<< Part 1
THAT FOURTH OF JULY I quit Kangaroo and started working for our landlord as the complex handy-man, and so far it was the best job I’d ever had: cleaning the pool, visiting all my new neighbors and fixing their appliances, weed-eating the sidewalks, picking up garbage. Everybody said I kept the place spotless and the pool sparkling clean. I loved fixing things for people and seeing how my neighbors lived, what kind of decoration they had in their apartments. It was like being paid to get to know people.
T continued her ups and downs, and now that I was sleeping nights, I started getting her late-night flip-outs again.
We began to suspect that maybe she was bipolar, and it might be connected to her blood-sugar levels. She called her lows the “Dragon,” and we made a bit of a joke out of it: if she felt the Dragon coming on, it meant we needed to get some food into her and quick, or she was going to hulk out. Every so often in the car she would mention being hungry and I would pretend to romp the accelerator in a desperation to get home and feed her. The Dragon began to make a joke out of itself.
Now that I was working basically from home and never had to drive to work, I had a lot of free time on my hands. I tried to get back into writing, but whenever she caught me on my laptop, T would put her hand over the screen to break my concentration or sit on the couch next to me and pout until I paid attention to her. If it was later in the evening, she would go to bed earlier than usual, just so she could lie in there by herself and guilt-trip me.
Once the Dragon came out while we were driving through town and she just all of a sudden, without a word, got out of the car at a stop sign and started walking down the side of the road.
I idled alongside her and asked her to get back in.
“No.” And then she threatened to report the car as stolen if I continued to drive it.
“Well, what if I park the car, get out, and walk with you? We don’t take a lot of walks together anymore anyway. It’ll be fun.”
“And leave the car here?” she asked. “Are you stupid? We’ll have to come back and get it.”
“So what am I supposed to do?” I asked, still rolling next to her at walking speed, talking to her out the window. “You won’t let me walk with you, and I can’t keep driving. We got to come to a compromise here.”
After a moment of thinking about it, T sighed angrily. “Fine,” she said, and got back into the 4-Runner.
A little while later, the Dragon flew away.
Yeah, the Dragon had made a joke out of itself, but that didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking.
As I settled into my new handy-man job, I spent a lot of time with my new boss, and over the course of many long road trips in his truck (he also managed two other properties in other towns, and I often went out to help him) we became good friends, good enough that we friended each other on Xbox Live and started playing video games together.
One day I told him about T’s Jekyll-and-Hyde thing and he asked me why I was still with her if she had me all twisted up.
“Because I love her,” I would say, thinking about that tearful Sunday goodbye way back when.
He wouldn’t take that for an answer, because he could see how psychologically fucked up I was. He pumped me full of macho talk, you ain’t got to take that shit, take charge of your life, be a man. Kept trying to talk me into leaving her, kept trying to talk me back into the bachelor life, but I was so hooked on T’s mood upswings that I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving. That, and I thought I was lucky to have this relationship. I didn’t think anybody else would want me.
When T was bad, she was horrible, but when she was good, she was fucking great. Jekyll was still my best friend. I was still in love with Jekyll’s seashore eyes.
This is how psychologically abusive relationships work, I know now. If you’ve ever looked at one where the man was the abuser and wondered why the woman hadn’t left his ass yet, this is why. It happens on the flipside too. It’s a good-cop/bad-cop situation. You get hooked on the good cop because the bad cop makes good look so fantastic. You confide in the good cop. You confess to the good cop. You love the good cop.
And I didn’t want to leave the good cop because the good cop loved me more than the bad cop hated me.
What I gradually began to realize, though, was that I’d started walling myself off from Jekyll as a shield, in order to minimize the damage when Hyde showed up. Since I never knew when Hyde the Dragon would arrive, I unconsciously developed a twenty-four-hour shield that protected me from Jekyll too. To protect myself from the bad cop’s ambushes, I would only talk to the good cop through a mail slot in an iron door.
And T wasn’t responding well to that. We hardly ever had sex anymore and whenever she tried to get romantic with me, I would go dead inside to protect myself, like a turtle retreating into its shell, and she could see it in my eyes. I went through the motions, but everything felt unrealistic and disconnected. I was so mentally reclusive that I was watching myself have sex as if it was on television. I was fucking terrified of being convinced that I was crazy again. Terrified of being sent back to that state of mind where I thought lying down on the highway was a good idea, terrified of regressing to the state of mind where I test-hanged myself to see how much it would hurt.
T herself terrified me. Even now just the thought of being in her physical presence makes me panicky.
Over time I became so disconnected that I was half-convinced I had some mild form of autism—Asperger’s, maybe?—and I even applied to an autism center for help coming out of my shell or understanding my condition.
I fucking forgot who I used to be.
She began to resent me for my increasingly disconnected personality, and Jekyll started to melt into Hyde.
“Don’t cry,” I’d told her that first Sunday so long ago. “I promise I’ll come back. I’m not going to leave you.”
When I promise something, I mean it.
I’d promised not to leave her, and in those days I never gave up on anybody (a lesson I've learned since), and she wasn’t leaving me, so we stayed together.
One night, high on my boss’s macho supply, I tried to get her to leave me by being an asshole so I wouldn’t break my promise, but she just ended up crying, which absolutely killed me. I immediately dropped the act and did everything I could to comfort her and bring her back up. To this day I regret trying it and feel like a piece of shit for it.
We reconciled and other than occasional appearances from the Dragon, things were okay for a while. Gradually we fully embraced the Dragon and we did whatever was necessary to keep T’s blood sugar from dropping. We managed to get it under control and things really looked up for the first time in a while. Hyde lived in a cage and Jekyll officially took over. Our sex life ramped back up, although it never fully returned to pre-Dragon levels.
Later that year my Army unit started gearing up to deploy to Afghanistan.
To this day I have no idea objectively why we did it, but T and I decided that to capitalize on all the military benefits, we should get married before I left.
My mom and my aunts threw us a great wedding back home in Georgia. I wore my Army dress uniform and even my dad showed up, the absentee shitheel I have to keep track of by watching the newspaper obituary for his name. He had shaved off his biker beard in some odd display of solidarity with me and my Army-clean face.
That October I trucked out with the unit to New Jersey, and then Fort Hood, Texas, for training. During our training interval in New Jersey I had the chance to be promoted with the other lower enlisted, but I was the only one that didn’t make it. I was now the lowest-ranking soldier in a platoon of fifty people, but I’d been in the service several years longer than the rest of the lower-enlisted soldiers and held two different military occupation specialties, my original MOS military police (31B), and my new unit’s, transportation coordinator (88N).
If anybody deserved a promotion, it was me. But I kept just barely failing the run part (2 miles in somewhere around 15 minutes) of my PT test, so I wasn’t eligible.
During the promotion award ceremony, where every lower-enlisted except for myself was called out of formation to be pinned, I lost my goddamn mind.
When I first got the news, it was everything I could do to hold myself together, but later I broke down in front of my Sergeant Major and cried like a fucking baby. These days, when I think back to it, not getting the promotion doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I eventually did pass my PT test, when I got to Afghanistan.
But I believe now that I was so tore up over it at the time because there was some part of my mind that was either desperate to score brownie points with Jekyll, or I was terrified that Hyde would be angry I wasn’t promoted. It didn’t help that I was on the tail end of several years of heavy-duty psychological bullshit.
My platoon sergeant petitioned on my behalf with the brass to get me promoted on merit, and the first sergeant, a tough-as-balls lady named Alexander that I am still fond of, still have on my Facebook, and continue to respect the hell out of to this day, talked to me in private and told me they were going to promote me.
“Really?” I asked, stunned.
“Are you sure?” I asked. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I must have given off the vibe that I didn’t think I deserved it. In those days I didn’t think I deserved anything but death. I just wanted to keep Hyde happy so that I would get nothing but Jekyll.
“Yeah. Hey, Earth to Hunt: we’re trying to promote you. Do you not want it?”
I shook my head as if coming out of a hypnotic trance. “Oh, well, hell yeah I do!”
Before I could accompany the rest of my platoon to Afghanistan, I’d have to stick around Fort Hood for a month by myself and go through job training so I could officially switch my job class from Military Police to Transportation Coordinator.
I had finished my training and was kicking around Fort Hood over Thanksgiving trying to catch a flight to Kandahar when my new wife confessed to me over the phone that she was cheating on me with her ex. I sat on the back porch of the barracks with my cellphone, huddled against the cold, sobbing as she gave me the gory details.
What the fuck?
She told me it wasn’t much, it was only a few nights, and that it was over, and she was sorry, it wouldn’t happen again. She was just lonely with me gone.
Understandable, I guess, even if I’d only been gone for a month or so. I mean, everybody fucks up, don’t they?
And this was a new experience for her, being left by herself while I ran off to save the world.
We reconciled again and I flew into Afghanistan.
(I promise I won’t leave you)