Who You Gonna Believe

Chapter 8: Good Luck With That

I continued to see Pastor Tim with Rodney even after the whole I’m-giving-Lucy-Christmas-presents-while-you-mourn-your-grandmother-who-died-on-Christmas-Eve thing. I don’t know why. Inertia, I guess? We would talk about what Rodney was going to do to win back my trust on Tuesday, and on Wednesday he’d be back to lying. And I’d be back to smearing his nose in the truth like a dog who peed on the living room carpet. Lather, rinse, repeat.

One evening I was getting ready for bed when Rodney came home from God knows where. “Where ya been?” I asked removing the towel I’d wrapped around my head like a turban. For whatever reason I felt like watching him squirm.

“The gym,” he said. 

Pfft. Right,” I sneered. Of course I didn’t believe him.

For a dude who lied all the goddamn time, it sure did piss Rodney off when I refused to believe him. “I was at the gym! Call them! Jake’s working tonight. He can confirm I was there.”

“I’m not calling Jake,” I said. “But for real, where were you?” 

Now, I hadn’t thought the fight through completely when I started it, but even if I had I wouldn’t have been counting on Rodney skipping over a few lines of our usual, anger-laced script and going nuclear right off the bat. He pulled his phone out of his pocket and called Jake, the manager at Cardinal Fitness. “Hey Jake? Yeah, it’s Rodney. Emily doesn’t believe I was there tonight. Can you confirm that I was?”

Y’all?

I. Was. Mortified.

I added finding a new gym to my mental to-do list.

Rodney held his cell phone out to me, but I refused it, dunking both hands in a tub of moisturizing cream instead.

“We’re never going to work things out if you refuse to believe me,” Rodney shouted with Jake presumably still on the line.

“You are so fucking daft,” I spat. “You think the problem is that I don’t believe you, but the problem is that I don’t trust you.” Jake had probably put us on speaker phone so the rest of the gym staff could listen too.

“What the hell is the difference?” Rodney flapped his arms in exasperation.

“To say I don’t believe you puts the blame on me. To say I don’t trust you puts the blame on you. This,”—I pointed at him then at me a couple of times—“is entirely your fucking fault.”

Clearly, he didn’t agree with how I chose to divvy up the blame, but he had nothing to offer in the way of refutation. As he walked away, I picked his wedding ring up off the bathroom counter and I threw it at him as hard as I could. It bounced off his left shoulder. “You forgot to wear that today!” I took my engagement and wedding bands off and threw those at him too. The bands made a metallic ping sound as they bounced off the wall. I missed hitting Rodney with them by several inches, but I like to think he still got my point.

Reasonable people might part ways right then. But people raised in the protestant, evangelical churches of the Midwest like I was aren’t taught to be reasonable people. We’re taught that divorce is wrong. Period. End of debate. So wrong, in fact, that pastors publicly refused to perform second marriages unless the first one was terminated by death.

So when Rodney asked me to join him for dinner later that week, ostensibly so I’d be forced to talk things through with him without yelling or throwing jewelry, I agreed. Mostly because I liked the idea of someone—not me—cooking dinner and doing the dishes, but I also figured one last attempt to spell it all out for Rodney couldn’t hurt. I really wanted my conscience to be clear, to know that I had tried everything, before I let any snooty Church People sneeringly label me a divorcee. 

“Look,” I said, staring Rodney squarely in the eye and placing a cloth napkin in my lap, “if you don’t want a divorce, you’ve got some time to try and figure it out.” (I was planning to stick it out until after graduation to make it easier on myself, but I didn’t tell him that.) “I’ll be honest, though. I seriously doubt you can.”

After dinner Rodney was deep in thought, apparently having accepted my challenge. He had decided to call Lucy and ask if we could come over. That popping by to introduce his girlfriend and his wife was the winning idea in Rodney’s mind epitomizes how deftly he navigated interpersonal relationships at the time. That I didn’t refuse his hairbrained scheme probably says a good deal about me too.  The part of me that was dying to watch Rodney crash and burn in front of Lucy was stronger than the part of me that wanted to protect my own emotional wellbeing.

He made the call to her as we were driving home, turning down the volume on the radio before dialing the number at the top of his call log. I rolled my eyes—of course she was the most recent person he’d called—and listened disbelievingly to his side of the conversation. He invited us over to her place. The guy was shameless. 

“Okay,” Rodney said as they were wrapping up the call, “give us twenty minutes. We’re in Avon.” At a stoplight he tossed his iPhone back in the console of my Chevy Malibu and looked over his shoulder at me as if expecting me to congratulate him.

“She’s okay with us coming over?” I asked. “She’s okay with me coming over?”

“Yep.” Rodney turned the volume back up on the radio.

I still couldn’t believe this was his plan. I turned the volume down again. “And why are we going to Lucy’s?”

I’m going to tell her that you’re my wife, and that I won’t be seeing her anymore. You won’t have to wonder if I actually told her because you’ll be right there to witness the whole thing.” Instead of getting in the left turn lane to drive us home like it was a normal evening, Rodney continued east on Rockville Road toward the twinkling Indianapolis skyline and Lucy’s downtown apartment.

Would he ever grasp the whole believe-trust dichotomy? Sure, I’d believe he told Lucy it was over. But I didn’t trust for a hot minute that his saying a thing made it so. He was a compulsive liar for chrissakes! He’d ask me how I liked the steak dinner he bought me while I choked down a McDonald’s cheeseburger he’d scraped off a sidewalk.

***

Rodney rang the buzzer at a trendy Mass Avenue apartment building. Over the intercom Lucy’s roommate told us she’d be right down. Thank God she hadn’t invited us in.

The three of us stood on the sidewalk in front of the entrance that led straight to the building’s second-floor apartments. The first floor was home to a jewelry store or a shoe store or something—I don’t remember exactly. But I do remember that even though it was dark, it was early enough in the evening for patrons to still be coming and going as our little love triangle gathered.

Actually, calling it a love triangle isn’t entirely accurate. I still had the fucker’s last name, but I had checked out of the love part without fully internalizing the fact. If you’ve been there, you know it’s a process.

Anyway, Rodney delivered his soliloquy right there on the sidewalk: I’m married. I love my wife. We can’t continue seeing each other. I’m sorry. Yadda. Yadda.

Lucy listened quietly. She was about four inches shorter than I was. Her face was round but not at all chubby, and her raven hair was shoulder length and ruler-straight. I guessed she was three or four years younger than me, which made her about ten or eleven years younger than Rodney. Yes, she was a graduate student and I was only a senior, but I was one of IUPUI’s thousands of non-traditional commuter students. 

Lucy giggled after Rodney delivered his lines, which irritated me then, but looking back I don’t think it was because she thought the situation was funny. Anyone—well, anyone except maybe a narcissist like Rodney—would guess she was embarrassed not amused. More than a decade later, I feel more connected to her than anything. I hope she’s doing well. I mean, she didn’t deserve Rodney. Nobody deserved Rodney.

***

“We good?” Rodney asked on the drive home from our pointless and surprisingly undramatic to-do.

“Uh, how about no?” I said, “I’m pretty sure you’ve promised me all of that at least six or seven times this month.”

“Okay, what if we move? Like to Chicago or Austin or something?”

“What? Why?” I had no idea where his mind was, but my dedication to all things reasonable and practical was provoked by the sound of absurdity. “We can’t move. I’ve only got one semester to go. Transferring now would be a nightmare. Not to mention we’d take a huge financial loss on the condo if we sold now. We haven’t lived here long enough to build equity for one, and the real estate bubble popped. Plus, neither of us have jobs lined up. And do you even have any idea how much it costs to reloca—”

“Why are you holding me back? I’m trapped here because you don’t want me to succeed or to be happy.” 

“You can fuck right off with your bogus victim card, asshole. Your happiness is not my responsibility, and last I checked you don’t need my permission to cross state lines.”

I waited for him to respond, but like always, Rodney waxed mute when reminded he was a grown man with autonomy. During his long silence, something clicked for me though. After several minutes I added, “I think I get it now. You need me to feel guilty about something—anything—to complete the con, to make me the bad guy and rationalize your infidelity. Good luck with that.”