“Your husband is a narcissist.” Had I showered that morning? I couldn’t remember. The days passed by in such a haze that simple tasks like figuring out what to wear became daunting. By that point in my marriage, I had already tried couples’ counseling with three other therapists, all of whom suggested I might be […]
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“Your husband is a narcissist.”
Had I showered that morning? I couldn’t remember. The days passed by in such a haze that simple tasks like figuring out what to wear became daunting.
By that point in my marriage, I had already tried couples’ counseling with three other therapists, all of whom suggested I might be responsible for the way my husband behaved. Maybe I didn’t show him enough affection, they said. Maybe I hadn’t learned his love language, they suggested. Maybe I didn’t know how to communicate my feelings (apparently “Stop fucking hurting me” wasn’t clear enough). Or maybe — just as my husband had said — I didn’t love him anymore, which explained why I clearly wasn’t trying hard enough to make things work. Clearly.
The psychologist, whom a friend had recommended but whom I was skeptical to see after past therapy failed to help, happened to be an expert on personality disorders, specifically narcissism. I wasn’t aware of this when I met with him for the first time. Nor did I know anything about what a narcissist was outside of the Greek myth that told of some guy who drowned because of how in love he was with his own reflection.
The psychologist initially met with both of us. It was an hour spent of my husband talking in his ever-so-charming voice he used with our previous therapists (and any woman or girl within a fifty-foot radius) and me staying silent while watching this man I loved spin reality from straw into gold, while positioning himself as the victim. And me as the emotionally unstable, unsupportive, and difficult one.
I was sure that at any moment the psychologist would turn to me and say, This is all your fault.
By the end of the hour, I had no strength left to defend myself, so I answered the psychologist’s few questions with short answers.
“Would you like to add anything, Suzanna?”
“Do you hear what your husband is saying?”
“How are you feeling right now?”
“I don’t know.”
Our time was up. As we walked out, my husband tried to hold my hand as we walked to our separate cars. “I think that went really well,” he said.
The tears I had been holding back during our session began rolling down my face. I remained quiet, took my hand from his, got into my car, and went home where I collapsed on my bed and sobbed for the next hour.
As I tried to catch my breath, the phone rang. A woman (girl?) with a heavy Russian accent asked if my husband was there. Who is this? I asked. She said never mind and hung up.
The next day, the psychologist called and said he would be happy to continue to see us … separately. My husband went first. When he got home, he said nothing about his session, though something about his arrogant demeanor hinted that it had gone well.
My appointment was the following week. Believing my hour was going to be spent hearing what a horrible wife I was, I braced myself and prepared for the worst. After all, he wasn’t going to tell me anything that my husband hadn’t said to me already.
Instead, the way the psychologist looked at me for the first few minutes without speaking caused me to tear up. The compassion in his eyes was unlike anything I’d experienced for a very long time. I had gone through a hundred different scenarios of what his first words to me would be, none of which came even close to what he started with, which made my brain go into temporary shock and made me doubt whether I was hearing him correctly.
“Your husband is a narcissist.”
As it was used to doing in moments of trauma or stress, my mind deflected and all I could think about was whether I had showered that morning.
The psychologist continued his analysis of my husband, a man I still deeply loved, had children with, and to whom I’d devoted the last sixteen years of my life.
“He doesn’t even see you as a human being with feelings, which is why he also doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong by pursuing those young girls. In fact, he brags about how these girls look up to him, admire him, even flirt with him. And he has no conscience when it comes to the pain and suffering he’s brought upon you and your children. Narcissists don’t care about anyone besides themselves. He doesn’t even really care about these girls either. They just feed his never-ending need for supply.”
“These girls” the psychologist was referring to was a group of four young Russians. Or maybe they were Ukrainians. I wasn’t sure. In any other circumstance, I would have cared about the difference. In that case, I chalked up my historical ignorance to trauma and left it at that.
The group had landed in our small Wyoming town for the summer to work. My husband was one of the first to welcome them with open arms.
The psychologist referred to them as girls just as I did solely because that was what my husband called them. He also used this term in his defense earlier on when I confronted him about my growing suspicions. And when I asked him why he suddenly wanted to learn how to speak Russian (he even went out to buy a notebook specifically for his language lessons).
I just thought it would be nice if they had someone to talk to in their own language. But those girls are just kids! How could you think I would do anything so disgusting?
They weren’t kids. They were of legal age — as in legal to fuck around with without landing my husband in jail but not of legal drinking age. Not that it mattered, since they had my husband buy their liquor for them. He also went to their parties. I found this out later, along with a million other details that made me pop Pepto Bismol tablets five times a day and sleep by the toilet in the middle of the night.
Yeah, I don’t think I showered that morning.
While the psychologist, a small Vietnamese man who was Buddhist, continued his analysis of my husband, I checked out mentally and began wondering what I would make for dinner. Then I thought of the glass of wine waiting for me at home and how I couldn’t drink more than two glasses without getting a massive headache and feeling like shit in the morning.
Then I thought of my alcohol tolerance in high school and how we didn’t start the night without a six-pack for each of us, after which it was off to whatever party in the woods where a keg was waiting. And someone always brought extra alcohol just so no one would go without. Boone’s Farm, Bartles & Jaymes, California Coolers … really anything. We weren’t picky.
The psychologist was explaining something about my husband and how even if he changed today (which was also impossible in his opinion), it would take him two hundred years to make up for the damage he’d already done to our family.
I think I’ll take a bath when I get home, I thought, going to that safe space somewhere deep in my head where I could try to hide from the reality that bared its sharp teeth like a rabid dog.
He — my husband, not the psychologist — didn’t like to drink. At least not with me anymore. I wondered if those girls got wasted with him.
When I was in high school, buying alcohol was an easy endeavor considering that until 1985 the drinking age in Arizona was nineteen. We also had drive-up liquor stores where the employee was usually a man who was either young enough not to care about asking for ids or old enough to be suckered by a car full of teenage girls playing Ratt at full volume while licking our lips to taste the cloves we were smoking.
On the off chance that our twelve-pack of beer (add an additional six-pack per vehicle occupant) was not going to be so easy to obtain, it never took longer than fifteen minutes to wait in the parking lot for some guy to buy it for us. Sometimes, in exchange for buying us beer, the guy would ask where the party was and if he could join.
This type of guy was usually old (as in forty or above) and believed he might get lucky if any one of us got drunk enough. But we knew how to play the game, so what did we care if some creepy guy came to our party since it wouldn’t matter how much we drank, we still possessed a sufficient enough ick factor that prevented us from ever getting it on with an old man. Plus, and most importantly, we always had enough of our guy friends at any party to eventually shame the pervert out and send him home.
As a teenager, and then in my early twenties, I was accustomed to men who were twice my age coming on to me, making sexually suggestive remarks, and knocking on my door to see if I would open it for them to enter. But these men always made my flesh crawl. At the time I couldn’t explain it, mainly because I was just used to it (even men my father’s age who made passes at me). However, there was always that feeling of repulsion whenever I was the target of some old guy’s roving eye.
So when this group of girls showed up in my life and caught the attention of my husband, I fell back on the safe belief that he also abided by this unspoken code that stated men who went after young girls were predators. Sickos. And I didn’t marry no sicko. I was safe, right? As a woman in her mid-forties at the time, I needn’t worry about girls who were just crossing over into adulthood. Did I?
Besides, my husband had always been charming to any woman no matter her age. Sure, he made comments over the years about our son’s female friends that made me uncomfortable. He enjoyed the company of the daughters of friends of ours. And as a dance teacher, he had no issue with coaching his young female students with no one else around.
Still, I had no reason to doubt his intentions.
That’s not true. I had no strength to doubt him. For the sake of my sanity, I needed to separate the man I’d married and built a life and family with from the gross old men who used to come on to me when I was a teenage girl myself.
Until that moment when I could hide from reality no more.
The end of our session had come, and the psychologist stopped for a moment, stared at me until I made eye contact with him, and then asked, “Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?”
I nodded that yes, I did understand.
I realized sitting in that office in front of this nice Buddhist man who had shown me more kindness in an hour’s time than I’d received in the past few years from my husband, that at the age of 45, after three kids and over a decade of marriage, the truth was out there for all to see.
I had married the pervert.
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