Who You Gonna Believe

Chapter 9: Corpse Pose

With the 2008 spring course catalog and a Frappuccino on the desk in front of me, I picked classes for my last semester at IUPUI. Theories and Practices of Editing, Writing Non-Fiction for Popular and Professional Publications, Building Curriculum for Teaching English as a Second Language, and a 101-level course in criminal Justice. In May I’d have my bachelor’s in English.

Introduction to Criminal Justice turned out to be a nightmare. It was chock-full of young, white males in button-down shirts who saw no downside to jailing homeless people for sleeping on park benches and thought mandatory sentencing was the best thing since prohibition. Full of soulless, compassionless, Republican-voting godbots from the ‘burbs, I saw Rodneys everywhere I looked in that lecture hall. But I needed three credit hours outside my discipline, and it was the only class I could squeeze into my freakishly full schedule. In addition to completing my last twelve credit hours, I had to find time for my internship at Indiana Women Work, my first part-time job at the psychiatrist’s clinic, and my second part-time job as John Green’s assistant.

You can do this, I told myself. One last semester busting your ass.

It was a lot to take on with my marriage falling apart, and there were some days I couldn’t keep it together. Sometimes, in the middle of writing a term paper in the university library or taking notes during a lecture on corpus delicti, I would scoop up my belongings and run to my car and cry in a dark corner of the parking garage. I don’t remember feeling jilted or unloved as much as I felt exhausted. I was overwhelmed. By marriage. By for-profit prisons. By the fucking Oxford Comma.  

Rodney barely tried to be a better person, and I let it slide because I needed him to pay the mortgage more than I needed him to stop being a shitty human. One night we were sitting up in bed, our faces alight from the soft glow of our laptops, when I said, “Okay, I’ve made as much progress on that paper as I’m going to tonight. Want to go through the homework Pastor Tim gave us?” There were some Bible verses we were supposed to read and a worksheet full of questions we were supposed to talk through before our next counseling session. (I didn’t honestly believe the weekly one-hour appointments were helping, but they were free, and saying “we’re going to counseling” was a convenient way to tell my friends how things were going.)

“Sure,” Rodney replied without a drop of actual want-to in his voice. I moved closer to read the Word document containing the discussion points. He closed the browser on his Mac, ending the video he’d been watching on YouTube. Thunderbird, his email application was open behind it. I guess he’d forgotten it was running in the background. The last message he’d been writing—while he was sitting beside me in bed—was in full view, text magnified to 150%. Idiot. He flinched, no doubt bracing for the backlash.

“You can finish writing your love notes in the guest room,” I said. Even I was surprised by the cool evenness of my words. “I’m not doing this anymore.” I thought he’d tell me that it was his house and he’d sleep where he wanted, but he unplugged is laptop and plodded down the hallway. He was probably excited that he’d be able to call Lucy instead of write her.

“Thanks for not overreacting,” he said just before descending the stairs.

We didn’t speak to each other for the next three days. To avoid him, I’d wait until he left for work before climbing out of bed every morning. Then I’d grab dinner at a drive-through on the way home and eat in my car every evening. Then I’d go straight to my bedroom and do homework, read, or watch cat videos until I fell asleep. No matter what time of day it was, I avoided the common areas of the house whenever Rodney was home.

Rodney finally spoke to me on the third night. I was lying in bed when he slowly opened the door and peeked around the corner. “I’m going to sleep up here tonight…with my wife.” He seemed to think calling me his wife would remind me to be a good, submissive Christian woman.

Have I mentioned the guy had the emotional IQ of that ring of hair in your bathtub drain?

“No, you’re not,” I said. The bodiless head that had been floating in the doorway disappeared, leaving the door standing wide open. Annoyed, I got up and closed it again, locking it this time.

The following Saturday, Rodney moved his clothes and shoes from the master bedroom to the guest room. He grabbed just three or four items at a time. No doubt he wanted me to see how put out he was. He grumbled. Apparently the three dress shirts he had draped over his arm were more burdensome than The One Ring.

He probably wanted me to say, “Stop. Put them back. We can work this out.” Not because he craved peace or needed forgiveness, but because he was desperate for a sign I could still be manipulated.

I put my headphones on.

Both of us skipped church the next day. Instead of going to Fellowship Point, Rodney went to Target and bought a small desk. Then he spent the afternoon grumbling while he tried to put it together. I moved my books, laptop, and study materials to the living room. Taking up every inch of space on the sofa, the dog and I settled in—me with a mug of chai latte and Taub with his favorite plush rabbit. Not having to look at Rodney’s face was nice, but I was beginning to worry he thought I was making myself small out of deference to him.

“God!” Rodney yelled from downstairs. I heard clanging metal—the sound of a hex wrench hitting the hollow metal legs of the desk—then him ascending the stairs. “Are you going to help me with this?” he asked. The subtext being: You’re the whole reason I’m even putting this desk together, woman. Take some damn responsibility.

“Nope,” I said, taking a sip of chai to hide my pleasure. (This was years before Kermit the Frog memes would flood the internet, by the way.)

He stepped fully into the living room so he could devote his whole self to antagonizing me. “You know I haven’t been in love with you for two and a half years?” Taubensee, sensing another fight, jumped off the couch and scuttled down the hall to my bedroom. I felt guilty arguing in front of such an empathetic creature, but I couldn’t let that go.

Setting my laptop aside, I stood. “If that’s true, why not file for divorce?” My shoulders drew up toward my ears and my hands balled into tight fists. “God, you are such an asshole!” The shaking started in my toes and rose to my eyeballs. I burst into tears just as I was about to scream, “Get! Out!” But I didn’t get the command all the way out before my breath caught in my throat rendering me speechless.

Rodney watched me cry then said, “You’re so weak. I think that’s why I can’t respect you.”

It took about thirty minutes for my tears to dry enough that I could see letters on the page in front of me, but the words felt meaningless and random. Hating Rodney was no side hustle for my brain. Energy for all executive function had to be diverted to the cause. I looked up at the ceiling, recalling the DIY divorce papers I’d found on the Indiana Judicial Branch website earlier in the week. I opened a couple of PDFs and sent them to the printer. I assumed it was my state of mind, but the instructions confused me. I was trying to decipher the legalese on the dissolution of marriage petition when I tripped over the leg of the office chair. Papers went flying as I grabbed my toe.

“Shit!” I admitted defeat for the moment and tried to clear my head.

I moved in step with a YOGAmazing video, breathing audibly and intentionally to clear my mind and begin drafting Plan B. Maybe Rodney would divorce me? Inhale. No, Rodney would never file for divorce. He wasn’t ambitious enough for one. But also? He thrived on conflict. Exhale. He wanted me to hate him and he wanted to witness me hating him. Inhale. Whether I yelled at him or ignored him didn’t matter so long as I prioritized my loathing for him over all else. Exhale. It’s like hate is his kink. It was so fucked up it was hard to believe, but it was the only thing that made sense.

In corpse pose my mind jumped to Ed and how he had moved back to Indiana after Ruth’s death. How weird it was that he’d bought a dump of a house five minutes away from Rodney but forty minutes away from Jennifer. His daughter was unflappable. His son was…not. And there it was: Ed needed to be near someone who would take the bait.

With the dysfunction laid out so clearly before me now, I knew I’d never be rid of Rodney if I waited for him to act. So I wrote an email to Pastor Tim, asking him if he could recommend a divorce lawyer. I wagered there were at least fifty members of the bar in that church, and a small subset of those must practice family law. I was hoping Pastor Tim would take pity on me and connect me with a lawyer who helped women leave sociopaths pro bono. Or maybe the church had some sort of charitable fund for women who worked themselves to the point of breakdown but only got paid $200 a week.

In the email, I explained that Rodney had stopped going to sessions with Dr. Born and hadn’t ended his relationship with Lucy. Sure that Pastor Tim knew that type, I wrote, “He’s only telling you what he thinks you want to hear.” The truth I had to deal with at home was wrecking me, and I wanted a divorce.

Monday morning there was a reply from Pastor Tim in my inbox. He gave me the name of someone who practiced family law, but it came with a steaming pile of judgmental bullshit. As an elder of the church, he wrote, he couldn’t “condone my decision” to leave Rodney. The man had witnessed firsthand the physical and emotional wreck I had become and decided that, actually, I was obligated to endure it until “death do us part.”

“Death?” I yelled at the screen. “I AM NOT RODNEY’S MOTHER!” I slammed the laptop closed.