THIS POST IS THE THIRD OF A SERIES OF POSTS IN WHICH I DESCRIBE A RELATIONSHIP I HAD WITH AN EMOTIONALLY AND SEXUALLY ABUSIVE MAN. CHAPTER 2 IS HERE AND THE REST OF THE SERIES CAN BE FOUND ON THE STORIES & SERIES PAGE. THANK YOU FOR READING, AND PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS STORY SO THAT OTHERS CAN LEARN FROM MY EXPERIENCES INSTEAD OF NEEDING TO MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES.
There wasn’t much that I could eat without getting sick, so Eli boiled plain white rice while I sat on the couch trying to avoid eye contact with Lucy. She was still mentally confined to the corner but following our every motion with her eyes, and would occasionally whine gently or optimistically wag her tail in the hopes that she would be released.
Eli exited the kitchen with a bowl of rice for me, a glass of neat scotch for himself, and joined me on the couch. I nudged him and gestured toward the dog, but he ignored me and turned on the television. After a while I asked if I could borrow his laptop to e-mail my parents and let them know I had arrived safely. I browsed the Internet and ate my rice while he sipped scotch and watched the news.
When we were both ready for bed, he finally allowed Lucy to move and give me my greeting, commanding her “COME!” as we walked up the stairs to the bedroom. She wasn’t allowed on the bed, but after nearly licking my face raw with her ebullience, she settled on the floor and we climbed under the covers. Eli spooned me from behind, one hand cupping my butt and the other resting between my breasts.
In the morning, Eli told me he wanted to show me something. He led me downstairs to his study and asked me what I thought.
I was confused, “Um? It’s a little messy.”
He laughed, “I was thinking that when you move in, we can turn it into a yoga studio. I’ll make the second bedroom my study. Notice how this room gets great light in the morning? I thought you would like that.”
“I can’t believe you thought of that! You don’t even do yoga!”
He smiled at me, gave my waist a little squeeze, and kissed the top of my head before grabbing my ass. “Maybe I would start if you were here to teach me.”
We went into the kitchen so that he could make me breakfast.
“Can you eat eggs?”
“They don’t make you sick?”
He was always a great cook, but he had taken recently to expanding his repertoire and researching recipes that I could eat without feeling unwell. When I was back home, he would frequently e-mail me with a recipe he’d found that he wanted to try when we were next together. He was in grad school and I worked in an office, so often it was he who had the flexibility in his schedule to undertake extraneous research. He never failed to be there for me when I needed support about my declining health, going as far as to hunt down tamarind fruit at an exotic market, which for a time was the only fruit I could safely consume. I always knew that if I were spending the weekend at his place, there would be a fully stocked fridge and cabinet of my “safe” foods.
It wasn’t always so flawless. A major strife in our relationship was the distance. He wanted to see me every weekend, but I protested, claiming that it would be twice as expensive and would diminish the social life I was trying to establish outside of my relationship with him. He was sexually frustrated, he claimed. He wanted videos, or at least pictures, of me in the nude. But I wouldn’t do it.
“I’m just not comfortable with that.”
“You don’t trust me?” he teased me over Skype one night. “You know we’re eventually going to get married. You don’t trust your future husband?”
I laughed, “Of course I trust you! It’s the internet I don’t trust! Besides, what do you need videos and photos for? I’m here anytime you want me,” I said, playfully slipping off my pants. “You don’t need to have it saved,” I turned my back to the camera and pulled my top off over my head, “because you can talk to me and I will do anything you want…” He bit his lip and smiled at me from hundreds of miles away as I slowly unhooked my bra and continued the tease.
One night my phone rang at 2 o’clock in the morning.
“Mmmmhello?” I grumbled.
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS?!” Eli was screaming on the other end.
“Eli? What? What’s the matter? What’s going on?” My eyes were huge in the dark room as I frantically groped for the bedside lamp.
“You’re only with me because I’m rich?”
“WHAT?!” now I was screaming. “Oh my God!!! Of COURSE not!”
“Then what the fuck is this? Why the fuck would someone tell me you are, if you aren’t?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about! Back up. Who said this? Where is this coming from?”
“An e-mail,” he said, “It tells me everything. Everything about you. You didn’t know if you wanted to date me, but your friend Chelsea said you might as well, given how much money my family has.”
Holy shit. That was true. I’d abandoned that line of reasoning when I’d fallen in love with Eli, but it was entirely true that in the beginning of our relationship I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea. In a conversation with my friend Chelsea over Facebook, she’d jovially convinced me that no harm could come of simply living the high life for a while.
“Eli, that’s not true. I mean, yes, Chelsea and I did talk about that, but obviously that’s not why I am with you now. I love you. I love you so much. I want to marry you, Eli, you know I do.” My pleas were met with silence.
Three hours later he had read me the entire e-mail and berated me for every sentence of the information it detailed. We were both exhausted.
“You can’t be friends with her.”
“What?!” It was my turn to sound appalled, “She is one of my closest friends! You know that!”
“She’s not a good influence,” he said steadfastly.
“I barely even see her,” I pleaded, “She lives in another state. It would be so cruel and unexpected if I cut off our ties on the internet, I can’t do that!”
I cried, begging him to forgive me, forgive her. I didn’t want to alienate my friend, I didn’t want to disappoint my boyfriend. I loved them both so much, immeasurably, unconditionally. I convinced him that this was a one-time thing. A lapse in judgment, youthful ignorance. I tried to convince him that I loved him, wanted to spend my life with him, and that I would never betray him again.
After nearly five hours on the phone, with dawn edging over the horizon, he acquiesced. I was forgiven.
“Who was the e-mail even from?” I muttered, nearly asleep.
“I don’t know. Someone who called themselves The Secret Teller.”
The next Wednesday I was at work, just a normal hum-drum day. After I returned from my lunch break, our receptionist Jane came to my desk with a gift bag that contained potted orchids. They had velvety, white petals with vivid fuchsia centers, and were planted in a square glass vase, delivered in a classy, matte black bag.
“Somebody loves you!” All of the women in the office congregated around my desk. I was blushing when I read the card, which stated simply, “Because it’s Wednesday.”
He had a flair for romance. He also knew that as much as I loved orchids, I would never be able to grow them myself with my black thumb. I received gorgeous arrangements with cards saying:
“Because you deserve it.”
“Because you’re beautiful.”
He was always so thoughtful. I even had a delivery of a custom floral arrangement to my hotel room once. I was in California for a major academic conference, the biggest of my life, a result of the research I had done as an undergraduate. I was scheduled to give a talk to the experts in my field, and the day before that I received a package: beautiful flowers, and a stress relieving sheep toy that pooped when you squeezed it. I called him, asking how he knew where I was staying.
“You texted me a picture,” he said, “I zoomed in on the street sign and looked up the nearest B&B.”
Once he left me a voicemail- it was him playing the piano and singing Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes.” I was in my kitchen when I got it, and I stopped and blushed, then put it on speakerphone so my mother could listen.
“Mom, how romantic is this?” I gushed.
“Eh,” she shrugged, “You have a better voice than that.”
My parents weren’t as in love with Eli as I was. My father was concerned that every time Eli was over, the first thing he did was pour himself a drink. My mother didn’t like that he called me in the middle of the night to pick fights.
“He’s in grad school, Daddy,” I’d say, “It’s stressful. I would talk to him if I thought it was to the point that he had a problem.”
“Mom, we’re long distance. Sometimes our schedules don’t match and the only chance we have to talk is late at night, it’s not his fault.”
Eli had met my parents from the first weekend he stayed with me. But we were together nearly half a year before I met his.
“Oh my gosh, I’m so nervous!” I said, applying my mascara in his bathroom mirror.
He wrapped his arms around me from behind, kissed my neck, and made eye contact through our reflections as his fingers trailed under my neckline and into my bra before I swatted his hand away. “Just be you. They’ll love you. Even if they don’t love you, they will love you because I love you.”
We were driving a few towns over from where Eli was in grad school, and in the car he briefed me on how to interact with his southern family.
“Don’t talk about politics, obviously. You’ll never see eye-to-eye on that. Don’t go into religion- that’s a point of contention between my Mom and Dad, because Mom wishes we still went to church. Oh, and don’t talk about my family’s money.”
“I know you like that I’m really well-traveled and all, but they just don’t like to be ostentatious, so try not to bring up anything about Africa or South America, you know?”
I mentally noted all these points as we pulled up the drive of his childhood home. It was beautiful. There were roses climbing a trellis that Eli and his father had hand-built years ago for his mother’s birthday. His mother gave me a tour of the garden she maintained- showing me the bench on which Eli used to sit and read as a child. She couldn’t have been warmer or more welcoming.
Their sitting room was paneled in wood, with velvet furniture that was reminiscent of the Teddy Roosevelt summer home I had visited as a child. After a round of drinks, his parents drove us to their favorite restaurant. Through the meal his mother was cheerful and talkative, but his father barely said a word. When I spoke, I could feel his eyes burning into me, and when I met his gaze he was never the first to blink.
On the drive home I heaved a sigh and turned towards the window. Eli grazed my knee with his right hand.
“They liked you.”
“Did they? Your mom was so sweet, but your dad didn’t say almost anything to me. I just don’t know what to think.”
“They liked you. If they didn’t like you, then my mom wouldn’t have said as much, and my dad would have said a lot more. If he didn’t respect you, he would question you more than he did.”
We were both in the mood for a digestif when we got back to Eli’s townhouse, so he poured us each a scotch. I perched on the counter as he puttered around the kitchen, and we chatted about anything and everything that crossed our minds. He bent to reach into the cupboard under me, so I spred my legs to allow him access. When he rose, I was smiling at him mischievously and cocked an eyebrow.
“You keep looking at me like that and you’re gonna get fucked,” he warned me.
My smile grew crooked. I hopped down and darted up the stairs. I could hear him pounding the steps behind me. By the time I was in the bedroom, I was half naked, and he caught up and threw me onto the bed. The dog was unsure what game we were playing, but abhorrent to being left out she’d come upstairs as well. Eli shoved her out the door and locked it, then turned to see me lying provocatively in black lingerie. I pointed at him and beckoned.
Our sex was phenomenal. The intensity of it, the pure and unmitigated desire combined with the way we read each others’ minds, it truly resulted in a euphoric experience.
A very long time later, I was snuggled into his shoulder. I smiled at him and remarked, “I think that for me, that was more orgasm than not!”
“Not to toot my own horn,” he chuckled, “But- toot toot!”
A few months later, I was watching TV with my mother late at night when I received a call.
“APOLOGIZE.” He demanded.
I stood and glanced at my mom, making sure she couldn’t hear before I left the room.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I hissed, barely containing my rage.
“How many guys have you fucked?” He asked combatively.
“WHAT?! Why the fuck is that even relevant?” I’d always had a temper, and he was toying with it.
“HOW MANY GUYS HAVE YOU FUCKED?! It’s not a difficult question! Simple math!” he shouted.
“Why are you asking me this?” I was near tears.
“The Secret Teller had things to tell me today,” he said.
I could feel the color drain from my face, “What? …What did they say?”
“Would you like to tell me who Sam is?”
“What?! No! I mean, sure, it’s not a big deal, but no because it’s not relevant.”
“Then tell me.”
“It’s not relevant! I had a crush on him in junior year of college, we never even got together!”
“No? So you never had his ‘crazy hot body’ against yours?”
“WHAT? No! What the fuck! Don’t you trust me?”
“I want to trust you, but how can I when some random person seems to think it’s important that I know these things about you? You’re obviously not being honest with me, or they wouldn’t be doing this.”
“Eli, I swear, I have never lied to you. I have never even withheld anything! I will tell you anything you want to know- anything! I have nothing to hide.”
“Okay, then how many guys have you fucked?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t want to tell me? Fine. We’re done here.”
“WAIT. No, don’t go,” I was sobbing now, “Don’t go! I love you, please don’t go. This isn’t worth it, none of this even matters, I only love you.”
“How many guys?” his voice was measured and monotone.
“I don’t know, I never counted. Maybe ten.”
“Eli! It’s not that big of a deal! That’s not that many. There’s you, then my high school boyfriend…” I listed every one that I could remember. Only one was a random and drunken one-nighter, in total there were twelve.
“Do you know their last names?” his voice was soft, and I listed them without hesitation, all except the one nighter. I cried quietly into the phone while awaiting his verdict.
“That’s not as bad as I thought, actually,” he finally said. “It’s just that… well, I’m insecure about it.”
“Why?” I asked, concerned and eager to help.
“I’ve only been with half that many women.”
“Oh, Eli!” I said, “It doesn’t matter- none of that matters. Our chemistry, how we work together, that’s what counts. We’re perfect together. I can’t imagine anybody who would be more perfect for me. We have incredible sex, and everything else we have is better than anything I’ve experienced before.”
We stayed on the phone for hours that night, talking about this new e-mail and The Secret Teller, speculating on who it could be.
“Who knows these things about you?” he asked me.
“Gosh, I don’t know. Practically nobody!” I said.
“Who?” he persisted.
“Maybe like, maybe even just two people- Audrey and Mariah.”
“Well one of them has it out for you.”
“Eli, that’s impossible. There’s no way! I have known Audrey since I was four, and Mariah and I lived together for three years of college. They’re my best friends. There is no way at all that they would want to hurt me or break us up.”
He was unconvinced, “I just don’t think you should talk to them too much until we figure this out.”
I’d gone many years with these women in my life, but for the first time ever, I began to suspect that maybe they didn’t have my best interests at heart.