her cleverness in being able to dredge this up from the past – as a veiled excuse to look at my devices – was so cunning I was impressed first, and disturbed later.
I recall the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end when she asked. Now that I knew she was using the request to deceive me, it was all I could do to keep my self control.
She asked for my phone and I slid it across the desk without looking up. I watched her in my peripheral vision– her anxiety escalated and she sighed. She used a subtle move to swipe and delete.
‘You didn’t delete anything did you?’
This startled her. She maintained character, but she was about to pop. Said she didn’t ‘find’ what she was looking for.
Maybe it’s on your laptop?
Wow. She made it sound so smooth. No wonder I didn’t have a clue about any of this, but it was like an out-of-body experience. Me looking on to myself and her, seeing her for what she was. Spine-tingling.
I told her I was in the middle of something and couldn’t stop right now, but she begged. I told her to wait for a minute while I wrapped up a test. I stretched this moment for as long as I could. It was amazing, watching her in so much stress, wondering if any moment I would pop open the email.
Our plumber’s name is Ted. We had a problem with the shower last week and he squared it away. I could not resist the next dialog.
‘Looking for you,’ I say.
I glanced up. Her face was pale, like she was about to red-out from the stress.
‘He wanted to know if the shower was working fine for us.’
She jolted again. ‘What?’
‘The shower he fixed last week.’
She stared at me, ‘You mean Ted?’
‘Ted, right. The plumber. It’s what I said.’
‘No, you said-‘
I didn’t look up. It was as though she had a thousand rules in her head about never uttering ‘that name’ in my presence.
I told her my test was complete and slid the laptop to the desk corner. She spun it to face her and after a few seconds, sighed again.
I asked her if she found it. She said no, but maybe she could find it somewhere else. She was visibly relaxed now, as though all the anxiety had rushed from her head. Still the deceiver, she said, I sent you an email earlier today, did you get it?
I said no, what was it about? She said it was missing attachments, so just toss it and she would send a full copy later. She knew I would not remember it unless she mentioned it again, using my habits against me to weave more lies. What a piece of work.
But this is what I wanted. I didn’t want her to know that I know. I have more time to prepare an exit now.
I checked the phone and laptop email. Her message was gone – she had deleted them, but I still had the text in that Word file.
I also know Tom has decided to move on, and she’s not happy about it. The timing of all this could not be better. She’s essentially been a lying witch for our entire marriage and I didn’t want her to ride off into the sunset with Tom.
The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted her and Tom together. Tom would be stuck with her. This was revenge at its finest.
Once my exit strategy was complete, I had divorce papers in-hand, everything squared-away to jump into my new life. My attorney had already greased-the-skids with the courts based on Michelle’s email. She would get next to nothing. All I had to do was close it.
I cut a deal with a real-estate agent through my attorney to sell our house to a buyer, with the condition that we would have a month to move out after closing. They told me Michelle would have to participate in the closing, but she would get whatever size check was part of the divorce settlement, which was minimal. I didn’t want the house on the market until the divorce was underway and the decree signed. No yard signs to tip my advantage.
I also thought it would be best to include Tina on this final closure event, since she already knew.
I scheduled lunch with Michelle downtown and made a reservation at the same restaurant where Tina had caught her and Tom. I paid the owner an extra tip to have us seated at the same booth-table where Michelle and Tom had sat. The big moment came, and we went into the restaurant, and Michelle didn’t seem concerned at all.
I had my iPad mini with me and set it to record video on its camera, and set it on its side at the end of the table. I wanted a memento of the whole event.
I said something about it being a nice restaurant, and had she ever been here? She said a couple of times, for lunch. Tina shows up and slides into the booth next to her, blocking her from being able to just slide out and walk away.
Michelle is startled and asked where she came from. ‘Why aren’t you at school?’
Tina whips-out her phone and says I remember this booth. I saw you in it a few weeks ago. Michelle stared at her. Tina played the video and Michelle froze.
I slid a printed copy of the email-to-Tom across the table. ‘I finally received that email you were asking about.’
‘Let me out!’ She writhed, you know, like a snake.
Tina didn’t move. ‘No, Mom, this is an important meeting for all of us. You have to stay put.’
Michelle was about to object when I slid the divorce papers across the table. I told her the house goes on the market tomorrow and you’ll get the portion allocated here.
Her eyes narrowed and she completely changed her demeanor. In fact, her personality changed into someone I’d never met. Downright spooky.
I later described this to my counselor and he wasn’t surprised. He said she’s been wearing a mask all this time and it’s been undone. She has freedom to be herself now.
And the version sitting before me, I never would have married.
I told her about the paternity test, even though Tina was in college, and not really a part of custody issues, Tina didn’t want to have anything to do with her.
I presented two court orders for her to have no contact with either of us, more than a restraining order. We could approach her, but she could not approach us. She would have to remove herself from a place where she encountered us and not enter a place if she knew we were there.
I also gave her permission to coordinate her coming to the house to get her things. Police officers would have to be present, so don’t call on your way over, schedule a week in advance at least.
‘I’ll fight this.’
I told her, I hope you do – in fact I’m looking forward to it. The courts have a lot of precedent on this, so it will be futile, but you’ll burn up whatever money you would’ve received, and a lot more. You will lose and walk away with even less than if you just signed it and walked away. I want you to beat your head against an expensive wall and walk away with less. Go for it.
I had an appointment with Tom one hour after our lunch meeting. Tina came with me. The appointment was for a different name, so he would not be tipped off. Tina came into his office first and he chatted with her like they were old friends. Quite the charmer.
I walked into the office and his whole body seemed to stiffen and get jittery. He was suddenly at a loss for words. He knew who I was, even though I should not know him.
I produced Michelle’s email and slid it across the counter to him. ‘I know everything.’
He set his jaw, and his jaw muscle throbbed. He stared at it. ‘What now?’
I explained what had just happened in the restaurant. Tom confessed he had called it off with Michelle for good, but they had gotten back together, since they always do.
I told him I came by to say ‘she’s all yours.’ I pointed to Tina and said, and the paternity test says she’s all mine.
His face sank.
What was this? Had Michelle told him that Tina was his? That’s a twist – banging the wife of another man while he’s raising your daughter and putting her through school– heckuva deal.
Tina had heard enough and I could not imagine what staying longer would accomplish. I wished I hadn’t come at all.
Once the smoke cleared, Michelle moved in with Tom. She was plainly wearing the same mask she wore with me, but was practiced at wearing it. No telling where Tom would end up in all this.
They deserve each other.
I’m with a great lady now. I waited to find someone who was genuine, and we’re taking it slow. Not sure I’ll ever marry again. After all, the marrying-thing is to raise a family. I’m past the age where this would amount to anything. Who wants to be in their sixties when their kid is graduating high school?
Tina and I have a great relationship. She’s met a guy who clearly cares for her, and I don’t see much of Michelle in her. Maybe she’s naturally rebelling against her mother’s ways?”