After 10 years of marriage, my husband became reacquainted with a kindergarten friend who lived halfway across the country, through fucking Facebook (which will rot your soul) and began an affair that eventually ended our marriage. Bertha, a fictional name I’ve chosen because it’s awful and conjures up images of wart-riddled faces and harelips, was introduced as his friend, a relic from his past that he enjoyed reminiscing with.
I was in no position to object. Most of the true relationships in my life are with men so how could I squeak out any form of protest. Although I did, and do believe, that I have mastered the art of maintaining close friendships with the opposite sex. I doubted his ability to do the same. I acquiesced nonetheless. He even asked my permission. Did I mind? Of course I did but for no rational reason. I tried not to let my petty insecurities get the best of me.
The first month or so, Mark would tell me about their emails and subsequent phone chats. Bertha’s son was going to college, her husband was diagnosed with some God-awful terminal disease and she was depressed, in need of support, and equally excited about their innocent re-connection. Mark learned of her abrupt childhood relocation, what had happened to her since, and everything in between; a minute-by-minute account of all the who-gives-a-shit information a person can share.
I’m confident she endured a recap of every high school football game, backseat hand job, and any other seemingly relevant event, with the same enthusiasm I had 10 years prior. Mark empathized, agonized and worried about Bertha and her trials and tribulations. He felt useful and the sunshine being blown up his ass genuinely warmed him, it was evident every time he shared a Bertha related story.
Over the next few months, Mark’s silence about Bertha made me question if their friendship had escalated. I was assured that it was completely innocent and reminded of the brass balls it must have taken to even question his integrity. I lack many things but instinct is not one of them. Mark and Bertha’s relationship had in fact developed into a perfect escape for them both. He insisted my involvement outside of our house is what required him to seek out a new barrel fire to warm him. He wanted to feel pretty, but who doesn’t? I nourished my spirits with coaching, politics, writing, planning events, and friends.
Mark and Big Bertha (why not) had both turned fifty. Mark had been lost for a long while prior. He vacillated between callings from coaching to writing to teaching to radio personality to the production of plays and the building of hay bale houses. The list is virtually endless although his skills are not. I encouraged his every endeavor with less and less enthusiasm as each project was shelved for a better time, day, circumstance. My involvement in everything, not only reinforced his self-induced status of less than, but fostered my immersion elsewhere, where progress and success were tangible, even if not always acquired.
I have always been a fairly stoic soul, just as the Irish had instructed, but with the sudden death of my mother and the subsequent emotional demise of my teenager I was unprepared for Mark to abandon me while I was in so much pain. I felt robbed. I had seen a gradual decline in our relationship. Mark had been depressed and we had endured some very difficult circumstances: death, financial stress, familial issues, the usual. It doesn’t really matter how we got where we got, I suppose. Our marriage was good until it wasn’t. It really is that simple. Honestly, the most incentive Mark had displayed in years was in the pursuit of his fucking Facebook girlfriend.
I’ll miss Mark, his family, and, our shared life, but I was unable to continue living a life that was doing us both such a definitive disservice. I’m angry and hurt but this will pass and I’m hopeful that I’ll be all the better for it. Eventually I may feel that way about Mark and maybe even his toothless, hag, fucking Facebook girlfriend, Bertha, but I doubt it.
In all of our years together Mark never once suggested that my friendships with other men were an issue for him. He never seemed threatened in any way. He had no cause. I have since found that he was less than forthcoming with his concerns about my extramarital affairs, although never had an affair taken place. He could justify drawing first blood any way he chooses. The fact remained. Mark loved someone else. The event I feared most upon accepting the existence of his fucking Facebook girlfriend had come to fruition.
Mark loves the idea of Bertha; the actual Bertha may not fare as well.
I packed my stuff, my teenager, my tortoise Papi, and rented an off-season, furnished, beach cottage. My daughter and I likened the experience to breaking into a decent Goodwill with a stunning view. We didn’t have a single knife that could cut butter but we did have 17 claw crackers. It may sound like a drastic measure, and it was, but I had no other alternative.
As is my nature, I began to write and sift what was left of me. It was clear early on in my separation that my husband was going to do everything he could to maintain his existence of mediocrity no matter how much he despised it. Change sucks, no doubt, but at what point does maintaining dysfunction become more energy intensive than change? I guess we each have our own threshold, our own tolerances. I had exceeded my tolerance months ago and now met with the consequences of my choices, I was afraid. At 44, with my only child leaving for college in a matter of months, I doubted my ability to bounce back as I had so many times before. I was back to square one and shaken to my core. I was lost and broken and in need of people who loved me. I retreated to what, and who, I knew best.
I don’t know why all my friends are men. I never understood why all my childhood friends were boys. It could easily have been because I didn’t fit in with girls or it was just lack of access to them. It’s a cart or a horse issue, as far as I can see. I have spent countless hours in my adult life analyzing these relationships and have attributed my odd circumstance to my less than traditional appearance and equally questionable behavior. My direct and potentially abrasive manner has made me a more suitable playmate for the not so gentle gender.
From a young age I had been compelled to collect fake boyfriends to supplement what I was lacking in my immature and idiotic peer pool. They ranged from Scott Baio to a pretty face I found on the back of a Jai Lai betting slip, belonging to a young, dark, glamorous looking player, Javier. He was my first exotic fake boyfriend. I cut him out and pasted him into the plastic sleeve of my Partridge Family wallet. I broke out the grainy, abused photo and showed him to every classmate I had. Although they too admired his beauty, they clearly didn’t believe the exceptional twenty-something lusted after a 3rd grader, least of all me.
As I got older, I continued to rely on my fake boyfriends. They filled endless voids in my life. Elton John, my first fake boyfriend, with Morgan Freeman’s Electric Company profile a close second, provided a constant comfort in a less than balanced life. I don’t know all of them personally, but I am confident in the steadfast relationship we share, each a gift. Very few have been cut loose over the years, although Scott Baio’s contract was never renewed. My additions have also remained few and far between. As each boy or man, came into my life, I kept them and loved them, no questions asked.
I am shameless in outing them, much to their chagrin. They see our relationship as intimate and personal. It’s not as if I don’t share their level of intimacy I’m just not embarrassed about it. My primary relationship has accepted my fake boyfriends, or most recently, found a fucking Facebook girlfriend.
I have never been a classically beautiful woman and discovered early on that I was not someone who could blissfully coast through life in Jimmy Choo shoes and a size two dress. I had to rely on other ways to communicate, seduce, deflect, manipulate, defend, survive and cope. On no occasion have I felt that I was somehow born into the wrong body. It may not be the body of my choosing, but confidently the right gender. I may have had better luck with women if I were prettier or better at pretending I was pretty. I always envied pretty girls but eventually learned to forge with my strengths, as limited as they may be.
I’m not complaining. The men in my life love me, in spite of themselves. They run the gamut, from drug addicts to politicians, doctors to mob bosses, brilliant to borderline, and everything in between. I would never suggest that all men love me. They don’t. There are plenty of men who despise me as vehemently as the men who love me, love me. They are some of the scariest and cruelest people I have ever had the misfortune to meet and they mattered, even if they shouldn’t have.
With Mark gone and my life in shambles, I looked to the people who had supported and loved me, unconditionally, or otherwise, my whole life. And to those who would, if they could. And, still, to those who never would, or could. These are stories about those boys, those men, as a thank you or a fuck you, as the case may be, rolled into one.