Trigger Warning * Violence * Language * Sexual Content
“See, you need me. You almost died without me!” Nate joked, and I smiled weakly.
I rested on the couch and watched Nate play on the floor with Scott and Brian. This was how it should be. This was my life, the one I wanted.
Indeed it was. Life was new. Nate was new. He wasn’t better; he was different. He seemed humbled by this latest time spent away, and he was truly sad that he missed out on the first several months of Brian’s life.
He and the boys bonded quickly, and I took that time to rest and heal and grow stronger. I was on high doses of steroids that either kept me exhausted or wide awake, starving and going through waves of hot flashes that felt like my face was melting off. It was so nice having Nate to take care of me and the boys, to feel loved and realize how much he really cared about us.
Within a few weeks, Nate landed a good, honest job that was local and would never take him out of town, away from us. And I went back to work with the newspaper. At the end of each day, we were all home again, together, and it was nice. Our lives were average, normal, just the way I liked it. There had been enough drama, and we could live out the rest of our lives in boring old peace and harmony. After all we’d been through, it didn’t seem like too much to hope for.
Between both our jobs, our income tax return, and the fact that we had few bills, when an opportunity came up to buy a home through the owner, no credit required, we jumped on it.
We were buying a house! Mom found it for us and even loaned us the money to help. It was huge, with a large fenced-in yard, just right for the boys. There was even a clubhouse. It was just…perfect. It would need some work, but we had talked about getting a fixer-upper and here we were, getting one.
We moved in over the Easter holiday weekend, breaking in the yard with what I dreamed would be the first of many egg hunts. The boys each had their own bedroom, and we even had room to let my youngest brother move in with us. It was truly a dream come true.
As months passed, I allowed myself to slowly exhale, to accept that it was all going to be good now. How could it not? Nate was perfect in so many ways: perfect husband, perfect father, perfect employee. He had finally grown up. Sometimes I worried none of it was real, but day after day proved me wrong. Not only was it real, it just kept getting better.
Until the phone calls began.
After repeated calls and hang-ups, I placed an order with the phone company for *69. The very next time I received a hang-up call, I used it and was surprised when my brother’s girlfriend Brittany answered the phone.
“Why do you keep calling and hanging up?” I asked.
“I’m sorry. Ummm…” she said, seemingly looking for what to say, “Your brother and I got in a big fight and I just wanted to talk to him.”
Since they were both only fourteen, I believed this and let it go. “Ok, but stop it. It’s driving me insane,” I said.
But when she was at our house, she followed Nate anywhere he went, casually slipping from room to room right behind him. I laughed it off. A teen girl’s crush. It was obvious she was infatuated with him, and sometimes Nate would catch my eye and shake his head. It was funny, until it wasn’t — it was breaking my brother’s heart.
Then the phone calls started again. When Nate answered, Brittany did not hang up. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end as I listened to him speak to her, but I simply wouldn’t allow my thoughts to go there, not to the bad place they tried to lead me. I was reading too much into something innocent.
“Why does she talk to you?” I asked him.
“I guess she just thinks I will understand better about her and your brother,” he said. “She’s afraid you’ll be mad at her when they fight.”
Again, I accepted the explanation. It was easier than anything else. I couldn’t entertain the suspicions that were growing in my belly, a hard knot of doubt that woke me at night.
In small towns, though, gossip spreads quickly, and it wasn’t long before it reached me.
“Brittany is telling people she’s sleeping with Nate,” a friend told me. “It’s all over the high school.”
I laughed. All over the high school? The girl wasn’t even in high school, and certainly neither were we. But my friend was, and she swore that’s where she heard it.
“Why would she say that?” I asked Nate.
I thought back to all the time she spent at our house, all the time she spent following Nate around, and again I shut out the possibility. She was only fourteen. Nate was twenty-four. This was ridiculous.
“She’s a kid,” he said. “There’s just no telling.”
She was just a kid. But so was I. A dozen moments flashed through my head, like a puzzle suddenly coming together. Just this past weekend, she and her friend knocked on our door about five minutes after Nate and his youngest brother came home, claiming they had missed the church bus, asking Nate for a ride home.
I stuffed that down, too. Sure, she was probably crushing on Nate, and maybe she was starting rumors, but there was no way Nate was actually doing anything with her. He loved me. He was taking care of me. We were happy. He wouldn’t have sex with a child!
A few days later, Nate drove to Tampa to visit his sister and I was happy to stay home instead. But as the phone rang over and over, and Brittany hung up on me each time, I decided this was it. I was going to stop her childish behavior once and for all, and more than that, I was going to catch her on tape, confessing to the rumors she was starting. And then I’d tell her she was not welcome here anymore, that she’d have to visit my brother somewhere else. My family didn’t need any of this.
I got the tape recorder I used at the newspaper, inserted a fresh tape, and dialed her number. I was ready. I was a grown woman and was not going to just sit by and watch this child try to ruin my happiness with her lies.
“We’ve been having an affair for months now,” she said, speaking before I could even start my own line of questioning.
An affair? I laughed. Big dreams for a little girl. Someone’s been watching too many movies.
“You remember Brian’s birthday party? How you got mad at Nate for going out with his brother the night before when you were supposed to have the party? And then how he came home and I was with him, and he said he picked me up walking down the road? I was with him all night. We had sex over and over and over again.”
I very clearly remembered all of this. I remember my anger was almost too blinding to see anything else, to question why Brittany was with him when he came home. I remember feeling that knot in my belly tighten and grow, all at the same time. I remember putting on a smile and going through with the late birthday party for my sweet boy, all the while seething and looking at Nate, trying to figure out what was wrong, and blaming his brother for being the reason Nate stayed out.
My hands shook. I could barely keep the tape recorder from clacking against the phone.
“He’s going to leave you. He’s going to take your boys from you, and they’ll be mine.”
I laughed again. She was clearly delusional.
“Brittany, you don’t believe he’d really leave me, do you? For you? And take my boys? That is the funniest thing I’ve heard all day!”
“That’s what he told me. He loves me. He’s going to divorce you and marry me.”
I was once fourteen, I thought. I remember feeling this way, wanting the marriage and children. Wanting happiness. A part of me felt very sorry for her, that she believed him and thought it would happen. But a bigger part of me raged.
“I don’t believe a word you’re saying!” I didn’t like losing control, but everything about the last couple of years boiled to the surface and I couldn’t stuff it back down. “Why are you lying?”
“It’s the truth. I don’t care if you don’t believe me. I don’t have any reason to lie.”
I tried to think of reasons she did have, and I was at a loss.
“Oh, remember that one night you were really sick and went to bed early?” she said, going on to drive her point home. “We had sex in the room across from yours. You didn’t even wake up! You don’t even know how many times we’ve done it right under your nose, and we’ve laughed about it.”
My face burned. I remembered that night. I remembered wondering why he didn’t come check on me. My medication had been making me feel horrible, but he didn’t check to make sure I was ok.
“I know things about him that only someone having sex with him would know,” she continued with spite, giving me details no one but me should know. And I believed her then. She was wrong, though. She romanticized what they were doing, calling it an affair, but he was just using her for sex, the same way he used me.
When I could take no more, I hung up on her. As much as I wanted to deny it all, something inside of me spoke up: “You already knew this. You just didn’t want to know it.”
That was true. I wanted to believe I was using past experiences to color the present. I wanted so much to believe Nate was someone new, someone I could trust and believe in and love with all my heart.
I failed again. I wasn’t even good enough to keep my husband from sleeping with a fourteen-year-old girl. All the old pains, the insecurities, they whipped through me like a fierce wind all over again. Was there nothing I could do right? Would I ever be good enough?
Hate. That’s what I felt. I hated him and I never wanted to see him again. And I didn’t mean it the way I meant it so many years before. This was such a deep hatred, I couldn’t imagine ever forgiving him again.
All I could think of then was our boys. I knew there was no way he’d ever legally get our children, but what if…what if he decided to just take them?
I ran to the bathroom and vomited, and then sunk to the floor in tears.
“Why is this happening?” I screamed, my words echoing off the walls. Except I knew why. I was stupid all over again. I believed a liar all over again. When would I stop being such an idiot? I believed he and Brittany laughed about me, about how stupid I was to not see what they were doing, that I kept taking him back. I was all of those things — a stupid idiot — and I deserved this.
The phone rang then, and when it wouldn’t stop, I half crawled, half walked to it.
“Hey baby. I just wanted to let you know some of the nieces wanted to come back for the weekend. You might want to set up the bed in the guest room.”
“The same bed you had sex with Brittany on?”
“I know, Nate. I know.”
“Know what? I didn’t fuck that little bitch! I can’t believe you believe her.”
“I know. She told me things only I should know about you.”
He was silent as I recounted it all. All the times she told me about. When it started. All the lies he told me.
“Don’t come home, you hear me? Don’t ever come home, you son of a bitch!”
“Oh, you can count on that,” he said, as if I were the one who cheated.
I slammed the phone down for the second time that day and sank into a sobbing heap. I never wanted to see him again.
About Angela Giles Klocke – I’m a Colorado-based speaker, writer, advocate, and princess! I am also a survivor of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, and more. I would love to speak to your group, school, or organization. Catch my TEDx Colorado Springs Talk on abuse, violence, and talking about uncomfortable topics, coming soon. Contact me!