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November 28, 2021 4:38 pm  #1

My story

I've tried so hard to write this out.  I'm here.  You know how this story ends, but here's how I got here.

I first met K working at a law firm -- I was a paralegal, he was a midlevel associate.  I was the edgy, artsy one; he was the strait-laced Catholic Ivy Leaguer.  We dated for something like six years before moving in together, married two years after that, and had our daughter a little over one year later.  During this time, I'd completed law school myself, and started what I hoped would have been a career.

It's hard to describe this to "normal" people.  He could be stuffy but also had a libertarian streak.  He had a killer sense of humor, but could wield it as a weapon too, and use it to keep people at a distance.  He'd flaunt his heterosexuality in front of me and his friends ... but he actually hated sex.  I don't know what a "normal" rate would be, but we had sex no more than once every few weeks.  I assumed he had a weak libido.  The topic was not discussed and clearly was making him uncomfortable.

He stopped having sex with me entirely after our daughter was born.  We also started having problems in other areas.  He was adamant about not sacrificing his "fun" life once parenthood set in, and while that sounded reasonable, in practice what he wanted was to be out carousing till all hours, just like in his single days.  I'd give up after a few drinks and go home, he'd roll in at maybe 5 a.m., and later maintain that he wasn't drinking, that he just enjoyed nightlife.  This wasn't limited to weekends -- he routinely did this during the week as well.

He was distant and exhausted at home.  I now understand that he was probably equally dazed at work.  There could also be sudden explosions of anger, particularly when I needed help with the baby and he wanted to go out.  There was a pattern, which I only recognized much later: He'd have some reason he had to go out, I needed his help, and he'd lose it and launch an absolute shotgun blast of cruel and unfair accusations, completely unsupportable in any rational way, and storm out of the house.  It would end any discussion of how badly I needed some help, because I'd be too distracted trying to defend myself against this avalanche of completely unsupportable hostility.  If I ever tried to discuss any of it after his emotions had cooled days later, he had a stock response: "I don't remember saying that, but if I did, I shouldn't have and I'm sorry."

I was struggling to re-start my law career, with an infant at home and zero assistance from him.  Carousing was the last thing on my mind.  The lack of sex (or even affection) was humiliating and upsetting.  The lack of help with the baby was devastating, notwithstanding the weekday childcare while I was at work.  I would have just about killed for one good night's sleep back then.

At the time, I believed the sex problems were due to his naturally low libido, exacerbated by job stress and alcoholism.  I think I had the right factors, but put together in the wrong order. Alcoholism alone can mask a number of evils.  He ended up going from job to job, always getting in the door on the strength of his stellar resume and early job successes (his first job was at Cravath, Swaine & Moore -- the gold standard of Wall Street law firms), but sooner or later he became just another expensive partner who wasn't producing, and he'd be out the door again.  My own career flamed out before it ever had a chance -- I had no chance of ever being an equal wage-earner if I didn't have him as a fully focused and committed equal parenting partner.  He could not be entrusted with the care of a child, ever -- that's a topic for a whole nother post.

My D-day wasn't one single discovery, but a series of discoveries over time.

The first came twelve years into the marriage when, after a full year of his unemployment, he finally received an offer for a job overseas.  I stayed behind so that our daughter could finish fourth grade.  By this point, we'd rented out our house and moved into a tiny two-bedroom apartment.  I gave notice to the landlord, gave notice to my boss, and advised the school that our daughter wouldn't re-enroll for the fall.  I put most of our furniture in storage, and had everything else packed up and loaded on a steamship headed to the Middle East.  On my 50th birthday, my daughter and I flew to NYC on the first leg of our journey.  I had family nearby, and the plan was to stay a week or so and then continue to Abu Dhabi.

In the middle of the night, the phone rang.  I thought K must be calling to wish me happy birthday, but he was distraught, crying, and almost unable to speak at all.  I was finally able to coax it out: "I have HIV."  

This conversation replayed endlessly in my head for days, weeks, and months.

Our visas in the UAE required a locally-administered HIV test.  He'd gotten his results three weeks earlier -- positive -- and took a second (slower but more reliable) test.  It confirmed the first results.  He'd known for three weeks, but still allowed me to quit my job, and upend our lives for an overseas move that would never happen.  Just when I thought we were finally out of trouble financially, when we could finally start paying down debt, we suddenly had no jobs, no apartment, no car, no school for our daughter, everything we owned was on a shipping container somewhere in the Pacific Ocean ... and none of these things was actually the biggest crisis I was facing.  None even made it into the top three.

The physical symptoms, in the moment, were: heart pounding, ears ringing, black blotches growing in my field of vision, and, no matter how hard I tried to breathe, it felt like there was no oxygen getting into my lungs.  I later learned that these are symptoms of trauma, no different than if I were to have survived the explosion of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

My first reaction had been, this has to be a mistake.  K hates sex, how on earth would he get HIV?  He offered, without my asking, that the ONLY thing he could think was that he'd been treated at a rural clinic in India years earlier when he'd been an undergrad on a semester at sea, long before he met me.  He once had told me this story as being how he'd contracted hepatitis.  As astonishing as it seems, that explanation made more sense to me, than him getting it from sex.

So ... it meant he was HIV positive when we were still sexually active together.  He was HIV positive during the early days of our marriage when we were trying to get me pregnant, before I carried our daughter for nine months, gave birth by c-section, and nursed her for the first year of her life, as any loving mother would do.  That all came AFTER he'd gotten HIV.

For the rest of that week, each night the phone would ring in the middle of the night, he'd start to speak, and break down crying with veiled references to suicide.  I kept talking him down off the ledge, even as I was struggling to face the same crisis myself.  For a child, their worst fear is the loss of a parent.  How would you tell a fourth grader that both her parents have HIV?  How do you go on to tell her that she, too, has it and her mother is the one who gave it to her?  She would soon be in middle school.  There would be dances, boys wanting to kiss, going steady ... 

The first step was for me to get tested.  The soonest appointment available was three days away.  The phone call replayed in my brain in an endless loop, day and night, for the whole time.  I had to speak out loud to myself to remind myself what I was doing: "take the elevator down to the laundry room. Bring quarters.  Move the clothes from the washer to the dryer."  I couldn't sleep and I couldn't stay awake.  My mother came into the city to take me out for my birthday and I pretended it was jet lag.

By the time I got my test appointment, all I wanted, more than anything else on earth, was to be told my husband had been lying to me -- that he'd cheated, impossible as that seemed.  I wanted to hear that however he'd become HIV-positive, it had happened after our daughter was born -- after he'd stopped having sex with me.  I was willing to accept anything except the thing I couldn't even put into words, even now I can't write those words, about my daughter.

The doctor started by asking me about my daughter's health, and then said (this is a direct quote): "I can tell you right now, your daughter doesn't have HIV.  I wouldn't even test her; it will only traumatize her.  Without treatment, if she'd been infected at or immediately after birth, she would not have lived to see her fifth birthday."  I was stunned but grateful for his candor.

He also advised me I needed to be tested but added that IF I was telling him the truth, I wouldn't be positive either.  He said that based on my description of K's general health, K couldn't have been infected more than eighteen months earlier.

I'd gotten the one thing I wanted more than anything else in the world. Even knowing that my husband had caused me to endure a three-day mock execution for nothing -- I was overwhelmed with gratitude and forgiveness in that moment.

My birthday had been on a Saturday.  My HIV test was on a Tuesday.  My results (negative) came back on Thursday.  On Friday, I started spotting blood -- not like a period, though.  This was just plain blood, and I continued to lose blood every single day and night, without interruption, for the next six weeks.

Of course, K couldn't keep that job without a visa.  We returned home, where I confided in my old boss, who referred me to a friend of his who gave me work.  We had a few really rough years, until K eventually got a regular job.  After everything we'd come through, it never seemed like the time was right to confront K.  He'd seemed so devastated, and so grateful for my loyalty and my support.

The next clue was about four or so years later.  I was working from home, alone, and clearing a paper jam on the printer, and suddenly all this very explicit gay porn started printing out.  I was able to trace it back to K's laptop.  That explained what the libido issues really were -- but again, I fit this into a story line that made sense for a stuffy prissy Catholic like K.  He'd been in denial about being gay.  He was viewing porn, but not cheating.  Whatever happened once, would never happen again, he'd learned his lesson, he'd seen what was at stake.  I believe we were both in a sexless marriage, and he was coping as best he could, and I'd have to do the same.

I actually missed the next clue at the time.  In 2016, my daughter came home from college for spring break and the first night, when she pulled back the cover on her bed, she found an empty condom wrapper.  She screamed and dragged me upstairs to see it.  I briefly entertained the possibility that K was involved, but immediately dismissed that idea -- and only settled on the theory that some contractors working on the house must have been in there.  I know the rhythm and routine of the house, though, and it was a problematic theory logistically from the start.  I just couldn't think of anything else.

My daughter was absolutely freaked out.  She stripped the sheets off the bed, threw them in the wash, and spent the night in my bed with me.  It was impossible to convince her that her room was safe, when I couldn't even explain to myself how that thing got in there.

I date my official "D-day" to a time between Thanksgiving and Christmas the following year.  I was straightening out the TV room where my husband normally hangs out.  I lifted his laptop off the sofa, and there was a Viagra lying under it.  It had slipped out of his pocket.

I was livid, shaking from head to toe, ears ringing, heart pounding ... all the same symptoms.  No oxygen in the air, black splotches in my field of vision.  After everything he'd put us though, after my enduring a three-day mock execution that left me bleeding internally from God-knows-what for six weeks ... this was NOT okay.  I was NOT going to be that wife.  I cleaned the entire room, including the sofa and coffee table, and left the Viagra sitting there out in the open on the empty table.  This was the only time I tipped my hand.  For the entertainment value alone, it was worth it, seeing my husband casually trying to sound me out about whether I'd cleaned the room myself.  The Viagra disappeared from the table when I briefly left the room during a commercial that evening.

My daughter was now in her senior year of college, and she was deeply stressed about grades, jobs, everything.  I decided not to raise this subject with K until after the Christmas break was over, so there wouldn't be underlying tension in the house while she was home.  We had plans to attend a Christmas concert on the first evening after she came home, downtown, near where K worked.  As usual, we would take public transit or a taxi down and meet up with him after work.  There's a slight logistical challenge, in that K normally drives a two-seater to work (his Miata) so when we had these evening meet-ups, he would take my car to work instead -- a Mini Cooper hatchback. My car could fit all three of us on the ride home.

So that morning, I reminded him of our plans -- he was surprised, he'd forgotten the date.  I reminded him to take the Mini, and he said he wanted to take his own car, I should instead drive my own car.  Of course, that made no sense, but I decided not to argue.  But, when our daughter came in and overheard us, she couldn't make sense of why we should be in two separate cars --- and the explosions of rage suddenly came.  The more she tried to point out the obvious, the more enraged he got.  The more she tried to reason with him, the more enraged he got.  Obviously, the more I took her side, the more enraged he got.

For the very first time, I saw clearly and understood absolutely everything.  I was furious with him.  That day, he said things to her that no daughter of any age should ever hear from her own father.  

There are two differences between these two cars.  Obviously, the Miata seats two and the Mini seats four.  But here's the real problem: the Miata has a trunk, while the Mini is a hatchback.  There's no place to hide anything.  If you're planning to play hooky from work in the middle of the day, and you have stuff you will need to bring along, you can't stash it anywhere in a Mini without your wife and kid noticing it on the ride home later.  And, if you haven't cooked up a cover story for needing the Miata ... then you need to go on the offense and say whatever you need to say.

For posterity, here are the entirely false things he said to his daughter:

That she sits around stuffing her face with food all day and does no work.
That she is fat.
That she has no friends.
That the girls who pretend to be her friends actually hate her.
That she only got into this school as a legacy, because of him.
That she's just an impostor.
And finally, this is an exact quote: "Why do you even come home at all?  Every time you come home, you ruin everything.  Everything is perfect until you get here."

Just to be clear: no child of any age should ever hear these words from their own parent.  I know grown adult men dealing with a parent suffering from dementia, who are reduced to tears hearing words like this.  This never "doesn't hurt", no matter how old or emotionally strong you are.

It took me three months to work up the courage to use the key he'd forgotten I had, to peek in the trunk of his car.  A plastic bag from the Los Angeles LGBT Center, full of condoms plus two additional full boxes of condoms.  A large rubber dildo.  Two plastic accordion-type squeeze-bottles with rubber hoses and rubber tips (stained).  A vial of something called "Jungle Juice".  A tube labeled "Anal Lube".  A pair of rubber sandals (huh?).  An envelope with a bunch of names and phone numbers written on it.

I sat him down and calmly confronted him a month later, in April of 2018, one Friday morning.  Of all the shocking things I'd discovered up to that point, or would discover afterwards, this hit me with the single most stunning revelation.

He'd clearly thought through, over the years, what he would say if he were ever caught, and he had a prepared speech.  He started off by saying he'd always known he was "bisexual".

In other words ... he hadn't been in denial at all when he proposed to me, unless you count the "hetero" half of "bisexual" as sheer and utter bullshit.  Which I do, but this was not the moment to argue the dictionary.

I let him speak until he asked at one point "Did you think I was celibate???" and I responded yes.  And the next words he spoke, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world: "But how would that be fair to MEEEE?"  When I was finally able to pick my jaw up off the floor, I reminded him that he'd forced celibacy on me, without explanation, for over two decades and I never cheated ... to which he responded "I never said you couldn't."

That was the most devastating revelation of all.  We talk a lot about narcissism, which covers a range of things ... but this was really stunning.  He absolutely believed this, to the core of his being.  He's smart enough to graduate from an Ivy League law school and land a job at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and he believes ... what????

I suddenly grew sick, realizing he'd been in sole control of our finances, never sharing the bank statements with me, and I never fully understood why we were always getting deeper and deeper in debt.  I accepted his accusations that I was overspending, that he was frugal.  I accepted his reassurances that our retirement was safe.  I accepted that my poor earnings were a problem.  I accepted his Catholicism.  Now, I saw I had no idea who this stranger really was.

Two more discoveries were yet to come. 

First: In early July, he'd left his cellphone charging in the kitchen and went to take a shower.  A text came through, which I saw in "preview" (I'd actually figured out his passcode but up to that point never used it).  He'd been texting in a three-way thread with two male escorts, one of whom didn't recognize his number and asked "Who is this?"  The other gave his name and reminded him "We had a trio with K in [neighborhood] last year."  I thought this might finally solve the mystery of how the condom wrapper came to be in my daughter's bed, so I opened the phone to read the full text.

The conversation went on, and one asked the other how he and K had met.  The second escort responded "We met at a birthday party for a 15-year-old."  I was so shaken I shut the phone, but over the next few weeks I realized I needed to know what that really meant.  I started getting up in the middle of the night to check the phone as he charged it.

I was never able to find that same text conversation, but over the next few weeks I saw he was constantly hooking up with various prostitutes.  I didn't always understand the lingo, but for example he always insisted on two at a time, anal, and it had to be "raw" for which he would "make it worth your while $$" (usually an extra $50 was enough).  Also for the first time, I gained online access to our joint bank statements, and I was utterly stunned to see how much cash he'd been taking -- in July of 2018, he took $4,000 in one-off cash withdrawals every day or two, sometimes more than once in a single day, and he also transferred $5,000 out of our account.  

After I'd filed for divorce, I learned what "raw" means.  It means unprotected sex.  It meant my HIV-positive husband was paying $50 extra to these boys to have unprotected anal sex with them.  God only knows what a "birthday party for a 15-year-old" involved.

Second and final discovery: two weeks before our settlement conference, and about sixteen months after I'd filed for divorce, I finally got to see the account statement in his name alone.  In California, any income earned by either of us belongs to both of us equally.  My pay had always gone straight into the joint account.  But, for the entire duration of this 24-year marriage, he'd skimmed 40% of every dollar he ever earned, into this separate checking account in his name alone.  Finally, I was able to match the joint account online information with deposits to this other account.

I was so shaken, I started to go much further back in time, to that week of my 50th birthday, when he'd been so grateful for my loyalty.  That Friday ... the same day I'd started bleeding and didn't stop for six weeks, after he'd lied and put me through that three-day mock execution to avoid having to acknowledge infidelity ... he'd gotten a huge partnership distribution from an old job.  He deposited it in the individual account, and only transferred 60% into our joint account.

That same day.

I don't think even my own lawyer believed me.  It was such a crazy claim the judge wouldn't even LOOK at the bank statements.  I didn't exactly project credibility at the time -- I was still having flashbacks night after night.

I never got back a dime of what he stole.  I never learned exactly how a condom wrapper had made its way into my daughter's bed.  I never learned what a "birthday party for a 15-year-old" was.  

Last edited by walkbymyself (September 29, 2023 3:43 pm)


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