By Sharon McCarthy
She thought it would be much different. She was nearly seventy years old. After almost 28 years together how could life be such a disaster? There were signs along the way that, in retrospect, were telling - but the lies were too easy to believe. Isn't love about believing, trust, honesty and forgiving? Such foolish traps to fall into particularly when the love is one sided. Why didn't she see the pattern that started from the beginning?
When she met him, at a car club meeting, he had a cast on his wrist. He wouldn't talk about it and kept his arm out of sight as much as possible. He was handsome - a kind of sweet quiet guy. He had been married for a short time and was recently divorced. They didn't click right away but after a while they were spending lots of time together and had nightly chats on the phone. They had many common interests - vintage British and German cars, antiques, animals. There was an age difference but it didn't seem to matter. She was nine years older and had also been married before. She was the earth mother type. She was a nurturing homebody but she really knew how to have fun. They did car rallies, went to vintage auto races and swap meets, go kart racing, campouts, dinner parties. She even knew cars and worked on her own. He often told people that while they were working on her car one day was when he knew he loved her. Within a year he moved in with her. Life was great, at first. Looking back, she doesn't recall now just how many times in the following year - before their wedding - he had been injured and in a cast or outfitted with a brace on one limb or another. A day or two before their wedding he came home with a walking cast on his leg. She was too giddy with the excitement of the celebration they had planned - officially starting their life together - to doubt his sincerity, sorrow and natural clumsiness. Later it seemed very strange. But they had fun! They enjoyed winter snowmobiling, camping excursions to Vermont, going to vintage car races, adventures in the VW microbus camper, driving around in the VW bug in the snow with the Webasto top open, sailing with friends. There were crazy trips to far flung places to buy cars or car parts. It was about year or so later when she discovered that he was corresponding via email and spending time in a chat room with an online virtual community of those who get off on the rush provided by wearing casts, braces or using crutches. Pretending to be injured - it seemed odd - in so many ways. He had a desire that she couldn't comprehend compounded with that he used their shared email account. Did he really want it out in the open or was he a clueless Luddite? They discussed the situation and he assured her that it had been a misguided whim and that he would never go there again. He was just looking for people, friends who understood him. But over the years there were more casts, crutches, slings and braces. He was clumsy. He was accident-prone. He swore that the injuries were merely misfortunate events. She, and others, viewed him as somewhat fragile. She had an appointment with their regular physician who had a sports medicine practice. The doc laughed when she came in and commented that it was a great joke that had been played on her. What was the doctor mean? He had come home some weeks ago wearing a brace on his leg. He had presented it as just another injury. He said he would only need to wear it for a few weeks. It wasn't a prank. She was stunned. She had a hard time processing what had happened and then had to explain to the doc that it really was not a joke on her. She told of the attachment he had to fabricated injuries and fake casts - the fetish. The doc was aghast and most apologetic for his naivety. When she got home there was yet another discussion. He again seemed to be remorseful, penitent, even somewhat embarrassed and swore it would never happen again.
Clearly her rose colored glasses and devotion to him seriously clouded her normally logical thinking. He drank - often he drank a lot. He never had any money and often bounced checks. He had a spotty employment record. He always seemed to have jobs where he was misunderstood, bullied and undervalued. As a result, he changed jobs fairly frequently. During one of the periods of unfulfilling employment he started talking about them relocating from Connecticut to Vermont. His parents grew up near the Canadian border and some of the family still lived there. So many happy years of memories of time spent on the farm with his cousins contributed to his dream to live in Vermont. He assured her that it would be a positive change for them. At last everything would be alright. It was shortly after 9/11 when she found that her job would be ending along with the jobs of 1,500 others. The local division of the company was being closed. With the prospect of needing to find new employment moving seemed like a great idea and getting farther away from NYC was good too. He found a house in Vermont that was advertised in a local paper as a "Hobby Farm." The picture was about the size of a postage stamp. He said was perfect. And off they went, in February, to look at a place in the middle of God's Country. It was the only one they looked at. Not that it was actually perfect but it was a great spot to make a new start and get their relationship back on track. They sold her house and bought the place. The long moving process began in June. They were going - lock, stock, and barrel to the North. It took many trips with the truck and livestock trailer to relocate their possessions including multiple vintage vehicles and their spare parts inventories, tractor, mules, horse, pony, donkey, sheep, goats, wagons, carts and sleighs. The chickens, cats, and dogs followed in one harrowing trip in her car. Life was fun, quirky, and interesting. It felt to them like they were on a permanent vacation. They met new people, explored back roads and entertained old friends who came to visit. He found a job. She stayed at her job in Connecticut - commuting between North and South - until the end of November. Thanksgiving that year was like a perfect Spring day. She worked on the perennial garden. He played with cars. They were so happy. At first he had great plans to renovate the house. They talked how to make it their own. He helped to build and roof part of the new barn. Occasionally he wouldn't help put up fences, mow the fields or other farm projects. Soon that too came to a stop.
Unfortunately, his demons and all of their baggage had moved with him. He maintained his old habits but with more secrecy. He hid the drinking and the beer cans until both were obvious. He bounced more checks. Months were usually longer than paychecks. He would disappear for hours. There were still intermittent &accidents.& She found a job and stayed busy with that, the animals, gardening, and hobby activities. Somehow time passed and before long it had been ten years since they had even shared a bed. She wasn't happy and he wasn't happy. Things were not going as planned. She found a small box in an odd place in one of the cars. Some months prior he had rush ordered a kit on the internet - a DIY fiberglass arm cast. It wasn't expensive but the overnight shipping cost was more than $50. When she asked him about it he said that he bought it on impulse during an alcohol induced shopping event. He hadn't used it because he realized that he couldn't apply it by himself. She asked why he hadn't asked her to play nurse and assist. He said that he thought she would be mad and not receptive to the idea. He again swore that he knew that it was wrong and would never do that kind of thing again. Nevertheless, more "injuries" followed. She borrowed his laptop one evening and discovered that he had setup a couple of new email accounts and joined several online groups and chat rooms for people who had interests like his. "Bear Men," "X-Men," "Bone Breaker," "Cast Collection" were among some of his favorites. He used handles like "castbrace" and "pegleg.". Craigslist was convenient for soliciting for male "friends" to enjoy mutual interests. He was "Bi-Gay Farmer." They sent graphic pictures of themselves and their marketed features. He let prospective "friends" know that he could only be reached online since he only had access to the internet at the library and at work. Another couple of groups focused on serious "body modifications." The fake injuries and casts were mild in comparison to discussions about methods to achieve desired amputation of limbs. The participants were either wannabes, admirers or success stories. Reading about the lengths that people were willing to go to obtain their particular pleasures and how he wanted to be one of them made her feel sick. This what he believed would make his life complete. She went to his room and slipped into bed with him. She told him what she had found. She so wanted to believe him when he told her that it was just a fantasy and that he would never act on it. He said that he wasn't looking for sex with these men - just companionship. She warned him that other people would not necessarily feel that way and that if he continued in that direction it was likely that he would end up dead at the hands of one of his pen pals. He said again that he was very remorseful and hadn't thought about it that way. He said that he had been aware since childhood that he wasn't meant to have a left hand or a right leg. They felt like they just didn't belong to him. He wanted them gone but assured her that this was just a pipe dream and that he would never act on it. He would really drop it this time. The next day she confided in her boss and close coworkers. She wanted them to know what was going on in her life so they might empathize and be understanding when she wasn't quite herself. It was largely a misplaced trust. They had no words of comfort and it was evident that they didn't believe her and weren't going to cut her any slack. Her world was shaken enough without this. She had nowhere to turn. She barely managed the pain and kept dragging herself through the days of crushing depression and overwhelming loneliness. They went to marriage counselling but after a year he announced that he was tired of always being made to feel like the bad guy and would no longer participate. Later she found that he had shared his secrets with the counsellor who had advised him that those things were not his area of experience and that he couldn't help him address those issues. Their relationship, such as it was, continued with its ups and downs, well, mostly downs. She stuck with him, despite overwhelming odds that were clear to everyone but her. She would ask for his help with projects or chores. He would frequently "yes" her but rarely follow through. He lost interest not only in her but in the house, cars, and animals too. He seemed to have lost all interest in life - well at least their life. She became accustomed to doing things alone. She didn't like it but kept putting one foot in front of the other. That was all she knew how to do. After all, he didn't beat her. That had been the benchmark set by her first husband. Apparently, some believe that everything is fair game up to that point. She didn't realize that she was again lost in an abusive relationship. She was made aware of that concept when she reviewed her medical records which had recently become available online. She thought that someone might have mentioned it to her over the years or encouraged her to seek help. There was no help and she somehow kept believing that they would get through this and their life would go on as planned.
His outlook was very different. It was May. She would be out of state for a couple of weeks. It was her 79 year old uncle's wedding, in New Jersey. His birthday was while she was gone but they were to celebrate when she returned. He "wasn't getting any younger," as he commented later to someone. He had a plan and this was the time. He believed that everything would be right when it was done. This was the only way for him to achieve happiness and to be the person he was meant to be. Some weeks in advance he &injured&his hand. He told her that he didn't know how it happened. He went to a walk-in clinic some distance from home. The doctor gladly provided a generous prescription for the highly prized Oxycontin. He kept that a secret too and saved it for the day. While she was gone he bought a gas hydraulic wood splitter. He towed it home behind his Jeep and situated it behind the hedge - out of plain sight. He waited until the day before she would be back. He would feed the animals that day and she would be home to take over while he was otherwise occupied. He rose early that morning. He was eager to make use of the new machine. They had several large trees that had to be taken down the previous year. There were a lot of bucked up logs that needed to be split for the wood stove. It was simple to operate. It worked easily. He split and stacked six or eight chunks. No problems. He knew what he would do now. He had discussed the steps with people online who had experience and already achieved their goals. They said it would only hurt for a while but the effect would profoundly improve his life. Everything would be so much better - more than he could even imagine. He would finally be the happy person he was meant to be. There would no longer be an obstacle to his peace. He took a handful of Oxy and washed it down with a couple of beers. He called 911 to report a serious accident. He took off his jacket and put it aside. He carefully applied a tourniquet with bailing twine. That was important. He wouldn't want to bleed to death and ruin everything. It was now or never. He placed his hand on a log and pulled the lever. It hurt like hell but it was worth it. He turned his hand and pulled the lever again to be sure it was completely mangled. All would be for naught if the bones weren't broken enough. They might want to put it back together. When it was done everything would be great. While he waited for the paramedics and helicopter he remembered what they told him &Three days and you are out of the hospital and won't have to deal with doctors again.&That's all it will take. He would then be the person he was meant to be - the guy with the hook hand that he had always wanted. The surgeons were cooperative. They wanted him to go to Boston for reconstructive surgery. He refused that option. They went ahead with the amputation. His dream had become his reality. He called her and said that he had an accident. He said that he had cut his hand very badly and didn't know what would happen. She found, like so many other things he had said, it wasn't true. Later she asked him why he hadn't done his leg. His reply was that it "wasn't feasible at this time." He told her that everything would be alright now.
But everything isn't alright. He is still hiding things - like the new crutch under his bed. He still disappears for hours. He is still drinking. He explodes in either anger or tears at the strangest things. Now he just needs to get a divorce, quit his crappy job and move away. Only a few more months. He will move out. Then everything will be alright. No more nagging bitch of a wife. No stupid female bosses and coworkers. Life will be perfect when he is by himself. Just him, his hook hand, his dog, his collection of crutches, ace bandages, medical appliances, and his internet friends who truly understand him. One day he will meet his soul mate. Then everything will be alright.
She hasn't slept well in months and cries most every day. She barely recognizes herself in the mirror. She can't find happiness in the things that used to bring her joy. She avoids her friends which isn't difficult as they seem to avoid her too. She practices smiling but finds little to smile about. She can't make sense of the illogical rollercoaster of emotions. She is angry with herself for not seeing the inevitable and not taking action to extract herself years ago. She is devastated by his cruel betrayal and emotional abandonment. She is frustrated with herself for having such conflicted feelings. She is stuck because she is still in love with the person he used to be. She hates him for what he has done and what he is putting her through. She can't stop hearing the sound bites and visions of the trauma she has experienced and continues to each day as she still has to see him with either the stump of his arm or the hook. She knows that he is planning his next "tragic accident" to complete his vision of his true self. At least she won't be around to experience it. She is about to lose everything that she worked for all of those years - her home, her animals, her financial security, her lifemate. She retired several years ago and can never support herself on Social Security. The bills are piling up. She dreads another job search and wonders if she can find or hold employment but she has to try to make a way to stall complete financial loss. Once the house is sold she will have a little money but will no longer have a place to live.
Intellectually, she knows that the person she knew and loved has been gone for a long time and he isn't ever coming back. She knows that she must come to view that as the good news. It just doesn't feel like it now. Until later arrives, she can only live for the times when she can just become uncomfortably numb.
Sharon McCarthy has always wanted to write but hadn't made the conscious decision to do so until now. She enjoys spinning, knitting and working on family genealogy. She currently lives in Vermont with her three dogs, two cats and assorted other animals. She is plans to head to greener pastures where the winters aren't so long and cold.