Editor’s Note: This Letter to Lovefraud was submitted by the reader who calls herself “Allergic to Spandex.” Other names have been changed as well.
By the time my sociopath husband “The Dope” (now, thankfully, my ex) developed testicular cancer, I knew that he was not a “consultant,” but a marijuana dealer who didn’t even make much money at it. He explained this as noble guerrilla warfare in the fight to legalize marijuana, a cause I still agree with despite him. He claimed that the people he sold pounds of pot to made sure that it got into the hands of medical patients. This was probably a lie too, but it’s how he brainwashed me when I was 18.
There’s cheatin’ goin’ on
I knew that “The Dope” had at least had flirtations with two of my classmates in grad school — both blondes, unlike me, and neither of them was so threateningly smart as to upset his delicate sense of himself. (In fact, neither finished the program.) I strongly suspected there were other kinds of cheating going on; in fact, I found the computer open one day to an email telling another woman how wonderful it felt to be in her arms. However, he dismissed this as a mere fantasy, and I had no way to prove otherwise.
But I never dreamed that when I visited “The Dope” in the hospital following his operation to have a cancerous testicle removed, he would literally yell at me for trying to straighten and fluff his pillow, and apparently doing it in some uniquely terrible way. That, even after a raft of crap from “The Dope,” was a new one.
After the “love bombing” courtship and my marriage to him at age 20, I started getting my own ideas about what I wanted to do — specifically, going to grad school in my field instead of staying in nice little office jobs that provided cover for his illegal activities — there were definitely strange moments. In November 2001, when we were at his mother’s house for Thanksgiving — some 2,000 miles away from any of my friends or family — he announced his intent to divorce me, saying that my desire to have no kids (a desire he had previously stated he completely agreed with) was depriving him of a chance to “have a family.” I was stunned and so was his mother, who thought we were already a “family” — I had stood with “The Dope” and his mother and cousins at the funeral of his wonderful grandmother. Fortunately, “The Dope” never conned me into having an unwanted child.
In December of 2002, after a year of unexplained agonizing pain and a wrong diagnoses, my mother was diagnosed with the incurable cancer multiple myeloma. In the summer of 2003, “The Dope” began having shooting pains in his abdomen, which we later learned was actually the first cancer site. But when I urged him to see a doctor about his obvious agony, he began spitting rage at me. Suddenly I became a villain for daring to suggest he put himself into the hands of Western medicine.
Finally, that fall, he got his own cancer diagnosis. I got the call from his physician, with “The Dope” on conference call, during a university class I was teaching. Luckily, my students reacted with tremendous compassion. One woman, an adult student, even insisted I take money from her and pay it forward to someone else someday — which I have done.
I sat with “The Dope” while he watched comedies to help get him through the effects of chemo. I sighed, but still poured on the sympathy, when he totaled our car in a macho attempt to drive himself to chemo. We then leased a car, using my credit card, of course — he didn’t have one. The payments were his responsibility; somehow, he never made them, and we had a civil judgment issued against us for what he failed to pay the car rental company.
My mother died in December 2003. One month later to the day, my grandmother, her mother, died on my sister’s birthday. That month, “The Dope” finally agreed to have our beloved cat euthanized — he was suffering from cancer too, a massive injection-site sarcoma that had burst through the skin of his neck like a bloody cauliflower. For a long time, “The Dope” wouldn’t let the cat go — he kept making me change the cat’s dressings, which was hideously painful for all concerned. Finally, the cat wouldn’t even move toward his food bowls, and we finally gave our poor fur-baby the peace he deserved, thanks to a compassionate vet.
And in that same month, I fluffed “The Dope’s” pillow wrong. Worse, I was accused of not spending enough time with him in the hospital — even though his stay was only a few days, and for obvious reasons, I was the only one working to support us. Even though I arrived at the hospital with roses the same color as the ones in my bridal bouquet, nothing I could do for him was enough. Only his fellow pot dealers, he proclaimed, were supportive enough for him.
That summer, “The Dope,” who was unemployable because his so-called career consisted largely of working for marijuana-legalization nonprofit organizations, announced that the only job he could get was in Portland, Oregon, working on yet another ballot measure that would ultimately fail at the polls. He spent five months in Portland, telling me to deal with our many credit-card bills and keep up the apartment; he even returned for a few days in September for a conjugal visit — he claimed he couldn’t stand to be away from me for so long. Yet after our divorce, I learned that “The Dope” had used those five months to cheat on me with four women I have personally spoken to, and perhaps more. All four of these either worked for the same organization he did, or volunteered for the ballot measure in some way. I guess the “never poop where you eat” maxim never really sank in for him.
Stuffed animals on the bed
In his absence, I had taken to sleeping with a small collection of stuffed animals for comfort, as well as with our two remaining cats when they felt like it. When “The Dope” returned, he was livid with rage, and spent his first night home on the couch. He accused me of using the stuffed animals to push him away. I should have used a forklift.
New home in Nowhere Land
That December, a year after my mother’s death, “The Dope” decided to move us to a small town in the middle of nowhere. One of his previous employers had restructured his drug-policy nonprofit and was willing to rehire him on the condition that we move to Nowhere Land. So I was ripped away from my budding career and all my friends. “The Dope” left our old apartment horribly trashed, filthy and with some of our belongings left behind; due to another physical disability, I could not lift, for example, the filing cabinet from the computer room. Of course, the apartment complex was furious with “The Dope” and fined him $400 to clean the apartment. I couldn’t blame them.
Isolated and unemployed
I was now unbelievably isolated — theoretically close to my dad’s place by a few hours’ drive, but unable to drive, and unaware at the time that Amtrak went to the next town; far from any friends, and until August of 2005, unable to get a job (the hiring at the local colleges and universities was already finished for the spring by the time we arrived in town). It was a bleak time. We lived in a U-shaped apartment, and “The Dope” claimed the middle as his space, where he would frequently work from home on a laptop while watching TV and even listening to the radio on commercial breaks. And of course he had to be naked, and have the bong next to him at all times — and, increasingly, a bottle of beer.
When I questioned “The Dope” about his mounting alcohol addiction, he told me the stress of dealing with me and my disabilities was what made him drink. I walk with a cane; I guess he found that a terrible, terrible burden on him in some way. Please note that in all the time that elapsed since his cancer, he had never once gone to a counselor, psychologist, or support group. He had a very Tom Cruise attitude towards the psychiatrists I had chosen to see since grad school — he would drive me to and from appointments, but sneer at me for my apparent lack of progress. No kidding? It certainly couldn’t be that I had a live, walking problem impeding me!
Fights and honeymoons
Then other things started to happen. I was horribly upset during a fight, and said that he made me want to die. He threatened to have me committed, and grabbed my cell phone, holding it above his head (I am very short). When I tried to grab it back, he pushed me down, and then informed me that since I touched him first, I was the real abuser in the relationship.
Of course, all of these incidents were always followed by miniature “honeymoon” periods of peace and rest, even little treats (like my birthday present, a refurbished iPod that he delighted in being able to buy for very little money). Readers of this site will be familiar with the nature of the trauma bond.
Then on New Year’s Eve 2007, “The Dope” came home after drinking four beers and a margarita, and picked a fight. I went into the computer room to cool down and get away from him. As I closed the door, he forced it open.
“You hurt my hand,” I said.
His chilling response: “I’m in my own apartment.” Apparently the issue of my hand was moot, and what was really at stake was his right to enter any room in the apartment at any time. I now had no right to privacy.
Alcohol abuse escalates
If you’ve heard it said that these things always escalate, you’re right. He began drinking to the point of vomiting and blackout more than once a week. He had frightening memory lapses. Yet he denied any alcohol problem — even though he began accusing me of cheating on him with my boss, who was also a good friend who led a small writing group at his house. This, I later learned, was classic projection. Since he himself would cheat in the workplace, why wouldn’t I?
I stopped sleeping with him. I explained that something about the idea of sex (he knew that I had been raped by my first boyfriend) was a prominent fear trigger right now. Ominously, he told me I’d better get over to my therapist and start working through the issue right away.
In a last-ditch effort to have something in common with him, even though my balance was terrible, we bought me an adult tricycle so I could attempt cycling, which he had taken up to be like his hero Lance Armstrong. This was a bad move: I fell and broke my wrist.
“The Dope” insisted it was just a sprain, and our chiropractor would look at it in the morning. Fortunately, Dr. Short (not his name) got me in with the local orthopedic group immediately. My wrist was put in a cast, and I was given a prescription for a huge dose of the narcotic Percocet.
“The Dope” filled the prescription for me. He watched as I took two large tablets. My reaction, as always, was severe dizziness and nausea. I crept into bed and waited for the room to stop spinning.
Instead, “The Dope” entered. He said, “I bet this will take your mind off the pain.” He raped me. I have no doubt that this was a punishment for failing to sleep with him for two weeks or so prior.
Away on business
The next morning, he yelled at me for leaving the carrot juice out on the counter instead of figuring out, with a new cast on my dominant hand, how to put it back in the refrigerator. The day after that, he left for a West Coast “business trip” for 11 days, alerting nobody that I was alone and helpless with two cats. If not for my friend, the boss I actually wasn’t cheating with, I might not have survived. “The Dope” probably hoped this would be the result.
Toward the end of his trip — during which, you will be glad to know, I began making escape plans — “The Dope” started phoning me. He hadn’t bothered to contact me in any form for days, but now he called me, enthusiastically describing the pubs of the West Coast, and suddenly demanding that I tell him I loved him. I couldn’t quite do it. He accused me of being ashamed to say it in front of my friends. I just didn’t love him anymore. He had just, after all, raped me. Even if I had wanted the sex, I had been in no legal condition to consent to a haircut, never mind intercourse. Unfortunately, Nowhere Land, the town, is located in a very backward part of the US that didn’t even make marital rape a crime until the 1970s. Prosecutions for the crime in Nowhere Land are extremely rare. And there wasn’t a mark on me. He hadn’t had to punch or strike a disabled woman smaller than himself with her arm in a cast and two huge Percocet keeping her down.
Since escaping from “The Dope” seven years ago this autumn, I have told my story to anyone who would listen. A mutual friend came forward and said that the year prior to what he did to me, “The Dope” had tried to rape her, too — luckily, she is six feet tall and a combat veteran, so she escaped. Some people with whom I shared my story and my feelings have accused me of being angry (like that’s unusual in rape survivors), bitter, and my favorite: “negative.”
You know what? It’s worse than that. Way worse.
I also can’t fluff pillows worth a damn.
Fortunately, the man I learned to trust can fluff his own when needed.